Monday, May 16, 2011

Reasons to Question

          Let’s start with a quote, shall we?

         “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be over-righteous, neither be over-wise—why destroy yourself? Do not be over-wicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” Now here’s a question: Where do you think this originated from? Where do you think this quote can be found? Do any of you who are Christian consider it heretical; unbiblical? Well, if you have never heard the quote before, you will probably be quite surprised to hear where it’s from: the Bible. Ecclesiastes 7:15-18.

         From what I’ve observed, a lot of very vocal Christians are not really all that familiar with Scripture. Even those who can quote any Bible verse off of the top of their heads often don’t know what the verse said in earlier Biblical texts, in other languages, or even in other versions of the Bible. Some will argue that it’s not important to know the background of Scriptures or the back story of your faith; it’s only important that you believe what the Scriptures say. In response, I say this: How can a person be sure that his or her Scriptural understanding is correct without knowledge of what the Scriptures originally said?

       Plenty of people will tell you that whatever we see in our modern Bible is an accurate representation of what was originally written. However, there is far more than one modern Bible. We have multiple translations and numerous different versions. While they all tell the same basic story, they tie together more loosely than many realize. They differ from one another in quite a few key issues. When you read the same verse in the NIV and KJV, it will say something completely different in one Bible than in the other. Study Bibles contain footnotes listing what various passages say in alternate (and sometimes earlier) translations. The variations are overwhelmingly vast, and we don’t have a specific version to use as a frame of reference. Even the early Greek manuscripts don’t contain all the authentic material, because we don’t have the first Scriptures ever written. We have copies of copies of copies. Regardless of how meticulous and diligent the scribes were in their efforts to copy everything verbatim, alterations were made. Some changes were intentional, due to political pressures or the desire to emphasize specific doctrinal points while downplaying others. Other changes were purely accidental. We know there were changes because we see them. We see how dramatically the words and statements change from one version to another, from one translation to another, from an earlier text to a later one. If you don’t believe me, do the cross-checking. Compare Greek and Hebrew words to their English translations. Compare a passage from the NIV or ESV to its King James Version counterpart. Don’t accept or reject my statements on their own basis. See for yourself.

          I don’t know everything, and I by no means claim to be correct about everything. I’ve prayed for wisdom and guidance, and asked God to remove any selfish motive that may be a part of my actions. I repent whenever I recognize undue pride in myself or start to feel like a know-it-all. However, I have combed through every word of Scripture again and again. I’ve done the cross-checking. I’ve researched more deeply than I had ever thought possible, and have come to conclusions about what I believe.

         So what do I believe now? I believe we can find answers in prayer, research, and introspection, but I don’t think we can assume that any book holds all the answers we’ll ever need. Only God does. A lot of people seem to worship the Bible as an all-knowing god in itself, rather than a vessel through which God communicates. Many worship their church, instead of using their church as an avenue for worship. I don’t actually equate doubting the Bible or doubting a church to doubting God. The Bible tells us to test all things by Scripture, so I tested Scripture by other Scripture. In doing this, I discovered that much of it doesn’t hold its own weight. I’m currently compiling a list of every single internal contradiction and inconsistency that I can find, both in the Old Testament and the new. I have filled up almost an entire notebook with what I’ve found. Once again, these are not careless assumptions. I’ve prayed over this and researched more than anyone can know. I’ve read and reread, and looked at it from every angle I can think of.

        Does this mean that I no longer believe in Jesus? No, it doesn’t mean that. I believe in Him because of my own experiences (expanded upon in earlier notes.) I believe in Him because the Old Testament includes quite a few Messianic prophecies that were later fulfilled. Before I studied the history of Judeo-Christianity, I didn’t know that the Old and New Testaments were written thousands of years apart. I thought they were all penned throughout the same time period, which would have made it less significant that those prophecies were later fulfilled, since anyone could write a story in which they include a “prophecy” and then detail the fulfillment of it later on. At the same time, some of the OT prophecies which were applied to Jesus didn’t really seem to be about him, or seemed to be self-fulfilling. In essence, I believe in the divinity of Jesus but not in the majority of revelation. From research into earlier manuscripts, I learned that not all of the stories about Jesus were originally included. I believe in the basic concept of Him and in the root of His teachings, but don’t believe every single thing that is written about Him or all the quotes which are attributed to Him.

        As to as the writings of the prophets and Apostles, I don’t believe everything they say God had told them. No, I am not calling them liars. I think they fully believed what they were saying, and wholeheartedly thought that God was speaking through them. The fact that they passionately believed what they were saying doesn’t prove that it’s true or divinely inspired, though. Two people of completely different spiritual views can both believe that God spoke to them. One can think they are receiving prophetic visions, but really be experiencing hallucinations.

        An interesting fact: the majority of diagnosed schizophrenic people who have auditory or visual hallucinations believe them to be messages from God. A Christian could argue that the “visions” are proven genuine if they’re consistent with the Bible, but several different facts refute this argument. First, a lot of different peoples’ delusions mirror one another, whether Biblically related or not. A great deal of delusions share similar themes: the belief that one’s phone is bugged, that the CIA is spying on them, or that they are a famous public figure. These ideas can be empirically disproven. Thus, the fact that they are common does not mean they’re true.

         Secondly, hallucinations and delusions are strongly influenced by a person’s environment. A Christian with schizophrenia or a similar psychosis-based disorder is very likely to have delusions or hallucinations that include Biblical themes, since the Bible is such an integral part of his or her life. Even if the “vision” includes Biblical information that the person claims to not have previously known, they may be underestimating the influence of their own subconscious. We see and hear much information that we forget, but some of it is stored in our subconscious memory.

         Lastly, schizophrenic and bipolar people of all different religions experience visions that affirm their beliefs. Not all religious beliefs are compatible, though, so not every person claiming to have a spiritual vision can be correct. Even if the vision does not line up with a person’s respective Scripture, they will interpret it in a way that affirms it. Why? Because nobody wants to believe they are having delusions, or having sensory experiences that are not “real.” If you can’t trust your own frame of reference, you are in a terrifying position. It’s a lot more comforting to believe you’re receiving exclusive messages from God (and therefore are especially valued by Him) than it is to believe you have a mental illness. Some have an aversion to psychiatric treatment because they believe that medication will mute God’s voice. I think that if God genuinely speaks to someone, His voice would easily penetrate through the effects of medication and prove the communication to be genuine.

          A great deal of people who call themselves prophets end up making more claims about themselves than about God. They may genuinely believe themselves to be speaking on God’s behalf, but end up thinking along the lines of “Anyone who doesn’t believe me is an enemy of God. I have the truth because God shared it with me, and anyone who doubts me doubts God by extension.” This allows no room for open discussion or flexibility or growth. If others disagree with or resent the self-described prophet, he or she frequently feels encouraged by the rejection. They reason that many other prophets were rejected, so it must mean they are in the same boat. Anybody can be rejected for any reason, though. As I’ve mentioned, consensus doesn’t prove a claim. However, if a lot of people share the same grievance about someone, it may be worth examining. I know this because I’ve been that way. For years, I struggled to get along with people. They weren’t all at fault. I was the constant.

           Let’s return to the issue at hand. There is inconsistency in the idea that a prophet is legitimized by how many people reject them. Those who think themselves prophets are encouraged by both rejection and acceptance. They feel that others mainly confirm their claims. If you are in a state of psychosis, the perception that others are verifying your prophecies may, in itself, be a delusion. This can affect those without mental illnesses as well. If you want to believe that others are affirming your visions, you will find a way to persuade yourself that it’s happening. Even if you surround yourself with people who hang onto your every word, it doesn’t necessarily prove that your visions are divinely driven. Just as you are eager to believe in your own prophecies, some others will be eager to believe them too. If they can’t find a direct connection between their experiences and your visions, they will make one. Churches are emotionally charged environments full of people grasping for confirmation of the divine.

             This is my main issue with revealed religion. We can’t be expected to just take someone else’s word at face value. Revealed religion hasn’t been revealed to us personally; it’s been passed along by people who regarded themselves as prophets. These “prophets” contradict one another, and often contradict themselves. Extraordinary claims merit extraordinary proof. If we’re supposed to believe something just because we are told so, then we are obliged to believe anyone who tells us anything. We need to determine that our sources are reliable, rather than self-referential. If we’re going to let an ideology govern our lives, we need to make sure that our sources are not using other sources that are self-referential. A circular argument doesn’t disprove the validity of its claim, but if a claim is only based on a circular argument or hearsay, it’s not very solid. We can’t rationally believe that the Bible is true simply because it says it is. We need to examine the reliability of our own perceptions and experiences, too. Some will say that the Bible must be entirely reliable because people have had so many personal experiences that confirmed the Christian faith, but people have had personal experiences that confirm (to themselves) the doctrine of any religion that exists. Not all religions can be right, but I think there's a common link to these occurrences: they cause the person who is having the experience to feel certain that there's a God. This God's specific identity is up to interpretation.

            My other issue with revealed religion is the blatant manipulation that is used to convert people. If you remove the punishment and reward factors from your belief system, would you still feel compelled to follow it? Would you still practice your beliefs if you didn’t hope for a cosmic reward or fear punishment for disobedience? Is it mainly about love for God, or self-preservation? I can’t answer these questions for everyone. People operate on different motives. I notice that demoralization is a large part of the conversion process. Evangelism usually involves a heavy dose of guilt-tripping and threats. It involves telling someone that they are wicked and awful unless they hold specific beliefs. I don’t think that all evangelists use these methods for the sole sake of demoralization, as many believe their own rhetoric and don’t exempt themselves from it. Still, the fact that these conversion methods are based on genuine beliefs doesn’t mean they’re commendable. The fact that they’re often heartfelt doesn’t make them any healthier or more productive. An argument that rests entirely on circular logic, subjective experience, red herrings, and personal accusations will not convince me.

          So, where does this leave me? Well, I have certain beliefs that are consistent with Christianity, and I do worship Jesus as God. If you think my doubts make me a hypocritical Christian, though, I’ll settle the issue. I won’t call myself a Christian. The title comes with too many connotations that don’t apply to me. I don’t mean any disrespect toward Christians. I’m not out to force my views on anyone; I'm just explaining them so you will know where I’m coming from. I would be lying if I denied my desire to convince people. Of course I want people to agree with what I'm saying, but I don’t want to be forceful about it.

        When I associated myself with the title of Christian, I think I was doing it more for others’ approval than anything else. I didn’t want to acknowledge that even to myself, but I need to be honest. Throughout much of my life, I’ve sought acceptance from those who will never fully include me. I saw the general Christian community as a group of people who would only approve of me on a highly conditional basis, and I sought to earn it. In a way, I viewed the Judeo-Christian God the same way. I saw Him as the ultimate standard of selective approval, and thus His love was the ultimate reward to be earned. It shouldn’t be about approval-seeking or social pressure, though. I want to base my beliefs on reliable evidence gained from research, prayer, and logic. I will strive for this from now on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oil and water

This is an old essay of mine, but I think it's still relevant. :)

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I've been considering how there are two types of people who often struggle in romantic relationships. This isn't meant to be a generalization--just about all of us have struggled in our love lives, and there are far more than two "types" of people who are plagued with romantic problems. But I'd like to discuss a phenomenon I've come to recognize. It's a pattern which seems to effect two specific groups of people. The pattern follows them from one relationship to another, much like an STD (though luckily, it's not contagious).

The two kinds of people I'm describing are as follows: those with weak personalities, and those with personalities that are very intense and dynamic. When a person with a bland personality finds a vivacious partner, it's a toxic combination. This is why.

A dull person has very few opinions or interests. Every idea they express is borrowed from someone else. It's an adopted brainchild, rather than a biological one (so to speak). Some argue that there's no such thing as a truly original belief, because all of our views are influenced by others. While this is true to a certain extent, I think that originality does exist. I've heard plenty of people express unique ideas. However, I'm talking more about consistent beliefs. When someone has a weak personality, they have no core beliefs or passions that are central to their identity. They take on the hobbies, beliefs, and interests of whoever they are currently dating. They become their significant others' shadow. (When I say "shadow," I don't mean that they follow their partner around. I mean they take on the basic blurry form of their partner, but are not an exact replica. A "shadow" partner can't become an exact replica of you because that would require them to genuinely believe what you believe and to genuinely care about the things that are important to you, rather than feigning it. Also, I call this type of person a shadow because they cannot exist independently of you. They exist independently, but their personality does not. When the relationship ends, they shed their identity like yesterday's clothes, and change into a new persona that will match their next romantic partner's.) This is a parasitic kind of person. They may not mean to be that way, but they are.

Relationships with shadow people may seem like a dream come true in the beginning. The first few months may be filled with moments where you say, "Wow, we must be soul mates! We BOTH have liberal arts degrees, vintage cars, and oral herpes! It's amazing!"A person with a strong personality can't last for very long with a partner without one, though. If you have your own hobbies and interests and beliefs, you want a partner who does as well. Any conversation gets boring if it becomes a one-sided diatribe and the only response you're hearing is, "Me too!" And bland people can't adapt to meet their partner's needs, because it requires mental gymnastics and their brains just aren't that flexible.

People with strong, larger-than-life personalities also tend to struggle in relationships. This is because it can be hard for their partner to keep up with them. It's easy to feel eclipsed by someone who's so passionate and energetic, if you're a more low-key type. It's an obvious truth that we often forget: We can only be happy when paired with someone on the same emotional and intellectual wavelength.

I've also noticed that about 99% of the time, relationships fail if one person is emotionally unstable while the other is not. It sounds obvious, but many overlook this when getting to know each other. I've been the stabler person in a relationship. I've also been the less stable one. It didn't work out either time because nobody likes to feel wholly responsible for another person's well being, unless he or she a control freak who thrives on that sense of power. The idea of "rescuing" someone may seem appealing at first, but it rarely works. You can save a stray dog, but it still might turn against you (though, unlike a person, it's less likely to steal your credit card).

So, anyway, those are just some thoughts that have been floating through my head. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Existential essentials

Many people wonder what an existentialist is. A lot of existentialists don't know how to define the term, either. There doesn't seem to be a concise, clear-cut definition. Personally, I find that freeing. It allows for more variety in the ways we can apply the philosophy to life.

To me, existentialism is the belief that we are free to make choices. This freedom comes with a moral responsibility. It's not anarchical freedom. Our free will obliges us to discover what is right for ourselves and for the world at large. Then we are to act on it. Some associate existentialism with secular humanism, the belief that humans are the only organizers of the world and that we are governed by no supernaturally-sanctioned laws (and we are "free" from a deity as well). Some existentialists are secular humanists, but the two philosophies are not always combined. Christian existentialists (such as myself) believe that God grants us free will so we may learn and grow, and we ought to use it to serve Him. We serve and worship in a multitude of ways. Acts of kindness are acts of service because we engage in them for the greater good, and the greater good is synonymous with God. I don't view service to God as slavery, nor do I think God is a tyrant. The way I perceive it, we interact with God in the dynamics of a parent/child or teacher/student relationship. He lovingly guides us. We are able to err and to face the consequences of those mistakes, but only so we may learn and improve.

While I'm on the topic of existentialism, I can't help but think of my blogger name. It would be pretty interesting if Mattel actually sold an existentialist Barbie. She'd have to come accessorized with a mini Sartre book and a cute little bottle of Prozac.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


             I’ve come to learn that the most surefire way to offend the most people is not radicalism. I think that many are drawn toward a radical stance in their ideologies, whether in politics or religion or merely personal tastes. The way to offend the greatest number of people is to be brazenly, unabashedly moderate.
            When you tread down the middle of the road, people on the far end of either side will try to run you over. Despite this fact, I think it’s the safest route to travel. You walk the yellow line and may lean more toward one side than the other, but you stay centered. You follow a line painted by someone who’s foraged the path before. At the same time, you draw your own.
            I’ve heard a myriad of mixed reviews on open-mindedness. Some seem to tout it as the only virtue worthy of achieving. Others regard it with fear and suspicion. Then there are the moderates like myself, who weigh the pros against the cons to try and reach a balanced conclusion. I believe it’s certainly possible to be too open-minded; to keep it gaping to the point where your brain falls out. This beckons empty philosophies and self-contradictory ideals to rush in like the crowd at Grand Central Station, boarding potentially harmful trains of thought. At the same time, if we keep our minds firmly closed, we may leave no exit for counterproductive ideas and instead deny entrance to the helpful ones.
            Some equate piety with closed-mindedness, but this in itself is a closed-minded view. If I hadn’t kept my mind open to new concepts, I wouldn’t have sought out spiritual answers and come to identify with Christianity.  In my experience with the faith, I don’t deadbolt the doors of my mind and peer nervously through a keyhole at foreign worldviews. I don’t think I have all the answers, nor do I believe I’m correct about everything. I’m open to revision because I refuse to be complacent. Complacency stifles our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. Like vegetation, we need light to grow. How can we see the light if we refuse to look for it?
            In my opinion, a dominant cause of complacency is pride. Some refuse to step outside of familiar territory because questioning the world around them could lead to questioning themselves. David Wong, a writer for, explored this issue in an article called “10 Things That Atheists and Christians Can (and Must) Agree On.” It was a terrifically thought-provoking read. Wong expressed his views much more eloquently than I could, and I would recommend it to everyone. However, some will take issue with a few of his points.
            In his article, Wong stresses the importance of tolerance for others’ beliefs. People from all different faiths decry the concept of tolerating other religions and disagree with the suggestion that we try to coexist with one another. Because so many followers of so many different faiths hold this view, there have been millennia of bloodshed and oppression. The rivals can only agree that they disagree, but cannot agree to do so. People quote their respective Scriptures to defend behaviors that result in exclusion at best and genocide at worst. We have no just cause to do this. By “we,” I don’t only mean Christians. I mean all humans. This is why.
            The world population, for the most part, believes itself to have free will. If we believe ourselves to possess free will, we also must concede that others have it. It’s not just limited to ourselves and to those who will further our causes. It’s for everyone. This means we have the ability to adopt any worldview, whether religious or irreligious. It means we are able to follow any faith. This doesn’t mean that every religion is correct, or that every outlook is commendable. Free will just allows us to choose our own outlook, whether it’s right or wrong. Some may argue that there is no “right” set of beliefs because if there was, there wouldn’t be so many variations in our understanding of it. This is a good point, although difficulty in identifying an objective truth doesn’t prove that the truth doesn’t exist. Many people can err while solving a math problem, but that doesn’t mean the math problem has no solution. Some wrong answers will be closer to the truth than others. Likewise, some religions come closer to truth than others. At the same time, theological dilemmas are far more difficult to resolve than simple math problems. Religion features more angles than geometry does.
            The Bible instructs us to spread the good news throughout the world and make disciples. Some Christians have interpreted this to mean we’re obligated to convert all non-Christians, but I don’t think the Bible says this. The Gospels say that Jesus sent his Apostles to spread the word, but advised them to simply leave the villages in which no one was receptive to His message. They were supposed to share the word, but allow others to make up their own minds. In a world with free will, we must live alongside those who have different beliefs.
           Coexisting doesn’t mean we have to agree. Tolerance doesn’t mean we must view all other religions as equally “true”; it just means we have to recognize other peoples’ right to practice them. Jesus commanded us to love one another. In my opinion, this also extends to loving people of different faiths. Most Christians regard evangelism as an act of love, because we want people to go to heaven. According to 2 Peter 3:9, God is “not willing that any should perish.” We ought to share this feeling. That verse doesn’t mean we should try to force our views upon others, though. It doesn’t advocate bullying, violence, or incessant preaching to those who don’t want to hear it. I think it just means we should share our views, but be willing to listen to others. James 1:19 tells us to be slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to listen. (It’s perfectly possible to listen to someone else’s point of view without agreeing with them. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated man to entertain a thought without accepting it.”) This implies a gentle nudge, not a shove (See 1 Peter 3:15 and Jude 1:22). Some object to the gentler approach, as they say that the Bible is meant to be an offense by its very nature. It’s a double-edged sword, in that it reveals our own sins to us. This is true, but “offensive” is a relative term. Liberal Christians may be offended by conservative evangelism, and conservative Christians may be offended by the more liberal variety.
            I disagree with the act of befriending people from other religions for the sole purpose of converting them. We don’t have to include our religious views in every conversation. We should be able to enjoy another person’s company without having a motive. Even if the motive is positive, we shouldn’t allow it to become a barrier to our friendships. It’s all right to spend time with someone simply because we are fond of them. When I consider this, it reminds me of how I feel when someone is trying to sell me something. The sales rep may be friendly, and might even endorse a great product. Still, I can tell that he or she is not just hanging around because they like me. Evangelism can sometimes come across as opportunistic if it’s carried out in response to grief. When someone dies, a Christian’s first inclination may be to discuss the Gospel in an effort to comfort the deceased person’s loved ones. However, it may not come across as a sincere gesture. It might seem like the Christian is using the tragedy to promote his or her own agenda.
           When pride comes into play, it can be difficult to untangle one’s own agenda from a larger, loftier goal. A Christian may tell himself that he’s angry at nonbelievers for rejecting God, but Christianity is so enmeshed in his own sense of self that to reject his beliefs is to reject him personally. Thus, his indignation can become more about himself than about God. Loving God unselfishly is an enormous challenge. It’s easy to obey Him mainly out of a fear of punishment or a desire for reward. It’s easy to love Him simply for the favors he bestows on us, rather than for who He is. It’s a daunting task to scrub the residue of self-interest off of our motives, but it’s important to try.
          Pride causes us to become complacent and intolerant. I’ve observed a lot of division within the Christian community that seems to stem from pride. Some make a big point of singling out “false” Christians. This can become a stumbling block for others. If a person sincerely considers herself a Christian but others tell her otherwise, it’s discouraging. After a while, she may get frustrated enough to give up. Her reaction may be, “Why even bother trying? None of these people think I have legitimate faith, anyway.” This type of accusatory attitude can alienate those both inside and outside of the faith.
          When I was stubbornly opposed to Christianity, I resented it due to the attitudes and behaviors that I saw in some of its followers. I saw legalism, a condemnation of anyone who didn’t adhere to various doctrines, and a highly conditional acceptance of people. I even heard some Christians smugly delighting in the prospect of their foes’ damnation, as if heaven is an eternity of gloating and reveling in others’ exclusion. It took me a long time before I learned just how many Christians object to those attitudes. I was ignorant to assume that the majority held such polarizing views. Upon taking a closer look, I’ve seen a great deal of support and compassion within the community. Still, I feel that we should make a stronger effort to peacefully coexist with those of different worldviews.
           Some of the more zealous Christians who oppose the concept of coexistence might cite OT passages in which Israelites were commanded to kill those who worshipped other gods. I feel that we have to look at the context of those Scriptures. They describe regulations for a drastically different time, in which drastic measures were needed to spread God’s message and ensure that the Israelites would prevail. Some claim that the laws can never change, but they can. Jesus said Scripture can’t be broken, but taught that many Old Testament laws are no longer relevant. He proclaimed that mercy, love, and compassion are far more imperative than animal sacrifices, rituals, or dietary restrictions. He preached that our words and actions make us unclean, not our food. In addition, the New Testament does away with the notion that circumcision is necessary for salvation. God cares about fortitude, not foreskin. (If you’re offended by the bluntness of that statement, please remember that the Bible mentions circumcision quite a number of times). My point is that some regulations are timeless, but other codes can be subject to change. Jesus was a reformer, and many accused him of blasphemy for this reason. They became so preoccupied with details and traditions that they turned a blind eye to the bigger picture.
            I’ve heard it said that we’re not supposed to adapt our perception of God so He suits us; we’re supposed to conform ourselves to His standards. I agree, but our views of God vary greatly. We will inevitably apply our own perception of perfection, and then mold ourselves to try and match it. We have such subjective views of God and Scripture. This is the danger in allowing religion to reign over laws and government. This is why the priestly collar basically became a noose throughout the Dark Ages. Scripture can be misinterpreted by those in power and used to justify anything they wish to do. It’s not always simple to discern which interpretations are correct, since there are so many of them. We don’t have the original copies of Scripture to use as a frame of reference. Even if we did, they would be subjectively construed.
            I’ve been praying and thinking about Scripture extensively. I think that some parts of the Bible are divinely inspired while others may not be. Some people decide that all of it must be true and divinely inspired because some of it is, and others decide that none of it can be true or divinely inspired because some of it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, though. (Also, something can be a true factual statement without necessarily being inspired by God.) Much has been altered by translation over the years, and you can even see discrepancies when comparing different versions of our current Bible. In the end, I think we all end up relying on our own interpretations of what it says. If we’re unclear about a passage, we research it or ask someone else. In that case, we trust another person’s judgment about it. I’ve prayed and come to conclusions, but I also recognize that someone else could pray and reach completely different conclusions. In this way, I think that some truths are absolute and others are not so clear-cut. That’s not to say there is no objective set of morals. This is my perspective on the matter: there are very few actions which would be right for everyone to take. Not everyone should marry, have children, or pursue the same profession. However, there are restrictions which apply to everyone. Although marriage is right for some and wrong for others, pedophilia is wrong for everyone. Child and animal abuse are wrong for any person to commit. What, then, is universally right for all of us? To eschew such immorality and to do our best to combat it.
            It’s comforting to think that we can get every answer we’ll ever need out of a book, but I think that life and morality are more complex than that. I believe in Jesus and believe He’s divine, but I have difficulty believing that something is true for no other reason than because it’s written in the Bible. It’s hard for me to believe that our only purpose in life is to evangelize, that we exist solely to spread dogma, and that all truths reside within one book. Life is bigger than that. At the same time, I feel that God is the center of life. He’s similar to the sun, in that He provides our sustenance and we cannot look at Him directly.  In the same way that people used to believe that the sun revolved around the earth, a lot of people believe that God revolves around us. It’s the other way around. We revolve around the Son. He is a part of everything good. As long as we live in honesty and love and kindness, I feel that we’re in touch with Him. Many of God’s truths are expressed in the Bible, but how can a finite book contain the infinite nature of God?
            The Bible itself advises us to test all things by the Spirit (1 John 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22). If we don’t critically analyze Scripture, I think we neglect a practical skill which God gave us. Some people refuse to analyze out of fear. Fear can shut and lock one’s mind as effectively as pride. With fear, we mercilessly police our own thoughts. Human rights would cease to exist if a government were to censor its citizens as severely as we can censor ourselves. Fear traps us in the dark warehouses of our minds, with no company but the neuroses we’ve stored up in there. Fear bars off unfamiliar doorways with yellow caution tape, ultimately blocking us from the exit.
            When we’re afraid, we don’t seek answers outside of what’s familiar to us. I know some Christians who scoff at science, and I think it’s due to fear. If we’re afraid to research things because we think they might challenge our faith, how genuine is our faith in the first place? I like to look at everything from an analytical standpoint—religion, philosophy, and science. This means that I don’t put immediate stock in what I hear, whether it’s metaphysical or scientific in its nature. I pray, research, and talk to people. In expanding my views, I’m stretching my faith to make it stronger and more flexible. I feel that knowledge is only rewarding when shared. It’s useless if we amass it just to hoard it selfishly, only using it for our own benefit. I’m not trying to present my interpretations as absolute truth; I’m just offering them on a food-for-thought platter. I welcome open discussion on these matters. Back-and-forth dialogue teaches us a lot more than a monologue, in my opinion.
            From what I’ve observed and experienced, the mind fares well with an open and moderate approach. Moderation doesn’t mean declining to take a stance, nor does it prevent you from being passionate about your beliefs or committed to them. Faith can reside at the center of your life as you walk the center of the road. Basically, I believe that you can be diplomatic without being neutral. Stray as far from both extremes as possible and you’ll end up centered, both literally and figuratively. The middle ground is fertile for the growth of knowledge and understanding.

"Slutwalk": Empowerment or Exploitation?

Today, I learned about a public event called “Slutwalk.” It’s advertised as a rally that's held to spread awareness of sexual assault, and for sexual assault survivors of all genders to meet and support one another. It was formed in response to a Toronto police officer’s claim that women wouldn’t be raped anymore if they just stopped dressing like “sluts.” Understandably, people were outraged and decided to protest. It all sounded like a good idea to me until I read this in the description: those who attend the rally are supposed to dress like “sluts” in order to “take back” their sexuality, and take back the word. They hold up signs proclaiming “Slut Pride,” and proudly wear the label.
            It alarms me how popular the Slutwalk movement has become, and I think it points to a larger social phenomenon of confusing exploitation with empowerment. There’s nothing wrong with encouragement and group support, but we’ve largely lost sight of what it actually means.
            The police officer’s statement was obviously grossly insensitive, as well as inaccurate. Victim-blaming is never progressive. Women (and men and children) can be sexually assaulted regardless of what they wear. Women who wear burqas are raped every day. Rape is a crime of violence. It’s more about power than about sex. Rape is born of a desire to dominate and terrorize; to force one’s will and one’s body on another person. Unfortunately, I don’t see how rallies like Slutwalk could combat rape or manage to be truly liberating for anyone.
            Firstly, I don’t like the title. It’s meant to highlight the police officer’s ignorance and to reclaim a degrading word. However, I have misgivings about whether such a word can even be reclaimed. Some women may attempt to use it endearingly, but society at large will not. It’s a pejorative term that measures a woman’s entire worth by her sexual behavior. (While a man can also be called a “slut,” it’s usually said jokingly and without any real disapproval of male promiscuity. As we all know, men are usually encouraged to sleep around while women are shunned for it.) In my opinion, it’s not a good idea to try to give the word a positive connotation. It’s not positive or healthy to be compulsively promiscuous, regardless of your gender. That being said, I don’t think that people who engage in risky sexual behavior should be demonized. More often than not, it stems from psychological problems which cause a person to crave attention and approval while fearing genuine intimacy. Those who have this problem should be treated with compassion and concern, not with ridicule. I don’t see how embracing the concept of promiscuity solves anything, though. You don’t solve a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist, nor do you solve it by lashing out at the people who suffer from it.
            My second objection to Slutwalk is the fact that those who attend it are encouraged to dress as provocatively as possible. This is also utterly counterproductive if the goal is to de-objectify women. I don’t think that women who wear revealing outfits are “asking for it.” It doesn’t place the responsibility of rape on their shoulders, nor does it absolve a rapist of his or her actions. Once again, nothing justifies sexual assault. I’ve heard people say that women shouldn’t have to take self-defense classes or learn to avoid risky situations. Of course we shouldn’t have to, since no one should get raped. In an ideal world, there would be no need for self-defense or any other precaution. Regardless of how things should be, though, it’s not the way they are. Things happen that shouldn’t happen, and people do things they shouldn’t do. As a result, we need to make an effort to protect ourselves. A college student who attends a frat party wearing a bikini and proceeds to drink herself unconscious does not deserve to be raped. Her apparel may mean that she seeks validation, rather than implying a sexual invitation. She may just drink to feel more comfortable within the setting. The rapist is at fault for violating her, not vice versa. However, this doesn’t change the fact that she’s more at risk of sexual assault than a student who attends a party with a group of friends, shows up with her body reasonably covered, leaves none of her drinks unattended, and arranges for a trusted friend to take her home. Is it possible that the latter student could also be raped? Absolutely. My point, though, is that it’s less likely. As women, we owe it to ourselves to look out for our own safety, as well as the safety of other women. It’s pointless to refuse to protect ourselves just because we know that men shouldn’t take advantage of us.
            As far as objectification goes, I think that going out of one’s way to wear revealing clothing (as Slutwalk endorses) does nothing to battle sexism. I understand the line of reasoning, which seems to be an increasing trend in popular culture as well. The rationale proposes that sexual exploitation is acceptable, as long as we’re exploiting ourselves. But whether we are exploited by others or taking the initiative in our own objectification, the end result is the same: we’re not taken seriously as human beings. We are valued mainly for sexuality (or a cheap flashy imitation of it), which comes to eclipse everything else we have to offer. Our bodies are not at fault; a body doesn’t objectify itself. Ironically, we use our brains to concoct new ways to exploit our bodies when we should be using them to defy such injustice. We talk a lot about the importance of women uniting to support one another, but how can we be united when we’re at war with our own selves?
            I doubt that the majority of men who attend Slutwalk will go with the intention of showing support for rape survivors. I predict that most will be sold by the name, and attend the rally to see women in skimpy outfits and possibly find a so-called “slut” to take home. Some women may even take part in it just for an excuse to wear an exhibitionistic ensemble like they’re at a Halloween party, which will completely negate the intended purpose. Even the original idea is self-defeating, since the police officer will not renounce his sexism upon watching a parade of scantily-clad women. It will only encourage onlookers to take a chauvinistic perspective.
            I’d like to leave you all with a quote from a very thought-provoking book called Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture:

            “The preposition that having the most simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality constantly reiterated throughout our culture somehow proves that we are sexually liberated and personally empowered has been offered to us, and we have accepted it. But if we think about it, we know this just doesn’t make any sense. It’s time to stop nodding and smiling uncomfortably as we ignore the crazy feeling in our heads and admit that the emperor has no clothes.
            Many women today, whether they are fourteen or forty, seem to have forgotten that sexual power is only one very specific kind of power. And what’s more, looking like a stripper or a Hooters waitress or a Playboy bunny is only one very specific kind of sexual expression.”

            I couldn’t agree more.

Faith and Reason: A Crucial Balance (Part 4)

The conclusion.

*     *     *

        Despite my doubts of inerrancy, I see a solid foundation of truth in Christianity. When I went to church for the first time, there was a moment in which everyone’s prayers seemed to merge into one. I could feel my heartbeat in my words, as if they had a life of their own. I lifted up my arms and felt as if I was touching God’s presence with just a brush of my fingertip. I used to be much more anxious and neurotic, but I now feel a peace I’ve never known. It’s not a placebo effect. I used to expect Zoloft to produce the same contentment, but it never did. All I can say is that God’s love feels like the Big Bang; like a whole universe bursting to life inside of you. It breaks you apart, showing you everything you are and aren’t and should be. While it cracks your spirit open, it also fuses you back together stronger than you’ve ever been. I wish for everyone else to share the same joy and to know they’re not alone in the world.
      Compassionate people and hateful people can subscribe to any faith, or the lack of it. There are “Orthodox atheists” who like to spread their gospel of like bacteria. They harass prayer request websites, telling you that you’re stupid to pray because there is no god to listen. There are diplomatic atheists who are horrified by such behavior and wish those bullies would demonstrate the tolerance they preach. On the flip side of the same coin, there are hateful Christians who believe a woman’s only purpose in life is to pop out little bundles of bigotry. They boast that God speaks to them, but “God” only seems to tell them what they want to hear. Marx famously called religion “the opiate of the masses,” but I’d say it’s more of a stimulant than a depressant. It galvanizes people into action, which can either be positive or negative. Faith is good for congenial, honest, and gracious Christians who seem to emit more goodwill than they can contain.
            Where do I fit in the spectrum? I’m striving to become the kind of Christian I admire. I can’t be a fanatic who attends Harry Potter book burnings and thinks it’s sacrilegious to eat deviled eggs. I suspect you reach that degree of fervor once you no longer recognize that fanaticism exists; once you think it’s impossible to stretch too far. I can’t do that. I’m going to read Harry Potter books and dress up for Halloween, but God is still my first priority. I’m born-again. There were some complications with my second “birth,” but thankfully it came to term. I just want people to know that God is deeper, richer, and far more complex than anyone could completely capture within a book. Faith is not an all-or-nothing experience. Doubting some parts of it doesn’t entail that you have to disregard the rest. If you want the discernment to know what to believe, just use the judgment God gave you. It all comes down to Him in the end.

Faith and Reason: A Crucial Balance (Part 3)

Reasons for my beliefs, and why I continue to have faith in spite of my doubts.

*     *     *    

            In light of my plethora of doubts concerning Biblical inerrancy, you probably wonder how I can still call myself a Christian. After reading this, you may not consider me to be one. Please understand that I used to be more skeptical than this. Coming to believe any part of the Bible at all was a seismic shift for me. I consider myself Christian for these reasons: I believe that Jesus is the messiah. I believe He is divine, and He is our savior. I strive to follow His laws, and I answer to Him. As Jesus is both human and divine, I think the Bible is both divine and human. We are creations of God, but we pale in comparison to Him. In the same way, how could the Bible be equal to God? How can a book translated by human scribes hold a candle up to our creator?
            I’ve had a lot of experiences that revealed the supernatural to me. I shared some of them in “Reasons to Believe,” but there are more. A certain one was particularly jarring and unpleasant. When I was fifteen years old, I experimented with a Ouija board. A member of my family also became deeply involved with it, and we used it together. We were obsessed for about a week. We spent hours asking it questions. She carried it around with her. At one point I asked a spirit to “give us a sign” of its presence. Immediately, the light switched off. There was a tray of Snapple in the room, and the Snapple started sloshing around inside the bottles. No one was moving the Snapple, and no one was near the light switch. There was no wind, and none of the other lights in the house had turned off. We should have heeded the warning and stopped right away, but it wasn’t enough for us. We were curious and excited about the encounter, and wanted to see more. Later that week, the apparition of a face surfaced on my relative’s fingertip. It appeared suddenly and wouldn’t wash off no matter how hard she scrubbed it. The face was tiny, with a menacing sneer. It was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen. She showed it to my mom, who thought it had been drawn on her finger. However, the image was far too small and intricate for her to have drawn. We both saw it appear out of nowhere. She and I burned the Ouija board and I prayed for God to drive the demon away. Afterwards, the face finally vanished from her skin. It left us both very shaken, and neither of us ever touched a Ouija board again.
            I know that sounds quite far-fetched, and many of you will write it off. In fact, some of you might decide I’m completely insane and disregard anything I say from now on. It’s okay; you’re not obligated to believe me. I won’t expect you to believe it if you’ve never had a similar experience. I can only affirm that I witnessed this event, and that the other girl involved will verify it if you ask her. I don’t have a history of seeing or hearing unusual things. This was pretty much an isolated incident, and a few other people in my family saw the face as well. They tried to assign a natural explanation, as did I. I researched shared hallucinations and learned that if two people are psychotic or under the influence of certain drugs, they can influence each others' hallucinations by discussing them. The hallucinations are never identical, though. People can share delusions, but these differ from hallucinations. Delusions don't actually cause you to see things. She and I didn't discuss the apparition, though. We saw it, and neither of us have a history of psychosis. We both know what really happened. I learned not to meddle with occult games. There is a certain thrill to them, because they feel as if you are sneaking into the spiritual realm instead of knocking on the door and asking to be invited in. Regardless, the consequences are not worth the excitement.
         Aside from that episode, I’ve read and heard many stories that further confirmed my belief in the supernatural. I learned of a phenomenon in which identical twins feel pain when the other is injured or in danger, even if their twin is far away. I spoke to a woman who told me about a time in which she felt a sudden urge to take a new route home, and it turned out that she narrowly escaped a car accident that could have killed her. Numerous people report sightings of spectral figures. One of my teachers at the Fairfield Brio told me that her mother had passed away in the bathroom, and my teacher’s son was unaware of it. When he was four years old, he visited his late grandma’s house and his grandfather mentioned her. The child asked, “You mean the lady in the bathroom?”
        Upon reading these accounts, some may acknowledge that these sound supernatural but wonder why I identify with Christianity specifically. A large extent of my faith is rooted in the saga of Aunt Mary.
        After she died, I found a huge collection of her old diaries. I buried myself in them for weeks, hoping to find answers to the mysteries of her life. Soon, I noticed a distinct pattern. Whenever I was reading one of her journals and had a question about her life, I would find the answer on the next page. This happened so many times in a row that there was no way I could call it a coincidence, especially since the questions and answers were so specific. I wondered what she’d wanted to do once she graduated from college, and immediately found an essay she wrote about her wish to become an art teacher. I wondered if she’d written anything about my mother, and then found an entry about her on the next page. I wondered if she’d ever written about me, and found a poem on the following page which was addressed directly to me. She wrote it for me a week after I was born. It was a beautiful heartfelt message about how she was so thrilled to meet me and hoped I would have a wonderful life. At one point I was feeling sad as I read her journal, because she sounded depressed and lonely in so many entries. I wondered if she’d had enough joy in her life, and if I’d helped to make her any happier. I thought I had read all the entries. There was a long series of blank pages. I flipped through the book, and felt as if my fingers were magnetically drawn to a certain page. I didn’t know why, since I assumed it was blank. Amidst the bare sheets there was a page with a single sentence jotted on it. It read, “If I die soon, then everyone will know I had a good life. If I live longer, then everyone will know they helped make it that way.” When I read it, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and my skin prickled. I cried in complete relief and gratitude. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
       There is a lot more to Mary’s story, but the most poignant part came a month later. On September 10th, a month after she died, her friend called my grandmother’s house. A poem had popped up in his head and he didn’t know where it came from, but he knew it was addressed to Mary and felt suddenly compelled to share it with my grandma. This is the poem:

A Shepherd's Voice
For Mary

It is I who heals the memories of yesterday’s pain
Remember, I go where no man can go—in pure light
Yes, I, Lord of it all.
You will not travel through this darkness alone.
You’re my creation
Wherever you go, I will follow.
My lovelight, bear it bright!
Night and day, day and night.
We are partners in rhythm, partners in grace
Lock into Me, moving, a fiery embrace
We will each take turns whispering,
“Let me lead,” “Follow me,” “Love Me,”
“Walk on.”

            When Mary’s friend wrote this down, he didn’t know she had died.
            I didn’t realize how many Biblical layers are in this poem, but they run deep. First, there’s the reference to the Lord as a shepherd. Then it mentions the realm of pure light (the Father), where only the Son can approach. This tells me that Jesus is addressing her in the poem. I was initially confused by the line “You’re my creation,” but then I learned that Jesus did create the universe along with God. The Bible lists Jesus as a creator, and says that He always existed. God didn’t “make” Him. He did not always exist in human form, but He always existed in spirit.

Faith and Reason: A Crucial Balance (Part 2)

This is the second section of my essay. I delve into my current doubts about inerrancy, and explain my reasoning. If this part is going to upset anyone, you may want to skip over it. Just a disclaimer.

*    *    *

           From what I’ve observed, blind faith seems to be governed by circular logic. Many Christians (and people of other religions, for that matter) can offer no reason for their beliefs other than internal reasoning. I think we need to provide reasons outside of “the Bible says so, and I trust the Bible because it says it’s true, and it says it’s true because it is, and it is because it says it is.” I see the value in trusting something we haven’t physically seen or heard, provided we have other reasons to trust it. I don’t see the logic in a never-ending verbal spiral that doesn’t venture outside of itself. Some people say that the mark of “true” faith is continuing to believe something despite evidence to the contrary. This negates the critical thinking skills God gave us. If that line of reasoning were valid, we would be obliged to believe people who are clearly delusional or dishonest. The fact that someone preaches Biblical doctrine doesn’t always mean their reasoning is sound. A schizophrenic Christian might genuinely believe that God ordered him to bomb Las Vegas because of the tourists’ decadence and greed. His reasoning would be Biblically accurate, but that doesn’t mean we should believe God spoke to him.
            There are many intelligent fundamentalist Christians who don’t base their faith on circular reasoning, but I do notice that circular reasoning is more prevalent in fundamentalist thought. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered something intriguing: the most embittered atheists are usually ex-fundamentalist Christians. I wondered why this is so often the case, and realized that Christianity based entirely on the belief in Biblical inerrancy is the most easily fractured. For numerous people, this type of faith is a house of cards. As soon as they find one religious doubt that they can’t reconcile, the very foundation crumbles. It’s perfectly possible for a smart person to hold fundamentalist beliefs. It requires some mental gymnastics, and mental gymnastics are pretty useful for keeping your brain in shape. Unfortunately, they don’t allow for the same flexibility as real gymnastics. I view fundamentalism as a workout that only exercises one muscle. That muscle may become inordinately strong, but the rest of the body is neglected and falls out of shape.
           It’s possible to doubt absolute Biblical inerrancy without renouncing the faith. Personally, I have reservations about Biblical inerrancy. I’d like to share my reasons. Hopefully those of you who are still reading will bear with me and not get offended. This isn’t intended to upset anyone or to undermine Christianity, but to explain why my faith can survive in spite of these doubts.
            I’ve read the whole Bible by now, and have come across some passages that seem inconsistent with one another. It’s possible that my understanding is flawed. If you think these verses are inerrant, you’re welcome to clarify them.
            These are the passages I can’t seem to reconcile:

-God is incapable of lying and always tells the truth/God sometimes lies and doesn’t always fulfill His promises: 1 Kings 22:19-23; Ezekiel 20:25; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 1 Samuel 9:15-16, 31:4-7; 1 John 2:21 (Jesus and God are the truth, so no lie comes from them), Hebrews 11:13; Numbers 14:30

-God never changes His mind/God sometimes changes His mind: 1 Samuel 15:29; Exodus 32:10-14; 2 Samuel 24:15-16; Isaiah 38:1-6; Jeremiah 18:7-10, 26:3, 19, 36:3 (It seems like it would contradict God's nature for Him to change His mind, as that would imply He was mistaken the first time. An all-knowing God would have no reason to alter His plans because He'd already know everything that was going to happen. Some may interpret these passages as conditional, especially the ones where God says "If X happens, I'll do Y." A lot of these examples are not conditional, though--God explicitly states He is going to do something, and then does something else. Even when God is speaking conditionally, this conflicts with His omniscience. When one knows the future outcome of something, one doesn't use the word "if.")

-God knows and sees everything/God is unaware of some things: Psalm 139:2-6; Isaiah 40:13-14, 63:5; Genesis 18:20-21; 1 Kings 22:19-23 (God asked for advice); Jeremiah 1:11-12, 2:30 (God can do things in vain?), 3:7, 3:19

-Children are/are not punished for their parents’ sins: Ezekiel 18:19-20; Isaiah 14:21, 65:6-7; Deuteronomy 24:16; Exodus 20:5, 34:7; 2 Chronicles 25:4

-Saul knew/did not know David before he was king: 1 Samuel 16:19-23, 17:55-58

-Michal (the daughter of Saul) had children/was childless all her life: 2 Samuel 6:23, 21:8

-There never would be anyone wiser than Solomon/Jesus was wiser than Solomon: 1 Kings 3:12; Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31

-King David's only sin was adultery/King David sinned not only by committing adultery, but also by taking the census: 1 Kings 15:5; 1 Chronicles 21:1-4. (David also gloated about defeating his enemies, and asked God to pour out His wrath on them: Psalm 3:7, 52:6-7, 58:10, 69:20-28, 109:10-15, 137:8-9, 140:10. Being vengeful is listed as a sin many times in the Bible. Even though David sometimes asked God to avenge him instead of carrying out his own retaliation, he still had a vengeful attitude. As far as gloating goes, Proverbs 24:17-18 tells us not to gloat over an adversary's defeat. Not only did David commit all those transgressions, but he also calls himself blameless in Psalm 18:20-24. Scripture repeatedly states that everyone sins, and that claiming to be blameless is a sin in itself. Being power-hungry is a sin as well. David expresses a great yearning for power and exaltation in Psalm 18:37-50 and 27:6. He thanks God for allowing him to defeat his foes, but his gratitude seems to be grounded in self interest. He's thankful to God because of his own gain.)

-No one ever went to Heaven before Jesus did/Elijah and Enoch went to Heaven before Jesus was born: 2 Kings 2:11; Hebrews 11:5; John 3:13

-Jesus was the first to ever rise from the dead/Others were resurrected before him: 2 Kings 4:32-37; Acts 26:23. (We also need to remember that Jesus resurrected Lazarus and the dead girl before being resurrected Himself).

-The earth will be destroyed/The earth will never be destroyed: Psalm 78:69; Ecclesiastes 1:4; Luke 21:33

-All people will be saved eventually/Some people will not be saved: 2 Peter 3:9; Isaiah 26:10 (Grace is shown to the wicked?), 45:22, 52:10; 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 4:10 (“All men, especially those who believe”); John 12:32; John 3:3; Mark 16:16

-People can choose God/God chooses us: John 5:39-40; 2 John 1:8; Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Joshua 24:15; Colossians 1:22-23; Galatians 5:1, Romans 9:11-26

-No one who is saved will depart from the faith/Some will fall away from it: 1 Timothy 4:1; Isaiah 57:1; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:20-21; John 10:28; 2 John 1:8; Romans 8:38-39; James 5:19-20; Colossians 1:22-23

-God’s anger is short-lived/God’s anger is everlasting: Psalm 30:5; Jeremiah 3:12, 7:20, 17:4; Micah 7:18

-Jesus came to bring dissension/Jesus didn’t come to condemn people: Matthew 10:34; John 3:17

-God’s work is not flawed and His laws are perfect/Some of God’s laws were flawed and needed revision: Psalm 19:7, 111:6-8, 119:160; Isaiah 40:8; Hebrews 8:7-9, (Note the difference between two of the possible translations in Hebrews 8:8. One translation reads that God found flaw in His people and changed the law accordingly, while the other translation reads that God found flaw in His own law. These are two vastly different statements); Hebrews 7:18-19

-The saved do not sin/Everyone sins, including the saved: 1 John 1:8, 2:10, 3:6-10, 5:18; Romans 3:23; 1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36

-Jesus said that Scripture cannot change and God’s laws stand forever, yet the laws were altered with the new covenant: Hebrews 8:13; Colossians 2:14; Luke 16:17; Galatians 3:10, 24-25

-Proverbs 3:12 says that the Lord disciplines those He loves. Most of the people who receive His wrath don't seem to be loved by Him, though.

-Jesus was sinless and perfect because He was God in human form. Why does Hebrews 7:28 say He was “made” perfect? Wasn’t He already perfect?

-Isaiah 54:9-10 states that God vowed to never be angry with Israel again, but subsequent passages show He was angry with Israel after that.

-Isaiah 60:18 says that God promised Israel would never be attacked again, but they were attacked in later passages.

-Why would God write a name in the Book of Life in order to blot it out? Doesn’t the act of blotting something out imply correcting an error? God doesn’t err.

-The sun moves, implying it revolves around the earth? Psalm 104:19, 22; Ecclesiastes 1:5; Joshua 10:13

-We’re to love God and fear Him, but there is no fear in love. 1 John 4:18

-Love keeps no records of wrongs and God is love, but God will announce all our sins on Judgment Day (even though the Bible says He’ll erase our sins from His memory if we repent of them).

-In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that he believes widows will be happier if they don't remarry. (He specifies that this is his own opinion.) If this is the case, why do so many widows remarry instead of opting to remain single? Paul also says he wishes that all men could be celibate, and that doesn't sound like an inerrant statement. It's obviously counter-productive to the human race's survival--or "counter-reproductive," if you will.

-Insects have four legs? Leviticus 11:23

-The story of Noah's Ark states that the only living beings who survived the flood were the ones on the ark. Nephilim were not on board, so it would logically follow that they died off. However, they are featured later on in the Bible.

-God killed Onan because He told him to continue his bloodline, but he refused to comply. If God was so insistent that the family line continue, was it self-defeating for Him to kill Onan (thus ending the bloodline anyway)? Why did God order Onan to do something He knew he wouldn’t obey? Why does God test us when He already knows the outcome?

-Why does God design every aspect of every fetus when He knows some won’t be carried to term (due to abortion, miscarriage, etc)?

-In Mark 16:9-20, Jesus says that believers will literally be able to handle venomous snakes and drink poison without coming to any harm. Throughout history, a lot of believers have attempted these actions and died. ( contains a footnote adding that earlier versions of the Bible don't contain this verse. It makes me wonder how much of our current Bible's content was originally there, and how much was added over time.)

-Romans 9 speculates that God might create most people simply to destroy them, in order to demonstrate grace to the elect. The passage surmises that God may do this to show the elect what grace means by providing a basis of comparison. The elect couldn’t fully comprehend the comparison, though, because they wouldn’t experience both. Seeing something doesn’t produce the same understanding as experiencing it. We wouldn’t need a basis of comparison if God made everyone elect and equipped us with the knowledge of its significance. We also wouldn’t need to be rescued from Satan if God didn’t allow us to be swayed by him in the first place. People say God gives us the option so we can choose Him out of our own free will, but some passages claim we don’t have the free will to choose Him. They state that God chooses us, but not due to our personal merit. Paul tries to justify this view in Romans 9 by saying that it wouldn't be unfair of God to create people just to destroy them, since a potter can use his creations however he pleases and the clay doesn't complain. This is a false comparison, though. Clay doesn't complain about being destroyed because clay is not a sentient creation. It doesn't have a brain or feelings or opinions. It doesn't suffer.

-Why does God desire glory? Doesn’t God already have infinite glory, simply because of who He is? Why would God need or want affirmation from such inferior beings?

-In 2 Peter 2:20-21, why does Peter write that a believer who has fallen from the faith and lost his salvation is worse off than someone who never had it to begin with? If both people are damned, why is one worse off than the other?

-Romans 1:18-20 says that God’s attributes are clearly seen in His creation, so no one has a reason not to believe in Him. What about people who are unable to intellectually comprehend Him, such as the severely mentally handicapped? What about people from other cultures who have never heard of Jesus? They may perceive some sort of God, but they cannot perceive the Abrahamic God specifically. Among our Western culture, there are people who have heard of Jesus but honestly don’t perceive Him or feel His presence in the world. They don’t reject God out of rebelliousness, as if they know He exists but are willfully choosing to ignore Him. Since God knows everyone’s heart and motives, why would He punish such people?

-The criteria for what qualifies a book as Biblical cannon seems subjective to me. During various Papal discussions, the Catholic church decided which books would be included in the Bible. (This explains why the Catholic Bible includes certain books that other Bibles omit, such as the Septuagint and the book of Maccabees). These choices were based on whether the books were consistent with others, whether they emphasized messages the Pope wanted to spread, whether they had been read by the Apostles, and whether the texts were old enough. Consistency is challenging criteria, as some of the Biblical books seem to contain internal discrepancies. How do we know which books were fully divinely inspired when they were so subjectively chosen? One could argue that God gave the cardinals and Popes proper discernment, but this doesn’t explain why some versions of the Bible include books that others leave out. It doesn’t explain the discrepancies. Another factor to remember is that the 27 books of the New Testament were not declared official cannon until over 300 years after Jesus' death.

-A lot of Christians cite 2 Timothy 3:16 as proof of Biblical inerrancy, but this is a circular argument. The Bible doesn’t explicitly profess to be inerrant. (Conversely, I would also be using a circular argument if I denied the Bible is inerrant because it doesn’t call itself inerrant.) In Timothy’s letter, he may not have been actually saying that all the books of our current Bible are divinely inspired. Not all of the current books were considered official Scripture at that time. He may not have been calling his own letter Scripture or calling any other text Scripture. He may have been simply defining Scripture as a divinely inspired piece of writing. However, the fact that a text is inspired doesn’t necessitate that every word is dictated by God. Some of the prophets were recording visions they had seen, and likely described them by their own interpretations. (I'm sure they genuinely believed they weren't relying on their own interpretations or using their own words, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were all correct in that belief. A person can be fully convinced that something is true, but the conviction alone doesn't prove it. Two people of opposite viewpoints can be equally certain of what they believe, and both may think that God convicted them. It's also useful to remind ourselves that many who believe they're receiving divine messages are actually listening to their own subconscious minds). In 1 Corinthians 7:12 and 25, Paul specifically states that God did not order him to write the letter. He said he was writing from his own personal judgment. He believed his judgment to be trustworthy because he’d received the Holy Spirit, but those who received the Holy Spirit could still err in their understanding (take Kings Solomon and Saul, for example). I noticed that many of the books cite other books which are not included in the Bible (such as the recorded prophesies of Iddo, the books of annuals, and other letters written by Paul). I’d assume that if a book is divinely inspired, it would only quote other books of divine inspiration. Otherwise, how would their references be spiritually reliable? Yet if the other books mentioned were divinely inspired, why weren’t they also included? Wouldn’t God have preserved them?

         In addition to these topics, I have doubts about the issue of perdition. I admit that my objections are largely based on emotion, because I don’t like the idea. Heaven and souls and God are all happy concepts for me, but hell and Satan are much less pleasant to believe in. I know this isn’t a sound reason to reject something. I don’t like the idea of cancer, but I accept the fact that it exists. Still, there are some other reasons why I have difficulty believing in a permanent hell.
        First, let’s look at the original Scriptural words that have been translated to “hell.” There are five which I know of. The first is “abaddon,” which means “destruction.” This could mean destruction after death, but could also refer to general failure and misery in life. It may also simply mean “to perish,” which is to rot away. The second word is “Gehenna.” This was an actual location in the valley of Hinnam, where people burned their garbage in a pit that contained worms. That explains Jesus’ use of Gehenna as a metaphor for the place we end up if we are immoral; a place where the fire is never quenched and the worms devour everything. It could simply be a figurative term. The third translated word is “Hades.” The term “Hades” is Greek for “Sheol,” which the Greeks believed to be a general place of the afterlife reserved for the righteous and unrighteous alike. It was also used to mean “the grave,” “the pit,” or death in general. The fourth word is Sheol, and the fifth word is “infernus.” That means “being underneath,” in reference to being buried underground. “The pit” makes no inference to an afterlife; it only means death.
         In the book of Psalms, David actually seems to express the belief that there is no afterlife. See Psalm 6:5; 30:3, 9; 31:17; 49:10, 14-15; 63:9-10; 71:18; 88:4-5, 11-12; 90:5. The book of Ecclesiastes seems to express this outlook as well: 3:19-21; 6:4-6; 9:5-6. The New Testament obviously includes a different interpretation of the afterlife, though Ephesians 2:10 says that people can praise Jesus from “under the earth.” If that refers to people in hell praising Jesus, it doesn’t seem to make sense that they would still be damned after accepting Him. In Psalm 6:5, David says that no one can praise God from the grave.
         I question the consistency of such teachings about perdition. For example, if you never leave heaven or hell once you’re there, why does the Bible say we’ll be temporarily brought to earth (resurrected) on Judgment Day? You would have to leave in order to appear back here. Also, why would we be judged a second time if we’ve already been judged directly after death?
          I can’t help but feel that hell would be a disproportionate punishment for sins committed during a limited amount of time on earth. We’re dead for a lot longer than we’re alive, so why would we be eternally punished for things we did over a duration of roughly seven decades? One might also ask why we deserve to be eternally rewarded for a short period of righteous behavior and faith. I don’t think we “deserve” it, but I think we receive it because God is generous and merciful. He gives us better than what we merit.
          Most people who have NDE's report a blissful experience in which they visit heaven, but a small portion of NDEers have seen a hell-like environment. Howard Storm, an ex-atheist, gave a detailed account of his experience and was interviewed on the History Channel. When I saw it I noted that positive and happy NDE's seem to all share common elements, whereas unpleasant ones are all different. I don't know whether this implies that each person's hell is unique, or that a hell-like NDE is more of a psychological manifestation than a "real" experience. I have my doubts about hell, but if it does exist, I don't think it's permanent. When people (such as Howard Storm) have Near-Death Experiences in which they believe they've been to hell, they never seem to report seeing anyone they recognize. Some see other people, but never ones they know. In NDE's that feature heaven, almost everyone sees deceased people they've known. This could have two implications. It could mean that most people go to heaven, which would increase the chances of encountering familiar faces. It could also indicate that everyone in hell is a stranger to you, which could be one of the punishments. I'm more inclined to believe the former.
          A permanent hell doesn't really make sense to me. Some compare God's damnation of a soul to a father disciplining his child, but the purpose of discipline is to reform children and teach them lessons. Placing unruly souls in a hopeless eternal prison wouldn't correct them, and would provide them with no opportunity to repent. I don't see why it would be too late to repent of mistakes after we die, since life is temporary but death is everlasting. I could view it as a holding place where some people are sent to "do their time" and learn the error of their ways, but then are released to heaven once they've atoned for their sins. Interestingly, Howard Storm's NDE actually refutes the common view of an eternal and inescapable hell where we're severed from God completely. He was able to ask for Jesus' help while he was there, and Jesus freed him.
            I have further doubts about hell based on physical technicalities. How would hell be “the blackest darkness” (Jude 13) if it contains fire? Why would it feature flesh-eating worms if souls have no physical flesh?
            As for Satan, I think his existence would tip the scales a bit too far in evil’s favor. If we already have wicked inclinations and there’s an additional supernatural figure encouraging us to pursue them, how much of a chance do we have? I think the devil might be a symbolic character in the Bible, representing the internal temptations we wrestle with. He’s never described as a literal figure in the Torah, even though the Torah and the Old Testament are virtually identical. I can believe in demons and general malevolent forces, but I think they’d be far too powerful if organized by a leader. I consider them more chaotic.
            Overall, I feel that the concept of hell is far too unjust to be true. A lot of Christians dislike the idea of hell but are afraid to question its existence, lest that doubt becomes the thread which unravels the rest of their faith. They fear that if we break loose from hell, all hell will break loose. I don't think we have to be so inflexible. Discounting one doctrinal element doesn't require that we throw the rest out the window.
         Some people may disagree and caution me not to lean on my own understanding, but God gave us understanding for a purpose. No matter what, we always end up relying on it. When we come across complex Biblical passages, we use our judgment to decipher them. Christian books usually advise us to adapt our personal ethics to match Scripture. They advise us not to justify something that our intuition tells us is wrong, or something the Bible prohibits. What if your gut tells you that the Bible is mistaken about something? What if your intuition cries out in protest that a certain verse is deeply, utterly wrong? Scripture says that the law is written into our hearts. Why not let our God-given understanding guide us, since He engraves His standards into it? Some say we betray the laws we are innately aware of by justifying behaviors we know are wrong, but what if we sometimes do the same with Scripture? I suspect it’s possible that we intrinsically know certain laws are unjust (such as the code requiring a woman to marry her rapist, or requiring parents to stone a disobedient son). We don’t convince ourselves that some laws are wrong when we instinctively know they’re right. We do the opposite, which is what we’re commanded not to do.

Faith and Reason: A Crucial Balance (Part 1)

I've had a plethora of theological thoughts brewing around in my brain since my last manifesto. Some of these may surprise people. Some may offend you, although that's not my intention. My goal is to try to uplift people, to provoke thought, and to help you all understand where I'm coming from. This is an especially long essay (21 pages altogether). I've decided to divide it into four different sections, and each section will be featured on a different entry. I recommend reading them in order.

This is the first part.

*   *   *

The other day I visited the blog of one of my favorite authors, Elna Baker. She’s a Mormon comedienne who wrote a memoir about her college dating experiences. The ever-present “Anonymous” posted a comment to one of her entries, averring that all religious beliefs are preposterous. He left her with a link to

Being a curious person, I visited the site.  I didn’t expect any of the “proofs” of God’s non-existence to be convincing, but the arguments were even more poorly constructed than I’d thought. This normally wouldn’t irk me, except for the fact that I’ve heard this site quoted by many internet debaters (most of whom also don the protective cloak of anonymity). The fact that one uses a weak argument to illustrate a point doesn’t necessarily disprove their claim. It doesn’t mean their premise is false; it only means their argument is. I believe the website’s base claim to be false, but I think its flimsy arguments may mislead some readers.

The first objection I had was the fact that the author of the website only defines God by Judeo-Christian standards. He fails to recognize that one can believe in a god unassociated with any organized religion. As I mentioned in one of my previous notes, “Reasons to Believe,” the fact that a belief is possible does not always entail that it’s valid. However, the author of has a very rigid view of the God he denies. The writer claims that since the Abrahamic god is implausible, no type of god whatsoever could exist. He also assigns his own subjective standard of perfection to God and then denies God’s existence because He doesn’t meet it. The author says that God can’t be real because if He was, He would make sure no one ever got divorced. This is the author’s own personal opinion of what he thinks God should do. An atheist who denies a God based on his own idealistic standards is no wiser than a Christian who claims to know everything about God.

I also take issue with the website’s statement that God cannot exist because He does not solve problems; we solve them ourselves. Isn’t it possible that God works through people, and through processes such as surgeries and scientific discoveries? In my perspective, God does solve problems through humans. Obviously, we wouldn’t be able to take action if He never created us in the first place. (A skeptic could argue that in this case, God is solving problems that He initially caused. I’m not sure how I would argue this point.) Skeptics could also ask why God would choose to work through people instead of acting directly. I suspect that God doesn’t directly reveal Himself to everyone so that we may preserve our free will. After all, if He interacted with us so overtly, we wouldn’t have much of a choice as far as our decisions are concerned. The website acknowledges this argument but counters it by saying that the Bible contains many examples of God directly interacting with humans. It’s a good point, but I think there is a reason why these events are not commonplace anymore. I think it likely that this also serves to preserve free will. The way I see it, we are offered the opportunity to heed the book’s advice or to dismiss it. If God was still making Himself as easy to perceive, we couldn’t act on faith. We would simply act on observation, or obey out of fear.  Some people also might react by taking Him for granted. Even during Biblical times, some people didn’t believe in Him regardless of what they personally experienced.

The website argues that God cannot exist because some prayers are “unanswered.” All are answered, though. Sometimes the answer is “no.” We don’t know why God grants certain requests and denies others, but we can trust His judgment. There are plenty of times in which we believe something will benefit us but it turns out to be detrimental, and vice versa. As humans, we possess limited knowledge. It is also impossible to please everyone. Our prayers can conflict with one another’s. Two people may pray for the same job position, but only one will be hired for it.

Following the previous “proof” that God is nonexistent because some prayers are not granted, also states that God cannot be real because His blessings are unevenly distributed. The wealthy inevitably have more. This is a subjective argument, because it depends on what one considers “blessings.” The writer’s point is only true if you strictly define blessings as monetary wealth and the privileges it affords. (In this case, you would be a “materialist” in both senses of the word.) However, plenty of wealthy people face great hardships. A rich man can suffer from a rocky marriage, estrangement from his children, a drug addiction, or mental illness. If he has a problem with substance abuse, it may only be exacerbated by his wealth because he can afford more drugs. His wealth may lessen the possibility of an intervention, as he would be held accountable to fewer people. It could also strain friendships due to jealousy and feelings of entitlement. A financially comfortable person may wonder who their genuine friends are, as affluence can easily be exploited. As you can see, wealth does not always bring happiness. A poorer man with a sense of purpose and a supportive family is far more privileged than a rich man who lacks those things. There are impoverished people who struggle with additional conflicts, but this can strongly motivate them to succeed. Climbing a mountain from the ground up is far more rewarding than climbing it from the middle. The trek also provides an incentive to maintain progress. The higher you are, the farther you can fall.

The website goes on to say that predestination cannot exist because we label events as “fate” when we can’t calculate the odds. It’s true that we tend to have a limited understanding of odds, but this doesn’t entail that everything must be chalked up to coincidence. If you see a Skywriter message advertising Doritos, you don’t assume that the clouds must have formed it at random. If something highly improbable takes place which resolves a problem or answers a prayer, I’m apt to view the prayer as the catalyst and God as the one who intervened. I’m especially inclined to take this perspective if it happens repeatedly. That being said, I try not to interpret self-fulfilling prophesies as mystical. For example, if I roll dice and say it’s a miracle if they both land on five, I won’t turn them with my fingers until they both land on five and then call it miraculous. I’ll assign natural causes to events before I decide they’re supernatural (though I believe that everything natural is divine at its root, as nothing natural would exist without God). If my toilet won’t flush, I’m not going to assume it’s possessed by a demon. I’ll call a plumber, not an exorcist. If I’m walking down a street and see a light in the distance, I’ll assume it’s an oncoming car before thinking it’s an angel. (I wouldn’t want to approach the light and risk being flattened by said “angel.”)

The “God is imaginary” site makes the popular faux pas of pitting science against religion, declaring that the two are utterly incompatible. It cites evolution as a popular “proof” of God’s nonexistence. As I mentioned in “Reasons to Believe,” evolution is not incompatible with the concept of a deity. After all, it could be divinely guided. The Bible doesn’t explicitly describe how God created the earth, vegetation, or animals. However, it does describe the process of creating humans. Literal Biblical interpretation and fundamentalist Christianity clash with the theory of ape-to-human transition. This doesn’t mean that Christianity is at odds with all evolutionary theories, nor does it mean that Christians reject all science. I think it’s important to remember that scientific theories are subject to change. Fifty years ago the Neanderthals were believed to be the missing link. Darwin once postulated that Africans are less evolved. Thankfully, that claim was refuted long ago. It’s also important to remember that a species’ absence from the Bible doesn’t imply it never existed. After all, the Bible never mentioned dinosaurs. It’s a book about God, not a compilation of every single event that ever took place or a list of every species that ever lived. The book says more about the Creator than His creations.

I don’t feel a knee-jerk distrust of science, but I think some people make the mistake of deifying it. Some regard all scientific theories as indisputable truths, scientists as infallible guardians of those truths, and the study of science itself as a gateway to omniscience and omnipotence. This sounds like a radical perspective, but I’ve heard quite a few people express it. Science itself is not infallible, because it would not exist without people to practice it. Physical laws and matter can exist without people to study and define them. Nonetheless, the scientific method was designed by humans. As a whole, the scientific community strives to spread truth, but this doesn’t mean that individual scientists are immune to errors in judgment or interpretation. It doesn’t mean that no scientist is emotionally invested in his or her theories. If a scientist claims to be completely objective, he is implying that he’s above the basic human instincts to hold biases, to be influenced by peers, and to believe certain things for psychological reasons. It’s hypocritical for a scientist to deny such natural inclinations, since so many assert that we operate mainly on those instincts. In a sense, a scientist who denies it claims to be more than human.

When you read scientific articles, I recommend examining them critically instead of trusting them implicitly because they were written by experts. Check for assumptions and false arguments. You may be surprised by what you find. A few months ago I read an article about the bombardier beetle, an insect with a complex defense mechanism. Its body contains two separate containers, one full of hydroquinone and the other full of hydrogen peroxide. These chemicals both travel through valves, and then combine within the beetle’s hindquarters. This mix becomes caustic when combined with water and enzymes in the hindquarters. It incites an exothermic reaction in which the chemicals boil, and the heat closes the valves to prevent damage to the beetle’s internal organs. The liquid is then converted to a poisonous gas, and the pressure impels it to shoot through the beetle’s rear toward its perceived predator. The author of this article says that bombardier beetles show evidence of evolution because there are closely related breeds sharing some of their signature traits. He reasons that since there are similar breeds, we can see that one could have evolved from the other. I think this is guesswork. The bombardier beetle didn’t necessarily evolve from the other breeds. Beetles can develop into different types, but this is simply variation within a single species. In the end, they’re still beetles.

When we look at variation within species, we should be mindful not to assume that an altered version is further evolved. The Museum of Natural History used to display an exhibit of horse skeletons of different sizes. They were lined up smallest to largest, implying a chronological order. However, the smaller skeletons were not actually older than the larger ones. They didn’t all exist at separate time periods. Even if they had, it wouldn’t necessitate that the larger breeds evolved from the smaller ones.

A few days ago, I read another scientific article that included some presumptions. It was a study of Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s) seeking to prove that they result from the brain’s deprivation of oxygen. The paper included examples of subjects who were given doses of ketamine, which was said to induce NDE’s. It concluded that Near-Death Experiences are chemically induced, rather than spiritually based. The author provided examples of ketamine encounters which shared some common traits of NDE’s, but they did not include all of the typical traits. Three years ago, I had written a school paper in which I argued my case for the spiritual authenticity of NDE’s. I believe these points are relevant:

"Some people believe NDE’s to be hallucinations, and argue that they are produced by locations in the brain. However, these theories have come under close scrutiny and been challenged. Near-death experiences are not hallucinations. Hallucinations are mainly brief, distorted, and bizarre. When a person has a hallucination, they are almost always able to distinguish it from reality later on. NDE’s, on the other hand, are clear, logical, and orderly. They are described as “more than real.” People who have had lucid dreams, hallucinations, and NDE’s have reported that lucid dreams and hallucinations feel much different from a near-death experience. Near-death experiences also make a strong impact on people and inspire them to change their lives in ways which hallucinations and lucid dreams do not. Peoples’ hallucinations differ greatly from one another, whereas NDE’s share striking similarities. It would not make sense for millions of people, most of whom have no history of hallucinations, to all experience the same mass hallucination.

The theory that locations in the brain have been found to produce NDE’s has been challenged as well. While parts of the brain such as the temporal lobes, the frontal lobe attention area, the thalamus, the hypothalamus, and the amygdale may sometimes be activated during an NDE, this doesn't indicate that they alone are the cause of it. Olaf Blanke, a Swiss surgeon, declared that stimulating the right angular gyrus can manufacture an out-of-body experience (OBE). However, he only conducted this experiment on one patient. Her results were quite different from the usual accounts of OBE’s. The patient's perception was distorted and fragmented, and she was only able to view a small portion of her body rather than the entire thing. The argument that NDE’s and OBE’s are produced by different areas of the brain can also be countered by the fact that many NDE’s have taken place while the person was brain dead. Harrowing NDE’s have been reported by people who were clinically dead for several days.

An additional theory claims that certain drugs have been known to produce NDE’s. While ketamine and psilocybin have reportedly triggered encounters which resemble NDE’s more closely than hallucinations, this doesn't undermine the validity of NDE’s. According to Karl Jansen, who has written the most about NDE-like ketamine experiences, “After twelve years of studying ketamine, I now believe that there most definitely is a soul that is independent of experience. It exists when we begin, and may persist when we end. Ketamine is a door to a place we cannot normally get to. It is definitely not evidence that such a place does not exist.”

There have been many cases in which people have reported information after an NDE, and the information was later validated. These cases include a comatose man who had an OBE and was able to accurately describe, in great detail, where the nurse had placed his dentures; a woman who successfully read a five-digit number during an OBE; and a woman named Pam Reynolds who saw a blue shoe on a hospital roof during her out-of-body experience and was able to accurately and vividly describe it. The shoe was found after the incident.

Blind people, including those who have been blind for their entire lives, have been able to see during NDE’s. Dr. Kenneth Ring recounts 21 cases of this occurrence in his book Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind.

It is worth noting that groups of dying people have shared the same NDE, and atheists have had NDE’s which inspired them to believe in an afterlife.

Additional facts
-Out-of-body experiences have been validated in scientific studies. In 1968, Dr. Charles Tart wrote a report entitled "Psychophysiological Study of Out of the Body Experiences in a Selected Subject." It concerned a woman who successfully read a 5-digit number during an out-of-body experience. This is verifiable evidence of out-of-body perception, and supports veridical perception in NDE’s.
-NDE’s have advanced the field of medical science. After his NDE, Mellen-Thomas Benedict brought back a great deal of scientific information concerning biophotonics, cellular communication, quantum biology, and DNA research. Mellen-Thomas Benedict currently holds six U.S. patents."

As you can see, science and research can certainly lend themselves to faith. I think the word “faith” has been frequently misconstrued to imply a belief without any logical evidence to support it. People only seem to define such “faith” in regards to religion. In every other context, the word is simply used to mean trust. I think there are good reasons for spiritual beliefs. In my opinion, faith with 20/20 vision is much preferable to the “blind” variety.