Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reasons to believe

Just so you know, this is quite long (10 pages). I wrote it in the beginning of December. My standpoint remains the same, with the exception of my views on hell and on evolution.

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These are thoughts that have been accumulating for months, but I didn't know how to even begin expressing them. The prospect intimidated me. Now I have the words and the motivation, and a night without distractions. So, here goes.

I feel like a misfit in most groups. I'm more pious and have more "traditional" values than a lot of the artistic people I know, and am more analytical and questioning than a lot of religious people I've encountered. As a result, I tend to keep a lot of opinions to myself while spending time with people. Some may not consider me a "real" Christian due to certain factors. I live with my boyfriend, who I've been with for five years. I have gay friends. I don't attend a church. I tell colorful jokes and make sexual innuendos (though I try to draw the line between silly wordplay and actual vulgarity). I've interpreted some Biblical passages in ways that deviate from popular doctrine, basing my views on the original Hebrew words and the context of the Scriptures. At the same time, I love Jesus, read the Bible, try to apply its teachings to my life, and keep a prayer journal. I thank God for everything He provides, and apologize for all my failings while doing my best to repent of them. I pray every day for everyone I know, regardless of whether I like them or not. Every time I hear someone has a problem, I say a prayer about it. I’m not saying this to exalt myself, but just to convey the way I live my life.

I wasn’t always Christian in my beliefs, and never used to apply Jesus’ standards to my behavior. I’ve believed in God and said frequent prayers throughout my life, but haven’t always believed that Scripture was divinely inspired. I believed in a god that wasn’t tied into any specific religion. Essentially, I worshipped a Creator of my own creation. This god didn’t have any standards or expectations. He was mainly there to comfort me when I was distressed, and to grant wishes. Until recently, I didn’t really feel compelled to give back to God for His blessings. I took Him for granted.

For years, I actually professed to be anti-Christian. I didn’t dislike all Christians. I disliked Christianity as a whole. My views were colored by various people who were not prime examples of the faith. My reasoning was, “I don’t want anything to do with the religion if this is how most of its followers behave.” However, I’ve come to realize that it’s both limiting and unfair to reject an entire faith on account of some of its adherents. Over the past few years, I’ve met wonderful people who are Christian. I’ve learned that they don’t all dress the same way or have uniform hobbies and tastes. They don’t all wear plain pastel-colored clothing and walk around looking sheepish or nervous. I’ve learned that a Christian can be a metalhead, a biker, an artist, a comedian, or a rock star. Leah, Celine and Elan have given me faith in Christianity rooted in genuine compassion and charity. Matthew, Nicole, and Nicholas have taught me that Christians can be deeply intelligent and analytical. They’ve also provided an inspiring example by holding themselves to the same standards they hold everyone else to. C.S. Lewis showed me that a Christian can be a creative genius. Elna Baker taught me how a Christian can be witty and fun. (This is not to say that any of the aforementioned people lack the qualities I didn’t assign to them. I’m just pointing out the traits which I immediately associate with each person.) About four years ago, I remember declaring that I would “never be a Christian.” It’s funny how God takes “I’ll never” statements as a challenge. This year, He began to chisel away at the wall I’d built up. It started when I read something my friend Nicole had written on a Facebook survey. One of the questions was, “What’s your biggest pet peeve?” She answered that her biggest annoyance is when people disregard the whole Bible just because they don’t like some of the things it says. Up until that time, I’d convinced myself that my objections to Christianity were purely logical. Then, I began to question myself. I came to the realization that a lot of my objections were based more on emotion than on reason.

When I was a student at SCSU, I took a Religious Philosophy course. We discussed the basic qualities of the Abrahamic God, and debated whether or not such a god can exist. I argued that one can believe in a god who’s completely unrelated to any world religion. I noted that many Christians say you have to believe in the Bible if you believe in God. Similarly, many atheists claim that you must reject any possibility of a deity if you doubt Scripture. I pointed out that it’s not all-or-nothing. You can doubt Scripture without doubting the existence of a god, and you can have faith in God independently from Scripture. This is true. However, I missed a crucial point. You can believe in a god that’s detached from religion, but the fact that the belief is possible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s valid.

Although I haven’t associated myself with a religion for most of my life, I’ve always tended to defend the belief in God over atheism. Just as it’s unfair to stereotype Christians, it’s also unfair to make sweeping generalizations about atheists. I don’t think that all atheists hate religious people, nor would I say that all atheists reason the same way. I have noticed common patterns in atheistic logic, though. For one, a lot of Bible skeptics actually base their doubts on Biblical claims. I’ve heard more than one skeptic say they don’t believe in hell because “a loving god wouldn’t send anyone there.” They accept the Biblical premise of a loving God, but then use it as grounds to dismiss another premise in Scripture. This can be called “having your cake and eating it too.” Another inconsistency is that many unbelievers have a moral code, and believe in a set of unchanging ethics that apply to everyone (even if they leave room for moral relativism when it comes to some of their values, most atheists would concede that certain moral laws do apply to all). This is my question: How do you think the code came to exist? One could say we developed it to ensure our survival with the help of our peers, but that doesn’t entirely cover it. How do we innately know what’s fair and just, and what is not? Some people don’t care how they treat others, but they certainly react when they are wronged by another person. Therefore, we are aware of an innate ethical code, whether or not we live by it. The theory that we developed ethics to improve our chances of survival misses another point, too. It doesn’t explain why we intrinsically know that selflessness is a virtue and that self-sacrifice is noble when done for the good of another person.

I’ve heard some atheists say that life is about doing whatever makes you happy. In my opinion, you can’t judge something as “good” on the simple basis of whether or not it makes you happy. It might bring you joy at the expense of someone else. It may be self-destructive, even if momentarily satisfying (such as drug abuse or overeating). All the same, the fact that an activity is “fun” doesn’t automatically make it wrong, either. Pleasure is not the deciding factor of whether or not an action is ethical. In my opinion, it’s irrelevant.

When deciding what you believe, it’s easy to cave into social pressure. It’s easy to confuse your own inborn moral convictions with the ones you’ve been conditioned to believe. It’s easy to confuse what’s “right” with what’s popular, even if it’s only popular in your family or social circle. A lot of people who identify with a religion tend to struggle in distinguishing between their genuine convictions and the views of their community. Atheists and agnostics face this too. It’s tempting to subscribe to a certain worldview or concept because it’s what all the “smart” people believe, and you want to be respected intellectually. It’s trendy to be cynical. For a long time, this is why I never discussed my belief in God. I didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid, ignorant, or crazy. It’s so sad that those qualities are associated with spiritual reverence.

I’ve heard it said that people believe in God for deep-seated psychological reasons. I agree that many people do have a psychological need, but it’s not the only reason. Plenty of atheists, agnostics, and otherwise non-religious people have psychological reasons for not believing. Some may have negative associations with religion or God, stemming from painful experiences. Some may simply think that life is simpler, more convenient, and more fun without a religious code to regulate it. These are by no means the only reasons why a person would choose not to include God in their life. They are common reasons, though. A lot of people replace God with evolution, but this doesn’t need to be done. One can believe that evolution was guided by God. In fact, The Genesis Enigma (which was written by an agnostic scientist) details how he discovered that Earth formed in the same order specified by Genesis. It formed over more than just six days, but the Bible does say that God’s time is different than ours. Several billion years could be one day for God. Personally, I have doubts about the theory of evolution. I believe in microevolution, the variation and adaptation within species. I question macroevolution, the change of one species into an entirely different one. I’ll post another note explaining my doubts, since it would take too long to get into it here. Suffice to say, I suspect that the theory has holes in it. In fact, it may be more a bit holier than the church. (Please excuse the atrocious pun.) I’ll post my questions about evolution, in hopes that I can find explanations. I want to find answers to some Bible-related questions, too.

One issue I’ve pondered is how Jesus seems to differentiate Himself from God, but that could be like the conscious and subconscious mind. Different parts of the brain are aware of different facts. This could explain why the Father knew things the Son didn’t. While reading the Bible, I’ve also come across some passages and wondered if they contradict one another. I’ll post them later to see if anyone can help me reconcile them. I do think that in the midst of translating Scripture into different languages, some things have been lost. I won’t just leave my questions unsettled and be content to stay unsure, though. Even if I can’t come to a  fully satisfying conclusion, I’m not going to cast aside the whole Bible. I won’t leave my questions about evolution unsettled, either.

Although there are still some issues I’m unclear on, I have a basis for my faith. Some of it is rooted in my own experiences, some in research, and some in stories I’ve heard from other people. In college, I did a research paper on Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s). I read one account in which a woman saw her sister in the afterlife, and only later learned of her sister’s death. A scientist returned from a NDE with new discoveries he’d learned on the other side. People gained knowledge of future events. Some have watched the past. People have left their bodies and heard conversations that were out of their earshot (and those conversations have later been confirmed). People see their entire lives play back to them, and learn about the impacts of their decisions. Some report reading letters and numbers, which can’t be read in a dream. One woman floated up to the sky during cardiac arrest and, after returning to her body, said that she’d seen a blue shoe on the hospital roof. The shoe was then found. Some people have visited the afterlife and seen new colors that they couldn’t have imagined.  Those with longer NDE’s have reported more intense experiences. Some atheists have come to believe in God as a result. Others have had experiences that didn’t line up with their religious beliefs, so it was unlikely a result of them inventing what they expected to see. I can post the report if anyone wants to read it and see my sources.

Outside of my research on Near-Death Experiences, I can’t help but believe in an afterlife when I observe the world around me. In nature, so many things renew themselves. Plants regrow each year, and spring comes around after winter. When the sun sets, it’s like the death of a day. The day is reborn during sunrise, though. I know this interpretation is more poetic than literal. All plants do eventually die, and someday the sun will no longer exist. I think this shows a general pattern of rebirth, though. Just as we begin a new life on the other side when we die, we can be reborn during our lives. We can renew our hope and faith, even when it seems to come to an end.

Aside from what I research and perceive from life, I’ve had my own experiences. Over the years, I’ve had many very specific prayers answered. I see it happen with other people too. Twelve years ago, my uncle Tom was scheduled for surgery to remove a pancreatic tumor. He was told that if he didn’t have the surgery, he would die. A relative stayed up praying with him on the night before his operation. The next morning, the doctors saw he had a spontaneous remission. The tumor was completely gone.

Three years ago, my aunt Mary passed away. A month afterward, my grandma got a call from Mary’s old friend, Brett. She used to be very close to him when they were younger. They’d collaborated on poems together, taking turns writing lines. They had lost touch years earlier, but Brett woke up one morning with a poem in his mind. He jotted it down, not even feeling like he’d planned it. The poem was all about Mary walking with God and going to heaven. It was called “A Shepherd’s Voice.” After writing it down, he called my grandma’s house and asked to speak to Mary. He suddenly felt driven to share it with her. Brett was stunned when my grandma told him Mary had died. He started to cry on the phone. That day, Brett drove all the way from Vermont to Connecticut and left the poem on Mary’s dresser. I copied it down and now carry it everywhere with me, to remind myself that she’s safe with God and her suffering is over. She had a drug addiction for seventeen years before she died. I used to deeply resent her for it, although I never let her know. Now, I realize how wrong I was to condemn her. When she died, I found her old diaries and hundreds of poems she had written before she got addicted to crack. I rediscovered the warm, loving, creative, sensitive, funny, insightful, and wonderful person who was hidden behind the drugs for all those years. I came to love and understand her in a way I never had before. God had taken her in mercy and guided her home. After seeing that, how can I not look at Him with complete love and gratitude?

I’ve had my faith affirmed in less serious circumstances, too. When I first started to apply Jesus’ lessons to my life, the results were remarkable. This summer I did a favor for someone I disliked. I wasn’t trying to gain her friendship. In fact, it made no difference what she thought of me. I merely did it because it was the right thing to do, and I would have appreciated someone extending the same kindness to me. From that point on, we’ve been on good terms. The day after I chose to swallow my pride and help her, I got an interesting email. It was a message from an ex-boyfriend, apologizing for everything he did during our relationship six years ago. He wrote that he was in a 12-step program and was trying to make amends to everyone he’d wronged. He had abused me when we were together and I’d gotten several restraining orders against him since then. I hadn’t heard from him in five years but still felt unresolved about the ordeal. That message was exactly what I needed to have closure, so I decided to give him closure too. I wrote back just to say, “I forgive you.” I think the whole experience over those two days was a lesson in forgiveness.

There are many events in my life that led me to believe. I might share more of them in a future post. I just chose to include these because they’re so poignant to me. I don’t expect everyone to believe me. Some will, and some won’t. That’s another thing, though. Some people claim there’s no evidence for anything beyond the physical world, but dismiss stories like this when they hear them. They refuse to see them as evidence, because they’ve already made up their minds. Skeptics often attribute these accounts to mental illness. It’s true that people with mental illnesses have told these types of stories, but so have many people with no history of psychosis. The experiences tend to have a lot in common with one another, too. Besides, an event doesn’t automatically need to be dismissed just because it was told by someone who was psychologically unbalanced. Anyone can have a spiritual experience. So many have been recorded over the years that it’s hard to believe none of them are true. Even if only one is true, it opens the gateway of possibility.

A lot of people doubt occurrences like miracles because they’ve never seen one. That’s the point of a miracle, though. If it were commonplace, it would escape our attention and no one would recognize it as an act of God. I’ve also heard that Christianity has Pagan DNA; that the story of Christ is a combination of older Pagan myths. I’ve looked into that claim, and found that the majority of Pagan mythology involving a resurrected man had been written after Jesus’ lifetime. Even the stories that preceded Christianity don’t indicate that the Bible plagiarized it. If anything, God likely planned it that way so the Pagans could compare it to their stories and see that something divine was taking place. This reminds me of evolution, too. The fact that two entities share similar traits doesn’t necessarily mean that one evolved from the other.

One of the more popular arguments against Christianity is that it was written to secure power over the public. I sincerely doubt this when I think of what the Apostles were subjected to. They were legally persecuted for spreading the Word, and the rules they prescribed for other people applied to themselves as well.

A further popular claim is that we can’t find evidence for such things outside of the Bible. There were historical accounts outside of the Scriptures, though. Jesus’ miracles were mentioned by other sources, both religious and non-religious. One of the most famous was Flavius Josephus’ historical record, Antiquities of the Jews. It was written soon after Jesus’ lifetime. And in Acts, Paul’s descriptions of Roman life were meticulously detailed and accurate. He correctly described the local geography, weather, political customs, and social attitudes. The more we discover about history, the more the Bible seems to be verified. We didn’t used to think the Hittites existed, until their whole library was unearthed. (You can find a lot more details about this in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, which is an excellent read.)

As strongly as I believe the gospels, though, I’m not satisfied with today’s church. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who is happy with it. Every Christian I’ve spoken to either feels that the church has become too lenient or too harsh. On the news, I hear countless stories about Christians attacking and bullying anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs. They probably think they’re following God’s example by showing wrath, but vengeance isn’t ours to dole out. They’re not gaining many converts that way, either. You attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. You attract the most flies with bullcrap, though, which seems to be spread by a lot of contemporary churches.

I’ve listened to so many Christians hypocritically condemn others while refusing to acknowledge their own sins. I call them hypochristians. I think we operate under a Catch 22. Jesus told “whoever was without sin” to cast the first stone. This meant that if a person is sinless, they have the right to condemn. We’re supposed to strive for a sinless life, but to never believe we are without sin. So by claiming to be flawless, anybody who cast the first stone would have automatically been sinning (unless it was Jesus, but He chose not to. He said it to make a point.) This isn’t to say we can’t make any judgments, but they shouldn’t be hypocritical ones.

Contemporary churches, in my opinion, obsess too much over sexual behavior and don’t focus enough on other sins. Reckless sexual behavior is a significant problem, of course. It needs to be addressed. Sexuality in and of itself isn’t “bad,” but people can easily value sensuality over intellectual and spiritual joy. When this happens, sexuality becomes shallow. I think, though, that churches alienate many people by overemphasizing sexual sins as the absolute worst ones.

I’ve observed that modern Christian culture tends to belittle environmentalists by calling them “hippies.” Polluting the earth is an insult to God, though. By neglecting the planet, we trash the home that He built for us. It reminds me of the way we pollute our bodies by doing self-destructive things, since our bodies are home for our souls.

Despite my qualms about today’s Christianity, I want to stay true to the faith and grow in it. When I first committed to it, I was afraid of changing too much. I was afraid of God molding me into something unfamiliar. I no longer fear it, though. God’s judgment is always right, so whatever He chooses to do with me will be for the best.

I know this message is extremely long, but I needed to get all of this out there. I don’t think I have all the answers. I don’t even think these are original thoughts, because there isn’t a single thought in existence that God hasn’t come up with first. Not all of my conclusions are set in stone. I’m a work in progress. I am Christian, but not all the stereotypes apply. I don’t hate gay people or take part in book burnings. I’ll tell you my views, but won’t try to force-feed them to you. I can’t make anyone change their mind, though I do urge everyone to open theirs. Please, don’t be afraid to challenge yourselves. Try to understand other points of view—not to validate or agree with them, but to gain knowledge and compassion. Read as much as your brain can handle without turning to mush, and then read some more when your mind is refreshed. Research the context behind Scripture and the original meanings of its words, so you don’t fall for false doctrine. Please, always use the abilities you’ve been given. The way I see it, when God gives us gifts, we’re obliged to use them in order to give back. We have a responsibility to use them for the betterment of the world. The more abilities you have, the more responsibilities. That’s a beautiful thing, though, because it offers the opportunity to make a difference.


  1. Read this, and I must say it is touching. I've some friends that I hope I can encourage to read this as well. -jakk

  2. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed this.