Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Conversation about God

By happenstance I recently was reacquainted with a friend from high school on facebook. We both graduated from Central Baptist, a small private school. This is an interesting conversation for any of you who have ever questioned the existence of Jesus or of God himself. This is a long conversation but it's worth reading if you have questions about the historical Jesus or what to say when asked these questions. I don't have all the answers but I do my best. Here is the conversation that we had. It's not a private conversation being that it is posted on my facebook wall so am just re-posting it here.

Friend: wow i would've thought a smart guy like you would've seen the man behind the curtain by now...

Me: I have. Mark 15:38
(Mark 15:38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.)

Friend: ha ha humorous remark but an unfortunate resistance to reality.

Me: You are correct about one thing, I am a smart guy, ha ha. I also believe that most of religion (but not all) is indeed a ruse of sorts. Some do it for power, others money, but a lot are just misled. I would think that even you would agree that to discount all possibility of a higher power would also be an unfortunate resistance to reality. After all, universal statements can neither be proved nor disproved and the human mind is much to small to explain 99.9% of what exists. I believe that God is bigger than what I imagine him to be. If he is real than he has to be. If I were to argue for my beliefs, I would say that it is not based purely on history, science, and my small minds sense of logic but also upon my personal experience.

Friend: great retort my long lost friend. i shall retire briefly to compose my response.

Friend: certainly religion is a ruse in most cases, little more than an overgrown example of the ills of the traveling quack physician of centuries past. and certainly my knowledge and reason are lacking when faced with the all encompassing questions of the universe. while it seems fair to say that whatever started this ball o' rock a' spinning will never be answered in full detail while we yet breathe. never the less it also seems clear that there are prospective answers that are, how do i put this delicately, less than likely to be correct. one would have to agree that information coming from the time-frame in which most religions were started is highly suspect at best. but personally i believe that our parents hitched our sails to the most absurd of the lot. certainly the big three who start with abraham are similar enough to detest but the tale of christ is that of johnny applesseed or paul bunyan to me. or worse yet because the hero is not someone i could ever exalt and the evil to which he was sent to protect against was mild in comparison to the evil from whence he is said to have come.

Me: Well, I guess if I can get you to agree to be agnostic rather than atheist that's better than nothing. In an interesting side note, my father was an atheist for years before coming to Christ. He was neither convinced nor contrived into doing so. It didn't even happen at a church or with a street corner preacher. It came from personal experience in his car. Do you deny the existence of Jesus, the divinity of Jesus of or both? From a historic aspect the existence of Jesus is pretty well documented as far as 2,000 year old historical figures go.

Friend: yeah no doubt there was a man named jesus who did some crazy things and spoke some new concepts into an old world, but his divinity will never be anything but a joke to me. paul bunyan and johnny appleseed were real people too, but with time they became greater in stature and capability than any rational human being would believe, and yet for some reason greater attributes from a time further back are accepted and wars are started for the belief. to me this is the greatest absurdity of all time. i mean these people were stoning anyone who said the earth was round despite seeing the sun and moon "hanging" in the sky.

Me: Human nature, being what it is, will take anything, good or evil, and use it for self-enrichment. Rather that be the name of Jesus or saving the earth from pollution, anything is game. The difference between the examples you gave and Jesus is Jesus was written about in bigger than life terms by multiple writers within a relatively short period after his works were said to have been performed. They were written about not only by followers but also by Jewish and pagan historians. Not only was Jesus talked about as being perfect in the Gospels, it's writers showed themselves in an often less than flattering light. If the gospels were nothing more than a well written stories, why did the writers not make them selves also look better. What was the point. It is true though that proving the divinity of Christ is all but a futile argument.

Friend: i must have missed something there, who are these historians outside christianity that wrote about him? i have no doubt that an easily deceived writer may have believed what he wrote, just as i can see it in daily life as americans are easily deceived and fervently defend something to which they have no evidence. and if i may make so bold, the point was then as it is now and has ever been and likely will ever be, the almighty one: Gold.

Me: The most important one would be the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Some other ancient writers that talk about Jesus would be Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, and Lucian. The Jewish Talmud also talks about Jesus. Some are positive, some are negative but all reinforce the existence of Jesus as a historical figure. It's been a while since I've read any of them but I'm sure you could google what each one says.

Friend: i have now looked again upon that which i once read and again expected. in this list of writers there is no certainty gained, the Josephus text is widely considered fraudulent, tacitus and Pliny spoke only of the persecution of christians. lucian was born long after the fact and was considered a martyr as he was a christian. unless you are ... See Morereferring to a different lucian. and the seutonius remark is less than vague and fleeting in length. im not saying there wasn't a historical jesus, but none of these are good examples that there may have been. you should reread those i think,

Me: Pliny spoke of the persecution of Christians in the 1st century. Lucian was about 100 years after the fact but from what I read he was a pagan. I don't find the Seutonius remarks to be all that vague but I guess to each their own. As for Josephus, only the first reference to Jesus is debated, the second shorter reference which reads "the brother of... See More Jesus, who was called Christ."" is generally agreed to be untampered with. Of course there is also Mara Bar-Serapion, and The Babylonian Talmud. Also many of the places and characters in the New Testament have been confirmed accurate through archeology. I think you will find that most classical historians agree that Jesus did exist but like I said his divinity is unprovable.

Friend: yeah most of the references made were about the knowledge of an uprising and a persecution of its followers. again i say, undoubtedly, there was a man named jesus, but his capabilities and attributes are grossly exaggerated. just as there was likely a man named moses, and a man named muhammed but their true meaning is like to that of Martin Luther... See More King jr, great men with great deeds but not gods not saviors.
furthermore, even were the tale true, and the god of the old testament was truly the one god, still i would not bow for to me he is not worthy of praise in any manner. but i sleep well none the less, because there isn't even an inkling of doubt in me that this might be the one true way. why should god need money, all knowing, all powerful but he cant manage a bank account for some reason? why would jealousy be a sin but actively evidenced by god? there are not only too many questions with too few answers, the available answers are down right unfathomably offensive.

Me: This all leads to one key question. What is good, what is evil? Is there such a thing or is it all relative. Is man somehow born with a sense of right and wrong and if so why and how? Are there absolutes when morality is concerned and if so then why? What is your opinion on this seeing that you already know where I stand.

Friend: oh that's a bundle, gonna take a few at least.

Friend: well i certainly don't believe that there is an inherent notion of good and evil in us, where it is gained and how are matters for debate I'm sure. but i tend to lean on the nurture side of the argument. as for absolutes in morality, its tough to say i would say that situational ethics is a more viable choice. while it seems like it might be easy to think of an example of something that's always wrong, i don't know that that is enough. i don't claim any religion, but i would say that taoism lines up most closely to what i believe. i think perhaps if you read up on tao you will understand my perspective better. but i don't believe in the duality of good and evil or god and the devil.


Kelly said...

Very interesting. I wonder if your friend always felt this way, or if religion brought him to this.

Francy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francy said...

Yeah, I'm wondering the same thing Kelly is. Not to dis your friend, but he has a bit of that "intellectual superiority" that is common in atheists. I fear that will be a very difficult thing to for him overcome. It's interesting that when you two reconnected, he immediately made the condensending remark, "wow i would've thought a smart guy like you would've seen the man behind the curtain by now..." My sister-in-law is an atheist and she considers herself an intellectual. She makes comments, like your friend made, all the time, I think, to get people upset and defensive about their faith. I just remember that "love wins" and don't let her bother me. I pray for her also because I think she's hurting on the inside. You did a great job discussing your faith with your friend. Maybe you will be influence on him over time. Great post -- thanks for sharing it.

Sorry about the deleted comment above. That was me. If they let you delete your own comment, they should let you edit your own comment!

DanThoms said...

@ Kelly and Fran I don't think that he's always felt this way. I would imagine that toxic religion started him down this path.

@ Fran It's true that a lot of atheist do for some reason develop a superiority complex. My friend has always been rather outspoken so with him I'm not sure if this is a change or not. Fact of the matter is we went to high school together so he knows that I'm smart. I have another friend who is an atheist and he told me, "I used to believe in Santa Clause." I thought that was a good line too.

Not Too Old said...

I used to be an atheist. I like to think I wasn't judgemental and condescending like your friend, but I'm sure I was. I agree with you, toxic religion probably drove him away. For me, that certainly was the case. Now I like to say that my greatest sin is judging judgemental people.

I congratulate you for this conversation. While you probably didn't convert him, I'll bet he'll think twice about making the curtain man comment again. And then perhaps God will lead someone to talk to him in a way that he can hear. I'm a firm believer in small steps!

melanie said...

Yes, toxic religion can throw one down a path one never imagined.
Nuff said.

We were just sitting here this morning talking about how you, Phil, and your dad used to sit and talk and debate. I used to be in awe of the relationship you all had. It seems all the debate practice has served you well.

As a side note, on the same day that I was in awe of you and Phil and your dad having such a deep relationship, your dad told Jon that he used to go to bed wondering if you and Phil would kill each other in the night. It has always done my heart good!