Bryan’s Story: From Missionary to Almost Atheist to Present Day

The opening shot of my book Evolution 2.0 is an argument between me and my brother about evolution. Bryan had been a missionary in China, but in four years he went from right-wing Christian seminary grad to almost atheist.

He was dragging me with him. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I had to be intellectually honest.

I found myself retreating to what I know best, which is science. I said, “Bryan, look at the hand at the end of your arm. I’m an engineer, and your hand is a fine, fine piece of engineering. You don’t think your hand is an accumulation of random accidents, do you?”

Bryan was good and ready for that question, and he pushed back with a standard-issue Darwinian answer. His answer didn’t quite jive with my experience… but I admitted my intuitions could be wrong. So instead of arguing, I decided to dive down the rabbit hole. I resolved to get to the hard truth, and follow it wherever it carried me.

Our argument in the back of a Chinese bus led to a book that took six years to write, a technology prize, and a quest for life’s origin that now includes some of the world’s most renowned scientists at top universities. You can read the rest of that story in Evolution 2.0.

But… what about Bryan?

Recently we held a business seminar where we presented Evolution 2.0 and the technology prize as a case study. Everyone at the seminar was asking Bryan “OK, so what’s your story?”

Here is Bryan’s story…

~

Perry: Everybody at this conference has been coming and asking Bryan: “So you and Perry had all these debates and arguments and everything. So what’s up with you?” Bryan said to me, “Why don’t I take the microphone and talk about it.” I said, alright – let’s have you talk about that! So without further ado, Bryan, you’re up!

Bryan: Thank you. I did have at least ten people yesterday come up to me and say, “So, Bryan, how does your story end?” So I will get to that. You’ll indulge me in a few minutes of storytelling if that’s ok… 

I have a question for you, which is: How do you know when you’ve gotten a good education? One of my answers to that question goes back to the seminary I graduated from.

Perry knows I’m a guy that likes certainty and crispness and clarity and nice definitions. So when I went to The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley California in 1995, I was going to get my certainty in the world, and that’s what I did.

It’s an arch-conservative fundamentalist seminary where they do not admit women to the program. That’s how arch-conservative it is.

Their motto is: We train men as though their lives depended on it. And that’s the whole mindset. It’s a three or four year program. Guys would get up–and it was always guys—they would get up for their senior testimonies prior to graduation and they would, almost to a man, they would say–you go to seminary usually fresh out of college often fresh out of Bible college–you’re cocky, you’re young and you think you know everything–

And the guys would say I arrived at seminary thinking I knew the answers. Now I’m graduating and I realize I don’t even know what all the questions are yet.

So, Perry, you actually got a tiny bit of the narrative wrong yesterday. The seminary doesn’t give you a spreadsheet full of answers. The seminary gives you a mountain of questions, questions and more questions because– everybody learns Hebrew. Everybody learns Greek.

Everybody you know learns to parse your verbs and decline your nouns and so on and you’re doing stuff in Genesis and you’re dealing with all of these historical questions and interpretive questions and exegetical questions.

You’re picking apart the historicity of the Book of Genesis and you’re picking it apart–you’re dealing with questions of the archaeological evidence for or against the ten plagues in Egypt and stuff like that.

And you’re dealing with the Gospels and the Q theory and do we follow the Textus Receptus or the Alexandrian, and the apparent contradictions between the Gospel narratives and so on.

And Paul in the book of Romans in chapter 6 verse 5 and this use of the genitive and the thirteen possible meanings of this particular use of the genitive case and so on.

And that’s the education you’re getting so you get questions questions questions and you graduate with a mountain of them.

Perry: Google AdWords is simple by comparison!

Bryan: Yes, it is! And the thing about an arch fundamentalist seminary like that is: the answers you are allowed to come up with must fall neatly within some very well-defined boundaries.

So any answer you come up with is fine as long as the Bible is still inerrant, and Jesus is still Deity, and you still believe that all of its records are fundamentally historical grammatical and so on.

So that there was a real Jesus and there was a real apostle Paul and there was a real King David and a real king Solomon and a real Moses and a real Noah and a real Cain and Abel. And a real literal Adam and Eve who were created in six literal 24 hour days by the hand of God. And so on.

So, that was my background. And when I graduated in 1999 I had all of this exposure to all of these mountains and mountains and mountains of questions.

And that, in my view, is a good education.

So I got the opportunity to go to China. It just dropped in my lap. In January of 2000 I went and I took a teaching job at a luxury hotel in southwestern China. Beautiful mountain city in the foothills of the Himalayas.

And since I enjoy language I was going to throw myself into learning Chinese, and I did make great friends. This was totally unexpected, and it was a marvelous experience.

One of the things I was not prepared for was just how secular a culture China actually is.

Secular secular secular to the hilt. There’s something about living under Communism and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has a tendency to wipe all religious influence away from a culture. And this is a part of the world that had really never in any significant way been touched by Christianity.

And so I’m dealing with this very secular culture and in my time there–I had four and a half years–I had one mostly convert I guess. This despite the fact that I was there to be a missionary. I was supported by the church back home in Los Angeles.

My evangelistic efforts were not all that super effective, let’s be honest. But it was a marvelous experience and very eye opening. It was the very first time that I had ever just been out, completely out of my Christian bubble. And cultural reinforcement of my Christian beliefs on every level–I was finally out from under that. And I had free time that I hadn’t in quite some time.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 4th, 2001 which is exactly one week before 9/11. I was one of the few people in town that had CNN because I worked for a hotel, so I had it in my dorm. I come home from an afternoon of teaching, and I turn on CNN, and they’re playing a replay of LARRY KING LIVE from the previous day and on LARRY KING LIVE are two people with very often opposite views of the world.

This particular day there is Sylvia Browne. If you’ve ever heard of her she’s the psychic who can contact your relatives and loved ones who have crossed over. Opposite her that day was James Randi the atheist skeptic former magician kind of–he had replicated a bunch of Houdini’s old stunts.

He was in the Guinness Book of World Records and he was a psychic and paranormal de-bunker.

It was him versus her on LARRY KING LIVE, and I was absolutely transfixed. He was challenging her. He was saying, “Miss Brown, if you can come to our center in Fort Lauderdale Florida and, following our protocols under proper observing conditions, demonstrate that you actually do have paranormal ability, then the James Randi Educational Foundation will pay you one million dollars.”

I saw this and I was blown away by this because I thought I had a pretty good education, but I had never been exposed to this particular way of testing truth claims because I had a seminary degree and I had graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a degree in history and Spanish which tend to kind of bypass engineering and the scientific method and so on.

In fact, two days after I graduated in 1994 with my degree in history and Spanish I started a job scooping popcorn for minimum wage. That was my career path.

Well anyway I’m watching this and I’m fascinated. As soon as the as soon as the episode is over I run to my computer and go look up Randi.org and discovered that every week he would blog on Fridays. He would talk about people who had come into the center who claimed to have paranormal abilities and he would give a narrative of how they tested them.

I was blown away by this because this was a great education. Like here’s how you test someone who claims that they can do dowsing. Here’s how you test the girl whose parents say that she can read completely blindfolded. Here’s how you test when a person says that you can draw a card and they can tell you what the next card is going to be in the deck.

Every week he would he would talk about these different tests and this was an amazing education.

And so I started following this and all of a sudden a bunch of questions started popping up that really started causing me some trouble. And mind you I am a missionary supported by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California, and I’m here in China to make disciples and do church planning. That’s what I’m here for.

But week after week I start I’m reading these blogs and I’m starting to ask questions that are deeply troubling me. Such as: I’ve always believed my entire life that if you need something you get on your knees you pray, you ask God for it, and then God answers you. And how do you know that God answers prayer? Well, you keep a journal.

I asked for this on such and such a date. And then two days later three weeks later I got this. Therefore, we know my prayers were answered.

And all of a sudden as I am and I’m reading Randi’s stuff then I start clicking on other hyperlinks and reading some other skeptics’ stuff. I start finding new methods to question whether maybe that’s not the most scientific approach to answering how whether you get your prayers answered or not.

And this really started bothering me. And September turned into October and October turned into November and the questions got deeper and more painful and scarier. And I suddenly by December I found myself in a serious crisis of faith.

Remember: I had a seminary education. I like the metaphor you used yesterday, Perry, it’s like you learn where all the bones are buried. When you have your bible in front of you, you know all of these places where there are serious interpretive problems, serious archaeological questions, serious textual questions serious ambiguities and philosophical contradictions and so you know all this stuff.

And here I am more or less alone. In China. As secular a place as you’ll ever find. And by December I was sick. And terrified. In fact the last week of December 2001. Something weird with my stomach. And it just stopped digesting food for a few days.

I would eat stuff and it would just sit there. I could not digest what I was wrestling with. And this was terrifying. Because as much as a person could leave everything and throw themselves into ministry and missions. This is that was exactly what I had done.

And suddenly for the first time in my life and question “is there anything out there” Hello. And I couldn’t digest food. And I’m cold because it’s winter and there’s no central heating where I live. It’s late at night and I’m curled up in a fetal position in my bed and it’s dark and it’s quiet and I’m like Hello Is there anyone out there. Is there anything out there.

Perry: That’s a Pink Floyd song.

Bryan: Well, so you can understand a little bit of existential hell–I’m 30 years old. Did I just throw away the last 30 years of my life for nothing. Thankfully a doctor had some nice herbal stuff that cleared up my stomach.

Right after first of the year 2002–and Perry will remember this–I thought about this and I’m like I need some help. And the last thing I’m going to do is e-mail the guys in the missions department for the seminarian and say, “I’m here, I’m an evangelist church planter in China, and I’m having serious doubts is all of this…”

Perry: Because that never happened to anybody else anyway.

Bryan: Right. But I’m saying, well, who? Is there anyone neutral?

Perry!

Who–and when I say neutral I mean, Perry’s clearly Christian, he’s committed to his Christianity. But I attended one of your coffeehouse theology meetings with you. Perry can deal with this. OK.

And Perry understands my upbringing. And we have our secure email connection and so on. So I think the first question I shot you is OK let’s start with this one, Perry, because I’m really struggling. Why do you believe the Bible?

Which is not the greatest question you could ask, but it’s a good starting place.

Perry and I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and Perry gave the best answers he could find. And it honestly wasn’t working for him. Because it just seemed that every answer and reply you gave me on historical questions or philosophical questions.

It was always as though–OK if you are committed to Christianity being true, then that answer will satisfy you. But if you’re starting with a blank slate. I don’t see anything that would lead me to that conclusion.

But Perry was a very very good sparring partner. I had no idea until 10 years later what my questions were actually doing to you, in terms of moving you to the edge. At one point you sent me a bunch of books you sent me some William Lane Craig and I think there was some Geisler in there as well. Big armful of books that wasn’t cheap.

Perry: [Laughs] No.

Bryan: Very helpful, but I’m watching as my whole belief system is just more or less eroding. By the end of 2002 I was like I just don’t believe this Christianity thing anymore. At all.

I came back for a visit stateside. I ended the relationship with the church in L.A. Turned around and went back to China where I spent an additional year and a half. Now I was just a guy in China teaching English at a hotel and was not a missionary church planter anymore. And I’m watching.

As my whole life and my whole world view is changing. Well, something started–I started to become aware of something that became a real issue and that was: I was angry. I was really angry about a lot of stuff. Angry that I had given up 30 years of my life for something that I decided was empty. Angry that all of those dogmatic preachers and all those dogmatic professors all those years had just been feeding me a bunch of bull.

So fast forward to 2004. Perry brought Tannah and came out. I was already planning on going home which was why you were doing that trip. “Oh, I got to get Tannah to China before Uncle Bryan moves home.”

Perry came out to visit, spent a few days. I’m not sure we spent the whole time arguing, like you said yesterday, but there was the conversation in the van on the way to Leaping Tiger Gorge which we all remember the falcons and the mutations in the eyes, eyesight and so on. And that was a good conversation. I don’t know if you remember that same evening.

Perry: Yeah, I do.

Bryan: We went to Richard’s family’s house, and they fed us this wonderful dinner, and somehow you and I ended up in this conversation I think about homosexuality. I was angry about the subject of homosexuality because–it wasn’t an issue I had struggled with myself, but one of my best friends all through college had. And had been fed the fundamentalist line about homosexuality.

And I just watched it torture him and torture him and torture him.

Somehow that subject came up, and I just lit into Perry. We’re sitting in these people’s living room, having been fed a meal, and here I am. Just going off at Perry.

Perry: Of course, they don’t understand what we’re talking about at all.

Bryan: No, they don’t. Not at all! One of the one of the other ironies about that particular evening is we watched we all watched the movie “The Truman Show” which is–it’s this funny little comedy that is one of the most disturbingly profound journeys into human epistemology that has shown up on film in the last 50 years. Seriously.

Perry: Next year we’ll have an epistemology seminar.

Bryan: We should!

Audience: What’s epistemology?

Bryan: Sorry I used the word epistemology. Epistemology is basically the study of the question of how do you know what you think you know? Or how do you come to believe the things that you come to believe? And so on. And what’s your basis for believing things. So ‘The Truman Show.’ That was actually my story.

It’s like, “holy crap is this whole thing just a giant construct? This just man-made construct?” So you told me, Perry, maybe a couple of years later, you told me “that night at Richard’s house I could tell something inside of you had died.” You said it was really really scary.

Perry: Yeah. He was turning into one of them. Namely the furious militant atheists. Whose happy plug fell out and are now furious at the world and spewing their venom on everybody. Oh no. It really scared me.

And I thought: Yeah, I know there’s all these questions, and we can argue about homosexuality and whatever else, but, man, Bryan just went over some dotted line. That really scared me. It all kind of jerked me back.

I almost felt like I was following him in a sense but then suddenly realized: I don’t want THAT. I’ve seen a whole bunch of that. There’s nothing healthy about it. I don’t know where this thing is going. But this is going to be an interesting ride.

Bryan: So, Perry, as a result of that day you launched on your evolution journey. I moved home to Lincoln after nine years away. And for the next five and a half years. I was on a journey of anger.

What I will say about your evolution journey was I’m really grateful for it because you know what you learned about the brilliance of cells? And how they how they engineer evolution and so forth? You’ve had lots of Christian people tell you that you gave them a rational reason to continue to embrace their faith. And not be at odds with science. Right?

I was thinking about this yesterday. What this new model this Evolution 2.0 model also does is, for the person who doesn’t have a religious commitment, it gives us the ability to accept evolution as true without feeling really stupid. When you raise honest questions like:

Seriously that tree is just the result of accident upon accident upon accident? Cuz I had decided that evolution has to be true–and then I would walk outside, and I would see these trees, and something deep deep down inside of me would be like Really, Bryan? Seriously? Just random mutation plus natural selection, rinse and repeat? Seriously?

And then I’d just shake my head and be like No no no no, this is SCIENCE people. This is SCIENCE. And always somewhere in there is like really Bryan? Seriously?

Perry: And everybody experiences that, and that’s why this topic is so volatile. Because that is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about on the secular side.

Bryan: So you supplied me with a way to accept evolution.  And not have to be beholden, for example, to the old traditional interpretation of the biblical narrative.

And that was very very helpful. And so there was never much of a debate about evolution. Not after that. I was very interested in what you were doing, although I was not crazy about your eagerness to just tie it intimately into Christianity so quickly.

But.

I spent several years very very angry until one day in 2010. We had hired Drew Bishof to come be our operations guy. He and Jessica and all of us became very good friends. I don’t know how many of you here know Drew Bishof, but Drew and Jessica were a couple, they were living in Austin Texas at the time and they had grown up in an arch fundamentalist community in California that was almost identical to ours except that it was worse in a lot of ways.

Perry: A little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Bryan: A little bit louder and a little bit worse. And their particular thing–there had been all this grotesque sexual repression and shaming and all that stuff that was part of their fundamentalism.

And they invited me, since Drew and I were working on a Facebook project at the time, Drew said, come down to Austin and spend New Year’s with Jessica and me. So I did. And we had a blast. And literally from the first night there we get to talking about some deep stuff, and we’re up until 3:00 a.m. talking and laughing and crying and sharing stories of life under fundamentalism, the pain of this and the pain of that, and how we’ve dealt with this issue, and how we’re working through that issue and so on.

The following Sunday they said, “You can sleep in if you want Bryan, or you can come to church with Jessica and me. It’s up to you.”

Do church. That’s cool. That’s great. I have no problem with that. So we go to their church service. And. I’m sitting there and their big worship center is this 21st century modern evangelical urban kind of Christianity.

They have the worship team, they have the pastor who gets up and talks.

I remember precious little about what the service was about except for this: That the worship team really irritated me.

It was all it was all the classical stuff that has irritated me for years about 21st century evangelical Christian worship. They have the PowerPoint up on the screen. They have the band playing some song that was written a year and a half ago.

And the PowerPoint is misspelled. And the song doesn’t make coherent grammatical sense. In the same sentence you’ll use “thee” and then “you” and then go back to using “thee” again.

And I’m like this is supposed to be transcendently supernatural and we can’t even get the PowerPoint right?

And it was it was all stuff that had just irritated me just to the nth degree about Christianity and modern Christian worship.

And then I look out of the corner of my eye and standing over here is Drew. And Drew has one hand in his pocket and one hand in the air. And he’s just kind of swaying very gently to the music. And I see that and I’m like you idiot. A room full of people having a made up experience with song lyrics that don’t even make sense. And this is supposed to be supernatural worship? I just hate this.

All of a sudden, a thought hits me that I had been reflecting on over the previous couple of years because I had been doing some self-help stuff that was very very good and very very valuable. And the thought was this–Perry quoted this yesterday, although you got one word wrong, I’m thinking to myself how much I hate this and have always hated this Christian modern worship stuff–and the thought was:

Hate is just another word for “Want, but cannot have.”

And that is a truth.

I’d invite you to go reflect on that and reflect on it deeply. You cannot hate another person unless you have at some point expected something from them. Thought that they should behave a certain way. You wanted something from them. Loved them, needed something from them.

You cannot hate another human being up to and including someone you met 30 seconds ago, and you see them and you just feel this resentment. You cannot do that without some deep subconscious unconscious other than conscious part of you having wanted something first. Otherwise it is impossible to experience hatred.

And so if you are feeling hatred, then you know there’s something inside of you that you want. OK? And I realized in this moment. Sitting there with Drew doing his thing that this was true of me. And I’m like. Oh crap. And I started crying.

And I’m thinking I’m angry because I want something. What is it I want? I want this whole Christianity thing to be true. Or: I want this whole supernatural experience to actually be real. I want this, but I’m convinced it’s not. But I want it to be real.

And I started crying. And I start sobbing. And the worship band is still playing. And Drew is still there. And Jessica sees me, and she puts her arm around me. And I continued, and I’m thinking through this, and I suddenly realize: This is what all of those atheist people are so pissed about. There not pissed because it’s not true. They’re pissed because they wanted it to be true.

And I’m just crying and crying and the worship band continues playing and eventually they finish their song. The pastor gets up and he delivers his benediction and the service is over, and I’m still sitting there crying. Jessica has her arm around me, and eventually Drew comes around and he sits down, and they don’t know what’s going on.

They just know Bryan’s here sobbing. And it continues for five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes.

Eventually the pastor comes over, and he sits–is it OK if I pray over you Bryan? Between sobs I’m like fine fine yeah it’d be good.

And then it’s like… why are people who have come out of religion so angry about it? Because it’s as though you were told that daddy, who’s away at the moment is going to be home by Christmas time and when Daddy comes home at Christmas time we’re going to be together as a family and he’s got lots of gifts. He’s got gifts for you and gifts for you and gifts for you.

And daddy’s going to be home at Christmas and Christmas comes and Christmas goes and daddy doesn’t show up.

And you find out there never was a daddy in the first place.

And it was just a story and people people’s narratives of their lives are like this.

I believed daddy was coming home for Christmas with an armful of gifts. And there was no daddy in the first place. Who would not feel angry and betrayed if that was your narrative? And some of the most angry miserable people you will ever meet are people with daddy issues. Right? Male and female both. And I realize this was what I was so angry about.

All these years. I was so pissed. Not just because of the funny grammar on the slides and the arm waving and all that. I was pissed because really I wanted this to be real. And it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff. But I wanted it to be real.

Somewhere 10 or 20 minutes after the service is over I’m finally done crying. And Drew said, are you good? So can we go home? And I say yeah we can go home.

And in the car on the way home… well so the elephant in the room here, and I got to ask: Are you a Christian now?

And I said, to be honest Drew, no. I don’t think my actual views about the historicity of Christianity have changed.

All I know is: What I was so angry about was I just wanted this to be true. And it turned out it wasn’t. As far as I could tell, and that’s why I was so pissed. And I know this I’m not angry anymore. There’s not a drop of anger left. Because I got it–what I really needed was just to acknowledge the child inside that wanted it to be true.

And if you just let the child say it, and experience it, and feel it, then even if it’s not true the child can be happy. Because the child can acknowledge what the child always wanted. And Drew says: It’s a little complex but ok, I can understand that.

And that literally was seven and a half years ago. That was one of the major turning points in my life. It was like the anger was gone because I knew what it was I had always wanted.

If we can fast forward fast forward to 2016.

Perry, your 30-day reboot. It was really, really super valuable. And I think I think he did a show of hands yesterday, all the people who’ve done 30 day reboot. So if you have not done 30 day reboot please do. Because we’re going to we’re going to offer it again some point in the next month or two or three.

It’s really really important that you understand why ancient literature is so valuable, and why it’s worth your time in 2017 and beyond to be spending your time every day in old and ancient writings.

OK so you talked yesterday about the libraries burning and people keeping this stuff in the clay jars to save it from the Marauders and so forth because it was valuable to them.

The great old works of literature are valuable because, of course they were meaningful to those people and kept them around and they’ve survived and all that, but another really important reason which I didn’t really understand until this year when I–like a whole bunch of us here–discovered Jordan Peterson, Professor at University of Toronto, who explains that the oldest and greatest works of literature are archetypal.

Jordan Peterson’s “Psychological Significance of the Genesis Stories” lecture series led Bryan to say to me, “Jordan’s videos gave me permission to no longer feel stupid for being fascinated with the Bible.”

In other words, they tell stories that reflect the deepest most relatable experiences we have and that reflect our internal hard wiring almost perfectly.

Why did Harry Potter sell so well and become this mega sensation? Was it because J.K. Rowling is just a really nifty storyteller?

She is a really nifty storyteller. But that’s not why Harry Potter just hit this massive international nerve. It’s because J.K. Rowling–what did she study at university–she studied Latin Greek and the classics. And immersed herself for years of her education in the oldest most enduring classical works of Western literature.

As the story goes, that one day on the train when she’s either heading from London or to London, and suddenly gets this inspiration where it’s as though this entire story just appears in her head. That came from her years and years of deep immersion in old classical literature.

The old stories of classical literature resonate with us because they reflect something deep inside our soul. We all I think know the story of Cain and Abel, it’s chapter four in Genesis probably, and I understood this just within the last month or two for the very first time.

Why do we all resonate with the story of Cain and Abel? I mean it’s this tiny little snippet of text. But you go around and you just mentioned Cain and Abel to any person on the street and they’ll recognize it and they’ll remember it.

The atheist version of Cain and Abel, which if you listen to Sam Harris’s podcast, he’ll give you that. (I have great respect for Sam Harris but I think he’s completely bankrupt on this particular point.)

The atheist version of Cain and Abel goes like this:

“Two brothers believe in a magical fairy in the sky. And brother one believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky and brother two believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky. And their ideas conflict. And because my magical fairy in the sky doesn’t match your magical fairy in the sky therefore I’m going to kill you. And that ladies and gentlemen is what happens every time you let people believe in magical fairies in the sky.”

  1. That’s the Atheist Narrative of things and it is so drained of life and meaning and vitality and in my view it’s ugly. It’s just an ugly ugly thing.

Why does the story of Cain and Abel resonate with us?

Because it says:

“I am making a sacrifice, I am giving up something of value, because I want to please someone important to me. I have a sibling, the sibling is giving up something of value to him, and he wants to please someone who is important to him. The authority figure, for whatever reason unknown to you or me, decides that he likes your sacrifice, and mine is not acceptable. We don’t know why. I don’t know all the reasons it’s just you’re accepted by the beloved authority figure, I’m not and that’s enough to make me hate you enough to kill you.”

OK now that’s not a beautiful narrative. In a sense, it’s not anymore beautiful than the Atheist Narrative. But it’s a narrative with meaning that we can all relate with.

Have we all experienced deep jealousy over someone who has accepted and we weren’t? We all have. And so you tell a kid the story of Cain and Abel once and they’ll remember it for their lifetime, right?

And all kinds of stories that make their way through our culture are that way. I can’t tell you how many different people of different cultures have asked me: Bryan do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf? I’ve had people in Chinese come up to me and ask:

Have you ever heard this story? There was a boy who was a shepherd… So, we all recognized the narrative of the boy that cried wolf and I don’t know where the very first boy that cried wolf story ever originated.

Was it in the Middle East? Was it Far East Asia? I have no idea. But everywhere I’ve been people know this story because they read, they respond to it.

Everywhere I’ve been people know the story of the emperor who had no clothes. Which as far as I know is was just the Hans Christian Andersen story from the 1800’s.

But I’ve had Chinese people tell me “Bryan do you know the story of the emperor who had no clothes?” Because this is a narrative that just catches on everywhere you go.

Why do people love the stories of Jesus so much?

I have several answers to that but I’ll give you one of them that I think is really important. How many how many of you have spent time reading the Tao Te Ching which is Laozi’s… Well Taoism basically. It’s an ancient piece of Chinese literature very very well known in the Far East. I can, if I want, read the Tao in Chinese.

I’ve given it the old college try, I don’t know how many times, and it just doesn’t do much for me. Because it’s just selection after selection after selection of these incredibly profound sounding but utterly non-concrete bits about life and existence.

I’ll give you something concrete. Pull open the Gospel of Luke and you’ll get concrete concrete concrete. Real living breathing concrete narratives. They are so full of grit and life and reality.

Jesus arose before dawn and went up the hillside to pray. Afterwards he came down and he and the disciples got in the boat and went across the lake to Gennaseret. This is so concrete, right? It’s living breathing people and they had names. And if you want to get on a plane you can fly to the Holy Land, and you can you visit these exact sites. I mean it’s just so real.

And I think the late film critic Roger Ebert said years ago, he said the most specifically local stories you’ll ever find actually end up being stories that have the most universal relevance.

So a story about a Jewish man and his followers in first century Palestine actually resonates more universally with people than an Asian story that is nowhere near as specific as that.

Let me just highlight three things from the gospels that have spoken to me in the last year.

Story number one: Jesus is invited by some religious leaders to go eat dinner at the home of one of the religious leaders. He goes in, he sits down, he’s eating with them and somewhere in the middle of the meal in comes a woman.

Everybody in the room knows this woman. She’s got the reputation. She comes in, she goes to Jesus feet, and she starts crying. She’s crying and she’s crying on his feet and she’s wiping off her tears with her hair.

And the men in the room are saying, “Jesus, do you know who this person is that you’re just letting touch you like this?!” And Jesus says, “Let me ask you a question. Let’s say a guy has two people who owe him money one owes him $5000. The other guy owes him $50,000. He forgives the $5000 guy; he forgives the $50,000 guy. Which one of these guys do you think might be a little more grateful?”

The guy says: Well, probably the $50,000 guy.

He says, thank you, that’s the good answer. He says, for the record, Mr. Pharisee religious leader, when a guy comes to your home, normal protocol around here is you wash his feet. I noticed you didn’t bother washing my feet when I came in. But this lady has not stopped washing my feet with her tears. The person who has been forgiven little loves little; the person who’s been forgiven much loves much.

I don’t care whether you believe–this is now Bryan talking–I don’t care whether you believe there was a historical Jesus or Jesus was a complete myth, you cannot read that story and not be moved to the core by it. And recognize that this is a beautiful piece of spiritual religious and moral thought. You cannot, if you have a soul inside your body.

You cannot read the story of the Prodigal Son and not be moved almost to tears by it. Young man, goes to his dad. Basically says–forgive the French—F*** you, I wish you were dead. Give me all my inheritance money–I’m gone. He leaves. He squanders it. He has no money. He’s broke. He’s feeding pigs.

He decides: hey you know what, even the even the slaves that worked for my dad have it better than I do. I’m going to go back to dad, and he says make me a slave. And when he comes back Dad doesn’t want his son to be a slave.

He celebrates–he wants to kill the fatted calf and invite his son willingly back into the family.

Perry, if I’m not mistaken one of the more profound moments of your life in the last 10 years riveted on the story of the prodigal son. With you seeing yourself in the narrative for the very first time.

No matter what you think of Jesus and whether he was really historical or not, you cannot read the story of the prodigal son and not be moved by it.

Third story. I spent time in the Gospel of Luke this year. And had the bizarre experience that when we got to the end of chapter 23 — Jesus has now been delivered up and he’s been crucified and he’s dead and he’s buried. After, I don’t know how many years away from Christianity, I’m reading the story of Jesus.

Who is this very complex contradictory irascible Jewish guy who seems to have not very modern views on slavery and so on and so forth. And I’m reading this story and at the end of the chapter I’m broken hearted. This is bizarre. The hero of this story is dead and I’m crushed.

Fortunately, there is one more chapter, and it has a very happy ending. But I but I realized after reading about the crucifixion of Jesus for the very first time–I had the bizarre thought where I’m realizing I think I might actually love this guy. Now I ‘get’ it. Like all those people all those years that I thought were so corny “I just LOVE Jesus!!!”

And suddenly here I am I as a couple of months ago I guess–I just finished the narrative where he’s being crucified–and for one of the very first times in my life–I’m heartbroken.

And I’m like, OK maybe the “I Love Jesus” people aren’t so crazy after all.

Do I believe the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God? I don’t think so. I think that’s a no. Do I believe there was a historical Jesus? I don’t think there’s much question about that. Do I believe he’s the Jewish Messiah? I don’t know.

Do I believe that immersing yourself in these old stories and learning more about yourself is immensely valuable? Yes absolutely.

Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the big bang and the origin of life and so on? I don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully liberating to not know the answer for me at this stage in my particular life.

But that is my story and I think there’s nothing more valuable than just diving in and reading the literature of old and looking at your soul and being challenged. And knowing there are some really hard questions out there that we don’t know answers to yet.

~

RELATED: Bryan and I debate miracles

93 Responses

  1. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jon Peters,

    I did not see the exchange between you and Perry until this morning. I will let Perry defend the documentary he recommended however he pleases, of course, but I would like to comment on the critiques you linked. The one by Hector Avalos was particularly thorough and scholarly.

    You may be surprised that I agree that the Exodus did not happen “around 1450 BCE” (as allegedly claimed in the documentary) and that “archaeological evidence for many crucial personages and events is lacking at that time in both Egypt and in Palestine” (section on the basic thesis in the Avalos article), provided that by “is lacking” Avalos really means has not been found and acknowledged by leading experts. If the Exodus actually happened a thousand years earlier, as Gerald E. Aardsma claims, one should not expect well-dated evidence to indicate that it did happen at the much later time expected by the producers of the documentary. In other words, I suspect that the criticism you found of claims about evidence that the Exodus happened “around 1450 BCE” is quite valid.

    This is hardly the end of the story, however. Problems with claims regarding the “around 1450 BCE” date do not justify a conclusion that the Exodus never happened. You should not be fooled by critics who jump to this conclusion. Consider, for example, what Neil Carter said in his Patheos article that you linked:

    “The violent conquest of Canaan never actually happened. We know this for certain. We’ve gone to the places [where] that was supposed to have happened and we dug our way down to the bottom. Didn’t happen.

    “The wandering in the wilderness for forty years? Also never happened. That story was made up. We canvassed that entire region a hundred times now and not so much as a coin or a piece of pottery or anything at all that would signify they were ever there.”

    Those claims might be credible if a search for evidence really was exhaustive. Was Carter’s search exhaustive? Not finding a coin dropped along the way in the desert would certainly prove nothing, but what about pottery shards? Carter or his experts evidently overlooked an article by E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, “North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement,” Eretz-Israel 21 (1990), which reports a discovery of pottery shards “typical of Upper and Middle Egypt sites of the 4th and 6th dynasties and of the beginning of the First Intermediate Period” (p. 11). In his book on the Exodus, Aardsma quotes (on p. 52) the following summary of this discovery by Ram Gophna in “The Intermediate Bronze Age,” The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, Amnon Ben-Tor, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 127:

    “… Egyptian pottery has been identified among the finds of the North Sinai survey conducted by Ben Gurion University in the seventies (led by E. D. Oren). The Egyptian shards were found together with pottery typical of the Intermediate Bronze Age in Israel at 45 campsites of the period discovered during the survey.”

    On the main page of his website, you can see some sample photos of shards found by Aardsma himself in 2000 while he was investigating his idea about the true location of Mt. Sinai.
    http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/

    If it later comes to light that Aardsma’s ideas about biblical chronology and his analysis of supporting evidence are all wet, would it be safe to conclude that the Exodus never happened? I don’t think so. This would be no more logical than concluding that the Exodus never happened because David Rohl’s ideas are wrong. Chronology is important, and beware the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy! I recommend trusting the Bible instead of experts relying on modern studies of necessarily incomplete, currently available physical evidence and assumptions that may or may not be correct.

    • Jon Peters says:

      Hi Tom –

      I want you and other theists to keep claiming that Adam/Eve are historical (we have DNA proof now – nope), that the Exodus and genocides of Joshua really occurred (scores of professional archeologists and Biblical scholars have looked and found nothing. Must have been a stealth group – I suggest you contact the US Army and tell them they can now match the stealth fighters of the USAF), that there was a global flood and the fossil record does not represent macroevolution in spades, the sun standing still in Joshua and going backwards in Hab. are historical events (where’s the evidence for that and it must be there), that people at one time lived to over 500 years, that most or all languages did not evolve but suddenly appeared at the base of a tower, etc. I leave you on this topic of the supposed Exodus with a quote from Mark Twain:

      “You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help?”
      ― Mark Twain

      Having been in the evangelical bubble for years I really do understand why many conservative Abrahamic religious people feel the need to defend these mythologies at any intellectual cost and why you probably don’t see how desperate and crazy you sound. The reason why I encourage you to keep to your guns at any cost is the next generation IS seeing it, and that’s the hope I have for the future.

      On a side note, I did not respond to your other post to me because despite repeated attempts I was unable to find it on the site. It was long and I don’t have a lot of time but just let me say if I recall correctly you have a very deep and extensive world view built on among other things reincarnation and a mosaic and merging of various religious and spiritual views. A nice custom made belief system that is so tortuous that it can’t be tested or falsified. Here in liberal Portland where I live we call that Woo (New Age, antivaxxers, homeopathy lovers, etc.). As Carrier has written, one can come up with an infinite number of possibilities regarding origins that can be constructed so they supposedly fit the observations of our world. It doesn’t make them true. It’s not about finding evidence for a view; it’s about disproving. My favorite? We and everything were all created 10 minutes ago by a super race that placed into us past memories and the world with apparent age. Try and prove me wrong. Sagan’s dragon in the garage. I barely have time defending evolution and exposing creationism let alone taking on all the Woo. But I’m sure your beliefs are a comfort to you.

      Any input on why anyone would hold up the Bible as something to follow after studying that it’s main character is an immoral being that loves killing innocent children and sometimes even torturing them? Ever see anyone drown? Ever look into the eyes of a 2 year old as you sewed up a chin laceration and see utter terror? I have; many times. I think you made the comment in the post I could not find that drowning is not a bad way to go – as if you’ve experienced it and come back from the dead to tell us about it? Keep it up guys!!! The younger generation is watching. And taking notes.

      • Jon,

        You’ve understated the problem. Malaria has killed FAR more people than God in the Old Testament. Not to mention cancer, heart attacks, etc. So if you want to be angry, there’s plenty to be angry about. You might want to expand on that too.

        • Jon Peters says:

          I would encourage you to think through with your world view. In your world view, who created the world? Even if you say with mythology that we live in a fallen world, who allows the death and destruction to continue? Who knew when He supposedly created the world what it’s future was going to be but still allowed it to proceed as we see it? Who ultimately is responsible for all the Malaria deaths – mostly children? And did He not design or allow the human reproductive system to exist as it is? How many fertilizations never implant? How many that implant never make it to birth? How many children born never make it to age 10 before modern medicine? This death rate is 75% or higher from fertilization. Look at 300,000 years of Homo sapiens and figure out how many fertilizations die; I thought Christians were against abortion? The Flood narrative showing God the great abortionist pales in comparison.

          BTW this is one of the reason why TE fails.

          And the whole irrational idea of all this death (what did the animals do to deserve this??) and suffering due to two naked people in a garden eating some forbidden fruit – that God placed in the MIDDLE of the garden so they could not avoid it – is justified on future generations? So, if your great, great, grandfather burned down a church with 1,000 people in it YOU would be responsible? Do you guys ever listen to yourselves?

          Popular FB meme:

          God’s To Do List

          1. Make man
          2. Give them free will
          3. Slaughter 99.9% of them for using it
          4. Randomly favor one group
          5. Never speak or write a single word
          6. Legalize slavery and ban shrimp
          7. Kill myself for a weekend
          8. Hide

          The issue you just brought up has been most eloquently expressed IMO by Harris in a debate with WLC. Have you seen it? Got a few minutes? Less than 7 minutes

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=D6DCbpufpYY

  2. Jon Peters says:

    On another note, besides errors, corruptions, and just false claims to history and reality, many Christians will say when understood properly and not taken out of context, there are no contradictions in the Bible (if it’s divinely inspired how could they be there?). Here’s a fast paced short presentation that challenges that. For your consideration. Quoting the bible as evidence for a view does not make sense to a non believer considering that the bible is so corrupted and full of errors that we are more than justified in dismissing it as a reliable source for much of anything.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB3g6mXLEKk

  3. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Thanks for another detailed response with answers to my questions. As is often the case, new answers raise new questions.

    From the point of view of an atheist, there is no God, supernatural beings, or afterlife either. If they are right about this, they will never be able to taunt us after death by saying, “I told you so!” From our point of view, all of those are real, whether we recognize their reality or not. If we are right about this, we do have hope of learning much more about those spiritual realities after death. I hope we do get to see each other in the kind of existence described in Rev. 21:1-7, 9-27, 22:1-17 and that neither one of us will end up in the kind of existence described in Rev. 21:8.

    You wrote about unconditional love. Let’s think about this. Imagine that you have this kind of love for someone, but she refuses to have anything to do with you, moves off somewhere, and finally ends up in desperate need of your love, but you are not even aware of her whereabouts, let alone her plight, so you do nothing to show your love. Is your love for her still unconditional? Is unconditional love even possible in this scenario? My own answer is yes to both questions. It is just that this love was rejected by the beloved through no fault of the lover. Rejected love, like any other gift offered but rejected, is necessarily and inevitably of no benefit to the beloved.

    You said that you “find the Christian message to be a message that only certain lucky people get chosen by the Father and then hopefully get accepted into the kingdom upon belief in Jesus, while all others who reject Christianity or don’t know about it get tortured in a hell run by a fallen angel named Satan.” I must admit that this seems like a far cry from unconditional love, but is it an accurate summary of what the Bible says? Your summary look to me like a gross distortion of what our message ought to be.

    According to the Bible, one’s eternal destiny has nothing to do with luck or good fortune. If anyone disagrees, I request a proof text. As I understand the message, the Father has chosen anyone and everyone who is in Christ (Rom. 6:23; 1Cor. 26-31; Eph. 1:11-14), and the invitation to life through faith in him is open to all (John 3:16; Rev. 22:17).

    Naturally, you may wonder, “But what about infants and others who have never had an opportunity to hear this good news? Must they be condemned along with everyone who boldly dares to reject God’s gracious offer of salvation?” Good question. The verses I just cited clearly refer to people able and mature enough to make a thoughtful and deliberate decision. Where are the verses that clearly cover people not in this category? We can only speculate, but it could be that we can’t find such verses simply because the obvious ones actually apply in every case, because God gives sufficient light to everyone somehow so that absolutely everyone is “without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20).

    I have never heard a Christian teach that infants have to go straight to hell because they never made a decision to trust Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Have you? Abraham asked, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” It was a rhetorical question asked thousands of years ago, but I believe modern Christians agree with Father Abraham that the right answer is that this Judge will do right. We may not know what his judgment is in any specific case, but we trust that he will do what is right, even in what may seem to be hard cases. We are certainly in no position to reject God or the Bible because we dare guess that this Judge callously judges unjustly. After all, he loves us (John 3:16) and wants everyone to be saved (2Peter 3:9).

    Some of us may be bothered by an inability to find a verse that clearly gives hope to infants and to adults in a land where the gospel is not heard, but if so, we should be encouraged by the balancing inability to find a verse that clearly damns such people.

    I can think of Ezek. 3:16-21 and 33:1-9, but these Old Testament passages may report a particular commission to Ezekiel alone, not a general principle, and they may not refer to anyone’s eternal destiny in any case.

    In the New Testament, we see the touching plea from a rich man in hell, a man who begged for a miraculous outreach to his five brothers, worried that they might suffer the same fate if they were not personally warned (Luke 16:27-31). However, the context makes it clear that those brothers already had all the witness they needed in Moses and the prophets. Did the beggar Lazarus really have any advantage over those brothers that landed him on the cool side of the great gulf or chasm (16:26)? We see no complaint from the rich man that he had been sent to hell unjustly, so I think it is safe to assume that he had enjoyed the same biblical testimony as everyone else. I conclude that not even this passage clearly refers to people with no biblical witness at all.

    So who ends up in hell, according to the Bible? There may be questionable cases that we must leave in God’s trustworthy hands, but it seems clear that some people do dare to choose this horrible destiny. It is not that God hates them. They just refuse, for whatever reason, to accept their only hope of salvation (John 3:18; Acts 4:12).

    Moving on, I think you imagine a contrast between your philosophy and Christianity, with “an amazing consistency and overlap among [explanations in books from several unique areas concerning] God’s purpose for life, the afterlife, and how God’s plan works” on one hand, contrasting with “a wide range of churches and denominations differing from each other on many key points” on the other hand. It may be hard for you to recognize this, but if you would look again honestly, I think you could detect at least as wide a range of different ideas about key points among people who reject the Bible and believe in reincarnation, not to mention an amazing consistency and overlap among Bible-believing Christians regarding God’s purpose for life, the afterlife, and how God’s plan works. Consider, for example, some of the popular creeds.

    Thanks for answering my question about abortion, but now I have a question about your idea that some people willingly decide to be reincarnated on earth, leaving their “eternal home in heaven” because they have “specific needs for spiritual growth” that may require experiences involving “cruelty, wars, injustice, etc.” Why would anyone safe in heaven need anything enough to justify such a decision? Imagine that you came face to face with someone suffering terribly through no fault of his own. Do you suppose you might be able to comfort this person by telling him that he had once been at home in heaven, safe and sound, but then he and “other soul group members” had actually decided to be reincarnated and go through all of this, because he needed to grow spiritually? If the tables were turned, would you feel comforted?

    You said, “Atheists and agnostics will say they don’t believe in a God because the world is a cruel, horrible place to be and either it is that way because there is no God or because this God doesn’t care, is powerless to change it, or some form of these arguments.” I am not one of them, but I suspect that your speculation about God based on your trusted experts is not a significant game changer for them.

    You want to get God out of the picture by shifting the blame to people who are intent on growing spiritually, but atheists may well point out that God, even in your view, is ultimately responsible for the whole system and arrangement, one that involves endless cycles of horrible things with no end in sight. At least Christians believe that the conflict between good and evil will eventually end with the good side victorious and death finally vanquished forever. They could still wonder why God, who is supposed to be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, would allow either arrangement, let alone plan “training centers on various planets.” (What other planets besides earth?) I still don’t understand why anyone would consider your “answer” more palatable that the biblical answer.

    I think Bahnsen showed that the problem of evil is really no problem at all for believers who accept his fourth premise, but it is a problem for atheists who recognize the reality and relevance of evil. To be consistent with their ideology, they should not recognize any objective good or evil, just convenience or inconvenience from the temporary perspective of some individual or group of individuals. Stuff just happens, according to them, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing really matters—lo que será, será—right?

    We agree on your claims that “there is a purpose to this cruel world the way it is” and that “God allows and uses this world” for some (perhaps undisclosed) purpose. Will our beliefs about these concepts convince atheists that God really exists after all? Frankly, I doubt it. I think an approach that might be more promising is to help them realize that their philosophy is nonsensical, though ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who gets credit for every conversion to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 7:51; 1Cor. 2:13, 12:3; Titus 3:5; 1Peter 1:12; 1John 5:6-12). I think that many of them like to consider themselves intellectually superior to those of us who believe, and I suppose that in many cases this is true (Matt. 18:1-4; 1Cor. 1:26).

    We also agree that we have no good reason to question who wrote the books you trust for reliable guidance concerning the nature of God and the afterlife, but it certainly does not follow from this that they must be superior to the Bible in this regard. Was any book you listed written before 1950? If practically all of them were written in my lifetime, what does this say about God and his desire to communicate the truth about these matters to earthlings? Never mind other planets. The Bible has been translated into many languages, making its message widely accessible, both in printed form and as broadcast verbally through radio and television. What about the sources for your philosophy?

    I have not addressed every point in your last comment, but maybe this much is plenty for now. It is past my bedtime. Good night.

    • Jim Lea says:

      Subject: Reincarnation, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):
      Tom Godfrey (response to your 1/31/19 reply), I believe we will meet in the afterlife for sure. Let me mark that on my calendar. I agree with most of what you write on unconditional love. The souls who reject God, refuse to go into the light, and become ghosts are always welcome to change their mind, and my sources claim they eventually do because God has unconditional love for us. Is it possible for a soul to eternally reject God? I have no way of knowing.

      I wrote that I found the Christian message to be a message that only certain lucky people get chosen by the Father and then hopefully get accepted into the kingdom upon belief in Jesus, while all others who reject Christianity or don’t know about it get tortured in a hell. You at least said that you “admit that this seems like a far cry from unconditional love.” Tom, at least you can see what I am saying makes some sense to a lot of people, even if you believe otherwise. My purpose in posting on this blog is to at least show that the reincarnation philosophy has some valid points that make sense and offer an alternative worldview. In spite of the valid points of my argument, you still feel my summary is a gross distortion of the Bible message. You claim the “Father has chosen anyone and everyone who is in Christ … and the invitation to life through faith in him is open to all….” This may be your sincere Christian belief, but some of my Christian friends believe you are called before the foundation of the earth, so if you aren’t called then, too bad. Other Christians believe only members of their true church are saved, so at least acknowledge that I have a valid point about certain lucky people getting chosen for heaven—at least according to certain Christians (though not you).

      You somewhat agree with me about infants, children, and others who’ve never heard about Jesus apparently being condemned. You say, “Must they be condemned along with everyone who boldly dares to reject God’s gracious offer of salvation? Good question.” Again, at least you see my point. It is not at all illogical or whacky to ask if any of these people don’t believe in Jesus & get saved, won’t they be condemned? It’s an obvious and fair question. Children and teen-agers are killed all the time without accepting Jesus as Savior, and most of the world’s population hasn’t really heard and had a chance to practice Christianity. This too is an obvious and fair question to pose to a Christian. You answer, “The verses I just cited clearly refer to people able and mature enough to make a thoughtful and deliberate decision. Where are the verses that clearly cover people not in this category? We can only speculate….” You see, again I have a fair point because the Bible doesn’t cover the subject except to say you must receive Jesus to be saved, while my reincarnation philosophy does cover it in that it teaches we all—not a favored few—come down to earth for training and return to the spirit world—our eternal home—afterward. Perhaps God or Constantine omitted the Christian answer from the Bible or perhaps some Christians just assume an answer, but hopefully you can see why someone like me might challenge that omission.

      You mentioned “the touching plea from a rich man in hell, a man who begged for a miraculous outreach to his five brothers, worried that they might suffer the same fate if they were not personally warned (Luke 16:27-31),” and you claim “the context makes it clear that those brothers already had all the witness they needed in Moses and the prophets.” While Luke’s context is clear, that doesn’t make his alleged message of hell truthful—assuming Luke actually wrote those words and they weren’t edited into the text dozens or hundreds of years later. You wrote: “We see no complaint from the rich man that he had been sent to hell unjustly, so I think it is safe to assume that he had enjoyed the same biblical testimony as everyone else.”
      Just because Luke doesn’t record any complaints from the rich man (if he existed) doesn’t mean he had no complaints. You can certainly assume he had no complaints, but I find it totally illogical to believe that someone roasting in hell would have no complaints. Give me a break Tom! Of course, I don’t believe a God of unconditional love would put or keep anyone in hell, regardless of which scripture you quote, and my sources back up that statement. Second, Moses and the prophets didn’t tell anyone how to avoid hell.

      In my previous post, I explained that my philosophy is based on books from several unique areas: NDEs, psychics, hypnotherapists, and after-death communications. While these disciplines are separate from each other, I was stunned to find an amazing consistency and overlap among their explanations of God’s purpose for life, the afterlife, and how God’s plan works. I do not agree with you that I “could detect at least as wide a range of different ideas about key points among people who reject the Bible and believe in reincarnation.” My original statement stands as written. But having been a Christian for many years and majoring in theology, I am totally convinced that a wide range of churches and denominations differ from each other on many key points. Tom, they do. Some churches keep the 7th-day Sabbath, others don’t; some believe in a Trinity, others don’t; some believe you must be called before the foundation of the earth was laid to be saved (John MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church), others don’t & they believe you can be called now to salvation; some believe tithing is required, others don’t; some prohibit all divorce & remarriage, others don’t; some believe in divine healing and teach you shouldn’t visit doctors or take any medicine, others don’t; some babble in tongues in their church service, others don’t; Mormons, JWs, and Catholics believe they are the true church and others aren’t. If you deny this isn’t a wide range of diverse, contradictory opinions, I can’t reach you with logic.

      You asked me why would anyone safe in heaven would need anything enough to justify reincarnating? Tom, each soul is different, just like each human, and what one person sees as dangerous, another sees as adventurous and thrilling. Why do men risk and lose their lives to climb Mt. Everest? Why do men trek across the ice to the South Pole? They were much safer where they lived!

      According to Dr. Michael Newton in “Destiny of Souls,” because God gives humans free will, “in the spirit world we are not forced to reincarnate…” (p. 7). He comments that instead of incarnating on Earth, “a soul might ask to go to a physical planet other than Earth for a while” (p. 8). Part of the reason souls incarnate is due to karmic debt. Dr. Newton explains that “souls voluntarily select less than perfect bodies and difficult lives to address karmic debts or to work on different aspects of a lesson they have had trouble with in the past. Most souls accept the bodies offered to them in the selection room, but a soul can reject what is offered and even delay reincarnating” (p. 8). Souls reincarnate to expand their consciousness. Remaining in a place of light and love, such as exists in heaven, offers souls less opportunity to grow and expand their consciousness. Dr. Newton adds: “A major incentive for many souls to reincarnate is the pleasures of physical expression in biological form” (p. 296).

      Robert Schwartz explained: “Without darkness, without contrast to light, we cannot fully appreciate the light we see. Without contrast to love, we cannot know, fully and profoundly, who we really are. And so we script lives in which we forget our true identities, hopeful that challenges will awaken us to ourselves, certain that from the remembering will come a greater self-knowing” (Your Soul’s Plan: Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born, p. 309). See also Robert Schwartz online at: http://www.yoursoulsplan.com.

      Tom, you asked: “Do you suppose you might be able to comfort this person by telling him that he had once been at home in heaven, safe and sound, but then he and ‘other soul group members’ had actually decided to be reincarnated and go through all of this [the problems on Earth], because he needed to grow spiritually?” I would answer that in most cases telling a person who is suffering major problems on earth that it is somehow God’s will that he suffer or that God isn’t going to intervene isn’t what he wants to hear. It doesn’t matter if you tell him that God promotes Christianity or if you tell him God sends souls to earth to reincarnate. However, Tom, if a person begins to understand the true purpose for which he or she planned a life on earth and understands the value of that life, then that person would take some comfort in knowing that. This is expressed throughout my source books. That is the main subject of Robert Schwartz’s fine books. See “Your Soul’s Plan” referred to in the paragraph above.

      Tom, you suspect that my view about God and reincarnation based on my sources is not a significant game changer for them. That is correct. Atheists have a strong faith and are determined not to be influenced by the slightest bit of logic offered by Christians or reincarnationists. When I left my church, I was able to help deprogram several dozen individuals, but the only type of people I could reach were those who were searching for something and were open-minded. I’m sure you’d agree that even a perfect, logical argument can’t reach a close minded individual.

      As a faithful Christian determined to defend the faith, you wonder why God, who is supposed to be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, would allow reincarnation, let alone plan “training centers on various planets.” You still don’t understand why anyone would consider my “answer” more palatable than the biblical answer. Assuming you are open-minded, and I will not judge your condition, I believe an open-minded person who took the time to read and study my philosophy and well-written sources would find my answers more palatable than Christianity. You reject my philosophy based on mainly hearsay, ignorance of my philosophy, false assumptions, your present dogmatic beliefs, and a feeling that what I say doesn’t make total sense to you. I base my rejection of Christianity on years of studying and writing about the Bible as a Christian and getting a degree in theology. If you’d spend, say, a few months of concentrated study reading many of my sources, you might actually be surprised at how logical my philosophy is—as long as you retained an open mind. If a non-Christian came up to you and asked about Jesus and the Bible, you’d certainly talk to him, but in the end you’d want him to start reading and studying the Bible and attending church, so telling you that you must do the same with my philosophy shouldn’t be shocking or unreasonable.

      You state that “We agree on your claims that ‘there is a purpose to this cruel world the way it is’ and that ‘God allows and uses this world’ for some … purpose. Will our beliefs about these concepts convince atheists that God really exists after all? Frankly, I doubt it.” I can agree with those statements. You thought an approach that might be more promising is to help them realize that their philosophy is nonsensical.” While I agree that an atheist ignores so much evidence of a great Designer and Creator of the universe, I believe an atheist’s mind cannot be changed unless he is willing to open his mind and be willing to consider other philosophies. However, when he dies and returns to the spirit world, he will know for certain that there is a real loving God and a wonderful afterlife. Of course, if the atheist refuses to go into the light using his free will, he can remain on earth and feel sorry for himself.

      You stated: “We also agree that we have no good reason to question who wrote the books you trust for reliable guidance concerning the nature of God and the afterlife, but it certainly does not follow from this that they must be superior to the Bible in this regard.” My source books do not have the same reliability problem the Bible has in that my sources aren’t based on questionable manuscripts and gospels from 2,000 years ago. However, that reliability doesn’t guarantee that the messages in the books are true. The fact that the Bible has been translated into many languages and has many believers doesn’t make the Bible’s message somehow accurate and inspired either. But with my sources, I know they are real people writing real books, whereas with the Protestant and Catholic bibles, you can’t be sure the manuscripts were written by the stated authors, nor can you know how much editing by outside sources occurred that could have totally changed the meaning.

      Peace to You My Friend Jan. 31, 2019

  4. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jon Peters,

    Thanks for your January 26 (“Hi Tom”) message at 10:15 am. I assume that you saw both of my previous two messages addressed to you (dated January 24 at 10:32 am and January 25 at 1:57). In any case, your next-to-last paragraph (“On a side note, …”) implies that you may have me confused with Jim Lea, since this paragraph appears to be a response to his January 19 message at 1:04 pm addressed to you. Your January 26 message at 1:28 pm was addressed to no one in particular, but I assume that it was meant to be a response to Perry Marshall’s comment at 12:07 pm the same afternoon, the one where he mentioned cancer, malaria, and heart attacks.

    Any nonsensical idea can be believed if only problems with it can be ignored, dismissed, or overlooked. This can happen regardless of one’s ideology, yours and mine included. Both of us have been brave enough to expose our ideas here to critical scrutiny by someone with a radically different perspective, risking discovery of nonsense in our thinking due to problems overlooked or swept under the rug, so to speak. People with child-like faith might simply hold their ideas dogmatically, trusting experts and their recommended groupthink without question. For example, let’s review in some detail how we have handled the Exodus issue so far.

    You got us going on this topic by saying (January 14 at 9:14 pm), “We know there was no flood, no ark, (through geology, etc.) no Exodus from history and science (Google the path they took – it takes 8 days to walk nonstop!! Millions or tens of thousands wandered around a small area for 40 years and never left a trace??),” and I countered this by saying that you could be wrong (January 19 at 8:46 am). I went on to tell you about great evidence in the form of pottery shards discarded along the route, and I explained why experts might easily overlook this evidence.

    You evidently did not believe me, or maybe you did not read my whole comment carefully. You responded by saying (January 21 at 4:18 pm), “No, Jewish and American archaeologists gave up looking for evidence for the Exodus long ago. 40 years of wandering along a course by millions or tens of thousands that can be walked in 8 days has left no evidence that should be there. There was no Exodus, no Hebrew slaves in Egypt.”

    Perry Marshall joined the discussion of this issue (January 22 at 4:22 pm) by recommending a documentary on evidence for the Exodus. You responded with a critique of it the next day at 2:37 pm, assuring us that “The evidence is STILL missing for the Exodus. And if it happened, the evidence must be there. Tons of it.” You included two links with critical reviews of the documentary. Four minutes later, you elaborated on the same point by saying, “No, really, the Exodus never happened. Of course it didn’t. Carter and Loftus have graduate degrees from seminaries. Think, think, think.” This time you added two more links, one of which was to a Patheos article by Neil Carter with the following two paragraphs summarizing his conclusions:

    “The wandering in the wilderness for forty years? Also never happened. That story was made up. We canvassed that entire region a hundred times now and not so much as a coin or a piece of pottery or anything at all that would signify they were ever there.

    “The dramatic exodus of millions of Hebrews from Egyptian captivity? We know for a fact that never happened. It’s not even a debate anymore, not among scholars, historians, or archaeologists. The story was undeniably made up. That means that the Passover never happened. Nothing even remotely like it.”

    Not convinced by your experts or by repetitions of your claims, I responded with more detailed references to the discovery of allegedly relevant pottery finds and some of Gerald Aardsma’s own words in my reply (January 25 at 1:57 pm). Was this enough to convince you to stop claiming that no trace of the Exodus has been found? That same evening at 5:09, you wrote, “If one is going to posit a historical event of the magnitude of the Exodus then the predicted evidence must be there and it is not. Nearly all the apologist readings I’ve done consistently discusses reasons why there is no evidence in the desert. That’s not evidence; that’s highly functioning excuses and rationalizations.” Maybe at this point, you had not yet seen my latest reply.

    However, the next day (at 10:15 am) you doubled down again, saying, “I want you and other theists to keep claiming that … the Exodus and genocides of Joshua really occurred (scores of professional archeologists and Biblical scholars have looked and found nothing. Must have been a stealth group – I suggest you contact the US Army and tell them they can now match the stealth fighters of the USAF), …” Well, what would it take to change your mind? If the honest answer is nothing, we may be looking at a case of child-like faith here, and you may not be one of those who “choose to follow the facts wherever they lead, whatever the cost” after all (January 25 at 5:09 pm).

    We have also discussed transitional fossils. I will not review this issue with the same level of detail, but if you do this exercise yourself, I think you will find essentially the same pattern of ignoring the facts whenever they lead in what may seem to you to be the wrong direction. I explained why the fossil evidence should be an embarrassment to evolutionists, while you simply ignored my analysis. What could be easier? Are you ready to cross fossils off of your list of problems for creationists? If not, why not?

    As for Perry, he evidently lost interest in his documentary about the Exodus. At least, I have not seen any comment from him with a robust defense of it. He just invited you to watch it, right? Have I missed something else? Like you, I believe that David Rohl’s Exodus theory is wrong.

    You may be proud of your scholarly, intellectual approach to a topic like the Exodus, but from my perspective, you seem to be all too eager to embrace the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy. If you know of no evidence that supports the account of the Exodus in the Bible, you conclude that there must not be any, right? If someone points you to evidence you overlooked, no problem! Just ignore it, right? What could be easier? Okay, but this looks like nonsense to me.

    I watched the Sam Harris video you posted on the topic of morality. He evidently cannot think of any moral justification for what the Bible says God has done and that one can easily judge to be horrible. Is it logical to conclude that no moral justification exists, since he doesn’t know of any? Christians ought to accept Bahnsen’s fourth premise, that God has a morally sufficient (but possibly undisclosed) reason for the evil which exists, so the “problem of evil” is solved for us, even considering the cancer, malaria, and heart attacks that Perry finds so troubling, but I don’t think this option is not open to Harris, who evidently prefers to believe that God does not exist.

    The video goes into very graphic detail about death and evil horrors on a massive scale, but how should they be described from an atheist perspective? I think atheists deprive themselves of any rational basis for recognizing objective good or evil or what Bahnsen calls “a divine, transcendent sense of ethics.” They are left with just convenience or inconvenience from the temporary perspective of some individual or group of individuals, or maybe what you called “[manmade] morality through secular humanism.” Stuff just happens, according to them, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing really matters—lo que será, será—right? How is this a superior morality?

    Harris includes an argument that God is unjust or immoral because he “created the cultural isolation of the Hindus. He engineered the circumstance of their death in ignorance of revelation, and then he created the penalty for this ignorance, which is an eternity of conscious torment in fire” (1:05 – 2:10). He specifically based his ideas about this on his reading of Mark 9, Matthew 13, and Revelation 14. I looked at those chapters and did not see anything at all there about creating isolation, engineering circumstances of death, or even creating a penalty. Do you? If so, please help me focus on the relevant verses. I have written more about this issue in a comment I submitted for Jim Lea, but it is still in moderation. If you are interested in it, please watch for it.

    The vignette you posted earlier from the “God on Trial” movie begins at about 1:10:24 in the longer video, but I think it should have begun at 1:10:10, where it is announced that the verdict will be based on the judgment of three men, the accusation being that “God has broken his covenant with the Jewish people.” It would have been nice if the vignette had also included the final verdict of the three judges. Early in the case brought by the featured actor, he concluded that the Israelites were “in Egypt to start with” because God had sent a famine. Was this the only relevant detail needed to explain why those folks were in Egypt at the time of the Exodus?

    According to the Bible, they did enter Egypt to escape a famine at Joseph’s invitation, but they were not immediately enslaved. When Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, only five years of famine remained (Gen. 45:6-7), and at about this time, Jacob was 130 years old (Gen. 47:9). Jacob died in Egypt 17 years later (Gen. 47:28). Was it really God’s fault that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt (Ex. 1:6-10)? I can only speculate, but it seems to me that they had plenty of time to return home whenever they pleased, before the death of a kindly Pharaoh, but instead, perhaps finding themselves quite comfortable outside of the promised land to which God had called Jacob and his family (Gen. 32:9; 46:2-4), they simply tarried until it was too late to return without powerful, divine intervention.

    You also posted a link to a “Quiz Show” video that features a rapid series of questions and answers designed to leave the impression that the Bible is full of contradictions. How many of them have any real substance? People who watch the video have no time to subject any of them to critical scrutiny unless it is paused, so I suppose the big idea is to impress people who are not inclined to take the time. Here’s an article about this tactic.
    http://www.astorehouseofknowledge.info/w/Elephant_hurling

    Slide over to 8:40 in the video to find one of the issues I picked for critical scrutiny. Acts 1:18 and Matt. 27:5 are the references given for the presumably contradictory answers to a question about the death of Judas. Christians have read those verses for centuries and imagined that they can easily be complementary, not necessarily contradictory. Is this pair included in the series anyway because the poster did not know of any reasonable resolution and concluded that there must not be any? Is the fallacy in this line of reasoning getting any easier for you to recognize? If you picked one of those items to be the most problematic of all, feel free to call it to my attention. I understand that it would be silly to review each one in detail.

    Now I come to the meme you posted (January 26 at 1:28 pm) with an eight-point to-do list, which looks to me like a fine example of a straw man argument. This is the tactic that involves distorting an opponent’s argument so that it is weak enough to ridicule or to refute easily, tempting the unsuspecting debate audience to conclude that the distortion is a fair representation of the original argument.

    1. “Make man.” This leaves the impression that when God started work, the heavens and the earth were already in place, complete with plants, animals, and perhaps even subhuman hominins, but the universe was incomplete without mankind capable of using human language, so this was God’s first job. Of course, this is a gross distortion of what is taught in the Bible. See its first verse. Man is not created until Day 6.

    2. and 3. These items suggest that God unjustly killed people for using what God had given them. I think the exact percentage of people who die is closer to 100% (Heb. 9:27), but why quibble? The real reason for trouble was that people used their free to make bad choices. Think of traffic laws. Drivers are given an ability to control the speed of their cars at will, but would it be fair to say that we get speeding tickets for using this freedom that we are given? Or would this be a distortion of the truth?

    4. What is the basis for “random” in this to-do item? As for the “favor” part, along with the blessing for the “one group” selected by God for an important mission came a responsibility to be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:3; Is. 52:7-9; Acts 10:34; Rev. 5:9).

    5. What? See Gen. 1:3 and 3:9; Ex. 31:18 for some counterexamples.

    6. This implies that God’s laws are mainly concerned with just two areas of concern. When most of us think about the Law of Moses, we think of the Ten Commandments. Which one has anything to say about legalizing slavery or banning shrimp? Our Lord boiled the Law down to just two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:34-40). Do you find anything about this to-do item there? Only 200 years ago, I think the part about legalizing slavery would have puzzled most people in the world, because most people considered slavery properly legal. This would have been especially true back when the Law was given, and several commandments, for example Lev. 25:39-43, Deut. 5:14-15 and 23:15-16, place restrictions on slavery.

    7. God did not kill himself, even for a weekend. God is immortal (1Tim. 6:15-16), but God the Son did die for our sins (Rom. 4:25) at the hands of wicked men by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge (Acts 2:22-23).

    8. God may be invisible to our eyes (John 1:18), but he is hardly hiding from anyone who wants to find him (Acts 17:27; Rom. 1:20-23). Even a child can have a personal relationship with God (Matt. 11:25-30).

    I suspect that you could think better and be more reasonable than these examples from your recent comments might suggest. If you catch me using a logical fallacy as I address your issues, please call the matter to my attention. I am far from perfect in this regard.

    At some point, I hope you will find some time to imagine what you might say to your final Judge, just in case the Bible is right after all about what happens after we die. Would you resort to straw men and logical fallacies as you do in these online discussions? I recommend being as honest with yourself now as you would be to God on such an occasion.

  5. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    You continue to impress me with your detailed responses. Thanks for the one you submitted on January 31. Peace to you too. Since you called me your friend, I suppose we are officially friends now. Great!

    Can you reach me with logic? We may never know until you have “reached me” in the sense of convincing me, at which point we could consider how you did it. In the meantime, let’s be on the lookout for problems with each other’s logic. This is a great advantage of a discussion involving people with radically different perspectives. Logical problems may be easy to ignore or overlook while one sticks to familiar groupthink. In this kind of discussion, problems might be noticed and pointed out by someone looking at them from a different angle. We should appreciate valid correction and not feel offended or assume that the correction was meant as an unfriendly attack.

    You gave me a fourth list of differences among churches that claim the Bible as a holy book. (See your comments dated December 28 and January 9 and 22 for your previous lists.) This time, you added, “If you deny this isn’t a wide range of diverse, contradictory opinions, I can’t reach you with logic.” Well, I certainly do not deny that your lists are accurate. Did anything I wrote suggest that I do? I think you may have speculated that I do, only to dodge the issue of comparable differences in the teachings of those who reject the Bible as the word of God and believe in reincarnation. I am no expert on what they teach, so I offer you no list of specific differences. Instead, I am relying on you to consider those differences honestly, since you claim to have read or heard a lot of what they have to say.

    By the same token, I rely on you to develop a creed as enduring and impressive as the Nicene Creed to illustrate what you consider to be comparatively stunning unanimity or consistency of thought among those same writers and teachers with regard to God’s purpose for life, the afterlife, and how God’s plan works.

    Please do not misunderstand my purpose for requesting these comparisons. I am certainly not advancing an argumentum ad populum reason to convert to Christianity. I understand that even the vast majority of people can be wrong about something. You probably do too. Such lists and comparisons can prove nothing about the truth claims of any religion or philosophy. My purpose is just to bring some closure to a side discussion that started with questions I asked you on December 27: “You recommended a number of books, but do any of them compare favorably with the Bible in your opinion, so much so that you prefer to trust what their modern authors teach more than the Bible? What makes you so sure that they have not been fooled?”

    The next day, you responded, “I believe every source I listed in my last post compares favorably with your view of the Bible. I have noticed an amazing consistency between the various sources from NDEs, hypnotherapy, and psychics, as well as after-death communications. I find, however, that the Bible has caused major disagreements for centuries, and Christian denominations can’t even agree on its correct meaning.”

    It is possible, of course, that we have both been fooled, and atheists may feel sure about this, but I hope you will reconsider your answer instead of just repeating it. Is it logical to conclude that your philosophy is more likely than Christianity to be true in view of comparisons between the Bible and the books that have impressed you? We are not talking about logical proofs here, right? Personally, my preference for Christianity is not based on any such comparison, and if even if you could convince me that those comparisons are tilted in favor of your philosophy, I am not sure I would see this as a persuasive or rational reason for switching.

    At this point, I think we both remain convinced that the other side has been fooled while our own side has not. We may already have made some progress, but let’s solidify it and build on it. For example, I have acknowledged that we have little or no reason to question who the authors of your books are, while some, if not all, of the biblical authors are either patently unidentified or have a reasonably debatable claimed identity. So what? If we know for sure who wrote a book, does it follow that whatever is written in the book must be true? Conversely, if the author is unknown or cannot be definitely identified, must we conclude that the writing cannot be trusted to convey truth?

    When we evaluate the Bible in a scholarly manner, I think it is important to take into consideration credibility afforded to other works of similar antiquity.
    https://carm.org/manuscript-evidence
    https://www.josh.org/wp-content/uploads/Bibliographical-Test-Update-08.13.14.pdf
    There are holy books of well-known religions that agree with you about reincarnation, right? I thought a Hindu or Buddhist holy book might cover this doctrine, but these articles evidently do not support the idea.
    https://www.thoughtco.com/reincarnation-in-buddhism-449994
    http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/does-the-rig-veda-mention-reincarnation-or-not-part-1/
    Anyway, if you know that such a holy book exists, how would it compare with the Bible in terms of plentiful ancient manuscripts dated relatively close to the time of writing?

    Besides the number and quality of manuscript witnesses to the original text, consider also the credibility of their content. Can you point me to a website like this one, except that it features stories of lives changed for the good after coming to believe what you believe?
    https://unshackled.org/
    While comparing the Bible with other holy books or your modern books, I really ought to mention prophecy. What do you have that compares favorably?
    https://www.ligonier.org/blog/fulfilled-prophecy-demonstrates-divine-inspiration-scripture/

    You said, “…some of my Christian friends believe you are called before the foundation of the earth, so if you aren’t called then, too bad.” Those friends must have in mind Eph. 1:3-10. I don’t see this as inconsistent with my belief at all. Who is called, and who is not called? I think the biblical answer is given in Rev. 22:17. Eph. 1:4 is not about people “called before the foundation of the earth.” Instead, it says, “… [God] chose us in him before the creation of the world …” There must be a distinction between being called and being chosen. Those of us who are chosen are the ones who are spiritually in Jesus Christ. In him, we have redemption through his blood (Eph. 1:7). This distinction is clarified in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14), which ends with the teaching that many are called (KJV) or invited (NIV), but relatively “few are chosen.”

    Atheists may like to smear Christianity with claims that God is going to send lots of people to hell through no fault of their own, even though they cannot testify to an actual case of this in the history of the world. They are guessing how God will judge people, but their guesses are nothing more than pessimistic, derogatory speculation. I believe the Christian position is that God is good and utterly holy, righteous, and merciful, the best Judge one could ever hope to have, but hell is real and the real destiny of anyone who shows up at the “wedding banquet” wearing his own “righteousness” (Matt. 22:11-14) instead of the true righteousness freely offered through faith in Jesus Christ.

    You went on to say, “Other Christians believe only members of their true church are saved, so at least acknowledge that I have a valid point about certain lucky people getting chosen for heaven—at least according to certain Christians (though not you).” You would have a valid point, all right, if any of those other Christians are right, but are they? What is the biblical basis for this belief? When do they suppose “their true church” gained its first true member?

    Fortunately, at least in my book, what fallible mortals believe about the final judgment is irrelevant. This is entirely up to God, and it’s a good thing it works this way. We have plenty of warnings about hell in the Word of God that ought to be taken seriously, all right, but it is not up to us to presume to know how God will judge in any specific case. We certainly should not reject Christianity because of horrific guesses made by people who really do not know what they are talking about.

    I agree that it is “not at all illogical or whacky to ask if any of these people [(infants, children, and other who’ve never heard about Jesus)] don’t believe in Jesus & get saved, won’t be condemned,” so I accept it as “an obvious and fair question,” all right. Let’s consider together what a reasonable answer to this question ought to be from a Christian perspective, one not biased toward atheism.

    Part of your question seems to me to have a fairly obvious answer. Anyone who does not “get saved” remains lost and will necessarily be condemned (John 3:18-19)—no exceptions. The rest of the question is not so easy to answer. We can be reasonably certain that some people never hear the gospel in this life, but can we be just as certain that God sends them straight to hell, when they die, without ever having had any opportunity to see any of the light mentioned in John 3:19?

    Atheists may speculate and answer, “Yes, we can be, and this proves that God is a monster,” but what is the biblical response? You studied theology. What answer do you have? My answer is that God is good and just, and when we finally know for sure how God handles cases like these, we will be satisfied that he did the right thing. This position may remind you of Bahnsen’s fourth premise. I believe it is entirely consistent with biblical teaching. Can you prove me wrong?

    Your philosophy does cover this question, all right, since it includes the idea that no one needs to be saved, but this does not reassure me that people who believe this have not been fooled. I understand that the other side of this coin is that my case for the goodness of God will not necessarily reassure everyone that I have not been fooled. I think it comes down to a personal decision about what seems reasonable. From my perspective, it is rather “illogical or whacky” to presume to sit in judgment on God with regard to his treatment of people in the category of interest, while having absolutely no definite knowledge of the truth of the charges.

    On the rich man described in Luke 16, yes, he must have had complaints, all right (16:24), but if he thought he had been sent unjustly to the wrong side of the gulf or chasm, it is not mentioned in our text. This was my point, not that he was roasting in hell without any complaint at all. The story we have is certainly not an exhaustive account of his time in court or what the man was thinking, so the lack of mention proves nothing about what he thought. By the same token, we have no proof that he was sent there unjustly either.

    Your second point (“Moses and the prophets didn’t tell anyone how to avoid hell”) is more interesting. The text in Luke suggests to me that your statement must be wrong, even though it superficially seems to be correct. How did Abraham get to be on the cooler side, even though the Old Testament has no clear warning about even the need to avoid the flaming side of that great gulf, let alone how to do this? The answer to this may be a great mystery, but do we really need to know in our day? 1Peter 3:18-20 may suggest a possible answer for anyone who is curious.

    I am going to have to close this comment now, but I wanted to mention that I did spend some time visiting the website you linked with the teachings of Robert Schwartz.

    Best regards.

    • Jim Lea says:

      Subject: Reincarnation, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs): Tom Godfrey (response to your 2/4/19 reply), just think how lucky you are. You’ve probably never met anyone espousing the reincarnation doctrine from my point of view (I don’t believe or study the Buddhist or Hindu version), though a lot of people have a superficial belief in reincarnation based on a few of my sources. Now you can tell your Christian friends that you found a real friend who just happens to believe in reincarnation. That should definitely increase your status. And to top it off, I understand Christian theology. I didn’t go onto Perry Marshall’s site to convert anybody or even to argue against Christianity. My purpose was just to present my philosophy as an alternate worldview to Marshall and show people it makes some sense and has some logic behind it. Actually Marshall’s book “Evolution 2.0” fits my philosophy perfectly. I had even come to his conclusion several years ago that God uses evolution but he must have been the original Designer and he must have intervened in the process later as the Designer & Creator to push the process along millions of years ago.

      You state that I gave you “a fourth list of differences among churches that claim the Bible as a holy book. (See your comments dated December 28 and January 9 and 22 for your previous lists.) Well, I certainly do not deny that your lists are accurate. Did anything I wrote suggest that I do?” Tom, in your previous post you indicated there was “an amazing consistency and overlap among Bible-believing Christians regarding God’s purpose for life, the afterlife, and how God’s plan works.” I included my list of Christian disagreements again because I don’t believe there is an amazing overlap of agreement among Christians, but I believe there are major disagreements on major doctrines.

      Tom, you wrote: “You recommended a number of books, but do any of them compare favorably with the Bible in your opinion, so much so that you prefer to trust what their modern authors teach more than the Bible?” Here’s how I evaluate it. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very reliable and a 1 as very unreliable, I rate the Bible’s inspiration & accuracy as a “1” because I don’t trust the canonization of the manuscripts, I believe the 2,000-year old manuscripts were heavily edited, I don’t believe they are accurate, and I don’t believe the immature, anger-filled, jealous God of the OT represents the true God. I’d rate my sources as maybe 8 or 9. I obviously can’t prove each medical doctor described a person’s NDE, for instance, totally accurately, nor can I prove the recipient of the NDE, for instance, told the doctor all the facts in perfect order and accuracy. But here’s the difference. I am not relying on one doctor reporting one NDE or the writings of one psychic reporting one channeling of one dead person. I note remarkable consistency between all the various independent books, articles, and YouTube interviews on the subject of reincarnation, the nature of God, and the afterlife. Christians rely on two Bibles (Protestant & Catholic) as their main source. I rely on many diverse sources, all pretty much independent from each other.

      “What makes you so sure that they have not been fooled?” I have read my sources for over 35 years, looking for discrepancies and comparing sources to each other. I was an editor and later an auditor for almost 50 years, so I am used to examining documents for logic and error. Second, as I just said, I have many sources that are independent from each other, my sources are not from one organization or one “ism,” and the sources all seem to complement each other and are consistent among each other. The books on NDEs are consistent with what the psychics say and both are consistent with the results of hypnotherapy. It’s unlikely that I have all the minor details down correctly because I can’t interview God and the beings in the spirit world, but I feel I have an accurate general understanding of God’s plan and the afterlife.

      You ask: “If we know for sure who wrote a book, does it follow that whatever is written in the book must be true?” No, of course not. “Conversely, if the author is unknown or cannot be definitely identified, must we conclude that the writing cannot be trusted to convey truth?” No, it may be trustworthy, but I am not contesting just the author but the authenticity of the whole text of the Bible, especially the NT text. It is not transparent who decided which manuscripts to include in the Bible and whether the manuscripts reflected the views of the apostles 200 to 300 years earlier. It is also unprovable whether God inspired what men assembled into the NT, but based on the major flaws I see in scripture coupled with the OT God’s immoral character, I don’t believe the Bible can be inspired.

      As I have said, I don’t read any religion’s holy books on reincarnation. I would have zero trust in ancient Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim holy books for the same reason as the Bible. They can’t be authenticated and there is no proof they are holy or inspired. My sources do not come from any organized religion or group but from many independent, current sources.

      You wondered if I can point to a website that features stories of lives changed for the good after coming to believe what I believe. I base most of my philosophy on the books I have read & studied. Almost every single book describing other people’s NDEs I’ve read has dozens or hundreds of stories of people who went through NDEs and had major changes in their lives. Some changes were more dramatic than others. Yesterday I started reading “Dying to Wake Up: A Doctor’s Voyage into the Afterlife and the Wisdom He Brought Back” by Rajiv Parti, M.D. Dr. Parti was a wealthy world-renowned cardiac anesthesiologist from India and was chief of anesthesiology at Bakersfield Heart Hospital for more than a decade. Before his NDE, he said his sole goal in life was to accumulate wealth, and he was very successful at it. After his NDE he gave away his mansion, quit his career, opened a wellness clinic, and completely turned around his relationship with his family, which was terrible. I haven’t toured the websites of all the psychics, NDE writers, etc. to see how many stories of changed lives are featured, but I’d assume some are there.

      Psychic James Van Praagh’s books have hundreds of stories of lives he’s helped through his mediumship. Some are tear-jerking, heart-rending stories. Once a dead friend of a client came through in a reading and urged him [the client] to kick his drug problem lest he die. James helped the client face reality, and the client turned his life around. Other readings by James helped parents or spouses deal with the grief caused by their loved one’s death. I love reading these books because there are so many inspiring messages that turn people’s lives around.

      Concerning prophecy, the biblical record is spotty. Hypnotherapist Michael Newton refused to do future life regression because he declared our free will makes the future impossible to know with any real certainty. I know of 2 psychics who published articles or books about the future. I disagree with their decision. I try to live in the present and am not going to go check out every prophetic utterance, especially since I believe firmly we all have free will in all our actions. I believe that is the reason prophecies have failed.

      In my last response I said some of my Christian friends believe you are “called” before the foundation of the earth, so if you aren’t called then, too bad. I misquoted them and should have used the term “chosen” from Eph. 1:3-10. I agree with you about that. Concerning hell, like you I believe “God is good and utterly holy, righteous, and merciful, the best judge one could ever hope to have,” but I don’t believe he has a hell nor do I believe he would send any soul there. Will every soul throughout eternity end up agreeing with God and his ways? I have no way to know.

      In my last response I wrote: “Other Christians believe only members of their true church are saved, so at least acknowledge that I have a valid point about certain lucky people getting chosen for heaven—at least according to certain Christians (though not you).” You claimed I “would have a valid point, all right, if any of those other Christians are right, but are they?” Wait, Tom, those are 2 separate issues. First, I do have a valid point. Second, are the other Christians right about being a true church? My answer is they are wrong. There is no true church.

      I agree with you that the Bible supports hell and has plenty of warnings about it. My sources, however, portray a God of unconditional love who doesn’t have or need a hell. Instead, upon return to heaven, we review our own life and with the help of our spirit guides, we decide what our failings are and develop a plan to begin to overcome them. The spirit world is one of encouragement, compassion and help, not one of condemnation and vengeance. You can fail in life after life on certain traits and still have all the time you wish to improve.

      You write that “Anyone who does not ‘get saved’ remains lost and will necessarily be condemned (John 3:18-19)—no exceptions. The rest of the question is not so easy to answer. We can be reasonably certain that some people never hear the gospel in this life, but can we be just as certain that God sends them straight to hell, when they die, without ever having had any opportunity to see any of the light mentioned in John 3:19?” Tom, some of my Christian friends say the answer is “yes” and others hedge their answers. My answer based on my reincarnation philosophy is this situation never comes up because there is no final judgment, lake of fire, or hell.

      You commented before: “Your philosophy does cover this question, all right, since it includes the idea that no one needs to be saved, but this does not reassure me that people who believe this have not been fooled.” There is no way I can prove I haven’t been fooled until I either end up dead or in the afterlife. You add: “I understand that the other side of this coin is that my case for the goodness of God will not necessarily reassure everyone that I have not been fooled. I think it comes down to a personal decision about what seems reasonable.” We can agree on that. I am totally sincere in my beliefs, and I think you definitely are totally sincere too. We both come from different backgrounds and experiences, so it is inevitable what will seem reasonable and logical to one might not seem that way to the other. From my point of view, whether you agree with me or not and whether you are Christian or not, you will one day be in heaven in good standing with God along with me.

      You wrote: “On the rich man described in Luke 16, yes, he must have had complaints, all right (16:24), but if he thought he had been sent unjustly to the wrong side of the gulf or chasm, it is not mentioned in our text. This was my point, not that he was roasting in hell without any complaint at all. The story we have is certainly not an exhaustive account of his time in court or what the man was thinking, so the lack of mention proves nothing about what he thought. By the same token, we have no proof that he was sent there unjustly either.” I also believe we have no proof he was sent to hell at all. In my reincarnation philosophy, a soul may be a greedy rich man in one life, but to learn the other side of the coin, he may choose to live in poverty in India in his or her next life. The soul may be a strong, charismatic woman in one life and a pitiful, sickly man in the next life to gain experience in both areas, so there is no need for a hell. Instead you have the law of karma. If you wrong someone in one life, you will experience an equivalent wrong in this or a next life and learn wisdom from the experience. So why would you need a hell? God is merciful and wants us to grow and change, not get consumed by fire. We are all God’s children, and he loves us all.

      You stated: “Your second point (‘Moses and the prophets didn’t tell anyone how to avoid hell’) is more interesting. The text in Luke suggests to me that your statement must be wrong, even though it superficially seems to be correct.” All I can say, Tom, is I don’t remember anywhere in the OT where Moses and the prophets gave Israelites a formula for avoiding hell. Yes, there was the Mosaic law with its over 600 do’s and don’ts and the Big 10, but where did Moses or Isaiah, for instance, say you go to hell if you don’t tithe, or if you break the land Sabbath, or if you don’t circumcise your son, or if you commit adultery? I know of no such advice. Besides, what kind of cruel God would drop a poor, ignorant, uneducated Israelite into an ever-burning fire for torment? Maybe a serial killer would or a sadist or a Nazi, but not a God of love.

      I’m glad to hear you spent some time visiting the Robert Schwartz website with his research on pre-birth planning. In the book I recently read titled “Your Soul’s Plan,” he discusses why individual souls during pre-birth planning in the spirit world chose a life of physical illness, being handicapped, being blind & gay all at once, being deaf, drug addiction, alcoholism, death of a loved one, or a horrible accident. Each chapter covers a different individual and explains why that person made that free-will choice before reincarnating, how the choice affected family members and friends, and what the individuals all hoped to learn from each case. This book is one of several what offer a remarkable insight into how lives are -preplanned and why. It’s been a good learning experience for me trying to present my philosophy in a clear, logical, understandable way. I hope my ideas are more fun and exciting to read than your jousts with atheists on this website.

      Peace to You,
      Jim

  6. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Please excuse this comment out of turn. I expect to be rather busy in the next week or two, so while the Robert Schwartz material is still fresh on my mind, I wanted to write down my comments on it and make them ready for your reply as time allows.

    I watched the YouTube video interview with Rob Olson (length: 57:53) on the book, Your Soul’s Gift to You. It was a bit frustrating for me, because Schwartz positioned himself as an authority whose word should not be doubted. As you might imagine, I am not ready to award him this much reverence, but in this interview, Olson obviously accepted the role without a problem. This may explain why he asked Schwartz questions appropriate for trusting disciples rather than questions that I would have asked as a skeptic.

    I even briefly investigated the interviewer (https://www.afterlifetv.com/about/) and saw that Olson was once skeptical too, earlier in his career. He has reached a point now where he is not just a believer but actually claims to know that his conclusions are correct. I am in no position to prove scientifically that he has been fooled, but I have a working hypothesis that he has been fooled by real spiritual beings who are enemies of God. These beings could be intimately familiar with many people who have lived in the past or are still alive today.

    If the Bible is truly the Word of God, who wants everyone to be saved (2Peter 3:9), and we should turn in faith to Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 4:8-12), then somehow convincing people that none of this is true does seem to be something that enemies of God would make a priority. To hide their true nature and agenda, I think they would need to appear to be angels of light and righteousness (2Cor. 2-6,13-15).

    Instead of analyzing that YouTube interview with Schwartz, I would rather raise questions that came to mind as I read a March 1, 2018, interview for Conscious Life Journal.
    https://www.yoursoulsplan.com/index.php/about-robert/an-interview-with-robert

    Schwartz is considered an expert on “pre-birth planning of many common life challenges,” and this doctrine is a key aspect of your own theodicy. Did you originally receive it from Schwartz? If not from him, from whom? Is this a relatively modern doctrine, or is it also taught in one of the ancient holy books? Please be specific.

    Schwartz explained that he “started to think outside the box” of biblical guidance (Lev. 19:31) and decided that it would be okay to follow an example set long ago by King Saul (1Sam. 28). What assurance do you have that the “spirit guides” or “highly evolved nonphysical beings” he consulted were on the good side, with God, the Creator of the universe? The oldest trick in the book is to question the Word of God (Gen. 3:1). We should not keep falling for it, but I suppose that many still do. This may be a case in point. I think it makes more sense to question the word of those who contradict what God has said (Rom 3:4; 1John 4:1).

    King Saul turned to a medium after complaining that God was not answering his inquiries about his military prospects (1Sam. 28:4-7, 15). God had already told him through Samuel, while they were both alive, all that he really needed to know about this (1Sam. 13:13-14). The king’s plan to find out what he should do with regard to the Philistine threat through further disobedience to God did not result in an answer to his question, unless the story we have leaves it out. All he got was a clear, expanded repetition of what Samuel had already told him earlier (1Sam. 18:16-19). The king certainly did not feel healed because of assurance that he had planned his troubles before he was born.

    Schwartz says that we “plan our lives” with “highly evolved nonphysical beings … before we come into body” and “then [they] guide us through our lives after we’re here.” What do you suppose he means by “highly evolved”? Evolution implies a process. Is there any process that does not have a beginning? When did this process begin for those guides? Were they humans facing many reincarnations? When their “evolution” began, were they just as clueless as a newly-created human being, one that you suppose is about to be incarnated for the very first time? Did God serve as a spirit guide before anyone else had an opportunity to evolve highly enough to serve in this capacity? If you have answers to these questions, how do you know they are correct?

    Schwartz said that the experience of seeing “the deeper purpose of [his] greatest challenges” was “very healing” (unlike what King Saul experienced, according to the biblical account). From what illness or injury do you suppose he was healed?

    Schwartz gave five interesting but mysterious answers to a question about why we plan life challenges.

    The first reason (“to release and balance karma”) is hard for me to understand in spite of the explanation given, because the meaning of karma is far from clear (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma#Definition_and_meanings). It seems to me that the number of reincarnations allegedly experienced ought to reflect how effective it is to plan life challenges—the more reincarnations, the less effective.

    The second, third, and fifth reasons (“healing,” “service to others,” and “healing or correcting false beliefs or false feelings”) are mysterious for a different reason. Schwartz tells us, “The nonphysical realm that we come from is the realm of great [unconditional] love and light and peace and joy,” so why, in this wonderful realm, would there be any illness or injury that needs to be healed? What “service” could others possibly need in such a realm? What false beliefs or feelings could possibly exist in such a heavenly realm, where a soul supposedly “knows itself to be infinitely worthy and infinitely powerful”?

    Schwartz evidently teaches that those false beliefs or feelings are picked up only during an incarnation, so shouldn’t this be a good reason to choose to stay at home in the safe and glorious realm? He thinks, “… what’s happening on the Earth plane is that people are having their hearts broken open in order to become more loving beings, to remember their true nature.” Does it not follow that people should stay home, according to this philosophy, where there is no need to become more loving and their true nature is lived out eternally and therefore never forgotten?

    The fourth reason (“contrast”) makes no sense to me. If a person has always been perfectly happy and healthy, would it make sense to want to be unhappy or seriously ill, always looking forward to (yet another?) death, just to experience contrast and better appreciate an original state, one that a person on earth may not even imagine could be real? Would you eat disgusting food just to help you understand how delicious food can be by contrast? Does any of this make sense to you?

    By the way, the idea that we are actually “infinitely worthy and infinitely powerful” makes it hard for me to see a difference from God, so I am reminded of a primordial temptation to be “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Who gave Schwartz this idea?

    When the interviewer asks about things that are specifically set during pre-birth planning, Schwartz assures us that our parents and possibly a congenital illness or handicap are indeed set, but he continues, “Most of the planning is flexible. It’s not just the case that there’s a Plan A. There’s also a Plan B, C, D, E, F, G, and on and on.” If true, this would be amazing. Does Schwartz even realize how complicated such “planning” would have to be? Is this really more like winging it than actual planning?

    If something goes wrong because someone else chooses not to cooperate, can’t there be an unplanned life challenge that we suffer through no fault of our own, in spite of careful pre-birth planning? In any case, I think your theodicy ultimately fails to shift all of the responsibility for evil in the world to humans and their own plans, because it is God who set up and endorsed this arrangement in the first place, right?

    Our life is not lived in isolation. Not to mention weather and other events beyond human control, our experiences depend crucially on the actions and decisions of many other people whose life span may overlap ours, while their experiences also depend on others the same way, with chains of life span overlaps stretching all of the way back to Creation.

    I am reminded of my great-grandmother who was born in Ireland. Before her family came to the New World, her parents considered letting a childless couple adopt her. I have wondered what the world would be like if she had stayed behind in Ireland. I suppose my grandfather might never have been born, or if he had, he would have had radically different ancestry—not really the same person at all. My mother, ditto. Her children, ditto. Our children and grandchildren, ditto. And so on. Real flexibility is complicated for sure.

    None of this complexity could be a problem for God, who is omniscient, but how could any lesser being possibly have a total grasp of it? Schwartz said, “Spirit shows [a medium] something that looks like an incredibly vast and elaborate flowchart, a series of decision points. If you do A, then X happens. If you do B, then Y happens. The flowchart is so enormous it’s beyond human comprehension, but it’s not beyond the soul’s comprehension.” I suspect someone is being fooled. Is our soul really like God in its ability to manage this level of complexity?

    I have heard that there are basically two kinds of religion, one that calls for works to be saved or to enjoy future bliss, and biblical Christianity, where we are saved not by our own works of righteousness but rather by a righteousness that is freely offered to us who believe (Rom. 3:21-26; Titus 3:5). Do or done? Your philosophy may be like those religions in the former category, at least for someone “courageous” enough to be incarnated, but I suppose it could be in a third category where no one really needs to be saved, and everyone has an attractive option to avoid the “vale of tears” entirely.

    Okay, I realize that I have covered a lot of territory here, and it would be unreasonable to expect you to answer every question in detail, but I hope that they give you at least some appreciation for my skepticism. I hope you are willing to reconsider your philosophy from a more critical or skeptical perspective.

    Best regards.

Leave a Reply

You must use your real first and last name. Anonymity is not allowed.
Your email address will not be published.
Required fields are marked *