Thoughts after a conversation with an evangelical.
I was out with friends over the weekend, and a group of conservative evangelicals joined us for the event. Mostly consisting of my friends’ young adult church group / youth group.
We went out for dinner and one of the individuals led with the conversation starter of “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask him?” No lead in or small talk just straight to the point. I said I would ask g-d why he created mankind with freewill. I was given the canned response. That g-d wanted us to have a choice to love him, and taking away free will would leave us just robot servants. We discussed this point for a short while until the same individual flat out asked me “Are you a believer?”
I would have at one point in my life jumped to answer this question. And express my deep love for God. But now I just merely stated, “No, at this point in my life I don’t believe in g-d.” At this point the conversation turned directed to focus on me and my lack of belief in g-d.
I’ve found that everyone seems to want to know why you don’t believe. And then wants to counter those very same doubts or questions. (If only it were that simple). I explained that I had experiences with the church and Christians that have pushed me away from god.
I briefly explained a bit of my backstory. Growing up fundamentalist and then attending a college steeped in legalism. Of course this wasn’t enough of an answer.
Her response was “So it’s the rules that pushed you away.” No it wasn’t just the rules that pushed me away it was the way people treated others. All the while claiming God’s love and compassion. It was the way they treated the homeless, poor, and needy. Giving them second class spots at church (all the way in the back), or confining them to a designated Sunday school. The way the Church acts that they are better than the “unsaved” in the “ghetto.” And how those same people just need g-d. As if mere belief in g-d would solve the issues of poverty and racial inequality.
She then chose to focus on the belief that these people must not have been Christians. As in her mind all Christians have to show “fruit” or it’s more than likely that they were never saved. That their actions should have reflected the lifechanging love of g-d. I find this belief particularly dangerous. It lets Christians off the hook if someone acts in a way that they are not approving of. I could have told her of the time that my mother was sexually abused by a deacon or her youth minister. Or of the time my wife was sexually assaulted by a “young man of god” but I held my tongue.
I know enough to have a decent conversation on the topic. So we focused on salvation. I pointed out that Jesus allows all to be saved. And according to the new testament all can be saved regardless of past sins, or their own current lifestyle. According to the teachings of my youth salvations is a prayer to god accepting Jesus in your heart, asking for forgiveness of sin, and acknowledging your own helplessness in the area of salvation. She acknowledged this but still referred to her previous statement that they probably weren’t saved based on their actions.
I wish people would stop trying to make excuses for the church and for the actions of other Christians. Acknowledge the pain and the hurt don’t try to side step it. Christians can and do hurt people. Debating if they were saved or not does little to help the wounded heal.
We moved to several different topics. The justice of g-d and the validity of scripture being the two main ones I remember. The justice of g-d is a hard one for me. See my posts on is g-d good and my post a cry to god.
I brought up points on the nature of g-d. If g-d is good then why does he allow suffering, pain, and evil in the world. The easy counter argument made was that this wasn’t g-d’s original plan, but that man introduced sin into the world. And that sin is the basis of all evil and suffering. If man had never sinned then the world would be a perfect suffering free world.
I argued that if g-d was omniscient and all powerful then you really have to credit him with the creation of evil and suffering. He knew man would fall, and that sin would take over the world. You can’t separate g-d from the creation of evil if he is the source of all that is. This prompted a repose about not knowing the ways of g-d. And how we as man cannot fully know the mind of g-d.
Once again I’m going to interject into this story. If a person ever tries to tell you of their experience with suffering, just try to sit and listen. Don’t try to explain it away, or pass it on to a uncaring deity. Just sit and be present and listen.
We then went into discussion about the nature of man. And according to her how sin is the cause of human suffering. As I don’t believe in the idea of sin this was more of an abstract argument for me. In my mind evil and good are just part of the human experience. It just is; we don’t need a source of that to try and explain it.
Have you ever heard the argument that mankind is naturally evil? Well that’s the next logical step in this argument. I was told that “You don’t have to teach a kid to steal or lie.” And the trite phrase “Well have you ever told a lie?” Therefore you are a sinner in g-d’s eyes. I argued that if all are born evil then g-d condemns us all to hell from birth.
This may sound like a leap. But you have to realize in an evangelical’s mind any sin separates us from g-d. If we sin then we are condemned to hell. The only thing that allows us entry to heaven is the before mentioned salvation and trust in Jesus. I know that’s a bit of a rabbit trail, but I hope it helps to understand the flow of conversation.
The “age of accountability” is an evangelical way out of this argument. That g-d won’t condemn a child unless he or she is of the age where they can understand the “salvation message” and the fact that they are a sinner. This is a very shallow way out in my mind, and it open other problems (if you believe in it).
We argued about hell and g-d being just or unjust for sending many to it. Even those that don’t have someone to tell them that hell exists. But the closing argument is that all have evidence of g-d. As there is a verse that states how g-d reveals himself through nature to all mankind. So in an evangelical’s mind they have a “witness” of g-d already.
I find it a shallow defense. G-d condemns so many people to ETERNAL torment without any witness. Evangelicals claim all have a choice to chose or not choose salvation, but I don’t see how that’s possible.
Then she let g-d completely off the hook as once again we can’t claim to know the ways of g-d. And when we finally get to heaven g-d will then be able to realize the mysterious ways of g-d. G-d is unable to be completely understood in this life. But we have to have faith and believe that everything g-d does is just.
We talked a while longer and I eventually stated that I no longer believe the bible is the inspired world of g-d. She simply stated “Of course it is.” But how can we know it I asked. Men wrote the bible, and men made claims that is was g-d’s words. I pointed out issues I had with scripture. And times I’ve felt it doesn’t line up with history or science. (look back at previous articles like my thoughts on original sin or my post on genesis one if you are interested in reading more)
She stated that of course the bible fully lines up with science and history. And told me how science and history have done nothing but verify the words of scripture. Thus proving it was g-d word. She pointed me toward “The Case For Christ” which I have read a large portion of. I pointed out things discussed by Peter Enns. Like the issues with the ancient view of the firmament. And how the bible contradicts science and evolution. My view is that the bible was written by man to try to explain the nature of man, suffering, and man’s relationship with g-d.
She made multiple statement of faith and how the bible is 100% the inspired word of god. It’s proven correct by fulfilled prophecy, science, personal experience, history, and archeology. As for anything missing she said ,”Sometimes they were loose with the facts because we don’t need to know all the details.”
She told me that I must not have done my research on the topic, and how there are thousands of books and documents that prove the validity of scripture. She then also quickly jumped to evolution as that is inconceivable in her mind. That there is no evidence for evolution, and how things like the grand canyon prove the flood and disprove evolution.
We didn’t debate evolution long. But she told me it takes faith to believe evolution as no one can see it in action. I countered that it also takes faith to believe in a g-d. As no one can prove the existence of g-d.
One of her friends chipped in at this point giving a testimony of how her grandfather had accepted salvation a year before his death. And how the actions of her grandfather after that point were completely changed. The message being experience of a relationship with g-d proves the existence of a g-d.
I told her of my experience of g-d and how I may have believe at one point. But now I find it hard to believe in any g-d. I don’t discount others faith experiences, but I can’t use them to prove or disprove g-d. I pretty much told her thanks, but no thanks to any further conversation regarding g-d. “I’ve been there. I tried so hard to believe. But I’m done trying now.” We closed conversation, and I got up to get some egg drop soup.
If you want to debate an “atheist” then first sit down and listen to their story. Hear their pain and suffering, and don’t try to give simple answer to explain that pain away. (I don’t consider myself an atheist. As I am still open to the idea of a deity or higher power. I just don’t see any compelling evidence for the existence of one).
I don’t write this to further division. I just want people to see that behind all that unbelief there is probably a lot of pain. And unbelief isn’t always just a lack of knowledge.
I fully belief that you are entitled to believe whatever you so desire, as long as that doesn’t cause another person pain. Any belief is valid if it brings you joy and contentment. I don’t want to police any other person’s beliefs or decide for them how they should think.