Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Part 1

I've received a couple of comments on my little truth treatise, one from a fellow blogspotter Jen Koontz. (See her comment at the bottom of the Jan 26 post.) Jen also sent me a detailed email. I'm not sure if she ever got my reply. She said she has many email accounts, so maybe my response got lost in a spam folder somewhere. She put so much thought into her message that it seemed a shame to keep it to myself, so here it is with my inline comments:

Jen wrote:
First of all, just let me thank you for this opportunity to discuss religion in a rational level-headed way. I find that's not possible too often! :)

Dennis replies:
I couldn't agee more. However, I'm somewhat anti-religion, depending on what you mean by religion. (I'm big on definitions since in email all you really have to go on is the meaning of words.) In general, religion is used as a tool to manipulate and control people. The book of James has a couple of points on religion (chapter 1), but other than that the Bible and particularly Jesus' message was not too kind toward the religious. In fact, it was the religious Jews who had Jesus killed.

Jen: So I'm sorry if my comment was a little abrasive, but I was peeved because I was reading all this great philosophical stuff you were laying out about the truth and getting really into it, then I saw your reference to Jesus and alarm bells immediately went off in my head. I was like, "Oh no... is this where he's heading?"

Dennis: I'm headed to the truth, of course! :-) Your comment was hardly abrasive. In fact, I was cracking up when I read it. It was quite humorous.

Jen: Don't get me wrong... Jesus and his teachings are great, and for the most part I agree with them. But I hate religion in general, especially raving fundamentalists.

Dennis: I couldn't agree more about the "fundies," depending on how you define "fundamentalists." If by fundie you mean a red-faced bible-thumping you're-going-to-hell spittle-spraying preacher who has no sense of grace, then I agree. :-)

Jen: I think Jesus should be viewed as a teacher/philosopher with some great stories and advice on how to live, nothing more and nothing less.

Dennis: Have you ever read any C.S. Lewis? I'll respond to the above point on "Jesus as a great moral teacher" with a quote from Lewis, an Oxford professor of medieval literature (who by the way started out as an atheist):
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either he was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
The option of "Jesus as a great moral teacher...nothing more and nothing less" makes no rational sense at all. Since you fancy yourself as a rationalist (based on your blog self-description), I would challenge you to think through this a little deeper.

Jen: The way he's been turned into this immortal icon, and the way the Church interprets the bible and totally contradicts itself, and yet still has this huge following- I just think it's all a huge lie, that causes more hate and pain in the world than any benefit it gives (if any).

Dennis: Okay, that's a good starting point. However, you've tossed a lot into that mega sentence. If I mailed you a book (really short, also written by a former atheist), would you read it so we at least had a common starting point for discussion? The Bible is 66 books written by 40+ authors over 1400 or so years. The Christian "church" however you define it is also a rather enormous institution and many-headed topic. Those together are a bit much to tackle in an email discussion thread (or blog debate) unless we plan to go at this until we're senior citizens. If we can just focus the discussion on "Who is Jesus?" in the context of seeking the truth, I think that would be an interesting and doable discussion. It would even give me some material to continue on in my blog entries (...and here it is!)

Jen: In my opinion, religion is an antiquated way of explaining the world around us to ourselves and why it's that way. Now that we have science, we shouldn't need religion anymore.

Dennis: Interesting topic, but we'll never reach any conclusions if we open too many boxes without looking inside and carefully examining the contents of each. I'd love to engage on this topic because my college degree is in physics, so I *love* talking about science. Still, I don't have enough time to tackle a discussion on "Who is Jesus?" and "Science vs. Religion" at the same time.

Jen: Science explains everything religion does, except better and more truthfully. And the things science can't explain yet... at least it's not pretending it has the answers when it doesn't.

Dennis: As someone trained as a scientist (physicist), I couldn't disagree more unless you're a materialist and deny the existence of the supra-natural. If that is the case, we'll have to start the "Who is Jesus" discussion at a much more fundamental (not fundamentalist - there is a difference) level.

Jen: Everything that Jesus taught, I think any intelligent being can figure out for himself. It all basically comes down to the golden rule- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Dennis: That is why we call it "natural law" (see our Declaration of Independence). It is built into the fabric of the created order. God made it that way.

Jen: What more do you need than that? So that's why although I respect Jesus, I don't see him as anything that special, really.

Dennis: I think you're missing some critical information that would greatly influence a rational conclusion on the person of Jesus of Nazareth. My offer to snail mail you a book still stands. If you're willing to read it, I think this could turn into a fascinating discussion. In fact, we could also run "dueling blogs" and do it in public. (...and here it is!)

Jen: Of course, I have the benefit of being aware of the Golden Rule from an early age- perhaps I'm taking it for granted.

Dennis: Most people who live under God's general grace take if for granted.

Jen: Maybe people COULDN'T figure that out on their own before Jesus. But I highly doubt that! I think it's ridiculous that people need the threat of hell to be good people. Why?! Isn't being good for it's own sake enough?!

Dennis: Interesting point. Having three children (boys ages 8, 11, and 14) gives me a bit of a different perspective. The threat of punishment is frequently required to encourage good behavior, at least until the child has the maturity to make good choices on his own. This also begs the question of whether or not human beings are inherently good or inherently bad. I had a much different perspective before I had childen than I do now. :-)

Jen: I understand that people have a spiritual need, and want to feel connected to something larger than themselves. I feel this is why religion is still so popular, because it fills this void we have in our society now.

Dennis: Great insight. Yes, human beings have a built-in need to worship. Millions attend weekly worship in sports stadiums across the country. Millions more worship the almighty dollar. Millions worship youth and vitality. Some people believe religion is antiquated and worship at the altar of science. Some people worship themselves. The void in society is the collective void of individuals trying to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives with anything and everything. Some try to fill it with drugs and alcohol. Others try to fill it with romantic love and relationships. There is only one thing that fills the God-shaped hole in a human life, and it took me 30 years to find it.

Jen: I feel connected to the greater humanity, and the universe, and am thankful that I'm lucky enough to be here. I feel like my education and understanding of social sciences has pretty much filled that void for me.

Dennis: Oh yeah, I forgot to include "knowledge and education" in the list. Some people stuff that in the God-shaped hole. I know from experience. I studied physics in college because I figured if knowledge and education would fill that hole, then I was going to go for the full-monty. Didn't work. However, I do commend you on your attitude of gratitude. Do you thank God for that, or just "greater humanity"?

Jen: This is why I don't need religion, and feel pretty enlightened about it. I think it's fine if people want to get together once a week to feel connected and a sense of community and all that. I just wish there was an answer for everyone other than religion.

Dennis: Even Christian religions won't fill the God-shaped hole. Tried that too. Didn't work.

Jen: In my opinion, religion causes far more pain and strife than filling this void for people. People exploit it as a tool to dictate how other people should live their lives, and that's not cool at all.

Dennis: Couldn't agree more.

Jen: If they didn't have this tool which many people regard as the "ultimate authority" or whatever, then they wouldn't be able to exploit it. That's why I think religion should be abolished, the same way guns should. Or at least controlled.

Dennis: I live in Texas. I own guns. We'll have to agree to disagree on the gun control issue. :-) However, I couldn't agree with you more on religion frequently being a tool to control and exploit. God hates that. He says so in the Bible.

Jen: Well anyway, I think you get my point and where I'm coming from by now! :) I would love to hear what you think of my reasoning here... (that's why I posted this in my blog)

Dennis: I'm not pulling any punches. I think you're missing the boat on a few points, but I'm not saying that in a condescending way. Heck, I've been exactly where you are and had almost the same identical thoughts. Over time, reality just refused to let me stay there. Seeking truth changed me. I'm convinced that if you pursue it with a passion, you'll change too. It has been said that when an honest man (or woman) is confronted with the facts that prove s/he is mistaken, s/he either ceases to be mistaken or s/he ceases to be honest. My challenge to you is to passionately seek the truth and determine if you are mistaken or not. I commit to you that I will do my best to be honest with you at all levels, and if you prove to me that I'm mistaken, I'll change my views. Are you willing to do the same?

Jen: ...and how it relates to truth. I didn't get into that too much, but I think you can guess that I don't think religion is truthful, not at all. Maybe Jesus and what he says is truthful, but the way he's represented by the Church and through religion is not.

Dennis: Okay, other than reading the book I'd like to send, how about we ignore everything the Church and religion says about Jesus and just go to the source texts. Almost everything we know about Jesus is contained in the four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). And, in order to discuss this intelligently, I would suggest that you might want to read those four short books. Start with John. It is 21 chapters. Read just 3/day, and you're done in a week. The book I am willing to send to you (unless you want to pick up your own copy) is by Josh McDowell. It is called "More Than a Carpenter." I'm sure it it on Amazon and in most major book stores (unfortunately, you'd have to look in the religion section most likely - aacckk!).

So there you have it folks. I'll leave the next step up to Jen. She is an articulate and interesting young lady. I think this would be a fascinating dialogue if she chooses to continue, but you can't force someone to seek the truth.  That is up to her...

[Jen did choose to continue. For the next installment go to "Being a Truth Seeker - Part 2."]

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