Cosmos reborn (happy theology on the new creation) by John Crowder

The question of heaven, hell, election and predestination are hot topics troubling many unbelievers for the answer to it has heavy repercussions for God’s moral perfection.

I was therefore extremely interested as I received a free copy of this book through the Speakeasy ministry of Mike Morell.

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The author is a revival pastor having “a passion to spread the exuberant love and joy of the supernatural gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In what follows, I am going to offer my critical thoughts on the content of the book.

Christian mysticism, logic and contradictions

The author made it clear that he belongs to the strongly charismatic and mystic wing of the Church. While it does not correspond to my psychological makeup, I don’t think there is necessarily something wrong with that.

Crowder rightly points out that “American revival religion has a very low threshold for mystery” which I would add is by and large true for the entire modern Western society.

I agree with him that “Eastern and Western thought need one another, just as you need a right and left side to your brain.”

He shares the view of the great reformed apologist Francis Schaeffer that having made the laws of nature independent of God is the cause of modern Western materialism.

“Newton took deism, viewed the laws of nature as independent. “

“Kruger says, “It seems to me that we are giving ourselves far too much credit, assuming that ‘ordinary’ things like laughter, fellowship, caring, working, giving ourselves for others, being parents, making music, creating things are simply ‘human’ and have no Jesus or any Holy Spirit in them. Our dualisms have blinded us, and we don’t even know it.””

They are in good company in believing this since no less of an atheistic philosopher as Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “the whole worldview of modernism is grounded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are an explanation of the phenomena of nature”.

Crowder went on quoting Albert Einstein: “the most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”

I think that caution is required here. Unlike many village atheists, Einstein believed that there is an unfathomable mystery underlying the whole Cosmos, but he was by no means a atheist, believing instead in a form of pantheism.

I started out disagreeing with Crowder as he wrote that

“Just like Calvinism and Arminianism, Universalism as a theological model ultimately relies on human logic to resolve mystery. It says that everyone will definitely, automatically, eventually make it out of hell with utmost certainty – if hell even exists at all. It is dogmatic in areas where scripture is fluid and open ended.”

I think there is a real danger that our embrace of mystery can lead to an embrace of logical contradictions as well.

I found the following passage deeply problematic:

“though it may seem mystical and hidden to you – you have even transcended the laws of time, physics, gravity and more in Christ! We no longer have the excuse of the seasons … I’m not prepared. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough education. He has fully filled you, equipped you and given you everything – whether you know it or not.”

This reflects an irrational tendency within the Charismatic community which has serious consequences as we shall see in an other section.

Biblical inerrancy and belief in contradictions

While he did not clearly speak out in that respect, I glean from his writings that Crowder holds fast to the Chicago statement of inerrancy, according to which every writer of the Bible made no mistake as he wrote his part(s) of Scripture.

To his credit, he clearly emphasizes that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.

“True Knowledge is more than data – He is a Person. “
“In the world of theological complexity, we can rest in two things for sure … that God is Love and that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.”
He also pointed out that inerrantists all too often confuse the message of Scripture with their own interpretation:

“How often do you hear someone militantly say, “I don’t need theology. I only believe what’s in the Bible.” What they are really saying is that they only believe their interpretation of the Bible.”

However his commitment to inerrancy leads him to quite  a few contradictions.

Biblical atrocities

“We are not dealing with two different gods between Old and New Testament. We’re dealing with two separate ways of God dealing with mankind”

“When Christ is given His place, then the scriptures fall into place. Otherwise, you’re looking at an impossible, conflicted and illogical rulebook of haircut patterns and genital mutilations.”

“In every instance I must see His love – even in the most difficult, traumatic, genocidal passages.”

Well the most likely interpretation is that theological ideas evolve with time and that neither Ezechiel nor Jesus shared a belief in the justice of collective punishment and genocides.

The nature of salvation: grace or work?

The same can be said about his analysis of the part of the Bible pointing towards the importance of good works for one’s salvation.

“The apostle James tells us that faith without works is dead. This is a beautiful truth, and one that is often misunderstood and distorted. Always read James through the lens of Paul, not in addition to Paul.”

How so? Why could we not as well read Paul’s writings through the lens of James?

Or why could we not use the historical method to conclude that both authors most likely did not share the same view of salvation?

It is kind of misleading for Crowder to confidently write that

“In fact, the average Sunday Bible Belt Christian flips open to the Sermon on the Mount and assumes he has to accomplish the whole thing to be saved! He doesn’t realize that Jesus was still preaching law, prior to the cross (preaching it hotter than Moses).”

since this is only one possible interpretation among others.

The victory of the Christian

Crowder takes the view of Evangelical theologian and pastor Neil Anderson according to which Christians no longer have a sinful nature and therefore possess the ability to overcome to a large extent sin in their life.

Rejecting the penal substitution theory of the atonement, he wrote that

“The Bible never says that the death of Christ was to reconcile God to us. The death of Christ was to turn us back to God.”
“On the cross, Jesus was not changing God; He was changing you.”

“We are not in a time-process of becoming holy; we are in a process of discovering how holy we’ve been all along.”

He wrote a particularly interesting sentence which parallels the practice of mindfulness meditation:

“We are not in a time-process of becoming holy; we are in a process of discovering how holy we’ve been all along.”

Apotheosis or how to become divine beings

He went on writing about a theory considered as a blasphemy by most conservative Evangelicals, namely our becoming gods through our union with Christ, quoting different Biblical and Christian writers.
For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.
– Athanasius
“I  said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.’”

Psalm 82:6
“Augustine said, “If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”96”  

“And again we see Thomas Aquinas write, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us share in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

He concluded with an amazing quote of C.S.Lewis:

“It is a serious thing,” says C.S. Lewis, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

Prosperity Gospel and manifestation of the spirit

One of the most troubling aspect of the book was its conveyance of prosperity teachings.

“”In our own ministry, we have seen a most extraordinary display of miracles … hundreds healed of tumors, cancers, deafness and blindness. And the more phenomenal displays such as people floating off the ground, rain falling inside buildings, huge sums of money appearing in pockets or supernatural weight loss of twenty, forty, even eighty pounds!”

At other places he defends the so-called Toronto blessings involving “being drunk in the spirit”. There is a huge danger here for it clearly conveys the ideas to unbelievers (and other believers as well) that they belong to a crazy cult.

His promises of well being are really dangerous.

“Power, right living, good marriages, healthy children, liberation from poverty … it’s all your inheritance available now, as we discover what’s already ours. ”
“The admission of hunger is an admission of lack. A hungry child is a sign of bad parenting. It is an assertion that Christ’s sacrifice was not a good enough meal for you. “

This can all too easily lead countless Christians living in poverty to think that the problem lies in them.

Calvinism, Arminianism and Universalism

This finally leads me to what I take to be the central question handled in this book, namely the nature of salvation. I want to show the main problem with Crowder’s line of thinking.

The universal character of salvation

Crowder made it clear that he rejects the theory of limited atonement and believe that Christ died for everyone, writing that it leads to “a god of our own making who is conveniently less moral than we are”.

“there is a very real universal aspect to the atonement that Western evangelicals frightfully deny.”

“There is no limited atonement any more than there is a limited incarnation. Fully man for all of humanity.”

“As death came through one man, so also the resurrection came through one man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”

“Paul does not limit his context to Christ’s relationship to believers but gives fundamentally the same account of His relationship to all men,” adds Barth. “

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21-22).”
How many died in Adam? Ummm … all? Well we’re talking about the exact same all here made alive in Jesus Christ. How quick we are to have faith in the one man Adam to bring death to all … yet how fearful is the suggestion that the one man Christ could bring life to those same dead men! Some rabid evangelical may call you a Universalist!”

He however is not a “dogmatic universalist” because he apparently also believes in the possibility of rejecting God.

“As C.S. Lewis said, “The doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
“All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
“Heaven and hell are both full of forgiven sinners. It’s just that those in hell refuse to accept their already given gift of acceptance.”

Faith as God’s gift

Nevertheless he also embraces the notion that we cannot ourselves generate faith but that this can only stem from God, approvingly quoting John Calvin:

“The reality of our adoption is not one we can force. For those of us who would charge into claiming our ‘adoption’ as yet another thing to accomplish, the good news is that adoption is under the Holy Spirit’s jurisdiction,” said John Calvin. “Our adoption—God welcoming us into His relationship with His Son—is brought about by the Spirit, ‘without whom no one can taste either the fatherly favor of God or the beneficence of Christ.’

Crowder further wrote:

“When you tell people they have to believe in Christ, you’re actually preaching law, not Gospel.”

“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:25-26).
This is the whole point! Salvation is God’s business. You can’t do anything to be saved.”

“His command to believe, like every other command, highlighted our inability to do it. The guys He most instructed to “believe” (the disciples) were also the guys He clearly said did not believe.”

Logical tension

According to the beliefs of Crowder in the universal offer of salvation and faith as God’s gift, the following syllogism can be built.

1) God wants everyone to be saved

2) Humans can do absolutely nothing to be saved, this is a pure gift of God which cannot be refused

3) Thus God will offer it to everyone

4) Therefore everyone will be saved (dogmatic universalism).

Given his own presuppositions, Crowder should ultimately be certain that everyone will spend the whole eternity with God.

Conclusion

This book will probably be mostly interesting for readers having a mystical approach to the Christian faith and sharing the Charismatic commitment of the author.

However I recommend everyone to take with a grain of salt his assertions, some of which being highly problematic.

Nevertheless it must be recognized that this book raises a lot of vital questions, even if some of the answers fail to be consistent.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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The danger of inerrancy

Tim Chastain (a great progressive Christian blogger) just wrote an excellent post about how anti-theists and fundamentalists share the same binary way of thinking about the Bible.

timChastain

“You have probably noticed this as well. I have long observed that certain non-Christians, or former Christians, reject the Bible as though it was written as a consistent document to be interpreted literally.

As I have encountered and engaged these critics of the Bible on various blogs over the past year, the realization is even stronger—many of them treat the Bible as though it claims inerrancy. They agree with Christian inerrantists in this approach.

In my interactions with these biblical critics, I am often accused of cherry-picking the Bible, choosing the parts I like, or making it up as I go. They don’t seem to grasp that there is a legitimate, informed,  and consistent way to read the Bible without assuming inerrancy.

Biblical Inerrancy

David Schell’s Syllogism

Today I discovered an excellent resource to understanding this point better. It fits in perfectly with our discussion on biblical context, so I am going to break from my planned post to bring it to you attention.

This resource is posted by blogger David M. Schell. I encourage you to read his entire post at Why Young Earth Creationism & Biblical Literalism Aren’t Going Away, but right now I am going to interact with his excellent syllogism.

Schell states:

Most fundamentalists were taught that if there are any contradictions in the Bible, then it is untrustworthy. And many atheists became so after discovering that those contradictions did in fact exist. Both start with the same problematic premise:

(1) If there are contradictions in the Bible, then the Bible is false.

  1. Fundamentalists follow (a) with
  2. (2a) The Bible is not false, therefore
  3. (3a) there are no contradictions in the Bible.
  1. Some streams of atheists accept (a), then follow (a) with
  2. (2b) There are contradictions in the Bible, therefore
  3. (3b) The Bible is false.

This is already clear to those of us who do not subscribe to biblical inerrancy, but for some reason it does not seem clear to inerrancy-oriented critics. What I find so exceptional is that David Schell expresses it in terms that anyone should be able to grasp.

He suggests that those questioning inerrancy should begin by rejecting (1) ‘If there are contradictions in the Bible, then the Bible is false’ rather than accepting (1) and rejecting (2).

The Unfortunate Result of this Major Premise

Many fundamentalists, evangelicals, and other inerrantists come to a place where they have doubts about whether inerrancy is true. They might see problems with inconsistencies and ‘contradictions’ or begin to realize that there is, in fact, a strong case for evolution. Some begin to wonder whether the angry, violent, vindictive God depicted in the Old Testament is a true characterization of God or wonder how a loving God can punish people with eternal torment.

These are difficult issues for maturing inerrantists, and it is good for them to work through these doubts on inerrancy. But their quest is in grave danger if they begin with the major premise that ‘If there are contradictions in the Bible, then the Bible is false’.

Let’s change the premise slightly to read: ‘If the Bible is not inerrant, then the Bible is false’. Accepting this premise, and then becoming convinced that the Bible is not inerrant, leads to the conclusion that the Bible is false. The Bible is then rejected. Some lose their way and some become atheists who criticize the Bible as misleading and worthless.

The Alternative of Understanding Biblical Context

There is a valid approach to appreciating the Bible as a valuable book, filled with truth about Jesus and the Father, without assuming or demanding inerrancy: the Bible was written by people who felt they had a strong connection with God. This was true in the Old Testament, but it was particularly so with those who met Jesus, were transformed, and wrote about their understanding of him.

In their writing, these people wrote about their experiences and how they felt about them. However, they used their own words and ideas. They also used literary genre that cannot be read literally because it was not meant to be read literally; this includes apocalyptic, midrash, proverbs, poetry, letters and many other forms of expression.

When coming to grips with the fact that the Bible is not an inerrant book, there is no need to throw out the baby with the bath water of inerrancy. On the contrary, a better understanding of the biblical context makes the Bible an even richer document. So outgrow inerrancy and see the Bible anew!

Next time we will return to our discussion on apocalyptic.”

While I agree with almost everything he has written, I think he should have used the word antitheist (or militant atheist) instead of atheists. There are many respectful atheists in Continental Europe who do not fall into the fundamentalist trap while analyzing and criticizing religious texts.

Most of the time, antitheists turn out to be former religious fundamentalists or Conservative believers who are no longer able to think rationally about religion and have kept a fundamentalist bigoted mind in many domains.

Like Tim, I think we should view the Bible as the founding part of a long tradition of people having experienced God and reported their thoughts according to their own cultural background and worldview (which is certainly compatible with their experiencing genuine miracles).

The basis of our theology should not be an allegedly inerrant collection of books (which turns out to be self-contradictory) but God’s ultimate perfection which transcends anything mere humans could ever achieve.  This should be our criterion for evaluating any religious text.

In the same way people of the past were mistaken about many empirical facts they also were wrong about moral and theological truths which they progressively discovered.

In the future I will debunk critically analyze some characteristic posts of DebunkingChristianity which presuppose a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible and religion.

The adventures of Frederic of Lorraine

Though Christmas is long over, I could not resist the temptation to share with you a trilingual Christmas tale taking place in my beloved homeland Lorraine / Lothringen.

Reise-Tipp-Lothringen-fotoshowImage-27237653-206617

I will write the next episode for Easter 🙂

In the meantime, I would be truly delighted to learn your thoughts on it.

Eternal hell and conditional immortality: an interview with Chris Date

 

 

Hell (understood as eternal torment) has been widely soon as Christianity’s most damnable doctrine by many atheists and skeptics. Very few people, however, ask themselves if that teaching can truly be found within the page of the Bible.

In what follows I interviewed Chris Date, a prominent proponent of the view of conditional immortality about this hot (if not burning) topic.

https://i0.wp.com/grapplerschurch.tv/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ChrisDate.jpg

Lotharson: Hello Chris, thank you very much for having accepted my invitation.
Could you, for the benefit of my readers, sum up your personal and religious background?

Chris Date: Sure. I was raised without any influence to believe in God (that I recall), although I found out later in life that my parents both believe in Jesus Christ. While very young, I expressed fleeting interest in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism, because family members and friends were among those groups. I also had some brief interest in Wicca as a teenager. Otherwise, however, I was an atheist into adulthood, and mocked Christians and Christianity. My now wife and I got married as atheists when I was 20, which was 14 years ago, and around 2 years later I became a believer in Jesus and quickly became interested in theology and apologetics. My wife was born again a few years later. I’ve been a software engineer at a prestigious Northwest software company for the past 12 years or so, though one day I hope to move into full-time ministry, or to become a University professor of Bible and theology.
I should say I also have four sons, ages 12, 8, 4, and 5 mos.

I really wish you will reach that goal 🙂

Eternal conscious  torment and annihilationisn

Let us focus now on the topic of that interview.
What are (in a nutshell) the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment and annihilationism/conditional immortality?

 

The traditional doctrine of hell, or final judgment, or personal eschatology–however you want to put it–holds that the day is coming when all the dead will rise bodily from the graves, and those who have saving trust in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in the blissful presence of the Lord with the saints. Those who deny Jesus Christ, however, will be judged and punished according to their sins, which will entail an eternity of spiritual, psychological, and/or physical torment separated from God and his people. It’s important to emphasize that this is not a disembodied eternal state. The formerly dead bodies of the lost will have arisen, blood once again pumping, lungs once again expanding and collapsing, muscles once again flexing, etc. And it is in this immortalized body, incapable of dying, in which the lost will suffer for eternity somewhere in the physical universe. Annihilationism, on the other hand, more historically known as conditional immortality, is the view that immortality and everlasting life are not intrinsic to our nature, and that it is instead a gift which God gives only to those who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, we believe the lost will rise from the dead with the saved, but those who have not united themselves with the source of life will not live forever, but will instead die a second, permanent death–annihilation. Traditional “dualist” Christian annihilationists or conditionalists, who believe humans are comprised of an immaterial soul united with a physical body, would say that in the first death only the body dies, but that in the second death both body and soul will die (Matt. 10:28). Many other conditionalists are “monists” or “physicalists” who believe man is a physical creature who does not live in any sense while dead, and that their hope in an afterlife is found only in the resurrection. Either view–dualism or physicalism–is compatible with the biblical teaching that eternal life is a gift given only to the saved and that the risen lost will die a second death.

Thanks for your summary!

 

Mortal souls of the Old Testament

1) I think that a sound interpretation of the Bible should first seek to understand the oldest texts in order to interpret the most recent ones.
Critical scholars believe that many writers of the OT did not believe in an afterlife.
The dead do not praise Yahweh, nor do any that go down into silence. But we will bless Yahweh from this time on and forevermore. Praise Yahweh!
Psalm 115:17-18:

Turn, O Yahweh, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your covenant faithfulness.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?”
Psalm 6:4-5

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Psalm 30:9

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
Ecc. 9:10

“The grave cannot praise you, death cannot celebrate you: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for your truth.”
Isaiah (38:18)
I personally find these passages extremely compelling.
How are those texts interpreted by Evangelical traditionalists and conditionalists?

Traditionalists would say that either those passages reflect a yet underdeveloped understanding on the part of the biblical authors, and that via progressive revelation the Lord revealed more about the afterlife in the New Testament, or they would say that they are talking mostly about goings on in this world, of which the dead will not have a part, without excluding conscious activity in another realm. Some conditionalists would say the same thing, particularly the dualist conditionalists I mentioned in answering your previous question. Other conditionalists, however, the physicalists or monists I mentioned, would say that these texts indicate that man is not conscious in death, that death is like a “sleep” in which one is unconscious. However, there are hints of an afterlife to be found in the Old Testament, hints pointing toward resurrection and eternal life. Definitely, though, whatever understanding and expectation they had of a future life was underdeveloped, and the New Testament provided more detail.

http://ivarfjeld.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/lakeoffire.jpg

Divine threats in the old covenant

 

2) If eternal torment is far worse than a violent death, then why did not God clearly warn the Isrealites during the overwhelming majority of the OT time? Would it not be loveless and irresponsible to give them the impression that the wage of sin is “only” destruction?

Boy, I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a traditionalist, and it’s tough. I’m not sure how one might answer that question. I suppose a traditionalist might say that the ancient readers of the OT understood “death” and “destruction” differently than we do, that they viewed it as some form of conscious separation, from one’s body or from one’s God, and so therefore they wouldn’t have necessarily ruled out the traditional view of hell. Traditionalists might further say that there are hints of the traditional view of hell to be found in the OT, such as in Daniel 12:2 and Isaiah 66:24 (neither of which supports their view, as perhaps we’ll see in a bit). And so in the interest of charity, I’m not prepared to concede that God would have been unloving and irresponsible in not fully revealing the traditional view of hell (if it’s true) in the OT; he may have done so more clearly than we moderns think. That said, it does seem clear to me that throughout the OT, the punishment for sin was seen as death, being cut off from one’s people and from life on earth. And eschatological punishment was seen in the same way, such as in the aforementioned passage in Isaiah in which God’s people are vindicated in the valley of Gehinnom when God slays his enemies and leaves their corpses to rot and smolder in fire. I would not say that the absence of the traditional view in the OT would make God unloving and irresponsible if it’s true, but I would say the fact that there is such an utter dearth of evidence for it in the OT, and an overabundance of evidence for conditionalism in it, that therefore my view is heavily favored.

Yeah precisely.

Unquenchable fires and dying worms

3) Quite a few passages in the Old Testament speak of an unquenchable fire consuming the wicked and of worms eating them.
““…rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. …you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. The strong shall become like tinder, and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them” (Isa. 1:28, 30–31)
“But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.'”
Jeremiah 17:27
” 47 … Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it. 48 All flesh will see that I, the Lord, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”
Ezekiel 20:47-48
“1 For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze … so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name … 3 You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing”
Malachi 4:1-3
“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” Isaiah 66:24
Likewise we find several references to the “gnashing of teeth” within the OT.
“The sinner shall see and be angry, he shall gnash his teeth and consume away” (LXX-Psalm 111:10″
“”All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee. They hiss and gnash the teeth; they say, We have swallowed her up; certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it (Lamentations 2:16).”
Many centuries later, Jesus used a similar language for describing the fate of the wicked.
“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42).”
“Luke 3:17
His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The traditionalist claim is twofold:
a) Jesus saying can only be interpreted as meaning that the damned will be literally eternally tormented. Conservative Jews of His time only interpreted these passages in this way.
b) the OT itself refers to the destruction of the bodies of the wicked, but it is actually also a metaphor for their everlasting pain
Did I correctly characterize their position?
If so, does it hold water?

Chris Date: Well many traditionalists simply aren’t familiar with several of those OT references you mentioned. Their claim is that Isaiah 66:24’s unquenchable fire means a fire which will never die out, burning forever and ever, never consuming its fuel, and that its undying worm is a maggot which will forever have food to eat, never consuming its host. That host, in the minds of most lay traditionalists, is the living bodies of the lost in eternal torment in hell. Traditionalists more familiar with the debate recognize that that passage explicitly identifies the maggot’s host and the fire’s fuel as corpses, but as you suggest, they would say nevertheless that the unquenchable fire and undying worm can only be understood as promising everlasting torment in risen bodies in hell, by means of metaphor or analogy (since what Isaiah refers to are corpses, not living bodies). However, as you have noted, there are many passages in the OT in which unquenchable fire is used, and in the vast majority of them–certainly all the ones which are relevant to this question, since they involve the fiery wrath of God–unquenchable fire is not a fire which will burn forever, never dying out. Rather, it’s a fire which is irresistible, inextinguishable. It is unstoppable. What would happen if you arrived home from work to find fire fighters trying desperately to put out a fire, and one of the fire fighters told you they are not going to be able to quench the fire? Well, obviously, it would burn up the house. That’s what this idiom of unquenchable fire means throughout Old and New Testaments. The same is true of the undying worm. It’s an unstoppable scavenger, much like two other places which I can’t recall off the top of my head, in which Israel is told that her corpses will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth and that no one will frighten them away. The fact that the scavengers can’t be frighted away does not mean that they will forever have food to eat, but that they won’t be stopped from fully devouring their food–the corpses. Likewise, the undying worm is a maggot which won’t be prevented by death from fully consuming its food–corpses. As for the other passages you mentioned, many traditionalists seem to have this strange idea that I quite frankly can’t relate to, that the mere presence of texts which speak of some sort of conscious experience in judgment rules out any possibility of annihilation. And yet, violent death is immediately preceded by sorrow and anger, and its infliction entails pain and agony. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that these experiences will last forever. Finally, yes, traditionalists tend to think that Jews of Jesus’ time all believed in eternal torment, and interpreted OT passages as saying so. Yet, this belief is based on old, outdated research based on limited access to ancient Jewish literature. Modern research, with its access to numerous Dead Sea Scrolls, has revealed that ancient Jews of the afterlife were mixed, that many of them believed in annihilation, and that none of Jesus’ language would have been universally understood by his audience as referring to eternal torment.

Okay, that makes a lot of sense.

Lazarus and the rich man meet sheep and goats

4) A current argument for endless torment looks as follows.
a) The parable of Lazarus shows that hell involves pain
” The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 ”
Luke 16:22 -23
b) this pain will last eternally in the same way the bliss of the chosen ones will be forever.
“46These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25.46
What problems do you see with this?

Well the problems are twofold. First and most importantly, the parable isn’t even set in hell. It’s set in Hades, the underworld, the place of the dead. The rich man’s brothers are still alive, and he, dead in Hades, pleads that someone would go and tell his still-living brothers to repent. None of this would be possible in the eschaton. Besides, the text explicitly states he’s in Hades. And we know that one day mankind will be raised up out of Hades, given once again living bodies, at which point they will be finally judged. So there’s simply no good argument to be made for the traditional view from this parable. Secondly, there’s little reason to believe Jesus intends for the parable to be taken as a realistic description of the afterlife in the first place. Scholars of ancient Jewish literature have found several very similar stories that are sort of life fairy tales, or folk tales, not intended to be taken literally, but communicating a moral point. And Jesus appears to take these and turn them on their head, sort of telling his hearers that they’ve got things all wrong when it comes to the rich and the poor. Imagine, if you will, if Jesus were to come to us today and tell a story very similar to Humpty Dumpty, but whereas the king’s men in the original could not put Humpty back together again, in Jesus’ version the king himself puts Humpty back together again, as an illustration that God will one day raise his people from the dead. No one would think that Jesus was saying the afterlife would literally be like what happens in Humpty Dumpty. We’d all recognize that he was co-opting a common fairy tale of our day in order to communicate spiritual realities, like he does in all his parables. So I don’t see any reason to take the parable literally. But let me reiterate that that’s only secondary. Even if one is inclined to take Jesus’ parable as a generally realistic account of the afterlife, the most it could lead one to do is embrace dualism and a conscious intermediate state awaiting resurrection. Again: The parable takes place in Hades, not hell.

And what about the paralell between eternal bliss and damnation?

Chris Date: Oh, sorry. Yeah, Matthew 25:46 says only that the punishment will be eternal. It doesn’t say what the nature of that punishment will be. Conditionalists affirm that the punishment of the damned will be as eternal in duration as the bliss of the saved. Where we disagree with traditioanlists is when it comes to the *nature* of that eternal punishment. Traditionalists see it as an eternity of conscious suffering of some sort; conditionalists, on the other hand, recognizing that the Bible says the wages of sin is death, believe that the punishment awaiting sinners is death, and that when they die the second death at the final judgment, they will be dead forever. It is, therefore, an eternal punishment. Now, traditionalists will tend to push back and say that “eternal punishment” necessarily entail some sort of everlasting process of punishing (even though the text provides no such indication). At this point, I point them to places in the book of Hebrews in which the author speaks of the “eternal salvation” and “eternal redemption” purchased for us by Jesus Christ. Jesus is not and will not be forever undergoing the process of saving and redeeming; he accomplished that once and for all by his life, death, and resurrection. Rather, “salvation” and “redemption” in these passages are nouns that refer to the outcome of the verbs “save” and “redeem,” respectively. “Eternal salvation” and “eternal redemption” thus speak of the eternity in duration of the results of a saving and redeeming process. Likewise, “eternal punishment” speaks of the eternity in duration of the results of a punitive process. The process is execution; the outcome is death.

 

The killer of body and soul

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5) A famous prooftext for annihilationism is
“28 And fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28”
There are two traditionalist strategies for dealing with it.
a) “Kill” is actually a mistranslation of the greek word which could also means “ruined” or “lost”.
According to your own experience, do most traditionalist argue that one should not fear those who can “ruin the body”?
Or do they accept that it means “kill” in this part of the sentence while meaning the ruin or desolation of “body and soul” in the second part?

Well actually, it’s not “kill” in the first clause that traditionalists question. It’s “destroy” in the second. Oh wait, that’s what you said 🙂 Yes, you’re right. They think that the Greek word translated “destroy,” which is apollymi, means something like “ruin” or “desolate,” and they’ll point to some places where food spoils (apollymi), or oil is wasted (apollymi), or a sheep is lost (apollymi). However, as Dr. Glenn Peoples explains in an article at Rethinking Hell (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/the-meaning-of-apollumi-in-the-synoptic-gospels ), the word is used in a particular way by Jesus in Matthew 10:28, and in every other relevant occurrence in the synoptic gospels when the word is used in this way, it means something like slay or kill. And of course, context determines which meaning in a word’s semantic domain is the intended one, and in Matthew 10:28 Jesus is contrasting those who can’t do something–kill the soul–with those who can. So we have every reason to understand “destroy” in the second clause as meaning something like “slay” or “kill,” and the traditionalist “ruin” explanation just doesn’t hold muster.

b) the second strategy consists of recognizing that “destroying” is the right meaning, but that it is a threat that God is never going to actually carry out, it just describes His ability to do so.
What’s your take on this view?

Chris Date: I think it’s silly. I’ll say the same thing Glenn Peoples said when he addressed this response in episode 4 of our podcast (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-4-the-case-for-annihilationism-with-glenn-peoples): Jesus might as well have said, “fear the one who can turn you into a chicken.” Of course, the threat doesn’t carry any weight if it’s not something he might, in fact, do. What’s more, the disciples whom Jesus was warning faced the real danger that people might kill their bodies. So I think we have good reason to believe that there are those who face the real danger of being destroyed in body and soul. And of course, this conditionalist understanding of Matthew 10:28 is consistent with myriad and varied passages elsewhere in Scripture which promise the same fate for the lost.

 

The smoke of their torments will rise forever

 

6) the apocalyptic imagery of John speaks of eternal torment in a very vivid manner.
“And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
Revelation 14:11
Is that not a clear proof that at least the exiled apostle thought of hell as endless pain?

Chris Date: Quite the opposite. Revelation is, as you say, a genre of apocalyptic imagery. Its interpretation requires careful exegesis. The picture of smoke rising forever comes straight out fo the Old Testament. In Isaiah 34:10 smoke rises forever from the remains of Edom, which in the prophetic picture is destroyed; Abraham saw smoke rising from the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah, which had been destroyed. This picture, of smoke rising forever, is kind of like today’s mushroom cloud. When one sees smoke rising forever in a mushroom cloud, one doesn’t think of everlasting flames, but of utter destruction. That is what this image communicated in John’s vision. You can see this where it’s employed elsewhere in John’s vision. The harlot, Mystery Babylon, is said to be tormented in flames in the vision (Rev 18), and the great multitude in heaven cries, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Rev 19:3). Yet, when interpreting this vivid, perplexing imagery, the angel takes a great millstone and throws it into the sea, explaining that all of this imagery communicates that the city represented by the harlot will be destroyed, and will not be found any longer (Rev 18:21ff). What’s more, the imagery of drinking God’s wrath is imagery communicating slaughter (Job 21:20-21; Jer 25:15-33). And the imagery of sulfur and fire comes from those passages I already mentioned–Gen 19:24-28; Isa 34:9-10–in which cities are destroyed. ALL of the imagery in this passage would have communicated to its first century readers the idea of utter death and destruction.

 

Eternal torment and the redemptive death of Christ

7) If the traditional view is true, Christ was just ready to suffer a violent and painful death (limited in time) in order to save people from eternal torment.
Yet the apostle Paul would have been ready to eternally suffer for the sake of the salvation of his fellow Jews.
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ,
for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
(Romans 9:3)”
Since traditionalists argue that eternal torment is far worse than a violent execution, should we conclude (given the truth of their assumptions) that the Apostle Paul was infinitely more noble and heroic than the Son of God Himself?

Chris Date: To be fair to traditionalists, no, I don’t think we should. Jesus, by virtue of being the Godman, divine and human, was of infinitely greater value than Paul, and a traditionalist could say that Jesus’ death was of infinite value and therefore he didn’t need to suffer eternally, and nor was his sacrifice any less profound than the one Paul was willing to make. However, it’s important to recognize that over and over again the Scriptures indicate that as our substitute (whether one thinks of him as a penal substitute like I do, or as some other form of substitute as many critics of penal substitution do; either way, the atonement was substitutionary) what Jesus did in our place, in our stead, was die. He died, in our place, so that we won’t have to. And he didn’t die in some vague, esoteric, metaphorical sense; no! He physically died, was rendered a corpse. How different from the traditional view of hell in which the risen lost are punished by suffering pain in immortalized bodies that live forever! In conditionalism, on the other hand, Jesus suffered the death penalty in our place so that we can be given life that lasts forever, and those for whom he didn’t die (in a Calvinist view like mine), or those to whom the merits of his sacrificial death are not given (in a non-Calvinist view), must therefore suffer death.

One last thought on this point. I think the danger of traditionalism is not that it risks making Paul more sacrificial than Jesus. Rather, I think it risks coming dangerously close to heresy when it comes to the atonement. You see, when traditioanlists are asked why Jesus didn’t suffer forever on the cross, they’ll typically say that the few hours of suffering he experienced is equivalent in some way to the eternity of suffering awaiting the risen lost. But consider what that does! If the eternity of punishing awaiting the lost was entirely paid for in the finite duration of Jesus’ suffering, why did he go on to die? His death would have been arbitrary and unnecessary, when it’s what the Scripture emphasizes as the central aspect of Jesus’ atoning work. That’s the problem with traditionalism.

 

The apostles and fiery brimstone

8) Why did the apostles almost never mention hell, let alone eternal torments, if it were of such importance?

Chris Date: Good question! Paul speaks of “everlasting destruction” in 2 Thess 1:9, and more generically of wrath and so forth in places. But you’re right, they don’t speak much about final punishment. So I don’t know a traditionalist would answer your question. I would answer the question by saying that the most serious aspect to final punishment is in what is missed out on: eternal life. And so by talking so much about the gift of life, the apostles were implicitly warning of final punishment which entails the everlasting deprivation of life.

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Reconciled with God but agonizing

9) New traditionalists (such as Phil Fernandez or French theologian Henri Blocher) argue that only the saved ones will inherit eternal life. The damned will EXIST (but not live) and suffer eternally, but be utterly reconciled with God who is obliged to torment them endlessly for justice’s sake. Does this picture of “victory” hold water?

Chris Date: Well regarding the first of those two issues, as I explain in an article at Rethinking Hell (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/10/obfuscating-traditionalism-no-eternal-life-in-hell), the Bible explicitly says that resurrection entails bringing a formerly dead back to life, and so by biblical definition, the traditional view of hell entails the lost inheriting eternal life. There’s simply no escaping that. It may not be the same “eternal life” spoken of in the NT, but it is a form of eternal life, and I think honest traditionalists need to own up to that without trying to dodge it. The risen lost, in their view, will NOT merely exist forever, they will live forever in bodies which never die again. As for the lost being reconciled with God, that’s something a few modern “reconciliationists” believe, and I’m frankly not familiar enough with the nuances of their view to say much about it other than that their reconciliation with God does not entail their being united with him and his people forever. In other words, they remain lost, and eternally. Of course, this view fails for the same reason all other variations of the traditional view fail: the Bible says everlasting life will be given only to the saved, and that the risen lost will instead die, perish, be destroyed. As for the biblical picture of God’s victory, and which view of hell is most compatible with it, I’d encourage your readers to listen to episode 4, to which I already linked above. In it, Glenn Peoples explains why the biblical picture of eternity is most compatible with conditionalism. He also lays out the case briefly in our upcoming publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, which we expect to be published by Wipf & Stock this Spring.

Degrees of punishment

10) Can conditional immortality account for degrees of punishment?

Chris Date: Yes, and in a variety of ways. One way is by allowing for an infinite number of combinations of type, intensity, and duration of suffering involved in the destructive process. The ultimate punishment they pay is death, but its infliction involves degrees of suffering, accounting for degrees of punishment. Another way is by allowing for degrees of shame. Some may be remembered forever in far greater contempt than others. Either way, degrees of punishment are completely compatible with conditionalism–in fact, more so, I think, than with traditionalism. After all, any difference in degree of torment fades into nothing after a trillion trillion years of it.

https://i0.wp.com/www.planet-wissen.de/kultur_medien/religion/inquisition/img/intro_inquisition_marburg_g.jpg

 

Aggressive rhetoric and emotional bullying

11) I deal quite a lot with the New Atheists (anti-theists) on my blog. Their arguments are generally extremely shallow, but they often sound quite convincing due to their use of a very aggressive rhetoric involving a huge amount of emotional bullying.
It looks like that many (though not all) traditionalists uphold the strength of their position by resorting to a similar strategy.
This seems quite clear to me after I watched a “discussion” between Michael Brown and Edward Fudge and many callers which rang like a true inquisition.
Do you think it is a fair assessment of the situation?

Chris Date: In some cases, maybe even many, yes. I’ve experienced it; many other conditionalists have as well. But I think this is something we all, as human beings, tend to do. We’re fallen sons and daughters of Adam; we’re prideful and we want to be right. And so we tend to bully others into thinking like us. Traditionalists aren’t the only ones guilty of it; we all have to repent of it in certain areas of our lives, including myself. Our primary goal at Rethinking Hell, and the thing I’m passionate about that drives me to invest time and effort into this topic, is to nurture Christian unity and charity. Too often Christians treat the issue of hell as a topic worth dividing over–and not just dividing over, but worth treating one another with contempt and with disrespect. We want to do what little we can to remedy that, but encouraging frank and honest disagreement, as well as intellectual rigor, but done with brotherly love, respect, and charity. If traditionalists, conditionalists, and even universalists can present a united front to the world, including those New Atheists you mentioned, treating each other with respect and charity when we have our in-house debates over hell and other secondary issues, I think we’ll be far more effective agents for change in the world.

That’s entirely true and I also need to constantly keep myself in check for avoiding intellectual pride and self-righteousness.

Annihilationism and emotional reasoning

12) How often do you hear the complain that conditionalists are liberals who reject the “clear teaching of Scripture” on purely emotional grounds?

Chris Date: Ha! I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that. But it’s simply untrue. In my case and some other conditionalists, emotions never played a role. We were convinced solely by exegesis of the text. In fact, my emotions tugged me in the direction of the traditional view I had already held. I desperately wanted to avoid adopting a position that would close ministry doors to me and would cause apologists and theologians I respect and admire to think poorly of me. But my commitment to Scripture forced me, kicking and screaming, to become a conditionalist. Many conditionalists, it is true, first began questioning the traditional view for emotional or philosophical reasons, but they didn’t simply embrace conditionalism on those grounds. They returned to Scripture to see if perhaps they and most other Christians had gotten it wrong. And having done so, they discovered the utter dearth of biblical support for the traditional view, and the overwhelming reams and reams of evidence in support of annihilation.

13) Is there a hope that annihilationism will soon be considered as a respectable Evangelical position in the near future?

Chris Date: Yes, I think it’s inevitable. It’s already becoming one. Christian scholars like Basil Atkinson, E. Earle Ellis, Dale Moody, John Stott, John Wenham, Richard Bauckham, David Instone-Brewer, Gordon Isaac, Douglas Jacoby, I. Howard Marshall, Preston Sprinkle, and John Stackhouse (to name just a few) have embraced the view, and as more and more of them continue to do so, traditionalists will be less and less able to treat annihilationism as if it’s a fringe movement held only by liberals, sentimentalists, and cultists.

14) How many percent of conservative Evangelicals hold to conditonalism?

Chris Date: Oh I have no idea. We’re a minority in America, but a growing one. Actually, we may not be a minority in conservative Christian academia; John Stackhouse and Edward Fudge have said that many Christian academics have told them that they are persuaded by our view, but can’t say it for fear of losing their jobs. In Britain I think we’re an even larger minority, if not a majority. But again, in terms of numbers, I can’t begin to guess.

15) I want to talk a bit about Calvinism. I am strongly opposed to this doctrine but realize that many of my arguments could lose much of their strength if hell means the cessation of existence.
Yet I have not (until now) dealt with reformed condtionalists because I consider their number to be extremely small.
Am I justified in that assumption?

Chris Date: Yes, I think so.
And…Let me just say that while I am Reformed…Many of the Rethinking Hell “staff” are not. Rethinking Hell does not official endorse any view of soteriology over another.But yes, you’re right, there aren’t many of us Reformed conditionalists.

16) To conclude, I want to say that while I reject the teaching of Biblical inerrancy, I really find that your exegesis and that of Dr. Glenn People is very serious, scholarly and intelligent. You represent the very best of Conservative Evangelicalism to my mind.
Could you please sum up the most useful ressources my readers interested in the topic could take a look at?

https://www.logos.com/product/20263/the-fire-that-consumes-a-biblical-and-historical-study-of-the-doctrine-of-final-punishment-3rd-ed.jpg

Thanks! I appreciate that. I recommend your readers purchase either Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, in its 3rd edition now with Wipf & Stock, or his Hell: A Final Word. The former is more scholarly; the latter more popular-level. They would also benefit from purchasing his two views book with Robert Peterson, Two Views on Hell. It’s available on Kindle for cheap, I think, and your readers will get both sides of the debate. I also highly recommend your readers keep an eye out for our upcoming Wipf & Stock publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism. They can learn more about it here: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/12/rethinking-hell-book-announcement. It’s in the final stages of editing and we expect it to be published this Spring. It’s not yet available for preorder by itself, but if you have any readers that are anywhere near Houston, they can preorder a copy of our book as part of their registration for our inaugural Rethinking Hell Conference this July, which they can learn more about and register for here: http://www.rethinkinghellconference.com/2014/. And, of course, we have a bunch of resources available at http://www.rethinkinghell.com. There are a ton of articles on a variety of related issues, and for your readers not yet familiar with our view, they should probably start by listening to episode 4 of our podcast (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-4-the-case-for-annihilationism-with-glenn-peoples) in which Glenn Peoples gives a positive case for our view, and then episode 7 (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/episode-7-traditional-objections-answered-with-chris-date) in which I answer common objections from traditionalists.

http://blairmulholland.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/rethinking-hell.jpg

Alright Chris! Thank you for all the time you gave me, and I truly hope this was not too exhausting for you 🙂

You’re very welcome. I enjoyed it.

Von dem Krieg gegen Drogen, Cannabis und Schizophrenie

English Version: On the war on drugs, cannabis and schizophrenia. Feel free to comment there at any times!

Seit dem Ende des zweiten Weltkriegs ist der Krieg gegen Drogen von vielen Leuten als der einzige Weg zelebriert worden, um das Wohlsein der Bürger eines absolut demokratischen Staates zu beschützen.

Eine Grundregel ist, dass nicht nur Dealers und Mafiabosse sondern auch einfache Drogensüchtigen oder sogar Konsumenten Verbrecher sind.

Obwohl die Motivation für diesen Krieg (die Gesellschaft und das Individuum vor Verletzungen zu bewahren) an sich ganz bestimmt lobenswert ist, kann es kaum bezweifelt werden, dass viel moralischere und wirksamere Methoden angewendet werden könnten.

Als Europäer fühle ich mich verblüfft, wenn ich die riesige Anzahl von Menschen betrachte,  die in den vereinigten Staaten im Gefängnis wegen Marihuana sitzen, wobei ihr eigener Konsum im Vordergrund ihrer “Straftat” steht.

Ich glaube, dass westliche Demokratien viel besser aussehen würden, wenn die Gesetzgebung so modifiziert werden würde, dass

  1. der Konsum jeder Droge für die eigene Entspannung keinerlei rechtliche Folgen nach sich zieht
  2. Drogensüchtigen weder Freiheitsstrafen noch Bußgeldstrafen riskieren.

Dennoch bin ich sehr zurückhaltend, wenn es um die Legalisierung irgendwelcher Droge (sogar Cannabis) geht.

Ich habe das Problem eingesehen, als ich mir die zahlreichen Studien angeschaut habe, die auf eine Verbindung zwischen Marihuana und der Entstehung von Schizophrenie hinweisen.

Nur eine kleine Minderheit von Jointsräuchern werden von diesem Problem betroffen, aber die Schizophrenie (volksmündlich auch “Wahnsinn” benannt) ist solch eine furchtbare lebenslange Erkrankung, dass es moralisch erscheint, nichts zu tun, was die Anzahl von Menschen erhöhen könnte, die darunter leiden.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

On the war on drugs, cannabis and schizophrenia

Deutsche Version: Von dem Krieg gegen Drogen, Cannabis und Schizophrenie

Ever since the end of world war II, the war on drugs has been applauded by many as being the only way to protect the well-being of the citizens of an absolutely democratic state.

One ground rule is that not only are the dealers and Mafia’s bosses criminals, but also the mere drug addicts or even consumers.
Whilst the motivation for this war (keeping society and the individual safe from harm) is certainly laudable in and of itself, there is little doubt that much more moral and efficacious routes can be taken.

As a continental European, I feel dumbfounded while contemplating the huge number of people sitting in north American jails for offences related to Marijuana whereby their own consumption stood at the foreground of their “offence”.

I believe that western democracies would be far better off if the legislation would be modified so that:

  1. the recreational use of any drug will be completely free of any judicial consequence
  2. drug-addicts will neither be sent to prison nor have to pay a fine,

That said, I am very reluctant to legalise any drug, even cannabis.

I came to this view by reading numerous studies pointing towards a link between the use of marijuana and the development of schizophrenia. Only a small minority of joint smokers are concerned by that problem, but Schizophrenia (also popularly called “madness”) is such a terrible lifelong condition that it seems to be moral doing nothing which could increase the number of individuals suffering from it. 

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On the delusion of Crude and Lotharson: a response to Tildeb

A fellow called Tilbed wrote the following comment:

Good grief, Crude and lotharson. Your misunderstanding of Boghossian’s thesis combined with your fear of atheists and lack of critical thinking leads you to draw conclusions that are not just wrong but borders on delusional.

His thesis is one I’ve long promoted, that how people come to conclusions about reality matters because they act on this understanding. There are justified beliefs and unjustified beliefs classified by how the conclusions and explanations are reached. When we allow reality to arbitrate our beliefs, we have some measure of independence from our biases and prejudices. This is essential to recognize in critical thinking. We can fool ourselves if we use only measures dependent on our beliefs. I’m sure you can appreciate how using beliefs to justify those beliefs is a method that doesn’t work very well. Yet this is <i.exactly the kind of justification used in any faith-based – and not adduced evidence – belief! If a religious believer had compelling evidence arbitrated by reality to support a particular belief claim, he or she would bring that forward to help justify why he or she believes that a particular claim had merit independent of the beliefs brought to the claim. this is the method of science… where no dependent faith is required.

But believers don’t have this arsenal of evidence adduced from reality available. That’s why they introduce faith into justifying the claim! And this inclusion is where disagreements arise between believers themselves.

Religion is not alone in utilizing the method of faith to justify claims made about reality. We see exactly the same method used to sell many dubious products and extraordinary explanations… from alternative medicine to conspiracy theories, from denying the efficacy of vaccinations to a refusal to accept climate change caused by human activity. Faith-based beliefs are not – ever – justified. And this is the claim Boghossian makes, teaching people that how we arrive at our conclusions and explanations about how reality operates is a vital component to evaluating their justifications. And that’s why he criticizes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from exempting behaviours – listing the signs and symptoms of illnesses – if categorized to be ‘religious’. Is this exemption justified? Because the method of arriving at the claim is of dubious justification, Boghossian argues that this is insufficient reason to then allow the exemption. And he’s right.

But rather than understand Boghossian’s argument about why the method used to arrive at conclusions and explanations matters, you two saddle up your biases and prejudices and take them for a ride… allowing these biases and prejudices free rein to arrive at the destination you’ve preselected: accusing atheists of trying to impose a totalitarian anti-theist political system based on hate.

Both of you reveal a scope of mental processes deeply influenced by very poor reasoning, very poor comprehension, very high bias, very high prejudice, all in the service of what you assume is a pious regard for a broken method of thinking about how reality operates. The reality you’ve created exists only in your mind and you have no means at your disposal to self-correct these bizarre and absurd explanations. This is the very problem Boghossian is talking about, and you’ve demonstrated why your method is such a problem because you end up arriving at an unjustified, uncritical, delusional conclusion that if acted upon can and will cause real harm to real people in real life not based on reality but your unjustified beliefs about it.

As a person, I am offended by your unjustified and hate-inspiring attack on a group of people you demonize based on your own biases and prejudices; and that’s the very definition of discrimination you meet with flying colours. As a New Atheist, I’m not surprised. This is standard operating procedure for many theists who assume pious belief is good… because it’s supposedly good. Not sharing this ‘good’ belief must therefore mean those who do not believe is ‘bad’. And that’s the extent of critical thinking many theists undertake… a failure, in other words, of methodology (to find out what’s true, what’s justified by reality’s arbitration of the belief) – of epistemology, to use Boghossian’s description of this method – to use the brain (you believe) god gave you. In my mind, one does not serve the divine by being by exercising discrimination against one’s fellow human beings.

But you find that bit of wisdom in any ACE or PACE workbook any more than you will in any of scriptures used to defend claims of justified faith.

First of all, I am extremely thankful to Tildeb for his genuine kindness and respectful tone.

I would need incredibly much “faith” (as he defines the word) for believing he is one of the most loving human beings living under the sun.

I don’t agree, however, with this type of definition.

For me faith means hoping when the evidence is not sufficient. And it is my contention that everyone walks by faith so that Boghossian’s criticism utterly fails in my case. 

Tildeb wrote “There are justified beliefs and unjustified beliefs classified by how the conclusions and explanations are reached. When we allow reality to arbitrate our beliefs, we have some measure of independence from our biases and prejudices.”

How is it possible to use reality for disproving the claim you are a brain in a vat? All evidence you could come up with would be perfectly compatible with your experience being spawned by a program running your brain.

BildWhile empirical arguments are extremely important, they cannot be the whole story.

Finally I was truly dumbstruck by the following sentence: “As a person, I am offended by your unjustified and hate-inspiring attack on a group of people you demonize based on your own biases and prejudices”.

There are many errors and fallacies going on here.

1) There are countless atheistic philosophers and scientists arguing against belief in God  towards whom I feel a great respect.

Jeffrey Jay Lowder and Andre Comte-Sponville are two nice examples.

I always respect respectful opponents.

2) I profoundly despise anti-theist (also called the New Atheists) because we have strong grounds for seeing them as a far right hate group, who are animated by the same type of fundamentalist biases as those dominating their life as they were religious fundies.

3) It is ironic that Tildeb feels outraged whereas his fellow New Atheists use exactly the same type of hateful rhetorics for demonizing ALL religious believers, even liberal and progressive ones who fight religious extremists.

The aim of my blog is to foster a respectful and nice dialog between people having different worldview, thereby overcoming this loveless culture war.

Bild

So if Tildeb is ready to stop mocking and ridiculing progressive religious believers who have never harmed him, I will warmly welcome him as a conversation partner.

I am not, however, particularly interested in the perspective of yelling at each other.

Die zentrale Botschaft von Jesus

English version: the central teaching of Jesus. Feel free to comment there at any time!

Wie ich früher darauf hingewiesen habe, haben christliche Fundamentalisten und ehemalige Fundamentalisten, die sich in militante Atheisten verwandelt haben, eine sehr ähnliche Sicht der Bibel bezüglich ihrer Moralität und Theologie.

Jedes Gott zugeschriebene Gebot sei mit allen anderen völlig im Einklang und die Wahrheit des Christentums (oder vom Gottes moralischen Charakter)  stehe und fälle mit der Gültigkeit der kleinsten göttlichen Anordnung.

Aber wie sah Jesus diese Dinge an?

36 Meister, welches ist das höchste Gebot im Gesetz?

37 Jesus aber antwortete ihm: »Du sollst den Herrn, deinen Gott, lieben von ganzem Herzen, von ganzer Seele und von ganzem Gemüt«.

38 Dies ist das höchste und größte Gebot.

39 Das andere aber ist dem gleich: »Du sollst deinen Nächsten lieben wie dich selbst« (3.Mose 19,18).

40 In diesen beiden Geboten hängt das ganze Gesetz und die Propheten.

Matthäus 22:36-40

Jesus sagte nicht zum fragenden Menschen:

„Du sollst deine ungehorsamen Kinder steinigen.“ oder

„Narr! Wie wagst du es, mir eine solche dumme Frage zu stellen? Jedes Gebot ist genauso wichtig!“

Aber er sagte, dass das gesamte jüdische Gesetz auf die Liebe für Gott und die Liebe für seinen Nächsten wie für sich selbst zurückgeführt werden kann.

Und die Bergpredigt verdeutlicht, dass auch unsere Feinden zu unseren Nächsten gehören.

Der Ausdruck “Das andere aber ist dem gleich“ ist besonders faszinierend.

Es ist sehr wahrscheinlich, dass Jesus meinte, dass der reinste Weg zur Gottesliebe die Liebe für alle Menschen ist, die nach seinem Ebenbild erschufen wurden.

Dieser Aspekt ist besonders sichtbar in einer von Jesus Beschreibungen des jüngsten Tags:

31 Wenn aber des Menschen Sohn kommen wird in seiner Herrlichkeit und alle heiligen Engel mit ihm, dann wird er sitzen auf dem Stuhl seiner Herrlichkeit, 32 und werden vor ihm alle Völker versammelt werden. Und er wird sie voneinander scheiden, gleich als ein Hirte die Schafe von den Böcken scheidet, 33 und wird die Schafe zu seiner Rechten stellen und die Böcke zu seiner Linken
34 Da wird dann der König sagen zu denen zu seiner Rechten: Kommt her, ihr Gesegneten meines Vaters ererbt das Reich, das euch bereitet ist von Anbeginn der Welt! 35 Denn ich bin hungrig gewesen, und ihr habt mich gespeist. Ich bin durstig gewesen, und ihr habt mich getränkt. Ich bin Gast gewesen, und ihr habt mich beherbergt.  36 Ich bin nackt gewesen und ihr habt mich bekleidet. Ich bin krank gewesen, und ihr habt mich besucht. Ich bin gefangen gewesen, und ihr seid zu mir gekommen.
37 Dann werden ihm die Gerechten antworten und sagen: Wann haben wir dich hungrig gesehen und haben dich gespeist? oder durstig und haben dich getränkt? 38 Wann haben wir dich als einen Gast gesehen und beherbergt? oder nackt und dich bekleidet? 39 Wann haben wir dich krank oder gefangen gesehen und sind zu dir gekommen? 40 Und der König wird antworten und sagen zu ihnen: Wahrlich ich sage euch: Was ihr getan habt einem unter diesen meinen geringsten Brüdern, das habt ihr mir getan.
41 Dann wird er auch sagen zu denen zur Linken: Gehet hin von mir, ihr Verfluchten, in das ewige Feuer, das bereitet ist dem Teufel und seinen Engeln! 42 Ich bin hungrig gewesen, und ihr habt mich nicht gespeist. Ich bin durstig gewesen, und ihr habt mich nicht getränkt. 43 Ich bin ein Gast gewesen, und ihr habt mich nicht beherbergt. Ich bin nackt gewesen, und ihr habt mich nicht bekleidet. Ich bin krank und gefangen gewesen, und ihr habt mich nicht besucht.
44 Da werden sie ihm antworten und sagen: HERR, wann haben wir dich gesehen hungrig oder durstig oder als einen Gast oder nackt oder krank oder gefangen und haben dir nicht gedient? 45 Dann wird er ihnen antworten und sagen: Wahrlich ich sage euch: Was ihr nicht getan habt einem unter diesen Geringsten, das habt ihr mir auch nicht getan. 46 Und sie werden in die ewige Pein gehen, aber die Gerechten in das ewige Leben.

Matthäus 25:31 – 25:46

Diese Passage klingt ganz bestimmt hart, aber sie zeigt, dass sich alles um die Liebe dreht: Ungläubiger, die arme Menschen geliebt haben werden in die Gegenwart des Herrn aufgerufen, während Gläubiger, die ihre Bedürfnisse ignoriert haben, aus Seiner Gegenwart herausgetrieben werden.

Nun müssen wir uns mit einem betrübenden Text befassen:

18 Amen, das sage ich euch: Bis Himmel und Erde vergehen, wird auch nicht der kleinste Buchstabe des Gesetzes vergehen, bevor nicht alles geschehen ist.5

19 Wer auch nur eines von den kleinsten Geboten aufhebt und die Menschen entsprechend lehrt, der wird im Himmelreich der Kleinste sein. Wer sie aber hält und halten lehrt, der wird groß sein im Himmelreich.

Matthäus 5:18-19

Es ist sehr einfach, Gebote in der Thora zu finden, die nicht nur daran scheitern, die Liebe zu fördern sondern auch ganz das Gegenteil bewirken.

Anscheinend war es Jesus wohl bewusst, als er sagte:

38 Ihr habt gehört, daß da gesagt ist: “Auge um Auge, Zahn um Zahn.” 39 Ich aber sage euch, daß ihr nicht widerstreben sollt dem Übel; sondern, so dir jemand einen Streich gibt auf deinen rechten Backen, dem biete den andern auch dar40 Und so jemand mit dir rechten will und deinen Rock nehmen, dem laß auch den Mantel. 41 Und so dich jemand nötigt eine Meile, so gehe mit ihm zwei. 42

Matthäus 5:38-42

So wenn er wirklich wortwörtlich meinte, dass wir wortwörtlich dem Gesetz gehorchen sollen war er wortwörtlich selbst-widersprüchlich.

Eine solche kognitive Dissonanz könnte vielleicht verständlich sein für einen Juden seiner Zeit, der nicht bereit war, die Gültigkeit von etwas zu verleugnen, das als eine göttliche Tradition angesehen wurde.

Aber ich bezweifle, dass Jesus sich in dieser Hinsicht selbst widersprochen hat. Ich glaube, dass er wirklich meinte, dass die Liebe die Grundlage von allem ist UND dass  das Gesetz in Ihm erfüllt wurde, vielleicht auf metaphorische Weise.

Ich habe immer noch große Schwierigkeiten, Jesus Einstellung bezüglich des Gesetzes zu begreifen.

Aber wir können ganz sicher sein, dass die Liebe das Fundament seiner gesamten Ethik war, sogar wenn er vielleicht kulturbedingt nicht willens war, die Inspiration des Gesetzes trotz der logischen Folgen seiner zentralen Lehre loszulassen.

My blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) (Link Here). 

The Central Message of Jesus

Deutsche Version: die zentrale Botschaft von Jesus.

As I pointed out previously, Christian fundamentalists and former fundamentalists having turned into militant atheists have the very same view of the Bible for what concerns morality and theology. Every command attributed to God is completely consistent with the others and the truth of Christianity (or the moral character of God) stands and falls with the validity of the smallest allegedly divine order find within the pages of Scriptures.

But is it how Jesus viewed things?

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

Jesus did not tell to the asking person:

You should stone your disobedient children.“ or

Fool! How dare you ask such a silly question to me! Every command is equally important!“

But he said that the entire Jewish Law can be traced back to love for God and love for one’s neighbour as for oneself. And the Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that our enemies also belong to our neighbours.

The phrase „And the second is like it“ is particularly intriguing.

It is very likely that Jesus meant that the purest way of loving God is by loving the people he created in his image. This aspect is particularly visible in one of Jesus’ descriptions of the final judgement:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 25:32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them

one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 25:33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 25:34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 25:35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me

drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 25:36 I was naked, and you clothed me.

I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 25:38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 25:39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ 25:40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothersr ,

you did it to me.’ 25:41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from

me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave

me no drink; 25:43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t

clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ 25:44 “Then they will also answer, saying,

Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’ 25:45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 25:46 These will go away

into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Mattew’s 25:31 – 25:46

This passage sounds certainly hard, but it shows it is all about love: non-believers having loved the poor people are called into the presence of the Lord whereas believers having ignored their needs are driven out of His presence.

Now we have to deal with a troubling passage:

18“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:18-19

It is very easy to find commands in the Torah not only failing to foster love but also going in quite the opposite direction.

Jesus seemed to be well aware of this as he said

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-48

While not explicitly formulated in any passages of the Old Testament, the principle “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is implied by numerous texts.

(Interestingly enough, it can also be found in the writings of many allegedly enlightened modern secularists).

So if he really literally meant we ought to literally obey the Law then he was literally inconsistent.

Such a cognitive dissonance could perhaps be understandable for a Jew of his time unwilling to deny the validity of what was considered as a divine tradition.

But I doubt that Jesus was inconsistent in that respect, I believe He really meant that love is the ground of everything AND that the law was fulfilled in Him, perhaps in a metaphoric way.

I’m still struggling to understand Jesus attitude towards the Law.

But we can be quite sure that Love was the foundation of his entire ethic even if he might have been culturally unwilling to let go of the inspiration of the Law, the logical implications of his central teachings notwithstanding.

Leaving fundamentalism: an interview with Jonny Scaramanga

 

 

In a previous post I pointed out the harmfulness of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), an international fundamentalist “educational” system aiming at producing “godly” children.

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Here I had the immense opportunity to interview Jonny Scaramanga who is campaigning against this abusive and harmful system.

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Accelerated Christian Education in a nutshell

Lotharson: Hello Jonny, thank you very much for being with us!
Could you please tell a bit about your background for the benefit of my readers?
Jonny Scaramanga: Sure.
I was born into a family that was majorly into the Charismatic Movement and also the Word of Faith “prosperity gospel” of preachers like Kenneth Copeland.
I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I didn’t believe in God. The truth of the Biblical creation story was just one of the facts of my childhood, as true as the colour of the sky.
I was praying in tongues by the time I was 6 or 7.
I went to a creationist pre-school when I was 3, which used the ACE system, because some of my parents’ friends had started an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school.
My parents decided to send me to an ordinary primary school, though, so I got a proper education until I was 11.
Then part way through my final year of junior school, I went back to the ACE school, and was there until just before I turned 15.
Is that enough background?

That’s a good beginning, thanks 🙂 What happened next in the ACE you attended?

Well, I loved it to begin with. It’s completely unlike any other school you’ve ever seen.
Each student has their own desk, and it’s separated from the other desks by two dividers, so you can’t see or interact with your classmates during work time.
That suited me fine. I hated teamwork anyway.
So I really enjoyed having a private desk with my own possessions and just getting on with my work. The room didn’t have a teacher – the staff member was called a supervisor. If we needed help, we raised a flag to get her attention, but otherwise we were teaching ourselves from these books…
Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs)
which incorporate Bible lessons into every subject.
And I thought this was heaven. I felt so lucky to be surrounded only by good Christians, away from the evil and the temptations of the world. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘lucky’ at the time, because I was taught ‘luck’ came from the root word ‘Lucifer’, as in Satan.
There was quiet music playing in the background, and I was where God wanted me to be. Everyone was so polite and so friendly. I find it sinister now, because I think it was unreal, but it seemed wonderful to me then. And I felt so lucky to be learning the truth about Creation…
…because everyone else in the world was being taught these ridiculous lies about evolution, and I was one of a fortunate few who was hearing the truth about how God made the world.

It seems that many people really appreciate the absence of peer pressure and other positive aspects so that they don’t immediately realize all the crappy things being taught.

Well, there was peer pressure. I just thought of it as positive peer pressure. It was pressure to be the right kind of Christian, not to be worldly.

How did this “godly” peer pressure play out?

Well, for me it was a big thing to be the first to the door at break times so I could hold the door for everyone on the way out…
… to show what a good servant I was.
In the last year I was there, we had morning prayer meetings for the older students, and because the church was very Charismatic (even though ACE isn’t at all), it was a big thing to show how spiritual I was by praying in tongues ecstatically and delivering prophecies.
I was very judgemental of a girl in the school who was curious about the occult. She was just doing typical teenage stuff, reading Interview with the Vampire and trying to learn how to read minds, and I told her she was in league with Satan.
On days where we didn’t have to wear uniform to school, some of the girls came in wearing very short skirts, and by break time the staff had made them change into tracksuits, so there was a lot of shaming of girls, shaming of women’s bodies.
I was conflicted because I liked seeing girls in short skirts but I also judged them for being ungodly.
So I was misogynistic from both angles!

 

Sexism and creationism

Some fundamentalists such as Calvinist preacher John McArthur go as far as teaching that it is a sin for a woman to have a professional job.
Can we find the same kind of extreme sexism within ACE?

Compared to some fundamentalists, ACE is relatively progressive about women. I mean, they have a female president, although that only happened because the founder’s wife divorced him, and she had obviously been planning this for a long time, because she managed to gain majority control of the company, and then divorce and fire her husband.
Some of the Social Studies PACEs have a picture on the cover of what appears to be a woman working as a vet! Amazing – an actual woman doing an actual job!
So by fundamentalist standards, that’s quite progressive. By my standards now, I consider it very misogynistic.
There are cartoons emphasising how girls have to be ‘pure’ by not exposing skin when they dress, and in the PACEs about career choices, there’s a massive section on being a ‘homemaker’, and that’s the only time in the whole curriculum they use ‘her’ and ‘she’ to refer to a nonspecific person. The rest of the time it’s always ‘he’.
In Norway, the gender equality ombudsman found ACE to be in violation of the Gender Equality Act
because the students were having to underline the correct verb in sentences like “A wife will be happy when (he, she, it) obeys the husband.”
Among other things.
The sexism is a big problem. I haven’t written enough about it. It’s next on my agenda.
Is creation science taught there a bigger issue?
The creation science permeates everything. People don’t think about this. It doesn’t just affect biology. It’s in chemistry and physics too, because they reject the findings of cosmologists, and they have their own creationist interpretation of the laws of thermodynamics.
It affects history, because they take the Bible as literally true, and because they believe humans didn’t exist 7,000 years ago…
So 200,000 years of early human history has to be compressed into a few years before and after Noah’s Flood.
They talk about the Flood in Geography and History. Their English literature course has anti-evolution books on it, and their general English course includes learning about William Jennings Bryan’s speech, which I think is called “Evolution vs God”.

Could you please give us the sentences you find the most laughable?

Ha! Good one. OK, bear with me on this. We might need to keep talking about some other stuff while I think.

 

Escape from hell

 

How did you escape this crazy “school”?
Well, I told you I loved it at first, but about 18 months into my stay there, that flipped and I began to hate it.
I felt that I had no friends in the world, and going to this tiny school (at its biggest there were 70 students, aged 3-18) where I mostly worked in silence was limiting my social opportunities.
I felt that there was such a thing as a good education, and although I had no idea what that was, I knew that this wasn’t it.
Bear in mind at this point I was still a creationist and a right-wing Christian, so my complaints had nothing to do with that.
I just thought the system was academically awful. I was reading books with titles like “When Science Fails” instead of real literature, and everything was fill-in-the-blank. The form of Christianity was making me miserable, but I had no words to articulate that because the language in the PACEs was so loaded I had no way to express those thoughts.
I just had this vague sense that everything was terrible.
I spent a summer locked in my room feeling suicidal.
When I went back to school that September, I snapped one day. I had this major freakout, and I couldn’t see for a couple of seconds. Next thing I knew I was shouting at everyone in the room.
So at that point my parents thought it best to remove me, and I was free!

It must have been an extremely liberating experience, a feeling almost indescribable by words.

For a week or two I was euphoric. I went to a normal school and started studying Shakespeare, and getting to use science labs instead of just reading about science in a (mostly incorrect) book, and we studied history by looking at primary and secondary sources and learning to evaluate them,
so it was a total revolution. But soon I was depressed again. I really struggled to make friends because I had no idea how to relate to anyone who wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian.
I didn’t have the cultural reference points. I didn’t watch the same TV or listen to the same music. I refused to swear, and I was a total prude. Since all teenage boys ever think about is sex, this was a massive problem. They all had posters of glamour models on their desks, and I was trying to find anywhere else to look, because I thought it was a sin for me to see pictures of women… not even naked women. Just women being sexy.
Then I told them they were going to hell, which didn’t help.
OK, I’ve found the most laughable section of a PACE.
I’m trying to figure out how to condense it down to a couple of sentences for you.
You kind of need to see the whole thing.

I’ll do 🙂

They’re trying to show that all modern people are descended from Noah’s three sons…
and the way they’re doing it is to find very old people (possibly legendary) with similar-sounding names
and go “YOU SEE! THAT’S NOAH’S SON!”
So, for example:
“Japheth and his seven sons may clearly be seen as the progenitors of the Indo- European limb of the human tree. Japheth himself may be identified with 1) lapetos (the legendary forebear of the Greek tribes) and (2) lyapeti (supposed ancestor of the Aryans of India).
End quote

But this is truly an amazing coincidence! This proves God’s Word beyond any reasonable doubt! 🙂

There’s loads of this. It goes on for PAGES.
And now they have an entire book called After the Flood, which you can find on line…
It’s by Bill Cooper BA (hons).
He’s very keen that you include the BA (hons) part.
He wants everyone to know he managed to get an undergraduate degree.
Anyway, it makes the same argument, but over a whole book. And it also claims that stories of dragons (including Beowulf) are real, and that’s proof that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, which proves the Bible is true.

There is a mighty creationist INDUSTRY feeding such books and teaching materials.

It’s mind-blowing.
People ask me now if I’m angry, but I’ve never really felt angry about being taught creationism for myself, because I discovered it was bullshit very gradually, over a period of years, and it didn’t seem to matter. It makes me angry that they’re teaching it to kids now though, because most of them won’t get as lucky as me, and escape to a good education.
The thing about creationism is that it tells you evolution is *impossible* and that science *proves* the creation account true. And that means that when you’re in a situation like I was, where your faith is making you miserable, you don’t have any options.
Because if creationism is true, according to their dogma, which I didn’t have the critical thinking skills to reject, then all of it is true. And if it’s true, you can’t leave, because you’ll be rejecting God and, like it or not, walking into Satan’s arms.

 

Eternal torments and child abuse

You know, I take folks such as Dawkins et al. to task for asserting that ALL religious educations are child abuses, because there are clear examples of progressive and liberal religious movements where it is not the case.
However I consider it as extremely abusive to teach to small children that all people dying as non-Christians will be eternally tortured.
I think that the harm inflicted on young minds is far greater than that stemming from creationist non-senses.
Would you agree?

I find it hard to separate the two, in this instance. It’s all part of Biblical Inerrancy (which is really MY DOGMA IS INERRANT) and that’s a club used to beat people with.
As well as also endorsing beating children with clubs, by coincidence.
And the thing about creationism is that it is built entirely on logical fallacies, so to teach creationism, you have to teach people AT BEST not to think critically in this particular area. In ACE’s case, it wasn’t compartmentalised like that. There was no critical thinking anywhere.
And that meant I didn’t have the tools to think about the harmful stuff. I was indoctrinated into believing in hell, and not given the mental skills to question that.
How did you finally leave fundamentalism?
I think it was because of listening to secular music. Some girls came to the ACE school who had attended a secular secondary school for a year or two previously, and they brought a tiny bit of that culture with them.
I mean, they were still hardcore Christians by most standards. But to me they seemed very worldly.
And I think partly because of them and partly because of an older boy who listened to the radio, secular songs started to impinge on my consciousness, and I began listening to the radio.
Then one day the supervisor gave a massive lecture to the whole school. She said singing secular songs was the same as rubbing dog dirt on your friends’ faces.
She used that specific phrase. “Dog dirt”.
And that was so ridiculous that I think I listened to the radio MORE after that.
Also, a Christian band called Sixpence None the Richer had a big hit with a song called “Kiss Me”. So I was listening to the radio to hear their song, and of course hearing all the other devil’s music at the same time.
And enjoying it.
Eventually I figured if it was OK to listen to it on the radio, it was OK to buy it. So I started buying secular CDs. And I discovered a few things.
One was that this music was a *lot* better than Christian rock.

Yes 🙂

And a lot of Christian rock was blatantly plagiarised from secular songs.
So there went my theory that the bands were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I also discovered that this music made me feel AWESOME. I felt incredible listening to these secular bands, full of joy. It was like the ecstatic worship services I’d experienced, but better.
I’d always been taught that secular music was inferior because it was the devil’s counterfeit…
but here, clearly, was not just something that was a counterfeit. It was the real thing.

Or maybe Evangelical rock itself is the devil’s counterfeit 🙂

Ha! That sounds about right.
And finally, I think it was listening to secular music that opened the door to reading secular books. When I was 17 I began reading philosophy.
I would never have done that just a few years before.
I would have thought even considering those ideas was exposing myself to the devil.
Now I think that after I’d been listening to Steven Tyler for a few years, I realised that there was no danger in considering other ideas. They weren’t going to control me. I could still decide what to accept and what to reject.
I figured that the truth would stand up for itself.
That was it, ultimately.
The reason I was angry at ACE was that they wouldn’t let me consider alternative ideas or beliefs.
I still agreed with them about religion, politics, and “science” at that point.
But I thought that if something was true, it would stand up to scrutiny. So I thought they should have given me an education where I got a chance to decide for myself.
And they had done the opposite.
So secular music was the wedge that allowed me to consider other ideas.
That and eventually making friends with my non-Christian schoolmates
and discovering that non-Christians weren’t demon possessed drug taking gangbangers.

Yeah 🙂 And how did your worldview evolve after that?

Deconversion and atheism

Well, I read philosophy books and – oh, I’d forgotten this, I didn’t intend to read philosophy of religion. I intended to read philosophy of mind, but the religion section came first in the book I bought, and I felt duty bound to read it in order.
So the devil tricked me!

Or God 🙂

And I found the arguments against religion uncomfortably persuasive. A lot of people don’t like Dawkins’ essay “Viruses of the Mind”, but it is a very effective description of fundamentalist religion, if not all religion.
It applied exactly to my beliefs.
That scared me. So I read the pro-religion essays to try to comfort myself, and I found myself inwardly arguing against them.

I think that all hateful and irrational ideologies can be viewed as “virus of the mind”. This concept has a huge explanatory power.

Right, exactly.
So I couldn’t handle it at all, I just buried those thoughts and started living as… I guess a functional atheist.
I tried not to think about it.
Occasionally I felt guilty and wondered if I was going to hell.
Sometimes I’d feel an urge to pray, but I felt that I couldn’t because I would need to repent first, and I didn’t want to repent.
This dragged on over a period of years. I’m writing a book about it.
I bought the God Delusion when it came out. I was like “Well, Dawkins started all my doubts, maybe he can finish them!” But I found the God Delusion put me on the defensive. I found myself sticking up for God as I read it.
I haven’t read it since. I don’t know what I’d think now.
At this point, my beliefs were essentially superstition. I was just terrified that God might exist. I was persuaded by Dawkins’ argument that the God of the Old Testament was evil, but not by his argument that this God didn’t exist.
So I’m just wondering around afraid of what’s going to happen when I die.
And I think that’s all pretty clearly a product of just poor thinking skills on my part.
Which I relate partly to an education and upbringing which discouraged thinking.

My memory’s a bit blurry after that. I’m not exactly sure how I got from there to atheism, which is where I am now.

A fundamentalist universe is an absurd and gruesome farce, given that billions of humans are going to suffer forever.
Would you say you feel rather convinced that the ultimate reality (whatever it is) is impersonal?

I don’t really think about that; I don’t find it a useful concept. I would say I have little grounds for speculation about the ultimate reality.

Historically, you would have been called an agnostic in France and Germany
where most people hold such a view
Einstein said that our human mind is so small than we cannot fathom the ultimate mystery beyond the universe

The harmfulness of Biblical inerrancy

Yeah. I didn’t mean to turn this into a conversation about atheism!
But here’s one thing I think your Christian readers can get on board with:
I never really considered other forms of Christianity, because I’d just been brought up to think they were absurd.
I was always told my options were fundamentalism or atheism.
Looking back, in my late teens and early 20s, they were the only paths I considered.
I’ve considered other things since then, but at the time it was all or nothing.
I was told you have to believe every word of the Bible or none of it.
And that’s a recipe for producing atheists.

Fundamentalism is destroying Christianity, this is why moderate Christians CANNOT stay indifferent
If people care about the future of Christianity, they’ve got to stop teaching children Biblical inerrancy is the only option.
Because Biblical inerrancy is completely untenable.

Absolutely 🙂

Legal actions against fundamentalist brain-washing

But now I have a more practical question
Many people tell that in an open society we ought to tolerate ACE
What is your response to such an assertion?

Well, I haven’t finished making up my mind about that yet. There’s an excellent book called Religious Schools vs Children’s Rights by James Dwyer, and I’m still thinking about his argument.
He thinks there is a case for state regulation in cases like ACE. I want to agree with him, but I’m still thinking over all the implication.
implications.
But I will say these things:
Even if we accept that ACE schools have the right to exist, we should still criticise them. I believe that racist groups and neo-Nazi political parties have the right to exist, but I will still oppose them in any way I can.

Second, even if ACE schools have the right to exist, school inspection bodies should take an uncompromising stand on pointing out where they are failing children from an educational point of view.

You know Jonny, I really admire your careful thinking and moderation. Giving your background it is truly fantastic 🙂

Thanks. You’re very kind.

What are the main evidence clearly showing that ACE is harmful for the well-being of kids?

Well, there isn’t any, really. That’s why I’m doing a PhD looking at ex-students, because no one’s ever undertaken that kind of research.
I can say, however, that ACE’s vision of education goes against everything that psychologists and educators currently think about what makes for effective schooling.
So it’s profoundly unlikely that it’s helpful.

Have you been accused of being too biased for carrying out such a research?

Yeah, of course. I think about that a lot. The truth is that nobody is neutral, though. And also, in some cases ACE schools have actually abused children very seriously.
And to be neutral in cases of abuse is a moral failure, in my view.
I would never want to be accused of being neutral about that.

Absolutely!

But still, I accept that it’s important to carry out research which is rigorous
So what I do is I always think “What would prove me wrong? What evidence would weaken my argument?”
Then I go looking for that evidence.

This is the scientific method at its very best 🙂

So in the case of ACE, I’m looking for people who say it has benefitted them. Most of them don’t want to speak to me, because I’ve campaigned against ACE so much, but I’m trying.
If I can’t speak to them, I still think I can make some useful points. I mean, I am in touch with more than 100 people who say they were abused by ACE. Now, even if those are the only 100 people in the world who feel that way (and I know they aren’t), those people still matter.
It makes me angry how dismissive ACE and the schools have been about the people who feel wronged by the system.
It’s so unchristian of them.

Precisely.

I am a teacher.
If someone came to me and told me they had been harmed by my teaching, I would bend over backwards to listen to them and try to put it right.
So when my old teachers won’t even agree to meet me or reply to my letters (and I’m thinking of one in particular here), that strikes me as cowardice.

Well said!
Do you believe that ACE can be improved in such a way that the harmful elements are removed? Or is it beyond any hope of redemption and should cease to exist altogether?

I see it as pretty much without redeeming features.
The individual study thing seems to work for some students, but I think even those students need a greater breadth of educational activities.
Under ACE, the majority of your academic life is spent studying alone, in silence, from books which contain all the answers.
I think students need to be trained to do more group activities, teamwork, and research.

I am very thankful for all the time you have accorded to us. What final thoughts would you like to convey to my progressive Christian readers?

Thanks for caring. Thanks for not preaching at me and the ex-ACE people who have heard enough sermons for two lifetimes. Please speak out against creationism. A lot of people won’t listen to me because I call myself an atheist. A lot of those same people won’t listen to progressive Christians either, because they say you’re not True Christians. But there’s a chance they’ll listen to you, and it’s a much bigger chance than I have.
I guess that’s it! Thank you for having me; I appreciate this opportunity.

It has been a true delight. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming book and PhD dissertation!
Thanks! I’ll try to finish them sometime this decade!
Have a good night 🙂
Thanks! And you.