John Loftus and the instrumental mindset

Militant atheists often present themselves as dispassionate and incredibly “bright” seekers of truth whose conclusions are always impartial and well grounded.

I think that nothing can be farther from the truth and I want to illustrate this trough the behavior of a very active American anti-theist.

 

John Loftus is a former fundamentalist who became an anti-theist and views it as his greatest purpose in life to “debunk Christianity“.

sometimes agree with his criticism of fundamentalism and conservative Evangelicalism, but find that he most often utterly fails to address the position of his strongest opponent.

He has also made it perfectly clear that his goal is not to rationally examine religious topics but to use everything he can to reach “the end of Christianity”, like a perfect ideologist.

 

Consequently, he usually picks and chooses the worst passages of the Bible while picking and choosing their worst interpretations and concludes from that the whole Bible and Christianity in general is wicked.

(Click here to see another anti-theist using pretty much the same strategy).

 

So I was very surprised as I found  a blog post from him where he states the Bible teaches that hell means annihilation (the irreversible loss of one’s existence).

 

“Since I was able to question my Christian faith for the first time once I believed in Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism as the best Biblical description of hell, see here, I thought I’d offer a few brief notes on that view, from a Biblical perspective. I know there is a debate about this going on among Christian circles, but here are some of the things that those who dispute it must deal with:

We should not confuse the reality of hell with its images. The images of hell are of: 1) “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46); 2) “eternal destruction” (Matt. 10:28); and 3) banishment into the “darkness” (Matt. 22:13; 25:30). How we interpret these images depends on other Bible verses. In the O.T. the wicked will cease to exist (Psalm 37, Mal.4: 1-2). Jesus in the N.T. shows us that the purpose of fire in punishment is to destroy or burn up the wicked (Matt.3:10-12; 13:30,42,49-50). According to John R.W. Stott: “The main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction.” [Evangelical Essentials, (p. 316)]. Paul likewise emphasized destruction (2 Thess 1: 9; I Cor. 3:17; Phil. 1:28; 3:19). Peter likewise stressed the sinners’ fate as that of destruction (2 Pet. 2:1,3, 6; 3:6-7). Even in John’s book of Revelation, the lake of fire will consume the wicked (Rev. 20:14-15). G.B. Caird: “John believed that, if at the end there should be any who remained impervious to the grace and love of God, they should be thrown, with Death and Hades, into the lake of fire which is the second death, i.e., extinction and total oblivion.” [Commentary on Revelation, (p. 186)].

“The Bible uses language of death and destruction, of ruin and perishing, when it speaks of the fate of the impenitent wicked. It uses the imagery of fire that consumes whatever is thrown into it.” But “linking together images of fire and destruction suggests annihilation. One receives the impression that ‘eternal punishment’ refers to a divine judgment whose results cannot be reversed rather than to the experience of endless torment (i.e. eternal punishing).” [Pinnock, Four Views of Hell, p. 144].

L.E. Froom claims that conditional immortality was generally accepted in the early church until its thinkers tried to wed Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul to the teaching of the Bible.” [The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, Herald Pub., 1966]. Biblically speaking, human beings are not immortal. God alone has immortality (I Tim. 6:16); well doers seek immortality (Rom. 2:7); immortality is brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10); those in Christ will put on immortality (I Cor. 15:54), so that they now partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

If human beings don’t have immortality until they die in Christ when God grants it to them, then according to the Bible we cease to exist after we die. We are annhihilated, and that’s our punishment. And since according to the Bible God is judging us all along the way, there’s no need to believe that the figurative pictures of a great white throne judgement are literal events one can expect to experience, either.”

 

A far better defense of the concept this is the Biblical view of hell can be found in my interview with Chris Date.

 

Still, I was really stunned to have found that on the website of John. Annihilationism is a doctrine which is far more reconcilable with our moral intuitions than eternal torment, so it would have made more sense for John to defend the view the Bible really teaches that everyone of us will be literally tortured (as another member of DebunkingChristianity actually did).

So, does that mean that John wrote this out of intellectual honesty even if this makes Christianity taste more palatable? This is what I first thought before I saw one of his comments on the website of Dr. Glenn People:

 

My experience was that once I gave up an eternal hell it was a relief to me. Claim differently all you want to. But it allowed me to consider that I might be wrong without the threat of an eternal punishment.

And so the question remains whether annihilation will hurt or save the church. Without such a threat there is, well, no threat. It’s not quite the same as universalism but close. If all will be saved or if no one will suffer an eternal punishment then there is less motivation for missionary work or evangelism, and less of a need to preach correct doctrines rather than pop psychology which helps grow a church.

Without an eternal hell then another problem surfaces with the atonement? Typically the substitutionary doctrine says Jesus paid our punishment on the cross, but if there is less or no punishment then why did he need to do this at all? Why die to save human beings from extinction? To cease to exist is no punishment at all and therefore nothing to save anyone from.

I know you’ll answer these questions to your satisfaction, but these answers don’t satisfy me.”

 

So on average (according to Loftus) the doctrine of conditional immortality is a good thing because this would lead Christians to get less evangelistic and more willing to rationally question their faith.

I’ve grown convinced that John Loftus views everything as means to the end (of Christianity). As Randal Rauser wrote:

” Having just leafed quickly through it I was struck yet again by how much Loftus brought his Christian fundamentalism with him when he became an atheist. I see, for example, that his critique of Genesis 1-2 includes fundamentalist assumptions about reading ancient literature as a scientific account. Moreover, the book even ends with a “Commitment Page” (p. 467) in which Loftus asks the reader to sign their name that they are now an atheist committed to propagating atheism in the world. Once an evangelist, always an evangelist, I guess.

I hope to have a review of Loftus’ book sometime in August (I have two time sensitive reviews that I need to get out first).”

 

I think we can know beyond any reasonable doubt that John Loftus has remained a missionary fundamentalist.

More generally, searching a reasonable conversation with an American anti-theist is akin to seeking a rational discussion with a far-left or far-right politician who is doing everything possible to bring about his or her reforms.

It is an utter waste of time and I advise all my fellow Christians (both Conservative and Progressive) to avoid wasting your time on such websites where mockery, bullying and ridicule are commonplace. If you feel outraged by something they wrote, write your response on your personal blog but don’t challenge them in their own lands.

 

I’m really glad that in France and Germany, one can find PLENTY of non-militant and tolerant intellectual atheists who are willing to engage in friendly and rational challenges with no ax to grind.

In a truly open society (as defined by Karl Popper) it should certainly be possible to discuss about worldview differences without getting disagreeable.

 

 

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

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

34 thoughts on “John Loftus and the instrumental mindset

  1. That’s an interesting take actually. I myself may have been there once but now I just look at religion with amusement and try not to paint them all with one brush. For every Ken Hamster that exists out there, there exists possibly half as many Jay Bakkers.

  2. Speaking for myself, I didn’t feel my desire to spread Christianity disappear when I abandoned the eternal torment view for annihilationism. Rather, I found myself able to comprehend the Christian God as truly loving in a new way that increased my zeal.

    • Speaking for myself, I didn’t feel my desire to spread Christianity disappear when I abandoned the eternal torment view for annihilationism. Rather, I found myself able to comprehend the Christian God as truly loving in a new way that increased my zeal.

      Do you think that Jews and Muslims should forsake their religions and become Christian?

      • I can see no reason for a Jew to “forsake” his religion to become something else. Like the apostles and early disciples all they need to do is recognise the Messiah in the person of Jesus. Whether or not it is possible to recognise Jesus (Isa) as messiah, and follow God as he wishes, without necessarily renouncing “Islam” is another matter I am not informed enough to say.

        Personally I’m wary of definitions of people groups and man made descriptions of groups. Much damage has been done over the past couple of millennia by mistakenly believing that Judaism is a different “religion” to “Christianity”. There may be significant differences to how the majority of faithful religious Jews and Christians see Jesus, but he was born and died a Jew.

        For those of us seeking and struggling to live according to God’s will there should always be a duty to help others do the same. Particularly where there is a barrier to knowing God, we should lovingly try to help others overcome this. Maybe if we gave up the idea of “converting” people and concentrated more on the idea of helping them come to know God, then a lot of the comments about religion causing conflict would start to disappear.

      • Well, Dan replied to me, and stopped me cold. I didn’t think he’d say it, and he did, so that’s the end of that thread. I guess, Ross, you have a disagreement with him.

        See, Ross, you talk about ‘not trying to convert people but helping them overcome barriers’. But honestly, from where I sit, it seems more like contemporary Christian fear and awkwardness. God, isn’t it just embarrassing, not to mention rude, to tell people their metaphysical views (their religion, and I’d count atheism as a religion), are false – even harmful to them?

        Now, I could understand wanting to do this delicately. I can understand wanting to accent the good in their religious beliefs, and often there is good. I don’t believe in needlessly seeking conflict. But I also don’t believe it’s possible, or wise, to entirely avoid some conflict.

        When we’re trying to find a way to, roughly, bring Christ to the muslims without telling them that Mohammed was not a prophet and the Koran is not holy, I fear we’ve made a pretty big mistake. And I admit, I often cannot help but think that for some people, the benefit of universalism (yes, I know, we’re mostly talking annihilationism here – related but not the same) is not a greater faithfulness to the goodness of God, but a way to avoid the more awkward aspects of truth and belief.

  3. Anybody who has read my blog for any decent period of time (like three people?) would know by now that I’m a big, big C.S. Lewis fan. When you talk about “accenting the good” in other religions, that was Lewis’s whole game. Lewis converted partially BECAUSE he saw shadows of the truth in the old myths that were completed in Christianity. “Till We Have Faces” is literally a re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. He is careful in “The Last Battle” to portray a Calormene making it into the New Narnia despite him being (as far as the Calormene knew anyway) a follower of Tash.

    So Lewis would be the last person to deny that other religions have no good in them. In fact, he’d be very quick to point it out. It was partially why he converted. And yet even with Lewis, who really should be the model here, you STILL have people like my Myth and Culture Professor – a good teacher, in fact! – basically call Lewis a bigot because he dared to express the opinion that Christians are right and Muslims are wrong.*

    The short version of what I’m saying is that you’ll excuse me if I’m pre-disposed to believe that talk of “overcoming barriers” really means “Say absolutely nothing that might make people uncomfortable, true or not”.

    • In many respects Malcolm I would agree with you, though we may differ more in degree than anything else. I am also very aware of semantic issues about the language we use and I think I use different words to describe some of the things you do. I am not a “universalist” and firmly believe Jesus is the only way, though how he does this is much of a mystery and it’s up to him to decide who are the “saved”, not me. The Bible seems fairly strong on that point so that’s why I am not a “Universalist”.

      Jesus challenged people and we also need to challenge people.

      For those who have been brought up or identify as being “Jewish”, there is no need to “convert”, being “fulfilled” might be a better way of putting it. As I mentioned, “Judaism” is the root of Christianity, almost all the original disciples were “Jewish” as was Jesus. They didn’t need to change religion, just had to recognise the reality of God and see that he had come to them in person.

      It may be worth looking into the experience of many of those who call them-selves Messianic Jews, with Jesus being the Messiah. Many of them are aghast at the whole concept of “conversion”. In discussion here it is worth pointing out that their “scripture” is our scripture, their God is our God. However there is nearly two thousand years of much antipathy between “Jews” and “Christians”. Much of it being horrendous treatment by those who were or were purported to be “Christian”. That can be quite a lot of very deep emotional “baggage” to get around to point out that Jesus was and is the Messiah. Ultimately many people will wish to still have a strong “Jewish” identity without needing to become a “Christian”. As I am a gentile I have absolutely no need to identify as Jewish but can have the same saving relationship. Maybe some “Jews” for whatever reason may wish to reinterpret how they see themselves and wish to be called “Christians”, but that’s not essential.

      For someone who identifies as being Muslim then the discussion needs to be about whether or not “Allah” who is “the only true God” is the same God told about by Jesus and, as we believe was Jesus. We then need to look at whether there is any compatibility between how they relate to God and the claims of Jesus as God. This can lead to them deciding to “convert” and identifying as “Christian”. I personally think the position and experience of a “Muslim” is significantly different to that of the “Jew” I mentioned above.

      For a Muslim, particularly in Muslim countries the possibly fatal consequences of public “self identification” would make me think that it is possibly okay to have a God Centred, humble and repentant attitude without necessarily jumping up and down shouting out “I am a Christian”. Maybe God will call some to do that, but I would be very wary of encouraging them to do this myself.

      I think the “elephant in the room” regarding discussions of “conversion”, which you may gather is a term I am fairly skeptical about, is that there are millions of so called “Christians” who need to “convert”. By this I mean that “Christianity” is just a word. A humble and repentant relationship with God as an actual relationship. I tend toward the “ecumenical” and don’t particularly feel that any particular flavour of “Christianity” has the whole truth and unique claim to people’s souls, though, as Jesus said “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”.

      Quite frankly I don’t feel any need for others to “join my gang” and look, sound and think as I do. What I think is crucial is that as many as possible come to a saving relationship with the crucified and risen Jesus. This is not about having the correct “knowledge” or believing the correct “doctrine” or going to the correct “church”. It is what lies behind these things.

      To that end everyone needs to be “converted” to a humble and repentant relationship with God, but not everyone, or many for that matter will be. Plus, I choose not to use the word “converted” and don’t feel the outward name, identification or even speech of anyone necessarily reflects the heart and the person’s own relationship to God. We don’t need to “convert” anyone, but with God’s grace we may be instrumental in helping God bring others to a true and saving relationship with him.

      • In many respects Malcolm I would agree with you, though we may differ more in degree than anything else. I am also very aware of semantic issues about the language we use and I think I use different words to describe some of the things you do. I am not a “universalist” and firmly believe Jesus is the only way, though how he does this is much of a mystery and it’s up to him to decide who are the “saved”, not me. The Bible seems fairly strong on that point so that’s why I am not a “Universalist”.

        Jesus challenged people and we also need to challenge people.

        For those who have been brought up or identify as being “Jewish”, there is no need to “convert”, being “fulfilled” might be a better way of putting it. As I mentioned, “Judaism” is the root of Christianity, almost all the original disciples were “Jewish” as was Jesus. They didn’t need to change religion, just had to recognise the reality of God and see that he had come to them in person.

        It may be worth looking into the experience of many of those who call them-selves Messianic Jews, with Jesus being the Messiah. Many of them are aghast at the whole concept of “conversion”. In discussion here it is worth pointing out that their “scripture” is our scripture, their God is our God. However there is nearly two thousand years of much antipathy between “Jews” and “Christians”. Much of it being horrendous treatment by those who were or were purported to be “Christian”. That can be quite a lot of very deep emotional “baggage” to get around to point out that Jesus was and is the Messiah. Ultimately many people will wish to still have a strong “Jewish” identity without needing to become a “Christian”. As I am a gentile I have absolutely no need to identify as Jewish but can have the same saving relationship. Maybe some “Jews” for whatever reason may wish to reinterpret how they see themselves and wish to be called “Christians”, but that’s not essential.

        For someone who identifies as being Muslim then the discussion needs to be about whether or not “Allah” who is “the only true God” is the same God told about by Jesus and, as we believe was Jesus. We then need to look at whether there is any compatibility between how they relate to God and the claims of Jesus as God. This can lead to them deciding to “convert” and identifying as “Christian”. I personally think the position and experience of a “Muslim” is significantly different to that of the “Jew” I mentioned above.

        For a Muslim, particularly in Muslim countries the possibly fatal consequences of public “self identification” would make me think that it is possibly okay to have a God Centred, humble and repentant attitude without necessarily jumping up and down shouting out “I am a Christian”. Maybe God will call some to do that, but I would be very wary of encouraging them to do this myself.

        I think the “elephant in the room” regarding discussions of “conversion”, which you may gather is a term I am fairly skeptical about, is that there are millions of so called “Christians” who need to “convert”. By this I mean that “Christianity” is just a word. A humble and repentant relationship with God as an actual relationship. I tend toward the “ecumenical” and don’t particularly feel that any particular flavour of “Christianity” has the whole truth and unique claim to people’s souls, though, as Jesus said “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”.

        Quite frankly I don’t feel any need for others to “join my gang” and look, sound and think as I do. What I think is crucial is that as many as possible come to a saving relationship with the crucified and risen Jesus. This is not about having the correct “knowledge” or believing the correct “doctrine” or going to the correct “church”. It is what lies behind these things.

        To that end everyone needs to be “converted” to a humble and repentant relationship with God, but not everyone, or many for that matter will be. Plus, I choose not to use the word “converted” and don’t feel the outward name, identification or even speech of anyone necessarily reflects the heart and the person’s own relationship to God. We don’t need to “convert” anyone, but with God’s grace we may be instrumental in helping God bring others to a true and saving relationship with him.

      • It may be worth looking into the experience of many of those who call them-selves Messianic Jews, with Jesus being the Messiah. Many of them are aghast at the whole concept of “conversion”. In discussion here it is worth pointing out that their “scripture” is our scripture, their God is our God.

        It depends on what they mean by Messianic Jews. Yes, they believe Jesus is God. But do they believe in the reality of Hell? Do they believe in the necessity of the Eucharist? Do they believe in the need for Reconciliation? Would they want to bring their fellow Jews to Christ?

        If the answer is yes to these questions, excellent. I suspect that many times it isn’t, though I’m sure it is sometimes. That said, I would think that if they said yes to all of those questions they’d probably join a denomination.

        Call it what you want, but bringing people the truth, and helping them accept the truth, about Christ is converting them.

        Maybe some “Jews” for whatever reason may wish to reinterpret how they see themselves and wish to be called “Christians”, but that’s not essential.

        But it is essential. Christ changed the way the Apostles saw themselves, and the Jews who followed him saw themselves. One simply cannot believe *all* of the things Orthodox Jews believe and truly be a Christ-follower. If you follow Christ, you are a Christian. You might be Jewish AND a Christian, like one monk I know of, but you are a Christian.

        For someone who identifies as being Muslim then the discussion needs to be about whether or not “Allah” who is “the only true God” is the same God told about by Jesus and, as we believe was Jesus. We then need to look at whether there is any compatibility between how they relate to God and the claims of Jesus as God. This can lead to them deciding to “convert” and identifying as “Christian”. I personally think the position and experience of a “Muslim” is significantly different to that of the “Jew” I mentioned above.

        But the end result needs to be the same: Acceptance of Christ as God and King, which means rejecting the Quran as false. This is inescapable, and requires a conversion.

        For a Muslim, particularly in Muslim countries the possibly fatal consequences of public “self identification” would make me think that it is possibly okay to have a God Centred, humble and repentant attitude without necessarily jumping up and down shouting out “I am a Christian”. Maybe God will call some to do that, but I would be very wary of encouraging them to do this myself.

        See, this is vague to the point of uselessness. Do Muslims have to accept Christ as Lord, do we have a duty to make them see this, or not?

        Quite frankly I don’t feel any need for others to “join my gang” and look, sound and think as I do. What I think is crucial is that as many as possible come to a saving relationship with the crucified and risen Jesus. This is not about having the correct “knowledge” or believing the correct “doctrine” or going to the correct “church”. It is what lies behind these things.

        This all sounds quite nice, but makes no sense. What does it matter if one *believes* they are in a relationship with the Crucified and living Jesus if they believe black people are animals? Or they believe the Resurrection was “just a metaphor”? Like it or not, we ultimately are trying to get people to believe in the things we believe in, for the reasons we believe in them. If not, we’re just reciting vague platitudes to make us feel better about ourselves.

        You are trying to accomplish the exact same goals as I am, and everybody is. You just want people to believe different things than me.

      • I’d also add that the question seems to being unnecessarily positioned against limit cases.

        Yes, muslims who convert are put to death in some countries. Not in America, or various other countries. Should we exhort them to reject Mohammed and the Koran there?

        • As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is not All or Nothing. There are many aspects of other religions which are quite compatible with Christianity.

          A Muslim would have to give up the claims that Mohamed is the ultimate revelation of God and that Jesus did not die and raise.
          But would he have to entirely throw away his belief that the Koran contains divine truths?

          Well that’s extremely questionable and dubious.

          It seems to be the overwhelming consensus of the last Vatican’s council that God also works in non-Christian people having false beliefs about Him.

          And this opinion was entirely endorsed by this man.

      • I already said that I’m more than happy to grant that some religions contain divine truths. But that’s not going to cut it here, because granting that still leaves the modern person in what is essentially a nasty diplomatic and social quandary, at least for some. You’re not going to be able to retain Mohammed the prophet of God and the holiness of the Koran while also accepting Christianity. Among other things.

      • Well John Paul II clearly appears to have thought the contrary.

        How? Show me where he said Mohammed was a prophet of God and the Koran was the word of God. He showed an excess of respect for the culture – but you need a bit more here.

        I think PJPII is on my side here, not yours.

        And what’s the problem with that? Are you serious taking the position here that there’s no need for any Christian to have muslims believe that Christ is God and rose from the dead? That alone is going to ice the muslim claims.

      • Keep in mind, as I suggested before… it’s not like I’m saying ‘Go be a bastard to the muslims.’ I happen to like them more than most. To be dead honest, I prefer muslims to secularists. I don’t want to needlessly antagonize people.

        The problem is, some claims are inherently antagonizing to a degree, yet important. You can be diplomatic, you can be gentle, but at the end of the day that may not matter. And I think taking Christianity seriously puts someone on that road, pretty much inevitably. Yet I also think that’s a road a lot of people want to not only not walk down (hey, people have failings, myself included) but want to convince themselves it’s not necessary to walk down (okay, that’s going too far.)

        You know, as if ‘Proclaim the gospel’ can mean ‘Be nice to people, don’t ever talk about God, stick to criticizing people who are already unpopular, at least with your current in-group’.

        I suppose another way to put it is, for a Christian, it seems like ‘multi-culturalism’ only goes so far. It can go a certain way, but eventually you’re not just drawing intellectual lines, but telling someone ‘You, your mother, your family and your neighbors are not just wrong about something, but something close to your heart’.

      • I think Crude has the right of it here. Once again, I go back to the reaction my teacher had to Lewis. If you read him unbiased, I think it’s kind of absurd. If anything he showed more respect to other cultures than a lot of modern Christians do. But ultimately, he thought they were wrong, and said so. At some point you’re going to have to go there.

        The most important message the Quran tries to give is that Muhammed is the Prophet of God and his teachings are God’s teachings. But this is simply false. Accepting the Gospels means rejecting the Quran.

      • …Anyway, yeah, I’ll grant easily that the Muslim religion contains truth in it…but ultimately the religion will have to be rejected in favor of the whole truth, Christianity.

  4. One of the areas where I think I may differ is that I would be very wary of going into discussions with anyone, having the intention to tell them that they are wrong, or that long and deeply held beliefs are wrong. We all have a tendency to feel attacked in this situation and become very defensive. I feel this tactic can actually prevent discussion and lead to unnecessary conflict.

    I could talk to many faithful Evangelicals or Catholics and point out that much of what they “believe” is wrong, but I’m not all too sure what benefit is in this. In the same way I could say to a Muslim that much of what they believe is wrong or the same with a Haredi Jew.

    However we are all different and there are monumental differences of belief between people of the same “religion”, as well as differences between the religions. There are probably people of any or no religion who are closer to the “Kingdom” than many “Christians”. We need to approach each and every person as a different and unique human being and walk with them where they are at. Assuming some kind of “one size fits all” generalisation as to what a Buddhist, Jew, Muslim is and believes will probably miss who each person actually is.

    Instead of me saying to them “your long and deeply held beliefs are wrong”. I would think that clearly presenting the resurrected Jesus, who he is and how he affects your life would be a preferable course of action. I think letting the person who hears, come up with their own decision as to whether any or much of their previous experience and belief is compatible to this is the best approach. As part of this it may be right to carefully discuss what may or may not be “wrong” with beliefs or practice or better still highlight differences and discuss which may or may not be “right”.

    I know of many “Christians” who believe that Islam and it’s followers are demonic and don’t much hesitate to present this. I don’t think this is a particularly helpful approach in any way manner or form. It is also “wrong” in itself. Is this really an attitude a compassionate, caring and Spirit filled person should have?

    What is the purpose of having any discussion with someone, is it to “convert” them to a systematic set of doctrines and Worldview and get them into one of several thousand Christian sects which “have it all right and we are on God’s side, whereas everyone else is wrong”, or is it to help them develop or start to have a living relationship with a real God who came here to live and die for us?

    As I said earlier (or not, can’t remember). I don’t particularly like the word or concept “convert” in terms of a relationship with God. It has many negative meanings and historical precedences. People are “changed” from death to life, whether they be from a muslim, atheist or even Christian background. You may wish to call this process “conversion”, but when people have strong images in their mind of “conversion” at the point of a sword or the end of the barrel of a gun, then I think the term itself needs to be questioned in this instance.

    I’d also say that many people view “conversion” as coming from one set of thoughts and beliefs to another and can see no real qualitative difference. Often they are right. Becoming a “Christian” is not ultimately about whether you come to have the “correct” set of thoughts and beliefs. It is only partially an intellectual action. What is important is coming to a real “saving” relationship with the Almighty. This is where your classic “atheist” really misses the point and reality of what is important. Jesus did not come to set out a set of thoughts, premises, philosophy, whatever or create a “gang” to join. He came to overcome the ultimate barrier to knowing and living with him.

    • Instead of me saying to them “your long and deeply held beliefs are wrong”. I would think that clearly presenting the resurrected Jesus, who he is and how he affects your life would be a preferable course of action. I think letting the person who hears, come up with their own decision as to whether any or much of their previous experience and belief is compatible to this is the best approach. As part of this it may be right to carefully discuss what may or may not be “wrong” with beliefs or practice or better still highlight differences and discuss which may or may not be “right”.

      Sure…with the hope that, eventually, they will come to the conclusion they are wrong and that Jesus is Lord.

      Look, you can coach this in whatever flowery language you want, but at one point or another your goal is for the hypothetical Muslim to eventually admit that he is incorrect and that Christ is Lord.

      I know of many “Christians” who believe that Islam and it’s followers are demonic and don’t much hesitate to present this. I don’t think this is a particularly helpful approach in any way manner or form. It is also “wrong” in itself. Is this really an attitude a compassionate, caring and Spirit filled person should have?

      …An approach, if you haven’t noticed, Crude specifically rejected. Rest assured I agree with him.

      What is the purpose of having any discussion with someone, is it to “convert” them to a systematic set of doctrines and Worldview and get them into one of several thousand Christian sects which “have it all right and we are on God’s side, whereas everyone else is wrong”, or is it to help them develop or start to have a living relationship with a real God who came here to live and die for us?

      This is vague to the point of uselessness. The fact that God lived and died for us? That’s a doctrine, and believing it will cause people to reject many of their previously held beliefs. In other words: to convert.

      Look, if somebody claimed they “came to a living relationship with a real God” but claimed that this conclusion also led to them believing that black people are scum, would you say that believing this doctrine is “unimportant as long as people have come to a relationship with the living God”?

      As I said earlier (or not, can’t remember). I don’t particularly like the word or concept “convert” in terms of a relationship with God. It has many negative meanings and historical precedences.

      …No, not really. Many, many people use that word today to describe experiences they went to. I still think you don’t like it because you don’t like the implication that at one point or another you’re trying to convince people that they are wrong. But eventually you’re going to reach that point.

      Becoming a “Christian” is not ultimately about whether you come to have the “correct” set of thoughts and beliefs. It is only partially an intellectual action. What is important is coming to a real “saving” relationship with the Almighty. This is where your classic “atheist” really misses the point and reality of what is important. Jesus did not come to set out a set of thoughts, premises, philosophy, whatever or create a “gang” to join. He came to overcome the ultimate barrier to knowing and living with him.

      Once again, you’re using this as a dodge to avoid the fact that “knowing and living with Him” involves believing he is our Lord who died and Resurrected for us, and that this implies that we will have to change a lot of what we previously believed about the world.

      You claim that it is “only partially an intellectual action” and missing the point that even if it’s not intellectual it still requires believing certain doctrines and beliefs, and by extension rejecting others. In other words: converting people.

      There’s really no way to get around this no matter how many vague platitudes you’d care to use. I think you realize this too, and you are doing your best to find ways to circumvent this conclusion.

      • I’m not altogether sure why you have to make such continuous poisonous criticisms of people who do not happen to share the same narrow minded mindset as you. I thought it might have been pointless getting into any form of discussion with you after your last little polemic and I probably shouldn’t have.

        I shall treat you like Tildelb, a person not worth conversing with. If only everyone else would do the same maybe you’d faff off and leave this particularly site for its intended purpose, which is intelligent and open discussion about such subjects.

        I await to see you post a link to your own little poison blog, wherein you declare the evil of myself and those like me. I won’t bother reading it.

      • I shall treat you like Tildelb, a person not worth conversing with. If only everyone else would do the same maybe you’d faff off and leave this particularly site for its intended purpose, which is intelligent and open discussion about such subjects.

        Ladies and gentleman, the “open-minded progressive”. Look at how his “open-mindedness” leads him to conclude that people who criticize his views shouldn’t be talked to.

        Truly, you are the open-minded one here, who treats all points of view equally. That’s why why you compare people who disagree with you to the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.

        So far every time you’ve claimed that my criticisms are outrageous or insulting you’ve never actually quoted me to illustrate your point. At least Marc has done that. And you can’t quote me in this case, since I didn’t insult you.

    • One of the areas where I think I may differ is that I would be very wary of going into discussions with anyone, having the intention to tell them that they are wrong, or that long and deeply held beliefs are wrong. We all have a tendency to feel attacked in this situation and become very defensive. I feel this tactic can actually prevent discussion and lead to unnecessary conflict.

      Again, I already explained that I understand the necessity for tact. Sincerely. I have no desire to walk into a debate and upset the innocent and well-meaning, despite my tendency to breathe fire around here – and even here, I pull plenty of punches.

      The problem is that you seem to be advocating the avoidance of conflict with the mentality that it’s possible to avoid all conflict, period. I don’t think that’s true.

      Keep in mind, I say this as a Byzantine Catholic – aka, a pretty great example of… what’s a good word for it. ‘Meeting you half way conversion’. We have our own rite. We have our own standards for mass, even at times for how our priests operate. (I always laugh when I hear people talk about this revolutionary new idea of PRIESTS who can be MARRIED and they are CATHOLIC. Not exactly news to the Byzantine rite, I assure you.) So I of all people should understand the value of allowing people to keep what they can of their religion and their culture.

      But I also know that there comes a point where no, some essential things cannot be kept. That’s why I zeroed in specifically on Mohammed and the Koran. Sorry, you’re not going to be able to keep those as they are coming into Christianity – the Koran will be downgraded to something other than God’s word, and Mohammed will become something other than God’s prophet. It’s roughly akin to someone being Christian but believing he was just some pretty smart fellow whose followers made up stories about him.

      As for the term itself – no. Sometimes it’s worth fighting for a term. But more than that, it’s not the term that’s essential anyway, but the action – and if the cry is, ‘I don’t want to convert anyone. Everyone can stay as they are! I just, you know, maybe want to sometimes talk about Christ (who isn’t necessarily more important than Buddha or Mohammed, mind you!) sometimes. In a way we can all agree about!’, well, I think you’ve made a serious mistake – and it turns out that yes, you’ve given up spreading the faith and bringing Christ to people after all. You’re spreading something, already, but Christianity is not what it is.

      • I don’t think you can actually avoid conflict and as you say some things need to be said which may seem unpalatable. I’m not sure where some people seem to have the idea that I believe you can keep all of your old faith E.g. a supposedly inerrant God given Koran and total acceptance of Mohammad as “God’s prophet”. Or that I believe all conflict is avoidable. However Malcolm de Torquemada does have a “gift” for knowing what people really mean or believe, even if they have never said or believed any of the things he accuses them of.

        My point of view is that if you start a dialogue with the idea that someone needs to be “converted’ and that what they believe is “wrong, bad or demonic”, this will influence how that dialogue will go, or at least raises the chances that it can lead to unnecessary conflict. At some point, yes, maybe you need to say “what you have believed is untrue” “What you are being taught is harmful”, “this is not what God is like or wants”.

        However the primary aim I believe is to engage on a person to person level, walking together. Having a mindset which assumes you have all or most of the answers, or that somehow you are greater, better, or more aware than someone else is, or that your thoughts/religion/doctrine is better, leads to an asymmetric power relationship.

        Yes, sometimes you may know more, or have a better inspiration, but humility ought to curb anything which turns discussion into a power game.

        Personally I am fed up to the back teeth of being condescended to and trying to be “converted” by those who often sincerely believe they know the mind of God and that I am some kind of dangerous or to be pitied mystic or liberal. These people are often well meaning, but fairly unimaginative “Conservative Evangelicals”, holding to an unbiblical and intellectually crippled mantra of “inerrancy”. I am also fed up with being condescended to by people with fragile egos who feel a need to control others in other situations. Because of this I think it very important that we should treat other peoples beliefs, habits and lives with deep respect, even if we disagree with them. Who knows, maybe I am wrong about some things and they can teach me about my own errors.

        So, yes we can challenge people and yes Christians, Jews, Train Spotters and Muslims may be wrong, however we also may be wrong about things too.

        Regarding the term “conversion” if someone feels that they have “converted” from atheism, nominal Christianity, Islam or whatever, then if they wish to use the term that’s fine by me, it’s a term I don’t particularly like due to it’s many negative connotations. For me these outweigh the positives associated to it. In the days of Jesus and the early church no Jews were “converted” and “Christianity” didn’t turn up till much later in Antioch. And this may have been a term of abuse even then. In my mind “conversion” speaks much of a mindset which is not my own. Although I’m wary of the term “born again”, or better still “rebirth” or “regenerated” are better terms to use.

        Finally, too much of what is called “Christianity” is just cultural habits and associations of no advantage whatsoever. Much of it being doctrinal. If there is anything of little or no ultimate significance of a different “cultural tradition” then why not keep it. Your idea of “downgrading the Koran and Mohammed” may indeed be necessary, but to where these go there may be much to think about. Was Mohammed a prophet of God? I don’t know, is there any inspiration in the Koran? I don’t know either. The person of Jesus must be highest in these terms and that’s before we get into doctrines of the Trinity, Arianism and many other still current “Christian” controversies.

      • However Malcolm de Torquemada does have a “gift” for knowing what people really mean or believe, even if they have never said or believed any of the things he accuses them of.

        …The irony being that you’ve made this comment five or so times without actually offering ANY examples of me doing this. Literally none.

        It’s also amusing to point out that me being mean on the internet makes me the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. You’re quite the delicate little flower, aren’t you, Ross?

        I do now have the happy power of commenting on points you make however I so choose without having to worry about being offered a substantial response, though. Progressive logic: Accuse somebody of twisting their words and then actively avoid correcting them.

      • However Malcolm de Torquemada

        Hold on. Enough with this.

        Malcolm is not ‘Malcolm de Torquemada’ and to compare him with Tildeb is an insult, and not an earned one. The only thing he’s guilty of at times is being too animated, and I’ve seen him numerous times back off, reconsider, or even dissent.

        Give people their due, even if you disagree with them, even if they get under your skin. Even if you feel like insulting them is warranted, you can swing both at the same time.

  5. Okay, apologies for the “Malcom the…..” comment. and yes there is quite a difference between Malcolm and the other character, but unfortunately both have a very unpleasant way of commenting about others. Maybe there are “social awareness” issues at play here, but Malcolm really does need to think a lot more about how he puts things if he is not going to get criticism. For someone who plays very hard on slamming it onto others he seems to have a total inability to take the same stuff back.

    • …he seems to have a total inability to take the same stuff back.

      I quote what people say to me and respond directly to their points, making sure they have a way to know I am writing about them and to respond if they want to. How, exactly, does that in any way demonstrate a “total inability to take the same stuff back?”

      If anything, I demonstrate the opposite. Say what you want to me, but don’t expect me to just not respond.

      You literally started calling me names, when the worst thing I said to you in this thread, before you insulted me directly, is to accuse you of poor argumentative techniques and of succumbing to the natural human tendency to rationalize away things we know will force us to admit we’re incorrect about something. But this apparently struck a nerve or something?

      Come to think of it, I NEVER said anything to you at all until you made a back-handed and passive-aggressive comment about me without quoting or linking to me. So far, despite me asking MANY times, you STILL have not actually quoted anything I said in order to validate the many claims you’ve made about me. In contrast, every single time I responded to you I either quoted you directly or linked to your posts. Many times both. Your response to this? Comparing your persecution by me to that of Jesus and calling me the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.

      So fine, criticize me. People disagree with me, that’s fine. But don’t expect me to not respond to criticism.

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