Cognitive Mileage

Secular Evangelism

Posted on: October 5, 2007

I recently joined a Christian forum called Worthyboards. Using this forum, I attempted to share the (unwanted) truth I had learned about the Gospels and the Bible in general. My screen name was Emissary because I hoped to bridge the gap between Christians and atheists.

The following are excerpts from a dialogue I had with the only member that was willing to speak with me at length. The rest (and even the person quoted here) said that I was a servant of my “father the devil” and responded to literary citations which I used to support the claims below with “get thee behind me Satan”.The final response from my correspondent was that everything I’d said was just the opinion of atheists with no basis in factual evidence (if you want such evidence, please reference the Synoptic Gospels and The Gospel of John on Wikipedia). I was banned from the website by a moderator before I could respond.Without further ado, I present an atheist’s Evangelism:

You say that various [secular] authors came to the same conclusions? That sounds a lot like the 4 gospels. They are 4 separately written accounts of the life of Jesus, with the same conclusions. 

No, I say various independent authors came to the same conclusions based on independent sources. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all used the same source, Q, which we believe is a set of quotations from Jesus. On top of this, Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source.

In fact, it appears that they were a little taken aback at how angry Mark portrayed Jesus so they made Jesus sound more compassionate in their versions. John on the other hand did not use the same sources as the other three and his gospel is, accordingly, very different. All of the miracles he cites are completely different.

So in summary, Mark was written first, Matthew and Luke were based heavily on Mark, and John was written independently, which resulted in a characteristically different story.

Top this off with the fact that the Gospels were written decades after Jesus died. Early Christians (who had based the majority of their faith on the writings of Paul) wanted a story of what Jesus was like so the Gospel writers delivered. They combed through quotes of Jesus (Q) and devised a story. Now can you imagine anyone in the modern era trying to write a biography about someone based only on quotes from them?

And yes, the Gospels were written after the letters of Paul. It should be no surprise that they conform to his views. Do you see how the New Testament and indeed the entire Bible is interrelated with new books conforming to the old because they were based on them?

Should we be amazed that the books in a trilogy like the Lord of the Rings conform to each other? Should we be amazed that the Return of the King fulfills the prophecies referenced in the Fellowship of the Ring? The point is, prophecies are fulfilled because writers read the prophecies and conform their writing to the prophecies.

In any case, four writers using many of the same literary resources (and even copying each other) is really quite different than scholars of drastically different fields of study (genetics, philosophy, cosmology, and religious studies) coming to the same conclusion that there really does not appear to be a supernatural being ruling our universe.

To give it a fair shake, you should at least read [the Bible] cover to cover once. 

Unless you have something specific in the Bible that you would like me to read, I really feel that it would be a waste of my time to read it [further than I extensively have].

This is rather like me saying “if you want to give Richard Dawkins a fair shake, you should really read all of his books cover to cover”. Rather, I quoted a very specific passage in one book [a study documented in The God Delusion revealing Christians and atheists to make identical moral judgments] that Dawkins wrote and I can give you the page number so you can quickly read it if you like.

Further, I am telling you time and again to read the very specific story in the first chapter of Bart Erhman’s book [Misquoting Jesus]. I’m not asking you to read the whole book. Just to look at the short story of his personal experience [of transforming from devout Evangelical Christian to secular Bible scholar].

As to the character of God, as I said earlier, God has many characteristics. Just because you feel the way he does things are unfair, doesn’t mean he isn’t real. 

Indeed it doesn’t. And there is a miscommunication here: I was not using the Hell argument [found on my dA in the deviation Oops I Created Hell] to disprove God. I was using it to show that you must choose between a loving God and Hell because they are directly contradictory. You are obviously choosing Hell so you don’t believe in a loving God.

You believe God is a sadist, the Demiurge I mentioned when I first introduced the argument. The Demiurge is the God that gnostics believe in. They think that there is a God but that He is evil.Thus, you believe that God is real and that he is a sadistic creator that creates people knowing full well that they will spend the majority of their existence in Hell. Instead of sparing them the torment by not creating them (or by not creating Hell!), he creates them anyway.

Personally, I would never stand for such a sadistic God and would side with the gnostics against Him. But if you would like to pledge your loyalty to a tyrant, be my guest. As for myself, I will forever stand for what is righteous and good and would gladly burn in Hell with the righteous before lounging in heaven with the fearful and subjugated.

I believe in justice and any God who would create a Hell and a devil and blame his own creations for being the way he designed them is not just.

What good does it do to persuade anyone to your atheistic beliefs? What do you gain from it? The reason Christians try to persuade unbelievers into accepting Christ is to hopefully save them from the torments of hell. We have a purpose besides simply trying to cause someone who believes one thing to believe something else. 

There is a lot of purpose in persuading people. But let me give the one that mirrors your own: since I have become an atheist my life has become vibrantly more meaningful and rich. I want to save people from the dull lives they live in the pews. I want save them from a wasted life (which I believe is the only life they have).

The forums provide a testing ground for me to understand what Christians think and why they think it. This helps me to become a more effective witness.

Witness to what? 

To truth and intellectual freedom. The freedom to question anything and to grow beyond the cage that theistic belief puts you in. When I was a Christian, every thought I had, every observation I made, was filtered through a maze of doctrine that had to be trusted without evidence.

Now I think quicker because I simply judge things for how they appear to be. There is no need for me to filter what I see and think anymore. I grow quicker. I’m able to provide for my family faster. I am able to devote time to exploring the true mysteries of life. I no longer have to pretend that the words of the Bible hold some kind of untapped wisdom.

I am also a witness to a unity that rises above beliefs without evidence. A Christian can do nothing to quell the difference between himself and a Muslim. They both hold their beliefs without evidence so nothing can be done.

An atheist, however, can resolve the situation by convincing both to base their beliefs on evidence. Since we all have have access to the same evidence we will come to many of the same conclusions. There will be more agreement and more unity. This is a path to world peace.

There are more. So in short, a witness to more wonders than anyone can imagine. A witness to the freedom to think and explore.

Change
I will tell you that if you ever decide to look at the evidence and change your views, you would be an asset to the secular community because you have experienced life as a devout Christian and you know the english Bible well.

It’s not like when you decide that Christianity is too small for you, a big “Game Over” screen pops up or that you lose all of the essential traits that make you You. On the contrary, these positive traits are not only sustained but amplified as we are free from the doctrinal chains that kept us from growing. I was a kind person before I became an atheist and I am kind person now. I was a knowledgeable person before I became an atheist and I am ten-fold more knowledgeable now. My ability to absorb information has sky-rocketed. And I assure you, yours will too.

You care about hope now and you will care about hope then. You care about truth now and you will care about truth then. Love still exists. Fellowship still exists. Purpose still exists. Even faith, in a more bridled, stable, and realistic form, still exists.

For most of us, changing our views was the beginning of the most meaningful pursuits of our lives. It was the point when we saw the magnificent larger world that eclipses the tiny worlds we had built for ourselves within Christianity.

In any case, I hope you the best and I assure you I would never wish upon you the curses you have pronounced for me. Someday you will probably look back at what you’ve said to me and feel foolish for saying it. It’s okay. We all have ended up saying things that in the end we did not really mean. I understand. There was a time when I had similar concerns about other people’s damnation and said some pretty ridiculous things as I was defending my religious views. It is all a part of growing.

In peace,
Emissary

(This was originally posted on deviantart)

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2 Responses to "Secular Evangelism"

Hi Chris, this appears to be the only place I can reply to your kind remarks about finding a well-educated thinking Christian. Actually, I have a high school diploma, no college degree, I read a lot, and I do think. I’ve tried thinking like a Secular Humanist — I didn’t find it satisfying. I do believe in evidence, but IF the physical world is merely a created subset of a metaphysical universe, THEN, (and only then, premise by nature unprovable) science would extend ONLY to the limits of the material sub-set. There is no revealed DOCTRINE — doctrine is mortal man’s pathetically incomplete attempt to fit God into a box the human mind can comprehend. But revealed TRUTH, that is, revealed by one outside the material world who is in a position to know, is all we are going to get of what is, by definition, beyond science. Sorry the Christians you’ve been talking to shut you out of their forum. All my Christian friends know exactly how I think, and I haven’t lost any yet. Some Christians like to know there are thinking Christians too. And it is always good when we are speaking terms with our Secular Humanist neighbors.

Thank you Siarlys. That is a very diplomatic stance and I am glad to be on good terms with you too.

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