A JOURNAL on DOUBT

* PART TWO *

Go back to: Prefaces


ENTRY TOPICS in PART TWO

1. Marital Problems

14. So Much at Stake with a Decision on Christianity

27. The Factual, Historical Accuracy of the Bible

2. Who is God, If He Exists?

15. Uncertainty

28. The Problem of Disagreement and Intelligence

3. Is the Bible the Word of God?

16. The Problem of Disagreement

29. Catholicism and Disagreement

4. Books on Apologetics

17. Christianity Is Dangerous

30. A Forced Option

5. Understanding Who God Is from the Bible

18. Doubt and Marital Problems

31. Trusting Oneself

6. Weak Apologetics on the Bible

19. The Terror of Deciding

32. The Burden of Decision

7. Hesitant About the Bible

20. A Personal Mind

33. Discredited Theories of the Future

8. Myths, Legends, and the Bible

21. Hearing "Voices"

34. So Many Choices, So Little Certainty

9. Miracles

22. Communications from God, The Problem of Disagreement

35. Seeming: A Key Concept

10. Apologetics and Miracles

23. Apologetics and Christian Experience

36. Rebellion Against God

11. Non-Christian Miracles

24. The Legends of the Bible

37. Endless Doubt

12. The Attractiveness of Miracles

25. Intellectual Arrogance

 

13. Conflict Between Jesus and Paul

26. Probabilities and the Bible

 

 

1. Marital Problems

UNEXPECTEDLY, CHERYL AND I HAVE BEEN having some marital problems the past couple of months. Among other things, she's fed up with my bouts of depression and discontent that have been brought on by my doubts and our business difficulties. The skepticism is the biggest culprit; I want answers, find none, become discouraged, and wind up feeling gloomily indifferent to my job, my home, and my marriage. As a result of these and many other unresolved matters, Cheryl's actually threatened to leave me once or twice.

It was, of course, surprising and disturbing to find out that this woman, whom I love so much, is feeling that she is -- as she put it once -- "falling out of love" with me. It's even more unnerving to learn that doubt has had a hand in her feelings. As should be expected, she's warned me to shape up -- stop talking and then getting depressed about skepticism all the time -- and I'm trying to heed the message. Her warnings have forced me to think more carefully about whether the God of Christianity is true and loves me, because I'm becoming more desperate to know whether our marital problems will work out. But I'm not sure what God expects me to do to keep my marriage alive and breathing. If he exists, won't he inform me soon?

In any case, because I feel more unsure of myself, more fearful and anxious and -- though I don't breathe a word about it -- skeptical, than ever before (I still can't just force myself into believing Christianity with certainty and finality), I can't find peace in knowing that God cares for my marriage and wants the best for Cheryl, Marie, and me. And isn't it Marie who's going to suffer more than all if God doesn't do something about Cheryl? Why does God let parents do such evil to their children, who are his children?

My doubts are leaving me without hope that God can or will help us. They're even leaving me without any way to tackle my problems.

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2. Who is God, If He Exists?

IT'S PLAIN TO ME THAT GOD EXISTS. I doubt Christianity not because I question his existence, but because I'm not convinced that he's the Trinity. Are any of the other current candidates for the title of Supreme Being -- such as Allah, Krishna, Yahweh of Judaism, or the enigmatic members of the pantheons of Hinduism and Buddhism -- God? If one of them is God, is he threatening me with an eternal sentence to Hell, or something comparable, as punishment for my sins? Christians believe that since everyone is a sinner, God the Trinity is threatening everyone with damnation. It might be so. At times, because I want to believe that God will settle all accounts in the end -- punish the wrongdoers and reward the virtuous -- the doctrine makes sense to me. But do I know, without a doubt, that the Trinity is the one true God and that he's threatening me with eternal torment in hellish fire if I don't receive mercy through faith in his son Jesus Christ?

For that matter, is his son Jesus Christ? And if the Trinity isn't God, and if, on the contrary, God is Allah, have I risked, by even tentatively believing in the Trinity and the false salvation Christianity has erroneously taught he offers, being cast into the hell Allah has prepared for those who don't believe in him? Will I be sent only either to heaven or hell in the after-life? Or are there other "places," states of being, to which souls are consigned? Immediately after death, will all people only either be damned or saved? Or will everyone have a second chance to repent of sins and errors? Perhaps everyone'll have a third chance. (Three chances at least, I must admit, makes good sense to me; God must give people a chance to get the story straight.) Did Jesus Christ pay the penalty for everyone's sins with His death on the cross two thousand years ago? On what grounds can I prove that the death of that mere man paid the penalty for all sins and that faith in him as Savior will rescue anyone from the fires of hell? And if I put my faith in Christ, am I bringing on the just wrath of Allah, who, I presume, if he exists, will not regard my Christian faith as anything other than rebellious and blasphemous idolatry, just as Christian doctrine holds that God has no tolerance for those with the faith of a Muslim?

Or am I wasting my time on these questions? After all, God, whoever he is, might be neither the Trinity, nor Yahweh, nor Allah, nor any of the current candidates in the field. Perhaps he's the god some prophet in thirteenth century Poland proclaimed as he wandered the countryside. The revelation received by that prophet might have been the revelation of the one true God, a revelation ignored and derided, though graciously handed down from on high to mankind, which has fancied the true revelation to be the lies and myths of the Bible, or the Qur'an, or another "sacred" book. (Certainly, this is possible; haven't billions of non-Christians -- assuming Christianity is truth -- fancied the Bible to be full of myths? If those billions can get it all wrong, it can happen to anyone, even Christians.)

Furthermore, miracles can't prove which revelation is God's. Miracles of one degree of inanity or another are part of almost every religion. Some, I'll agree, appear so ridiculous that they're easily discounted. But for me, when I study Christianity closely, with the impartial eye of the undecided and hopeful (for that I am, hoping with all my soul that Christianity or whatever is true can and will be discovered), the miracles of Jewish and early church history usually appear just as ludicrous and discountable as every other religion's miracles. Who should believe all the nonsense about a man rising from the dead, about a man spending three days in the belly of a great fish, about a man being struck with a bolt of light and a voice from Heaven on the road to Damascus, about handling snakes, about sight being restored to the blind, about lepers being healed, about people falling dead when they touch the Ark of the Covenant, about a bush burning, about a talking serpent in an idyllic garden, about a world-wide flood, about the sun stopping in the sky to allow the Israelites to complete their mission of slaughter, about God's showing his back to a man on Mount Sinai?

Miracles just like these pile up like garbage in every religion. The non-biblical ones, it's always puzzling to realize, never sound like more than superstitious legends to me. So why am I willing, when they sound much the same when I take off my Christian blinders, to give biblical miracles any greater credence? I can't base my faith them, because when I try, logic requires me to have faith all at once in hundreds of religions with miracles that have just as much evidence for them as Christian miracles.

These thoughts are frustrating and wearying. Who could reason his way out of this labyrinth? Who is God, and what does he expect of me? Will he save me? Do I need saving? Has he told anyone how men can be saved? Where will I learn the answers? I'm so exasperated and discouraged that all I can do is push it all aside and try again tomorrow.

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3. Is the Bible the Word of God?

THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION about Christianity is this: is the Bible the Word of God or not? Answer yes and Christianity (pending the correct interpretation that establishes at least one of its sects) is proved. Answer no and everyone must start searching for the truth among other creeds. Because it's regarded as the revelation of the eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent God (himself revealed to man, it is believed, in the Bible), the Bible is the center of the Christian religion. I've heard it said that Christianity is not a religion of a book, but of a person, Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ is proved to be more than an figment of Christian imagination only by the book. Only by the teachings of the book are the spiritual experiences and sentiments of Christians confirmed. Most of my doubts distill into this question again and again -- was the Bible written, in some fashion, by the true God?

I don't know how to find an answer. It's always seemed that no argument could be comprehensive enough to put every doubt to flight; accepting the Bible as divinely inspired is a matter of faith, a leap of faith. Moreover, I see many reasons to doubt that the Bible is the Word of God. First, it tells many fantastic stories that are dubious at best. Proving these events happened is a matter first, as I have said about Jesus's resurrection and incarnation, of credibility. Anyone should have some very good reasons for concluding miraculous biblical history is true before he should credit it. Why? Because the miracles are, to be blunt, the kind of story that everyone should be, and usually is (when it isn't the miracles of his religion up for discussion) very dubious of.

Second, the Bible has many apparent (some of them perhaps superficial) inconsistencies and oddities, all of which have been discussed in countless books and passionately argued over, pro and con, for a few hundred years. Christians can't and shouldn't ignore that Christian explanations for the inconsistencies are no more than explanations; that is, they aren't proofs. Christian theologians have made guesses as unprovable as the refutations of non-Christian scholars. That the Bible is simply inconsistent and inaccurate is still one justifiable explanation for the inconsistencies. And if it's probably true (more than merely plausible) that the Bible is inconsistent, can it be the Word of God? This is a matter to be carefully investigated.

Third, I can see simply no way to be sure that words written by men were inspired by God in such a way that they are his words -- a revelation to all mankind -- and not the shadowy, feeble opinions of the men who wrote words on paper. (After all, the Christian position on all other revelations is that they are the opinions of fallible men.) I just can't see how such a doctrine can be defended. Believing the Bible to be divine appears to me a leap into the dark, even though it's at least possible that the Bible is the Word. There is, however, no proof, and that's what so worries me. If there's no proof, should I try to believe the Bible to be God's Word anyway? Shouldn't I wait for proof and certainty? Shouldn't everyone? Does our inability to prove that the Bible came out of the mind of God force us to deny the doctrine that it's God's Word and force us to reject Christianity?

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4. Books on Apologetics

I'VE DECIDED THAT I'M DOING too much reflective thinking and too little investigating. Long ago, I should've been reading some books in defense of Christianity. Surely, someone else has been asking the same questions I ask and wrestling with the same doubts I endure. I bought a book just last night that might help. It's by Paul Little, Know Why You Believe. Judging from the chapter headings, I think it'll cover exactly the topics that cause me to doubt, and I'm hoping that it'll answer enough of my questions to bring this trying time to an end. Probably, it has all the answers I've been searching for, and I've made big mistake waiting all this time to pick up books on apologetics. I want this book to be my salvation. I started reading it late last night and could hardly put it down because I was getting closer to the chapters about miracles and the Bible, which are at the center of any defense of the faith. It feels as though I'm about to emerge from this jungle of skepticism and come to the coast facing an open sea of faith.

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5. Understanding Who God Is from the Bible

IF IT'S TRUE THAT GOD EXISTS, the most important question about him is whether he's told human beings anything about himself and his creation or whether we have to speculate about him from the inconclusive evidence of the natural world. To me, the argument that God can't be known outside revelation is convincing. Man's reason, all my arguments employed against Christianity so far prove, is unable to find God or understand him. What possible firm conclusions could we reach about God from the universe? Almost none; that much is certain. But though God must speak for us to know him, when I look for his revelation I find, much to my despair, many contradictory revelations. How can I choose which one is the Word of God among the revelations men endorse as divine?

The easiest step is to begin with the Bible, which in Western culture is the book with the widest endorsement. How can I demonstrate that this book consisting of 66 books written over thousands of years is the Word of God -- the final, authoritative, and perfectly true Word of God (this is the Christian church's opinion of this book)?

I've read and heard all sorts of interesting arguments. The Bible has amazing unity and is therefore divine. But by this logic, of course, all amazingly unified books are the Word. (By the way, whose standard of "amazingness" should be employed, and how much of it is enough?) Who is to determine what is and isn't unity or how much unity is necessary for a book to be the Word of God? Unity to one man, history shows us quite clearly, is disunity to another. And if, to be logical, I must believe in the divinity of every unified book, won't I soon find myself believing many contradictory faiths?

The Bible is proved by its miracles, goes another argument. But by this logic, any book with miracles is divine. If I must logically believe every revelation with miracles backing it up, I'll still have to believe contradictory religions.

The Bible has the ring of truth -- a rather risky defense, because it will require me to believe that any revelation with the ring of truth is true. I know what that leads to -- yes, contradictions again. In any case, doesn't one man hear the ring of truth when another hears the whine of falsehood?

Here's another argument for the Bible: Jesus believed it was divine. Well, not really. He expressed belief, it would seem clear, only in the divinity of the Old Testament. Moreover, even if he did profess the Old Testament the Word of God, why should I trust him? I have no reason to trust him rather than another prophet (thousands of people down the ages have made extravagant claims, just like Jesus's, to divine favor) alleging himself to be speaking words poured from heaven into his mind. If it's contended that Christ's resurrection is proof that he spoke the truth, I have yet to find a way to demonstrate clearly and convincingly that the resurrection happened. Unsurprisingly, it's easily and frequently doubted by millions of rational people.

The argument that Jesus stamped his approval on the New Testament is defended on no stronger evidence than a rather broad interpretation of some passages in a questionable Gospel, John. Other interpretations of the verses are possible (though I admit none of them, for or against the standard Christian interpretation, is provable).

And so I've begun with the Bible. Obviously, it doesn't seem possible to confirm it to be the Word of God. Why then should I think it is? On what grounds should I trust that it tells me about God and tells me what I need to know, without a trace of doubt, for my salvation and morality? I can't -- which causes me to despair of proving and then believing Christianity.

Should I trust the Christian church? It has almost universally held to the belief that the 66 books of the Bible are God's Word. But why should I believe the church? Are mass hysteria, error, and delusion any less possible for people who wound up becoming Christians than for the millions who, if Christianity is truth, have been hysterical, wrong, or deluded? Regardless of the stance of the church, I must determine which "church" -- Muslim, Jewish, atheist, whatever -- has the true revelation.

Discouragingly, the other revelations are susceptible to the same skepticism I'm challenging the Bible with. I'm left with no way of knowing whether I've met or can meet God in any purported revelation. To what or whom should I turn? How will I confirm when God, and not man, is speaking? At the very least, since it can't be proved divine, should I spend another minute more trying to rebuild my faith in Christianity?

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6. Weak Apologetics on the Bible

SADLY, LITTLE HASN'T HELPED me much. He thinks confirmed prophecy, the opinions of Jesus about Scripture, and what the authors of the biblical books said about themselves are "evidence on which one can reasonably base his belief" in the divinity of the Bible. As I've said before, Jesus's opinions are open to debate and, in any case, have no grounds to be trusted yet. On prophecy: I don't see any way to be sure or even to think it probable that the alleged fulfillments of prophecies weren't composed by unscrupulous or deluded men trying to hold onto their fond and comforting superstitions, just as other non-Christian prophecies must be if biblical prophecies were really fulfilled. Finally, Little quotes B.B. Warfield to support his rickety case for the Bible:

Instances of the Scriptures being spoken of as if they were God, and of God being spoken of as if he were Scripture, could only result in a habitual identification, in the mind of the [biblical] writer, of the text of Scripture with God speaking.

My response: "So What?" Thousands of people making the same habitual identification proclaim different gods. Christians don't believe the revelations they received were from God. Why should I have any greater trust in these prophets and disciples from ancient Palestine than non-Christian prophets? There are no grounds for doing so. I'm a bit disappointed in and disgusted with Little; his arguments for the Bible were seriously flawed, as flimsy as wet newspaper.

Still, I'm hopeful that he'll do me some good when I get to his chapter on miracles. Won't miracles that are shown to have really happened settle the case for the Bible?

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7. Hesitant About the Bible

I STILL CAN'T PRONOUNCE this book false. So many people I trust and esteem believe it to be God's Holy Word. So many great thinkers have held its divine origin and inspiration incontestable. Can I insist that all these people, so many so much more brilliant than I, were wrong? I'm still hopeful (though I don't know why) that the Bible can be shown to be the Word of God, if not by Little, then by someone else. I'm holding out hope, I suppose, because the pay off is large: if the Bible is God's one true revelation, then all questions will be answered and all doubts resolved.

Until that happens, I'll try to be patient and keep myself from doing something rash and reckless. For some reason, rejecting Christianity because the Bible has so many attackers and seems so absurd still looks rash to me. Most people would probably say that apostatizing would be the smartest decision I ever made. But I can't yet reject Christianity on the grounds that it seems unlikely any argument will pop up and prove the Bible, even though I'm so tempted to reject Christianity and so sure that I'm right. I don't know what I'm waiting for or why, but I feel compelled to wait.

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8. Myths, Legends, and the Bible

THESE STORIES, REPORTED as if for a ancient newspaper, don't seem true or even possible to me, a man living in this scientific age. These events happened so many thousands of years ago -- how can anyone be sure they really took place and weren't the mythical fantasies of superstitious and wretched primitives? The events I'm talking about are the miracles of the Bible. Miracles, it's useless to deny, are essential to any apology for Christianity: without historical miracles, the Christian can't confirm that the Bible is a revelation of God. If they're demonstrated to have happened, miracles prove that the Bible must be quickly accepted as absolutely true and authoritative. The Christian religion (and, of course, all its heretical and nearly heretical sects as well) is founded in great part upon the reality of biblical miracles.

Nonetheless, it's almost impossible for me to believe that I've ever entertained the hope that these incredible, preposterous events happened and didn't arise from the same superstitious, unsophisticated, credulous, and "unscientific" mental disposition that produced, according to Christians and scientists alike, other myths, such as Greek myths, Zoroastrian myths, and countless animistic myths. Who in the twentieth century, the century of psychology and air flight, of moonwalks and television, of nuclear weapons and solar power, of computers, of unprecedented discoveries in astronomy and physics and heredity and biology and neurology and psychiatry and history and sociology, can believe that a man actually walked on the Sea of Galilee and that one of his disciples followed him for a few steps before sinking when his faith drained away? Who can believe that when a man lifted a staff above the Red Sea, it obediently parted for a group of fleeing slaves? Who can believe that a blazing light ripped open the heavens, struck a man blind, and then broke forth with the voice of the Supreme Being?

Obviously, I could go on and on listing every miracle in the Bible in the form of a derogatory rhetorical question. I've already written a lot about the two most important miracles in the Bible, the incarnation and the resurrection. Those two miracles and all the rest are no more credible than the miracles of other ancient traditions. The only way I can see to convince myself that biblical miracles happened is to pretend to be a fool or take some mind-altering drug. Christians have few doubts, it's always surprising when I consciously think about it, that every other miracle of every other religion either didn't happen or were illusions performed by Satan and his gang of fallen angels to imitate the powerful and glorious works of God and to befuddle the damned. Believers repudiate miracles not recorded in the Bible without the slightest hesitation -- at least without any I've discerned -- yet are persuaded that every one of the miracles of the Bible, from the talking ass to the resurrection, is indisputable. They don't seem to have the slightest idea that they're being grossly illogical.

Miracles just don't make sense to me. The thought of having to believe in them to be a Christian is downright mortifying. I can't even find a good reason to spend time trying to believe that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and survived in its digestive tract for three days, that God flooded the earth with forty days of rain, that Jacob wrestled with an angel, that Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead. How can anyone in our day, and not only because of the advances of science, but mostly because of the lack of confirmed miracles in our time--indeed, in most times--put any credence in these astonishingly silly stories. To me, they read like fairy tales? It's about as likely that Elijah rode a chariot to heaven as that Snow White fell asleep from a mouthful of poisoned apple and vas awakened with the kiss of a prince.

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9. Miracles

SO GREAT IS MY EMBARRASSMENT at having to assent to miracles to be a Christian that I'm becoming more willing to disavow this religion. Why? First of all, I've never seen a miracle. Second, no one is able to prove that any single miracle happened. Third, no one has ever experienced a miracle that couldn't be explained without the supernatural. (I've had Christian friends and acquaintances tell me about healings, remissions, and the like in answer to prayers, but similar events happen to non-Christians without their having prayed to God. I see no way to distinguish inexplicable events from miracles.)

These arguments aren't logically conclusive, I realize. There's not enough evidence in my never having seen a miracle, nor in science's never having demonstrated one, nor in my friends' never having proved a miracle to conclude that a bunch of recorded miracles didn't happen two thousand years ago. Miracles are certainly possible; it's even possible that the miracles of the Bible happened. But the almost complete lack of confirmed miracles, which would corroborate the Bible's stories, for thousands of years for billions of people should make everyone suspicious that the miracles of the Bible are events similar to the religious stories Christians fearlessly call myths. On these grounds, and because miracles are unlike all modern experience, shouldn't I question the factuality of the biblical miracles.

Christian scholars have very nonchalantly and confidently decided that the Gnostic Gospels are fabrications of the early life of Jesus. Some have made this conclusion on the grounds that the miracles in those gospels don't have the "ring of truth" about them. There are other reasons for rejecting the Gnostic Gospels as unauthentic, I know (such as when they were written and who wrote them), but the most convincing reason is that they lack the ring of truth. The stories about Jesus's doing miracles as a boy seem rather farfetched and silly. Ah, but what rings of nonsense to one person rings of truth to another--as it has always been. Someone at one time believed in the miracles recorded in the Gnostic Gospels as confidently as the Christian believes in the fantastic tales recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. That the Qur'an is the revelation of God makes perfect sense to the Muslim, none at all to the Christian. The Muslim feels the historicity of Mohammed's life as strongly as the Christian feels the miraculous life of Jesus.

In my ears, every miracle I've ever read about has had either the "ring" of blatant nonsense or superstition or myth. Not one of them has had the ring of truth. Should I then question the truth of every miracle, just as Christians dismiss the miracles of the Gnostic Gospels because of their "ring"? If scholars are right about the Gnostic Gospels, then it's natural that I should feel somewhat dubious of every miracle that doesn't have the ring of truth. The real problem for Christianity is that few, if any, of them has that ring. Christians aren't afraid to reject the Gnostic Gospels as legends, and neither on the same grounds should I be afraid to reject the New Testament Gospels as fantasies.

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10. Apologetics and Miracles

BECAUSE OF THESE THOUGHTS, even though I know my arguments don't prove that the biblical miracles didn't happen, I can't force myself to regard them as real historical events. Paul Little makes a simple case for miracles -- much too simple: miracles aren't impossible, and there's "reliable testimony" for biblical miracles, therefore they happened. I can't argue with Little's contention that if one believes in God one shouldn't have much trouble believing miracles are possible. I believe they are. But what difference does their possibility make? Who can show which miracles recorded in history are the real, divine miracles and which the fakes or the illusions conjured up by evil supernatural beings? All miracles sound to me fairly comparable -- like bunk! Those who believe in miracles endlessly dispute which ones are real. The usual tally from all sides of the question is revealing: each group, no matter which creed it espouses, dismisses 95 percent of miracles as false (the 95 percent, wonder of wonders, that isn't part of its religion) and holds five percent as true (amazingly, the exact five percent that is part of its creed).

Such is true of Christianity. Of all the miracles other people of many different faiths believe in, not one is a true, historical act of God. They're either the illusions of Satan or the lies and illusions of superstitious, credulous, or deceptive men. Doesn't such a position seem ludicrous?! Even Protestants theologians mock, dispute, or chuckle over the hundreds of miracles in Catholic history. How can Protestants be so certain, then, that the miracles of the Bible happened at the same time the wonderful miracles in the life of some Catholic saint are superstitious nonsense? Now can any one be so self-assured, illogical, and arrogant?

Little has an answer to this objection. He maintains that there's reliable testimony to the miracles of the Bible, the kind of testimony, in Little's opinion, any court would consider valid. How do we know, it immediately occurs to me, the testimony can be shown to be reliable? In a number of ways, according to Little: 1) many of the miracles, especially Jesus's, were performed in public. 2) Some were even done in front of unbelievers. 3) There were many different kinds of miracles performed. 4) The cured, in the case of Jesus's healings, testified to the miracles. That's Little's defense.

Not one of these reasons, however, is sound. So what if the story is that miracles were done in public, were done in front of unbelievers, were of different kinds, or were testified to by the cured? The authors of the accounts could have made it all up! (Intentionally or unintentionally doesn't matter.) The statistical probability, it's disturbing to remember, is that they did; for aren't 95 percent of miracles false? In any case, there's no way to prove that the authors didn't "lie." Their stories sound so much like balderdash and hogwash that few courts would bother to give them a hearing! What parent would seriously consider his child's story that he's late to supper because aliens kidnapped him from the front lawn for an hour?

Little tries to bolster these defenses with this feeble assertion: The scientist, like anyone else, can only ask, 'Are the records of miracles historically reliable?'" Their reliability, however, can't be established just by saying that miracles are possible. Arguing, as Little does, that if all historical witnesses are doubted, out goes much of what we know about the past and the present doesn't prop up his case. There's no way to establish with any certainty whether these witnesses are even marginally reliable when the millions of crackpot stories--all of which ring pretty much like biblical miracles -- that have made the rounds in the history of mankind are taken into account.

Our own incredulity toward thousands upon thousands of miracles outside the Bible should suggest to us all, of every creed, that we're willing to believe our miracles true only because we want to believe them true--because we're believers and want to remain believers without troublesome uncertainty and skepticism. Thus, miracles throw a dark light on the Christian faith. They make it more impossible to establish to a certainty the truth of Christianity and the falsehood of other religions and philosophies.

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11. Non-Christian Miracles

IF I EVER DECIDE TO BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, I might just as well save some time and declare myself crazy, too--that's how silly most of the miraculous stories in the Bible sound to me. Paul Little's defense, the common one among Christians, that because miracles are possible they're true doesn't prove that biblical miracles are miracles of God or the only ones he performed. In fact, if it's proved miracles can happen, too many religions are proved. No one can logically believe them all at once. (You can't, for example, be a Christian, believe in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, and at the same time be a Jew and believe Jesus vas just a man.) But both Christianity and Judaism have miracles supporting them! Thus, a Christian can't have his cake (his miracles) and eat it too (so readily disbelieve everyone else's miracles). Miracles, defended on grounds of possibility, are no grounds for faith.

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12. The Attractiveness of Miracles

IT'S PUZZLING THAT DESPITE the embarrassing silliness and virtual unbelievability of biblical miracles, I still find myself inclined to believe in them and to disbelieve in the miracles of other religions or traditions. I suspect that during my life, and especially back in my impressionable youth, I heard about the resurrection and the blinding light on the Damascus Road and the healings and the parting of the Red Sea and all the other laughable stories retold as if they were news stories so many times that they finally began to sound like history, just as it sometimes seems that Tolkien's Middle Earth and the events of its three ages are historical.

I've read the books about Middle Earth so many times that the story sounds compellingly real. The story of Scrooge, to take another example, has been told with such "historicalness" for so long, as well as been set in a real and vivid historical setting, that Scrooge and his miraculous adventures feel almost part of history. (It's telling that a feeling of embarrassment and incredulity comes over me whenever I stumble on a miracle I haven't read in the Bible in a long while. Recently, when I read at the beginning of Ezekiel about his visions of the throne of God, I was distinctly appalled by its mythicalness.)

It seems that only by hearing the miracles told and retold hundreds of times by narrators who always make themselves sound trustworthy, ungullible, and intelligent are any of us able to prop up miracles in our minds, like propping up scarecrows to convince ourselves that there are crows. Reading the miracles of other religions doesn't tempt me to regard them as true. They're preposterous. But it's bewildering to recall that human beings just like me are willing to stake their lives on believing those miracles happened. They fearlessly reject Christianity in part because of their miracles. I seldom bother, however, to consider whether the miracles they're so confident in might show that the books they're found in are messages from God, as the Christian apologist insists that everyone learn from the miraculous in the Bible.

Even though it's remarkably easy to dismiss the miracles of, say, Buddhism as nonsense, I seldom even consider dismissing the Bible as nonsense. I have to think about biblical miracles with care and determination to question their veracity. They're stuck in my mind as historical events, as facts; because I'm a Westerner raised as a Christian, prying them loose takes an enormous effort of mind and will. It would be like trying to convince myself that shaking hands is not a sign of acceptance and greeting, but of blasphemous cursing.

My attraction to miracles is analogous to my attraction to all Christian doctrine: this faith has been the unquestioned and uninvestigated truth in my mind for so long that I find it trying and alarming even to consider changing my mind, despite finding more and more reasons to decide that Christianity is a wishful, superstitious illusion. It's a strange position for a skeptic to be in--to be so thoroughly doubtful that belief is nearly impossible, yet to have faith implanted in my mind so sturdily that skepticism can't uproot it. Indeed, to find that I'm concentrated on believing the creed I so acutely doubt.

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13. Conflict Between Jesus and Paul

STRANGE AND DISTURBING is the contradiction between the teachings of Christ and the Apostle Paul. I've often read the argument that the Bible is true because it's remarkably unified, despite having been written by many people over thousands of years. What many others have seen, and I've also often noticed, however, isn't unity in the New Testament, but dissonance. Christ doesn't teach the common Christian doctrine of salvation, justification through faith, quite so clearly as Christians think he does. Paul, it turns out, teaches the doctrine -- almost exclusively.

In most of his sayings, Jesus implies a much different kind of salvation than the peculiar doctrine of justification through faith taught by Paul and taught, in some form, by most Christian sects. Christ often plainly teaches salvation through works (a teaching despised by Christian theologians). Christ spoke often about the need for people to meet a new standard of righteousness and spirituality to save themselves from God's wrath and be inducted into the Kingdom of God. The examples are easy to find. There's the Sermon on the Mount. In that speech, Christ said that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter Heaven, "but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke of the final judgement of all people, who will be condemned or saved in accordance with how they treated the hungry, the naked, and the oppressed. There are many more examples in Luke and John.

On the other hand, Jesus almost never mentions, even when it's opportune to clarify himself, justification by grace through faith, the formula taught in some form in every Protestant creed. In most passages, Christ's teachings don't square with Paul's, unless one reinterprets all of Christ's sayings, as Luther and so many others have done, to make them fit the official doctrine of justification. In this way, Paul has changed the plain meaning of Jesus's words.

These reinterpretations are, of course, nothing more than interpretations, even though Christians theologians believe they've been "illumined" by the Holy Spirit to make them. Anyone, however, can defend his interpretations with an appeal to divine illumination. I feel illumined about a lot of ideas that make plain sense to me, but none to most Christians (take most of this journal for examples). Usually, the theologians begrudgingly admit that their writings are not inspired or authoritative, which, despite their arrogance, means there's no reason to trust them above the plain sense of Scripture. The plain sense is that the Bible teaches two different kinds of salvation.

What this dissonance suggests is that, assuming Christ was God, Paul's teachings weren't inspired. If Paul's teachings weren't divine, Protestant Christianity is pretty much destroyed, because so many verses defending its creeds are tossed out the window with Paul and his writings.

Christ seems to teach a much better way of salvation in any case: do good and seek righteousness with all your strength and, when you realize how miserably you've failed, throw yourself on the mercy of the divine Judge. I might not want either to throw out Paul or reinterpret Christ yet; but the dissonance between their teachings does make orthodox Christianity suspicious. Two mutually exclusive ways to salvation, two truths, seem to be taught in one religion. (Either Christ is the way or he isn't.) When the disagreement between Jesus and Paul doesn't make sense, as I think it should if my eternal state depends upon my understanding it, I'm tempted to disqualify Christianity as a possible "truth."

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14. So Much at Stake with a Decision on Christianity

TO TRUST THAT JESUS CHRIST has paved the way for God to forgive my sins would be ill-advised unless I knew it were true. Compare trusting in Christ without proving Christianity to this: salvation lies unseen across a great chasm covered with thick fog. There's no way to know that the land of salvation is on the other side or how far it might be. The chasm can be crossed only by flying. At the edge of the chasm, pilots are standing beside many kinds of planes, old and new, strange and familiar. The pilots are all making extravagant claims about the abilities of their flying contraptions. Each says his plane can get everyone across the chasm. Nonetheless, none of the planes has ever been adequately tested. They've been seen to fly off into the fog, but have never returned.

Now, which pilot is telling the truth? Whom should I trust myself to? Should I trust in any untested flying machine? One would never take the risk, if one valued his life (if heaven does exist, wouldn't everyone value it above all else), of flying a new-fangled contraption no one had reason to believe could make it across the chasm. One would wait for each plane to be tested until a pilot demonstrates that one can make it.

With so much at stake, with at least the possibility of hell facing me and everyone else, I don't understand why I should gamble that Christianity (which several of the pilots are flying different versions of) is true. With so much at stake, should I not search for certainty? Should I settle for anything less than proof?

Some people might argue that because Christianity is a religion millions have believed throughout Western history, it can be trusted as the truth. They think I should trust Christianity just as I would trust in the planes others have successfully flown. But has anyone ever demonstrated that Christianity works? Shouldn't I wait until a pilot has shown me that his plane can make it safely. That millions have flown off into the fog above the chasm isn't evidence that anyone reached the land of salvation on the other side!

No one has ever returned from the grave, ever come back from his meeting with God at the Judgement Seat to give us a report that, yes, it's true: faith in Jesus Christ as Savior is the only salvation from hell. No one ever has. Never. Heaven remains, as it has always been, an undiscovered country. (The living have seen no successful flights, just hopeful, spirited, and trusting attempts.) We're consigned to uncertainty whether the death of that Jew two millennia ago was, indeed, the atonement for our sins.

Must I gamble that it was, as Pascal advised? He considered it wiser to believe God exists than to believe he doesn't. Pascal, however, never took into account that more creeds (more planes) compete for passengers in the world than atheism and Christianity; people hold true thousands of mostly incompatible doctrines of salvation. Shouldn't I find the one that's proved and can be known true (the one plane that can cross the chasm)? How foolish to gamble with eternity! Why would I risk a life in hell (a crash in the chasm) if I didn't have to bet on it?

It's clear I believe that there's one truth and that it can be found. But is this true? How do I know human beings can uncover truth? How can I keep from taking a risk? How can I avoid taking any risk except by being certain of the creed I believe? But certainty eludes me. I must have it; without it, surely I shouldn't believe.

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15. Uncertainty

BECAUSE I CAN'T BE CERTAIN OF CHRISTIANITY, I worry about it, doubt it, and feel earnest that I ought to believe in another religion. Why would that be so surprising to my Christian friends, as I'm sure it would be? Why would it be so surprising that I or anyone would long for, in fact insist upon, certainty? Is Gerry or Russell or Janet certain? What do they know that I don't? Why would it be so surprising to them that I doubt Christianity's truth because I can't feel certain its true? Clearly to me, a fair and equitable God wouldn't punish anyone for making a decision that he could not be sure of. Would a just and loving God expect me to gamble? On eternity? Heaven and hell?!

One who would is a cruel God, playing a terrible game with his creatures -- letting them choose the wrong plane and then watching them plunge into the fiery chasm with sadistic glee, a hell in which His chosen few can watch all others burn. Is that not the God Christianity expects me to believe in? From the creeds, it seems so: we're told we must believe, though we can't be certain. Such a religion is a repulsive idea.

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16. The Problem of Disagreement

A FEELING OF CERTAINTY (certainty is as much an emotional as a mental state) is the final test of truth. The problem with using certainty as the test of truth, however, is that doctrines that give one person an unequivocal feeling of certainty another person unhesitatingly rejects. For example, let's say one man, an atheist, declares, quite resolutely, that there is no God. Science, he believes without question, is the sole source of truth. Science hasn't verified the existence of God; therefore, he doesn't exist. Another man sees very clearly, and with as great a feeling of satisfied, assured confidence, that science can't find or verify every truth. For this man, a theist (like me), the existence of God is one such non-scientific truth.

How should these men test their truths? By logic, experiment, experience, intuition, revelation, etc. Regardless, however, of how they prove to themselves the truth of their creeds, each believes the doctrines giving him a feeling of certainty, whether logic or intuition or some other intellectual maneuver gave rise to the feeling. The atheist steadfastly believes he has proof for what's actually an opinion: the feeling, no matter whether it's invalid to others, of certainty. (Can we doubt that such people exist?) If the atheist knew God existed and refused to acknowledge His existence, what a fool he would be, even in his own judgement.

The theist sees right through the atheist's proof; it's unsustainable. He feels no doubt of the truth of his creed because of his feeling of certainty.

Now, assuming the theist is right (for the sake of this argument I could assume either man is right), why does the atheist still believe his atheism. Why doesn't he see that his proof is invalid? Why doesn't he see that he accepts a falsehood, one which might cost him eternal life and earn him eternal punishment? Why? Because in his mind his proof looks like, feels like, and therefore is proof. He feels certain. The doctrine he's championing makes sense to him. Just this feeling of certainty, it seems to me, is what all men act on -- every Christian, every atheist, every Hindu.

Now, I'm not stupid. I know countless great thinkers past and present have maintained that there are trustworthy means for finding the truth. They firmly believe truth isn't a matter of personal preference or a bit of bad beef, which Scrooge thought the ghost of Marley was the effect of. Reason is one candidate with a long history and the most backers. Reason's supporters maintain that, rightly employed, reason leads to certainty and hence truth. If one produces them with sound reasoning, one can all trust one's feelings of certainty.

That statement, with which most people would agree, begs a question: how can anyone divine when he employs reason "rightly," when he reasons "soundly"? Obviously, no one can. Every person who employs reason has to trust, without proof, and mostly because there's no other way to think and live -- no other way to be human -- that he can and does reason competently and employ reason rightly.

Nevertheless -- and here's the crux of the matter -- those who reason on the obligatory assumption that they use reason rightly have devised (to underestimate) thousands of wholly incompatible "truths." How bewildering! If reason has yielded thousands of truths (all but one of which is false), and can anyone doubt that it has, must I not conclude that my reason is leading me around in a private world of darkness. At times in the dark, just like everyone else in his darkness, I think I've found something, something true and good. But have I found what I believe I've found? Have I found what I must find? Have I found the truth?

If reason, which is our leading candidate for leading us to truth, can yield so many truths, I have no means by which to answer those questions. What I've found in this darkness could be anything -- a beautiful treasure or a vicious viper, a cool oasis or a fiery furnace.

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17. Christianity Is Dangerous

THE DANGER OF CHRISTIANITY is that it maintains that no mercy will be shown to believers of falsehoods -- no matter what the cause, no matter what the motivation or purpose -- or even to provisional believers. In Christianity, only truth sets one free, only truth saves. Unbelievers, though they might disbelieve because the resurrection seems impossible, or because it seems absurd that Paul was struck blind, will be condemned.

One can't avoid this danger by either rejecting or declaring neutrality toward Christianity; if one chooses to believe in any non-Christian philosophy or religion or if one simply chooses to remain neutral and not accept Christianity, one chooses against it automatically and thereby puts oneself at risk, because God might punish for disbelief in Christ. If one believes that the punishing religions are untrue, be it Christianity or another, one risks (just as the Christian risks from another punishing religion) the fires of hell (or whatever punishment God has prepared for evil unbelievers) from a God who won't renders one certain of faith.

I don't want to miss God. I fear that if he turns out to be Allah I'll be cruelly punished. I don't want to waste my life or eternity. It's an alarming possibility that both this life and the one to come will be wasted if I expend all my energy on a faith made up of falsehoods and absurdities. I have to trust my feeling of certainty. But will that feeling betray me? No matter what the truth turns out to be, it has unquestionably betrayed others, millions upon millions of others! If there is one truth, only a small minority of all mankind has ever believed it.

This is anguishing. Too many of the candidates for truth, those religions with a punishing God, offer no tolerance for a person who wavers and seeks, but who's still uncertain, doubtful, indecisive, or -- most fearfully -- mistaken.

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18. Doubt and Marital Problems

MY DOUBTS ARE CAUSING MORE trouble in my marriage. It's difficult for me to admit that one reason Cheryl, who's been repeatedly threatening to get a separation, wants out our marriage is my incessant complaining about Christianity's unprovability, my uncertainty, and the despair and depression they've caused. She claims to feel burdened, because it seems that I want her to resolve my doubts and find the truth for me.

Well, I have to admit that she's partially right. The past few months, I have been complaining more insistently and angrily about Christianity to her. Every time we've discussed religion in the past several years, in fact, I've arrogantly and loudly dismissed every one of her arguments for faith. But, it's now too late to say, I never really wanted her to cure my skepticism. I've always known I have to battle it alone. For not even my wife can answer my questions for me, whether we're married or not. She's no expert in apologetics.

But why? Why is my marriage falling apart? It looks very much like Cheryl's going to move out and is seriously considering divorce. Why is God, if he exists and is good, allowing her to break our marriage apart? Our troubles are so keenly painful to me and Marie. Why won't God heal the wounds we've inflicted on each other and change Cheryl's intentions, before we inflict some more wounds on our daughter? At times I feel I should pray for my marriage, but I can't get on my knees. I've questioned Christian faith so fiercely and persistently and sweepingly. Because I've been on the verge of apostatizing for so long, I can't now, when I'm suffering the possibility of separation and divorce, suddenly lie to myself that I'm certain enough to pray to a God I don't know. But O the pain of this paralysis.

Skepticism is now bearing its fruit. Should I, however, lament and scorn the fruit? "Don't worry," my mind preaches to me, "that you don't bother to pray to the God of the Christians. He's probably false. You're almost ready to agree that he doesn't exist, though you're still understandably and inevitably, given your background, afraid of making that resolution. However comforting prayer might be, its comfort is illusory if Christianity's false, don't you agree. And you know, don't you, that any day now you're going to decide it's false."

These words are galling! I want to be comforted by truth. So many say they've been comforted by the Christian God, whom they believe with determination is real. Perhaps he can comfort me and help me understand. But I only want him if he's real!

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19. The Terror of Deciding

LET ME SUPPOSE THAT CHRISTIANITY is true -- for the sake of argument. Because it's true, Judaism is a false religion I once was tempted to believe in. If I had accepted Judaism, I think Christians would agree, I'd have been, if I'd died, condemned to Hell. It's frightening to realize that I ever felt confident enough in Judaism -- almost certain of it, in fact -- that I was about to wager (I never regarded my beliefs as a wager at all; I thought I knew the truth for sure) my eternal condition on its being true. I trusted a feeling -- confidence mixed with sincerity -- and trusted my mind to show me whether I was believing dangerous falsehoods. I'd have been burned in hell forever for trusting my mind and that feeling (again, we're assuming Christianity's the truth). It's like having walked for days in a dense fog. When the fog finally lifts, I discover I'd been strolling a path a foot away from the edge of a thousand-foot cliff.

Now I'm preparing to believe another creed, though I can't say which one yet. How can I escape the fear, the terror (this word is no exaggeration), that my new creed, though I might believe it positively true, will earn me nothing other than eternal punishment from the true God? On my experience with Judaism alone, I can't. I'm paralyzed. How can I ever trust any idea I believe?

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20. A Personal Mind

I FEEL IMPRISONED in my own mind, a prison with no escape. Why did God, or whatever made me, give me this mind? Was it to condemn me forever to the fires of hell. How can that be? If such a God exists (this is plainly the God of the Calvinists), why would I want to be with him and love him throughout eternity? The Calvinists' God is unlovable and despicable and terrible. He'd be worthy of the love Hitler received from his followers -- obsequious, respectful, terrorized, and slavishly obedient. He wouldn't be a friend. He wouldn't attract "personal relationships," as my Christian friends call their affiliation with God. If God's purpose is to condemn me forever by giving me a mind that doubts the truth, why doesn't he toss me into the pit of fire now? Indeed, why did he create me at all? So that he could torment me? He knows, surely, that I won't escape my mind. He knows I'm trapped, held in chains, behind iron bars and stone walls without windows or doors. Does God delight in giving me this opportunity to live and doubt before he has me lowered into the leaping flames? Christian doctrine seems to teach such a God.

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21. Hearing "Voices"

ALL THINKING IS SIMILAR to madness. My mind is like a madman's -- it hears voices that torment, shout, cajole, condemn, command. These are the voices of skepticism and faith. Usually, my mind eventually yields first to the insistent, domineering voice of skepticism. Just as the madman is trapped with his tyrannical voices, I'm trapped in my thinking, my tendencies to doubt and dismiss.

Gerry tells me (on the few occasions that I've had the courage to tell him I've been wrestling with some doubts) that doubting isn't what God wants for his children. He wants them to believe securely and with a deep, comforting hope. But I can't escape doubt. It pursues me everywhere I flee. When I've prayed to God to crush the doubts in me, they've only grown and spread, like a strain of insects that becomes resistant to a pesticide. Because I doubt so severely, Gerry seems to be implying, there's a chance that my conversion to Christianity was false, a still birth -- as my pastor has put it in sermons. If I were a Christian, Gerry implies, I wouldn't suffer so many doubts. I wouldn't always have formidable uncertainties, misgivings, and fears. But if I'm not a Christian and Christianity is the truth, then God chose me not to be one, because it was he who gave me this mind that can't face or won't cleave to truth.

Does anyone think I'm insincere? Does anyone believe I'm just kidding myself, that I can be as certain of Christianity as anybody else? I've fought against insincerity and dishonesty in my mind for years. (Can any of us ever be sure that we've fought hard enough?) I've taxed myself to be honest. I've tried to be certain of orthodox Christianity. If I've been dishonest, I can no longer, and never could, be honest. I was created with a dishonest mind. By whom? By God? Would God condemn a man who wants him, who wants to believe in him, and who wants to do everything he requires, expects, and hopes for him to do? Has God condemned me so unjustly? How can it be?! Do I have any right to complain to God? As Paul wondered, has the pot any right to question the potter? Yet, if I'm right about how people discover truth, he requires me to find the one true faith. How can it be that God would seek to destroy me by letting me search and then punishing me for making decisions about truth that make the most sense to the mind he created for me? It can't be.

The Kingdom of God, whatever that Kingdom is, must have room for doubters, must it not? Christianity seems to maintain that God has no patience with skeptics: they're to be condemned. Surely, however, God, whoever he is, wouldn't create me with this doubting mind and then joyfully condemn me to hell for the faith that mind he gave me led me to.

Or would he? That's my greatest fear. It always tempts to believe Christianity just to cover my rear.

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22. Communications from God, The Problem of Disagreement

CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THAT GOD communicates with them. He speaks, as Russell is always reminding me, in a still, small voice. Russell and Gerry maintain that his voice can only be heard by the soul, not the ear, by the conscience, not the brain. When non-Christians ask how Christians know when God is speaking to them, believers are likely to answer, "You just know." That's about it. I've heard that statement used dozens of times, once a couple of days ago by Gerry, in defense of the still, small voice.

Nothing more happens, it would seem, than a strange warming of the soul, a piercing of the heart, a settling of the mind into a niche, as if its gears were meshing with gears of God's mind. Somehow, the language of this warmth or piercing or meshing has linguistic nuances that Christians can understand and translate into the most detailed messages from on High.

There are times, I must admit, that I think I've heard this voice. I've even spoken to God aloud to respond to or answer it. But how can I be certain that this hazy experience of God, the only experience of God I've ever had -- this indistinct voice I've heard in my soul, dim messages pressing on me and understood through a spongy spiritual language translated into concrete words -- that this is the voice of God?

Many millions of people have heard the still, small voice, and it has spoken to them about many consequential matters. The messages they've received from the voice, however, I wouldn't have to search long in history to prove, have been contradictory. One person believes, say, that he heard God telling him to go to war. Another heard God tell him that he must not go to war for any reason. Both people believe they've heard the voice of God, though he gave them contradictory messages. (Both, of course, deny that the other has any idea what he's talking about.)

How can I know, then, when I'm hearing the voice of God or the voice of my imagination or my passions or my sin -- or my soul seeking truth with such spiritual fervor that it's willing to imitate God's voice and pass it off as sanctioned revelation? How can I know my conscience hasn't repeatedly sent me messages sealed with a false imprint of God? Is the voice I hear that comforts, chastises, cajoles, or urges me on to some mission or some belief the voice of only my conscience pushing me to pursue what it wants?

Would God tell people to believe differently on matters as important as whether the consecrated bread and wine of communion is transformed into the real flesh of Christ? Would he induce people to know different truths about free will and predestination and divine sovereignty? Would he order one person to participate as a soldier in the same war he enjoins another from participating? Would he tell some to baptize infants and others to baptize adults? He wouldn't. Thus, I can conclude that not every message believed to have come from God did. In fact, if God doesn't contradict himself, the overwhelming majority of messages people have thought came from him came from demons or the ignorant or deceptive consciences of foolish Christians, heretics, blasphemers, deceivers, and pagans.

There seems to be no way to discern among the voice of God, the voice of other "spirits", and the promptings and pleadings and illusions of my soul. I can never be sure, as history demonstrates again and again, that whenever I think I've heard the voice of God, I have. Christians recite Bible verses that say we should test the spirits. Well, what does such an argument accomplish? Nothing -- so many different interpretations are made of what the spirits whom we need to test should be saying.

People who believe in one moral code or another (as I've often pointed out, the creeds and codes are countless) maintain that they just know -- somehow, without grounds or proof -- that the voice they hear humming inside their heads is always God's. The whole idea disturbs me greatly. It arouses a paralyzing fear rather than hope. I can't be sure that the still, small voice, my deepest experience, the one experience no unbeliever can deny or discount, the one experience a Christian can always fall back on to defend his faith, is God's voice rather than the pleadings and urgings of my own fatuous soul.

I must then ask, if I assert that I know his voice, why am I unwilling to grant that everyone else knows the true voice, regardless of whether or not he believes anything close to what I believe? All this makes Christianity seem questionable at best, untrue at worst.

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23. Apologetics and Christian Experience

PAUL LITTLE HAS BEEN NO LESS disappointing on Christian experience than he was on most other matters. His argument comes down to this:

One evidence that Christianity is true is the reality of the experience of those who embrace Jesus Christ. One of the challenges a Christian throws out to skeptics is, "Taste and see that the Lord is Good" (Psalm 34:8). Verify for yourself, in the laboratory of life, that Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. The reality of Christian experience is evidence of the validity of Christianity.

I've tried this. First, I've had no experience of God that's any different from other experiences. A strange warming of the soul isn't enough to confirm when God is speaking to me; strange warmings have been felt by all kinds of crackpots, heretics, and infidels. Furthermore, I don't hear God answer my prayers, don't feel the Holy Spirit dwelling in me or Jesus living in me, and feel empty, despite having prayed for an experience of God so often.

Do you doubt me? I haven't always suffered extreme skepticism. I was once a settled believer. But try as I might with singing and praying and listening to sermons and joining fellowship groups and reading the Bible, I never experienced God, at least never knew I was experiencing God. Even when I was confident, I was always a little puzzled and deeply ashamed. Nothing at all happened for me. Little proudly declares that there are "hundreds from every race, every country, and every walk of life who bear testimony to an experience through Jesus Christ." Well, here's one person who bears testimony to the emptiness of belief.

In any case, what does Little's argument prove? So what that hundreds will testify to "knowing" Christ? If personal experience is a logical argument for truth, every religion in which people "bear testimony to an experience" is true! Little's argument proves not too little, but too much. Are not Buddhists and Hindus, Jews and Muslims, all equally convinced of the reality of their spiritual experiences? If it's possible that a majority of mankind is having false experiences of God (if it turns out someday that Christianity is true, it is possible), how does a Christian confirm that the probabilities aren't also against him?

Finally, out of desperation, Little appeals to history: "If Christ had not risen from the dead [Christians] would not experience him?" First, the resurrection is still up for debate. Appealing to history confirms nothing at all because history can be what we imagine it to be. Experiences resulting from an interpretation of history are no less slippery and mysterious. Second, is Little willing to believe that it's impossible that all Christians are experiencing illusions? However, this is just what Christians believe about all Muslims! Are they not human beings like us?

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24. The Legends of the Bible

ON WHAT GROUNDS, I'VE OFTEN WONDERED, do Christians believe the Bible is the word of God? The Bible is obviously a book filled with incredible events and wonderful ideas. The incredible events, however, are all that give grounds for believing the wonderful ideas -- matters ranging from morality to metaphysics, humanity to God, eternal punishment to salvation. The argument for Christianity then goes like this: if the events the Bible relates didn't happen, then what the Bible says about salvation can't be trusted and shouldn't be believed because it isn't true. If, on the contrary, the miracles of the Bible happened, no one should disbelieve in the Bible or Christ.

The most important fact that makes it hard to believe in the biblical miracles is that not one event at all similar to God's appearing in a burning bush, parting the Red Sea, or raising a man from the dead has happened in the past thousand years. Moreover, the historical events recorded in the Bible are very similar, unsurprisingly, to the ancient myths and legends of other primitive cultures and ancient religions. For example, stories of gods being resurrected were told among the Greeks. Many versions of a flood story have been told in different cultures. There are countless tales of different gods blessing or punishing their peoples. Among the ancient legends and myths are so many tales of rescues and revelations and visions and prophecies that a student of comparative religion quickly finds it ever harder not to become ever more convinced that the stories of the Bible are more akin to myths than to the historical records of our own day. The more probable it is that they're myths, the more certain it is that they aren't history. And if the events of the Bible didn't happen, if the miracles are myths or legends, is there any reason to be confident that the Bible is the revelation of God on theology and morality?

I'm convinced that the Bible must always assume the burden of proof because it appears so much unlike modern history and so much like the legends of other primitive cultures, which, believers never seem to remember, Christians disbelieve without the least fear. Shouldn't the Bible be required to prove that it has more historical validity than the legends and myths it's so much like? Scholars who debunk the Bible think as they do because its history seems so unlike any history we know. And this is why I so often find it so hard to believe the Bible is the Word of God. My first and lasting impression is that this collection of religious books isn't significantly different from all the other religious books, which I have no intention or desire of believing to be revelations telling me how to be saved and to live.

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25. Intellectual Arrogance

THE ARROGANCE BOTH belief and doubt share, is deeply troubling. I'd like to be humble. I'd like to believe what a higher and more trustworthy authority tells me is true -- preferably God himself. But when I have an inkling that I've discovered truth, I realize that I don't know but only believe it true. To believe I have to embrace mere faith. I don't want belief; I want certainty. In the end, despite its confident proclamations, belief must admit that its truth is not perfectly safe and secure. People have claimed belief as their assurance for hundreds of thousands of different and contradictory truths, even hundreds within Protestantism, not more than one of which is actually true. Belief maintains that it's all I need or anyone needs, that it guards the sole truth, and that it alone can give assurance and peace and safety and salvation. And yet consider all the faiths belief has produced!

But when belief disappoints me, I realize too that I can't either confirm or disprove the doubts that follow. When belief offers no hope of finding truth, I realize that I don't know but simply doubt. I've embraced mere doubt, which in this light appears much like belief. Doubt wants me to have the truth, just as belief does. Doubt doesn't want me to get caught believing falsehoods that will ruin me. It maintains that it alone seeks safety because it seeks proof; it wants to reassure me that I must keep searching for the truth to find peace and safety. It encourages me to keep fighting against the temptation to side with beliefs, of whatever stripe, Christian or not, and be lulled by a false assurance of truth. But to fight against these temptations, I must believe in doubt! Doubt is always whispering and yelling that I must not fall prey to the illusions of belief, for with it there is no certainty and, hence, no security. But belief in doubt is just what doubt is urging on me.

Belief and doubt, these two boastful and arrogant foes, repel me. I want nothing more of either of them. I don't want leaps of faith into darkness; I don't want the feelings of peace and safety belief gives. But neither do I want endless skepticism; I don't want to be pulled away from every hope and idea by the insistent hand of doubt. I want truth.

Yet it seems that truth has chosen to let itself be known only through belief and doubt. I can't be humble, though I want to be. I must, whether I join with belief or doubt, accept that I'll be arrogant and proud -- proud that I know with a certainty more visible than the shadows and darknesses of doubt or belief, a certainty they've deceived me with. Such arrogance is reprehensible and disgusting. But I must receive it when I receive into my soul either belief or doubt. Is there no other way to the truth?

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26. Probabilities and the Bible

WHEN SCHOLARS BEGAN TO CONSIDER why the Bible bore so little resemblance to modern life and history, and so great a resemblance to other myths, they decided, quite reasonably, to investigate whether there is enough evidence to maintain that it's the Word of God. Admittedly, what many of them reached is an unprovable conclusion -- the miraculous events didn't happen, but were fabricated. However, neither can Christian apologists prove the scholars wrong. Unbelievers argue that there is no corroborating non-Christian evidence that biblical miracles happened. Christians argue that since there's no firm evidence against them, no disproof, they're trustworthy. Neither argument is conclusive. So what's the truth? There seems to be no way to be certain.

Nonetheless, there are probabilities. Which is more probable: that the miraculous events are as unhistorical as the myths of the Greeks, which they appear so much like? Or that they're history like accounts of the French Revolution or the Civil War, which they appear so unlike? Most people in the twentieth century sensibly believe that because the "history" in the Bible reads almost precisely like all other religious legends, history even Christians call legends, the Bible is most probably nothing more than a collection of fantasies, myths having as much historical truth as Homer's epics. (Homer, of course, probably told some truth; but what's important is that no one is trying to revive any of the Greek gods that play major roles in the stories he passed off as history.)

Just as scholars have tried to explain Homer's beliefs by studying the economics, politics, and learning in the age of the Trojan War, so they have also interpret biblical history according to the mythical hopes and dreams of an understandably superstitious people, not out of any antipathy to the people or their longings and hopes, but out of a desire for the historical truth in their records of the past. What that desire led to was the conclusion that the miraculous events of the Bible look too much like every other legend to be regarded as valid history.

Here's what I think: if God expects me to believe in the absolute truth of a book filled with legend-like events, rather than believe in another book of legends (after all, endless is the supply, no matter what faith anyone has, of absurdities people will believe true), shouldn't he give me better reasons to believe than the suspicious, disputable historical records themselves? Yet he doesn't. Christians must believe because of the Bible, though its tales can be accepted on no better grounds than the tales of Athena and Poseidon in the Iliad or the miracles and revelation of the Qur'an.

Truth has become a matter of taste and training. Because I was raised in a culture of the Bible, I can compel myself, with less chance of disrepute, to believe it more readily than another "revelation." (If I'd been raised a Muslim, obviously, I could compel myself much more easily to believe in the Qur'an.) Is that good reasoning in defense of a faith that, it adherents believe, holds the ultimate answers to all of life, even the question of eternal, torturous punishment?

This is what I call the argument from dissimilarity.

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27. The Factual, Historical Accuracy of the Bible

THERE'S ONE BIG PROBLEM with the argument from dissimilarity. The Bible contains many stories and a lot of historical information not in any way miraculous. Christians apologists have rationally appealed to an argument by analogy: the non-miraculous history of the Bible has been verified by archaeology and historical investigation. Because the writers of the Bible were historically accurate and faithful on a great number of matters, shouldn't they be trusted, therefore, to be telling the truth about miracles, however implausible?

This argument is compelling, though it proves nothing. Paul Little spends a whole chapter describing how archaeology has demonstrated that biblical history is reliable and accurate. To summarize, he quotes a Jewish archaeologist, "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological evidence has ever controverted a biblical reference." Little dutifully backs this assertion up with a bunch of examples. In the chapter, he never says what archaeology might establish, but his argument can be easily inferred. It's the argument by analogy.

I would say in answer that just because the authors of biblical history happened to put their "holy" history in a real historical setting, which I might add is quite general, doesn't decrease the suspiciousness of miracles. Most of what archaeology has confirmed, as Little's examples show, are very general matters -- when a King lived or a Kingdom fell, when a nation settled a land, when peoples moved here or there. It can almost do nothing with the minute and crucial details of Jewish history -- such as the biography of Joseph or Samuel -- and unquestionably nothing with the endless string of miraculous details -- such as whether Elijah rode a chariot to Heaven or Paul survived the bite of a poisonous snake.

This discussion boils down to this choice: does the Bible's accuracy on verifiable, yet general, events outweigh the fabulousness of so many other stories, so similar they are to other discredited fabulous tales? No! And Christians agree, though they won't admit it. Not for one moment does any Christian think that because Bernal Diaz, priest and author of an account of the conquest of the Aztec Empire, was accurate about the movements of Cortes's band of conquistadors that he was accurate about a saint appearing with sword in hand above the battlefield at Tlascala.

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28. The Problem of Disagreement and Intelligence

THERE'S LITTLE DOUBT, I'M QUITE SURE, and I think most everyone would agree, that I'm not the most intelligent man who ever lived. I'm not even, I think I can safely assert, in the top one million. I might not be in the top 50 percent. Because I'm not as wise or intelligent as so many others, it's natural that I decided that it wouldn't be very astute (notice that I decided -- I've got to use the wits I have) to trust my mind to uncover truth. I should, just as most of us, look to others more intelligent than I to confirm truth.

Okay, this much we're sure of. But now for the next step. I, and only I, must make one crucial decision: which person is intelligent enough to trust for the truth? To whom should I listen for advice and counsel -- for cogent and irrefutable logic -- and then believe? It's a comforting thought that God might want to come down from heaven to instruct me at his feet. But this hasn't happened to me, or anyone I know and trust, yet. Perhaps I ought to listen carefully and trustingly to someone who has seen and listened to God, who visited him from on High. Ah, but which person proclaiming God visited him is telling the truth? Someone might suggest that I should listen carefully to my own conscience; for there, Gerry, Russell, and most Christians seem to believe earnestly, God sends His Holy Spirit to illuminate the truth for them. As Little says, "It is the Spirit of God who ultimately confirms the truth of Scripture." But I don't know whether the voice I hear is the voice of the Spirit or of my own follies and longings. Moreover, those who've maintained with unfailing conviction that they've been able to discern the voice of the Spirit from that of the Devil or the flesh believe many different and often contradictory doctrines.

I find myself on the horns of a disturbing dilemma. I can't trust myself -- that much would be sure to anyone who happened to read this journal. Someone else, someone more intelligent or wise or learned or spiritual than I, must show me the truth. But I must judge whether any learned person is worth trusting. And how to judge whether he's trustworthy but by finding out whether he's found the truth? Why trust the truth to someone who hasn't found it? You see where I'm headed: how can I know whether a particular person knows the truth and is trustworthy when I can't trust myself with knowing whether I know the truth?

There are countless intelligent and vise men. (I won't even bother with the proverb that wisdom begins with the fear of Yahweh -- that's an idea tha does nothing to confirm wisdom independently of Christian or Jewish faith.) At the very least, many, many men seem very intelligent to me and others. Yet these men, one of whom I long to trust all disagree on the truth. They've argued convincingly and cogently as far as I'm able to determine) for many conflicting and irreconcilable truths and insisted that they've proved their arguments. Sometimes, they've repudiated each other. Sometimes, Christians have opposed other Christians, have vouched that other Christians aren't Christians, have even called each other heretic and infidel. (Who knows who is and isn't a Christian? I don't even want to get tangled up in that question.) These intelligent men, Christian and non-Christian, argue with one another and try to persuade each other to their different opinions of truth without end, over decades and centuries and millennia. They write books and essays, give speeches and sermons, hold conferences and convocations, fight wars -- all because they disagree with each other.

Nov do you see what I face? Am I mad? Should these problems not trouble me so greatly? Shouldn't I be paralyzed by this inescapable difficulty? Sometimes I think worrying over disagreement, which seems to be at the heart of my doubts, isn't worth all the bother. Perhaps I should just make a choice, on whatever grounds seem, at the instant of the choice, to be germane. But is that any way to avoid the risk from the religions that threaten hell fire? That's a gamble I can't take, at least not yet; it would utterly foolish. I must wait for the truth, though the disagreements among those wiser and more shrewd than I shows that truth, whatever creed it is, can't be found by any means any man has ever yet tried. Perhaps one great thinker is soon to come -- a Messiah of theology -- whom no one will be able to doubt, not me, not anyone. Until then, I suppose, we must all wait. But is waiting a possibility if Christianity or Islam or Judaism or any of the other faiths and philosophies with doctrines of divine punishment are true? Again, there's no room at the inn for doubters.

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29. Catholicism and Disagreement

ONE DISAGREEMENT IN CHRISTIANITY looms large: Catholicism. Four hundred years ago, the Christian faith split in two. Both sides of the religion, putting aside the profound disagreements within each camp, disagreed conscientiously and vehemently and violently with the other. Catholics obviously believe in a different brand of Christianity than I've ever even brought up for consideration as truth; yet Catholics pledge themselves to their faith with steadfast, trusting conviction and with what appears to be certainty, as much certainty as any Protestant I've ever met seems to have. Catholics even call themselves Christians. On the other hand, many Protestant thinkers (and a lot of the Christians I know) have actually believed that Catholics, unless they've had a "true" conversion experience -- have been "born again" -- will be rewarded at death not with eternal life, but eternal damnation. (Of course, Catholics of the past and present have said the same of Protestants.)

Can both brands of Christianity be true? Some say yes, some say no. The problem for truth and faith and proof is obvious: how could God allow a group of incorrect Christians (people who at least call themselves Christians and, I have to presume, want to be correct Christians) to exist? If he's allowed them to exist, can we believe that the Trinity is actually God? And if one denomination is right and the others wrong, how can I ever be sure I believe the brand of Christianity that actually leads to eternal life rather than to God's telling me at the Great White Throne Judgement that I made a mistake and will have to be sent to hell? This is a terrifying problem, because it's a problem not with other religions and creeds (though many of them do have the same kind of internal struggles), but within Christianity itself!

What is an ordinary person to do?!

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30. A Forced Option

I HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE; I can't avoid choosing -- that much is clear, because by not choosing I'm choosing against those creeds that require specific beliefs and actions, such as Christianity and Islam. Yet I still don't have the powers of intellect and wisdom that so many men and women I'm choosing among have. My choice shouldn't -- considering the risks involved -- be arbitrary, like a leap of faith. It also shouldn't be an arbitrary choice of trusting someone obviously more intelligent, because the leading candidates disagree. In fact, they disagree on so many opinions and judgments that if I were arbitrarily to choose to entrust my choice to one I would unquestionably be rejecting all the others -- asserting that thousands of thinkers, more erudite than I and believing their truths to be so definitely true and good are dead wrong and, in fact, in eternal peril.

It's terrifying that I must make a judgement. I'd like to place this burden on someone else's shoulders. I'd like to place this burden on God's shoulders. But it stays on mine, lashed tightly. Won't someone lift it from me?

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31. Trusting Oneself

AN ANSWER MIGHT BE IN this idea: everyone must choose someone to trust not on the basis of whether the thinker has discovered truth, but whether the truth he proposes meets a particular standard, such as the standards of deduction or mystical experience. This might be the escape from the prison of my own mind. But no. This solution begs a question: which standard should be adopted to discern the truthfulness of other people? Shouldn't I rely on those wiser and more intelligent than I to set the standard? But those more learned than I disagree on which standard should be established to judge the truthfulness of any ideas or arguments. This solution forces me choose twice -- not only which person to trust, but which standard to judge those people by. And still, I have no reason to trust myself with these tasks.

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32. The Burden of Decision

IS THERE ANY HOPE THAT I might be relieved of this requirement to judge? It seems not. There is, more evidence demonstrates every day, no other way to live. I must judge alone. There is no security in community, for even in community are deep uncertainties. And you and I, in fact every person alive, and every person who has lived or ever will, must judge alone, with whatever light from reason, with whatever evidence, with whatever revelation and insight, we've been given or can discover.

Nonetheless, the result of leaving the choices to the human race is that hundreds of millions of opinions about truth have burst forth from men's minds. Millions of opinions held to be more than opinions, held to be truths, to be incontestably proved doctrines and theorems, have had to be stacked to the ceilings in the warehouses of history -- just the discarded ideas, not the ones currently enjoying favor. No one even bothers any more to take out, dust off, and look over the old truths. Even though they were once held to be truth itself, they're so dubious that no one nowadays wastes his time with them.

Yet we believe, in our day and age, quite ingenuously and without a smirk, that our opinions of truth, held with the same conviction people held all those discarded and disreputable ideas, aren't the least suspicious. They aren't even open to question, we think. They're founded forever. There will never be a need to bring doubt or scorn upon them. They'll never be shelved in warehouses with other discarded "truths." We alone, in this modern age, of all the ages filled with all the millions of people trying to find truth and thinking they've found it, we alone, at long last, have found it. What arrogance and impudence! What stupidity!

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33. Discredited Theories of the Future

ISN'T IT OBVIOUS THAT IN TWO HUNDRED YEARS most of the ideas we now esteem so highly will wind up in a new warehouse to be built for our discredited notions? On what evidence can I make such a prediction? On the evidence of the past, five thousand years of recorded history, in which the ideas and beliefs and theories of antiquity, of Golden ages and dark ages, of the rise and fall of movements -- religious, philosophical, spiritual, and scientific -- are now among the forgotten and the despised, the discredited and the foolish. Two thousand years from now, will not men examine, with knowing smiles of incredulity, the beliefs we have so much faith in, but will probably be consigned to the warehouse constructed for the glut of ideas growing like weeds in "Modernity"? Won't those men laugh boisterously over our shallowness, our ignorance, our superstitions, our gullibility, our guesswork, which we deem so fine and erudite and thorough? Perhaps one or two of our doctrines might make it through to the future. But most, if not all, will surely seem as ludicrous to them as the ideas of antiquity seem to us. Can we deceive ourselves that this won't happen? It's even so among Protestants. Many of them no longer think much of Catholicism, though it held the field for a millennium.

Why believe that we of the modern era have overcome what no one of our race ever overcame? And why believe Christianity, which has only a two thousand year history behind it? Is there any reason to trust that it will last as no other creed has lasted, though some have lasted just as long and longer?

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34. So Many Choices, So Little Certainty

TO CHOOSE AMONG THEM ALL, ALL THESE faiths and creeds and philosophies -- that is the task I'm charged with, which might result, I won't know until I die, in eternal damnation. Perhaps the only smart move is to choose the predominant creed, the "truth" most men have believed through the ages. At least by choosing the creed of the majority I'd have probability on my side. But can it be demonstrated that the most popular creed is the truest creed?

Unfortunately, popularity doesn't establish truthfulness. And if I were to choose the most popular philosophy, I'd have to choose Islam because Islam looks to be the fastest growing religion in the world. But I'm not even trying to find arguments to help me believe Islam. It makes less sense to me right now than either Christianity or atheism (though I can neither exactly say why nor fully justify my position).

Thus, the majority can lay no mandatory claim to righteousness, as history proves again and again (hasn't the majority always disbelieved Christianity). I must choose among all the creeds and philosophies on other grounds -- and even try to anticipate the new ideas and doctrines and creeds that might arise in the future, as well as, don't forget, know every doctrine of the past and, in addition, if I'm to make sure that nothing is unconsidered, imagine and evaluate every possible creed and doctrine that men and women haven't yet seen the sense of, but which might be truth. What a task! And I, a man of modest intelligence and wisdom and learning, a man of confusion and doubt and struggles, a man who fears he hasn't thought of every possible argument and is unable to weigh all the evidence logically enough -- this man must accomplish this task.

Why, if God is the Trinity (and even if he is, I'll still have to perform this task), and if the Trinity will judge me for not receiving Christ, why has God laid this task on me? Why is he so heartless? Does he take delight in my fear? Does he chuckle over my spiritual torment and confusion and skepticism? Does he enjoy watching me and millions of other doubters and unbelievers try with great anguish to find the truth, though they have no power to secure it without him?

We must look to him like people who have been ordered to fly. We obediently jump off a towering cliff on a stretch of ocean coast. As we accelerate toward the rocky beach below, we flap our arms wildly. But there's no way to perform the feat he expects of us. One by one, we're each dashed on the rocks beside the sea. Is this who God is? This is the God of Christianity, isn't it? In fact, it's the god of most religions, because in most of them each unbeliever and believer face the same uncertain, arrogant, fearful, agonizing choices about truth.

This can't be God. It makes no sense to me that the true God would give us no certainty, expect so much from us, and be so ready and willing to damn anyone who doesn't measure up. God is just and fair: I want that to be so. Nothing else makes any sense at all, if God isn't moral! If God isn't just and fair, there's no point in searching for him; for he'll do with me what he pleases, which seems to be to destroy me with malicious glee. God wouldn't condemn people for their inabilities and weaknesses, their ignorance and uncertainties, their confusion and stupidity, their follies and longings. And yet Christianity demands that I believe in such a God.

If such a God doesn't exist or isn't worth knowing, Christianity is either false, worthless, or evil.

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35. Seeming: A Key Concept

SUSAN RECENTLY HAD A FRIEND TELL HER that the Christian Gospel doesn't make sense to him. He challenged it by saying, "It just doesn't seem to me that God would send his own son to die for man. That just doesn't seem true to me." Doubt seldom appears to trouble Susan. She seems to believe without question, just as her husband Gerry does, just as they think I do. She might have heard or pondered unanswered and disquieting questions, but they haven't given rise to the possibility that Christianity isn't the truth. Susan, however, had no answer for her friend. She thought about his comment for a few moments, but, she told me later, couldn't think of anything to say in defense of her faith. She still believes, strongly, confidently -- upset by the question too, but sure (I'd suppose) that someone could answer him. She had merely never before been confronted by her friend's objection, had never had it answered in a book or a sermon, and had therefore never inconvenienced herself with knowing the answer.

The way things seem to her friend, what I call "seeming", was, however, virtually unanswerable. If Susan's friend was being honest (an "if" I'll consider in a moment), there's no answer whatsoever to his objection. It might seem true to Susan that God would send his son to die. It might seem true to me. But if it didn't seem true, if it didn't make sense in some fashion, if it sounded to us like UFOs or channeling or reincarnation or astrology, then Susan and I wouldn't believe it either, no matter how many eloquent and brilliant defenses we read.

Why does the doctrine of the atonement seem untrue to Susan's friend and millions of others, yet seem true to Susan and, at times, to me (even with all my doubts, this "seeming" still dwells in me)? And why is Susan's "seeming" so strong that she never doubts her faith, even though she doesn't have answers to fundamental questions? Who's given the three of us, the unbeliever, the believer, and the skeptic, this mental and spiritual operation I call "seeming" or "making sense"? If God exists, why doesn't he make the truth make sense or seem true to everyone?

A big "if" passed by a few sentences back. Was Susan's friend being honest that the doctrine of the atonement didn't seem true to him? Several passages in the New Testament teach, and many more in the Old Testament hint, that the truth doesn't seem true to this man and every unbeliever because they are rebelling against God and have suppressed the known truth to rationalize their sinful rebellion. This is Paul Little's opinion too. It's a possible explanation, and it has the backing of some passages of Holy Scripture (if the Bible is the Word of God). But if Susan and I raise the possibility that this one man has brazenly lied to himself and God, and denied the truth he knows is truth in order to sin against and to hate man and God, then because I'm as human as Susan's friend, the same might be true of me. It's a possibility, as the case of Susan's friend proves, that Susan and I believe Christianity because we want to continue in our rebellion against, say, the Yahweh of Judaism by lying to ourselves and Yahweh! This is just as possible as Susan's friend is rebelling against the Trinity.

To conclude, on whatever grounds, that Susan's friend is being dishonest is to challenge myself. Do I know to a certainty that I'm honest? How can I prove my honesty? I can't even stop doubting and am tempted by every argument against Christianity. At times, I seem very dishonest, believing only because I want to -- or, to put it another way, because I want to rebel against the real truth I know but haven't assented and submitted myself to.

And what of a doubter, like me? If I allow that Susan's friend was simply dishonest, like every unbeliever, what about a tentative, almost provisional believer, one who looks non-Christian to most Christians? Are all my doubts simple, brazen dishonesty -- simply my mind taking on the foul duty of rationalizing my rebelling against God? That's the teaching of Christianity, I fear. Yet perhaps we all have a few doubts; perhaps Susan doubts secretly. Then the passages used to destroy me destroy her as well, and in fact destroy most of us, because I've never met a person who didn't admit to doubting occasionally and sometimes intensely and dangerously. So we're all non-Christian, because we're all being dishonest in order to sin.

This whole intellectual predicament puts me in such a tangle that Christianity's system of the "One Way" of Christ appears false. But perhaps I'm just being dishonest to the truth I already know and refuse to acknowledge. Of course, if I've been dishonest, firm believers must also face the same possibility they've been dishonest in not becoming Catholics or Jews or Calvinists or Lutherans or Muslims, or whatever creed they don't believe. And so someone's judgment of doubters and unbelievers, as Jesus warned about judgments, recoils on himself.

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36. Rebellion Against God

IT'S TEMPTING, I MUST ADMIT, to believe that everyone who isn't a fully convinced and committed Christian is in rebellion. Such a doctrine makes things easy. No uncertainties muddy the theological waters. Everything's comprehensively known and categorized. But I can't help but see, because of the way my mind always works, that believing such a doctrine brings on a serious difficulty: the possibility, of which I can't ever vindicate myself, that I've believed what I believe because I am in rebellion. This possibility nags at me, because I want the truth, not just my own desires. This doctrine of the rebellion of the non-Christian plunges me into uncertainty at the same time it holds out a rope of certainty and confidence. Therefore, how can I believe that all disbelief is the result of rebellion?

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37. Endless Doubt

BUT WHAT A PAINFUL AND DISTRESSING condition to be yet in. Skepticism is quite effective for unmasking falsehood masquerading as truth, but useless for seeing the unadorned truth. Doubting seems unworkable, because it never ends. It never reaches the goal it's used to achieve. Every time I settle on a faith, skepticism smashes it apart with the suddenness and destructive power of a nuclear warhead. Nevertheless, I can see no way around skepticism, for it's the only instrument we have for assembling truth. To try to prove every doctrine, and to disbelieve it or remain neutral to it (which, in many cases, is the equivalent of rejecting it) until it's proved, is our only choice. By what other means can or should anyone come to his faith? A leap of faith accomplishes nothing, because it's always, by definition, an uncertain leap; it's a leap from mere darkness into more darkness, not into light. Skepticism won't let me rest, but without skepticism I'll have no rest other than in the illusions of a leap of faith, the comforting blindness and dark hope of falling in empty space.

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