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In Tony Jones’ Defense: A Community of Faith

January 8th, 2014 | Posted by Lana Hope in Faith | Philosophy | SE Asia

People often ask me if I believe in God for a rational reason or if I believe on faith. Usually I answer a rational reason. After all, I am a student of the humanities, and I have had more formal training in rational belief than most naturalists outside the academy.

Incidently I stumbled across this article a few days ago where a naturalist philosopher is disgruntled by all the uniformed naturalist philosophers out there. I grinned because I often see tweets where people make supposedly sound arguments about the absence of the supernatural that theist philosophers could refute in 10 seconds. Smith, again a naturalist, is right that sometimes we aren’t as logical as we claim to be.

Here lately I’ve begun to reconsider my faith position. For sure there is a rational component to my belief. After all, even the philosopher Kant said he was impressed by the teleological argument for God’s existence. And on an intellectual level, I have labored for answers my whole life. It started in elementary school when I’d hit myself to see if I was real or a figment of the imagination. I am not intellectually lazy.

But it’s more than intellect. Ultimately, it’s an experience with “something more” that’s kept me in the faith community. In the dark moments it wasn’t a “valid judgments” as we say in logic that held me in God’s hand. It was what I have seen and experienced that held me, and what others have seen and experienced.

That’s why when Tony Jones’ wrote about how he believes because of a collective belief in God worldwide, I got it. Here’s what he said.

At this point, I simply cannot abide severing myself from the rest of the world’s population, from 7 billion of my fellow human beings. I have enough respect for the collective wisdom of humanity to stand in solidarity with them in proclaiming that there is, indeed, a God.

 

I know Jones got some of his stats wrong, and made a couple offense statements about race. But beyond this, I still *got* it. I have, as I have mentioned the before, experienced that there is “something more.”

This has included things such as the blind seeing after we prayed over him, God providing me with emotional healing, seeing a very, very broken dad be transformed, and the presence of God really showing up in my church. Admittedly, I’ve always known that there could be natural explanations for these things. The blind boy could have been healed because he believed God was healing him so much that the energy of his body came through and healed him. My dad could have been transformed by a strong will or good therapist (except he did not go see a therapist). God’s presence could have been an emotional experience that was nothing more than human emotions. This is all true.

But you know what kept me going? A community of faith. For example, there is simply too many miracles in SE Asian alone for me to deny them all, and everyone on the missions ground knows what I mean.  There is simply too many broken people transformed by God’s presence globally for me to dismiss it as just emotional comfort.

I’ve mentioned this story before. But there was a man who came to church week after week but never said a word, not even hi. He had several severe addictions and was a street person. He did not want financial assistance; just wanted to stand there and say nothing. But then one day in the middle of worship he burst out crying and fell over and couldn’t get up. Then he believed right.like.that. He started talking and said God had touched him; the church dropped their guitars and gathered around and just prayed over him as Jesus became real to him for the first time. The next week his buddies from the slum were at church too.

Jesus said that we come to him like a child. And now I finally get it. We do.

That’s why when my friends on twitter said Tony Jones does not have “good logic” and “what kind of Christianity is that?” I disagree because most of us don’t, in the final end, believe because of logic or science (even though I think it is a logically sound belief system). In fact, what makes the gospel so difficult is that it requires us to become a child, and this is uncomfortable.

Some have suggested that Tony Jones’ argument is equivalent to arguing that we should just jump off the cliff because the majority do, or that it’s denying that that the majority of the world has been wrong about a lot, such as the majority who once believed the earth is the center of the solar system.

This is not about jumping off the cliff because everyone does it: this is a prior experience that gives me solid grounds to take that leap believing that God is catching me.

Given my experiences of the divine, I turn to the world, and in finding a community, I simply cannot easily dismiss the testimonies of several billions of people throughout the course of history.

Could we all be wrong and all be disillusioned? Sure. Possible. Is Jones’ stats off, both because a large portion of westerns are no longer believers in anything supernatural, and because there are a lot of closet naturalists? Sure.

But no matter what, we are bumping into large percentages of people who have had experiences, and these individuals are not, no matter what, an isolated few. I think it’s important, as Bram mentioned, to remember that westerners live in a world where we have suppressed the supernatural, but much of the third world has very a very different experience than us.

We as Western moderns do live in a world with a seemingly complete absence the supernatural, and we do everything to keep up this illusion that it doesn’t exist in no way at all… People are conditioned to see the world this way, have learned to not bother about those superstitions. But is this reductionist naturalist world the real world, or is it just what we want to see? Isn’t a life of materialism and naturalism, like a lot of us have in the ‘civilized’ part of the world (especially academic circles…) the privilege of ivory-tower Westerners, more like a form of wishful thinking than ‘the only rational way to view reality’ as some claim it to be.

From a few things that I’ve experienced, and a lot of things that I’ve heard from different sources around the world, the influence of the supernatural is not always as easy to put away as ‘superstition’ as it is here and as we would conveniently be able to do. People in a lot of countries do even live in fear of it, sometimes out of real superstition probably, but sometimes not without a good reason nonetheless…

I agree that it’s in a way very convenient to have a world that is completely ‘rational’ and that can be described solely through ‘the laws of nature’ as modern science defines them. But do we have such a world? We have at least been living like we have in only a material world, for a few hundredths of years. Since the enlightenment we’ve been denying the supernatural here in the West, telling ourselves it does not exist… Which also means that we generally stopped almost all of our contact with it, and we got completely our of touch with it… We built up a world in which it has no place and is not supposed to exist!

And still it did not go away, and it won’t… No matter how much we cry to the sky that it’s empty, the world is and has always been more than just ‘natural’ in the modern sense. Things I’ve experienced myself, as well as heard from witnesses do convince me that there is something, whatever it is…

It’s interesting, but me too. When I doubted Christianity, my mind did not immediately turn to atheism. I simply walked the Buddhist temples and talked to friends, because my gut said there was too much out there for there to be nothing.

I don’t think the community proves Christianity as much as it’s a serious step that turns me towards the supernatural.

I have a professor who studied under a famous atheist philosopher half a century ago. Himself a naturalist, he spent years in intense logic, science, and mathematics trying to grasp an intellectual, rational, logical, and sound argument to believe or disbelieve. It was an experience that made the leap to Christianity possible for him nearly 40 years later (incidently, he does not call it a leap; he says he’s certain that God exists). Here he was a man with more training in logic than most individuals in the entire world, but it was experience that brought the belief in Christianity.

I know this deconstructs more questions than I can answer in one post. We might start to ask why God does not give us all an “epiphany” or why some people are left screaming for help in the snow with only more snow falling in their face. These are valid questions worth an entire blog series, and I don’t want to dismiss that pain.

I still cry out sometimes. But for me, and admittedly I’ve lived a fairly privileged life, it forces me to come face to face with my limits and humanity. Perhaps this is why I believe more than ever.

Sadly, I cannot prove God’s existence. Atheists tell me that is my job. It’s not my job. It’s God’s job. Granted if we were to debate, the burden would rest on me. But for me, life is not a debate.  Life is a faith journey.

Something a scholar and philosopher said to me last semester stuck out to me. He said, “We have spent hundreds of hours worrying about these problems for theists. But at the end of the day there is something to what the Bible says: are you preparing yourself to dine with your maker?”

The naturalists will make their own choices, and I understand. But I have made a different choice, and this decision directs my life.

Even so, may you come Lord Jesus.

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  • brambonius

    Not much that I can add, and a very impressive post that I also would like and recommend a lot if you would not have been quoting me in it ..

    • Lana Hope

      hah! It helps me out to quote someone on the same page.

  • Amplitudo

    The premise is eviscerated by one simple proposition:

    Empiricism cannot substantiate universal propositions.

    • Lana Hope

      The thing is, the universal propositions for naturalism are not conclusive enough to disprove the existence of the supernatural. That is one reason that the article I linked to from Quinton Smith talks about how 1/3 of the philosophy professors in the US are theists.

      • Amplitudo

        Whether they are conclusive or not, an argument for the existence of the supernatural based on experience or collective wisdom is fundamentally flawed.

        I suspect philosophers used to justify belief that the world is flat using the same argument you present in this blog post.

        “At this point, I simply cannot abide severing myself from the rest of the world’s population, from millions of my fellow human beings. I have enough respect for the collective wisdom of humanity to stand in solidarity with them in proclaiming that indeed, the world is flat.”

      • Amplitudo

        Did you delete my post?

        I apologize for any cognitive dissonance I caused.

        I was not aware you squashed dissenting opinions.

        • Lana Hope

          No, I don’t delete comments. But I have a spam detector that grabs certain comments to be approved. I’m not sure why it sometimes grabs non-spam comments. Sometimes it does it when the same individual is posting too quickly; othertimes it’s certain words that gets the spam detector’s attention. I approve them all, though. Don’t worry.

          The reason I don’t see int as fundamentally flawed is because I don’t see reason as more conclusive than experience. This, of course, does not mean all experience is equal, but there are certain experiences which deny the natural and make it harder for me to find a natural reason for their existence. In other words, it’s worth the leap of faith to me. If it’s not worth the leap for others, that’s fine.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            …there are certain experiences which deny the natural…

            There. Right there is an assertion that transfers responsibility from the person making it to the ‘experience’ itself. We misinterpret and insert causal factors all the time to ‘explain’ agency in our environment that may or may not be present, so to assume the attribution of supernatural causal factors is true because it originates from the experience rather than our poor interpretation of it is a thinking mistake. Every time we investigate claims of supernatural causation, guess what we find? Reasonable alternatives and a materialistic world ticking along just fine without complications of explanations of Oogity Boogity! that undermine our knowledge of how the world operates (while we conveniently forget that these natural explanations work to produce applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time).

          • Lana Hope

            Cause and effect is certainly tricky. I’ve no doubts that large percentages of the time people misinterpret. Where we disagree is on the assumption that the god/gods/supernatural have no agency. If it is true that they do – and I realize that is a debate- then it is also not odd to assume that they are working in our lives. If their is no god, and the blind person sees after people pray, then it’s obviously that it’s a coincidence. If their is a god, and a person who the doctors said could never see again then saw after times of prayer, then their is a possibility the gods did answer. Obviously the causal link is not inherently there, but neither is it so obviously not the case that I easily dismiss it.

            I also think their are much better arguments for the existence of god than just miracles. However, the point I was trying to make, and I think you agree, is that most people on earth don’t come to a rational belief in the supernatural or some other deity in the offset. Most come because of experiences or revelations in some form. This does not mean that Christianity is not defensible. But it means most don’t come for those reasons. Obviously where we disagree is 1) you don’t think it is defensible and 2) you don’t think these experiences are rightly attributed to a deity or spiritual force. In 2) I would agree with you that many instances have been wrongly attributed to a deity.

  • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

    Lana, have you ever considered how many people simply go along with religious sentiments for various reasons? (So much for the 7 billion claim.)

    Look not at what you wrote, but the method by which you attempted to justify your conclusion: you tried to use empirical evidence but, realizing just how poor this was, reverted to revelation and second hand accounts before switching entirely to a metaphysical approach. This tells us something about the quality of the reasons; if there was compelling evidence adduced from reality, you’d be shouting it from the rooftops because you realize the power of adjudication from reality. You don’t have that and it should be widely available if true. So you shrink your claim not because you believe any less but because you realize you have to compensate your faith-based belief so that the absence of evidence can be trivialized. This tells us something about the quality of the reasons.

    And now for your consideration, I suggest that there is a good reason why we are superbly described as superstitious naked apes, but that doesn’t mean the superstitious part is therefore justified as probably true. Most of us are superstitious but, unlike faitheists and religious apologists and accommodationists, we quite properly trivialize the superstition and realize its hold over us is only as true as a momentary nod to a specific application of Pascal’s wager! It’s a just-in-case belief, recognized as irrational, emotive, and based mostly from some form of fear originating in the reptilian part of our brain. Most of us would feel very silly building temples to this fear, singing songs of gratitude and praise for irrationality’s hold we allow to have temporary influence, nor dare to legislate laws that all us should believe in my particular superstitions or be killed or vilified or marginalized for daring to give voice to apostasy. Directing one’s life by these forces I think is a very sad and belittling admission of giving in to superstitious leadership in a world ripe with life-enhancing knowledge.

    • Lana Hope

      It’s interesting, but I believe it’s good that we don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think it should be so widely available that it’s completely obvious. I don’t think that it should be so obvious that we could all shout it from the rooftops. To me, that defeats the purpose of coming to earth and the learning scope of earth. I consider revelation an experience and wasn’t differenciating between the two. I certainly understand that there is a metaphysical leap to it although given experience, I don’t think it’s a blind leap. It’s also possible that the world has no material existence, but probably it does not. In other words, I’m still certain that God exists.

  • http://www.godslittlefeminist.com Katie

    Well said girl! We had a friend over this week who is one of the most confused, manicly (is that a word??) questioning people I have ever come across and a big thing with his whole belief system is denying miracles and existence of the super natural. I would love to show him this post…will try to the next time we have him over. This rings so true and the way you put it is quite simple I think, for many to “get it”…well done!

    • Lana Hope

      I think, Katie, that it will always be hard for people in the modern world because they have not seen miracles, and then simulataneously seen the absence of them. I don’t blame them. It’s a cause to question why this is the case. Perhaps miracles are there, but we’ve suppressed it and come up with natural explanation. Perhaps we never try to pray over the blind. Perhaps it’s a necessary work of God in some countries whereas it’s not needed here. Or perhaps it makes no difference. At any rate, I am totally okay with people not believing in miracle. Why would you believe if you have never seen? But I’ve seen.

      • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

        Lana, you say stuff like “Perhaps miracles are there, but we’ve suppressed it and come up with natural explanation” and assume the conclusion, that miracles are real. I don’t think you’ve really taken the time to understand what this means in terms of understanding how reality itself operates. You are suggesting that it is possible that a blind person can receive or alter physiological changes to restore sight by the intervention of a causal agency. This means that the agency can affect matter. This means it has a mechanism by which to do so that operates with a physical force. Yet there isn’t a shred of evidence for and nothing but evidence against such a physical force, not a shred of evidence for such an undetectable mechanism, not a shred of evidence for the location and activity of such an agency. Your claim is based on nothing but a <i.belief that such an agency exists, using a hidden mechanism, influencing matter by a secret force, and then blaming some nefarious conspiracy to SUPPRESS this supposed evidence. This is equivalent in all ways to delusional thinking, where no matter what evidence we can provide from reality to counter a contrary belief claim, the person continues to inform the belief claim with unjustified confidence.

        For your causal claim to be true (and this what you are indeed proposing: a causal claim) means our knowledge of how reality operates is wrong. It means that this knowledge you use daily and trust with your life is wrong. It means that how reality operates is subject to the intervention of supernatural forces, and you are trying to present this causal claim as if equivalently reasonable and justified as any other. It’s not. It’s superstition in action that stands contrary to knowledge about how reality operates… the same knowledge that informs technologies, applications, and therapies that work for everyone everywhere all the time to be equivalent to some causal agency of supernatural origins but ability to interact in this natural reality. And to back up this causal claim, you try to elevate personal revelation based on feelings of ‘something more’ and interpreted experience as if these justify an equivalent belief in the supernatural as a causal agency. But you’ve explained nothing about reality by making such a claim, and you’ve replaced hard-won knowledge that works consistently and reliably well for everyone to be wrong in support of the possibility that your causal claim might be true. Or, it might not be. And here’s the kicker: HOW can either of us know anything about the supernatural if all it requires to be considered a reasonably justified causal claim is personal revelation and attribution? Any claim made on this basis should be held by you to be reasonably justified, yet you yourself reject almost all of these kinds of claims because you know perfectly well that magic words don’t work, that no agency intervenes when you ask for it to do so, that answers your prayers with equivalent knowledge unavailable by any other means. You know that the epistemology of faith-based beliefs doesn’t produce knowledge of any kind anywhere at any time. This is a powerful clue that your justifications are inadequate. It’s time to recognize this clue and deal with its ramifications to your wishful beliefs once and for all because you’re putting yourself into a position of gullibility and credulousness that will cost not just you but others if followed into the rabbit hole of believing superstitious claims on such a demonstrably broken epistemology.

        • Lana Hope

          I siad I did not want to debate this, so I’m not. Bye

  • Anonymous

    “there are certain experiences which deny the natural and make it harder for me to find a natural reason for their existence.”

    And there are certain experiences which deny the existence of the supernatural.

    “The naturalists will make their own choices”

    It was never a choice for me. If there are gods they’re indifferent, if not actively malevolent. That’s what my experience tells me.

    • Lana Hope

      I can totally respect this because for me, it’s not really been a choice not to believe. For a while I did not want there to be a god, but I could not erase that belief. That said, I believe that to understand we must interpret first, and so their was a choice involves in the worldview I assumed that later dictated that I believe. But certainly there is a valid point in what you said.

  • Mark Nielsen

    Coming from another direction below on this one. Sorry if it distracts, but hope it instead speaks to the idea of subjective experience as relevant, and not _necessarily_ contradictory to empirical/natural activity or evidence. As I read Lana’s post, I was thinking of the song “More Than This” by Peter Gabriel, which I see as his “pro-supernatural” position statement. So let me make a conjecture, a leap of sorts: As a decades-long supporter of Amnesty International, Peter’s acquainted with both objective and subjective “power” at work throughout Africa, including superstition and abuse of political/religious power. This is not automatically something that leads to supernatural explanations of reality. But with songs like this, plus his ongoing conversations with religious, artistic, and intellectual leaders (Archbishop Tutu and the like), I think he advocates a both/and pragmatic approach.

    Give a listen, see what you think. If nothing else, at least you’ll be entertained for five minutes. ——> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Qta5_pY9y0

    • Lana Hope

      Hi, Mark, thanks for the video. Sorry, the comment was caught in spam, but I just approved it.

  • sgl

    i’d be curious to know more how you derive the characteristics of god from the evidence you see for him.

    given that all the different peoples of the world worship different gods in different ways, how does that prove that they’re all the same god in your mind? why does it not prove that there are multiple gods rather than a single god?

    and if each religion gets part of the truth incorrectly, (a common mechanism to be able to say they they all worship the same god ultimately), how does one tell which parts of religion are true and which are false?

    also, if praying for healing causes god to bring back a person’s sight, what does it say about the characteristics of god that he waits until people pray before doing the healing? is god a jealous god or not? does this all powerful being need people to pray first before doing the healing? why?

    do miracle prove the entire bible is inerrant? or prove some of it is? what about what proof it provides for holy texts from other religions?

    the long and short of it from my perspective is, talking about proof of god without talking about which god and what characteristics that god has doesn’t make much sense to me. nice academic exercise but doesn’t tell me much about how to run my life.

    • Lana Hope

      I don’t think miracles proves a Christian god or theism. It does, however, point to the supernatural.

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