March 2008
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Elgin’s Books


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  • Archive for March, 2008

    Testimony Part I

    Friday, March 28th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    I was recently asked about how I came to Christ and after writing a brief summary was asked for more details. So here goes. I reached my teenage years as a fairly committed atheist. My family was at best nominally Christian, and church played virtually no role in my childhood. In fact, the only time I can remember going to church was, when as a Cub Scout, I need to attend once to get a merit badge.

    Now perhaps I was sheltered, but I never received any of the harsh treatment the neo-atheist now claim befalls atheists to silence them. Sure people would disagree when I would express my atheism but that was about it. Some would try to tell me that I was not really an atheist, but rather an agnostic. But rather than feel threaten by such challenges, I would simply point out that I knew the difference. I was not claiming a lack of knowledge about God’s existence, but rather that God did not exist. I was an atheist.

    But then truth has always been very important to me, and I have never been afraid to explore ideas, even controversial ideas and ideas that are out of the mainstream.

    The roots of my atheist were not in any problem or bad experiences with religion, or any serious thought through position. Frankly I knew very little about religion. Nor was there anyone in particular who “led me astray.” Somewhere I did pick up a general rejection of Christianity, but that may very well have been because it was the most visible religion and thus suffered the most from my general rejection of religion.

    Instead my atheism was more an expression of my interest in and love of science. This was the 1960s when science and technological advancements were still seen as positive developments that were improving life rather than threatening the environment, though that was beginning to creep in. Early in the decade my father as stationed at Vandenberg AFB in California, which is the west coast site for launching missiles and I loved watching the missiles go up. Not too surprisingly I was very interested in the Space program, and 2001 A Space Odyssey was my favorite movie.

    For me God was simply what people believed in before science. Religion was simply and outgrowth of the belief in God. I do remember at some point saying the Atheists prayer – God if you are there show me. But that is about as far as it went. While I was an atheist, it was not that big of a deal with me, so I did not spend a lot of time on religion, it was not true, and therefore was a waste time.

    Exactly when I changed from an atheist to theist is unknown to me, and since I don’t know when, I also cannot say how. But I do remember very clearly when I realized I believed in God, as it came as somewhat of a shock. I was driving west-bound on I-10 between Redlands and Loma Linda CA. It was a beautify day with bright sunshine and billowing white clouds. I don’t remember date, but given the weather and the lack of smog, my guess is that it was the spring time in 1974. I was praying to God, when it suddenly stuck me what I was doing. I was praying to God. Not some abstract prayer, not some just-in-case-you-are-there prayer, but a real sincere prayer. That’s when I realized that I believed in God, and like I said it was a shock.

    Almost simultaneously with this realization something else happened, something that I really cannot put into words. What I now know to be the Holy Spirit let me know that this was an answer to my prayer about whether God existed. This was for me clearly a spiritual experience. It was not just a change of opinion; it was an answer to prayer where God touched my heart.

    Thus this was a double shock, for not only did I realize that I had ceased to be an atheist, I now believed in God, a God who was more than an intellectual concept, but real presence, a God who answer prayer.

    My first response was to tell God that I wanted to follow him. But I still had a long way to go for I can remember praying “Show me how to follow you, show me the true way, don’t bother with Christianity, I know it is false. I want to really follow you.”

    Looking back now I can see that I still needed a lot of work. While I saw God as a personal God who did answer prayers, my idea of ‘salvation’ was more a spiritual evolution toward the truth. And while my view of God had changed, my view of Religion had not. I still saw a distinction between science and religion with science being clearly on the side of truth, which by default placed religion on the side of errors.

    So I set off on my odyssey to find the true way to follow God by going in exactly the wrong direction. Thankfully God was not done with me and thankfully He is patient. More next time.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great II

    Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week in my review of Christopher Hitchens, “God is not Great,” I will look at what Hitchens calls the “four irreducible objections to religious faith.” According to him religious faith “wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.” (p 4)

    One immediate objection to these objections, is that Hitchens is committing a mistake common to so many atheist critiques, which is that these objections don’t really apply to religion as a general concept for religion is simply too diverse. They really apply mainly to Christianity. But casting them in terms of religion in general allows the atheist to talk of the problems of one religion as if they apply to all religions.

    Frankly, it is hard to apply them even to all of Christianity. For example, Hitchens first objection is that religious faith misrepresent the origins of man and the cosmos. Yet within Christianity, there is a whole range of opinions on origins, from a special creation in 7 days all the way to views that are virtually indistinguishable from those held by Hitchens, except that they would ultimately say that God was behind it all.

    Now perhaps Hitchens considers merely attributing the origin of man and the Cosmos to God as objectionable, but even here there are problems. One huge problem is that scientist can’t explain the origins of man or the cosmos, and as I describe in my book Evidence for the Bible there are serious problems explaining how the process started in the first place.

    Similar problems apply to his second objection, that religion combines “the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism.” Frankly it is not even clear how this really applies to Christianity, much less religion in general. Granted the NT does teach that we are servants of Christ, but I find this hard to square with Hitchens’ claim that this is the maximum of servility as our position is also the Children of God who can say of God “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:15-16) As for his claim that religion is at the same time, the maximum of solipsism, or extreme egocentrism, this is a complete mystery. One could try to guess at what he means, but an argument that has to be guessed at is hardly a cogent one.

    Hitchens third objection is “that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression.” Again his one size fits all objection, hardly fits at all. After all can one really describe some of the other first century religions whose worships centered around visits to the temple prostitute, as sexually repressed? Sure, an over regulation of sex has been a feature of some religions, and some forms of Christianity, but some is not all.

    There is also the problem that what constitutes sexual repression is somewhat of a relative concept. For some any restrictions on sex is “sexual repression.” Is saying that sex should be restricted to the confines of marriage, sexual repression? We are certainly seeing the results of 40 years of sexual freedom, and they are not good. The breaking of the link between sex and marriage, has resulted in a huge increase in single parent households and the problems they bring. And often it is the children who often suffer the most.

    Contrary to the modern myths, men and women are different, and sex can have consequences. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control released this week, one in four teenagers, aged 14–19 has at least one sexually transmitted disease. In African-American girls the rate is 50%. And the study did not even include all sexually transmitted diseases. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun “There are 19 million sexually transmitted diseases in the United States – costing the health care system $15 billion a year – and almost half occur among the 14 to 25 age group.” And this is with modern medicine, antibiotics, and birth control. Given all these problems and we have only mentioned a couple, is it really all that unreasonable to think that when God said that sex should be only between a husband and wife, that perhaps he was not just trying to be a killjoy, but perhaps he really did have our best interests in mind?

    Hitchens fourth objection is that religious faith is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. There is a rational problem with considering this an objection to religious faith, because it tends to be circular. The purpose of Hitchens objections is to say that religious false. But to say something is grounded on wish-thinking is to say that something is false. Thus, Hitchens is basically saying that religious faith is false, because it is false which is a circular argument and thus irrational.

    So Hitchens four irreducible objections to religious faith, are hardly even sound objections to religious faith in general, much less Christianity in particular. That he sees them as some insight into religion is sad.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God is not Great I

    Friday, March 7th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    This week I begin my review of Christopher Hitchens, “God is not Great,” the third of the big three in the current crop of atheist books. In some respects, Hitchens’ offering is much better as it seems to have a deeper understanding of religion, than Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith, or Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion”, but it is much more uneven as serious argument is suddenly marred by outbursts that are little more than cheap shots, hatred and at times bigotry.

    Still Hitchens arguments, while often better stated, share many of the same problems I have already discussed in my reviews of Harris’ and Dawkins’ books. For example, early on in chapter One Hitchens attempts to describe what atheism is, or at least, what it is not.

    “Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason… we do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning “punctuated evolution” and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.” (pg 5)

    Now there are several problems is this passage. First I have to admit that I find this somewhat amusing for a rather abstract reason. At various times in the history of Christianity something referred to as negative theology has been popular. Negative theology is the attempt to describe God by saying what he is not, as in statements such as God is not a created being. One of the criticisms of negative theology is that such negations ultimately say very little if anything. Which is somewhat how I felt after reading Hitchens definition of atheism; as the more I read it, the less it seemed to say.

    And this goes to the heart of one of the problems with atheists’ arguments. If Hitchens’ definition above is read very strictly, it says little more than that there is no organization in atheist belief and that while they may share some things in common there really is no such thing as atheism. For example, I have had many self-proclaimed atheist say that they rely solely on science and reason. But this flatly contradicts Hitchens’ negative definition of atheism. So are these people atheists?

    But that is the thing about atheists, while they believe that the religious are a coherent group where anyone who is religious must defend anything ever done by anyone else who was religious, whatever their motive, or how nominal their belief, atheism on the other hand is not a group, or as Hitchens put it, not a belief or faith. They as atheists never have to defend what others atheists have done, unless of course they like what they did, then they can claim it as an expression of atheism.

    You can see this in his claim that a “proper statistical inquiry” would find that “the faithful” commit more crimes of greed or violence than atheists. If “the faithful” is defined broad enough, and “atheist” narrow enough, I have no doubt that this would be true, but it would only be as valid as the definitions. The recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey claims that 78.4% of Americans are Christians and 89.7% are religious, while only 10.3% are secular, with only 1.6% claiming to be Atheists.

    Given these statistics I am sure that the nearly 90% who are religious would have a higher rate of violent criminality than the 1.6% who are atheists. But, I am also sure that most pastors would be happy if just everyone who attended Church regularly, about half of those who claim to be religious, were fully committed to serving the Lord. But most atheist lump all believers from all religious beliefs together as if they were the same.

    As for his statement that “we do not hold our convictions dogmatically” such claims are often only in the eye of the beholder. One only has to point out one of the many problems with evolution, to an atheist to see a display of dogmatism in action.

    In addition, as I point out in my book, Christianity and Secularism, everyone has beliefs that ultimate must depend on faith to some extent. This includes atheists. So while atheists like to portray themselves as driven by reason and evidence while theist are driven by dogmatism and faith, such a view is not only self-serving, but false.

    There are quite large difference among Christians on a whole range of issues such as was the earth created in 7 literal days less than 10,000 years ago, or is the earth billions of years old? Even Christians who believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, can be found on both sides of this question, and contrary to Hitchens implications, most get along quite nicely, often worshipping together.

    Sure if one judges all religions and all followers as essentially the same, and focuses on the worst actions of the followers of religion, then religion comes off pretty bad. But then if you focus only on the negative, anything can be rejected. But if one looks at the larger picture, weight both the pros and cons, the picture is nowhere near as bad as Hitchens tries to paint it, and in fact Christianity come off quite well.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.