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Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIII

Friday, November 21st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and the question of whether religion makes people behave.   There is of course, as Hitchens points out a long list of Christians, to use Hitchens term, misbehaving.  But as I said last time, there are deeper issues here, which while fairly complicated can be summarized by into two areas. The first is just who is a Christian.   The second, is when a Christian misbehaves, are they doing it because of or in spite of their religion.

Concerning the first question, what does it mean to be a Christian.  From a theological point of view this is actually pretty easy, a Christian is anyone who has entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  While easy theologically, is not very helpful here. Only God really knows the heart.  We might have pretty good guesses about some people in history as to whether or not they were actually in a saving relationship with Jesus, but we cannot know.

While less theologically accurate a better definition for this question would be someone whose behavior was influenced by the teaching of Christ. While this initially sounds better, there are still many problems. 

For example what level of influence is enough to be considered a Christian. If someone once heard of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you”  and that sounded good to them so they decided it would govern how they lived their lives, would be enough to  count as Christian?

On the other  hand what about someone who attends church regularly, but more out of convention or tradition then out of any deeply held belief, and the teaching of Christ have little if any actual impact on how they live their life? 

Or what about someone who never attends Church and simply happens to have grown up in a Christian country and is influenced only to the extent that Christian teaching are pervasive in society?  Would a gang member who never attends church, but who wears a cross be considered a Christian?

Even within the church, is a person who seeks and gets church office, not out of any real religious belief, but out of a desire for power, prestige, money, etc, a Christian?  This is an important question because this would describe much of the church hierarchy during the Middle Ages, and the corruption in the church they brought about led to the reformation. 

To see the effect these questions have, lets consider one standard criticism of Christianity, all the atrocities committed by the Christians explorers of the New World.  Of these explores, who were the Christians?  Where they the ones who committed the atrocities frequently out of lust or greed, or were the priests, who wrote home complaining about how the native peoples were being abused and exploited, asking for the king or church or both, to end it. In fact the latter is one of the reasons these atrocities were so well documented.  Was it those seeking to exploit the native peoples, or those who resisted this exploitation, and who sometimes gave their lives trying to protect them?

But none of this seems to matter very much to Hitchens. They can be considered religious, they misbehaved, and the enough for his argument.  In fact in his haste to condemn religion and cast dispersions, he at time drifts into error and confusion, if not counter argument.

For example,  in writing about Islam and slavery, he references the comments of the ambassador of Tripoli to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, referring to the latter  two as “two slaveholders.”   Now it was true that Jefferson did own slaves, but Adams, being from Massachusetts didn’t. Even more confusing, Hitchens said earlier that Jefferson was a deist, which he labels the compromise position before Darwin and Einstein (pg 66) and elsewhere has argued that he may have been an atheist.  So just what was the point of calling these two men “slaveholders.”  Was it just a gratuitous slander?  Was it an attempt to show the hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers, or that American Christianity was no better than Islam?  This is one of the problem with Hitchens.  While it is clear he is attacking and smearing, often it is not always clear how those attacks and smears actually relate to his overall argument, at least in any rational way.

What makes it even more mystifying, is after nearly twelve pages of these examples, he finally comes to his argument, which  he starts by saying that “The first thing to be said is that virtuous behavior by a believer is no proof at all of … the truth of his belief.”  (p. 184-5) This is all well and good and Hitchens is quite correct here. What is mystifying is his following point where he claims, “By the same token, I do not say this if I catch a Buddhist priest stealing all the offerings left by the simple folk at his temple, Buddhism is thereby discredited.” (p. 185)  Oh, really?

The vast majority of his book, is how religious people have acted badly and how this discredits religion.  Remove that component from his book, or the other Neo-Atheist books for that matter, and you are left with very little. We will look at the rest of his argument next time.      

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

Hitchens – God is not Great XIII

Friday, September 5th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Continuing my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God Is Not Great,” I come to Chapter Five where Hitchens asserts that the Metaphysical claims of Religion are False.  He begins the chapter with one of his typically broad attacks, that a Faith that can stand up to reason, “is now plainly impossible.”  In very limited way there is some truth in Hitchens’ claim. Christianity, as a rational system of thought, does have some problems; there are questions for which we do not have completely satisfactory answers.

 

Now while the atheist may pounce on this as evidence that Christianity can’t stand up to reason, it is in reality little more than an admission that Christians do not have all the answers, which is hardly surprising, for nobody has all the answers.  It is just a fact that all major systems of thought have some problems for which they do not have the answer.

 

This is why the atheist’s frequent demands for proof are at their core irrational. There are many problems with the atheist’s demands for proofs, but one is that when comparing major systems of thought to demand proof is absurd for nobody has it.

 

Atheists attempt to avoid this little problem by declaring that they are the default view, and as such don’t need to provide proof, but this is at best a little self-serving. After all a Christian could just as easily declare that Christianity was the default view, and demand that atheist prove their claims.

 

A much more rational approach is to realize that demands for proof are out of place when contrasting world views. Instead of who can prove what, a much better approach is to compare the evidenced pro and con. Instead of who can prove their system, which system of thought has the best explanation.  When this is done Christianity comes off quite well, and in fact I believe, though this is hardly surprising, does the best. This may perhaps be why atheists I have talked to so dogmatically insist on proof.

 

From there Hitchens begins to savage and ridicule believers in the past in his typical fashion which seems founded more in hatred that in reason.  The best that can be said of it is that it is distorted slanting, that is, when it is not straying into the irrational fallacy of ad hominem attack.  It may please the atheist choir, but argues against Hitchens for those seeking a serious rational discussion.

 

But Hitchens does eventually finish his rant and come to a coherent point, which in this case is “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody … had the smallest idea what was going on.”  From which he concludes “All attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule.” (pg 64-5)

 

Well in terms of a scientific understanding of the physical laws of the universe, Hitchens premise is correct. And for those religions with a large and significant focus on the problems of nature, the advancement of science is a significant problem and reconciliation is impossible. 

 

However neither Judaism nor Christianity are focused on these natural problems but on the human condition, how it is broken and particularly in the case of Christianity, how it can be fixed. These are spiritual issues about which science is as silent as the Bible is on quantum mechanics.

 

Some atheists claim that the behavioral sciences have shown that religion is not needed to explain human behavior, but such arguments are based more in the philosophical/religious view call scientism, and on writing off all problems as either not important, or with the atheistic catch all, we figure it out some day.

 

For example, naturalistic science cannot even explain the phenomena of consciousness, or explain how we have free will and some have written these off as illusions. But real problems remain. For example, why are atheists trying to encourage people to abandon their belief in God, if people don’t even have a choice in the matter?  

 

And while Hitchens can point to the absurd beliefs held by Christians in the past, did these beliefs come from Christianity, or from accepting what was the science of their day? Then again, Christians can point to the absurdities of secular belief today, such as the belief that there is no real difference between men and women which is behind much of current secular thought.

 

One of the problems with science is that it frequently confuses ignorance of a subject with a lack of evidence.  For example, science saw no reason for biblical view of sex, therefore it must be false and based on superstition, something Hitchens frequently claims.  This despite all the visible problems of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes and the other problems that are conveniently just ignored.   But now recent studies on the brain are showing the casual sex with multiple partners does have detrimental impact on brain development. (See Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children).

Science may have the best answer for how an apple falls when dropped, but when it comes to issue of good and evil or how we should live our lives, Christianity still have the best answers. Perhaps this is why in studies, religious people are happier.

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

 

Hitchens – God Is Not Great IX

Friday, August 8th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great.” In Chapter Three, Hitchens addresses the question of why Jews and Muslims will not eat pork.  This question does not directly concern Christianity, but the overall discussion deserves some comment.

 

In this short chapter Hitchens quickly disposes of the normal justification for this law, which concerns health, a justification he calls, absurd. Hitchens is correct that the dietary dangers of eating pork, even in ancient times, are at best marginal.  In fact for some of the other prohibited foods, the dangers are non-existent, or at least no different than the dangers of acceptable kosher foods.  So while pointing to health reasons can provide some explanation in some cases, it is not a complete answer, and marginal at best for pork. 

 

Yet Hitchens explanations is hardly any better.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition grew out of a “simultaneous attraction and repulsion” for the pig; that the pig had very human qualities, including taste, that set it apart from other animals.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition followed a night of human sacrifice and cannibalism in which the participants clearly saw the similarities.  As Hitchens puts it, “Nothing optional – from homosexuality to adultery – is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting…have a repressed desire to participate.” (pg 40)

 

This statement is one of those generalized indictments that leaves me with more question than answers.  The claim that there must be a repressed desire to want to make something punishable is hardly any better than the health explanations, i.e. it might explain a few cases but hardly explains them all. Hitchens examples, homosexuality, adultery and then later prostitution, all involve sex, where his explanation is at least possible even if still questionable as this would not even be a good explanation for all sexual prohibitions. Does one really have to have a repressed sexual desire for children to want a child molestation prohibited? 

 

When you move beyond the realm of sexuality, his explanation is even less satisfying. Must one have a repressed desire for theft or murder to want them prohibited?  My guess is that Hitchens would claim that these do not match is initial qualification of “Nothing optional” but this qualification is so vague as to be meaningless.

 

In the end, natural justifications such as those pointing to health benefits or that given by Hitchens miss the point, though I believe that Hitchens unknowingly touches on a much more likely explanation. Hitchens defended the lack of a health hazard in pork, by pointing to those living around the ancient Jews who did eat it, for “ancient Jewish settlements in the land of Canaan can easily be distinguished by archaeologists by the absence of pig bones in their rubbish.”(p. 39) 

 

The Deuteronomy 14, which specifics some of these laws, begin with “You are the children of the LORD…you are a people Holy to the LORD your God.” The ancient Jews were God’s people Holy or set apart from those around them. This was the primary reason for the dietary laws, which included the prohibition on eating pork.  Of course there is the secondary question as to why individual items such as pork were on the list or while beef was not. But we should keep clear that this is a secondary question. Sometimes we can see possible reasons why particular items were or were not prohibited in either health, or the religious practices of other groups. But we must be careful not to focus on these secondary reasons to the point that we neglect the primary reason. 

 

There is a tendency when defending the Bible to fall into trap of accepting the assumptions of the critics, and thereby seeking natural explanation for things that are inherently spiritual, as if without a natural justification, a commandment must be nothing more than an irrational superstition. The dietary laws are then explained as health oriented for a time before modern medicine and refrigerators. As health oriented we can ignore them, since the need has passed.

 

Such reasoning is very convenient for Christians, since because of the teaching of the New Testament, we don’t have to follow the dietary laws in any event. But again this is to focus only on the secondary reason, not the primary, which is to be set apart for God.

 

Non-Jews may look at the distinctive aspects of Judaism, such as the dietary laws and say that they are old legalisms, or even superstitions, but they have performed a very important function: they have kept the Jewish people set apart for over 3000 years, which just happen to be exactly what God said they were for.

 

As Christians we are children of God. While we do not need to follow the dietary laws, we are still called to be holy, to be set apart for God (1 Pet 1:15).  Today the church seems more aimed at fitting in and keeping up with the culture, and to some extent this is a good thing, for we have a living faith and worships a living God.  If we are Holy, that is set apart, for God, what is it that sets us apart? It cannot just be our eternal destination, for we are called to live Holy lives now. So what is it that sets you apart?

 

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

 

Hitchens – God Is Not Great VII

Friday, July 25th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” we have finally reached chapter two. This is one of the problems with the Neo-atheists, as there are so many blatant errors and problems in their writings and with their arguments that even just picking out just some of the most obvious ones takes many posts. There were for example many more problems in Chapter one that I easily could have addressed, but I have decided to move one and will attempt to pick up the pace a bit with the hopes of one day finishing.

Hitchens begins this chapter asking why the belief in “infinitely benign and all-powerful creator” (pg 15) who watches over and cares for us, and who has prepared eternity for those who obey him, does not make believers happy? He goes on to state that, “religion does not, and in the long run cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims and sublime assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths.” (pg 17) His prime example for this was Mother Teresa actions against a change in Irish Law to allow divorce.

To Hitchens and the other neo-atheists, no doubt this is a powerful and devastating indictment of religion. My reaction, on the other hand, is more along the lines of shaking my head and saying, so many errors, so little time.

Let’s start with Hitchens’ question about happiness. The simple fact is that believers are, as a general rule happier, as many polls have demonstrated. For example, an extensive survey of teenagers and young adults last year found that those who said that religion or spirituality was the most important thing in their lives were a third more likely to be happy than those for whom it was not important. So the premise of Hitchens argument is just false and the question we should be asking is why are so many of those who reject God unhappy? But I suspect the answer to this question would not support Hitchens as well.

Hitchens’ broader claim about interfering with the lives of nonbelievers is not so clear cut, though his prime example reveals some significant problems with his reasoning. Now it is certainly true, that Christians have at times interfered with the lives of non-believers. But this is not the black and white question implied by Hitchens.

While Hitchens points to negative examples of such interference to bolster his case, what about the positive examples? What about those Christians who felt compelled to interfere in the slave trade because they believed it to be immoral? What about those Christians today who feel compelled to interfere for the poor, the sick, and the persecuted around the world? Would the world really be a better place if Christians just closed their eyes to such suffering, as not any of their business? Would the world really be a better place if, instead of vigorously fighting to end the slave trade, William Wilberforce had adopted the secular motto of “who am I to judge”?

Just as Christians tend to be happier than atheists, numerous polls also show that Christians are more charitable as well. For example, the United States is not only more religious than Europe; it is the most charitable country in the world; and not only in total dollars, but in percentage of Gross National Product as well. In fact, the US gave more than twice as much as percentage of GNP than its closest competitor, England, and more than ten times than the far more secular France.

Even if you factor in Government “contributions,” in addition charitable giving by individuals, the US still gives nearly 50 percent more than England, and over twice as much as France. This difference between secular vs. religious giving continues within the United States as well, as states where religion is strong and important tend to out give the more secular states.

So while Hitchens bemoans interference, it is often good and to be commended rather than attacked. Even his example of Mother Teresa opposing a change in divorce law is problematic, though not surprising. I have frequently been told by secular opponents that my position on this or that political issue is invalid because it is “religious.” Carried to its logical conclusion such reasoning would make Christians and other people of faith second class citizens, whose very participation in the democratic process was suspect.

It would seem that for many secularists in democracy people are free to enact the social policies they want, just as long as those social policies cannot in any way be considered religious. Hitchens suggest that the Catholics could continue to follow their church’s teaching on divorce without “imposing them on all other citizens.” In other words, do what you want, but keep your religious noses out of social policy, that is for us secularist to determine based on what we think our reason tells us at any given moment.

Of course if the secularist were correct, one could just as easily ask why even have a Government policy on divorce or marriage at all. Just let everyone do whatever they want, for as soon as you have any policy at all, someone will not like it. While secularist I have talked to object to such counterarguments, when you look at the social trends and recent court rulings, that seems to be exactly where we are headed.

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

Rational Evil II

Friday, June 6th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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This week I continue my discussion of the development of secular thought following the holocaust. To briefly summarize, the Holocaust had its roots in the attempt to apply the principles of evolution to society, from which the sciences of Social Darwinism and Eugenics flowed.  These new sciences were rightly rejected following the holocaust because the results they produced conflicted with Human Rights, a concept grounded in the belief that we were created by God and are equal in his eyes.

 

As society became more secular the religious foundations of Human rights was abandoned and equal in God’s eyes became merely equal; but such an undefined equality is threatened by our clear individuality, which is defined by our differences. This attempt to maintain Human Rights in a secular worldview defined by evolution has resulted in a number of competing, and at times contradictory, lines of thought.

 

The first has been that since differences pose such a danger, their existence is simply denied, or at least relegated to insignificance. In short, despite any differences, we are all really the same, and therefore since we are the same, we are all equal. A whole range of absurdities have flowed from this intellectual strategy, not the least of which is the belief that there is no difference between men and women.

 

While historically women have not had equal status in virtually any society, that seems to have come from the importance of strength in early cultures and the role it played in survival, and from the fact that in general men are stronger than women.  It did not come from the religious teachings of the Bible, but ran contrary to it. Starting in the first chapter of Genesis, God has made it clear that He views men and women as equal, and both are created in his image.   As Genesis 1:27 says,

So God created mankind in his own image;

in his own image God created him;

male and female he created them.
                                                           (ISV)

In the New Testament, Paul also makes this explicitly clear. “Because all of you are one in the Messiah Jesus, a person is no longer a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a male or a female.”  (Galatians  3:28 ISV)

 

Men and women have different strengths and different weakness. They react to things differently, and have different natures. But despite all of our differences, men and women are equal it the place that it matters most, in the eyes of God. Human nature being what it is, this core equality has not, and in some places today is not, always recognized, but where and when it has been, it has not been contrary too, but in line with, Biblical teaching.

 

But as equal in God’s eyes, became merely equal, this equality was difficult to maintain given all the clear differences. Something had to go, and since equality was needed for human rights, even though the differences are pretty clear to most, not to mention common sense, they were simply denied.

 

But then common sense was one of the first things that had to be tossed out, if one is going to maintain equality among differences that are clearly not equal. So common sense was rejected as unscientific and untrustworthy. In its place was the study. In fact I have heard more than one college professor say that they won’t believe anything unless there is a study to support it.

 

Such thinking, (or unthinking as the case may be) has been very convenient for secularist as the results of studies are very strongly influenced by what questions researchers seek answers to.  There are pros and cons to most things. Look for the pros of any given issue and you can probably find supporting evidence.  Look for the cons, and you can find negative evidence.  Thus what “the research” states for any given issue will be strongly influenced by what questions the researchers are asking.

 

Another factor for men and women being the same was that it was so taken for granted, that it had not really been studied. Thus through a mixture of scientific mumbo-jumbo, and an absence studies showing they were different, men and women were proclaimed to be the same. 

 

This thinking so strongly influenced people that parents began giving their boys dolls, and their little girls trucks.  Distinctions in clothing began to disappear as did any distinction in roles.  Those who tried to point out differences were shouted down as sexists.

 

Of course the problem is that men and women are different, not just in their biology, but in their natures.  But the belief that men and women are the same still remain entrenched in many universities and still has a strong influence over social policy, as for example in the same sex marriage debate.

 

It has been one of the ironies that while we were supposedly throwing off the chains of sexual repression so as to allow boys and girls to be what they wanted to be, society was at the same time very strongly pushing them to be something they were not: the same.  The result has been untold unhappiness and pain.

 

But this was not the only absurdity to develop out of the post WWII secularist attempt to maintain human rights apart from God. Next week I look at a different approach that has also led not only to absurdity, but also to unhappiness and pain.

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

Hitchens – God Is Not Great III

Friday, May 9th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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This week I return to my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” Similar to Dawkins and Harris, serious problems abound in the early pages of the Hitchens’ book. Many are simply statements of personal opinion with at best questionable background or support, such as his claims that “Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble, or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism.” (p 7)

 

Other statements go straight to the heart of Hitchens critique. An example of the latter can be found in his claim that “the believer still claims to know! Not just to know, but to know everything.”(Author’s emphasis) This would be a valid criticism if it were true.  But it is not. In fact not only does this fail as an accurate description of religion in general, or even of Christianity in specific, it would be hard to find believers who would actually make this claim.

 

Now a few paragraphs later, Hitchens does qualify this statement somewhat, by restating this criticism as “the sheer arrogance to tell us that we already have the essential information we need.” 

 

While this is a somewhat more defendable statement, its open ended nature, and the general context of the discussion leads to the conclusion that Hitchens is still referring to essential information about everything. 

 

One problem with this restatement is that “essential” is a somewhat relative term as there are many degrees of essential.  Ask someone what essential knowledge is to live in the United States, and you will likely get completely different answers than if you ask someone who lives in a third world country. Essential knowledge for one, such as how to grow food or find it in the wild, may be completely irrelevant for someone who buys their food at a market.

 

Yet, if one tries to provide some definition to Hitchens’ use of “essential knowledge” either his argument disappears, or the definition is invalid.  If “essential knowledge” is defined as the knowledge needed for our relationship with God, then I would say that this not only applies to Christianity, but that it has a biblical warrant.  Jude 3 speaks of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  In the Bible we have all the knowledge that we need for our relationship with God. But even here, there are few Christians that would say that we know everything there is to know about the Bible.

 

But a view of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders Hitchens’ argument somewhat empty, has he spends a great deal of time contrasting this belief in “essential knowledge” with all that we have learned in science.  While we have learned a lot with science, Hitchens would hardly argue that a more detailed understanding of Gravity or knowledge of quantum mechanics is needed for salvation. Thus an understanding of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders his argument a non-sequitur.

 

Hitchens needs believers claiming to know everything about everything because it justifies what would otherwise be a major inconsistency in his argument.  Hitchens is highly critical of the pre-scientific beliefs of early believers and he sees this as a reason why religion as a whole is to be rejected today.  For example he says “Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman [may have] been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and will be no more of them tomorrow.”(p 7)

 

Yet when it comes to atheists, such erroneous beliefs are explained away by Hitchens, for earlier atheists were “great and fallible imaginative essayists.”  Atheists don’t claim to know everything about everything, so it is ok if they made mistakes in the past, as that is part of the learning process.

 

This distorted view of religion can be seen in much of Hitchens’ criticisms, such as when he asks “How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities?” (p 7) 

 

Though I would drop the slanting found in words such as “needless” and “contortion,” pretty much the same could be asked of atheism. Just look at the assumptions and efforts they go through trying to explain how life started, some even going to the point of arguing that life was brought to earth by aliens from another planet. 

 

The history of Christianity can be seen as a people striving to come to a better understanding of, and relationship with, God.  This journey has been full of missteps and even back steps, of wrong turns and dead ends, but on the whole has been marked by a better understanding; and the fruits of this have been seen in what I would argue have been great advancement made by society that came out of Christianity, from the birth of modern science, to the origin of Human Rights, from end of slavery, to the advancement of civil rights.

 

Throughout the world Christians working through their churches are ministering to those in need, not only in their local communities, but around the world. They have been, and continue to be a tremendous force for good.

 

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

A Faith Based on Fact

Friday, May 2nd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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I was recently asked about the tag line of this ministry, “A Faith Based on Fact.”   To some these concepts are mutually exclusive. If you are relying on facts then you don’t have faith, if you have faith, there can be no facts. So why do I claim a faith based on fact.

Let me first define my terms. While a precise and full definition would be quite involved, in general, facts are simply those things that can easily be determined to be true.  For example, that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States would be a fact.

In the book of Hebrews faith is defined as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1-3).  The author then proceeds to give a series of examples of faith from those in the Old Testament. These examples all have the same general pattern, by faith someone did something.  For example in verse seven we read, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”  For Noah, that God warned him was a fact because he had experienced it himself. Noah’s faith was not in the certain knowledge that God had warned him, or even in the mere act of believing the warning. Faith was in the fact that he trusted what God said enough to act upon it. He built the Ark.

 

A belief that does not lead to action is not a saving faith. If someone believes that a bridge is strong enough to support them, but still is too scared to cross it, then they do not really have faith in the bridge. A person who believes in Jesus Christ, but does not trust him enough to follow him, does not really have faith. This is what James is referring to when he says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

 

This is not to say that we are saved by our works.  We are not. But it does say that without works there is no saving faith.  This is like a car’s exhaust.  It would be silly to say that the exhaust is what powers a car. But if there is no exhaust the engine is not running and the car is going nowhere.  A living faith powered by the Holy Spirit, will produce works, just like a running car will produce exhaust.

 

What God is concerned with is that we have faith, that we do trust him enough to live our life based on what he has said and that we act according to his will. Why we have faith is not really that important. Thus for the most part, why the Old Testament Saints had faith is not mentioned in Hebrews 11.  One exception to this is Abraham’s faith in sacrificing his son, for in verse 19 we read that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.”  This shows that faith can not only be based on facts, but on reason as well.

 

So what then do I mean when I say that Christianity is a faith based on fact?  I mean that there are a whole range of facts upon which our faith is based. It is not a blind faith, where one must flip a coin to see whether or not it is true, but a faith that can be investigated and tested, at least to some extent.  

Few would question that a major foundation for Christianity is the Bible. But why should we trust the Bible? I would argue, and have done so in my books such as Evidence for the Bible  that there are plenty of facts, upon which to base our faith in the Bible.

 

For example, it is just a fact that most of the cities mentioned in the Bible existed and their locations are known. In fact many of the persons, places, events, and things mentioned in the Bible are established facts. We know for example that Nebuchadnezzar, did in fact conquer Judea and took many of the Jews back to Babylon. This is not to say that everything in the Bible has been confirmed to be accurate and true, but it does provide a basis of fact upon which our faith in the Bible is based. 

 

In contrast, compare this to other religious texts.  Most are purely theological in basis and as such there is no history to compare with.  A book that makes historical claims similar to those of the Bible would be the Book of Mormon, which purports to describe the history of Jews who traveled to the Americas. Yet unlike the Bible, not a single New World person, place, event, or thing mentioned in the Book of Mormon has ever been found. With the Bible as our knowledge of early history has grown, so has the confirmations of the reliability of the Bible.  Yet for the Book of Mormon, as our knowledge of early Central America has grown, the possibly that the Book of Mormon contains any actual history has correspondingly diminished.

 

There are solid reasons to believe Bible is the Word of God. That its message of Jesus Christ, his ministry, his death, burial and resurrection is historical. It is a message of salvation that we can not only believe in, but have faith in.

 

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

Testimony V

Friday, April 25th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Last time I described how I learned about Mormonism, and how, after a long period of discussions the Missionaries had suggested that I try prayer and fasting.   As I said, I failed miserably, but they were nice about it and suggested that I try again. And again I agreed.

This time I took it more seriously.  Working on Minuteman missiles does not have a regular work week, so I picked a time where I could devote my three days to prayer and fasting. This time things went a lot better.  As I approached the end the fast, I found it was a much more positive experience than my first attempt because I was not rebelling against it. 

I was reading the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not the result of works, that no one should boast.”  That is when it happened. God spoke to my heart again, as clear if not clearer than the first time. 

The best way to describe it is to imagine yourself in a darken room.  Your eyes have adjusted and you think you can see everything pretty clearly, and pretty much know what is around you.  Then somebody comes in and turns on the light.  Suddenly you can see clearly and you realize that nothing is what you thought it was. 

This is what happened to me, the Holy Spirit turned on the light, and suddenly I could see clearly. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not the result of works, that no one should boast.” Suddenly in the light of the Holy Spirit, those words were very clear.

Just as the Holy Spirit had touched my heart to confirming that God existed, He touched my heart to show me that the Bible was the word of God.  Also in that instant I knew that Joseph Smith was not a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon was not God’s word.  God had answered my prayer. It was at that moment that I accepted the gift of God spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9;  I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. 

Being the sort of person I am, when the Missionaries returned to see how my prayer and fasting had gone, I did literally tell them, “I have good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I had an answer to my prayer.  The bad news is that it was not the one that you wanted.” 

So we sat down and I began to describe what had happened. Quickly the discussion turned to salvation by grace.  Starting from Eph 2:8-9  we began to discuss the Biblical plan of salvation. Mormonism teaches that grace comes into play only after you have worked; that grace sort of makes up the difference between your works and what you need to be saved, but that the works are required for salvation.  This conflicted with Eph which say that salvation is not of works, but by grace through faith. 

The discussion lasted several hours.  Eventually we came back to Eph 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith” One of the Missionaries said “Yes, that is what we believe!”  But I said that it wasn’t and picked up one of the books he had loaned me on the writings of their prophets.  I read him the statement of a Mormon prophet that the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith came out of the pit of hell.  He got very quiet, and the discussion ended a short time later. 

He was transferred out of the area later that week, which is what can happen when a missionary gets into spiritual or moral trouble, and I never saw him again. However, though a very strange coincidence I was talking to a friend of mine just after this and he mentioned how his wife was depressed because her brother was suddenly transferred.  It turns out her brother had been the missionary, and I was able to get his new address, and wrote him a long letter.

Not too long after this my enlistment was up and I returned to California, losing contact with those who had played such an important role in my spiritual life.

In some respects my spiritual odyssey was over. I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had finally become a Christian.  A week after my conversion, I led my wife to the Lord.  But in many respects this was not the end of my journey, but the beginning.   While I had accepted the Lord as my savior, there was still a lot of baggage left over from my life to that point that had to be dealt with.  There were also issues such as finding a church to attend, as clearly continuing to attend the Mormon Church was not an option.

And while I have clearly come a long way since first becoming a Christian, I certainly wouldn’t say I have yet reached my destination of really knowing God and really seeking to follow him. That is, quite literally, I believe, an eternal process.  But through it all two things remain constant: God is not done with me, and He is very patient.

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

Testimony IV

Friday, April 18th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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My first exposure to Mormonism occurred fairly early in my odyssey to find God, during the period that I was exploring the New Age Movement.  While on a trip that took my wife and me through Salt Lake City, we decided to stop at the Mormon Temple.  The visitors’ center was very nice and did a very good job of explaining the origin of this religion.

I have to say that the story of Joseph Smith struggling with how to determine which religion was true; his asking God for guidance; and how God answered his prayer struck a cord with me, as at that point, it had only been a few months after my answer to pray, that God existed.  In addition, the whole story of the corruption of Christianity and the Bible, the aspects of secret knowledge, the history of central America as revealed in the Book of Mormon, and the account of how the book of Mormon was written on Golden plates that were discovered by Smith, fit in well with where I was at the time, as criticism of Orthodox Christianity, secret knowledge, and different views of history were very common in the New Age Movement.  And after all where would a poor boy get all that Gold.

As such toward the end of the tour, I was beginning to think that the trip to the Temple was more than a spur of the moment stop, but that perhaps I had been guided here.   However, that did not last long as near the end of the tour, someone asked where the golden plates were now, and we were told that they had been taken up into heaven.  That just seemed all too convenient to my sense of evidence.  The one thing that really would have supported his claims, the one thing that he really could not have faked, was gone and could no longer be check. So as we left Salt Lake City to continue on our trip, while we had a generally positive view of Mormonism, the missing gold plates caused me to question all of their claims.

My next encounter with Mormonism occurred while I was at Tech school in the Air Force.  There was no base housing for married people at my rank, so my wife and I lived in a rented small single wide trailer, in Rantoul Il. We became friends with Dean and Nancy, another young couple at the trailer park, as Dean was also in Tech school.  After Tech school I was transferred to Great Falls, Mt to work on the minuteman missiles, as was Dean, though after awhile he left to become and officer.  During the time we knew them, we learned a lot about Mormonism, not in a theological sense, but from watching a couple live out their faith.

Last time I described my eventual disillusionment with the New Age Movement, and my discussion with Christians, including a key one with an officer. From time to time during this period we had some contact with Mormons, either through friends at work, or missionaries stopping by. But not much came of it, until shortly after my meeting with the officer. I was for the first time giving Christianity serious consideration.  I am not sure whether the missionaries just stopped by, or were if a Mormon friend at work offered to have them stop by, but they did start visiting our house on a regular basis.

They started by going through their normal presentation, but I pretty much already knew all of that, so before long we were into my specific issues and problems. Some of these dealt with Mormonism, but most dealt with more general problems of God, good and evil, and salvation. In fact after a while Mormonism ceased to be an issue at all.

At some point my wife and I started attending the Mormon Church and my wife became involved in church’s Relief Society a Mormon women’s group. In fact, except for the fact that I could not go to the priesthood meeting, we were effectively in the church.  We did not officially join because I never received and answer to prayer that the Mormons say you should have.  As I described in part one, I had had a clear answer to prayer before and thus knew what an answer to prayer was.

After awhile, the Missionaries became more friends than missionaries, sometimes just stopping by just to talk, or to bring me a new book to read and I read a lot, not just the Book of Mormon and the Bible, but the Mormon prophets, writers, and books on thing like the Mormon view of archeology of Central America.

After many months, I think the Missionaries were getting some pressure to get me to make a decision.  One day they suggested that I try three days of prayer and fasting, and I agreed.   However, I had never fasted before and failed miserably. Rather than focusing on prayer, all I could think about was food and how many hours or minutes I had left before I could eat again.

But the missionaries were pretty good about it and suggested that I try again. And once again, I agreed.  Next Time I’ll describe how God, once again answered my prayers.

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

Testimony III

Friday, April 11th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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I left off last time explaining how I had become increasingly dissatisfied with my exploration of the New Age movement, but I had picked up a whole range of arguments against Christianity, some from reading critics, others from the critical scholars I had read, mistakenly believing I was reading the other side, and a few I had come up with on my own.

I had also gotten married and joined the Air Force.  After Tech school, I worked on Minuteman missiles which brought me in contact with a lot of different people.  Minuteman missiles were scattered across the country side, and so to work on them involved a lot of drive time.  My team member and I would load up a truck, pick up a guard and drive out to the missile site, driving 1-2 hours each way on average. As a result, there was plenty of time to talk.

Most of the time the discussion was on more mundane topics such as sports, but from time to time I we would get a guard who was a Christian and the talk would turn to religion.  When that happened often the sparks would fly.

Few of the Christians I would talk to actually knew very much about the Bible other than citing a few verses they had memorized.  When I would point out the contradictions  or problems from the list I had made, for the most part they had never even heard of these potential problems, much less did they have any answers, other than to say that the Bible was the word of God and was to be believed despite what might seem to be problems.

All of this reinforced my belief in the error of Christianity, as it seemed a faith one could believe in only if one did not look too close, or ask too many question.

Still, from time to time I would come across a Christian who knew something about their faith and the Bible.  I would run down my list of potential problems, and they would actually have an answer that could stand up to my questioning.  When that happened I was never too concerned, as there were many more items on my list and I would simply move to the next item.

When someone did raise a serious objection to one of the things on my list, however, it would tend to stick with me, and I would seek a way around it.  While sometimes I would find some weaknesses in their proposed solution, there were also times when I had to admit, if only to myself later, that they had a point, and my alleged problem was not really a problem after all.

As a result, over time, my list of problems and contradictions got smaller and smaller.  In addition two other things happened.  First, with each problem dealt with, the credibility of the critics correspondingly suffered.  After all, if the critics were wrong on these alleged problems and contradictions in the Bible, perhaps they were wrong on the others as well.  Second, my diminishing list of errors was being replaced by a growing respect for the reliability of the Bible. I did not yet believe the Bible was the word of God, but I could no longer write it off as simply a collection of myths and legends either.

It was at about this point in my odyssey, that I had one of the more significant of these discussions.  I think this was the only time we had this particular guard, and unfortunately his name has long since been forgotten.  He was different than many of the other Christians I had met in the way he listened to my challenges without any confrontation in his responses. It was not that he knew how answer my remaining challenges all that much, but he did do something, none of the others did.  He offered to set up a meeting with someone who he said could better answer my questions and I agreed.

This someone was an officer at the base, and we talked for several hours one evening. I explained my spiritual journey to that point and we talked about some the remaining problems I saw with Christianity and the Bible. He was able to provide some answers. On a few others, such as why would a loving god allow evil, I was not convinced.  But he did show me a different side of Christianity even when his answers were not completely satisfying.  He showed me that Christianity and the Bible were something an intelligent thinking person could take seriously.   Even if I did not agree with him, I had to respect him, as someone who had thought seriously about his faith.

When I left that evening, he encouraged me to continue my journey and seemed oddly sure and confident as to where that journey would lead me even if I had not reached it yet.

And I hadn’t.  In fact I still had a ways to go, and strangely enough, my path would next take me to the Mormons.  More next time.

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