It's too hard to give a rundown on the intellectual issues that I had to work through at that time. I fancied myself an existentialist, but it was probably just an undergraduate thing. My knowledge of it was pretty superficial. That's what's so funny about many skeptics who make all these claims about Christians not thinking, because even though I read and thought avidly before, I learned a lot more about philsophy and gained more of a dedication to getting it right and being scholarly after--but that may be due to age more than religion.I guess the three main issues that I was concerned about at that time were:
1) the historicity of the Bible, especially in light of my researches.
2) the justice of God; hell and pain in life, ect.
3) and the hypocracy of the Chruch; all the devilment it has caused throughout history.
These were not mere excuses not to believe they were real impediments to belief. I had stated on a number of occasions that I could never be a Chrsitian because of these things. And of course all of this against the background of the sheer existance of God in the first place. I couldn't see how God could exist when there was 'no proof' but more importnaly, we didn't need God as an explaination of anything. Science demonstrates the workings of the world, the evolution of life, and the regularity of scinetific law argues against the probablity of any supernatural realm beyond this one; maybe such a realm exists I argued but it serves no purpose for us, and how can it intrude into this realm when we are constantly witnessing a regular universe that opporates by cause and effect and never observe violations that can't be explained by psychology and so on. (Hume's argument agaisnt miracles essentially).
Now I'm going to do a part II because my browswer sux and I can't load really long posts, but its almost finnished.I think some of the major objections, such as the evil doings of the Instituttional chruch in the middle ages, were answered by my sister's friend, and largely jsut because she took the problem seriously, but pointed out that that was not the Gosple and that historical accidents placed the reigns of the chruch in the hands of unscroupulous men via institutionalization. But I think taking the problem seriously made a lot of difference. Too often in witnessing Chrsitians think they must disown the proper values of human dignity and the sanctaty of life and to defend the chruch at all costs. We dont' have to do this. The Chruch has gon off track many times. We can admitt this, and until we do the learned atheists will never take the Gospel seriously.
Second step to belief,
reading the Gospels Critically
but not skeptically;
examination of Jesus himself.
As I read the Gospels I began to feel that Jesus was a really the coolest person. I began to really admire him. He was always focussed on the individual, the one in need, always oppossing hypocracy, and undermining the authority of the powersturcture. He was full of compassion, but wasn't weepy. It makes a big difference not to read it just to find contradictions. But I was still bothered by the three Issues I'd mentioned. I couldn't figure why B.H. Streeter was a Christian when he constantly gave evidence that the Bible was not divinly inspired. IT would be years and years before I fully worked that out, and I had to go to seminary to do it. But gradually I began to realize that the Chruch of Christ had brianwashed me against other forms of Christianity so that it never dawned on me that there was this wider tradition of which the C of C was only a small part.The historicity of the Bible: I'd done enough research to see that a good case could be made for it. There's too much on that to get into here, but I did realize that even though the Bible is not inerrant, it can be trusted at least in the sense that the four Gospels are probably the only turstworthy account of what Jesus said and did, and that the likelyhood is that he said and did very similar things to those recorded in the NT. i also began to admire his ethical teachings so much it seemed like those things didn't matter. so what if he didn't give the whole sermon on the mount at one time, he must have said; otherwise it's like saying Sartre didn't really write Roads to Freedom Trillogy (well maybe not but whoever did is one of my favorite novelists and it couldn't have been made up by just anyone). If Jesus followers somehow made up his charcter and teching than they were litterary geniuses and maybe that in itself is reason enough to be at least a liberal nominal Christian.
Initital conversion experience
The justice of God issue; i began to peice togather my own free will defense the more I read of the Bible. And as I think just being able to stop and think about it without trying to poke holes in it all made a lot of difference. I began to have a growing feeling that there must be something to it all, religious belief and the Gospel.One night a friend came to my door, and he was in dire shape. He was having a bad reaction to some medication. He said he felt like demons were running through his body. He was freaking out. (do they still say that?). I went back to his apartment with him and he kept getting worse. I wanted to take him to a hospital but he had a certain reason not to want to go and refussed. I didn't know what to do. HE was writhing around on the floor and screaming, I was going to call an ambulance but he kept screaming at me not to. I didn't know what to do. In despiration I actually prayed and said "OK, Jesus, God, if you are really there pelase make him stop!" I had just enough time to think "what if it doesn't work?" when I noticed that he began to settale down. He just wound down and went to sleep in about 30 seconds. I just stared at him sleeping peacefully and thought "what just happened?" I kept thinking I said "If you are there..." and the condidtion was met.Well I wans't goign to break down that easily.IT was obviously a coincidence. But it stuck in my mind that the condition was met. So wasn't it incumbant upon me to think even more deeply about it all.
One night I was reading the Bible and I decided to get high and than perhaps I would really see the deep spiritual truths (ho hoho right?) I lit up the old bong and toaked the best Columbian my roommate could buy, and after reding for about five minutes was as un-stoned as before. So I smoked another bowl, flying, read some more, and each time I reapated this process I'd be as sober as a...Christian. But I did find the passages extremely moving that time. I decided I didn't need dope and never touched it again, after about 6 years of smoking heavily.Not long after that I saw a special on PBS done back than with Jacob Needleman whom I had read in my sociology of religion class and knew to be non-Christian and scholarly. That had a pretty profound affect upon my thinking about religion. IT was positive to religion but universalist in prespective; Christianity presented as just one in a number of approaches to God, all of which reflect some aspect of truth. But then the Eastern guy (the guy I was studying with) steped in. He was tyring to prove to me that Jesus was an Eastern guru and everything in the Bible was really Toaism ala Rom Dos (or Hinduism really I guess). But in the middle of all that it hit me that verse in Romans 2:7 about the Pagans not born under the law are a law unto themselves and it occurred to me that this universalism could work in reverse too. What if these Eastern guys are getting glimpses of the truth and that doens't say who Jesus is.
So I began to study the claims he made about himself. it was clear to me that he was claiming to be the Jewish Messiah and not the "song of god"in some eastern sense (we are all sons of god becasue we are all god ect). That verse "ye are all gods" I found a study Bible my mother gave me that year and talked to my sister's friend about it when I saw her at Christmass, so learned the word Eloheim doens't necessarily mean divine, it can mean many things, ect. So it looked to me like he was making unique claims about himself "I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father but by me." So the old C.S. Lewis thing hit. If this guy is so great to be such a wonderful teacher and so together that hey could not have been insane, and yet says he's the only way to God, maybe he had some insight no one else does?
One weekend I went to my parents house and was studying for test at 3;00am I began to think about my life, my motives, ect. all that had been going through my mind. I thought about Sartre and self authentication--then it hit me--Keirkegaard, Christian existentialism. Merely reverse Sartre and you get Kerikegaard. And why do that? Self authentication. How could Sartre think any less of me if I made a Sk's leap of faith as my form of self authentication? That would be My unique authenticating act. who could compalain? And why do it? God made my friend settale down, and I aske him to, ect. but more than that the long search people, the human nature of religious faith--it is the ultimate authentication.So I laid on the couch and prayed. I don't remember my payer except i said "I want to change and find the truth, I wont to find the self fullment of these people who know you and I want to know Jesus, so pelase born me again." And at that moment I began to feel a presence, it was fait at first, just a sense of soemthing, then stronger--claen, it was looking at me, it loved me, and it was love. I felt it totally washing over me and in me. I did feel born again. For the first time in since childhood I felt love for myself and that God loved me, this presence loved me. And I rememberd it from childhood. This was the feeling of goodness I had as a kid. The next two months I just glided around. I'd stay up all night reading the Bible and the next day go look at the sun rise and feel like I'd stumbaled on to some really amazing thing no one knew about. The Eastern guy came over and I told him about it and he said "I knew you'd say that! I knew you'd cave in and sell out to the Christians!" I said, but we agreed to stick with whatever we discovered the truth to be, no pre-set conclusions." "But you are arriving at pre set conclusions," he said. The last time I saw him he was shouting at me and going 'can God make a rock so big he can' lift it?" I swear the he tried to pull that.That snese of the presence continued. IT grew sronger every time I prayed. I was begining the happiest phase of my life.
One night I felt something hitting my bed and turned on the light and there was nothing there. So I prayed and it stopped. I wondered if I was going insane, but somehow it didnt' work like insanity because rather than tearing my life down it was building it up. I began apologizing to people I had hurt, I was renewing old freindships, feeling love for my parents, feeling self acceptance for the first time since childhood and so on.After that point the objections I had amassed for years melted away very quickly. The mass of xrox copies from all manner of scholarly books and articles demonstrating the inadqaucy of the Bible some how seemed hollow and inclconsusive. I began to think about Streeter's faith and how he was able to believe and use what he knew to back that belief despite it's seeming sketpical nature. I also knew that the Christians had good answers to most of it and it seemed that all one needed was a reason to take up one set of assumptions or the other. With one set of basic assumptions all the counter evidence disappeared, and vice versa. But which assumptions to make? These experiences gave me the push I needed to take up the Christain assumptions, and faith began to pile up almost in a qumulative process; or so it seemed. I also suddenly began to think of new answers or to look at the evidence in a new way. For example, one author used Streeter's account of the conversion of an Indian mystic name Sadu Sundar Sing as proof that St.Paul's conversion was based on psychological guilt.The evidence; Sing had a similar Damascus Road experience, after hating and mocking Christians. But in light of my own experinece I was more willing to believe that maybe Sing's experience really was like Paul's, maybe it was a revelation from God and that doens't prove anything either way.And maybe the guilt realease thing came into it just because God is in the business of forgiveness?
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
That summer I found the charismatics. I prayed for baptism of the Holy Spirit, my sister's fiend was a Charismatic so I thought that was the thing to do.I was alone in my room, moved back home that summer, and as I prayed nothing happened. Two hours of praying and nothing. So I just raised my hands as I'd seen Charismatics do and thanked God for the 'gifts' just taking on faith that they had been bestowed. Suddenly I felt my arms raising as though I wasn't doing it. A sort of magnetic like force was raising them. I felt an energy pouring over me. It was like electricity, I could physiclly feel it, but it didn't hurt, it felt good, and in a strange way it felt like love. I felt as though my palms were on fire, and It was so strong I was knocked standing out of my chair. I felt this "electricity" pour over me for about two hours and I praised God and felt great, peace, love, joy, and an amazment as if watching myself from afar and wondering if it was happening. Eventually I found it hard to move my mouth and found my self saying words that didnt' make sense. Latter that summer I would find those words in a national Geographic; they were Myan place names. Why? I haven't the foggiest. Although I would like to explore the notion that even though the Myan religious was idolotrous and seems brutal, it also made a great deal of the notion of the King shedding his blood on behalf of the people. I dont' know if that figures in to it or how.
Reflections on faith and
personal relationship with God.
Up to that experience, like a participant observer in my own converstion process (due to my sociology training) I had sort of been keeping tabs on things. Every new turn in the road I would exmaine form two perspectives. In one sence I would come to new insight and new levels of faith, and in another I would mark it and relate it to some theory of sociology I had learned as if watching myself in a process, or as if tricking myself into infiltrating a cult for sociolgoical research. But at the same time I would find objections to the sociological theory and move on to the next palteau, yet somehow leaving a mental book mark "this is how the subject moved beyond this point." But after this experience which I call "baptism of the Holy Spirit," I stopped this somehow (though I awas aware of doing it it wasn't planed) and just began moving on with fatih, determined to know God as fully as possible at all costs!That experience I have never forgotten. I know it sounds crazy and I dont' balme you for thinking that. I would have thought the same thing just a few months before it happened. But there is was and I couldn't explain it but I couldn't deny it.
I searched through all the sociological and psychological stuff I'd been studying in school to show myself I was being tricked by some hidden deisre to believe, but for everthing I found I could find an answer as well.I had actually been doing that snese that incident with my freaking out friend so I was pretty much through that phase by this time and after this my commitment was total. I didn't even care about philsophy I just wanted to pray form then on. And I did pray and I felt that presence every time i prayed, though never again that strong. And I had other similar experiences I can't deny them, I know they happned and I know they had manifestations that were not mere psychology. A few months latter I began reading philosophy again and this time the arguments for the exitance of God were opened to me. I could see they made perfect sense. I went on to learn more about philosophy than I ever knew and to harmonize my views with my faith.About 10 years latter I went to seminary and got a Masters in theology. I thought my way out of the Charismatics by that time and weathered the stroms of Reganism (I was about the only charismatic that wasn't for him). But I still believe in the gifts and have seen many healings had many other miraculous things. The thing that makes my sister's friend so amazing is not just that she has seen many such miraculous things, but that she's a neat and storng woman who fought for her social conscience and didn't fit in with the Chruches and was led by God to stand alone many times.
It is the life of a person that really speaks of the turth of God, not so much their ideas alone.Seminary was a leading liberal seminary and I wanted to be a theologian. I got my theology worked out, and changed it and worked it out again.But that game me a synthesis of the two ways of life, the intellectual and the spiritual so that they are not in conflict. I went to a secular doctoral program for my Ph.D. which I'm trying to finnish now, in history of ideas. I began that to study postmodernism and did study it but got into history of science and the Enlightenement, which is what pisses me off so much wiht people like the glob fly because I do know what I'm talking about on that stuff.So I've been a Christian since April of 79, and I still feel God's presence and it is a satisfying and fulfilling and consistant way of life.What I find from all of this is that fatih is self authenticating. I don't say self-validating because any sort of belief is self validating. What matters in terms of proof is fasifyability. At least according to Karl Poper. But in any case, I'm a Kuhnian, and I say all our ideas take socially constructed form by the time we talk about them. The authenticity of first hand religious experience, however, cannot be reduced.To try and reduce it to coutner causality to to dismiss it in any way is simpley to lose the data and transform the experience into something else. Now it doenst' really prove anything, because others have their own experineces too.
But in a different sense it is self "authenticating." It is an expression of our own decision making, and it is an authentic sense of what it is to be huamn to live in the world. IT is not reducible to anything else, depsite the lack of proof, it must be taken on its own terms. And as such , to the extent that it cumulatively stacks up to a consistant way of life over time, has the same sort of validity that any of our big choices in life have. It is a leap of faith, it is a decision to believe, and to the extent that it forms a consitant way of life is as real to the believer as the world of our daily expeirience is to all of us. To take the first step is to initiate a process whereby faith will confirm it's own validity as the "evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11).And after 20+ years I can say Jesus has not let me down. I'm not yet to the point of recieving the final reward of fatih, eternal life, but I have been re-convienced countless times, and know with full assurence; God is there, Jesus is real, he is a rewarder of those that diligiently seek him, and hope in him does not disapoint.
The Religious A priori