Thursday, April 05, 2012

Losing the Fear of Hell

Recently I was asked how I lost my fear of hell; how I came to be ambivalent about the topic. Obviously there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem—I can only relate what happened to me. Repetition. Repeated inability to maintain belief in the supernatural consequently causing me to apply the same method to the afterlife and realizing there isn’t one.

I was raised Calvinist where the oft-heard phrase was “Once saved; always saved.” Once you became a Christian, no matter what you did, no matter what happened—your salvation was assured. BUT (and this was a huge asterisk to the whole doctrine) there were people who seemed to have converted, but subsequently did not live like Christians. We wrote those people off to “not being saved in the first place.”

Meaning you are assured of your salvation, unless you aren’t. Real helpful, right? Since one was never quite certain the original salvation took hold. (Worse, there were testimonies from people who claimed they made a salvation prayer as a child, but later realized it was insufficient, and became Christians later in life. Here was irrefutable proof, just because you said the right thing, you may not have made it in yet!)

Having now deconverted--I hear the same accusation made by Calvinists acquaintances; informing me I wasn’t saved in the first place. Looks like my childhood worry was well-placed, eh?!

Further, we believed in the Rapture, so a great test of one’s salvation would be the day where 100’s of millions of people (including everyone I knew) disappeared. If you were left standing here…well…there you go! Not-saved. I can still recall moments in stores, being separated from my mother for longer than expected, and thinking, “The Rapture happened, and I was Left Behind*”

*Yes, those where the exact words we thought, and yes, they were always capitalized. There was always a doctrinal question whether a person who thought they were saved could get another chance after the Rapture…it was heavily intoned one could not. One would live (at best) another 7 years and be doomed to hell, knowing all 7 years that hell was coming.

Or I would come home from school, and unexpectedly no one was home. I remember calling friends and their parents, figuring if no one answered, I was Left Behind.

How do you talk someone out of fear? You can tell me all day long about the safety of parachutes and sky diving and statistics regarding incidents, and procedures and anything you want. I would be scared and staining my shorts jumping from a plane. You don’t “talk” someone out of fear.

I recall my first jury trial. I was nervous, sweating, scared. How do I present my case to a jury? How do I object? What do I wear; where do I stand; how loud do I speak? Now, I look forward to jury trials.

Why? What is the difference? Simple—repetition. After doing them over and over, I have learned the answers to those questions. I know what to expect. Are there still surprises and new experiences? Sure…but having had other surprises and new experiences, one learns how to adapt.

I imagine if I jumped out of a plane a coupla hundred times, I won’t have the fear. Maybe…

But how does one “repeat” the opposite of an in-grained belief? I was raised in a Christian home, I said the right prayer, I lived a Christian life. And each Sunday I was assured I was saved…”BUT”…and each Sunday it was reiterated there were those who were not. And while debates may rage as to who was in heaven; Hell’s citizenship was certain: Hitler, Nietzsche, Darwin and atheists.

Upon initial deconversion, I was still fearful of Hell. Actually, that is not quite accurate. I was more fearful I had lost Heaven. We had been taught there was this sublime place where one can eat and not get fat. More importantly, one can see those who had passed on before—grandparents, parents, siblings, children and friends. Even more importantly, justice would be dispensed—wrongs righted; rewards delivered. And most important of all (to me) knowledge would be provided. We would finally get theology correct.

And now Heaven…didn’t…….exist. The more I lost belief in Heaven (it really is a fantasy if you think about it), the same I lost belief in Hell. One does not exist without the other.

I enjoy life just as much—even more—without the worry about getting the afterlife correct. I have my hands full getting this one right. Sure there are moments where I find a twinge of regret we only have a few years. The idea of Heaven is a fun fantasy. But then I shake my head and deal with the reality we have. A world desperately in need of human compassion without the easy relinquishing of responsibility by claiming some god will swoop in and solve all our problems.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Titanic Sank: He is Risen Indeed!

Ahh…Easter. When it becomes popular to dredge up some “new” facet to improve readership. “Jesus Tomb Found!” “Pilate’s Ancestors Finally Speak Out On Trial!” “Peter was a Pimp!” Those sorts of things. And the requisite apologetic defenses on the Resurrection make the blogsphere rounds.

This year, Reclaiming the Mind is doing a ten part series of short (2 minute) videos from Dr. Licona “dispelling” Myths surrounding the resurrection.

The first dealing with contradictions falsifying the account. As this month marks the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it only appropriate Dr. Licona raises the following familiar canard:

“No credible historian believes contradictions within the account discredit the account itself. For example, when the Titanic sank in 1912 there were some survivors that said the Titanic broke in half before sinking and others who said, ‘Nuh-uh, it sank in one piece.’

“You are out there in a lifeboat—how do you get that wrong? We really don’t know. However one thing is for sure, historians didn’t conclude the Titanic didn’t sink. We just knew there was a peripheral detail we didn’t know what happened.”

[I did not transcribe this precisely word-for-word, but this is extremely close. If you want precision, go watch the video. It will cost you two minutes.]

For non-historian buffs, a long debate raged as to Titanic’s final moments—specifically whether (as some claimed) it sank in one piece or whether it broke into two, as others claimed. Once the wreck was discovered…in primarily two (2) pieces…the debate ceased. Those claiming it broke up were avenged. If you want further details, this site provides the various witness accounts.

This month’s National Geographic has a long article regarding the Titanic. Based upon the statements, and the condition of the wreck, it is believed the bow (front) filled with so much water, it lifted the stern (back) fully out of the water. Unable to sustain its back (stern) weight, the ship broke almost in two, only the very bottom still connected at the break point. At this point, the bow (front) tore free (the stern did not have enough buoyancy to hold it up) and plunged relatively straight down to the ocean floor. The Stern section re-righted, but now filled with water from the gaping hole, and sank. Because the stern was not aerodynamic, it cork-screwed down, twisting its own metal.

There are three (3) points to consider regarding the differences between the Titanic sinking and the Resurrection:

(1) We have multiple lines of independent evidence regarding the Titanic sinking; not just conflicting statements.
(2) Even within the debate, historians agreed one of the claims was incorrect; the ship either sunk in one piece or two.
(3) The witness’ conflicting statements were weighed for credibility.

1. Multiple lines of independent evidence.

Dr. Licona is unclear, unperceptive or disingenuous on this point. Why do historians say the Titanic Sank? We have a ship leaving harbor, and not arriving at its destination. It sent out a distress signal. Other ships arrived on scene with multiple lifeboats in water. The water was frigid, not a place people voluntarily get out of a perfectly good ship to ride around in water and/or lifeboats. 1,514 people on the ship “disappeared” that night. Wreckage washed up on shore. Multiple independent people agree the ship was sinking.

Oh, and we found two great big pieces of it on the bottom of the ocean.

Notice we are NOT solely relying upon conflicting witness statements—we have multiple independent, observable data points all leading to the conclusion the Titanic sank.

But what do we have with the Resurrection? We have conflicting unattributed witness accounts. That is it. No tomb to observe. No body walking around still.

Rather than compare the Resurrection to the Titanic, it is much more akin to Bigfoot. We have multiple conflicting statements regarding size, locale, shape, habitat, etc. Would Dr. Licona agree with me contradictions within the accounts do not discredit the accounts themselves? That there really must be a Bigfoot, even those these accounts contradict?

Or what about alien snatching? Many people claim to be snatched by aliens for a time—there is disagreement about the ships, the aliens, the purpose, the time, etc.? Sure…multiple conflicting accounts—but do all these “credible historians” think aliens are snatching people?

See, people agree the Titanic sank from all these multiple data points. There is disagreement (by human nature) as to minor details such as precise timing, or the manner it occurred. But people go into the research already presuming it sank—that is not a question on the table.

The same way Christians approach the Resurrection—they already presume it happened. So details as to what day, or who was there, or what was said are “peripheral details”—Christians cannot see the difference between the conflicting accounts in the Titanic and the Resurrection. (Yet would immediately reject Bigfoot and Alien abductions.)

2. One (or more) of the conflicting statements were wrong.

In the Titanic account, the very cause of debate was that one statement was wrong. Those holding to a whole ship sinking claimed the statements regarding it breaking up were wrong. Those claiming it broke up said the whole ship people were wrong.
Even those “credible historians” were not claiming everyone was correct. Yet how does Dr. Licona approach the Resurrection account? He claims these contradictions are “harmonizable.” (his words.) Unlike historians with the Titanic, he performs no task, makes no method to determine under the contradictions, whether one (or both) are incorrect.

He presumes all accounts can be harmonized.

3. Witness credibility weighed.

It was noted the ship’s officers tended to be the ones on the “whole ship” side to support the engineering of the ship, whereas passengers, with no such agenda tended to be on the “break up” position. Where people were in relation to the ship was reviewed—where they at the rear, the side, the bow? The ability to see (it was night, of course) as well as the difficulty of reviewing at horizon level.

These were questions brought in by historians reviewing the Titanic sinking.

Is such inquiry going on in Christian apologetics as discussed by Dr. Licona? The problem is we have no credibility weighing. We agree some Gospel authors copied others, but cannot agree who copied who. We agree Gospels were written down—disagree as to when and by whom. We agree myths developed surrounding Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—cannot agree when or what.

We don’t have enough data to perform the types of witness credibility evaluation we could with the Titanic.

In short, the next time someone raises this simple statement, I would ask them this, “If you believe conflicting accounts do not discredit the account as a whole—do you believe Bigfoot exists despite the conflicting accounts? Do you believe aliens are abducting people? Because that is precisely the type of evidence we have for the Resurrection, and you are telling me to ignore the contradictions in the Resurrection accounts—why don’t you ignore the contradictions in Bigfoot and Aliens?”