Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Seventh-day Adventism

A Christian Mind Cannot Open

I remember being convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist worldview was the only correct lens through which to judge all incoming information, including political information used to make voting decisions. For decades I perceived everything I read, heard, observed, learned, and discovered through that very narrow lens, also known as The Great Controversy:

  •     God had created everything, including the universe, many different kinds of beings, and a particular kind of beings known as angels.
  •     The angel Lucifer sinned, creating the controversy between himself and God.
  •     Banned from heaven, Satan (formerly Lucifer) spread sin and controversy to the newly-created planet Earth by deceiving human beings to rebel against their Creator.
  •     Jesus put his life on the line for humans, determined not to lose them to Satan’s side of the controversy.
  •     The Bible was Jesus’ plan of attack and the most accurate synopsis of the on-going controversy.
  •     Satan’s deceptive powers had succeeded in getting most Christians to be confused about the most important truths in the Bible, or else to ignore it enough to neutralize its life-giving power.
  •     God had entrusted one group of people on Earth (the Seventh-day Adventist Church) with inspired information about the Bible, and had given them an important mission to share that information with the world.

When I had thoroughly integrated these elements of the SDA worldview, I found it difficult to perceive new information from any alternative perspective. The SDA message is self-reinforcing and well insulated against attack. Sin and Satan’s deceptions explain away any objections which cannot be directly answered with specific Bible texts or Ellen White sayings.

  •     If arguments like “The Bible is full of contradictions” arose, that was explained away as Satan attempting to erode away faith in God’s Word.
  •     If evolutionary proofs were offered in contrast to creationist claims, “the fool hath said in his heart, ‘there is no God,'” and other such verses explained away evolution as if it were a competing faith-based belief system.
  •     If God’s mercy in the Old Testament was questioned after contemplating genocides, slavery, misogyny, etc., that was explained away by saying that God mercifully communicated to different cultures in the way best adapted to their way of thinking– the fault was sin’s corrupting influence, and God risked being misunderstood in order to carve a holy people from such corrupted beginnings. Anyway, Jesus could quickly be brought forward in the New Testament as the so-called ‘most accurate version’ of God’s true way of thinking. “I and the Father are One,” Jesus said. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
  •     If natural disasters or disease epidemics brought God’s omnipotence into question, it was explained with a combination of sin’s devastating effects in the world, and the sinfully poor choices men made.
  •     If other Christians behaved poorly, or nations with other gods did evil in the name of their gods, the explanation was always ‘Satan at work,’ never ‘look what God allowed to occur today’.

Always, sin or free will or Satan were handy as a too-convenient way to explain away any difficulty. Or else, the ultimate dodge– God will answer all our questions in heaven.

The Christian mind which is enslaved to the above worldview can never be open to dangerous ideas. This is why Christian beliefs wreak havoc when they become influential in our U.S. political arena. In our form of representative government, the ‘folks back home’ rely on their elected representatives to listen carefully to each and every view in their constituency, especially when public opinion begins to obviously favor a particular side of an issue. On issues like gay marriage, contraception, and a woman’s right to control her own health decisions, the representatives in Congress who are devoted Christians tend to consult their beliefs and not their constituency when they vote on legislation.

I can see why they would do this. When I was a Christian, it was difficult– perhaps impossible– NOT to consider my own faith-informed opinions to be superior to all others, simply because I felt that my opinions agreed with the will of God. I strove to align all my political opinions and stances with my interpretation of the Bible. Most other serious Bible students were doing the same. When I would become convinced of a certain opinion, my faith that I was doing exactly ‘what Jesus would do’ about it made me stop thinking about other options, and closed off my mind from considering others’ point of view. I wouldn’t discuss these issues; I would inform others of the biblical view, and ignore whatever they said.

I recognize this same close-mindedness now for what it is, and as I see it in others it really sticks out. And seeing my country’s elected leadership increasingly embracing that closed-minded, head-in-the-sand Christian worldview, it pains me to know that my views will never be heard by them. Even when my views are shared by the majority of U.S. citizens, as they are on support of marriage equality, the ACA’s mandate for employers to provide contraception without comment, and support of a woman’s right to control her own body without being harassed by politicians and spiritual leaders.

Whether a view is held by a majority simply doesn’t make an impact on the closed Christian mind. I know it never affected me, when I was a closed-minded Christian; the Bible has much to say about believing what’s ‘right’, even though no one agrees with you– because God approves of the stand you’re taking, and will reward you. I always assumed that whether or not everyone else came to agree with me, God would show them all in the final judgment that I (and my fellow believers) were on the side of right all along. That hope of future vindication was all I needed to hang on to some of the most misogynistic, unethical values and views, many of which I see being trumpeted now by the religious right and the Tea Party, and their Fox News/hate radio-duped Christian electorate.

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Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Personal statements

How Do I Know?

These past few months, I’ve become more interested in how I know, than what I know. While facts play a big role in the formation of my values and beliefs, the primary concern is summed up in my title: ‘How do I know?’

How did I decide that my favorite set of values are ‘right,’ opposed to all those ‘wrong’ values? How did I settle on my particular list of ‘good to know’ facts, and how do I test and retest their reliability in the real world?

Epistemology is the term philosophers use for this question, How do I know what I think I know? Our parents, teachers, and other important early voices give us our childhood epistemology. Children are at the epistemological mercy of the adults surrounding them.

Without the cognitive tools of experience, common sense, or mature logical reasoning, children must answer the question How do you know? with ‘so and so told me.’ Which is another way to say ‘I don’t know, but I trust my mom (or teacher, or doctor, or pastor, or grandpa), and they said so’.

Of course, as children develop into adults, hearsay and appeals to authority are increasingly unacceptable, as those tools mentioned earlier reveal themselves to be more reliable. Life experience, common sense, and especially scientific evidence-based reasoning are widely-trusted and universally accepted epistemological tools in almost every realm where accuracy matters.

Almost. One form of hearsay remains despite the best attempts of enlightened reasoning to relegate it to the dustbin of history: faith.

I have recently finished a long period in my life during which I trusted faith as much or more than other ways of knowing things. (I’m not interested in the many different definitions Christians toss about for faith; whatever you count as the ‘biblical’ or official meaning of it, the way it is experienced by believers is the important thing to me.)

For me, it was the easiest way to dismiss doubts which arose as my years of studying the Bible grew into decades. Whatever could not easily be explained the way most difficult questions are– logical reasoning, evidence-gathering, observation, consulting experts and their research, etc– was explained away, by saying to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to take that on faith, and ask God about it in heaven.”

I learned that practice of explaining difficult things away by faith early on in my Christian experience, and encountered it consistently throughout the full period during which I interacted with many fellow students of the Bible.

I have abandoned faith now, and no longer explain things away with capricious appeals to a future Q&A session with an imaginary Sky God. It’s tougher to think things all the way through, but ultimately more satisfying because of the higher confidence level I can have in those values and beliefs which survive that testing process.

It’s much tougher to deal with the many regrets I have that I ever swallowed the poison pill of faith, wrapped as it was in a pleasant coating of fellowship and social interaction. But life goes on, and I strive to make the best of it, using far superior tools than the one I left in the dustbin of my own history: faith.

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