Do You Want To Get Well?

Do you really want healing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When we read John 5, we read the story about a man at the pool of Bethesda wanting to be healed by being put in the water. Jesus asks him if he wants to get well. The man says he wants to, but every time the water starts up, someone gets in before him. Jesus heals him at that point.

Now I know skeptical readers of my blog will think that event never happened, but that doesn’t matter right now. I want to focus on something else. That question Jesus asks can seem surprising. Do you want to get well? Of course, he wants to get well! Right?

Maybe not.

Sometimes, we talk about the problem of evil and personal suffering with sickness of some kind, be it mental or physical. Now most of us would say we want to get better if we have something, but do we really want to get better? The reality is that sometimes we do not want to get better. Some people base an identity around their sickness.

“Whoa, Nick. Hold on a second. I have an email from you and in your email you say you’re an Aspie. Aren’t you identifying with your condition?”

Yes. I am. I also would not take a cure if I were offered one because I think the condition has a lot of strengths to it that I don’t want to risk losing. However, I don’t speak about Aspergers saying “Woe is me!” Instead, I speak about it saying, “Yes. I have this condition, but I choose to overcome the deficiencies and live a successful life.”

Not all people do that.

Sometimes it has been said that happiness is a choice, but do we really want to be happy? If we do, we need to realize that means letting our guard down many times and not having control of our lives given to others who don’t deserve that control. Some people don’t really want that.

In some ways, when we do that, we are holding the universe hostage, or at least trying to. “I won’t be happy unless XYZ is going on in my life.” Make it whatever you want. It could be a great marriage, a great career, great kids, your sex life, the health of yourself or others, or any combination thereof.

Perhaps we should really ask what does it take to make us happy? If we are Christians, do we truly need anything besides Jesus Christ for our joy? Now when I say that, this isn’t to say that other aspects of life shouldn’t bring us joy or can’t. Many of the items mentioned above are great for bringing joy. However, picture any of them and ask “If you lost that and you still had Jesus, could you have joy?”

This isn’t to say you wouldn’t mourn what you lost. There is a place for sadness and mourning. We are told to weep and mourn with those who weep and mourn. We’re not told to just say “Cheer up and get over it.” There are real realities to mourn. Jesus Himself wept at the graveside of Lazarus, even knowing what He was going to do.

But if we say that we refuse happiness unless we have anything else in our lives, then we are putting ourselves in our own prison. If Jesus asked us “Do you want to be well?” our answer could very well be, “No.” It might seem like a simple question, but sometimes those are the best ones to start with. If you are not having joy in your life right now, well why not?

Whatever it is that you’re lacking in your mind, do you have to have it? I am not saying it wouldn’t be nice if you did, but is it essential for your joy? If it isn’t, then what is? If it is, then you are making your joy dependent on that and do you really want to do that?

This doesn’t mean also you try this path alone. There’s nothing wrong with seeking out a good therapist and good friends. Recovery from some matters is not easy. If it is physical health, you can still have joy. My friend, Ed Komoszewski, has a virus that has been rampaging his body for years and causes great pain, but talking to him you’d never know it. He’s got a lot of joy. It’s not easy, but he has it.

If we complain about evil, let’s make sure it’s not of our own making. Suffering has very little to do with what actually happens to you. How you respond to it personally makes up most of the suffering that you go through. What happens to you is usually not in your control. What you do in response usually is.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Conclusion

How do we end this? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our final look starts with chapters on science. Basically, it looks like at the beginning Ray is saying “Theology doesn’t have a testing method like science does so science is better.” No. Not better. Just different. If we assume that the material world is orderly and things work in an orderly fashion, then we can test things repeatedly. Other fields though are not the same way. Philosophy, literature, economics, history, and many other fields of study do not have a methodology like science because of the subject matter they study.

At the same time, this gives me good reason to actually NOT put as much trust in science. After all, what we accept as proven science today could be what historians might look on in the future and say “What were they thinking then?” On the other hand, moral truths like “It is wrong to torture babies for fun” are not known through science and will quite likely stand the test of time.

Because of the way science is, nothing in science is known with absolute certainty. Everything is subject to change. What is far less subject to change are the philosophical principles science is founded on. Some things are surely more certain in science than others, some that at least now it would be ridiculous to deny, but proof is not there.

On p. 223, Ray tells us there have been many crucified saviors. There have been many who had virgin births and were of royal lineage. Problem is, he never names one. That’s a shame. I would have enjoyed seeing such a list. Spoiler alert. There aren’t any others.

This is something important to point out. We have seen many misquotations of people by atheists, including Ray. This kind of argument about crucified saviors is a really bad one mainly find on the internet. Ray wants us to treat science seriously, but he’s not willing to do the same for beliefs outside of his field.

In the end, that’s really what we have. No taking seriously of outside beliefs. Ray doesn’t quote any Christian scholars or historians or philosophers or anything of that sort. Ray says he grew up in a fundamentalist movement and it shows. He has never left that mindset. Now, instead of serious interaction, he can just claim people have a virus. Christians might say that atheists have a demon. Ray has just come up with a fundamentalist atheist counterpart to that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 7

What else is happening in the God Virus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For now, we’re going to move a bit faster through the book. There really isn’t as much to say as most chapters seem to just be echoing later chapters. No. There are no real arguments in the book.

He starts off with talking about how many members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in God. However, Rob Bowman answered this years ago when Victor Stenger brought it up. As he said,

Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.

Much more of what is said is about how Ray thinks the “virus” spreads. This is still more of the same about secret techniques used in evangelism and the like. I personally think atheist evangelists do the same kinds of things. He also has a section on living rationally in a non-rational world. After all, it should be obvious that anyone who is theistic in any sort of way must be irrational. Right?

There is a section on the new atheists where he says that people see Richard Dawkins and others and think they’re angry atheists. Ray says he doesn’t see that at all and thinks it’s just projection and proceeds to tell us that Christians saying that are angry Christians. Does he not even notice that he could be doing what he just said Christians are doing?

Now I personally think that sometimes Dawkins and Hitchens at least can come across as angry. Projection on my part? Doubtful. More of their accusations just usually make me laugh. Still, their emotion makes no difference. What matters is the data, and their data just isn’t there.

Much of what happens after this is simply also personal coping strategies with suffering and death and about how to talk to people who are “infected.” Naturally, there’s nothing in there about “What happens if you meet a theist who knows what they’re talking about?” It’s things like this that will do more damage to the atheistic movement. It’s easier to just psychologize your opponent instead of dealing with his arguments. I find it happens when opponents in a debate tell me I really know XYZ, when I really don’t.

We’ll continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 6

What of American evangelicalism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At this point, we’re going to start winding down. When it got to around this part, it seemed like Ray was just rambling, as if he needed to get some more material into his book and this is just filler. There was less and less to emphasize as I went through as most of it had been said before.

This chapter is about Jesus as the personal savior. This highlights a problem in the book. Ray consistently focuses on the gospel in America with some looks at Europe. If he went to a Middle Eastern nation or even a nation like China or Japan and saw Christians there, they would be vastly different. They don’t come with an individualistic mindset.

Which is really the problem with Christianity in the west today. It is not Christianity, but it is individualism. Keep in mind nowhere in this book does Ray argue that God does not exist. Nowhere does he argue that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

He starts off this story with a girl who grew up religious and later on came to be an atheist. It’s really amazing that even after they come out of their religious belief, these people still like to emphasize their personal testimony. You almost want to see if there will be an altar call at this point.

Much of the chapter shows that Ray really has a strong belief in what is practically a conspiracy theory. Pastors are apparently trained in methods of mass hypnosis with people and the worship service is laid out in such a way to get people to be susceptible to what they say. I must have somehow missed those lessons in Bible College and I suspect many of my fellow students did as well.

Ray also talks about anti-intellectualism in the churches, which is a problem. He talks about a doctor who said all he learned about his Christianity was in Sunday School and church and his Bible reading. No more is needed.

This is a dangerous idea to have. Recently, I encountered someone on Facebook who confessed to me that he always thought such reading was unnecessary because of Paul’s statements about the wisdom of men at the start of 1 Corinthians. Such a reading is quite wrong. It’s in chapter 15 that Paul quotes a pagan thinker showing he knew about such writings and in Acts 17 he quotes them as well.

If that is what Paul meant also, why should the Corinthian church have even read his letter? (They might not have considered it Scripture at this time.) Why do you even go to church at all? Do you need to hear what another man has to say if you have your Bible?

No. A Christian should care about what other Christians, past and present, had to say. We should care about church history, the formation of the Bible, concerns people have about the Bible, other religions and cults, our own theology, etc. Doubtless, not every Christian will specialize in such knowledge, but every Christian should have some basics in this area.

So I conclude again, and the next few entries will cover multiple chapters, that Ray himself hasn’t really done the study needed. For all his talk about anti-intellectualism, he doesn’t interact with intellectual people on the other side. He also when we have checked claims of his given claims that are just false such as misquotes of people. Could it be Ray is the real anti-intellectual here?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 5

What about morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This whole chapter is pretty much a train wreck. If we take this chapter seriously and believe it, we can dispense with everything else in the book. Seriously. Moral judgments without an objective transcendental standard are highly flawed and doomed to failure.

He says no virus could survive if it did not adjust to morality over time. So is morality changing? It would seem to be in Ray’s case. However, if morality is changing, then what are we really adjusting to? It’s like saying we are adjusting measurements to the speed of light, but the speed of light is always changing.

Suppose we look at the Southern Baptist Church which was founded in defense of slavery. Was the church wrong then? The question is nonsensical on this view. After all, if morality changes, maybe it was moral back then and the SBC was in the right then.

If morality changes, with what does it change? With what the people do? If so, then no people group is ever truly wrong. If the South had won the Civil War, then slavery would be okay today if it lasted. If Hitler had won World War II, we could all say Jews deserve to be put to death and that would be okay.

Naturally, we have the prison inmates claim brought up. That is better dealt with here. Ray also makes a claim that a religious person will say “religiosity equals morality.” It doesn’t! The pagans engaging in orgies in the Roman Empire and the Canaanites offering up their children as sacrifices were quite religious. Stalin and others murdering millions and dynamiting churches were quite irreligious.

Now does religion help with morality? Depends. I think Christianity certainly does because Jesus Christ has been the best motivator for good behavior. The way I treat people around me is often based on what I see in the life of Jesus. Certainly by no means perfect, but that is the basis for it.

What about caring for the sick? Again, Christians are often on the front lines here. When a disaster takes place somewhere, when you go there, you will often find Christians already there tending to the sick.

What about divorce? I do not know if Ray’s book was written before Shaunti Feldhahn’s book on divorce and marriage, but she did find that those who take their Christianity seriously, such as doing regular activities like attending church and Bible reading, are less likely to have a divorce.

Ray also lists a number of beliefs he learned from his church, which really explains a lot.

Women are to be honored and respected, but they are inferior to men.

Don’t trust someone educated unless they went to Bible College.

Ministers are human so follow their words and not their deeds.

God loves everyone but you don’t have to. You don’t have to welcome blacks into the church. Don’t marry someone from another religion. Gays are going to hell. (For the second one, I have already said that’s not because of lack of love but because of how one treats Jesus. Gays aren’t going to hell but those who have a life that regularly participates in immoral behavior and is defined by it are not going to inherit the Kingdom, including heterosexual sin.)

If you believe you go to Heaven and if you go to Hell you didn’t believe enough.

The Bible is the perfect word of God and any inconsistencies are because you don’t read it right. It doesn’t need interpreting and is to be read in black and white. (My own position is inerrancy, but the second part is complete bunk)

Sex is sinful except in marriage and even then it’s suspect.

Too much education is bad for your faith.

Don’t trust scientists unless they agree with the Bible.

I have not listed all of them, but these are enough and the rest are like that. If this is what Ray grew up with, I don’t blame him for abandoning it. Good for him. The problem is the threw out the baby with the bathwater and based on his bad fact-checking in the book, he hasn’t done much research since then.

Ray also says we would think “You should not kill” is clear, but what about the wars to claim the Promised Land? Those weren’t killing in the sense of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments does not condemn killing, but murder. Some killing is justified, such as self-defense.

One major flaw in this is that Ray gives no basis for morality. He doesn’t define the term. He doesn’t define goodness. He gives no basis for the existing of any of these. If all that exists is matter in motion, then what is goodness and morality? Are these real or just illusions? If unchanging morality is a myth, then morality changes, so who is to say that people in the past or even in another culture are wrong?

Ray does try to give sources to go to for wisdom on moral judgments, but if there is no objective morality, what wisdom is there? It’s like saying go to experts in math when rules of mathematics are constantly changing. If morality is changing, then we can dispense with everything said about sex in the previous chapter. There are no moral or immoral sexual practices. There are just ones society approves of and doesn’t and if society approves of pedophilia someday, that will be moral too. Right?

Ray will often point in the book to scientists. It would be good if he read some philosophers.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: God Virus Part 4

What is the big deal with sex? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue this book, we get a chapter solely dedicated to sex. This isn’t really a shock as we are talking with a psychologist here and many issues that come up in therapy have to do with sex. Not only that, a number of criticisms here I will agree with.

For instance, the purity culture has placed too much of an emphasis where it shouldn’t. It has this idea that you need to stay pure until marriage. What? Does having sex make you dirty so that once you marry and, assuming you’ve waited, do the deed, then you’ve lost your purity?

Ray also says that we have a problem with sex for pleasure. I think I can easily state that will be a shock to a lot of evangelicals that I know. There’s a reason that God made it fun. This is not to deny the procreative purpose to it, but when a couple is older in years for example and can’t have children, there is still pleasure and intimacy.

There’s also statements about the family and how Christians seek to only marry Christians normally for the sake of the virus. Actually, it’s more that if you’re a Christian, Jesus Christ is supposed to be the most important person in your life. How can you say that He is if you are willing to be with someone who says Jesus Christ is not as important?

The family is also vastly important to us as it’s the building block of civilization. That’s why many attacks on Christianity have begun with attacks on the family unit. Ray keeps going with the theory that fits his idea of what the “virus” wants instead of going with what the people say. If we say it is because of XYZ, then his reply will be, “Yes. That’s what you say, but we all know it’s really about the virus.” Unfortunately, you could easily counter anyone’s arguments this way. I could just as easily say Ray’s book is because of an atheistic virus that seeks to eliminate all other viruses so it can thrive the most.

There is a footnote in the chapter referencing Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa which is now known to be highly inaccurate. That Ray is not aware of this leads me to think he has only looked up the information that agrees with him. There is nothing about books like Song of Songs in the Bible in this chapter. You’ll find Leviticus’s prohibitions on homosexuality quoted, but not Proverbs 5:18-19.

Also, much is said about sexual scandals in churches, including the Catholic Church, but nothing is said about the behavior in public schools, which is actually more common. I’m not talking about students with fellow students. I’m talking about teachers with students. With the Catholic Church, there are also a lot of myths about that.

But contrary to what Ray says, I suspect I think more about sex than he does. No. I don’t mean the idea that every seven seconds a man thinks about sex. I don’t mean thinking about doing it or what it would be like to see a certain woman naked. I mean thinking about what it is and what it tells us about reality.

That would make sense though because on Ray’s view, sex is just a cosmic accident. No creator planned it ahead of time. In my view, sex is no accident. God intended it to be what it is and it is meant to point to something even greater than itself.

There is nothing in this chapter on when life begins, although abortion is talked about. There is nothing about the harmful effects of pornography. There is a lot of talk about eliminating guilt, but perhaps that guilt is deserved at times. Perhaps our culture does tend to, sadly even in the Christian church, treat people as ways to bring about our own pleasure and their bodies are a means to sex instead of seeing sex as a means to celebrate and love the whole person.

Maybe it’s really Ray who has a ‘sex-negative” view and it’s the Christians who have a much more sex-positive view.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 3

What about guilt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ray several times talks about being raised with a fundamentalist background and it shows. Chapter 4 is all about guilt. Right off, Ray is not aware of the fact that Christianity rose in a context where guilt like this would not be understood. Shame was what was understood and not in the psychological sense either. It is doubtful that Ray has any understanding of an honor-shame paradigm.

However, Ray says something that I have warned of for some time. Do not use guilt as a means for evangelism. Consider the danger of telling a young Christian couple “If you have pre-marital sex, you will feel guilty.” Some will. Some won’t. For those that won’t, they could think, “What else is the church lying to me about?

For Ray, it was masturbation. Now let’s put aside the question of if masturbation is a sin or not. I think we should all agree that going to teenagers and telling them that masturbation will send them to hell is overkill. Ray writes of how he felt great guilt over this and especially doing it over the “sexy preacher’s daughter.”

Ray says he later read Master’s and Johnson’s Human Sexaul Response and Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex and found out that in his mind, he was wrong about masturbation. No. His religion was wrong. If it was wrong about that, what else could it be wrong about?

And this, friends, is the danger indeed. All that is needed is a tiny bit of distrust and everything can go out the window. If you think masturbation is a sin, instead of just saying it and leaving it there, find a way to talk to the young person about the issue and what they’re struggling with.

So let’s go through a list now of some of the messages he says young people are exposed to. These about God in Christianity (Not Allah or any other religion) are worth quoting in full.

“God loves you, but he will send you to hell if you don’t do exactly as he says.”

“God loves you and gave you an intelligent brain to see and understand his creation, but you will be condemned for asking prohibited questions.”

“God loves you and gave you incredibly pleasurable sex, but you dare not use it except within strict limitations.”

“God loves you and your children. If you do anything to lead them astray, he will punish you. (Mark 9:42)”

“God loves you and wants you to prosper. If you are poor or hungry, you must be doing something wrong in his eyes.”

“God loves you. He causes you pain, grief, disasters, floods, hurricanes, and much more so you will see his will, repent, and do as he commanded.”

“God loves you. He created Satan to tempt and test you.”

“God loves you. That is why he makes it so hard to resist temptation and stay on the straight and narrow.”

“God loves you. He loves all Christians. He hates Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and all those who deny him.”

“God loves you, so you should reject your parents, children, neighbors, relatives, or anyone who is a hopeless non-believer.” (Yes. He actually references Luke 14:26 and is still reading it in a super literalistic fundamentalist mindset)

“God loves you, but if you get divorced you are unclean. (Matt. 5:31-32)”

“God loves you. That is why he sent his son to die. Millions of other people have died in his name and you should be willing to as well.”

“God loves you, but you were born unclean and can never be clean without God.”

Some of these properly understood, most of us who are Christians have no problem with, such as sex being reserved for marriage. A lot of these will just make many of us cringe. It’s as if Ray never bothered to check to see if what he was being taught was what historic Christianity has said for centuries. It is not Christianity that is the problem so much as our rampant individualism where we cut ourselves off from the past.

Some of these are things we need to do better at. Divorce is a tragedy, but it is not the unpardonable sin. We are also way too quick to read God’s will into disasters whenever they take place. This is hardly an effective evangelism strategy.

Ray writes about how guilt is used to draw people to a minister or someone who will point to God to alleviate the guilt. This becomes a cycle. This is a problem I agree with an individualistic centered Christianity. Christianity is determined by your experiences. God’s character is determined by what you feel and what you experience. It is all about you.

Doubtless, some guilt we feel is valid. It should be taken care of. If you really do something wrong, you should feel guilty barring any other condition. Still, not everyone responds to guilt the same way or acts the same way.

And yes, I have a problem with using purely emotional appeals to make a case for Christianity. Doubtless, a good speaker will often speak with emotion, which goes all the way back to Aristotle. However, the case should be based on reason and evidence and not just trying to get people to feel something.

So in closing, let’s watch the messages we are giving, especially to young people. A lot of these are indeed messages about sex. That is the emphasis of Ray’s next chapter and we will discuss those then.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 2

What does Ray think about religion in America? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter spends a lot of time talking about American Civil Religion. The problem is, Ray never defines it. Now it could be that I am supposed to know what that is, but I honestly don’t. If anyone else doesn’t know, they will be at a loss to wonder what Ray is talking about and it is his job to define it.

He starts off talking some about the history of religions and mentions how Judaism was affected by Zoroastrianism. Unfortunately, we don’t have any writings from Zoroastrianism at the time. Also, even a skeptical scholar like Bart Ehrman is skeptical of this.

More recently scholars have questioned a Persian derivation for the Jewish doctrine because of certain problems of dating.1 Some experts have undercut the entire thesis by pointing out that we actually do not have any Zoroastrian texts that support the idea of resurrection prior to its appearance in early Jewish writings. It is not clear who influenced whom. Even more significant, the timing does not make sense: Judah emerged from Persian rule in the fourth century BCE, when Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE) swept through the eastern Mediterranean and defeated the Persian Empire. But the idea of bodily resurrection does not appear in Jewish texts for well over a century after that. (Heaven and Hell. P. 104-105.

In talking about America next, Ray goes on to quote John Adams. “The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion.” Well, I guess that settles it. Adams was the second president so surely he would know. Wait. What’s that? There’s no source for the quote. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if we looked it up….

Well, good luck to Ray if he can find it. The closest is in the Treaty of Tripoli. Even skeptical atheists recommend that this not be used as an argument. See more information on that here.

Thomas Essel says you could take one quote from Adams and ignore all the others and easily make a doctrine. Let’s suppose I made one from another Adams quote.

“[T]he safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness can not [sic] exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed.”

Also, little difference with me and Ray. I can tell you where that quote is from.

Okay, well what about James Madison?

“What have been Christianity’s fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”

Again, this sounds really impressive, until you ask this person who goes on and on about evidence what his source is. It’s a good question, and sadly, Ray doesn’t give it. Some of us who actually do care about evidence looked it up.

As you can see here, Madison isn’t talking about Christianity. He’s talking about the marrying of Christianity to the state. He doesn’t want to see it, and rightly so. Both get damaged by that because both institutions use human beings who have a tendency to use both wrongly. Madison is not making an anti-Christian statement.

One has to ask how Ray got these quotes. Apparently, he got them and never bothered to look them up to make sure he was using them rightly or else they wouldn’t be in the book. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he did this without knowing the context. If he did it knowing the context doesn’t show it, then that is just plain immoral on his part.

Now for something incredible here. I’m actually doing to defend Mormonism from a misrepresentation. You all should know by now I care enough about truth that I don’t even want my opponents misrepresented. I am no fan of Mormonism. It is a false religion, though it is one that is fun to study. Ray though is shocked that Mormons and evangelicals can work closely together on social issues. He says even a cursory reading of the Book of Mormon will show you beliefs such as sacred underwear to people becoming gods of their own planets to Native Americans being from the diaspora to Joseph Smith as the last prophet.

Well, not exactly. The doctrine of eternal progression with people becoming gods wasn’t revealed until the 1844 King Follett Discourse of Joseph Smith. You’ll find beliefs like that more in the Doctrines and Covenants. The Book of Mormon is actually quite monotheistic. I also don’t think there’s any mention of sacred underwear in there. Mormons would also not say Joseph Smith is the last prophet since every Mormon president is said to be a prophet.

Finally, let’s look at verses which Ray says shows Christians shouldn’t be interested in ecomonic progress.

Luke 12:33 is about selling all that you have and giving to the poor for the Kingdom of Heaven. Ray still in his fundamentalist mindset reads this as if the apostles were to get naked and sell their clothes right there. (And then when the poor got everything, were they to do likewise?) Jewish teachers often spoke in hyperbole to make a point, this one about generosity.

In Mark 10:25, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. This is because many rich people at the time were tied to their money and didn’t want to part from it. Their wealth came first. The problem isn’t the wealth, but the person.

Finally, 1 Tim. 6:10 is the well-known verse about the love of money being the root of all evil, except it doesn’t say that. The verse really says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Many great crimes are done even today and money is not a motive.

This chapter was thoroughly disappointing due to Ray’s lack of citing sources and doing fact-checking. It doesn’t help your case to say you’re evidence based and then don’t bother to do a basic search like that. Too many of Ray’s readers who think they are people of evidence will believe him as blindly as Christians often believe their pastors, and actually Ray blindly believed some source on this too. Let’s be better than that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 1

What do I think of Darrel Ray’s book published by IPC Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Oh my! There are atheist books out there that actually try to make a convincing argument, but this is not one of them. At least, that’s not the way I see it. It’s as if today atheists want to compete to see who can write the worst one out there.

This one is an older one published in 2009, but while age might improve wine and friendships, it doesn’t always improve books. I was asked to read this by someone and thinking them someone I want to take seriously if I remember rightly who it was, I ordered it. Going through this one has been funny at times, but a labor at others.

Ray writes the whole time as if religion is a virus and he uses metaphors for viruses throughout. It really doesn’t work well. The work comes across as very depersonalizing and instead of really treating religion seriously, it looks like Ray, who apparently has a Master’s in religion, doesn’t really know much about it.

For one thing, he never even defines the term. He just comes out of the gate talking about religion and I’m sitting here wondering “What do you mean by the term?” This is especially problematic when later on he gets to movements like Marxism and the rise of Lenin and those get treated like religions too. Those are atheistic movements and yet somehow an atheistic movement is a religion.

Ray also says he starts with an experiment. You talk with a deeply Christian friend (Assuming you’re not a theist) about Muhammad. You agree he was delusional thinking he was talking to God and the Koran is definitely his work and he didn’t fly to Heaven on a horse, etc. Then he says imagine you wrote a transcript of the conversation and gave it to them.

“During the conversation you bother agree that Jesus was probably delusional to think he could talk to Jehovah. The Bible was clearly written by men and not by Jehovah. You both agree that it is ludicrous to claim that he is the last prophet and that all later ones are false. Neither of you can believe that he rose from the dead nor flew to heaven. It all sounds too crazy, and it is difficult to see how someone could believe such a religion. At the end of the conversation, you both agree that Christians did not choose their religion; they were born into it. Anyone who was exposed to both Christianity and Islam would see that Islam is the true religion.”

And thus is the experiment. Present this to your Christian friend and they will turn defensive (Imagine that. When you question what someone believes, they might actually defend what they believe! Gasp!) Will they make elaborate arguments that have no factual basis? Will they cut you off and terminate your friendship?

Some of us will give arguments and if Ray wants to say they have no factual basis, it will be up to him to demonstrate that. Good luck. Without that, he’s just engaging in presuppositional atheism.

However, on this very page after talking about a friendship enduring, he goes on to talk about an associate of his who lost a father to cancer. After that, he became a Christian and any time they talked religion crept in and before too long, Ray stopped seeing him altogether. This on the very same page as the above questions.

So if you challenge a Christian, your friendship might not endure. However, when Ray hears someone talking about Jesus so much, their friendship can’t endure. How is this not seen?

In just three paragraphs, Ray deals with near-death experiences. Does he look at any with evidential claims in them? Not a one. Does he mention any researchers in the field that endorse such arguments? No. He points to one doctor who says it’s the brain trying to make sense of an experience. He also tells us that we can bring about the emotion of NDEs by stimulating certain parts of the brain. This is likely true, but irrelevant. We can stimulate many things, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t stimulating real things.

But again, without dealing with real evidential cases, Ray is not doing his proper work. Throughout the book Ray will talk about theists shutting off logic and critical thinking. Physician! Heal thyself!

On p. 30 in a footnote he says that during witch trials in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, historians estimate that 200,000 people died. Inquiring minds want to know who these historians are. Ray never tells us. Too many atheist readers will lap this up and believe it instantly. Those of us who actually care about evidence want to know more.

In a footnote on p. 32 he mentions Bruno as one who questioned the suppositions of religion and paid a price for it. Another such example he mentions is Galileo. People who make this claim have likely never read anything by Bruno. As for Galileo, he questioned Catholic interpretations, but he never once questioned the truth of Christianity.

On p. 39, he speaks about fundamentalism where people are immune to influence and ignore any evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Note, this is from a man who at least halfway through the book has not interacted with one opposing scholar so far. Ray also regularly writes about his fundamentalist upbringing. I do not question he had one. I also do not question that he has not escaped it. His thinking is still very much the same way.

On p. 42, he says Christians early on were instructed on how to take over political institutions. I would love to know where he sees this, but he does not say. Maybe all those things about honoring the emperor and praying for him and things like that. That’s how you take over government after all.

When we get to p. 48, he describes Marxism as a god virus. How this is a god virus when it is inherently atheistic is not explained. It’s a convenient way though to avoid having to question your own movement. Any movement that has mass death behind it must be a religious movement. It can’t possibly be atheistic!

Naturally, on p. 51, he says science education is the answer to religion. There is never a connection made here. There are plenty of fine scientists who have no trouble with being theists at all. Ray gives no arguments here.

When we return next time, we’ll start with the chapter on American Civil Religion, which is definitely a hideous chapter as far as evidential claims are concerned.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation

What do I think of Gavin Ortlund’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gavin Ortlund is a pastor and a scholar.

Yeah. I know. I didn’t realize that was legal either. Pastors can actually be well-educated and write scholarly books?

Thank God they can and we need more like that. This book is on Augustine and his doctrine of creation. What can we learn from him on this? After all, he did not know about Darwin and the theory of evolution. He did not know about what modern science says about the age of the Earth. He did not know about Einstein and cosmology. We also have about 1,400 years of biblical exegesis on him now.

If we think we cannot, we miss out. As Ortlund tells us, Augustine’s time was a different time and they had different issues and debates going on which can cause them to see our issues and debates in a new light. Imagine a table where you have Francis Collins from BioLogos, Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe, and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis all sitting together debating creation. Augustine comes and joins them. What will he add to the conversation? What will he take away from it?

Let’s start with one of the first lessons he can teach everyone at the table. Humility. Augustine did hold strongly to his positions, but when he wrote, he also said “This position that I disagree with now could be right.” He is not dogmatic in his stances and does not hold only one position on the matter of creation as the Christian position. While we debate how long it took, many might be surprised to hear what Augustine would say. Young-earthers sometimes ask old-earthers about God taking so long to create. Augustine would say the same to young-earthers since he held that creation was instantaneous and Anselm even said that was the most common view in his time years later.

The first lesson that Augustine would want to teach us I think is that we need humility to be able to listen instead of just try to respond. What are the concerns of the intellectual opponents. Why do they hold their position? Should we really be calling their faith into question over this topic? You cannot tell someone’s commitment to Christ solely based on how they answer questions on evolution or the age of the Earth.

Augustine could also tell us a lot about the literal interpretation of Genesis. He wrote a book called that and yet we today would not think his interpretations are very literal. He’s got figurative and allegorical meanings in his understanding of creation. Yet despite this, he also does pay attention to the historical matters in the book. He does tend to want to take it to be historical, but his main concern is how we see the Scriptures. Augustine would have more understanding to someone who takes the passages in a figurative or allegorical sense and yet holds to inerrancy than one who rejects them because he thinks they don’t cohere with modern science and that the Bible just got it wrong thinking the Bible requires one interpretation.

What about animal death? This is a big one and we can be tempted to think that modern science again has caused many people to think animal death was going on before the Fall and Augustine would be unfamiliar with that debate. We would be inaccurate. Augustine spoke about animal predation. He would tell us it’s unwise for us to critique the design of the universe in this area like it would be unwise for a layman to go into an engineer’s office and see many of the tools and be critical not knowing what the tools represent.

For Augustine, creation is a key doctrine and the one that gets him the most enthralled quite likely. He has endless praise for even the simple worm. He does see something beautiful in even predation. The way the system works together is amazing as he says old life needs to pass away to make room for new life. Augustine also lived in a time before the world was touched by Disney. We can automatically think hunting is evil after hearing the story of Bambi after all.

The chapter on evolution is wonderfully named. Can we evolve on evolution without falling on the fall? This chapter deals with how we should see evolution. Ortlund doesn’t take any side in this actually, but he says many of the debates aren’t new. For this one, it usually comes down to the historical Adam and there are evolutionary creationists who think Adam is historical.

Yet even before the coming of Darwin, many interpreters of Genesis were suggesting that Adam was not the only human being on Earth. When the story of Adam and Eve took place, there were other humans there. This explains where Cain got his wife, Cain building a city for inhabitants, and the avoidance of inbreeding to bring about new people.

I am not saying this is what Ortlund says happened as he admits he doesn’t know enough of the science to comment, but I think he just wants us to be more open. Even if we can’t agree in dialogue, is there a way we can have better dialogues? If all three organizations could meet at the table, have a heated debate, and in the end shake hands and leave as fellow Christians and friends though still disagreeing, I think Ortlund would be pleased and even more, I think Augustine would as well.

Those interested in the debate about creation and evolution and Genesis should read this book. Again, I think the main lesson to learn is humility. Reading Augustine could cause us to look with new eyes at creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)