Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Should I Believe Harmen Exists?

Harmen, I think I would really like you if you existed, but I've decided I don't believe Harmen exists. I have never seen him, met him or heard his voice. I have not seen anything in the world that requires his existence.

I confess that I started out with the presupposition that he did exist, because that seemed to fit the simple facts, but I've decided it was a mistake. He doesn't really exist.

True, I have communications purported to be from him. Those communications appear to be thoughtful, intelligent and kind, but that is misleading. In fact I'm sure there is a materialistic/naturalistic explanation for how these supposed communications came into being - I just don't know what it is yet.

But I am perfectly confident that given enough time, scientific analysis will come up with definitive answers about how these anomalies came into existence. Probably something to do with solar flares interrupting the electromagnetic field of the earth and creating random bits of binary data that organized themselves into apparently meaningful words through the Google spell checker with the complicity of some unknown redactor. It was bound to happen eventually by chance - and so it did.

As for the characterization of these communications as thoughtful, intelligent and kind - These are only the anthropomorphic projections of my own feelings onto these random bits of electronic jetsam. In fact they are meaningless and without significance except as an object of curiosity and scientific investigation.

Meanwhile I don't need to be at all concerned about Harmen's thoughts, feelings, values, etc. To believe in a real being named Harmen is just so much superstition - maybe even a form of mental illness (which I evidently don't have.) I don't expect to ever meet Harmen - since he doesn't exist. I can say what I want in any way I want - I'm not going to offend Harmen. (But I will be a bit careful because I don't want to cause too much offense to those who cling to their childish belief that Harmen DOES exist.) Nevertheless, I certainly should not let Harmen cramp my style. I'll do what I want and believe what I want regardless of what people think Harmen says. I'm not going to tiptoe around worried about what Harmen thinks.

I cannot have a relationship with an illusion like Harmen... but YOU can prentend he exists if it makes you feel good and makes you behave yourself. Harmen is a crutch you can lean on if you want, but I don't need such bandages for my thoroughly modern psyche. I don't believe in Harmen or in anyone like Harmen.

Now imagine how God feels about people deciding they don't believe in Him?
(Romans 1:18-23) ¶ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

4 comments:

Pastor D said...

This post makes me nervous... I am, after all, a pastor who cares about people, and I really DO believe Harmen exists. But I don't know if his sense of humor will match mine or not. I don't want to offend him (or anyone.)

I genuinely appreciate Harmen's willingness to dialog with me in this forum.

But I sure would like Harmen and others to reconsider their decision to believe God does not exist.

What would God have to do to convince you?

Dave Denny

Anonymous said...

"But I don't know if his sense of humor will match mine or not. I don't want to offend him (or anyone.)"
Haha, well, I'm not easily offended and I'm actually flattered for having a blog post dedicated to me!

However, your nice atheist monologue does contain stereotypes which don't apply to me. I don't think religion is "a mental illness", far from it. It's part of being human. I too believe in stuff I can't proof. True, in my weak moments I may find some Christian beliefs "childish" and scoff at them, but people can change their minds with critical study and honest self-reflection ;). "I don't need such bandages for my thoroughly modern psyche"... Hmm, I don't consider modern culture superior. What IS special about our age, though, is that so much info about the history of religion is freely available on the internet, that we can have *educated* opinions about religious claims. More about that later.

I did reconsider my decision to become an unbeliever. My deconversion was only 3 years ago when I was 25, and my upbringing ensures that once in a while the thought "Did I make the right choice?" pops up. Not often, because I really don't experience God or other divine phenomena. So my everyday experience reinforces my decision.

But I keep an open mind, and I'm pretty serious about that. I became an atheist because that honestly seemed the right choice at that time. I don't have a grudge against God or believers, like those angry, quasi-believing atheists we talked about earlier. I wanted to find truth and be honest to myself and others. For the most part it wasn't an emotional decision. I did feel free in a sense, because what I secretly came to believe for some years (God is a human invention) finally matched with how I acted. It was hard too, because to this day I can't talk about this topic with my parents without it turning into a somewhat bitter conversation. "For I came to set a man at variance against his father and ... mother." It's true.

Wanting to be consequent and honest to myself, I'd have to become a believer if God would reveal himself to me in a way I could not ignore. I could fashion a way of believing that would "fit me". It would be a pretty liberal/unorthodox deal which you would frown upon :), but still. Only, the concept of God and the whole system of dogmas that come with it don't seem right to me. Especially when you research the whole evolution (ha!) of Judaism and Christianity, it becomes quite clear that a) faith it evolved from earlier, polytheistic beliefs and b) was shaped by very human fears and desires that believers had in various key periods. In the churches I visited, I never heard any of this. Maybe you could devote a sermon to it...

People often ask the same question as you did: "What does God have to do to convince you?" And then I say: anything that would make me believe! I'll let him choose, he claims to know me. But But honestly I'm not holding my hopes up anymore. I struggled for a decade with my faith, and not once I had a feeling of being on the right track. I was disappointed in this one way communication and it only reinforced my strong doubts.

I always found it petty that God doesn't like people who choose against him. If we apply the often-used family analogy, then a loving father should respect his child's honest choice, even when he doesn't like it. He makes the rules, after all. But instead God punishes and ostracizes him. So either honesty is not being rewarded by God or he doesn't take humans seriously. To me this is just a disappointing glimpse of the jealous tribal god called Yahweh.

Now, my question to you:
Would you stop believing, no matter the consequences, when it became clear to you that the Christian faith is false, or would you explain away ("it's sin or the devil talking") or ignore your doubts? In other words, do you keep an open mind?

- Harmen

Pastor D said...

Harmen - thanks for this "small novel." Thanks too for your good spirit. I am a tease (could you tell?) and I have, as you point out, lumped all the stereotypes together. (Although these are not actually stereotypes, but things atheists and evolutionists have actually said.)

One thing that I have found over the years is that no matter what I know of the "official" teachings of a particular group or sect, it is impossible to know what any individual believes until you talk to him. Often the dissonance between what they believe and what their group actually teaches is hard to understand.

I believe in God for several simple reasons, which you may have considered. When I look at a painting I know there was a painter. Maybe I don't know much about the painter, but I know there was one. Paintings don't happen by accident. I enjoy old mantle clocks. When I look at the works in a clock I know that a clock maker designed it and built it. It didn't come from nowhere. That kind of intricate work cannot happen by itself. It didn't evolve from a stick in the ground sun dial.

So when I look a the universe, the world and human beings in particular, I have the same reaction. I believe in a Creator.

Then when I look at my own thoughts and feelings. When I notice my conscience, I realize there is a moral absolute. Some things are right - other things are wrong. I believe in a Moral Creator.

Then when I read the Bible, I find the claims of a Moral Creator and the history of his interactions with man and his progressive revelation of himself. I compare what he says about the human condition and what I find of the human condition to exactly coincide. While the Bible's history has often been assailed, it has never been disproven (which is not the same as saying everything has been proven - but many things have.)

I believe in a Moral Creator God, who has revealed himself to mankind.

I am not sure why the history of Judaism should be a problem for you regarding theism. It is clearly laid out in the Bible (which I assume you have read.) The overall story of the Old Testament is of how the Creator (the one true and living God) reveals himself to polytheistic people. Some believe and follow - but the majority keep turning back to the worship other (false) gods.

As for preaching that - I do. In fact I am doing a sermon series on the ten commandments right now. The first commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before me." Pretty meaningless if the people had not been polytheists to start. (You can listen to my sermons on my web page.)

Against a background of man's polytheism or atheism (which is also addressed repeatedly) the Bible reveals an Infinite, Eternal, Personal, Holy, Just, Merciful, Loving and Patient God.

I think that the Bible is the best explanation for what we find in our world. Why is anything here instead of nothing? What is life? Why do we have moral feelings of right and wrong? Why should we care about mercy and justice? What is death and how did it come into the world?

(continued in next comment)

Pastor D said...

As for it being petty for God to judge people who choose against Him: God is the ultimate good in the universe. To choose against Him is the basic element of all evil. Justice demands a just response. I am sure you do not approve of anarchy, murder, rape, war, kidnapping, etc. But from God's perspective rejecting Him is choosing the poison that underlies those things.

This isn't a child deciding he doesn't like peas. This is a child rejecting his Father's authority completely and killing his brother and sister when he cannot kill his Father.

You notice that God doesn't immediately execute people as soon as they sin. He mercifully provides them with time and life and revelation... opportunities to turn back. Besides that, he has provided a way that their sins can be accounted for - cleansed - through the work of Jesus Christ. He offers this freely to anyone who will believe. God himself has done all the work, suffered all the pain, made all the sacrifice and waits with open arms for people to come to him.

Petty? Try going into any courtroom and shouting insults and throwing things at the human judge. See how long they spend trying to win you over before they turn you over to justice.

Would I stop believing if it became clear to me that the Christian faith was false?

Absolutely! In fact, see my blog on "If I were an atheist." I am not living the Christian life for pragmatic reasons - but because I am convinced it is true. Every day I am more sure of it than the day before as I see evidence of God working in people's lives.

Having said that, I will not answer for everything that has been done or is being done in the name of Christianity. The faith healers and fakers as well as the formalists and traditionalists are not real Christians - just tools of Satan soil the name of Christ.

I try to be intellectually honest about what I believe. You might call this an open mind - though some people's minds are so open that their brains have fallen out. But according to modern culture's definition I am "intolerant" since tolerance has come to mean affirming all views as equally valid.