Absence Makes The Barf Grow Fonder

I’m in Utah for work this week. Sometimes when I travel for work it’s nice to get away from the office just for a change of scenery. That doesn’t seem to be the case for me this week though. I wish I was home. It’s funny how just a short time of separation can make you reflect about what really matters to you. Wherever my family is, is where I’d rather be, generally speaking. This week it is actually snowing too. I’ve always loved the snow, and I still enjoy playing in it with the kids. Big snowfalls are fairly rare in western WA too, so it makes it that much difficult to be missing the snowman building with the kids.

I love my family. It’s a strange thing when you think about it (if you’re weird like me). I know there are lots of other animals that are instinctively attached to their family units, but I think you’d be hard pressed to say that any other animal knows “love” like humans do. I often enjoy watching the gorillas at Woodland Park Zoo. It’s clear to me that they have close attachments to each other, but I don’t think they have the capacity to love in the same way, a more reflective, self-aware way, like people do. I seriously doubt an ape like a chimpanzee is sitting around regretting the the lost time swinging around the jungle with his little chimps when he’s away from home.

I know evolutionary biologists will tell me this is fully the result of natural selection, and that I only love because of theoretical survival advantages. Why do I have the option to evaluate and choose my level of commitment to such things then? People are clearly able to violate what is best for themselves, their families, and society in general, and frequently do. Scores of people, mostly unhappy people, are definitely going through life following their biological instincts like a chimp, but when people use their full “self” properly they love from a deeper place than their biology. This is the way love is meant to be practiced. Not like chimps who love from the brain. People are the only ones with the God given ability to love in a beyond biological way… from the soul. If you’re not doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong. The unfortunate side effect of loving like a chimp, is that you’ll only be able to experience the results of relationships like a chimp.

Barfing Up The Foundation Of My Worldview

Before I get too deep into this thing, I suppose I might as well expose at least the majors of my worldview.  The thing that probably, hopefully, rightly influences every decision I make.  It is my general belief, that without this basic worldview, or at least something like it, that decisions cannot be made rightly or wrongly anyway.  Again though, that’s something for my mind to barf up another day.

Back to the basics.  You see that red circle?  For 364 days there was an arrow on my phone (Android based) and on my iPad mocking me.  It just kept sitting there always pointing to the right to tell me I must continue reading if I was to complete this goal.  Like I said at the outset, I’m not all that fond of reading.  However, pastors, friends, family, and generally smart other people are always telling me I should read the Bible more.  While I’m a terrible memorizer of Bible passages, I’ve always felt like I’ve had a fairly good handle on Biblical concepts. I think at least this much is important if you’re going to adopt a worldview based on a certain resource.  I can find things when I need to, but can’t necessarily regurgitate them like some people I know.  There are certain things that are summed up so simply, and they are repeated so frequently that they’re easy to remember, like John 3:16.  There are other things which need to be gleened from several places to form a proper contextual idea that even then may leave a lot of wiggle room for interpretation, like what exactly constitutes the experience of heaven or hell.  Even though I can’t repeat the Bible word for word, I’ve never felt like that kept me from being able to live out, or at least try to live out, the ideas inside it.

However, over the past few years it seems like there’s been a marked increase in people who actively and vehemently oppose to the Bible.  They used to say they just didn’t believe it, or didn’t care.  Now it seems that has turned into more of an assault.  It’s become more of a type of religion of its own, with science as its most powerful master.  The modus operandi of such individuals seems to be to take single passages out of the Bible then attack them, because in all honesty, there is some tough stuff to swallow in there, especially if you dangle it out there all on its own.  As I started hearing more of this, I started reading and listening more to both sides of the debate over the reliability of the Bible.  I wanted to be able to not only at least half-intelligently counter the claims that God is the moral monster that atheists say he is, but that, in fact, He is the exact opposite, and it isn’t as crazy as they say it is to think so.

This idea of using solid reasoning to defend the more abstract concept of faith could be generally lumped into a discipline called apologetics.  Apologetics generally uses philosophical, scientific, and historical arguments to defend the reliability of the Bible.  The first apologist I heard speak in this way was a fellow named Dr. Hugh Ross when he came to His Place Community Church in Burlington, WA.  Dr Ross is a somewhat controversial character in the apologetics landscape because his organization, called Reasons To Believe, uses science to affirm the Bible.  His opinion (and mine) are that God inspired both the Bible and Creation, and together both inform us about reality in a complimentary way, and therefore it stands to reason that they will not disagree, so each can also be used to inform the other.  I found him to be terribly interesting.  I heard this guy arguing for things that I know some Christians would, and do, call him a heretic for, but things that I personally and quietly had long believed traditional teaching about the Bible wasn’t quite right on.  Not on what most would consider the “major” doctrines, but some things that were more minor (just using the word “minor” about anything in the Bible can start a firestorm with some people), and left cracked open for debate.  After hearing Dr Ross I started absorbing various podcasts and found there to be a whole community of such people from various academic fields that were standing up for a Biblical worldview, not just by say, “because the Bible says so!” but by providing clear reasons for why they believe it is safe to trust the accuracy of the Bible, and then apply its concepts.

Fast forward a couple of years to the beginning of 2011 where a pastor challenged his congregation, me amongst them, to read through the Bible cover to cover in 1 year.  As I had been actively consuming more arguments for a theistic worldview, I was also consuming more arguments against a theistic worldview.  Now, the only way to legitimately meet somebody where their head is, is to understand where they’re coming from, so at the same time I was also consuming more arguments against faith.  It seems to me that most arguments against historical Christianity for a lot of people boil down to contextual problems.  Unfortunately, I also think there are a lot of people that hold Biblical worldviews also creating contextual problems.  Both sides of the debate over the historicity of the Bible do themselves terrible injustice by taking little snippets out of context to use for their personal agendas.  I needed to know I was accurately grasping the atheist’s arguments against the Bible, and at the same time not violating the context myself.  I could mind barf my view all over them, but if that’s all you do, all you end up with is a shadow boxing match.  I mind barf all over you, you mind barf all over me, but neither one of us really addresses the concerns of the other and we never get anywhere.  It isn’t constructive, or helpful to the case of either viewpoint.

So, back to this 1 year Bible thing.  Challenge accepted.  As much as reading has never been my medium of choice, I set out to read the Bible cover to cover in 365 days.  The intention being to pay special attention to make sure I’m not making any glaring mistakes in my own thinking, but also to naturally encounter the difficulties an atheist has with the Bible.  It was a momentus occassion (if you think I’m kidding you really don’t understand how much I actually dislike reading) on December 31, when that litte right arrow to the next day at the top of the YouVersion app dissappeared.

Going into it I honestly wasn’t sure I could make it.  No matter what you believe, this is a worthwhile thing to do.  From an opponent’s viewpoint, you obviously should be familiar with the thing you’re seeking to destroy, otherwise you will not be a worthy adversary.  From the supporters viewpoint, obviously, you can’t become too familiar with the Bible.  However, we’re often fed the most convenient parts of the Bible.  Supporters, in a similar way, need to be familiar with the opposition’s view.  It may bring them to parts of the text a supporter doesn’t spend much time with.

Now, I’ve said there are those who support a Biblical reality, and those who don’t.  I say nothing of those who remain neutral.  The reason for this is simple.  It is because, the way I see it, you can take only one of two possible positions on the Bible…

Option #1) The Bible is historically and philosophically accurate.  Scientifically it forces you to throw away some pre-suppositions about what constitutes reality.

Option #2) It is a bunch of rubbish and nothing can exist that can’t be scientifically proved, and certainly nothing can exist outside of the known natural universe. (Thanks to the commenter for pointing out “it” is referring to the supernatural claims.  Regardless of its claims, the Bible still has historical significance.)

Because of what the Bible claims about the way things are, you cannot choose to abstain, thereby giving you a 3rd choice.  The law of excluded middles forces you to choose one or two.  You either choose number one, or you chose not number one.  If you choose not to choose, you have effectively chosen number two.  The nature of the thing being decided simply leaves no room for neutrality.  This being the case, it seems prudent to make an educated choice

Now, at this point it is probably rather obvious that I fall into camp #1.  The short version is that it is more difficult for me to believe that something came from nothing, than it is for me to believe in a something that is capable of operating outside of space and time as we currently know it (ie supernatural).  Keep in mind, mankind used to believe the sun circled the earth.  Since then we have made increasingly startling discoveries about the physical world that would have seemed insane in the past.  Even history is not static.  We continually have to adjust what we know about the timeline of the past.  Is it really so crazy to consider the possibility that something exists beyond our own natural and temporal world.  It’s clear to me we’ll probably never know all there is to know about the universe, nonetheless we’re really going to be so sure of ourselves about the possibilities of a metaphysical dimension?  We have it all figured out and know exactly what the bounds of truth and knowledge are?  Really?  An atheist might tell me that it is only my presupposition that the Bible is true that allows me to believe in a spiritual dimension.  In contrast, I think it is the presupposition that supernatural things can’t exist that won’t allow the atheist to accept the otherwise accurate historical track record of the Bible.  In both cases though, it is pretty clear that the Bible is a historically significant document.  The same could be said of any other ancient text.

There are actually a lot of very interesting accounts in the Bible, and scholoars on both sides of the divine debate agree that historically speaking the Bible is incredibly accurate.  I wanted a historical perspective so I chose a chronological reading plan so that events would roughly follow the order of history.  There’s also several translations.  NIV is a long trusted version, but if you want an easy read just to get the gist, try the paraphrase version known as “The Message”.   If you want a balance of word for word translation with modern language try the CEV or HCSB.  Personally I switched back and forth between several versions, and sometimes compared.

I’m glad I did it, so thanks to Pastor Mark for the challenge.  If you are going to actively choose #1 or #2 it behooves you to be clear about not only what you believe, but what the opposition has difficulties with that allows them to not choose the same as you, so that you can converse with them about it with kindness and understanding.  I give a lot of credit to the atheist who has taken it upon themselves to become educated about what it is they are standing against.  Even if I disagree with them, as do they with me, good for them for familiarizing themselves with what they’re actually disagreeing with.  I respect that.  It’s why I’ve started slowly reading the Book of Mormon.

If you know only your own viewpoint on anything (Apple fanboys!), in my opinion your view is blind.  Know what you believe, and why you believe it.  If you’re just choosing to not choose, you’re not choosing very wisely.  Even worse, in this particular case, your indifference has actually served to make the choice for you.  If you’re standing in the middle of the train tracks you can choose to stay there because you think the track is dormant, or you can choose to step to safety because you think the tracks are active.  You can decide you don’t need to make a decision, but that just leaves you where you are, and you may find out the hard way you should have made an educated decision.  I propose it is more sound to at least come to an educated conclusion for yourself that the tracks are dormant, rather than find out from the train that they’re not.

And that, in a nutshell, is the foundational perspective that influences, or at least that I try to let influence, every aspect of my thinking on every subject, so don’t be surprised when I bring up God.  I’m always happy to have people cordially disagree with me though.  Those are the ones that actually help solidify my thinking by either rectifying it because I’m not thinking clearly, or entrenching it because I believe I am.  I have nothing but regard for anybody who can serve either purpose, as long as when we mind barf all over each other it is done with mutual respect.