Deconversion

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Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 10, 2006, 7:49:38 PM6/10/06
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After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
(for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
(no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.

I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
wrong than right.

If you want more details, you can find some at
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
or ask me.

*

This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
then come back?

- The denizens of uk.r.c are an extremely cool bunch
of people, and I'd prefer not to lose contact with
you.

- The purpose of uk.r.c, according to the charter,
is discussion of Christianity in the UK. If there
are too many participants who aren't Christians,
some Christians may be repelled, greatly to the
detriment of the group's ability to fulfil its
function. uk.r.c already has quite a few atheist
and otherwise skeptical participants...

- It might feel weird to have me suddenly arguing
the opposite side from what you're used to (though
of course not *all* my opinions have changed, so
I won't always be). I wouldn't want to freak anyone
out. :-)

*

Those of you who wish to speculate that this is all
because I wasn't a member of the One True Church, or
because I accepted the devilish heresy of evolution,
or because I held on to an outmoded supernaturalist
conception of Christianity, or [etc., etc., etc.] are
welcome to do so. I can't think of any such speculation
that I find at all plausible.

--
Gareth McCaughan
.sig under construc

Peter R

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Jun 10, 2006, 10:43:16 PM6/10/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87y7w4b...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...

> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
> (for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>
> I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
> Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
> wrong than right.


Well well, a very brave move old chap and one I wish you well in. I've often
said on the group that I feel like an atheist acting out the part of a
Christian because I so want it to be true and I havn't the balls to walk
away from what has become an intrinsic part of my world view and my social
groupings so I really do admire someone who has got the courage.
It's funny you know, I've often thought, though I've never said it to you,
that your "non" stance on Homosexuality made you look a bit wishy washy and
unable to make decisions on important issues, but of course this blows that
impression outta the water :-)


> If you want more details, you can find some at
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
> or ask me.


Ok;
1)Are you scared?
2)How do you think such a move will it change your social arrangements.
(will you lose friends over it)?
3)What now regarding morality and meaning?
4)Will you now finally make up your mind about the rightness or wrongness of
H? :-)


> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and

> then come back? <snip>


Oh do please stay, I am fascinated by what you've done, and how it will play
out.

Peter R

Richard Dudley

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Jun 11, 2006, 12:40:35 AM6/11/06
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:

< snippage >


> Those of you who wish to speculate that this is all
> because I wasn't a member of the One True Church, or
> because I accepted the devilish heresy of evolution,
> or because I held on to an outmoded supernaturalist
> conception of Christianity, or [etc., etc., etc.] are
> welcome to do so. I can't think of any such speculation
> that I find at all plausible.

I speculate that its a step forward in discipleship. You might find
authors such as M Scott Peck and James Fowler helpful for this new
stage in your life. Like Peter R, I see this as a courageous move.
Peck's '4 stages' theory would probably have you making the progression
from stage 2 to stage 3.

Richard

Peter R

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Jun 11, 2006, 2:05:38 AM6/11/06
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:
> < snippage >
>> Those of you who wish to speculate that this is all
>> because I wasn't a member of the One True Church, or
>> because I accepted the devilish heresy of evolution,
>> or because I held on to an outmoded supernaturalist
>> conception of Christianity, or [etc., etc., etc.] are
>> welcome to do so. I can't think of any such speculation
>> that I find at all plausible.


Richard


> I speculate that its a step forward in discipleship. You might find
> authors such as M Scott Peck and James Fowler helpful for this new
> stage in your life. Like Peter R, I see this as a courageous move.
> Peck's '4 stages' theory would probably have you making the progression
> from stage 2 to stage 3.


Sighhh....don't you think that's somewhat patronising[1] Richard? I can't
speak for Gareth but I know that response would annoy me big time. Just the
lack of reading[2] it assumes would piss me off.

[1]This has brought on a rush of nostalgia. I seem to remember that my very
first post to this group was to tell Anabel I thought she was being
patronising for quoting M Scott Peck to another member of the group who was
struggling with belief...Angie[3] I think??

[2]For what it's worth I think Peck's "Different Drum" is pop-psychology at
its worst

[3]What ever happened to those two? Anyone still in contact?

Peter R

Paul Dean

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Jun 11, 2006, 2:37:34 AM6/11/06
to
On Sun, 11 Jun 2006 01:49:38 +0200, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
> (for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>
> I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
> Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
> wrong than right.
>
> If you want more details, you can find some at
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
> or ask me.

Hmmm. One practical question - how does Emma feel? If I made that step
my wife would feel like I'd not kept my promises to her in terms of
jointly living our spiritual life and being there to support hers.

I'll post more later, but for now I just wanted to say along with Peter, a
kind of "well done" for being honest with yourself. If you truly don't
have the experience of a personality being the "ground of being", then
you're right - I certainly wouldn't believe in God without the
experience. All your arguments could have been produced by me before I
became a Christian and the experience caused me to re-orientate my whole
scheme of thought so that the ground of being was at the centre of any
conclusions I make; without that experience there's no point. I've always
maintained that I simply can't understand how anyone becomes, or is, a
Christian based only on careful consideration and intellectual analysis
and your move has removed a counter-example to that. So I'm glad you've
seen sense, and hope that this is only the start of your journey with God
(by which word I'm completely sure I mean something different to that
which you've always meant).

> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
> then come back?

I personally would be almost damaged and actually dismayed if you weren't
around to not let me get away with loose thinking. We can tell one of the
other atheists to get lost if there are too many!

--
Paul
http://www.deancentral.net/

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Mark Goodge

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Jun 11, 2006, 2:56:04 AM6/11/06
to
On 11 Jun 2006 00:49:38 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
and typed:

>After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
>I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
>(for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
>(no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.

[FX: checks headers. No, this isn't a delayed post from April 1st.]

Well. That's a bit of an unexpected thing to read, to say the least.

>I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
>Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
>wrong than right.
>
>If you want more details, you can find some at
>http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
>or ask me.

Summary: The Problem of Evil is Insurmountable. Up to a point, I can
understand; I think this is probably the only serious objection to
Christianity (or, at least, to some form of theism) which stands up to
detailed scrutiny.

>This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>then come back?

That depends a lot on how much you want to be a real live example of
how Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance affects someone in your
situation :-)

Mark
--
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Listen: http://www.goodge.co.uk/files/dweeb.mp3 - you'll love it!

Gordon Hudson

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Jun 11, 2006, 3:31:44 AM6/11/06
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"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87y7w4b...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...
> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
> (for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>
> I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
> Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
> wrong than right.

I went through a similar crisis last October.
This did not make sense as I had been through so many major trials in myh
life with my faith completely intact.
What caused the problem for me was that I started to associate my faith with
church.
As I was not really going to church I concluded that I couldn't be a
Christian.
That probably sounds bonkers, but I decided to give up.

A couple of months later I was running on the treadmill in the gym and I had
an overwhelming feeling that God loved me regardless of anything I might do
and my faith gradually returned.
If you had spoken to me before that I would have said there was no chance of
me believing again.
The faith I have now seems to be different from before.
Gradually I am learning to hear God's voice in a way I have not for many
years.

My advive would be to have a rest and maybe God will meet you in an
unexpected place.

John Blake

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Jun 11, 2006, 3:44:55 AM6/11/06
to
On 11 Jun 2006 00:49:38 +0100, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

>After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
>I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
>(for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
>(no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>
>I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
>Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
>wrong than right.
>

How very brave and honest of you Gareth. I understand now why you were
often the only one to see things, at least to some extent, my way in
the past.

>If you want more details, you can find some at
>http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
>or ask me.
>
> *
>
>This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>then come back?
>

Please stay! Your debating skills are too valuable to be lost to the
group.

> - The denizens of uk.r.c are an extremely cool bunch
> of people, and I'd prefer not to lose contact with
> you.
>
> - The purpose of uk.r.c, according to the charter,
> is discussion of Christianity in the UK. If there
> are too many participants who aren't Christians,
> some Christians may be repelled, greatly to the
> detriment of the group's ability to fulfil its
> function. uk.r.c already has quite a few atheist
> and otherwise skeptical participants...
>

I see no reason why any Christians should be repelled by atheists. On
the contrary, I would hope they would relish the opportunity to put
over their views on their religion.


JB

Paul Dean

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Jun 11, 2006, 4:49:32 AM6/11/06
to
On Sun, 11 Jun 2006 01:49:38 +0200, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> If you want more details, you can find some at
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
> or ask me.

You wrote on your web-site:
> I'm fairly sure (let's say, well over 95% and probablyover 99%) that the
> universe is not being overseen by a
> perfectly good and infinitely powerful being, nor anyvery close
> approximation to one. (The problem of evilsuffices, all on its own.)
>
> I have no idea whether the world was created. The merefact of its
> existence is a bit of a mystery, but not one
> that's helped by postulating a creator: the fundamentalpuzzle is "how
> come there's anything?", and a creatorneeds explaining no less than a
> universe.
>
> I'm adopting materialism as a working hypothesis; itseems to hold up
> pretty well, but the world is strangeenough that I'm not terribly
> confident about it.

The definition of existence seems central to your article, as you deny the
existence of a particular non-physical being and suggest materialism
which, AIUI, is the idea that the only things that exist are physical
things - basically atoms and their constituent parts. As
ex-mathematicians, I need to ask you what definition of 'existence' you're
using and why have you chosen that one?

To me it's an entirely open question and the choice is usually determined
by our experience and culture (we live in an extremely materialist
culture) and I wonder whether you've gone through a conscious exercise of
examining your definitions and assumptions about existence. If so, I'd be
interested in your sources and conclusions; if not, then I've got some
puzzlement in need of a solution I can't imagine ;-)

Quasin

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Jun 11, 2006, 4:39:05 AM6/11/06
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:
> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
> (for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>

Absolute honesty works far better for me than trying to
believe stuff I don't believe merely because I was taught to
or I'm supposed to. :) So I totally respect and appreciate
this step in your life.

If my belief in God were based on the Bible or reason or
anything learned in church, I would not be a Christian. I'm
stuck because of too many experiences and encounters that
have no other explanation than madness (but that doesn't
cover the physical miracles I've experienced) or God.

I agree with you that there are some big problems that the
typical "Christian" answers do not satisfy. I appreciate
your willingness to say so out loud.


> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
> then come back?
>
> - The denizens of uk.r.c are an extremely cool bunch
> of people, and I'd prefer not to lose contact with
> you.
>
> - The purpose of uk.r.c, according to the charter,
> is discussion of Christianity in the UK. If there
> are too many participants who aren't Christians,
> some Christians may be repelled, greatly to the
> detriment of the group's ability to fulfil its
> function. uk.r.c already has quite a few atheist
> and otherwise skeptical participants...
>
> - It might feel weird to have me suddenly arguing
> the opposite side from what you're used to (though
> of course not *all* my opinions have changed, so
> I won't always be). I wouldn't want to freak anyone
> out. :-)
>

If you are concerned about confusing people why not just add
to your sig "no longer a Christian as of 6-6-06"?

Question - how do you feel? Elated, depressed, puzzled,
freed, directionless, no different than the day before or
the year before June 6, 06?

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 5:57:42 AM6/11/06
to
Peter R wrote:

> Well well, a very brave move old chap and one I wish you well in.

Thanks.

> 1)Are you scared?

No. (I'm not sure whether you mean "of hell", "of death", "of living
without God", or "of making such a big change in my life", but the
answer is no in all three cases. Of course if (er, when) I find myself
facing imminent death I'll probably feel scared of it, but I think
most Christians do too.

> 2)How do you think such a move will it change your social arrangements.
> (will you lose friends over it)?

I hope not, but it remains to be seen.

> 3)What now regarding morality and meaning?

I never thought morality and meaning needed to be derived
from a deity in the first place, so I'll be finding out
practically whether I was right :-).

> 4)Will you now finally make up your mind about the rightness or wrongness of
> H? :-)

The only reason I had for thinking that it might be wrong
was religious, so I suppose I conclude that it's not-wrong.
I still don't think it's something I need to have much of
an opinion on, what with being married and heterosexual :-).
(Of course I need to be nice and uncomdemnatory of my gay
acquaintances, but that was needed just as much before.)

> Oh do please stay, I am fascinated by what you've done, and how it will play
> out.

Thanks for the kind words!

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 5:59:40 AM6/11/06
to
Richard Dudley wrote:

> I speculate that its a step forward in discipleship.

Always possible in principle: it may turn out in the end
that I've rejected some deeply wrong version of Christianity
and that I'll come round to a deeply right one in time.
But I have to say it doesn't look terribly likely at
present.

(It's also possible that I'll come round to the same one
I left, if I encounter really compelling new evidence.
Or that I'll turn into a firebreathing atheist of the
"religion is the scourge of humanity" type. Those seem
quite unlikely too.)

> You might find
> authors such as M Scott Peck and James Fowler helpful for this new
> stage in your life. Like Peter R, I see this as a courageous move.
> Peck's '4 stages' theory would probably have you making the progression
> from stage 2 to stage 3.

Whereas you, I'm sure, are at stage 4 at least, or possibly stage 5.

Quasin

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Jun 11, 2006, 5:40:40 AM6/11/06
to
John Blake wrote:

> <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
>>After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
>>I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
>>(for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago
>>(no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>>
>>I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
>>Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
>>wrong than right.
>
> How very brave and honest of you Gareth. I understand now why you were
> often the only one to see things, at least to some extent, my way in
> the past.
>


Hey, John! Haven't I occasionally agreed with you, or you
with me? :)

Quasin

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 6:29:36 AM6/11/06
to
Mark Goodge wrote:

>> If you want more details, you can find some at
>> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
>> or ask me.
>
> Summary: The Problem of Evil is Insurmountable.

Well, no, actually, there are a bunch of other things too.
But it's the problem of evil that makes me reasonably convinced
that not only Christianity but most forms of theism are wrong.

> Up to a point, I can
> understand; I think this is probably the only serious objection to
> Christianity (or, at least, to some form of theism) which stands up to
> detailed scrutiny.

I've scrutinized it in a lot of detail, and I think it stands up
very well (perhaps I should say very ill, since it argues from
disagreeable facts to a disagreeable conclusion) indeed. And it
seems to me that if anything that purports to be a refutation or
near-refutation of Christianity *does* stand up, then Christianity
is refuted or near-refuted.

But, to repeat, there are other objections that I think have
considerable force.

>> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>> then come back?
>
> That depends a lot on how much you want to be a real live example of
> how Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance affects someone in your
> situation :-)

I don't think I understand; sorry to be dim. What particular
dissonance do you think I'll suffer from by remaining in uk.r.c,
and what do you expect me to do to reduce it? I don't, e.g.,
see any incompatibility between believing that the denizens
of uk.r.c are an excellent bunch of people, while also believing
that they're mostly wrong about something very important. After
all, *I* was wrong about the same thing until very recently :-).

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 6:22:11 AM6/11/06
to
Paul Dean wrote:

> Hmmm. One practical question - how does Emma feel? If I made that
> step my wife would feel like I'd not kept my promises to her in terms
> of jointly living our spiritual life and being there to support hers.

She's not overjoyed about it, of course. I understand what you say
about keeping promises, and for that matter any more-than-nominal
Christian has promised to remain one. I don't like breaking promises,
and that's one reason why I've hung on for so long, having had grave
misgivings for years.

But sometimes you have to break a promise. If you promise someone
that you'll see them at a particular time and then you get hit by
a bus and land in hospital, you can't keep that promise. If you
promise obedience to someone and it turns out that the person didn't
even *exist*, then you can't keep that promise. (Though sometimes
you might want to, if they were some sort of proxy for another
person or institution you trust even after finding that the proxy
didn't exist.)

> I'll post more later, but for now I just wanted to say along with
> Peter, a kind of "well done" for being honest with yourself. If you
> truly don't have the experience of a personality being the "ground of
> being", then you're right - I certainly wouldn't believe in God
> without the experience.

It's certainly possible that at some time in the future I'll have
some experience so stunning and life-changing that I'll have to
re-re-consider. Or, for that matter, it's possible that Calvinism
is right and that will never happen because I'm not one of the
Elect and God has no interest in saving me. (In the latter case,
I'm not sure I'd want much to do with him anyway; but we've had
that discussion before.)

> So I'm glad you've seen sense,
> and hope that this is only the start of your journey with God (by
> which word I'm completely sure I mean something different to that
> which you've always meant).

Understood. (Please don't think, by the way, that I've ever
thought my understanding of God was definitive or complete.)

>> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>> then come back?
>
> I personally would be almost damaged and actually dismayed if you
> weren't around to not let me get away with loose thinking. We can
> tell one of the other atheists to get lost if there are too many!

But they, unlike me, aren't offering to leave if uk.r.c
would be better without them. :-)

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 6:37:10 AM6/11/06
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

> I went through a similar crisis last October.

...


> As I was not really going to church I concluded that I couldn't be a
> Christian.
> That probably sounds bonkers, but I decided to give up.

It seems ... unusual. But not bonkers.

> Gradually I am learning to hear God's voice in a way I have not for many
> years.

Cool.

> My advive would be to have a rest and maybe God will meet you in an
> unexpected place.

Always possible. Do you mean a rest from uk.r.c, or a rest from
going to church, or a rest from having anything to do with Christians,
or what? :-)

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 6:38:53 AM6/11/06
to
John Blake wrote:

>> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>> then come back?
>
> Please stay! Your debating skills are too valuable to be lost to the
> group.

Well, you *would* say that, wouldn't you? I was wondering
more what the Christians would say; it's not hard to predict
the atheists' preferences in this. :-)

> I see no reason why any Christians should be repelled by atheists. On
> the contrary, I would hope they would relish the opportunity to put
> over their views on their religion.

You might hope so, but it's perfectly reasonable to be
confident that something is true but not confident in
one's ability to defend it before a hostile jury.

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 6:43:44 AM6/11/06
to
"Quasin" wrote:

> If you are concerned about confusing people why not just add to your
> sig "no longer a Christian as of 6-6-06"?

I might. Except that it *wasn't* 6/6/6, as I said. (I suppose
it would be amusing to pretend that it was, but I'm not very
keen on the winding-people-up sort of humour.)

> Question - how do you feel? Elated, depressed, puzzled, freed,
> directionless, no different than the day before or the year before
> June 6, 06?

Not much different. I think there are a few reasons.

- I'm not a very emotional person; I think much more
than I feel. This may well be a weakness but, well,
it's how I am.

- This has been brewing for a long time, and the process
of re-evaluation that led to my decision to jump ship
had been fairly clearly heading that way for a while.

- My *values* are largely unchanged. I was always committed
to God because I was committed to truth and goodness, not
the other way around. So -- so far, at least -- there's
no great revolution in that aspect of my life.

But it's always possible that in a week, a month, a year,
I'll be in a state of total despair at the finitude of life,
or of joyful liberation at not having to believe all that
Wrong Stuff any more, or something. But not yet.

Gareth McCaughan

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Jun 11, 2006, 6:53:28 AM6/11/06
to
Paul Dean wrote:

> The definition of existence seems central to your article, as you deny
> the existence of a particular non-physical being and suggest
> materialism which, AIUI, is the idea that the only things that exist
> are physical things - basically atoms and their constituent parts.
> As ex-mathematicians, I need to ask you what definition of
> 'existence' you're using and why have you chosen that one?

Actually, no; it's just that the language of "existence" is
convenient. I don't know of any *definition* of the word that
works adequately to cover all the sorts of things that might
be thought to exist -- people, electrons, opinions, gods,
other universes, physical laws, numbers, dimensions, purposes,
values, possible worlds -- without begging crucial questions
or failing to enlighten at all.

If God "exists", then of course it's likely to be a very different
kind of existence from that of the physical objects we're most
familiar with.

> To me it's an entirely open question and the choice is usually
> determined by our experience and culture (we live in an extremely
> materialist culture) and I wonder whether you've gone through a
> conscious exercise of examining your definitions and assumptions
> about existence. If so, I'd be interested in your sources and
> conclusions; if not, then I've got some puzzlement in need of a
> solution I can't imagine ;-)

I'm confident that I'm not assuming that "exists" means "exists
in the universe" or "exists in the same way as a physical object"
or anything like that. Beyond that, I don't think I'm making much
in the way of assumptions about existence. Whatever the sense in
which (according to Christianity) God "exists", it's a sense that
allows statements like these to be true, or at least to be good
approximations to the truth:
- God created the universe.
- God never sins.
- God loves you.
- God knows everything.
- God can do anything to the universe that he wants.
- God became incarnate in Jesus.
And Christians, day by day, get on with their lives and their
faith on the basis of this sort of thing; they don't need to
decide *exactly* what the author to the Hebrews meant when he
said that God "is". All talk about God is to some extent
analogical, and talk of his existence is presumably the same.

Do you have some reason to think that subtleties related to
the nature of existence might make a difference to such things
as the problem of evil, or God's apparent inactivity, or the
deficiencies I find in the Bible?

Tim W

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 7:59:27 AM6/11/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87y7w4b...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...
>> ... I am no longer a Christian.
...

Blimey. How awful. You must have been going through some agonies. I can only
think you must be experiencing something like a kind of bereavement now. My
thoughts are with you, in complete sincerity.

I fear you may have landed in the dillema between the horns of both stools
where religion is intellectually untenable but atheism is emotionally and
morally untenable. If it's any help I think that is where modern life puts
most of us at some time.

I do hope you will stick around.

Tim w

Paul Dean

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 8:10:58 AM6/11/06
to
On Sun, 11 Jun 2006 12:22:11 +0200, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> Paul Dean wrote:
>
>> Hmmm. One practical question - how does Emma feel? If I made that
>> step my wife would feel like I'd not kept my promises to her in terms
>> of jointly living our spiritual life and being there to support hers.
>
> She's not overjoyed about it, of course. I understand what you say
> about keeping promises, and for that matter any more-than-nominal
> Christian has promised to remain one. I don't like breaking promises,
> and that's one reason why I've hung on for so long, having had grave
> misgivings for years.
>
> But sometimes you have to break a promise. If you promise someone
> that you'll see them at a particular time and then you get hit by
> a bus and land in hospital, you can't keep that promise. If you
> promise obedience to someone and it turns out that the person didn't
> even *exist*, then you can't keep that promise. (Though sometimes
> you might want to, if they were some sort of proxy for another
> person or institution you trust even after finding that the proxy
> didn't exist.)

Please understand I'm not being hostile when I say this, but it can be a
problem if her interpretation of your promise differs from yours; will you
continue to actively support and encourage her in what sees as her
relationship with God, or will you feel obliged to subtlely steer her
towards the truth (as you see it)? I can see strong arguments for both
courses and I assume you've discussed it thoroughly.

Peter R

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 8:31:41 AM6/11/06
to
Gareth

>>This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>>stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>>then come back?


Mark


> That depends a lot on how much you want to be a real live example of
> how Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance affects someone in your
> situation :-)


It's funny you should say that. I was pondering, after I read Gareths post,
why I havn't made the same decision and I concluded that though I have a
sense of dissonance with my current position, because I can see so many
negative aspects with it, I'm not at all sure that *for me* choosing as
Gareth has would reduce said dissonance and increase a sense of consonance,
as the alternative doesn't seem to have a lot of positive aspects and just
as many negative ones.

Still I shall be very interested to watch and learn from Gareth experience
in the treadmill, should he decide to stay ;-)

Peter R

Gordon Hudson

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 8:24:04 AM6/11/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87bqt0a...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...

Just let yourself stop struggling.
Stopping going to church might help, but I don;t know your current
situation.
My wife does not go to church now although we both met in church and were
both Christians at the time.
I would probably go to church if she was willing to go but its not worth the
aggro so I don't make an issue of it.
I have a good excuse though, there are very few churches near here of any
type.
To be honest the biggest pressure on us has been the great disappointment
felt by Christian friends.

Here is a useful point:
If you keep going to church they will probably just go on considering you as
a Christian.

I know that when I meet other Christians, the first thing they ask is whay
chirch I go to and when i say I don't they give the impression they doubt my
sincerity.

Peter R

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 8:44:40 AM6/11/06
to
>> That depends a lot on how much you want to be a real live example of
>> how Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance affects someone in your
>> situation :-)


> I don't think I understand; sorry to be dim. What particular
> dissonance do you think I'll suffer from by remaining in uk.r.c,
> and what do you expect me to do to reduce it? I don't, e.g.,
> see any incompatibility between believing that the denizens
> of uk.r.c are an excellent bunch of people, while also believing
> that they're mostly wrong about something very important. After
> all, *I* was wrong about the same thing until very recently :-).


I think he's saying that having made such a major decision the dissonance
that, according to Festinger, should accompany this decision, and how you
cope with it will make you a "real live example" (like a rat in a cage
so-to-speak) if you stay.
I may be missunderstanding him though :-/

Peter R

Ian Smith

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 8:46:35 AM6/11/06
to
On 11 Jun 2006, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> Peter R wrote:
>
> > 1)Are you scared?
>
> No. (I'm not sure whether you mean "of hell", "of death", "of living
> without God", or "of making such a big change in my life", but the
> answer is no in all three cases. Of course if (er, when) I find myself
> facing imminent death I'll probably feel scared of it, but I think
> most Christians do too.


I have faced imminent death on a few occasions (for those not
already aware - I have a life-threatening allergy, I have on occasion
suffered from this without the appropriate medication to hand, on one
occasion losing consciousness in expectation of not regaining it,
though as it happens I did come round - in a serious-looking hospital
room).

Death, in itself, does not scare me, and did not scare me at the time.
I think my most profound emotion on both most serious occasions was
regret. On one occasion, I was some distance from my wife who was 6
months pregnant with our first child. On the other (earlier), I
simply felt that it was a shame not to have achieved something more.

Of course, this in no way invalidates Gareth's assertion (I may well
simply be abnormal), but it's just a personal observation - in fact,
the notion of facing losing the hope of God is a good deal scarier
than merely death.


On a marginally happier note, I would like to add my exhortation to
Gareth not to stop contributing to this group.

regards, Ian SMith
--
|\ /| no .sig
|o o|
|/ \|

Peter R

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 8:50:43 AM6/11/06
to
Tim
<snip>

> I fear you may have landed in the dillema between the horns of both stools
> where religion is intellectually untenable but atheism is emotionally and
> morally untenable.
<snip>


Well that's where I'd be but if you read what Gareth is saying it doesn't
seem he is. It's really all very fascinating.

Peter R

Frederick Williams

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 9:43:59 AM6/11/06
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:
>
> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
> (for me) intellectually tenable.

I'm not surprised!

> As of a few days ago

> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.

Does any other religion appeal?

> If you want more details, you can find some at
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html

Maybe that will answer my question. I'll take a look at it.

> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
> stay on uk.r.c,

I hope so.

> ... I held on to an outmoded supernaturalist
> conception of Christianity,

What's one of those?

--
Remove "antispam" and ".invalid" for e-mail address.

Frederick Williams

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 9:47:37 AM6/11/06
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:

>
> Peter R wrote:

> > 3)What now regarding morality and meaning?
>
> I never thought morality and meaning needed to be derived
> from a deity in the first place, so I'll be finding out
> practically whether I was right :-).

You are. No need for religion never mind deities, but if you think that
some kind of religion might appeal, look into Buddhism. (Bet you
already have?)

Phil Saunders

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 9:45:28 AM6/11/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87y7w4b...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...

> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not

> (for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago


> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.

snip

> Those of you who wish to speculate that this is all
> because I wasn't a member of the One True Church, or
> because I accepted the devilish heresy of evolution,
> or because I held on to an outmoded supernaturalist
> conception of Christianity, or [etc., etc., etc.] are
> welcome to do so. I can't think of any such speculation
> that I find at all plausible.

Hi Gareth,

I couldspeculate but I wont.

I am saddened but unsurprised. I cant imagine that any intellectual search
for God will find Jesus.

Dont go away, stay and play :-)

Phil

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 9:59:23 AM6/11/06
to
Paul Dean wrote:

> Please understand I'm not being hostile when I say this, but it can be
> a problem if her interpretation of your promise differs from yours;

Of course.

> will you continue to actively support and encourage her in what sees
> as her relationship with God, or will you feel obliged to subtlely
> steer her towards the truth (as you see it)? I can see strong
> arguments for both courses and I assume you've discussed it
> thoroughly.

We haven't discussed that issue much yet, but certainly will.
I too see strong arguments both ways. I am, as I think I already
mentioned, not really the proselytizing sort, so I lean more
towards the former. There are, as it were, boundaries on each
side: being supportive and respectful to my wife is not negotiable,
and nor is being honest. Beyond that: well, it's early days yet.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:00:44 AM6/11/06
to
Peter R wrote:

Oh, I see. So, not that being in uk.r.c will make a difference
to whether I suffer cognitive dissonance and how I deal with it,
but that it will make a difference to whether it's observed.
Fair enough. Anyway, that's not a prospect that bothers me;
anyone is free to draw whatever conclusions they like from
what I say and do, and I in turn am free to laugh. :-)

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:04:46 AM6/11/06
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

>>> My advive would be to have a rest and maybe God will meet you in an
>>> unexpected place.
>>
>> Always possible. Do you mean a rest from uk.r.c, or a rest from
>> going to church, or a rest from having anything to do with Christians,
>> or what? :-)
>
> Just let yourself stop struggling.

Have done :-).

> Stopping going to church might help, but I don;t know your current
> situation.

I actually stopped going to church a while ago, because it was
not-helping in two opposite ways.

1. It was definitely unhelpful that I kept having to sit
through sermons filled with (in my view) Silly Things; it
was putting me off Christianity in not-very-rational ways.
I didn't want that to happen.

2. I suspect it was working the other way in even less
rational ways, in that repeating "I believe X" over and
over is always going to tend to make you believe X,
regardless of whether you have any reason for believing it.

> To be honest the biggest pressure on us has been the great disappointment
> felt by Christian friends.

It'll be interesting to see how that one plays out.

> Here is a useful point:
> If you keep going to church they will probably just go on considering you as
> a Christian.

Not if I'm honest with them.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:06:14 AM6/11/06
to
Peter R wrote:

> Well that's where I'd be but if you read what Gareth is saying it doesn't
> seem he is. It's really all very fascinating.

Glad to be of service.

--
Gareth McCaughan
uk.r.c laboratory rat

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:05:44 AM6/11/06
to
Tim W wrote:

> Blimey. How awful. You must have been going through some agonies. I can only
> think you must be experiencing something like a kind of bereavement now. My
> thoughts are with you, in complete sincerity.

Thanks. Actually, it doesn't feel particularly bad, though it may be
that the awfulness (or wondrousness) of it will dawn later.

> I fear you may have landed in the dillema between the horns of both stools
> where religion is intellectually untenable but atheism is emotionally and
> morally untenable. If it's any help I think that is where modern life puts
> most of us at some time.

I don't find atheism emotionally or morally untenable. Again, it's
possible that I'll change my mind after trying it for a while :-).

> I do hope you will stick around.

Thanks!

Mark Goodge

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:07:43 AM6/11/06
to
On 11 Jun 2006 11:29:36 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
and typed:

>Mark Goodge wrote:
>
>>> If you want more details, you can find some at
>>> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
>>> or ask me.
>>
>> Summary: The Problem of Evil is Insurmountable.
>
>Well, no, actually, there are a bunch of other things too.
>But it's the problem of evil that makes me reasonably convinced
>that not only Christianity but most forms of theism are wrong.

Well, I was partly summarising your own summary!

>> Up to a point, I can
>> understand; I think this is probably the only serious objection to
>> Christianity (or, at least, to some form of theism) which stands up to
>> detailed scrutiny.
>
>I've scrutinized it in a lot of detail, and I think it stands up
>very well (perhaps I should say very ill, since it argues from
>disagreeable facts to a disagreeable conclusion) indeed. And it
>seems to me that if anything that purports to be a refutation or
>near-refutation of Christianity *does* stand up, then Christianity
>is refuted or near-refuted.

I'm not sure I'd agree with this. At the risk of saying precisely what
you'd expect an evangelical Christian to say, this assumes that we are
capable of conducting such scrutiny with the necessary rigour to be
able to draw strong conclusions from it. And I don't think we can make
that assumption. All we can say is that there are things we cannot
reconcile with our understanding of God - with the words "we" and "our
understanding" being the important ones. It may well be that we simply
don't have the necessary knowledge or intellectual ability to make the
reconciliation work.

I am aware that this can seem like an intellectual cop-out, a get out
of jail card that allows us to simply dismiss anything which we can't
explain. And I'm also painfully aware that many Christians,
particularly evangelicals, do tend to use it in that way. But I don't
think that invalidates it, for two reasons. Firstly, it is a principle
which is explicitly stated in the Bible - "my ways are not your ways"
- and thus is contained firmly within the mainstream of Christianity.
I appreciate that this may not carry much weight with someone who has
already chosen to reject the possibility of the Bible being divinely
inspired, but for someone who still has that option open it's a very
important passage. And, secondly, it seems to me to be simple logic to
conclude that there are things beyond my comprehension. There are
plenty of things I don't know, and plenty more that I simply can't
know. I can't do the maths involved in splitting the atom, and I have
only a rudimentary understanding of English criminal law. No doubt,
with study, I could get close enough to have a functional knowledge in
each, but certainly not both and even with one I'd still be a long way
from being in a position to claim certainty on the great mysteries of
either. So it seems entirely reasonable to me to believe that if
something which purports to be a refutation or near-refutation of
Christianity does seem to stand up to scrutiny, then we're almost
certainly not scrutinising it well enough.

>But, to repeat, there are other objections that I think have
>considerable force.

Sure. But let me ask you a question: if I could prove you wrong on any
or all of them, which one would be the killer argument that caused you
to reconvert? Or, to put it another way, which one of them,
unanswered, would leave you still deconverted even if the others were
all adequately answered?

>>> This gives rise to a question of etiquette: Should I
>>> stay on uk.r.c, or go away, or go away for a while and
>>> then come back?
>>
>> That depends a lot on how much you want to be a real live example of
>> how Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance affects someone in your
>> situation :-)
>
>I don't think I understand; sorry to be dim. What particular
>dissonance do you think I'll suffer from by remaining in uk.r.c,
>and what do you expect me to do to reduce it?

I don't think you'll suffer anything more than possibly being
uncomfortably aware of being watched, like a lab rat in someone else's
experiment. It's just that, having had a debate about FTCD in the not
too distant past in ukrc, having someone go through the process of a
major belief readjustment in full view of us all is likely to be, at
the very least, interesting. Based on my understanding of FTCD, I'd
predict that you'll start to find more things about Christianity (or,
more precisely, about what Christians tend to think and do) that you
disagree with, even though you currently think that not much has
changed other than your specific belief (or otherwise) in God. I'd be
interested to see if I'm right :-)

>I don't, e.g.,
>see any incompatibility between believing that the denizens
>of uk.r.c are an excellent bunch of people, while also believing
>that they're mostly wrong about something very important. After
>all, *I* was wrong about the same thing until very recently :-).

But how wrong were you? To what extent is this entirely new, and to
what extent has it been a nagging doubt all along?

Mark
--
Visit: http://www.FridayFun.net - jokes, lyrics and ringtones
Listen: http://www.goodge.co.uk/files/dweeb.mp3 - you'll love it!

Paul Dean

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:27:06 AM6/11/06
to
On Sun, 11 Jun 2006 12:53:28 +0200, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> Paul Dean wrote:
>
>> The definition of existence seems central to your article, as you deny
>> the existence of a particular non-physical being and suggest
>> materialism which, AIUI, is the idea that the only things that exist
>> are physical things - basically atoms and their constituent parts.
>> As ex-mathematicians, I need to ask you what definition of
>> 'existence' you're using and why have you chosen that one?
>
> Actually, no; it's just that the language of "existence" is
> convenient.

Actually, no, what? No, it's not central to your article? But your
comments are about what exists and what doesn't. If that's just a
convenient way of saying something else, what is that something else?

> I don't know of any *definition* of the word that
> works adequately to cover all the sorts of things that might
> be thought to exist -- people, electrons, opinions, gods,
> other universes, physical laws, numbers, dimensions, purposes,
> values, possible worlds -- without begging crucial questions
> or failing to enlighten at all.

"A thing exists if it derives its existence from God." God is existence
and anything which exists, does so by virtue of its connection and
sustenance from God. That's my definition and it's a current throughout
the history of Christian philosophy.

> I'm confident that I'm not assuming that "exists" means "exists
> in the universe" or "exists in the same way as a physical object"
> or anything like that. Beyond that, I don't think I'm making much
> in the way of assumptions about existence.

Then what did you mean by saying you incline towards Materialism?

> Do you have some reason to think that subtleties related to
> the nature of existence might make a difference to such things
> as the problem of evil, or God's apparent inactivity, or the
> deficiencies I find in the Bible?

For me, God as the ground of being is the ground of my life. I see God's
role as the ground-of-being used as a vital argument time and again in
historical Christian writing so I don't believe it's my innovation! So,
to answer your question, what happens to those issues when everything is
built around this definition of existence (and of God, insofar as He can
have a definition)?

1) The problem of evil - everything that exists derives its existence from
God. Evil is the privation of good, or that which doesn't derive its
existence from God (i.e. doesn't exist in this sense). The "problem of
evil" is then, "why does God allow gaps in the universe where He-is-Not?"
The answer is that those gaps will cease to exist (hence my belief in
anhilation for that not destined for Eternity). We live in the middle of
the process and so only see that it apparently exists, but it doesn't
exist by this Eternity-focused definition.

2) God's apparent inactivity - with this definition, everything is God's
activity. God is pure Act, with no potential at all. What activity do
you expect? Note that here I am arguing for theism, not for Christianity!

3) Deficiencies in the Bible - that's an issue with Christianity, not
theism. For me personally, the Bible proves itself to me time and time
again as so far superior to any other literature that it earns itself a
very special place.

Frederick Williams

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 10:37:49 AM6/11/06
to
Tim W wrote:
>
> ... atheism is emotionally and
> morally untenable.

What on earth makes you think that?

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 11:11:14 AM6/11/06
to
Frederick Williams wrote:

> Gareth McCaughan wrote:
>>
>> Peter R wrote:
>
>>> 3)What now regarding morality and meaning?
>>
>> I never thought morality and meaning needed to be derived
>> from a deity in the first place, so I'll be finding out
>> practically whether I was right :-).
>
> You are. No need for religion never mind deities, but if you think that
> some kind of religion might appeal, look into Buddhism. (Bet you
> already have?)

I've never understood why such different things get lumped
together as "religion" as if they're interchangeable. I can't
really imagine what it would feel like to want *a religion*
rather than, at least, *a particular kind of religion*. And
Buddhism isn't really the same kind of religion as Christianity.
I haven't looked at it much, but it clearly has at least some
good things in it. (As does Christianity, and as I expect does
every other major "religion".)

Gordon Hudson

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 11:53:11 AM6/11/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:87lks3a...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...

> 1. It was definitely unhelpful that I kept having to sit
> through sermons filled with (in my view) Silly Things; it
> was putting me off Christianity in not-very-rational ways.
> I didn't want that to happen.

Oh that sounds so familiar!
Are you sure you are not my sock puppet?

>> Here is a useful point:
>> If you keep going to church they will probably just go on considering you
>> as
>> a Christian.
>
> Not if I'm honest with them.

Christians are funny animals.
I remember one church which was unnaturally anti homosexual (I mean in an
overtly, mke a big issue kind of way) but the church secretary's brother was
a string player in a symphony orchestra (nudge nudge), lived with a man and
was the campest person you are likely to meet.
Needless to say they sort of glossed over this anomaly.
[NB I didn't mind them doing so, I just tho0ught it was odd]
Another organisation of similar views had someone on the board who lived
with a man and was known to frequent bars of a crtain persuasion, yet his
paritioners did not seem to put two and two together, assuming it was just a
lodger in the manse.

I think Christians tend to see what they want to see in others, whether that
be good or bad.

I would describe myself as a reulctant, non religious, Christian.
Which is why I have such an odd set of ideas and a fairly laid back attitude
to other peoples beliefs, provided they let me have my own odd ones.

Gordon Hudson

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 11:54:11 AM6/11/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message
news:873beca...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...

> "Quasin" wrote:
>
>> If you are concerned about confusing people why not just add to your
>> sig "no longer a Christian as of 6-6-06"?
>
> I might. Except that it *wasn't* 6/6/6, as I said. (I suppose
> it would be amusing to pretend that it was, but I'm not very
> keen on the winding-people-up sort of humour.)
>
>> Question - how do you feel? Elated, depressed, puzzled, freed,
>> directionless, no different than the day before or the year before
>> June 6, 06?
>
> Not much different. I think there are a few reasons.
>
> - I'm not a very emotional person; I think much more
> than I feel. This may well be a weakness but, well,
> it's how I am.
>
> - This has been brewing for a long time, and the process
> of re-evaluation that led to my decision to jump ship
> had been fairly clearly heading that way for a while.
>
> - My *values* are largely unchanged. I was always committed
> to God because I was committed to truth and goodness, not
> the other way around. So -- so far, at least -- there's
> no great revolution in that aspect of my life.

OK.
You are definitely my sock puppet.
Have you time warped through from last year?

Paul Wright

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 12:54:59 PM6/11/06
to
In article <87y7w4b...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com>, Gareth McCaughan
wrote:

> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer, I have come to
> the conclusion that Christianity is not (for me) intellectually
> tenable. As of a few days ago (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a
> Christian.

OMGWTFBBQ!!!!!1111!!ONEONE

Ahem.

Like the other posters, I admire your honesty and courage of your
convictions.

> I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
> Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
> wrong than right.


>
> If you want more details, you can find some at
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
> or ask me.

That's interesting to contrast with my own experience. You're rather
more kindly disposed to the Christianity you have come out of than I was
(although I'm told I've mellowed :-). I suppose that's partly because my
emotions were more involved in my initial decision to stop going to
church, if not in my eventual decision to leave Christianity, whereas
you've said it hasn't been a very emotional experience so far. I'd go so
far as to say I hope you *don't* experience some of the emotions I did.

I'm a bit puzzled by the part where you say that you'd be mortified if
your essay made someone else give up being a Christian. I considered
that when I put my story on the web and decided that if someone could be
convinced by my essay, they were probably better off out of Christianity
anyway. I specifically wanted to re-assure people who were at an earlier
stage of that process that the world does not end when you leave.

> Those of you who wish to speculate that this is all because I wasn't a
> member of the One True Church, or because I accepted the devilish
> heresy of evolution, or because I held on to an outmoded
> supernaturalist conception of Christianity, or [etc., etc., etc.] are
> welcome to do so. I can't think of any such speculation that I find at
> all plausible.

You left out not speaking in tongues (assuming you didn't speak in
tongues, of course).

wrt uk.r.c, I never thought to ask whether anyone objected to my return,
but nobody seems to have chased me off yet. I can't be said in any way
to speak for the group, but I think you should stay if it still seems
beneficial to you. (I left when I stopped going to church because I
couldn't bear to have anything to do with Christian stuff for a while
and the group seemed full of people espousing the sort of Christianity I
was least keen on, but your mileage varies).

--
Paul Wright | http://pobox.com/~pw201 | http://blog.noctua.org.uk/
Reply address is valid but discards anything which isn't plain text

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 12:55:45 PM6/11/06
to
Paul Dean wrote:

[me:]


>> Actually, no; it's just that the language of "existence" is
>> convenient.
>
> Actually, no, what? No, it's not central to your article? But your
> comments are about what exists and what doesn't. If that's just a
> convenient way of saying something else, what is that something else?

Indeed: it's not central. Of course it's possible that there are
assumptions implicit in my use of the language of existence --
well, of course there are, but it's possible that they're relevant --
and you're welcome to point out any that you think I need to think
through more carefully.

The sorts of "something else" it's a more convenient way of saying
are things like these, each of which I would formerly have agreed
with (perhaps with reservations) but now find no good reason to
accept:

- "A proper understanding of the universe will show that
reality is ultimately personal rather than impersonal"

- "Jesus was God in human form"

- "Nothing in the universe would be there if it weren't
for God"

>> I don't know of any *definition* of the word that
>> works adequately to cover all the sorts of things that might
>> be thought to exist -- people, electrons, opinions, gods,
>> other universes, physical laws, numbers, dimensions, purposes,
>> values, possible worlds -- without begging crucial questions
>> or failing to enlighten at all.
>
> "A thing exists if it derives its existence from God." God is
> existence and anything which exists, does so by virtue of its
> connection and sustenance from God. That's my definition and it's a
> current throughout the history of Christian philosophy.

A definition is useless unless it can be applied. Your
definition can't be applied without begging the question.
Are there such things as unicorns? Well, there are if
unicorns derive their existence from God, and not otherwise.
Should we say that numbers exist, or adopt an eliminativist
attitude to them? Well, they exist if they derive their
existence from God. And so on: all entirely useless, since
to decide whether something derives its existence from God
you first of all have to decide whether there's any existence
to be so derived.

Not to mention that this "definition" begs another question
by presupposing a God from whom existence can be derived.
I'm afraid I have no time at all for attempts to decide
controversial matters by definitional fiat.

>> I'm confident that I'm not assuming that "exists" means "exists
>> in the universe" or "exists in the same way as a physical object"
>> or anything like that. Beyond that, I don't think I'm making much
>> in the way of assumptions about existence.
>
> Then what did you mean by saying you incline towards Materialism?

I'm not sure I can give a definition of materialism that doesn't
rest on dubious assumptions about the nature of existence, but I'll
have a go. Please consider it a shorthand for something along
the following lines.

"the belief that all the things we observe, or could
in principle observe, can be explained purely materially
as well as they can be explained at all"

That's certainly not entirely satisfactory, but it'll do for now.

>> Do you have some reason to think that subtleties related to
>> the nature of existence might make a difference to such things
>> as the problem of evil, or God's apparent inactivity, or the
>> deficiencies I find in the Bible?
>
> For me, God as the ground of being is the ground of my life. I see
> God's role as the ground-of-being used as a vital argument time and
> again in historical Christian writing so I don't believe it's my
> innovation! So, to answer your question, what happens to those
> issues when everything is built around this definition of existence
> (and of God, insofar as He can have a definition)?

For the reasons I've given above, this definition seems unusable
to me. (I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with
the idea of God as the ground of being; it's the idea of building
the notion into your *definition* of existence that seems all wrong
to me.)

> 1) The problem of evil - everything that exists derives its existence
> from God. Evil is the privation of good, or that which doesn't
> derive its existence from God (i.e. doesn't exist in this sense).
> The "problem of evil" is then, "why does God allow gaps in the
> universe where He-is-Not?" The answer is that those gaps will cease
> to exist (hence my belief in anhilation for that not destined for
> Eternity). We live in the middle of the process and so only see that
> it apparently exists, but it doesn't exist by this Eternity-focused
> definition.

Do you find this a satisfying answer? And do you not think that
if a definition of "existence" denies the "existence" of, say,
cancer or bigotry then that's a sign of something wrong with the
definition?

> 2) God's apparent inactivity - with this definition, everything is
> God's activity. God is pure Act, with no potential at all. What
> activity do you expect? Note that here I am arguing for theism, not
> for Christianity!
>
> 3) Deficiencies in the Bible - that's an issue with Christianity, not
> theism. For me personally, the Bible proves itself to me time and
> time again as so far superior to any other literature that it earns
> itself a very special place.

As I said, I'm much more sure that Christianity is wrong
than I am that mere theism is wrong. And on the basis of
Christianity, though not of mere theism, I would expect
that God would interact more detectably with those who
seek to be his people, I would expect that he would do
more to deal with suffering and evil. (According to
Christianity, he has defeated suffering and death and
evil, but not in a way that actually stops them happening.)

Could you say more about the ways in which the Bible
proves itself to you as so far superior to any other
literature? I assume you don't primarily mean *literarily*
better, but that it provides a particularly effective
guide to life and truth and so on?

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 12:34:32 PM6/11/06
to
Phil Saunders wrote:

> I could speculate but I wont.

Very gentlemanly of you :-).

> I am saddened but unsurprised. I cant imagine that any intellectual search
> for God will find Jesus.
>
> Dont go away, stay and play :-)

It seems that everyone's saying this, so I guess I shall.
Perhaps I should modify my signature so as not to cause
confusion, or something.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 12:26:44 PM6/11/06
to
Mark Goodge wrote:

[me, on the problem of evil]


>> I've scrutinized it in a lot of detail, and I think it stands up
>> very well (perhaps I should say very ill, since it argues from
>> disagreeable facts to a disagreeable conclusion) indeed. And it
>> seems to me that if anything that purports to be a refutation or
>> near-refutation of Christianity *does* stand up, then Christianity
>> is refuted or near-refuted.

[Mark:]


> I'm not sure I'd agree with this. At the risk of saying precisely what
> you'd expect an evangelical Christian to say,

Why's that a risk? You think I'd prefer you to behave inconsistently
with your beliefs? :-)

> this assumes that we are
> capable of conducting such scrutiny with the necessary rigour to be
> able to draw strong conclusions from it. And I don't think we can make
> that assumption. All we can say is that there are things we cannot
> reconcile with our understanding of God - with the words "we" and "our
> understanding" being the important ones. It may well be that we simply
> don't have the necessary knowledge or intellectual ability to make the
> reconciliation work.
>
> I am aware that this can seem like an intellectual cop-out, a get out
> of jail card that allows us to simply dismiss anything which we can't
> explain.

Yup :-).

There's clearly *something* right about that line of argument;
obviously God, should there be one, is infinitely cleverer and
better informed than we are, and it would be surprising if his
doings were never puzzling. But, well, here I am with the
limitations I have, and I have to make decisions on the basis
of the information and understanding available to me.

I think the possibility you raise is a bit like the possibility
that I might really be a "brain in a vat", Matrix-style, or
be being deceived about everything by a malicious demon, a la
Descartes, or be utterly mad and hallucinating everything I
(seem to) see. These are all possible, but if any of them is
true then there's no point in my thinking about what would
follow because then all bets are off, as it were, and I have
no basis for trusting anything I think.

Likewise, it's possible that I (in common with just about
everyone else who's considered the matter) am terribly wrong
in my ideas about what's good, or about what an omnipotent
being could achieve, or something. But if I'm that badly
wrong then all my thinking on these matters is pointless
and I might as well just give up. I certainly couldn't trust
any judgement I might make that God (meaning, perhaps,
"the creator of the universe" or "the One revealed in
the Bible" or "the awesome being I seemed to encounter
last night"[1]) is good or worthy of worship.

[1] No, I didn't really :-).

> And I'm also painfully aware that many Christians,
> particularly evangelicals, do tend to use it in that way. But I don't
> think that invalidates it, for two reasons. Firstly, it is a principle
> which is explicitly stated in the Bible - "my ways are not your ways"
> - and thus is contained firmly within the mainstream of Christianity.
> I appreciate that this may not carry much weight with someone who has
> already chosen to reject the possibility of the Bible being divinely
> inspired, but for someone who still has that option open it's a very
> important passage.

I haven't chosen to reject the *possibility*. I just think it's
wrong :-).

> And, secondly, it seems to me to be simple logic to
> conclude that there are things beyond my comprehension. There are
> plenty of things I don't know, and plenty more that I simply can't
> know. I can't do the maths involved in splitting the atom, and I have
> only a rudimentary understanding of English criminal law. No doubt,
> with study, I could get close enough to have a functional knowledge in
> each, but certainly not both and even with one I'd still be a long way
> from being in a position to claim certainty on the great mysteries of
> either. So it seems entirely reasonable to me to believe that if
> something which purports to be a refutation or near-refutation of
> Christianity does seem to stand up to scrutiny, then we're almost
> certainly not scrutinising it well enough.

If you have compelling enough reason, from some other direction,
to believe that Christianity is right, then I agree. That's why
I looked at lots of other things besides the problem of evil.
I can only guess what reasons you may have; but *I* don't have
any such overriding reasons.

>> But, to repeat, there are other objections that I think have
>> considerable force.
>
> Sure. But let me ask you a question: if I could prove you wrong on any
> or all of them, which one would be the killer argument that caused you
> to reconvert? Or, to put it another way, which one of them,
> unanswered, would leave you still deconverted even if the others were
> all adequately answered?

You'd need to deal with several of them (or provide me with
some new evidence that outweighs them) to get me to reconvert.
In the absence of new evidence, I think you'd need to provide
some sort of answer to (1) the problem of evil, (2) the apparent
inaction of God, and (3) the unsatisfactoriness of the Bible.
If you were able to sort out #1 and #2 but not #3, then I might
be open to reconversion to some version of Christianity liberal
enough to be untroubled by Biblical problems, but why bother? :-)
#1 and #2 are closely related, of course, but I don't think
they're the same.

> I don't think you'll suffer anything more than possibly being
> uncomfortably aware of being watched, like a lab rat in someone else's
> experiment. It's just that, having had a debate about FTCD in the not
> too distant past in ukrc, having someone go through the process of a
> major belief readjustment in full view of us all is likely to be, at
> the very least, interesting. Based on my understanding of FTCD, I'd
> predict that you'll start to find more things about Christianity (or,
> more precisely, about what Christians tend to think and do) that you
> disagree with, even though you currently think that not much has
> changed other than your specific belief (or otherwise) in God. I'd be
> interested to see if I'm right :-)

Oh, sure. But I'd expect that quite independently of FTCD;
wouldn't you?

>> I don't, e.g.,
>> see any incompatibility between believing that the denizens
>> of uk.r.c are an excellent bunch of people, while also believing
>> that they're mostly wrong about something very important. After
>> all, *I* was wrong about the same thing until very recently :-).
>
> But how wrong were you? To what extent is this entirely new, and to
> what extent has it been a nagging doubt all along?

Oh, it's been a nagging doubt since approximately for ever,
and a very serious nagging doubt for some years, and a matter
of serious and methodical investigation for about a year and
a half. But -- so far as I can tell, of course -- I don't
think my Christian beliefs were pseudo-beliefs, except maybe
in the last few months when it was pretty clear which way
the investigation was going in the absence of startling new
information.

In other words, I insist that I really *was* wrong, dammit. :-)

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 12:31:11 PM6/11/06
to
Frederick Williams wrote:

>> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
>> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not
>> (for me) intellectually tenable.
>
> I'm not surprised!

Not surprised that I have, or not surprised when any Christian
does?

>> As of a few days ago
>> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.
>
> Does any other religion appeal?

Forgive me if this sounds snotty, but *appealing* isn't
really the point. Lots of religions, of which Christianity
is certainly still one, are appealing in various ways; but
I don't see any good reason to think that any of them is
right.

>> ... I held on to an outmoded supernaturalist
>> conception of Christianity,
>
> What's one of those?

Some Christians (so they call themselves, and I'll give them
the benefit of the doubt) profess to think that Christianity
needs to abandon allegedly outdated ideas like that of a god
who actually intervenes in the operation of the universe,
that of Jesus's actually having performed miracles and been
raised from the dead, and so on. I don't quite understand
why someone who wants to abandon all those things wouldn't
just call it abandoning Christianity (which is of course
fully consistent with retaining a lot of respect for, say,
Christian ethics and church architecture) -- except that
quite a few of the people who have taken this view have been
clergy, who I suppose have an obvious reason for not saying
"let's abandon Christianity" :-).

Quasin

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 1:12:31 PM6/11/06
to
Paul Dean wrote:

> Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
>> Paul Dean wrote:
>>
>>> Hmmm. One practical question - how does Emma feel? If I made that
>>> step my wife would feel like I'd not kept my promises to her in terms
>>> of jointly living our spiritual life and being there to support hers.
>>
>> She's not overjoyed about it, of course. I understand what you say
>> about keeping promises, and for that matter any more-than-nominal
>> Christian has promised to remain one. I don't like breaking promises,
>> and that's one reason why I've hung on for so long, having had grave
>> misgivings for years.
>

> Please understand I'm not being hostile when I say this, but it can be
> a problem if her interpretation of your promise differs from yours;
> will you continue to actively support and encourage her in what sees as
> her relationship with God, or will you feel obliged to subtlely steer
> her towards the truth (as you see it)? I can see strong arguments for
> both courses and I assume you've discussed it thoroughly.
>

Perhaps because I'm not married, I didn't totally understand
the "promise" aspect of admitting to one's changing
understanding about God. Yes, if I married a Christian part
of the initial attraction would be that shared view, but
don't many, maybe most marriages involve unanticipated
changes in one or the other? We are all works in progress.

One friend married a big firm lawyer who decided to be a
fireman instead, another is Episcopalian clergy whose wife
has recently decided to attend Assemblies of God instead, a
third married a woman who a year later had a permanently
disabling stroke.

In each case the marriage is not what was anticipated in
finances or religious unity or health independence, but all
three marriages are not only solid but also glowing.

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 1:20:00 PM6/11/06
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

[me:]


>> Not much different. I think there are a few reasons.

...

[Gordon:]


> OK.
> You are definitely my sock puppet.
> Have you time warped through from last year?

I'm not aware of any temporal anomalies.

I'm not aware of any temporal anomalies.

I'm not aware of any temporal anomalies.

Hey, deja vu!

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 1:24:32 PM6/11/06
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

[me:]


>> 1. It was definitely unhelpful that I kept having to sit
>> through sermons filled with (in my view) Silly Things; it
>> was putting me off Christianity in not-very-rational ways.
>> I didn't want that to happen.

[Gordon:]


> Oh that sounds so familiar!
> Are you sure you are not my sock puppet?

Fairly sure.

| Alice took up the fan and gloves, and, as the hall was very hot,
| she kept fanning herself all the time she went on talking: `Dear,
| dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went
| on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let
| me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost
| think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not
| the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT'S
| the great puzzle!' And she began thinking over all the children
| she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she
| could have been changed for any of them.
|
| `I'm sure I'm not Ada,' she said, `for her hair goes in such long
| ringlets, and mine doesn't go in ringlets at all; and I'm sure I
| can't be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh! she
| knows such a very little! Besides, SHE'S she, and I'm I, and--oh
| dear, how puzzling it all is! I'll try if I know all the things I
| used to know. Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four
| times six is thirteen, and four times seven is--oh dear! I shall
| never get to twenty at that rate! However, the Multiplication
| Table doesn't signify: let's try Geography. London is the capital
| of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome, and Rome--no, THAT'S
| all wrong, I'm certain! I must have been changed for Mabel! I'll
| try and say "How doth the little-- "' and she crossed her hands on
| her lap as if she were saying lessons, and began to repeat it, but
| her voice sounded hoarse and strange, and the words did not come
| the same as they used to do:--
|
| `How doth the little crocodile
| Improve his shining tail,
| And pour the waters of the Nile
| On every golden scale!
|
| `How cheerfully he seems to grin,
| How neatly spread his claws,
| And welcome little fishes in
| With gently smiling jaws!'
|
| `I'm sure those are not the right words,' said poor Alice, and her
| eyes filled with tears again as she went on, `I must be Mabel
| after all, and I shall have to go and live in that poky little
| house, and have next to no toys to play with, and oh! ever so many
| lessons to learn! No, I've made up my mind about it; if I'm Mabel,
| I'll stay down here! It'll be no use their putting their heads
| down and saying "Come up again, dear!" I shall only look up and
| say "Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being
| that person, I'll come up: if not, I'll stay down here till I'm
| somebody else"--but, oh dear!' cried Alice, with a sudden burst of
| tears, `I do wish they WOULD put their heads down! I am so VERY
| tired of being all alone here!'

(I shan't attempt to decide which of us would be Alice and which
Mabel. I'm not sure I fancy being either.)

> I remember one church which was unnaturally anti homosexual (I mean in an
> overtly, mke a big issue kind of way) but the church secretary's brother was
> a string player in a symphony orchestra (nudge nudge), lived with a man and
> was the campest person you are likely to meet.
> Needless to say they sort of glossed over this anomaly.

Is it such an anomaly? I mean, was the church secretary's
brother himself a leading member of the church or something?

> I think Christians tend to see what they want to see in others, whether that
> be good or bad.

Probably true to some extent of everyone, Christian or otherwise.

> I would describe myself as a reulctant, non religious, Christian.
> Which is why I have such an odd set of ideas and a fairly laid back attitude
> to other peoples beliefs, provided they let me have my own odd ones.

:-)

Kendall K. Down

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 5:51:56 AM6/11/06
to
On Sun, 11 Jun 2006 01:49:38 +0200, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> After a very great deal of thought, reading and prayer,
> I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is not

> (for me) intellectually tenable. As of a few days ago


> (no, not 6/6/6!) I am no longer a Christian.

Gareth has posted to this group that he has decided to abandon Christianity
and directs readers to a web page where he sets out his reasons for this
decision. These are basically three in number:

1. The problem of evil
2. Prayers are not answered
3. Christians are not good

If I may, I should like to address them in reverse order.

3. Christians are not good.
It is undeniable that the majority of those who profess Christianity are
less than models of what we might call Christian behaviour. However if we
look at the situation in detail, we find that it is not as bleak a picture
as Gareth might think. Any congregation will consist of three groups: people
who are Christian in name only; "new" Christians who are in the process of
becoming perfect; mature Christians.

I can think of no particular reason for supposing that those who belong to
the first group will behave any more than marginally better than the
non-Christian population. Even if, in order to fit in with the group of
society with which they have chosen to align themselves, they conform to
many Christian ideals, their real desires will be otherwise and sooner or
later their true nature is going to come out into the open and quite
possibly their real nature will be manifest in covert non-Christian
behaviour.

Those who are "new" Christians - by which I do not mean the newly converted
(though obviously they are included) but also those who are still struggling
with the conflict between their unconverted desires and Christian ideals -
will also frequently fail to live up to the expected standards of Christian
behaviour. In fact, the only difference I can think of between the "new"
Christian and the non-Christian is that the former will be willing to
acknowledge their wrong behaviour whereas the latter will be more likely to
attempt some form of self-justification. The majority of true Christians
will come under this heading.

The third category, the mature Christian, is very much in a minority and is
seldom found outside of the pensioner class. However even the fully mature
Christian will still continue to fall short of perfection. I remember one
old lady whom, after several years acquaintance, I regarded as close to
sainthood. I once made some comment in her presence hinting about my opinion
and was severely rebuked by her, for she was aware of all sorts of ways in
which she was less than perfect.

There is a final comment that I would like to make, and that is that Gareth
is comparing Christians with Christian-influenced non-Christians. Although
British society is non-Christian in the sense that the majority of people do
not attend church and do not profess any form of Christianity, it is an
historical fact that British society holds to mores and standards that are
basically Christian. British atheists have standards of right and wrong that
are heavily influenced by Christianity.

I invite Gareth to compare Christians with non-Christians in some place
where there is no such Christian heritage. Or, if he has not the time or
means to undertake such a study overseas, he may wish to compare Christians
with non-Christians here in Britain. For example, just this week (ending
11/06/2006) a government report has been issued stating that Muslim
policemen are much more likely to take bribes than non-Muslim policemen; the
figure that was mentioned was ten times as many complaints against Muslim as
against non-Muslim policemen. I wonder what the figure is for members of the
Christian Police Association (or whatever the group is called) versus
non-members of that Association?

My experience in India is very definitely that Christians in that country
are more likely to be truthful, honest and moral than Hindus or Muslims. On
my recent visit to Egypt I was informed (admittedly by a Christian) that
AIDS is becoming a problem among Muslim young men because of their
willingness to have sex with Western tourists, but that it is virtually
unknown among the Copts because they refrain from casual sex. Or just look
at the world as a whole and consider which countries exemplify the virtues
of which, I think, Gareth would approve: tolerance, compassion, and so on.
Are they countries which have been influenced by Christianity?

In other words, Gareth's rejection of Christianity for this reason is based
on a misconception of what to expect from Christians and also on a too
limited sample.

2. Prayers are not answered
Gareth complains that in his own experience "answers to prayer" occur with
no more than random frequency and in particular he draws attention to
prayers for healing. Again, it is undeniable that most prayers for healing
are not answered by a dramatic healing; the question is whether this is
something at which we should be surprised.

God - assuming He exists - has created a physical world in which effect
follows cause. No reasonable Christian would expect that he would be
miraculously delivered from the law of gravity if he wantonly jumped off the
Empire State Building; why then should a reasonable Christian expect that he
would be miraculously delivered from a bad case of diorrhea if he wantonly
ate unwashed salad in Egypt? Once you accept that principle, one can extend
it to those who eat unhealthy diets, who live unhealthy life-styles or in
unhealthy places. The surprising thing is not that there are so few miracles
of healing but that there should be *any*!

What would be the more reasonable thing for a loving God to do: to work the
occasional miracle of healing or to give instructions on how to avoid the
illnesses in the first place? The answer seems obvious to me - and if you
take the trouble to look, you find that this is precisely what has happened.
A considerable portion of the laws given by God consist of health laws: laws
concerning how to dispose of human waste, what sort of foods to eat, how to
respond to infectious diseases, and so on. In addition, Seventh-day
Adventists, with whom I frequently worship, believe that God has given
additional guidance on health: they point to those churches which encourage
their members to avoid smoking, drinking and other unhealthy practices; they
believe that God gave further guidance through their own prophetess and
certainly the notably better health and longevity of Adventists provides
confirmation for that belief.

Nevertheless, there are "miracles", occurrances which appear to be
unexplainable by physical laws as we understand them. Furthermore, I believe
it is true to say that while there are "miracles" which happen apparently
at random, the majority of "miracles" occur in response to prayers. I do not
regard it as any argument to object that not all these prayers are to the
Christian God; I naturally assume that Christianity is the best form of
religion, but the Bible clearly teaches that God reveals Himself to all men
and is found by all men.

I also do not regard the fact that Gareth himself may not have experienced
"miracles" as an argument against their reality. Gareth is still young, he
lives in a relatively safe country, he has - so far as I know - had a
relatively sheltered life. If the anti-Christian argument boils down to the
fact that someone has missed a train or not been cured of a cold in the
head, then I find it peculiarly unconvincing, particularly when weighed
against the testimony of so many Christians that far more serious problems
*have* been solved by prayer.

1. The problem of evil
Gareth complains that the sort of perfect, omnipotent God he imagines should
have prevented or solved the problem of evil in ways which he would find
acceptable. He further complains that the Bible reveals a God who is very
different from the perfect God he imagines. Even assuming that this charge
is correct, it is not clear to me whether the problem lies with God or with
the God of Gareth's imagination. It seems to me that in some respects at
least, Gareth is guilty of constructing a straw God: God should be so and
so, God should behave in such and such ways; God does not, ergo God does not
exist.

What makes it particularly ironic is that Gareth reaches so momentous a
conclusion based upon so little information. We have a single short chapter
in Genesis (which, in any case, Gareth rejects) to account for the origin of
evil in this earth; we have considerably less to account for the origin of
evil in the universe (and again, Gareth rejects the traditional interpretion
of those passages). Gareth's position appears to me analogous to that of a
man who rejects Caesar's "Gallic Wars" as a work of fiction and then
complains that he cannot adequately account for the Roman presence in Gaul.

It is true that I, too, could wish that the world were other than it is.
With all my heart I wish that children didn't die of starvation in Africa,
that women were not raped in Burma or that men were not tortured to death in
Iraq. However when God says, "I am bigger and wiser than you; trust Me that
there is no other way - and in any case, I gave My Son to share in and
overcome the evil in the world," I am prepared to trust Him.

What, when it comes down to it, is the alternative? Shall I rage uselessly
against the dark but ultimately resign myself to the thought that in a
random, purposeless universe things have always been like this and always
will be; or will I embrace the hope for a better present and a better future
which God offers? Even if God is nothing more than a symbol of hope, then I
intend to place myself unreservedly on the side of good against evil, on the
side of hope against despair, on the side of God against Satan - and
whatever I can do by the way of speech or example (including attending
church where that hope is proclaimed) by way of encouraging others to the
same determination, I will do.

0. The problem of reality
There is one problem which Gareth does not address in his web page and that
is a very simple one. There is a gentleman currently serving a prison term
in Austria who can argue very cogently against the Holocaust. His arguments
are logical, his evidence plausible, his sincerity undeniable, but it all
comes unstuck against the very simple question: did the Holocaust happen?
Fortunately in his case we still have living eye-witness testimony and so
all his cleverness comes to nothing.

Gareth does not address the question of whether the Bible stories are true.
Did God bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt? Did Jesus exist? Did He
teach the things the Bible claims He did? Did he die in the way the Gospels
describe? If the answer to these questions is in the negative, then how does
one explain the nation of Israel with its traditions of Passover, and the
Christian church with its conviction that those things did happen?

The simplest explanation for Buddhism - Occam's Razor and all that - is the
existence of Gautama Buddha; the simplest explanation for Islam is Mohammed;
the simplest explanation for Christianity is Jesus Christ. However while one
can reject the teachings of Buddha without rejecting his historical reality,
it is less easy to reject the teachings of Christianity withough rejecting
the historical reality of Jesus. Christianity has no reason to exist if
Jesus did not die and rise from the dead. Its moral and ethical teachings
are no higher than those of Stoicism or Platonism; its philosophical
conceptions are no deeper than those of the other philosophies of the time;
its "legends" no more appealing than those of Mithraism or the cult of Isis.

Even more impressive is the fact that Christianity's earliest apologists
appealed to historical reality. Justin's reference to the records of the
trial of Jesus, preserved in the Senate house in Rome, is one such. Even if
he was mistaken in his belief that such records existed, a man facing death
for his beliefs is hardly likely to appeal to evidence which he knows to be
false, particularly when he is appealing to the very people who control
those records! If I were on trial for my life before a British court I
might, conceivably, appeal to the records of the Persian court for 1579,
confident that my appeal could not be easily disproved. I would be a fool to
appeal to Hansard for 2002 unless I had reason to believe that my statements
were correct.

It could well be that Gareth might choose to reject certain forms of
Christianity, for the religion has undoubtedly changed over the centuries,
but it seems to me that the historical probabilities are in favour of the
Gospels rather than against them. From this it follows that if Jesus really
lived, died and was resurrected, then much else that seems unbelievable can
be accepted, even though it may go contrary to strict rationalism.

If I may dare to mention the infamous "dark matter", the situation is
analogous: there are facts that cannot be explained by strictly rational
theories of the universe and so one must postulate the existence of a
substance which cannot be perceived by any of the senses or techniques
currently available to us. There are historical facts that cannot be
explained by strictly rational theories; is it unreasonable to postulate the
existence of a Being who cannot be perceived by any of the senses or
techniques currently available to us?

God bless,
Kendall K. Down

--
================ ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGINGS ===============
| Australia's premier archaeological magazine |
| http://www.diggingsonline.com |
========================================================

Quasin

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Jun 11, 2006, 1:39:23 PM6/11/06
to
Gordon Hudson wrote:

> "Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message

>
>>Gordon Hudson wrote:
>>
>>
>>>My advive would be to have a rest and maybe God will meet you in an
>>>unexpected place.
>>
>>Always possible. Do you mean a rest from uk.r.c, or a rest from
>>going to church, or a rest from having anything to do with Christians,
>>or what? :-)
>
> Just let yourself stop struggling.

> Stopping going to church might help, but I don;t know your current
> situation.

Dropping out of church has always been most fruitful for me
spiritually. :)


> I know that when I meet other Christians, the first thing they ask is whay
> chirch I go to and when i say I don't they give the impression they doubt my
> sincerity.

"If you don't go to church you aren't a Christian." Or in a
scolding tone of voice "A Christian has to go to church."
Or speechless silence. Any of the three usually followed by
turning away as if they have instantly wiped your existence
off their mind.

I have tried a variety of answers to get past this
threshhold question. The one that pretty well works is "I
attend an unnamed house church." At which point I can
validate their big church membership by making a quick
comment about something big church that I miss - singing
with a choir, meeting a wider range of people - but then I
affirm this seems to be where God wants me for now.

I'll often mention that I try to go to a conference or two
every year to help fill in those needs. Good chance to ask
them about any conferences they may go to or know of. Gets
the topic off "formal church membership" onto "conferences"
and you go on from there.

I don't have to tell them details about the house church,
not even whether the house church consists of anyone more
than just me.

The goal of course is finding an answer that gets us beyond
that threshhold barrier so we can have the kind of normal
Christian to Christian or even just person to person
conversation that would have followed an "acceptable" answer.

Which reminds me, I need to send in my registration for that
end of month conference I've had my eye on.

Quasin

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Jun 11, 2006, 1:48:00 PM6/11/06
to
Tim W wrote:

> "Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote in message

> news:87y7w4b...@g.mccaughan.ntlworld.com...
>
>>>... I am no longer a Christian.
>
> ...


>
> Blimey. How awful. You must have been going through some agonies.

Most of the "why I left Christianity" essays I've read in
the past month (about 200) there is no agony, but often
relief, a sense of being set free. Sadness for lost
friendships, but not for loss of the mental effort to ignore
the problems and believe in a God they felt down deep was
unbelievable.


> I fear you may have landed in the dillema between the horns of both stools

> where religion is intellectually untenable but atheism is emotionally and
> morally untenable.

I'm curious, why do you think atheism is "emotionally and
morally untenable"?

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 1:52:11 PM6/11/06
to
Paul Wright wrote:

> Like the other posters, I admire your honesty and courage of your
> convictions.

But then you would, wouldn't you? :-)

> I'm a bit puzzled by the part where you say that you'd be mortified if
> your essay made someone else give up being a Christian. I considered
> that when I put my story on the web and decided that if someone could be
> convinced by my essay, they were probably better off out of Christianity
> anyway. I specifically wanted to re-assure people who were at an earlier
> stage of that process that the world does not end when you leave.

Well, I'm not yet far enough along to be able to state with much
confidence that the world doesn't end when you leave. But I did
try to clarify my meaning -- perhaps I obfuscated it instead. What
I meant was:

- In the unlikely event that anyone's so shaken by just
reading this that they give up, I'll be mortified.

- If someone reads it and decides that they need to think
things through properly, does so, and ends up not a
Christian, then I'll be pleased. Or if they do so and
end up still a Christian but with a better idea of why.
I suppose it's better for my ego if they end up agreeing
with me, but there are -- so I'm told -- things more
important than my ego.

>> Those of you who wish to speculate that this is all because I wasn't a
>> member of the One True Church, or because I accepted the devilish
>> heresy of evolution, or because I held on to an outmoded
>> supernaturalist conception of Christianity, or [etc., etc., etc.] are
>> welcome to do so. I can't think of any such speculation that I find at
>> all plausible.
>
> You left out not speaking in tongues (assuming you didn't speak in
> tongues, of course).

Oh yes. And inerrantism, and all sorts of other things.

> wrt uk.r.c, I never thought to ask whether anyone objected to my return,
> but nobody seems to have chased me off yet. I can't be said in any way
> to speak for the group, but I think you should stay if it still seems
> beneficial to you. (I left when I stopped going to church because I
> couldn't bear to have anything to do with Christian stuff for a while
> and the group seemed full of people espousing the sort of Christianity I
> was least keen on, but your mileage varies).

Indeed it does. Though of course my attitude may change with time,
whether because of cognitive dissonance reduction (as Mark Goodge
suggested), mere weakening of mental habits (which I'd expect to
produce results a bit like the ones Mark anticipates, regardless
of cognitive dissonance), or any number of other things.

Quasin

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Jun 11, 2006, 2:00:42 PM6/11/06
to
Paul Dean wrote:

> For me, God as the ground of being is the ground of my life.

"Ground of being" wording has never communicated anything to
me, I don't know what it is trying to convey.

I might be tempted to say God is *in the process of*
becoming the ground of my being, but there remains a lot
that I do or think that is not God-aware or responsive to
what I know God wants me doing (I'm lazy), so I wouldn't say
God fully and completely *is* the basis of my life.


>
> 1) The problem of evil - everything that exists derives its existence
> from God. Evil is the privation of good, or that which doesn't derive
> its existence from God (i.e. doesn't exist in this sense). The
> "problem of evil" is then, "why does God allow gaps in the universe
> where He-is-Not?" The answer is that those gaps will cease to exist
> (hence my belief in anhilation for that not destined for Eternity). We
> live in the middle of the process and so only see that it apparently
> exists, but it doesn't exist by this Eternity-focused definition.
>
> 2) God's apparent inactivity - with this definition, everything is
> God's activity. God is pure Act, with no potential at all. What
> activity do you expect? Note that here I am arguing for theism, not
> for Christianity!
>

How are these theories helpful to someone contemplating the
Jewish holocaust, still living in paper shacks from the
Tsunami destruction, or presently battling terminal cancer?

Vexen

unread,
Jun 11, 2006, 2:18:25 PM6/11/06
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:
<snip deconversion>

> I'm less sure that mere theism is wrong than I am that
> Christianity is; but it seems very much more likely
> wrong than right.

Deism is much less complicated than Christianity and has far fewer
unanswered questions, deism (as I suspect you know), being theism
without religion.

> If you want more details, you can find some at
> http://homepage.ntlworld.com/g.mccaughan/g/essays/atheist.html
> or ask me.

I might actually read that during the nightshift. First thought: Why
isn't there a date on the document! I has a /date changed/, as
generated by the server, but that's not so good as an actual "Date
written" or "by me on this date" subtitle!

<snip>
> - The purpose of uk.r.c, according to the charter,
> is discussion of Christianity in the UK. If there
> are too many participants who aren't Christians,
> some Christians may be repelled, greatly to the
> detriment of the group's ability to fulfil its
> function. uk.r.c already has quite a few atheist
> and otherwise skeptical participants...

Yeah, it has some, but as you clearly have knowledge of Christianity,
you can cotribute in an effective way. And an apostate is just as much
a part of the essential mix of Christians and skeptics as antitheists
such as I.

<snip>

Nah, just be a Christian theist so you can post on uk.r.c. without
these doubts! Life should be simple.

Quasin

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Jun 11, 2006, 2:09:36 PM6/11/06
to
"Gareth McCaughan" <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote