Friday, July 1, 2011

It's all one question

Over at Stone the Preacher (yes, I'm still processing my reactions to that site), Pastor Steve said:
I will never answer the majority of the questions unbelievers have about God, questions that deal with proof that God exists; to do so would violate the “faith clause” that is a condition of becoming a Christian.
Which is presumably what led one of his readers ("Bro 310") to remark in the comments:
Part of the atheist religion is argueing. You cannot adequately answer an atheist’s question. The most eloquent, thought out response will not satisfy them. If you answer one question they have two more to ask. Sisyphus has a better chance at finishing his task than a believer getting an atheist to stop argueing.
Now, if you browse through that comment thread - or, well, pretty much any of the Atheist Tuesday threads on that site - you'll see that both Bro 310 and Pastor Steve have a point. The atheists (maybe I should say "unbelievers," as I'm not sure they're all atheists per se) do ask a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions about the answers to previous questions.

(This, by the way, brings me to one more thing that I find admirable about Pastor Steve - he's responded to at least one question with a simple, "I dunno." There are way too many people who don't seem to think they're allowed to admit that.)

And so but anyway, upon reading Bro 310's comment, I had another one of those That's not quite right reactions. Because while they do have a point about the sheer volume of questions, and even about the cascading nature of the questions, in a sense all those questions are really just specific cases of a single, overarching question: Why should I believe this?

...Have I just discovered a Grand Unification Theory for atheist questions about religion?


  1. Theists have the burden of proof to their Sky Fairy assertions, and they spend their days creating rhetorical flim-flam trying to support their positions.

  2. They are right about atheists/agnostics having lots of questions. And they're right about even the most eloquent of answers not being satisfactory. If the answers were satisfactory the non-theist would probably no longer be non-theist. I would venture to say, though, not all non-theists are "arguing". Some are genuinely waiting on a satisfactory answer to "Why should I believe this?". So are they saying that because they don't have an answer that is satisfactory to the non-theist that the non-theist should stop asking the questions?

  3. @ D'Ma - "So are they saying that because they don't have an answer that is satisfactory to the non-theist that the non-theist should stop asking the questions?"

    Sometimes, yes. Pastor Steve is basically saying that if you're waiting on evidence to bring you to belief, you're never going to get there; faith, not evidence, is the foundation of Christian belief. Bro 310 is grumping about them darn atheists are never satisfied, no matter how good an answer you give 'em - they just start tryin' ta tell you why it ain't a good answer, and by the way, you kids get offa' my lawn! (I may be exaggerating his position slightly.)

  4. The questions that atheists [and agnostics] ask are pertinent for one simple reason - Christians, by and large, seek to not simply live their faith, but to codify it and force others to abide by at least some of it's rules.

    Whereas, atheists and agnostics do not seek others to conform to a particular belief.

  5. The other piece I'm looking for is "What do you believe, and why?", which is not a strict subset of "Why should I believe this?"

    The phrases that get repeated often mean radically different things to different people, and it's important to tease out what those are (in a non-gotcha kind of way). If an evangelizer doesn't believe in young earth theory, there's no point talking about it.

    I also ask questions in an attempt to break out of evangelical ruts, where the conversation is pre-determined and the answers are mapped out. It's excruciating on all sides, and I'd rather just talk about interesting theology, or that particular person's outlook. (Besides, the questions you're supposed to ask in typical evangelical ruts are boring. "Jesus? Who's that?")

  6. The best way to shut an atheist is to give reasoned answers to the questions asked. Unfortunately atheists do not have an end all discussion, cop out like Christians do. Faith kills the discussion.

  7. "I will never answer the majority of the questions unbelievers have about God, questions that deal with proof that God exists; to do so would violate the “faith clause” that is a condition of becoming a Christian."

    "You cannot adequately answer an atheist’s question. The most eloquent, thought out response will not satisfy them. If you answer one question they have two more to ask."

    Realizing these comments are taken out of context and there was probably a whole lot more to this discussion it just sounds as if they're saying, "shut up with your silly questions and believe already!".

  8. @ The Constitutional Insurgent - To be fair, that's not always true. But it's certainly the rule rather than the exception.

    @ Gravel - Good point. Points, actually. Particularly the last one, about the importance of breaking the script. You have to get out of the rut before you're actually, well, talking.

    @ Bruce - Well, we kind of do have a discussion ender: "I don't believe that."
    "But Jesus died for your sins."
    "I don't believe that."
    "But you need His redeeming love."
    "I don't believe that."
    "Aren't you afraid you're going to burn in Hell?"
    "I don't believe that."

    @ D'Ma - I've certainly run into that sentiment before, and I think it's more or less what Bro 310 was saying. I don't think it was really Pastor Steve's point.

  9. I went over and read the post and some of the comments. I agree with your assessment.

  10. Interesting take. Isn't there a verse in that ancient fantasy land not needed in the 21st century book something about "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?" or something like that. I remembered that due to the 2 year Pentacostal Christian indoctrination I had from the ages 8-10 at the first orphanage I was in, but thankfully it was only two years, then I went to adifferent with a lot less pressure to convert the unsaved, it was sponsored by the Methodist Church. They actually cared about the kids, not like the pentacostals who were more concerned in their teaching of how to save people from damnation and the fires of hell. Sometimes dumb things just do not stick in the mind, racism is another dumb thing that did not take even though I was born in the South. Faith was a big part of the Christian indoctrination, they always told me I asked too many questions, to which I would reply, you mean ones you cannot answer? I was not popular with these folks.

  11. Yep. Hebrews 11:1 (The KJV translation) is the verse you're remembering. (I sound much smarter when I have a search engine handy.)

    And while I realize you probably didn't have much choice in the matter, any religious group that tells you you're asking too many questions is definitely something to avoid.

  12. In my defense, I've spent a lot of time trying to answer all of their questions to me, or to other nonbelievers.

    That's why I feel justified asking as many questions as I do.

    Also, for the record "Bro 310" is actually Stormbringer, the guy who uses sockpuppets all over Steve's site now.

  13. Also, the reason why I go to Steve's blog is that, unlike the vast majority of other theistic blogs, Steve does allow comments from nonbelievers.

    Michael, have you ever read Steve's testimony of how he became a Christian? It's pretty... interesting.

    Lastly, Bruce!!! I used to post at your blog, before you took it down. Glad to see that you're in good health. Big thumbs up.

  14. "Stormbringer"? Seriously? Are we sure he's not a Poe? Because the idea of an evangelical Christian who names himself after Elric's sword is... a step or two beyond bizarre.

    Re: Steve's testimony - no. I haven't read it. I read something about how he decided to start evangelizing full-time (and I commented about that earlier), but not about how he became a Christian. I could make some guesses, and I might before I go looking for that (just to see how well the predictions map to his account), but most of what I've seen about conversions is that they're experiential rather than intellectual.

    And yeah, part of the reason that I've bothered commenting on Pastor Steve's site is that he seems more... receptive... than most of his fellows. Which is really odd, given the company he keeps online.

    Lastly... Bruce established a new blog, Fallen From Grace, when he came back online. So if you hadn't spotted it already, that's where you can find him.

  15. Hi Michael,

    1. Are we sure Stormbringer is not a Poe? No. Having said that, I really don't think that he is. If he is, my goodness is he dedicated to it. But I guess I just don't see what the point would be, and he's been doing this for quite a while (I think I first ran into him online about a year ago... maybe slightly less).

    As for being named after Elric's sword, I've found that not all fundamentalists have a problem with fantasy novels and the like. Also, iirc, Stormbringer is still new to fundamentalism and, like most new converts, I think that explains why he's so "on fire".

    2. Re: Steve's testimony. It's a hoot. If you can't find the one where ExPatMatt and I ask him a lot of questions in the comments, let me know and I'll find the link for you. I think that reading that, and listening to his Feb '10 sermon, give a LOT of insight into him that isn't displayed in the vast majority of his current posts.

    As for experiential vs. intellectual, c'mon now... :-)

    But, just for fun, maybe present your guesses here first, and then go look for his testimony. I'm interested to see what you would think (I'll tell you that I wouldn't have guessed the exact events).

    3. Re: receptiveness, I completely agree. He may think I'm a total liar and in the sway of Satan, but he actually has posted nearly every comment I've ever written. Granted, I try to write in a style to not be censored, but I'm sure you know how crazily reactive some fundamentalist bloggers can be.

    For the record, I used to try to post comments on a variety of Islamic blogs and, by and large, they're not too cool with that. Even blogs which are supposedly "to reach the lost".

    4. Re: Bruce, I found his new site by clicking on his name. If I remember correctly, it was a health issue that had him take (what is now obviously) a break from blogging, so it's very good to see him back, and his perspective is, in my opinion, incredibly interesting.

    So, blah blah blah. Nice to meet you Michael and, if people haven't already, I'll invite you to the wearesmrt blog ( ). I actually have my deconversion story over there, if you're interested.

    Be well.

  16. Steve's Testimony:
    Well, you've already answered my first guess: he wasn't an atheist; he converted from being casually/culturally Christian to being a sold-out, evangelizing, fundamentalist Christian. And I'd bet that it actually had less to do with a sudden realization that God wanted more from or a particularly persuasive argument, and more to do with the company he was keeping at the time. A lot of the time these things happen when people are in transition anyway - making some sort of big life change, or feeling lost, or dissatisfied with their current lifestyle or worldview; but I wouldn't hazard a more specific prediction than that. I will make one specific prediction: he did not convert because someone handed him a Bible tract.

    I was very glad when Bruce showed back up. He does have an interesting perspective, but more than that I just like him.


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