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The following is a guest post on the SASHA blog by Brandon Christen of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri.
This post is based off of a conversation I had with a Christian at Skepticon IV a couple weeks ago. Basically, it began when I told him that I used to be a devout Christian (a preacher in training, actually). He responded that no, I wasn’t; in fact, according to him I had never really been a Christian and never really believed after all. I had merely lied to myself and others and said that I’d believed. And how did he have this glaring insight into the inner machinations of my mind? Why, the Bible of course! I’ll be blunt: I think it was a shitty, below-the-belt style argument and that it was stupid. Bear with me as I explain why I think so.
The Bible makes many, many conflicting assertions. Do remember the story of Manasseh, where the wicked king earned Judah its destruction due to his villainy? (2nd Kings) Or do you remember the story of Manasseh, where the wicked king repented to God and Judah was spared that particular judgment? (2nd Chronicles) Both stories are there, tucked right in the bible with the rest of the errors.
You would think that, since the Bible contains so many shady areas and bits of outright contradiction with itself and history, proponents of the Bible wouldn’t be so bold as to rigidly apply its claims to every facet of daily life. Ah, you would hope…but alas, you would hope in utter vain, for apply they do. Should women obey their husbands? The Bible say yes. Should homosexuals be seen as dirty or unclean? The Bible says yes. Should slavery be acceptable? The Bible says yes. Should brutal child labor be opposed? Ah, trick question! The Bible has nothing to say on that subject…
Another thing the Bible asserts (which is thus asserted by many of its adherents and is more pertinent to this post) is that true Christians can never actually fall away. This idea is communicated in several verses, such as Matt. 7:21-23, John 10:28, and Romans 8:38-39. There are other verses as well, but for the sake of this post those three will suffice. (Let it be noted before we continue that still other verses in the Bible say one cannot lose their salvation. Contradictions: +1, Divine Perfect Revelation: 0)
In any case, back to the claim that real Christians never fall away. I have two major problems with this claim; 1.) it tries to assert a definitive knowledge of mental states, and 2.) it defeats another favorite Christian belief, which is that God supposedly values human free will.
1.) To make a definitive statement of anyone’s mental state is tricky, if not downright impossible. Barring access to advanced machines that actually see neural activity, we simply cannot know what’s ticking in someone’s brain…you know, that thing that determines all mental activity, period. That being the case, boldly telling someone you just met on a street corner that they were never really a Christian (or boldly telling them anything else about their opinions and beliefs) is about as intellectually sound as thinking you can accurately predict what some random stranger on the other side of the world is doing at this very moment. Without having to see them. Ever.
The only way (in casual settings) that we can know what someone is thinking is if they tell us. Even then, we cannot really know if that is what they’re truly thinking because they might be lying or we might be misunderstanding them. (Imagine asking someone what they are thinking when you see them looking at you and they say “Nothing, just debating if I’d like to grab a cup of coffee. They might have been thinking of asking you out, and that’s their way of asking if you’d like to get coffee with them, or they might have been thinking of how much they can’t stand you and that was just a convenient lie to explain away the glazed look in their eye from a moment earlier…or, they might actually want to go get coffee).
So, if you cannot know what someone is thinking even if your directly asking them face to face, how on earth can you claim to know if they really believed in God or not when you are just now meeting them? Simple answer: you cannot. Stupid answer: you can because the Bible says that people who fall away really didn’t believe anyway.
If you want to try and apply contradictory words scribbled down by shady sources thousands of years ago to the amazingly complex workings of the brains of other human beings, have at it. That tells me two things about you: one, you drastically oversimplify the world and two, you aren’t worth my time of day.
2.) My second big problem with the “You were never a Christian because real Christians cannot lose their salvation!” claim is with its second half (the idea that real Christians cannot lose their salvation). Whenever I debate Christianity with its practitioners, invariably I bring up the Problem of Natural Suffering and the Argument from Reasonable Non-Belief. Whenever I ask “Why does God not intervene and eliminate suffering?” or “Why does God not reveal himself and let us all know he exists?” the answer is usually “Because that would interfere with our free will.” However, if God magically “locks” you in place as a Christian the moment you genuinely believe, then what is that if not an egregious violation of your free will? He removes your ability to freely follow or reject him and you become the very thing that Christians keep claiming we aren’t supposed to be when they argue for free will: a God-robot.
So there they are. For now, these constitute my two biggest problems with the “Real Christians don’t lose their salvation,” argument. I could probably find more problems if I spent more time thinking about it, but I’ll be honest; it’s a really stupid, shitty argument and I don’t find there to be much point in wasting time on it when there are other legitimate (and intellectually interesting) arguments concerning God to dissect.
For me, this argument boils down to a desperate attempt at assert knowledge one cannot have of another’s mental states as well as a stab-in-the-heart to any subsequent attempt at defending free will; all done merely to uphold the claims of an ancient compendium of superstitious ideas and bigotry.
Brandon Christen was born and raised in Missouri. He grew up in a religious family, and joined a far-right conservative church when he was a senior in college. For almost six years, the church dominated all facets of his life and thinking until, in early 2010, he began to openly question its steadfast rejection of science and philosophy. After a protracted struggle with his convictions, Brandon became an Atheist in September of that year. These days Brandon remains intensely interested in religion, though now he views it from a secular perspective. One of the chief problems he sees between Secular Society and Religious Society is the presumption that religion takes the high ground on moral and ethical issues. To combat this problem, Brandon frequently engages in conversations with as many religious individuals as he can in a “grass roots” effort to spread awareness about secular morality. He also acts as a strong voice in the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. While he still sees debunking religious falsehoods as important, Brandon’s ultimate focus is on becoming a professional philosopher and emphasizing in ethics so as to lend his voice to the attempt to heal the moral divide between believers and non-believers.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
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