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Free Will and Falling Away

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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).

Coffee: masker of many lies

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. 

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

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About delightfullydoubtful

I'm a former preacher turned staunch Atheist. For a while, I dabbled in the cliche mindset that, with the realization that there was no afterlife or judgment, I was free to focus solely on money, sex, and worldly pleasure. However, that lifestyle was found to be woefully inadequate for this one-in-eternity shot at living, so I quickly moved on. For a while, I took up the banner of evangelical Atheism; deciding that the best way to serve my fellow man was to convince everyone I could to abandon religious faith. To that end, I frantically began trying to read up on my philosophy and science so as to have the most damning anti-theism arguments possible... However, I quickly found that line of approach to life wasn't very fulfilling either. Don't misunderstand me; I do honestly think that religion and spirituality (in the esoteric, religious sense) are both more harmful than good, and I think that mankind would do itself a huge favor if it threw off the fetters of supernaturalism once and for all. However, I realize that it is a fools errand to tell someone you are going to change their mind against so virulent and powerful a meme as religion. Ergo, I asked myself "What can someone who's eager, has a love for philosophy, science, and debate do to play their own small part in the theism/atheism issue?" My answer was simple: ethics. I think that ethics is the biggest battleground of the secular/religious culture war. Sure, the tenets of the two big religions include a need to focus on eternity, but to be honest most folks who believe in God simple despise Atheists for the false perspective that an Atheistic society would be one without ethics or morality. This simply isn't true; there have been many morally minded Atheists and there exist now many very ethical Atheists. In fact, I see ethics and Atheism as being interwoven; a thought I'll hopefully be exploring more on this blog. By no means am I an expert...yet. I don't pretend to be. I do, however, desire to be an expert on ethics someday, and I'm actively working towards it whenever I have the time. This blog is to be my own venting ground and training ground, of sorts, where I can put what I'm thinking into text and review it myself. I don't think anyone will ever come here and read my writings, but that's okay by me.

One comment on “Free Will and Falling Away

  1. Jared Cowan
    November 26, 2011

    The notion of Once Saved, Always Saved, is said by a certain percentage of Christians, not sure exactly how many, to be false doctrine and misinterpreting the verses you bring up. Even Calvinism, the very father of predestination, doesn’t outright say that god would violate our freewill in terms of salvation, but would ultimately save us in its own timing and method. Arminianism is even more permissive of falling from grace and salvation, because the grace is not irresistible in the sense that Calvinism puts it, which is not technically fatalism apparently. The difficulty remains that God is an obfuscating and cryptic entity that only saves people when it wants to and lets the rest of them burn.

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This entry was posted on November 26, 2011 by in Author: Brandon Christen.
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