Atheism Christianity Hopeful Agnosticism Religion Spirituality Supernatural

Problems of Christianity: Choosing Jesus

Christianity presents itself as a choice between two doors. And everyone must choose whether to walk through the Jesus door or the other door. What Christians gloss over, and yet what’s painfully obvious to those outside, is that the existence of the doors themselves must be taken on faith.

To put it another way: Christians act as though there is a single, simple choice for each person to make: the choice between accepting Jesus as savior and lord, on the one hand, versus trusting that we are worthy of salvation based on our own goodness, on the other. Yet to arrive at this particular choice, a person must have accepted a number of other very specific, very Christian claims. For a person who cares about clear, rational, evidence-based thinking, these preliminary claims require larger leaps of faith than does choosing Jesus. After all, if you’ve already accepted the Christian narrative about historical events and spiritual realities, Jesus should be a more or less obvious choice.

My point, here at least, is not to criticize faith. It is to suggest that Christians have a duty to be aware of and to “own” the leaps of faith they have taken to arrive at the point of being a Christian. And if you have skipped over these steps because you’ve had a personal, spiritual experience, then own that, while acknowledging that those who have not had the same experience may be reasonable in not joining you in faith.

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Hopeful Agnostic, Part 1

I used to be a Christian. I’m not one, any more.

Somewhere back in my 30s, I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the things that Christians are supposed to believe. It wasn’t an easy thing to admit. I had been a Christian for, well, my entire life, if you exclude the drooling years at the front end. I had tried hard to hold on, but eventually I ran out of faith. The cognitive dissonance, and the resulting anxiety, were just too great.

For a while now, I have been calling myself a Hopeful Agnostic. I thought that the term was an original idea till I Googled it. It made me realize I should define it for myself before someone does it for me.

To be fair, there are different kinds of Christians. Within some definitions, I might still be one. Just not mine. I grew up in an Evangelical family. Being Christian meant believing that the Bible was the all-but-dictated word of God, with no errors, and no mistakes. It meant believing in a literal heaven, hell, and Satan. It meant believing in a historical, miracle-working, God-in-the-flesh, save-you-from-your-sins Jesus. And it meant believing that you needed to be, and had been, saved.

There were a lot of reasons my faith came to an end. I never had any spiritual experiences that weren’t easily chalked up to emotion, psychology, and coincidence. I was never able to reconcile God’s justice with the teaching that all humans older than babies are so fundamentally naughty in the course of our short earthly lives that we deserve unending, conscious torment from then on; or reconcile God’s mercy and power with God’s weirdly arbitrary and ineffective plan for salvation. (“Sorry you’re going to Hell, Jimmy, but there wasn’t a sales rep in your area for 1600 years.”) And the more I dug into the text and the evidence around it, the more I realized how shaky it all was. There just wasn’t enough evidence in any domain to justify the near-certainty that this kind of Christianity demands.

The issue of certainty is why I haven’t yet joined some other religion, or become an atheist. OK – I haven’t tried any other religions on a practical, experiential level, but my knowledge of them from books and people who follow them gives me the impression that they all make claims that have to be taken on more faith than I have.

Sometimes I drift into a kind of soft atheism. Not the hard atheism in which you actively believe that there isn’t a divine or supernatural reality out there, but the kind where you more or less assume there isn’t and act accordingly. In many ways this is an easy way to live. It is certainly simple. But it also feels meaningless, and leaves me empty and sad.

I am not quite sure why this is. On the one hand, I’m sure that some of it is the result of having been raised to think that meaning comes from Deity. The Christian narrative did add a lot of meaning and significance to my life. On the other hand, the spiritual or religious instinct appears to be nearly universal in human culture throughout history. So maybe it’s not just my upbringing. Maybe we, as a species, are wired for it.

What I can say is that staying open to the possibility of God seems to be good for me. I am a better person when I act as though there might actually be some sort of supernatural, divine Being out there who cares about humans and helps them, in some way, become better versions of themselves.

Of course I can’t prove this. But who cares? It’s certainly possible, and if it helps me be happier, and treat others better, then it’s good. It’s not a religion. It doesn’t need to explain pesky problems like human suffering, and so on. It’s just enough to allow for the possibility that there might be more to the universe, and to us, than physics and chemistry.

There’s more to say. I am still trying to figure out what it might look to be both philosophically agnostic and actively spiritual. I have sketched out some tentative principles, but I’ll save those for another time.

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On Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist (no longer practicing), professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, author, and speaker. He has gained popularity and notoriety for criticizing the leftist/progressive ideology pervasive in education as well as political correctness, and for proposing views of meaning, identity, human development, among other things, that have resonated with many people on the right of the political spectrum and angered many on the left. He presents his views as being grounded in both evolutionary and Jungian theory, along with research findings from psychology, neurology, and anthropology. He is currently on a speaking tour based on his popular book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

My personal take:

  • Activists and journalists operating from left of center, politically, have tended to portray him as a misogynist, racist, and anti-LGBTQ by taking his questions and statements out of context.
  • The political swirl around Jordan Peterson has lifted him to prominence but also obscured what he has to say about living well.
  • One of JP’s frequent assertions is that the the current leftist ideology is repackaged Marxism, where race has replaced class as the basis for group identity; he then goes on to say that Marxism ultimately led to the deaths of millions. He seems to be implying that the current leftist ideology will eventually lead to millions of deaths, and to my mind, that sounds like a slippery slope argument. These arguments are pretty lazy, and based on fear. They tend to skip a lot of the explaining that is needed between the connections they are making.
  • People on the right have tended to idealize him, perhaps to an extent that is unwise. “Ah, look, JP said something that I agree with. I was right all along.” Rather than interacting critically with his ideas. Not a complete sentence.
  • When I read / listen to his actual words, in context, I find his ideas subtle, difficult, and thought-provoking, though I’m not sure whether I’ll ultimately agree with him.
  • Fav quote so far from 12 Rules: “You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act.” p.103

Jordan Peterson’s Wikipedia page:

Jordan Peterson’s personal website:

Spirituality Supernatural

Exorcists say exorcisms rising

Catholic Exorcists report an increasing interest in exorcism

  • Catholic exorcism protocol attempts to rule out possibility of psychiatric disorders as well as the less-serious condition of “demonic oppression” before diagnosing “demonic possession” and performing exorcisms.
  • Most cases turn out to be something other than demonic possession (but a handful do not).
  • Even some in the psychiatric community acknowledge cases that seem to have no “natural” explanation.