Heat & Light:
Reforging Disrupted Relationships
(Part 2 of 2)

by James

News of a deconversion in the family comes as a shock to believing relatives. But once the initial shock has worn off, there comes a time for reforging disrupted relationships and moving on. The following letters chronicle the process in my case. The documents have been sanitized to protect the privacy of the others involved.


Thrust & Parry, Part 1

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Subject: Several things, Part 1 of 2
Date: 2/10/98 10:07 PM

James, several things.....
1) Please send references (book, chapter, and verse) to all of your statements about God in your 1/27/98 e-mail entitled "I accept your offers."

These will be forthcoming soon in separate messages. Does this mean that I can expect to have some real answers from you? So far, you have answered my challenges with either silence or more bald assertions.

I will work through the list of Yahweh's crimes one at a time, and I will notice them in some detail, say at the rate of about one a week. If you choose to answer any of the charges, I will stop sending new ones until we have finished discussing the one at hand.

This is a lot of work for me, you know, but I can't depend on the church to go through this information with you, now, can I?

2) Regarding the mechanism of our discussions, I would prefer not to use e-mail but if talking in person or writing will not be acceptable to you, I will agree to it.

OK, good. Now that we have settled on the format, I will go ahead and forward copies of our previous correspondence to [four other relatives]. I will send an introductory message first, so that this doesn't just hit them out of the blue. I will copy you on the introductory message.

I will probably do as you suggested and type replies in WordPerfect and send the file to you. It will help not to write the reply at work but I must let you know that each time I get e-mail from you (regarding your disbelief in God) it is very distracting and I have a difficult time concentrating on my work for the rest of the day.

I'm sure it is distracting, as you say. I myself lose sleep over our exchanges, as Alison can attest, because it is painful for me to undermine your precious beliefs, knowing from my own experience how much they must mean to you. But my eternal destiny is at stake, and your full enjoyment of this present life is at stake, and so we go on exchanging messages. Uncomfortable as it is, I am satisfied with the arrangement, and I hope you are too. I value our relationship, and I am willing to work to get to the point where Christ no longer comes between us.

May I suggest that you print my messages out and wait until you get home to read them? I do not want your work to suffer.

Therefore, please limit the number of communications to a reasonable number; otherwise, we will have to find another way.

OK. Therefore, I will not copy you on our previous correspondence that I am forwarding to the family.

3) Regarding your "blanket statements" about God, this is still unacceptable to me.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't intend to treat as sacred the very beliefs I am trying to undermine. You're asking me to box with both hands tied behind my back. One of the most successful tactics of priestcraft through the ages has been to protect its own preeminence by making certain maxims sacred and thereby setting them outside of the realm of free and open inquiry. My role in our dialogue is that of an iconoclast, but I can't slay sacred cows with my sword sheathed. (Sorry about the mixed metaphors.)

Yahweh is fair game, just as any other closely held belief is fair game. If you expect me to respect your bias and reserve some beliefs as sacred and aim my attacks at other, less fundamental ones, then you are expecting me to concede to your position before we even start. It's a handicap I won't accept. Would you accept it if I demanded that you respect my belief that Yahweh is evil, and that therefore you should make no further references to Yahweh's being good, such references being offensive to me?

If my "blanket statements," as you call them, are incorrect or unsupported, then demonstrate that they are by constructing an argument opposing them. If your argument is bad, I will refute it, but if your argument and its premises are good, you will have persuaded me to change my mind. So far, you have not produced any arguments at all, but only unsupported assertions, which I have refuted -- and successfully, I might add, judging by your silences, and by your having to resort to MORE unsupported assertions, such as those which I notice below, to keep the conversation going.

What if I was trying to convince you that your wife was a prostitute.

Well, if Alison were a prostitute, believe me, I would want to know! And I would listen to what you had to say, whether it be unpleasant or not. Likewise, if your god is actually a monster who is putting himself over on you as being good, don't you want to know? Or are you intent to make excuses for him and keep his misdeeds under wrap? If Yahweh is not a monster, what does he have to fear if we inquire freely and without prejudice into the record of his deeds? The very words of this record, may I remind you, are alleged to have been infallibly and inerrantly inspired by his own spirit. If this isn't leaning over backwards in Yahweh's favor, what is? The only evidence to be used in his prosecution is the record of his deeds written under his own supervision, as if by his own hand!

No matter how true or untrue the accusations, I know that you would rather me stay with the facts and not simply start throwing out words like "whore" or "slut".

You misjudge my sensitivities. I would only be upset if I were possessed of a delusion about Alison that I desperately wanted to protect. If you simply made the bald, unsupported assertion that Alison is a whore or slut, then you are correct that I would think it inappropriate of you, but I would not be more than a little put out by it, and I certainly would not think any ill of Alison based upon your unsupported assertion. However, if you provided indisputable documentary evidence that she does in fact prostitute herself -- in the same way that I provided documented evidence to you that Yahweh has a history of committing crimes against humanity -- then I would call her a whore and a slut myself, just as I call Yahweh a monster. In the case of Yahweh, there is good reason for drawing the conclusion that he is a monster, and any misplaced devotion I may have had to him will not prevent me from calling a spade a spade -- as I have demonstrated by facing the cold hard facts of the faith I loved and coming to conclusions that I did not like.

And, yes, in case you're wondering, I will give this message to Alison to read. I am confident that she will agree with me that it would be unfair to give her special treatment, just as it is unfair and unjust to give Yahweh special treatment and excuse his crimes. I'm sure she would agree with me that it would be immoral of her to prey upon my devotion to her in order to get me to overlook her faults. Apparently, Yahweh has no such scruples, asking his votaries to overlook his crimes and call him good -- yet another immorality of Yahweh.

Do you suggest I soften my condemnation of Yahweh simply because he SAYS he is good, as in the scriptures you cited below? If you gave me audiovisual recordings of Alison soliciting on the street and participating in the act of prostitution, do you think I would dismiss that evidence just because Alison tells me she is innocent? We might as well unlock our prisons if we are to believe someone is good just because they SAY so. I judge Yahweh on his deeds, not his words. Why don't you?

It would be disrespectful of me to use such words.

And you think YAHWEH is deserving of respect after the list of crimes I gave you? You are correct that it would be disrespectful, but it is APPROPRIATE to show disrespect to unrepentant criminals, such as Yahweh, be they gods or mortals.

If you stick with examples of the Bible, I will draw my own conclusions.

The Bible provides no end of citations that are embarrassing and damaging to the Christian faith, as you will see through the course of our dialogue. I will begin documenting Yahweh's crimes for you as soon as I can get to it, but in the meantime, I have provided some embarrassing and damaging scriptures later in this message that you can begin working up answers for. I can't wait to see what you come up with. Let me remind you that, if you can't come up with answers of your own, I have already seen the pat answers of the apologists. But if you can't come up with anything better, go ahead and repeat their arguments to me and I will be glad to show you how easily they are refuted.

[By the way, my assertions that God is good (2 Chron 7:3, 5:13; Ps 34:8, 84:11, 100:5, 145:9, 106:1; Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19; John 10:11; and many others) and sovereign (Daniel 4:17, 34-35; Isaiah 14:24,27, Is 46:9-11; 1 Sam 2:6-8; John 19:10-11; etc)

Well, your list of citations does nothing except to show that the Bible is full of inconsistencies concerning the nature of Yahweh. Your verses show that the Bible says he is good, while mine show that he is evil. There is another set of scriptures that show he is not sovereign, but I think we have more than enough to chew on for now, so I won't get into those. Let's look one by one at the scriptures you cited that say Yahweh is good. I will quote from the NIV with "Yahweh" substituted for "the LORD."

2 Chron 7:3. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of Yahweh above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to Yahweh, saying, "He is good; his love endures forever."

This passage portrays the Israelites attesting to Yahweh's goodness and love upon witnessing a frightening display of Yahweh's firepower. Even I might be persuaded to say what Yahweh's priests wanted me to say if threatened like that. I'm surprised you would cite a reference that shows Yahweh extracting a confession of his goodness by means of fear. It would be a much weightier citation if the Israelites had declared his goodness spontaneously in the absence of fear. Perhaps you copied your list of citations from the Westminster Confession? This list looks typical of the style of prooftexting the Westminster divines used.

2 Chron 5:13. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to Yahweh. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to Yahweh and sang: "He is good; his love endures forever." Then the temple of Yahweh was filled with a cloud,....

Are you serious? Here was an organized religious service of worship, led by the priests, who had everything to gain by promoting worship of Yahweh. The people "joined in unison" in a service of worship under leadership of priests. You might just as well ask me to come to [name of church deleted] and accept that Yahweh is good because [name of minister omitted] leads everyone in reciting, "He is good; his love endures forever." And I notice the crowd used the same words here as before, verbatim. This was clearly a liturgical chant taught to them by the priests. There is nothing spontaneous about it. And there is nothing compelling about it. All religious people praise and worship their god, whatever their god may be. Muslims say Allah is good. Do you agree? If not, why not. This is the same "evidence" you are asking me to accept!

Ps 34:8. Taste and see that Yahweh is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

A Psalm? Psalms were songs of worship sung by the Hebrews in obeisance to Yahweh. Why would I not expect songs of worship to say Yahweh is good? Asking me to accept this is like asking me to accept the hymnbook at [name of church deleted]. If I showed you a hymn that said Yahweh is evil, would you accept it? Are all of your citations this preposterous?

Ps 84:11. For Yahweh of the gods is a sun and shield; Yahweh bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

I have substituted the more accurate translation "Yahweh of the gods" for the NIV's "LORD God." This verse only shows that Yahweh sets up a quid pro quo kind of goodness. If your walk is blameless, Yahweh will be good to you. So what? Who doesn't operate this way? Except that Yahweh has a "higher" standard than most people. He demands you to be "blameless," while most people will allow some imperfection and yet still treat you well.

Ps 100:5. For Yahweh is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Another hymn. Notice the liturgical phrase again. Ho hum.

Ps 145:9. Yahweh is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

I think I'm going to fall asleep. This is proof? Of what?

Ps 106:1. Praise Yahweh. Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Notice the liturgical phrase again. This must have a really cool sounding meter in the Hebrew language.

Mark 10:18. "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except Yahweh alone.

I have substituted "Yahweh" for the Greek "Theos," since this is undoubtedly the god to which Jesus was referring. First, the clear implication of this verse is that Jesus was denying the divinity that the church is so eager to thrust upon him. Second, why should I believe what Jesus said anyway? He discredits himself at various places in the gospels, showing that he is not worthy to be trusted. Perhaps you would like me to elaborate? OK, then, I will.

First, Jesus discredits himself by telling lies. I will cite three examples, starting with John 7:8-10, which I quote from the NASB:

8 «Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.»
9 Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.
10 But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret.

So we see that Jesus falsely told his brothers that he would not go to this feast, but after they were gone he sneaked out and went. I quoted the NASB because it is a more accurate translation. If you look in the NIV, you will see an example of the way the editors of that version are willing to cover up problems, by strategically inserting the word "yet" to make it appear as if Jesus did not technically lie. Let me quote the NIV:

8 You go to the Feast. I am not yet [1] going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come."
9 Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.

Notice the footnote [1] after the word "yet." The NIV footnote says, "Some early manuscripts do not have yet." So we see that the NIV shows the bias of the evangelical translating committee by preferring a version that softens Jesus's character flaw. The footnote also shows that the early Christians were not above emending the infallible, inspired Word of God to smooth out problems. In this, the NIV translation committee is following a long established Christian tradition. And they were even willing to compromise good literary form to do so, having used the word "yet" twice in the same sentence. I would love to have seen the committee's debate over this verse. It must have been very entertaining.

Another occasion where Jesus lied is found in Luke 23:43, which I will quote in context from the NIV:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear Yahweh," he said, "since you are under the same sentence?
41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, TODAY you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus lied when he told the criminal that TODAY he would be in paradise with him. Jesus could not possibly have been in paradise that day, as I will now show from the infallible, inspired Word of Yahweh. Matthew 12:40, which I quote in context, has Jesus saying that he would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (NIV):

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
39 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so THE SON OF MAN WILL BE THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH.

There are several problems with this passage, but I will overlook them at this time, in order to focus on Jesus's lie. In Matthew, Jesus said he would be THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH, but in Luke he told the criminal that he would be IN PARADISE, TODAY. The two statements are incompatible, and one of them must be a lie, if indeed we are to believe that the holy spirit infallibly and inerrantly inspired the words of Matthew and Luke to set down the actual words of Jesus in writing. But if this is not proof enough that Jesus lied, let's notice another statement of Jesus in John 20:17 (NIV), which I again quote in context:

14 At this, [Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."
16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, FOR I HAVE NOT YET RETURNED TO THE FATHER. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Jesus's own words leave no doubt that he could not have been in paradise with the criminal on the day of his crucifixion, because he had NOT YET returned to the Father.

My last example of Jesus's lying has to do with the two Lazaruses, the one in the parable at Luke 16:19-31, and the one whom he raised from the dead at John 11:1-46. Jesus's lie is found in Luke 16:31, which I quote in context from the NIV:

27 "He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house,
28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 "`No, father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, THEY

Jesus's statement is shown to be a lie by the events of John chapter 11, from which I quote beginning with verse 38 (NIV):

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
39 "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."
40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
45 THEREFORE many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, PUT THEIR FAITH IN HIM.

This passage clearly shows that people did indeed come to faith in Christ when they saw someone raised from the dead, in direct contradiction to Jesus's teaching that they wouldn't.

Besides Jesus's lies, of which I have recounted three examples, citing book, chapter, and verse, Jesus also discredits himself by making contradictory statements concerning the validity of his own testimony. Compare John 5:31 with John 8:14, where Jesus is speaking in both passages. First I quote John 5:31 (NIV) in context:

30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
31 "If I testify about myself, MY TESTIMONY IS NOT VALID.
32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.
33 "You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.
34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved.
35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
36 "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.
37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.
39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,
40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Jesus says, in verse 31, that his testimony about himself is NOT VALID. And since it is NOT VALID, he appeals to the testimony of Yahweh, John the Baptist, his own works, and the scriptures. But now, let's look at John 8:14, which I quote in context from the NIV:

13 The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid."
14 Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony IS VALID, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.
15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.
16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid.
18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me."

Here we see Jesus flatly contradicting his earlier statement that his testimony is NOT valid. He even appeals to HIS OWN testimony about himself, along with the testimony of the Father, to make two witnesses total! So, is Jesus's testimony valid or not? It is easy to see that it cannot be valid, since he contradicts himself on this very question. How far can you trust someone who first says that his own testimony is NOT VALID and then he turns around later and says that his own testimony IS VALID? If this were anyone else except beloved Jesus, you would think the person had a loose screw.

Finally, Jesus discredits himself by proclaiming false prophecies. I will cite two examples. The first one, Matthew 12:40, we have seen before:

40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and THREE NIGHTS in the heart of the earth.

From the synoptic gospels (John contradicts them, by the way), we find that Jesus was crucified and died on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and he rose early Sunday, just after the end of the Sabbath. If we cut the Bible some slack and reckon the partial days of Friday and Sunday as whole days, then it could be said that Jesus was "in the earth" for three DAYS. However, there is no room whatsoever for THREE NIGHTS, Jesus being "in the earth" only Friday night and Saturday night, a total of TWO. We see, therefore, that Jesus falsely prophecied his own interment period.

The second example is Jesus's false prophecy about the time of his second coming. This prophecy can be seen in parallel passages at Mark 13:30, Matthew 24:34, and Luke 21:32. Let's look first at Mark 13:30 (NIV), quoted in context:

24 "But in those days, following that distress, "`the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
26 "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.
30 I tell you the truth, THIS GENERATION will certainly not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS have happened.

Here we have Jesus telling his disciples that he would be returning in the clouds before their generation passed away, along with other absurd events, like the sun being darkened and the stars falling from the sky. The NIV has a marginal note that says "generation" can also be translated as "race." Well, if that is the proper translation, why did they put it in a footnote instead of in the text? The biased NIV translation committee could certainly be counted on to choose the option that solves problems of inerrancy if there were even of wisp of justification for it. The fact that they didn't choose "race" speaks volumes, and indeed, there is no precedent anywhere else in the Bible where the Greek word in question is translated "race." Next, let's look at Matthew 24:34:

27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 "Immediately after the distress of those days "`the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
30 "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
32 "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
34 I tell you the truth, THIS GENERATION will certainly not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS have happened.

Except for some readily apparent differences in the words of Jesus, which very words were supposedly infallibly inspired by the holy spirit, the relevant points in this passage agree with the points made concerning the passage in Mark. Perhaps Christians should start looking for historical records of stars falling from the sky during the apostolic generation to vindicate Jesus. Or maybe we all missed Jesus's second coming. It must have happened about two thousand years ago, if Jesus's words are to be believed. Finally, let's look at Luke 21:32:

25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.
26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
29 He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees.
30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.
31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of Yahweh is near.
32 "I tell you the truth, THIS GENERATION will certainly not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS have happened.

Again, we see some signs being the same, some different from those recorded in the other infallibly inspired words of Jesus, but the damning prophecy is the same in all three cases: "ALL THESE THINGS" were to happen in "THIS GENERATION." Notice, by the way, how Jesus so often says, "I tell you the truth." Why would anyone who is in the habit of always telling the truth have to repeatedly make a point of it? Doesn't this seem suspicious to you?

Anyway, I have shown from the infallibly, inerrantly inspired Word of Yahweh that Jesus made false prophecies. So, what are we to do? Moses gave very explicit instructions to us about how we are to receive false prophets. In Deuteronomy 18:20-22 (NIV):

20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death."
21 You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by Yahweh?"
22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of Yahweh DOES NOT TAKE PLACE OR COME TRUE, that is a message Yahweh has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

So, Moses prescribes death to Jesus, the false prophet who spoke presumptuously. Jesus is dead, so we cannot carry out this Godly sentence in our day. However, we CAN obey Moses's command to stop being afraid of him -- and his gospel of hell.

Thrust & Parry, Part 2

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Subject: Several things, Part 2 of 2
Date: 2/10/98 10:11 PM

Well, now that that enlightening little digression is finished, let's get back to your list of citations...

Luke 18:19. "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except Yahweh alone.

OK. So this verse is repeated (recall that the first occurence was in Mark 10:18, which we looked at prior to my digression). So what? That only shows the well known fact that Luke copied from Mark.

Before I go on examining your citations, I must take you on another little digression. While we are here at these parallel passages (Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19), let's notice something about verbal inspiration of scripture -- the doctrine that the very WORDS of scripture were inspired by the holy spirit. We can notice this by asking ourselves what were the VERY WORDS of Jesus in this incident. We don't have to go very far in the passages to find a discrepancy. In Mark 10:19 and Luke 18:20, we find that the holy spirit has infallibly put different words in Jesus's mouth. And the disagreement is in nothing less than Jesus's recounting of the Ten Commandments -- the most venerated lines of the entire Old Testament. Well, very few people nowadays can actually recite the Ten Commandments, and I suppose Jesus had a little trouble remembering them, too, because in Mark 10:19 we see that Jesus gives "Do not defraud" as one of them. If you will check Exodus 20:12-16 and Deuteronomy 5:16-20, you won't find that one listed.

When Luke, who wrote later than Mark, copied over Mark's account, he realized that "Do not defraud" is not one of the Ten Commandments, and so he took the embarrassing slip back out of Jesus's mouth. Luke must not have known that Mark had been inspired of the holy spirit to include that new commandment, and so he corrected the infallible holy spirit for us. Or, was it Luke that the holy spirit inspired, and not Mark? Beats me. Yahweh works in mysterious ways.

Oh, I almost forgot! The holy spirit did not mention the Commandment about coveting in either text, so I guess we are relieved of that Commandment and can have all the covetous thoughts we like. For this we can be thankful -- it is hard to control one's thoughts, and whatever the holy spirit can do to ease the burden is appreciated.

But, let's return from this little digression to look at your last citation concerning Yahweh's alleged goodness...

John 10:11. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

This verse says nothing about Yahweh. How is this relevant to proving your assertion that Yahweh is good?

are directly from God's Word.

You are committing the logical fallacy known as "begging the question." You have not established that the Bible is God's Word, and yet you appeal to it as evidence that God is good. If you expect me to become convinced that God said he is good, then you have to establish that God actually said the things you cite. But even if you were to do this, you still would not have established that God actually IS good, but only that he SAID he is good. Somehow, you still have to overcome the litany of the crimes of Yahweh that I noted in my earlier message. And I'll give you the chance as I document them one by one.

Also, if these are the verses that convince you that Yahweh is good, then all I can say is that you must already have believed him to be good before you ever opened the book in the first place, for your citations are entirely unconvincing.

You have not done or said anything that in any way leads me to believe otherwise.]

Well, you've told me nothing here except what the nature of belief is. OF COURSE I can't tell you anything that will change your beliefs. Belief is based on faith, which is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) Faith is NOT based on evidence, and therefore I can't attack your belief directly, because no amount of evidence is ever enough to undo blind faith. All I can do is to show you, using things that you CAN see in the here and now, that it is unreasonable to be "sure" and "certain" about future unseen things, because "God's Word" is so wrong about so many things that we CAN see and understand right NOW. When you see enough examples, your faith will collapse of its own weight.

4) For your first reading "assignment," I would like you to read a book entitled Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias.

OK, fine. [Another relative] sent me a copy around Christmas time, and I started in on it last night after reading your message. I may even provide some running commentary, if you can handle the extra e-mail traffic. Last night I read the introduction and the first chapter, and I see that Zacharias has taken evangelical "scholarship" to a new low. There is scarcely a sentence in the entire introduction and first chapter which is not false in one way or another. In addition, his rhetoric is manipulative and misleading, and he makes wildly provocative and spurious assertions, apparently expecting his readers to accept them on nothing more than his own authority, because he typically does not provide a shred of justification for the statements he makes. I sincerely hope you do not consider his work to be scholarly. I can honestly say, of all the published evangelical books I have read, I have never seen one so blatantly reliant upon the credulity of its readers. I can see why he said he was invited to give these talks by a STUDENT organization at Harvard, and that the STUDENTS responded well to them. No doubt, this student organization that invited him was an evangelical Christian organization, and the good response was because they are also the ones who showed up at his lectures, having a predisposition to believe what he says anyway. Been there, done that. I know how these things transpire. I'm sure the established scholars on the faculty at Harvard took no interest in his talks, except perhaps as a curiosity.

I'll keep you posted on my progress through the book. In spite of a poor start, he may have something worthwhile to say. I'll keep an open mind until the end.

Oh, Zacharias does agree with me about theological discussions. In chapter one he says theological discussions with atheists should not be concerned with the sensitivities of the participants, but that the task of getting down to the cold, hard, unpleasant issues should take priority. I would quote the paragraph to you, but I don't have the book here with me right now.

I would also like you to consider one other thing. We would like to go with you to talk with [name omitted], one of our ministers.

I have always been willing to do this, but it has to be worthwhile to me. It would be worthwhile to me if you and [name omitted] were to be present so that you can witness the exchange. Another condition is that it must be on a weekend or holiday so that I can come in fresh and not exhausted from the day's work.

I honestly believe that he could answer many of the questions you have difficulty with concerning the Bible.

You assume that I have "difficulties" with the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible's difficulties for me miraculously disappeared when I lost faith. When I lost faith, the Bible finally and suddenly made sense, because I understood it for the first time as the uninspired, barbaric, irrational, superstitious human creation that it is, full of errors. No, the difficulties are squarely on the side of belief, as should become evident to you when I meet with [your minister] in your presence.

We want Alison to come.

Alison and I have already talked about this previously. I am indifferent as to whether she comes, but she would prefer not to. Also, it is inconvenient, since we would have to get someone to look after the kids.

But I have an idea. Why don't we tape the session, and then Alison and any other interested family members can listen to it. Is [your minister] agreeable to this? Make sure he understands that I will freely distribute the tape as I see fit, including to members of his own congregation. But surely he could not object to this proposal. How could I even think it! This would be his chance to shine and to demonstrate how to defend the truth of Christianity in the very face of skepticism, right?

I have a better idea yet! I will let you off the hook from having to answer my e-mails (but I will not let you off the hook as regards the reading), if you can arrange a running dialogue between [your minister] and me via e-mail, so that I can copy the exchanges to all family members, and to whomever else I want. If you can swing that, it would be a win-win-win situation. You could simply watch the exchange instead of having to take the time to participate in it, [your minister] could try out his best arguments on a real live skeptic and copy it to whatever e-mail audience he wants, and I could demolish his religion without having to worry about muddying you in the process.

He can meet with us one afternoon around 4 PM but will probably need a couple of weeks advance notice.

Again, it needs to be a weekend or holiday. I don't wish to waste any vacation time on it. And I want to be fresh, since the priestly type can be devious and duplicitous -- it is their stock in trade -- and it takes a sharp mind to prevail against their circumlocutions.

Finally, I want to say that I don't pretend to believe that I can convince you of God's goodness and His absolute sovereignty. Only God Himself can affect this change in you.

Well, I'm disappointed. I read this to mean that you have no intention of defending the truth of Christianity using reasonable arguments. Is there nothing reasonable about the Christian faith that you can draw on? Are the apologists, such as R. C. Sproul, wasting their time trying to overlay a pretty mask of reasonableness over an ugly and unreasonable faith that has a human sacrifice at the heart of it? Must I continue to refute your unsupported assertions that beg the question of the Bible being identified as God's Word?

The Bible is very clear in its teachings about God's absolute holiness, omnipotence, immutability, omnipresence, self-sufficiency, self-existence, love, goodness, wisdom, truthfulness, righteousness, sovereignty, wrath, mercy, justice and yes, His incomprehensibility.

Well, the Bible is not as clear as you might think on many of these, but I will have to address these things some other time. I don't want to overwhelm you with messages, and it does take some research time on my part to answer such statements with citations to the contrary.

He cannot contradict Himself - His attributes are always used simultaneously in perfect harmony. He never suspends one to use another.

Well, as we move on in our dialogue, I will point out many instances where Yahweh's "Word" contradicts itself. Your other assertions are presented without evidence of any kind. You didn't answer me before, and so I'll ask again: Why are you allowed to make offensive blanket statements such as these, without evidence, while I am not, even WITH evidence? I never considered double standards to be acceptable, even when I was a Christian.

Obviously, as mere humans, we can never understand why he does all that He does.

This is a dodge that Christians fall back on when they cannot answer challenges to the faith. I used to use it myself when I got in a pinch. Have I stumped you so soon?

I remain convinced of His presence.

Sounds as if you are trying to shore up your faith by making statements of committal. I wish you wouldn't do that. It will only make it harder for you later, if and when you lose faith.

But, as to the content of your statement, what is it that convinces you of Yahweh's presence? When YOU are present with me, I can see you, hear you, touch you even, and I know you are present based upon my own sensory inputs. I have never seen, heard, or touched Yahweh. Why should I convince myself of the presence of something that is invisible, unheard, immaterial, and otherwise completely undetectable, as you apparently have done?

I, as all men/women, was completely dead in my evilness - selfish to the core. Christ provides a
way out. By His mercy, God has given me faith. Without His grace and mercy, I too would be looking at it all with unbelieving, incredulous eyes. I pray that He will be merciful to you as well.

You have become quite the Calvinist, I see. I wonder if [some other relatives] realize that the Baptist church rejects Calvinism, and that you have rejected the Arminian faith you grew up in. Your statements above express the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity, which means that, at the fall, humankind became so completely lost in their sin that it is impossible for them even to have a desire to accept Christ. All unregenerate humans are completely and utterly dependent on God to draw them to Christ and to quicken them to God's spirit, so that when they receive Christ, even that is an act of God, the human vessel having nothing to do with it, neither in initiation nor in consummation. There is no free will of a person as regarding their acceptance or rejection of Christ, since they are completely and utterly unable to accept Christ to begin with. God must do for the unbeliever what he cannot do for himself.

And so, the doctrine of Total Depravity leads to another Calvinist doctrine, that of Irresistible Election. God elects those whom he wants to save, and leaves all the others to be damned. His election is said to be Irresistible -- the elect cannot reject it, for, if they could, God would not be sovereign.

So, the Calvinist is quickly left with a dilemma. If God elects whom will be saved, and his election is irresistible, then why does he leave any unregenerate at all to be consigned to eternal damnation in hell? The Calvinist has nowhere to retreat but to the ad hoc ruse that God's ways are higher than our ways, and that we finite human beings are unable to comprehend why he does what he does. But, nevertheless, the Calvinist maintains that God MUST be good and sovereign, in spite of the facts and the implications of his theology, which speak otherwise.

But God's inscrutable ways are not incomprehensible, as the Calvinist says -- they are incoherent, and hence the theology is nonsense.

At least the Arminian can say that those who are consigned to hell are there because they rejected Christ of their own free volition, and so are somehow "deserving" of hell in some (inadequate) way, if it is possible for ANYONE to be deserving of so hideous a punishment. The Calvinist has to admit that God COULD save everyone if he only WOULD, but he CHOOSES to save merely a few and he leaves the rest to burn in hell. (And Yahweh is not a monster?! Calvinism practically DEFINES Yahweh as a monster.)

Well, in my own spiritual journey, I began as an Arminian, but when I studied the Bible, especially John and Romans, it became apparent that Arminianism is decimated by the Bible. Therefore, I became a Calvinist, as you apparently have done also. I used the same dodges and ruses that you are using now to try to rationalize away the basic problem of Calvinism, which is the fact that it does not account for the existence of evil.

[By the way, I have read the Westminster Confession of Faith in its entirety, along with essays of commentary on it. I consider it to be the most complete and thorough and biblical confession of faith that the church has produced in its history. If one wishes to believe in a sixteenth century faith, one can do no better than the Westminster Confession. It is quite better even than the Bible, which is wrought with confusion and irrelevant meanderings from cover to cover, while the Confession is laid out in an unambiguous and systematic way. If I were still a Christian, I would be a Presbyterian, [identifying descriptors omitted], subscribing to Reformed theology (mostly).

That reminds me. Somewhere in the text of the Confession you will find it laid down as "necessary to salvation to believe that all things visible and invisible were created not only out of nothing but exactly in six days." You may wish to confirm this quotation, and then tell me whether, according the the Westminster Confession, you are even a Christian yourself.]

One thing I'll say for the Calvinists, though, is that they have not watered down the doctrine of hell, like so many churches have. Every time you look at me and my family, the horror of my family's (imagined) eternal destiny must come to your mind. That being the case, I'm surprised that you would not try harder to present me with cogent arguments instead of pawning off on Yahweh the task of convincing me through mystical spiritual wooing.

Before I close, I want to repeat a couple of questions from my previous messages that you have not answered. First, have you read the Bible all the way through from cover to cover? This was not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. If you haven't, don't you think it is presumptuous to call it "God's Word," since you don't actually know what is in it?

Second, you haven't yet addressed my question, "What evidence can you present to demonstrate that the god of the Bible is actually the true God?" I said, in the message where I raised the question, that I think you believe this without any evidence. Does your silence mean that I am right?


Inviting the Other Relatives to Listen In

To: [all relatives]
From: James
Cc: [Name omitted]
Subject: A dialogue between [name omitted] and me
Date: 2/10/98 10:20 PM

Hello, everyone. I am writing to let you know that, by mutual consent, [name omitted] and I have begun an e-mail dialogue about belief and unbelief, the focus of our discussion being whether Christianity is true or false.

We have already exchanged several messages, which I will forward to you within a few minutes after I send this introduction. Don't be alarmed at the number of pages in this first batch. This is only because several messages have built up in the queue while we were establishing what the format of our dialogue would be. I expect future messages to come in more bite-size pieces.

My objective in this dialogue with [name omitted] is to struggle through the difficult process of coming to a genuine meeting of the minds, so that religious beliefs will not continue to be a barrier between us. The ideal outcome, from my perspective, is that we will end up with a genuine agreement on fundamental beliefs, so that we do not have to settle for second best, which is agreeing to disagree. I value my relationship with [name omitted], and I will be unsatisfied with an outcome that is anything less than complete camaraderie untarnished by any residue of fundamental differences.

My objective in copying all of you on these exchanges is to give you the opportunity to go through the process vicariously with [name omitted] and me. It is uncommon when two people decide not to sweep their fundamental differences under the rug, but by mutual consent decide to struggle through the process of poking and prodding at each other's vulnerabilities in order to break down barriers between them. By looking on from afar, I hope that you all will be able to experience, to some degree, a resolution of the conflict that has come between us.

The dialogue is sure to be uncomfortable, and even perhaps threatening at times, but the reward, if we are able to achieve it, is genuine harmony and agreement between us. I am sure that, at times, it will appear as if we are moving farther apart rather than closer together. In my experience, that is a necessary part of the process of coming to genuine consensus, and need not be cause for undue anxiety. Expect it to happen.

Having said what I hope to achieve, let me now be candid about my expectations. I believe that the odds of achieving the ideal objective, as I have stated it, are about fifty-fifty -- at best. To reach that objective completely, it will be necessary for [name omitted] to lose faith. I know this statement does not endear me to any of you, to understate the obvious, but I do not want you to cherish any false hope that I might return to the faith. It is true that I can be persuaded by evidence, but the fact of the matter is that the evidence is almost completely one-sided against Christianity. My candid expectation is that [name omitted]'s beliefs will be altered greatly as a result of our dialogue, whether she loses faith or not, while my beliefs will be changed minutely, as some amount of change is inevitable in any serious dialogue. I am not expressing closed-mindedness; I am expressing my assessment of the evidence and where it leads. I also expect that all of you looking on will learn a great deal that you did not previously know about [name omitted], me, and Christianity.

Well, I hope I have not enraged anybody, although I fear I have. I know that the things I say are hard to handle, but I feel they must be said plainly if we are to make progress. This is difficult for me, and I know it can be no less difficult for you than it is for me. But I am willing to endure the difficulty for the hope of deeper relationships with you all. I sincerely hope that shallow relationships are not acceptable to any of you, and that you will be willing to bear the pain of the impressions we must make upon one another as we press closer together.


[[Name omitted], I do not know whether [two other relatives] have an e-mail address. If they do, and if they want to be copied on these messages, let me know. I will then bring them up to date by forwarding copies of old messages to them, and I will add them to my copy list for new messages.]

Whoops! Relative’s Reference Makes My Point

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [relatives]
Subject: Quote from Ravi Zacharias
Date: 2/11/98 8:01 AM

[Name omitted], following I have quoted the paragraph from Zacharias that I mentioned in my last message. The paragraph is found on pages 10 and 11, under the section heading "Leveling with philosophy." Emphases are mine.

"Let me describe the three levels to you. Level one, which is foundational, is the level of theory. It is here that we engage one another in the great ideas of philosophy and in the categories that have been provided for reasonable discourse. When two individuals dialogue or dispute at this level, there has to be a clear epistemological base, that is, the establishment of the process by which one arrives at the truth. Such dialogue involves the rigorous application of the laws of logic and the advancement of the argument through sound reasoning. HERE NEITHER FEELING, CULTURE, SENTIMENTALITY, NOR TRADITION HAVE ANY PRIOR CLAIM. The introduction of a knee-jerk emotional response, however passionately felt, must be set aside, for it has NO VALIDITY in defending the truthfulness of propositions or systems. Shouting louder does not help if truth has been lost. Understanding the role this first level plays in the pursuit of truth is paramount. There is NO WAY to ignore or circumvent these laws of argument, for in effect one is forced to apply them in order to refute them. [Well, is this what I have to look forward to in the rest of Zacharias's book? Is he going to use the laws of argument to refute the laws of argument? What doubletalk!] We shall return to this later, but it is important to note here and now that this level is often disregarded by those who do not enjoy the hard-nosed rigor of logic while, at the same time, employed by them when they are denouncing an opposing view."


A Funny Turn of Events

To: [Names omitted]
From: James
Originated by: [Name omitted]
Cc: [relatives]
Subject: Hey, this is pretty funny!
Date: 2/12/98 3:49 PM

Hey, this is pretty funny! (See the attached messages.) [Name omitted], let me introduce [name omitted], a student at [a seminary]. [Name omitted], meet [name omitted] , who is [identifying descriptors omitted].

[Paragraph omitted because of identifying information.]

[Seminary student], thank you for keeping my messages confidential. I still have a reason for not wanting my unbelief widely known [identifying descriptors omitted], except to family and closest friends. Please especially do not mention my case to other students at [the seminary], as this could cause a problem for me. (I do not wish to disclose the nature of the problem it would cause.)

[Name omitted], may I suggest that [seminary student] might be a good resource for you to tap, in answering my arguments -- that is, if he has the time and is willing. I understand his studies of Greek at [seminary] are taking a lot of time right now. [Seminary student], I hope I am not imposing to make this suggestion. Of course, I understand you may not want to act in this capacity because of other priorities.

[Name omitted], if you and [seminary student] do decide to collaborate, you have my permission to forward my past messages to him, or you can ask me to, if you haven't kept copies. [Seminary student] already knows something of my story, as you probably have already gathered during your chance meeting at the bookstore.


From: [Seminary student] , on 2/12/98 2:48 AM:
To: James


I guess you are referring to me. I don't really know [your relative], but I did meet her last Saturday at Logos Bookstore. She was in there looking at some books, we struck up a conversation about apologetics, since that has been a great interest of mine for many years, and she mentioned very generically about [her relative] who used to be a Christian and no longer claims to be. She never said anything specific about you, other than the fact that it was [her relative].

At that moment, I took a stab in the dark and asked her if he lived in Mesquite...to both of our dismay, she said yes. (It could have been any city in the United States since she didn't even say where [her relative] was from). She was rather shocked that I guessed the city out of all the possible cities to choose from, so when she said yes, I took another stab and asked if his name was James (had she said no, I would have dropped it completely). At this point, she was beyond words how I would know this (figure of speech).

I briefly told her that I was organizing a debate in [name of city omitted] on June 15th and that my e-mail address is on the internet and that you contacted me about some information. Then I told her you offered to help with some with the publicity for the debate and that you shared a little bit about your background, and that was about it. I don't know [name omitted]'s last name, I didn't ask for her number or for her e-mail, so there is no way I could have kept in touch with her.

I have held to my word that I would not disclose your personal posts to anyone, and I still will not in the future. I respect your wishes very much. However, you can imagine the irony of the situation. I guess you might consider it coincidence, however, I am sure you understand that I don't see it as a random happenstance. For me to decide to go that bookstore was a secondary thought. Around the corner from the bookstore was a barber shop that I went into for a quick haircut and they told me it would be about 20 minutes. Rather than wait there for 20 minutes, I decided to go for a walk since it was such a pretty day, and when I saw Logos, I decided to go in just to check out some new titles. For me to run into your [relative] (considering all the people in the store), and having never known her, and to strike up a conversation (which I almost never do in bookstores), and to have a conversation (of all things) about [her relative] (when it very easily could have been just a hi, how are you?) is, in my opinion, more than just a mere coincidence (particularly when you think about the size of [name of city omitted] and what the chances are for that type of meeting).

Anyhow, to answer your question, I have not forwarded any of your posts to anyone, particularly not [name omitted], since I wouldn't know how to get a hold of her even if I wanted to. Hopefully our meeting does not disturb you, since it certainly was not pre-planned our followed through with anything. Let me know if you have any more questions.

[Seminary student]

Original text:
From: James [SMTP:James ]
Sent: 12 February 1998 10:37
To: errancy@infidels.org; ex-tian@infidels.org
Subject: To the Christian informant on this list...

To the Christian on either the ex-tian list or errancy list who knows [my relative], I would like to know who you are. Are you forwarding my posts to her?


Relative Sees More than Coincidence in This

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Subject: Hey, this is pretty funny! -Reply
Date: 2/12/98 5:00 PM

Actually, as [seminary student] mentioned, it was much more than a coincidence. I was delighted to meet him in the bookstore. It was a tremendous answer to prayer. I almost didn't go into the store and had done many errands that sidetracked me beforehand. I was talking to the owner of the store and I guess [seminary student] overheard the conversation about what kind of books I was looking for. We had a very nice conversation and he suggested some good books for me to read. See, God is good! Sure, it is a small thing but that is just one of the many things I love about the Lord. He has a way of providing encouragement at just the right time.

I did want to let you know that I had recieved and have skimmed through your e-mails from Tues PM. It is going to take me some time to answer, so don't expect anything too soon. Pertaining to our meeting with [our minister] however, I don't think that it is reasonable to ask a pastor to meet on a Saturday when it is his only day off and he is the father of three children. If this is important to you, I hope that you will be willing to sacrifice a couple of hours one day in the middle of the week. [Name omitted] and I had suggested the 4 PM time slot, but we could actually meet at any time of the day. Also, I think that this is an important enough issue that Alison should be able to find a babysitter. Finally, our pastor, [name omitted] is not "devious and duplicitous" !! He is actually a wonderful, giving person. What in the world would make you make such a rash, unjustified, and ugly statement about someone you don't know and have never met?!!

Oh, one more thing, [our minister] doesn't accept e-mail, even from people in the church. He is the senior pastor of a church of about 5,000. Which I think would put him in the category of a very busy person.

You remain in my prayers and thoughts,
[Name omitted]

Some Problems with the Idea of Divine Intervention

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [relatives]
Subject: re: Hey, this is pretty funny! -Reply
Date: 2/12/98 11:36 PM

From: [Name omitted] , on 2/12/98 5:00 PM:
To: James

Actually, as [seminary student] mentioned, it was much more than a coincidence. I was delighted to meet him in the bookstore. It was a tremendous answer to prayer.

You're fond of making unprovable assertions, aren't you. :)

I almost didn't go into the store and had done many errands that sidetracked me beforehand. I was talking to the owner of the store and I guess [seminary student] overheard the conversation about what kind of books I was looking for. We had a very nice conversation and he suggested some good books for me to read. See, God is good!

Well, indeed I do see now that Yahweh must be good, because he introduced you to [seminary student]. That far outweighs the little things that were getting in my way, like the fact the Yahweh drowned all the living human inhabitants in the world except eight, that he ordered the Israelites to utterly wipe out the Midianites and to kill all the men, women, and boys, but to keep 32,000 young virgins as sex slaves (Numbers 31), and that he has prepared a hell of eternal torment in flames for the great majority of mankind, whom he will order to be thrown into it at after frightening them speechless at the last judgment. I don't see how I could ever have let little things like these keep me from seeing that Yahweh is good when he proves his goodness by introducing you to a nice person who recommends good books for you to read.

Seriously, [name omitted], pleasant anecdotes will not bring me closer to Yahweh. Little stories like the one you are telling only confirm to me that the Christian delusion causes its victims to lose touch with the real world, seeing significance in insignificant things, while failing to see the implications of truly pivotal information.

Sure, it is a small thing but that is just one of the many things I love about the Lord. He has a way of providing encouragement at just the right time.

Oh, yes, I see what you mean. How could I have been so dense?

Have you seen the movie Titanic? It's a good movie, but it suffers greatly from the director's godless bias. In that last scene near the end, where 1500 people suffered an agonizing death by hypothermia and drowning in the freezing water, the godless director failed to portray any of the "encouragement" Yahweh must have provided "at just the right time." I'm sure that when the real Titanic went down it wasn't at all like the movie. I'm sure that Yahweh gave "encouragement at just the right time" to all those 1500 people while they were screaming and struggling and praying to him to stay alive a few minutes longer. Even though that godless product of Hollywood doesn't show it, I'm also sure Yahweh gave "encouragement at just the right time" to all those children and wives in the lifeboats who had to listen to the horrified screams of their fathers and husbands dying before their very eyes and ears. It's truly a comfort to know Yahweh cares so much.

[Name omitted], can you see how absurd your statement is? If Yahweh exists, why doesn't he do something -- anything -- that is undeniably god-like, as, for example, miraculously saving 1500 freezing and drowning people, many of whom undoubtedly were calling out to him for mercy and (temporal) salvation? There is not a single verifiable instance of any event having ever occurred in all time that absolutely defies naturalistic explanation, and that MUST be explained supernaturally. If a god does exist, its existence is irrelevant to us, because it leaves us completely at the mercy of indifferent natural processes, including chance happenings and coincidences (such as two mutual acquaintances of mine meeting by chance in a bookstore), which do not require an appeal to the supernatural for explanation.

I did want to let you know that I had recieved and have skimmed through your e-mails from Tues PM. It is going to take me some time to answer, so don't expect anything too soon.

Of course. You lead a very busy life. I understand.

Pertaining to our meeting with [our minister] however, I don't think that it is reasonable to ask a pastor to meet on a Saturday when it is his only day off and he is the father of three children.

So, Christ gave his life for me, dying an excruciating death on the cross for me, but despite all that my soul is not valuable enough for [your minister] to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday pulling me back from the precipice overlooking hell? But I, an immoral, uncaring atheist have already spent many precious hours away from my family dialoguing with you in the hope that you can be freed from a false religion that dominates your life.

Well, since the Christ story is mythical and not real, it may in actuality be unreasonable to ask him to do this, as you say, but the Bible demands it even if it is unreasonable. The inspired Word of Yahweh enjoins him to "ALWAYS be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect....," (1 Peter 3:15). He wants to reserve a time when he doesn't have to give an answer, although Yahweh tells him to ALWAYS be prepared to give an answer? The inspired Word of God leaves no room for this excuse since he is to "be prepared IN SEASON AND OUT OF SEASON; correct, rebuke and encourage--with GREAT PATIENCE and CAREFUL INSTRUCTION." (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV).

If this is important to you, I hope that you will be willing to sacrifice a couple of hours one day in the middle of the week.

Well, it is not important to me. I have no personal desire to talk with [your minister] or any other minister, and I am certainly not in need of any of their superstitious "counseling." I am willing to meet with him only because I think it will help you and [name omitted] down the road to rational unbelief to witness him being discredited.

As for sacrificing a couple of hours, well, the church is always asking you to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. I have already sacrificed all that I ever intend to sacrifice to the Christian church. It's time for the church to do a little sacrificing on my behalf.

[Name omitted] and I had suggested the 4 PM time slot, but we could actually meet at any time of the day. Also, I think that this is an important enough issue that Alison should be able to find a babysitter.

It needs to be a weekend or a holiday when I am not already planning to do something else. Why not a Sunday?

As for Alison, she will read this note, and she can make her own decision.

Finally, our pastor, [name omitted] is not "devious and duplicitous" !! He is actually a wonderful, giving person. What in the world would make you make such a rash, unjustified, and ugly statement about someone you don't know and have never met?!!

First, if you will reread what I actually wrote, you will find that I said the priestly type CAN BE devious and duplicitous. Since [your minister] is a professional minister, he belongs to a class of people for which it is prudent to suspect deviousness and duplicity and to prepare oneself to combat if it should it in fact appear. (I'll explain this in the next paragraph.) I have not impugned him personally. I meant to convey to you that it would be unwise of me to come into a meeting already mentally drained when there is a risk that I will need to be fresh in order to handle devious and duplicitous tactics, JUST IN CASE he is this way.

Second, it is reasonable for me to suspect devious and duplicitous behavior from a professional minister, because of the very nature of their deplorable profession. Ministers teach as solid certainties things that are by their very nature unknowable, and they require their followers to devote their lives to these teachings and their monies to the ministerial class on pain of eternal damnation. To me, this is the very definition of deviousness. It is just as if a salesman sells you an imaginary product, takes your money, and makes you believe that you will receive the product you paid for, even though it doesn't exist -- and his smooth talk makes you happy to do it! I will grant that most ministers don't know they are selling an imaginary product, and so the motivation normally associated with deviousness may not be present -- most ministers are simply victims of the Christian delusion -- but even if the motive is pure, the act itself is devious and must be anticipated if it is to be exposed. For, example, if [your minister] teaches that Yahweh desires Christians to tithe and that they should give in proportion to their appreciation of his love for them, then he is being devious in the mechanistic sense of the term as I am using it, though his motivation for teaching this may be pure.

As for "duplicitous," I meant this in the sense of speaking doubletalk. Again, most ministers don't realize they are doing this because the Christian delusion blinds them to the absurdities they propound, and so the predatory motivation normally associated with duplicitous behavior may not be present. However, again, even if the motivation is pure, the act itself is duplicitous, in the mechanistic sense in which I am using the word. For example, if [your minister] teaches that Jesus was 100% god and 100% man, then he is being duplicitous, even though his motivation for saying this may be pure. (That reminds me of my favorite pair of pants. They are 100% wool and 100% cotton.)

I considered editing my sentence about deviousness and duplicity out of my previous message before I sent it, because I knew I was not quite communicating what I intended. I should have left it unsaid. I have seen and heard enough of [your minister] to believe his motives are unimpeachable -- I simply believe he is deluded.

Oh, one more thing, [our minister] doesn't accept e-mail, even from people in the church. He is the senior pastor of a church of about 5,000. Which I think would put him in the category of a very busy person.

So, you are telling me [your minister] doesn't care to defend the truth of Christianity in a forum where he has a real chance to reach skeptics? With a single e-mail message he would reach more skeptics than would come to his church in a year. Do you know how wide a distribution he could get on the internet? He is missing a huge opportunity to expand the kingdom of Yahweh. Oh, but I forget -- it is much easier to gather sheep who are predisposed to accept what he says uncritically. And it puts less of a burden on the spirit of Yahweh to draw them.


PS [Name omitted], I want you to know that I am enjoying our discussion, and I hope you are as well. It has been a long time since I have been able to speak freely with anyone besides Alison about dearly held opinions of any kind. I especially am enjoying the peer-to-peer character of our dialogue, because I don't have to hold back for fear of taking unfair advantage of someone who is intellectually or emotionally incapable of pushing back. But I think you are being easy on me. Let me invite you to push back a little harder. I won't break.

Laying My Cards on the Table

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [relatives]
Subject: Message from [seminary student], and the tone of my own writing...
Date: 2/16/98 12:59 PM

[Name omitted], for your information, here is the text of a message [seminary student] sent me:

From: [Seminary student] , on 2/12/98 1:57 PM:
To: James


I appreciate the formal introduction to [name omitted]. I hope our meeting did not stir any lack of trust in any way. I will continue to stay silent with respect to your identity. I would be more than happy to talk with [name omitted] through some issues if she has some questions. I know that when I went through a period of 'crisis' in my faith, I did not have anyone and I only had a few resources to help myself through it. It is precisely because of this that I make it a point to always make myself available for anyone with questions. I hope that [name omitted] would contact me if she does have some questions (I hope your post does not make her feel too uncomfortable although it was written is a very kind manner.)

Anyhow, thank you for your kind thoughts and for your genuine spirit thus far.

Take care James.
[Seminary student]

[Name omitted], from feedback Alison has received by phone this weekend, it is clear that the tone of my past messages to you has not been well received, and that not a few people would take issue with [seminary student]'s comment that I have written in a "very kind manner." I wish to address this issue now.

After Alison passed on to me the feedback she received, I reread every one of the messages I had sent to you, trying to look at them from your point of view. I saw two places where I ought to have used gentler words. In both places, I used the words I used because I actually have a high opinion of you and your ability, but I see now that my words could be misunderstood as conceited and disparaging. I regret anything I may have said that you might have interpreted as being disparaging of you personally. I mean to disparage the Christian religion, not you. I am having the same difficulty that the Christian has when he or she is trying to "condemn the sin while loving the sinner." Just as it is difficult for the Christian to condemn the sin without condemning the sinner, so it is difficult for me to condemn the religion without condemning the believer.

May I suggest that you reread all of my messages from the first one on, trying to read them through my eyes? If you reread them knowing that I have a high opinion of you and a low opinion of the religion, then perhaps you can see why I used the words I used.

You told Alison that you are concerned for me because of the anger in my words. Let me assure you, as incredible as it may sound to you right now, there is no anger or vindictiveness in my words. I do understand how anger can be read into my words, but it is just not there. I feel no anger toward Christianity, nor toward most Christians, because I honestly believe most Christians are deluded, being infected with something akin to a communicable mental illness, if you will, and so they cannot be held completely accountable for what they think or do. How can I be angry when the same was true of me only a year and a half ago? (What I do feel is foolish, that I ever believed in the first place. But anger is no part of that.)

So, you may ask, why are my arguments so vigorous and forceful, if they are not contaminated by anger? My arguments are vigorous and forceful precisely because I believe the Christian delusion is strong and that vigor and force are required to topple it. I am making a very calculated effort, not an angry effort, to knock the foundation out from under the delusion that has you in its grip. Unfortunately, the Christian delusion integrates itself so strongly with the individual that you may see my attacks on the delusion as attacks on you personally, just as a sinner sees attacks on his sin as personal attacks.

You see, Christianity has been shown to be false, and hence it is incompatible with truth. But the Christian delusion can cover over the incompatibility indefinitely unless someone takes the time to place its victim in the dilemma of having to choose between the Christian delusion and the truth. All of my messages to you will place you in this dilemma. I don't like to do this any more than [a doctor likes to subject his patients] to chemotherapy with all the unpleasant side effects. [A doctor subjects his patients] to chemotherapy and other unpleasant treatments because [he knows there is a chance that it will free them from their cancer.] In the same way, I set you on the horns of a dilemma because I know that the outcome may be to free you from the Christian delusion. Of course, there is no guarantee that [a doctor's patients] won't die anyway in spite of the treatment, and I likewise recognize that there is a possibility that you will not ever be freed from the Christian delusion. But we are not yet to the point where I think it would be futile to continue treatment.

You need not answer this message. I only wanted to let you in on the rationale behind what I am doing so that you won't think I am attacking you personally. I hope I am not leaving any doubt that I consider you competent and up to the challenge. Just because the church has neglected to inform you of the serious problems with Christianity does not at all mean that you are incompetent to marshal the facts needed to put together an appropriate response when you are called upon to do so. I understand that it will take some time. No problem. And please don't lose faith in my high opinion of you. I know personally how it feels to be placed in a dilemma between my own precious beliefs on one side and truth on the other. I am not attacking you. I am attacking the false faith that holds you captive.


Another Relative Joins in the Conversation

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Cc: [all relatives]
Subject: Re: Message from [seminary student], and the tone of my own writing...
Date: 2/18/98 8:44 PM

If you harbor no ill feelings about Christianity after you "lost your faith", then I really don't understand you insistence on setting Christians free of their delusions. If there was no ill feelings involved, I would think any effort to convince anyone happy in their faith to be a waste of time.

However, you seem quite determined to prove that you are right. I really don't see the merits of living a life without believing in God. I firmly believe that my faith establishes the validity of right and wrong and that Jesus's life is the example of how we should live our lives. How can you possibly say that believing in the devil is better than believing in the Bible?

You could spend your whole life arguing these points and in looking for the tears in the wallpaper, instead of focusing on how much better the room looks since it HAS wallpaper in the first place. I suspect you are somehat unhappy since you spent so much time consumed in your study of the Bible and in searching for answers. But how much time did you spend being thankful for the clearity of the path, for the joy of the journey. These are the fruits of the Christian, and they are untarnishable.

With much love,
[Name omitted]

And I Don’t Let Him Off Easy

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [all relatives]
Subject: Re: Message from [seminary student], and the tone of my own writing...
Date: 2/19/98 5:31 PM

From: [Name omitted], on 2/18/98 8:44 PM:
To: James
Cc: [all relatives]

If you harbor no ill feelings about Christianity after you "lost your faith", then I really don't understand you insistence on setting Christians free of their delusions.

I might likewise ask why Christians proselytize. Does the fact that Christians proselytize necessarily mean that they harbor ill feelings toward unbelief? Of course not. Neither is my assertiveness a sign of ill feelings.

But if you will reread my messages, you will find that I expressly stated why I am doing what I am doing. Christ stands between us. We can never be as close as we could be as long as he does. I value our relationship more than I value religion. How can a Christian possibly have a genuine peer fellowship with an unbeliever, whom the Christian's god has rejected and condemned to hell? In your particular case, I believe I once heard you say that you are not sure that you believe in hell. Be that as it may, religion still stands as a barrier between us because you "don't see the merits of living a life without believing in God," as you say later in this message. As long as you believe my life has no merit, how can we experience close fellowship?

Of course, I DO have a CHOICE. I could be quiet and accept the current state of our relationships, knowing that I can never be admitted to the closest intimacies of fellowship with you all. The other thing I can do, and what I have chosen to do, is to try to show that the barrier of religion between us is itself unworthy. I know, and I know of, families separated by religion. They can live in toleration of one another, but the closeness of their relationships is limited by fundamental differences in values arising from their religious differences. I think we can do better than this, and that is why I am dealing with the situation assertively rather than passively. Personally, I find it intolerable to be satisfied with second best when there is real hope of achieving the best in our relationships with one another. I hope you feel the same.

If there was no ill feelings involved, I would think any effort to convince anyone happy in their faith to be a waste of time.

This sentence makes no sense. Do you mean it would NOT be a waste of time if I DID have ill feelings? It COULD be a waste of time either way, but so long as the possibility of better relationships is alive, I am willing to take the risk and to deal head-on with the issues. Are you?

However, you seem quite determined to prove that you are right.

Well, you are correct. I am indeed concerned about whether I am right or wrong. Aren't you? Do you really believe that it is preferable for someone to be "happy in their faith" than to be right? If so, then we can never see eye to eye so long as you believe this.

Are Jesus' words unimportant to you? He said, "Then you will know the TRUTH, and the truth will set you FREE" (John 8:32). Even though Jesus was wrong about what the truth is, still he valued the truth and he assumed that his listeners valued the truth. I value the truth. Do you? I would think that my insights to scripture would be welcomed with open arms, if you really do value the truth. Critiques such as mine cannot undermine something that is really true -- but they can expose falsehood, and that is what I have done. When falsehood is exposed, the cause of truth is advanced, and lovers of truth rejoice.

I really don't see the merits of living a life without believing in God.

So, I should just go ahead and kill myself, huh? What exactly is it about believing in a god that makes life meritorious? Be specific. If you can't give a solid answer to this question then you have made a vacuous statement.

I firmly believe that my faith establishes the validity of right and wrong and that Jesus's life is the example of how we should live our lives.

Well, whether or not you "firmly believe [it]" is irrelevant to the question of whether it is true or false. You'll be hard pressed to prove that your "faith establishes the validity of right and wrong." Since you have entered the discussion, I am going to ask you to do exactly that. Show me that your "faith establishes the validity of right and wrong." Or are you just parroting what you have heard and accepted from the church without proof?

As for Jesus' life being an example for us to follow, perhaps you have overlooked a few things, like the following, which I have adapted from a tract by Dan Barker called "Why Jesus?"

1. Jesus had a violent side. In Matthew 10:34 he says, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." In Luke 22:36 he says, "...if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." The burning of unbelievers during the Inquisition was based on the words of Jesus, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." Jesus "looked around at [his disciples] in anger," (Mark 3:15), and "he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables" (John 2:15). He showed his respect for life by drowning innocent animals (Matthew 8:32). He refused to heal a sick child until pressured by the mother (Matthew 15:22-28). Would you do that, [name omitted]? Jesus says that he himself shall order the angels to cast unbelievers into the fires of hell (Matthew 13:41-42). What kind of example is this? In effect, Jesus is making a threat, "Believe in me, or else!"

2. Jesus had a hateful side that promoted anti-family values. In Luke 14:26 he said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple." In Matthew 10:35-36, he says, "For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." When one of his disciples asked for time off for his father's funeral, Jesus rebuked him, saying, "let the dead bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:22). To his own mother he said, "woman, what have you to do with me?" (John 2:4, RSV). The NIV softens his statement considerably, but demons used exactly the same Greek words when they addressed Jesus with disrespect in Matthew 8:29, Mark 5:7, Luke 4:34, and Luke 8:28.

3. Jesus failed to promote equality and social justice. In Luke 12:47, one of the many parables where he had the chance to denounce slavery, instead he says, "That servant [slave] who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows." Jesus did nothing to alleviate poverty, and when he had the chance to sell some expensive ointment and give the money to the poor, he wasted it on himself instead (Mark 14:3-7). No women were chosen as disciples or invited to the last supper.

4. Jesus was unreliable. I have already looked at his lying and false prophecies and conflicting statements about the validity of his own testimony in a previous message. In addition, he made the mistaken claim that the mustard seed "is smaller than all other seeds" (Matthew 13:32, NASB. The NIV says "your seeds," dishonestly translating the Greek). Jesus said that "anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell," (Matthew 5:22), yet he himself called people fools, "You blind fools!" (Matthew 23:17).

5. Jesus was a bad moral example. He irrationally cursed a fig tree for being fruitless OUT OF SEASON (Matthew 21:18-19, and Mark 11:13-14). He told his disciples to take a horse without permission (Matthew 21). The "humble" Jesus said he was "greater than the temple," (Matthew 12:6), "greater than Jonah," (Matthew 12:41), and "greater than Solomon" (Matthew 12:42). He said, "He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30). Would you yourself assume that of other people?

Although other verses can be cited that portray Jesus in a more positive light, they do not erase the disturbing side of his character. The Golden Rule is not original with Jesus, having been said by many other spiritual leaders before him, beginning with Confucious (Kong-fu-tse) more than 600 years before Christ. The beatitudes are all conditions of future reward, not based on respect for human life or values. Jesus introduced nothing new to ethics (except hell). Being "omniscient," he could have shared some useful science or medicine, but he appeared ignorant of such things (as if his character were merely the invention of writers stuck in the first century). Why is Jesus so special? It would be more reasonable and productive to emulate real flesh-and-blood human beings who have contributed to humanity -- mothers who give birth, scientists who have alleviated suffering, social reformers who have fought injustice -- than to worship a character of such dubious qualities as Jesus.

How can you possibly say that believing in the devil is better than believing in the Bible?

You have put words into my mouth that I did not say. I don't believe it is better to believe in the devil any more than to believe in Yahweh. BOTH are mythical. What I said, and what I demonstrated with EXAMPLES, is that the Bible casts Satan in a better light than it does Yahweh. Where are your counter examples? Instead of just expressing incredulity at the things I said, how about making a real case for your position?

You ask me how I can "possibly" say what I have said about Satan, when I have already shown you by BIBLICAL EXAMPLES how it is possible to see Satan in a better light than Yahweh. Why do you ignore examples from the Bible? It is as if you did not even read what I wrote. Your question betrays a mental prejudice that has prevented you from apprehending evidence that might be contrary to what you already believe. Why don't you go back and reread what I wrote in my previous message, and you will see how I could "possibly" say what I said.

You could spend your whole life arguing these points and in looking for the tears in the wallpaper, instead of focusing on how much better the room looks since it HAS wallpaper in the first place.

You assume that Christianity is marred by some incongruities, but that it is basically intact. Not meaning to be disrespectful, but I don't believe you understand the issues. If you are depending upon Jesus' efficacious and vicarious atonement to buy you a place in heaven, then it makes all the difference in the world who Jesus really was. I have demonstrated from the Bible that Jesus had a habit of lying, that he himself asserted that his testimony is not valid, and that he made false prophecies. If he did these things, then he cannot be the perfect human sacrifice required by Yahweh to overlook our sins. My critique went to the very heart of Christianity, and your wallpaper analogy just simply does not hold because it presumes that the problems I pointed out are peripheral issues.

Why haven't you refuted my arguments instead of sweeping them aside with a false analogy? Do you not rely upon the Bible to guide your beliefs, or do you simply make up your own beliefs as you go? This is a very serious question I am asking you. If you make up your own beliefs, then they have no objective basis in reality and you cannot be certain of them in any way. If you make up your own beliefs, disregarding what the Bible says, then you are literally deluding yourself by disconnecting your beliefs from objective reality, and you are also being untrue to the traditional Christian religion and are in fact fabricating a new, personal religion based loosely upon Christian ideas. If this is what you are doing, why does belief in a god make any difference to you at all? One belief is as good as another if beliefs are subjective and unconnected to objective reality.

I suspect you are somehat unhappy since you spent so much time consumed in your study of the Bible and in searching for answers.

On the contrary, when I became certain that Christianity is false, I became very carefree and happy (except for the anxiety connected with the prospect of telling you all about my loss of faith). Finally, I did not have the defend the indefensible any longer in my small group Bible study, or to my family. (By the way, I am finding that it is much easier to defend unbelief than it was to defend belief.) It is true that I lost much precious time, wasting it upon Bible study, church, prayer, etc. But that is water under the bridge. I regret it, but I am not unhappy because of it.

But how much time did you spend being thankful for the clearity of the path, for the joy of the journey. These are the fruits of the Christian, and they are untarnishable.

Well, if you think ingratitude led me away from the faith you are dead wrong. I was almost an obsessively grateful Christian. Alison can attest to some extent how grateful I was, but even she does not know how I continually offered private prayers of gratitude to Yahweh moment by moment through all my waking hours.

Perhaps you think I was a shallow or uncommitted Christian because of the church we were going to. The church we were going to in Mesquite was a compromise and not at all what Alison and I really wanted, and we went there basically so that we would be close enough to church for the kids to play with their church friends. I was always dissatisfied with the teaching there, and I yearned for a church that paid attention to corporate worship instead of preaching. Consequently, I filled the teaching gap with studies of my own, and I filled the worship gap with worship on my own. Frankly, I was always kind of embarrassed for you all to visit [name of church deleted], because I didn't want you to associate me with the kind of shallow popular Christianity found there.

In fact, when I was still a believer, I used to think, privately, that you all were not very serious about Christianity and that you ought to have been more committed to knowing Christ and the Bible. I used to wonder how it could be that so many Christians were content to listen to preaching about the Bible and not be consumed with a passion to study it themselves and to know it directly by personal experience, instead of relying on a pastor or other teacher as mediator. Since I had studied some religious history, I knew that God had blessed us in the modern age in an immeasurable way by putting the very Word of God within reach of the common man. In the past, the holy texts were not available, and, in fact, the church put the Bible on its list of banned books that the common people were not allowed to read. It was incomprehensible to me that God should put such a treasure within the reach of everyone in the modern world, and yet its value went effectively unnoticed by so many Christians.

Now, I recognize that this circumstance is necessary to maintain the hold of evangelical beliefs, and it has arisen by a kind of natural selection. The population of Christians that really knew the Bible in a scholarly way became liberal Christians, no longer believing the Bible, or they left Christianity altogether. A population of Christians that knew somewhat less about the Bible, or refused to accept what was known about the Bible, became fundamentalists, still believing the Bible and trying their best to put it into practice. There is a third population of protestant Christians who were caught in the lurch between the two extremes. They recognized that it was absurd for the liberals to think they could dismiss the Bible and still have a genuine Christianity, but they also could see that following the Bible to the letter, as the fundamentalists did, led to extremism. This population of Christians became the evangelicals. They revere the book, almost as if it were an idol, and they say they believe it, but they only put selected portions of it into practice. The evangelical subculture shines the spotlight on those portions of the Bible that are sensible, and leaves the rest in shadow. Evangelicalism is a precarious position for any particular individual believer, like a ball on top of a hill, because a little bit of the wrong kind of knowledge about the Bible nudges the ball and gravity does the rest. The maintenance of evangelicalism is therefore dependent upon the existence of a population of believers who revere the Bible, but who don't know very much about it. That is why I found so many Christians who did not study the Bible in a passionate and serious way -- these are the people who naturally flocked to evangelical churches.

Sorry for the digression. I will get back to answering your message now.

As for the "clarity of the path," the Christian path is anything but clear. If you doubt me, try looking up all the scriptures having to do with salvation and try to come up with a coherent plan of salvation that is in agreement with all of them. Of all the things Yahweh should have been clear on, soteriology is perhaps the one thing where ambiguities and contradictions are inexcusable. If Yahweh's "revelation" does not tell us unambiguously and precisely how to be saved, why did he go to the trouble to "bless" us with any revelation at all?

Finally, the "joy of the journey" has not diminished in the least since I lost faith. I guess I'm a non-Christian bearing a Christian fruit, huh? The only difference now is that at times when I'm not joyful I no longer have to pretend to be, like I did when I was a Christian. By the way, since your "joy" is "untarnishable" does that mean you pretend to be joyful when you're not? As for myself, if I were unhappy or angry, I would say so. Why wouldn't I? I don't have a "personal Christian witness" to protect.


This Other Relative Closes the Door

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Cc: [all relatives]
Subject: Re: Message from [seminary student], and the tone of my own writing...
Date: 2/21/98 9:31 AM

I am sending back your reply in digust and contempt. Do not e-mail me about this anymore. I see no logic in your arguements about "bringing us together" and you are only hurting the relationship with the family. I find your arguments lacking in logic and warped toward your point of view

<snip my message, already reproduced above>

But I Reopen the Door with an Open-ended Invitation

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [all relatives]
Subject: I will respect your request...
Date: 2/23/98 9:50 AM

From: [Name omitted], on 2/21/98 9:31 AM:
To: James
Cc: [all relatives]

I am sending back your reply in digust and contempt. Do not e-mail me about this anymore. I see no logic in your arguements about "bringing us together" and you are only hurting the relationship with the family. I find your arguments lacking in logic and warped toward your point of view

You wish to cut off the conversation, and I will respect your request. This will be my last e-mail to you on the subject, unless you ask me to add you back onto the copy list.

But I must say I believe you are missing an opportunity. You have the uncommon opportunity to engage in a candid interaction with someone who actually has the ability to correct mistakes in your thinking, someone who cares for you enough to give you individual attention rather than brushing you aside and leaving you to fend for yourself in a world awash with misinformation. OK, I've said enough about this. I'll leave you alone.

I am sending this message to let you know that, although I believe you are wrong and that you are being unfair toward me, I have no hard feelings toward you. Someday you may come to realize that you have made a mistake, and if you do, I want you to know I am willing to pick up the conversation where we left off. You have shut the door, but I am opening it back up, and I will leave it open for you. As of this message, you have a standing invitation from me to come back at any time, no explanations or apologies necessary.

Best wishes,

The Sound of Silence

There have been no more written communications to me from believing relatives on the issue of the truth of Christianity. For the most part, the believing relatives act toward me and my family as if these unresolved discussions never happened.

For my part, I did finish the reading assignment [name omitted] gave to me, and I have drafted out a book review that I will edit and forward if [name omitted] ever picks up the dialogue again.

And I did write out the details of my first accusation against Yahweh. I did not send it to [name omitted] for fear of overwhelming her with material (which I believe I did anyway).

My own feeling about the ending of the dialogue is disappointment. I believe if [name omitted] had kept up the conversation, there was about an even chance that she would see the light and give up the Christian superstition, because I believe she has a genuine desire to know the truth, a rarity among true believers of any stripe.

But the effort was not without its fruits -- I got the chance to lay some of the issues on the table. Without [name omitted]’s willingness to dialogue this may never have happened. And even though the rebuilding of disrupted relationships is halted prematurely, the sound of silence is not altogether displeasing.

Back to Part 1

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