Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Mike left the following comment on the post titled The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Evangelical Bill Wiese Preys on Dying Atheist:
JESUS offers the only way to Heaven. It is not difficult but some are so arrogant or get off on their unbelief. The problem with that is this life ends in a blip. Life is just a vapor. Choose Heaven…over hell. Are these people with these incredible experiences all making it up? All of them? Be serious.
We shall all die and be totally forgotten…except by GOD thankfully.
Mike asks, “Are these people with these incredible [conversion] experiences all making it up?” Well, certainly some of them are making it up. Evangelical churches are filled with people who are just going through the motions; people who don’t really believe. I have no doubt that on Sundays, Evangelical churches even have atheists in their midst; unbelievers who go through the motions for the sake of the marriages or families. Some churches even have atheist pastors — men who don’t believe, yet preach the “gospel” Sunday after Sunday. (Check out the Clergy Project for more information about help for unbelieving clergy.)
Now, Mike is likely a True Christian®. He probably knows countless other people who are members of the True Christian® Club — Established 33 A.D. by Jesus Christ. Mike incredulously asks me to be serious. Do I really think that people with incredible conversion experiences are all making it up? No, I don’t think True Christians® are lying when they testify to what Jesus has done in their lives. I almost always take Christian professions of faith at face value. That said, since the Evangelical God has never been seen, and neither has the Holy Spirit, is it not fair for skeptics and atheists to question whether such beings exist and whether said conversion experiences can, in fact, be proved? The very nature of faith requires believing without seeing. (Hebrews 11) While Jesus, in fact, walked the streets of Galilee almost 2,000 years ago, no one has seen him since the first century. There’s no credible evidence for claims that Jesus physically resurrected and ascended to Heaven. Jesus, supposedly, now sits at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the day and time when Gabriel will blow his trumpet, signifying the second coming of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to earth. Millions of Evangelicals gather on Sundays to praise and worship the resurrected Christ and the wonders of his saving grace. Evangelical worship is rooted not in fact, but faith; again, believing what cannot be seen. No one has ever seen God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, angels, Satan, or demons, yet Evangelicals believe these entities exist and are intimately involved in their day-to-day lives. Surely, the fact that they “believe” these things to be true makes them so, right? No! No! No!
Is the fact millions of people believe something to be true, make it so? Of course not. Humans can and do believe things that are patently false or are rooted in myth. Just because millions and millions of Evangelicals believe Jesus is the virgin-born, miracle-working, crucified, and resurrected Son of God, doesn’t mean their beliefs are, in fact, true. When Evangelicals are pressed for evidence for their theological claims, they ultimately appeal to the Bible and faith. Either you believe or you don’t. Evangelicals, for a variety of reasons, suspend rationality and choose, instead, to put their faith and trust in the Christian narrative. Atheists and other unbelievers refuse to set reason aside and faith-it. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to refute atheist claims, but the differences between the two parties really come down to one thing — faith. Evangelicals have it and atheists don’t.
Mike would have us believe that the mere fact that countless Evangelicals believe in Jesus and have had conversion experiences, alone, is “proof” of their truthiness. Of course, this notion is easily disproven. Evangelism is, by nature, exclusionary. Only those who have repented of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are blood-washed members of the True Christian® Club. All other religions are false. Wait a minute, if the sheer number of adherents determines whether theological claims are true, wouldn’t that mean that Islam, with 1.8 billion believers, is true? Couldn’t the same be said for Mormons? Mormonism is quite Evangelical in theology and practice. Almost 15 million people worldwide worship the Mormon version of Jesus Christ. Surely, this means that Mormonism is true too, right?
Let’s go back to the first century for a moment. The Romans ruled most of the known world. God’s chosen people, the Jews, were under the thumb of Rome. A ragtag group of misfits walked the streets of Jerusalem and Galilee, claiming that their leader, Jesus, was some sort of miracle worker — a man sent from God. Yet, when all the Christians gathered in an upper room to await the Day of Pentecost, they numbered 120 people (Acts 1). Think of all the miracles Jesus purportedly worked. Think of the things that happened when he died: the veil in the Jewish Temple was rent in twain, graves opened up and dead people came back to life and walked the streets of Jerusalem, and the sun was darkened. Think of all the miracles Jesus worked after his three-day weekend in the grave. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.) Yet, come the events recorded in Acts 1, the disciples of Jesus numbered 120. Talk about failure. Why, President Trump would be tweeting about what a failure Jesus and the Apostles were to him! Using Mike’s logic — just being serious here — it would seem that the gods of Rome were the true Gods. If crowd size determines whether theological claims are true, it’s fair to say that Christianity is false.
Now, I know that Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to show that Evangelical Christianity is true, and all other religions (and non-religions) are false. Mormon believe this or that, and this proves Mormonism is false, Evangelicals say. Similar arguments are made against Islam, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Pastafarianism, Shintoism, Santeria, and cargo religions. Bruce, all these other religions are false! Why? Why is Christianity true and all other religions false? Look at their crazy beliefs, Bruce! Only Christianity is true! Really? Try taking a look at Evangelical Christianity from the outside. Isn’t the Evangelical narrative just as crazy as that of other religions? I have already disproved the notion that the size of the sect proves its truthiness. Lots of sects have millions and billions of adherents. If penis size alone determines which appendage is the one true cock, what can be said about Trump-sized groups such as Evangelicals — whose numbers are quite small when compared to Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam?
No, the fact that millions and millions of people profess faith in the Evangelical Jesus proves nothing. Just because individual Christians testify to the miracle-working power of their God, it proves nothing. Sure, religion can and does effect change in the lives of people, but beliefs need not be true for them to be transformative. Humans believe all sorts of things that are false. In science, there is what is called the placebo effect: a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment. Most humans want meaning, purpose, and happiness in their lives. Is it not possible the religion in general and specifically Evangelicalism produces a placebo effect? Evangelicals “believe” and it works. Evangelicalism doesn’t work for atheists. Why is that? Atheists don’t believe; they don’t have the requisite faith necessary for one to become a Christian.
I hope that this post puts to rest the argument that truth is determined by crowd size. It’s not, and if the Mikes of the world want to prove that Evangelicalism is true, it is time for them to prove it; not with lame presuppositions or Bible verses, but real evidence. Of course, no such evidence is forthcoming, and for this reason, and others, the number of unbelievers continues to grow.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
Connect with me on social media:
You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.
Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.
I grew up among evangelicals, attended an evangelical school, and attended seminary briefly. Yet I’ve only known a scant handful of people so uncommonly good that their lives could argue for the truth of Christianity.
I think instead that some people are just uncommonly good.
Appealing to the number of people who believe something as evidence of its veracity is a silly argument. Everyone used to believe the earth is flat, but now we (most of us) know that isn’t true. The majority of people used to believe slavery was acceptable, but now we do not. People used to think women shouldn’t run marathons because their uterus would fall out.
My daughter’s astronomy professor just told the students that science is progressing so rapidly that what he is teaching them now may be found to be false next year, and that is exciting to him as a scientist. With science, unlike with religious faith, a bunch of other scientists will peer review and test the findings to determine their veracity.
Obstacle Chick, the point you make in your last paragraph is graphically illustrated by the solving of the mathematical conjecture known as Fermat’s Last Theorem. It was first suggested by Fermat around 400 years ago, was regarded at one time as the most difficult problem in mathematics, and was only solved by Andrew Wiles some 25 years ago. The conjecture itself is fairly easy to understand but the solution is incomprehensible to anyone without a PhD in mathematics; I read the first paragraph of the page introducing the solution (which runs to dozens of pages) and it may as well have been in Greek. He presented it to great acclaim but then he faced what science does best, namely peer review. It was found that he’d made an error. Instead of clinging to his proof, trying to disparage his critics, he went back to the drawing board and addressed the issue, with the result that he corrected his error and in so doing solved the problem correctly.
That’s how science works and why it beats religion. When people say ‘religion answers the questions science can’t’ I just say ‘oh yeah, such as …?’
Religion doesn’t really answer questions. It just gets you to stop asking them.
We know the answers provided by science are valid because those answers enable us to create technology which actually works. Airplanes built on the basis of the discoveries of physics actually fly. Vaccines designed on the basis of biological knowledge actually protect populations from epidemics. Every machine in your house, from a toaster to a computer to a cell phone, can only function because the science underlying its design is objectively true — not just somebody’s truth, but the truth.
No religion or other alternative “way of knowing” has such a track record of generating knowledge which enables us to create complicated things that actually work. Science is the only valid way of understanding reality.
Um, the answers provided by science are ***provisionally*** valid. Some of them have been validated and developed to the point of spinning off technology from them. Some haven’t, but we can have great confidence in them still, based on their predictive capability. They might need adjusting the future, as we understand details better, and then they will spawn new technologies. But technology is not the proof of science, ideas that explain current phenomena and predict other phenomena accurately and reliably are. We scientists call those things ‘theories’, a word which nonscientists seem to resist understanding has a different meaning for us than it might for them.
Exactly Karen. That’s why when creationists mock “The Theory of Evolution” those of us who base our beliefs in reality realize that it means it explains complex processes spanning eons, and proven across multiple scientific disciplines.
The human experience includes the experience of both deep suffering and deep joy and of course the daily hues in between. I am suseptible to weeping with joy at a peculiarly wonderful sunflower or the chance glance at a child playing. Religion is our creation of a tool to manipulate human feelings by taking the utterly human and ascribing it with magical qualities. This of course allows for the offering plate to be passed and the new church to be built where there could have been a useful hospital or school.
Watch any revival tent meeting and you will soon see how penetratingly logical a mob is when given the green light to gah-gah and whoop it up. Mobs are about feelings, not gray matter.
The ignorant anal orifice who is now the Commander in Chief of USA has jokingly said that he is the chosen one, after which he quickly withdrew the claim claiming it was sarcasm or the like. But evangelicals disagree with him and think God put him at the wheel. Thousands and thousands of Americans hold this view! They can’t be wrong!
“No one has ever seen God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, angels, Satan, or demons, yet Evangelicals believe these entities exist and are intimately involved in their day-to-day lives.” Actually there are Biblical accounts of people seeing “angels” – who mysteriously looked just like people. I always found that kind of bizarre and probably a cop-out.
I have a fundy FB friend who answered a silly quiz containing the question, “Do you believe in ghosts?” Her answer: “Demons and spirits, yes. Ghosts, no.” Oh, please. Just be honest and admit they are the same thing.
GeoffT that’s interesting about Fermat’s Last Theorem. I am sure I wouldn’t understand the solution either. It is interesting that there’s so much humans have learned, discovered, and created without the help of dogma but through observation and adaptation. One of the frustrating things about fundamentalism is that there’s no room for growth and change. By its nature, it’s rooted in firmly and rigidly adhering to dogma. Fear and loathing of change are at its core.
Fear and loathing of change are at its core. -ObstacleChick
You are wrong. Change, if it is in the offering plate, is universally praised and valued in fundamentalism. 😉
Brian V, ah yes, you are correct – that kind of change is acceptable to fundies.