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Can You Know Anything in Your Heart?

missing heaven 18 inches

Evangelicals believe every human has a body, soul, and spirit. It’s evident to all of us that humans have bodies, but there’s no evidence outside of the Bible and the pronouncement of preachers that humans have a soul or spirit. Much like evidence for the existence of God, no one has ever seen a human soul or spirit.

Most Evangelicals believe humans are tripartite beings. If you are unfamiliar with this term, Wikipedia defines it this way:

In Christian theology, the tripartite view (trichotomy) holds that humankind is a composite of three distinct components: body, spirit, and soul.

I never believed the notion that humans were tripartite beings. Instead, I concluded that we were bipartite beings, consisting of a body and a spirit, that the words soul and spirit were used interchangeably in the Bible.

As a rationalist and an atheist, I concluded that there was no evidence for the existence of a human soul or spirit; there was no evidence for these things outside of the pages of the Bible. Christians and other religious people continue to try to prove the soul’s existence, but so far, they have miserably failed.

For those raised in Evangelical churches, we have likely heard preachers warn us countless times of missing Heaven by eighteen inches — the distance between the human mind and heart. According to these preachers, many Christians believe in Jesus only in their minds, not their hearts. They have “head knowledge,” not “heart knowledge.” As you likely know, intellectualism is frowned upon in many churches; that believing the right things in your mind is not enough for salvation, that you have to really, really, really believe the right things in your heart. Salvation requires the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Just believing the faith once delivered to the saints in your mind — assenting to a set of intellectual facts — is not enough. Unbelievers must have their hearts transformed to become born again.

Of course, the problem with this kind of thinking is that it is based on a false premise: that humans have a “heart” — the seat of the soul and spirit. Where is this heart located? Most Evangelicals point to the blood-pumping organ in their chest. The authors of the Bible certainly thought this was so. The Greek word most commonly used for heart in the New Testament is “kardia.” The only evidence Evangelicals have for the existence of the “heart” is the only evidence they have for a lot of things: THE BIBLE SAYS _________.

This is why it is difficult, if not impossible, to have rational discussions with Evangelicals. Press them on their beliefs, and more often than not, Evangelical believers will say, “I believe in my heart that the Bible is true, God is real, Jesus saved me, and I am going to Heaven after I die.” Instead of using their minds to think and reason, Evangelicals appeal to a part of them that does not exist. Everything they know and feel comes from their brain, not a mythical heart. Yet, because Evangelicals believe God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, resides in their “hearts,” it’s impossible to reach them with rational, intellectual arguments.

Renowned Evangelical apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig had this to say about the matter:

The way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the witness of the holy spirit in my heart. This gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true, apart from the evidence. (Thanks Doctor DJ to for the quote)

Craig makes his living from arguing for the existence of God, yet when it comes to where the proverbial rubber meets the road, Craig says that it is the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart, not evidence, that proves to him Christianity is true.

Evangelicals-turned-atheists know where Craig is coming from. We too thought, at one time, that we knew Christianity was true because of the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It is difficult to move a believer away from this type of thinking, regardless of how irrational it seems. I have concluded that the only way to reach Evangelicals is to disabuse them of the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. If you can get them to doubt the nature and history of the Bible, this can and does lead to doubt. And as those of us who used to be Evangelicals know, doubt is the first step away from Christianity. Once the Bible loses its power and authority, it is far easier to convince people that many of their beliefs are false.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Matilda

    Husband has a good science degree and taught in a High School. A family joined our church and their sons enrolled at hubby’s school. The dad was a full time evangelist. He quizzed my husband about his qualifications. He preached at our church soon afterwards on the theme of you didn’t need no fancy education to lead others to jesus, just look at him, he was so successful at that, and he hadn’t got a degree from no fancy university. Afterwards a wiser church member said to my bemused hubby, ‘Never trust anyone who says that with jesus in your heart, any old turnip will do for a head.’ That’s stuck with us for years!

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    You know, this type of faith is the same faith the insurrectionists had to riot on Jan 6 at the US Capitol. They know in their hearts the election was stolen, and they believe and have faith in Trump. They feel this. All of the evidence in the world wouldn’t convince them. I spent 2 months following attorneys on Twitter who posted every lawsuit in their entirety, every filing, every response, and the evidence is clear: there was no election fraud. But they BELIEVE and FEEL with all their hearts so they know it is so. Seriously, this type of faith in spite of lack of evidence has already ruined our country. Those who believe in evidence will be fighting all these “faith-filled” types for the rest of our lives.

  3. Avatar
    mary

    wow if i had a dime for every time i heard the above i’d be so rich i couldn’t spend it all. agreed, BJW that the rioters had the same idea when they took that action. it’s downright scary how many in america check their brain at the door in order to follow a preacher or personality.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I still occasionally find myself using the word “spirit” even though I don’t believe in the Christian (or mother religious) conception of human beings. What I mean might better be phrased as “mind” or “psyche,” but the word “spirit” is still, I guess, ingrained in me. Such is the power of religious dogma.

    If anything, what followed the latest Presidential election should show us that, too often, when people say they know something in their “hearts,” they are holding, desperately (hence the violence), onto something they, for whatever reasons, don’t want to accept–or onto a pure-and-simple lie.

    I know in my heart that I have Angelina Jolie’s face, Rihanna’s legs, Marie Curie’s mind and Virginia Woolf’s writing skills. Just sayin”

  5. Avatar
    GeoffT

    The opening message reminded me of a saying I rather like (quoted originally about religion in Africa, but applicable equally to the US) ‘Christianity is a mile wide but an inch deep’.

  6. Avatar
    Emersonian

    I get the sort of general sense that we can “feel” something is true or right without being able to intellectually explain that feeling; I’m not sure that’s a solid basis for an entire belief system, though. But I’m curious about the dichotomy between “spirit” and “soul” for the tripartite evangelical–what exactly do they feel distinguishes the two? I would have said those were interchangeable terms as well, in the bible and in general parlance.

  7. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Back in the Pleistocene, when I was a hardware engineer, I worked on large systems at a time when the engineering tools for developing electronics on that scale were inadequate. To some extent, we made our own (like software emulations of what sections of our systems were supposed to be doing). But sometimes, it was just you, an oscilloscope, and a customer coming in the next morning for a demo. Oh, and there was invariably a program manager breathing down your back, getting in the way.

    I found, after working on these things for a couple of years, that I could start “intuitively” solving problems. In other words, when faced with eighteen large circuit cards worth of equipment, I knew the problem was somewhere in THERE, which was usually a portion of a card. So I would probe that area, and I could usually find the fault there. That ability frightened me at first. Then, whenever it happened, I would think carefully about why my mind had jumped to that conclusion. Invariably, I would discover that I had internalized some bit of information about system operation without realizing it.

    Did this lead me to trust intuition in general? Heck no. I spent my childhood enduring a mother who made decisions based on how she felt things were, rather than thinking through the situations. Her reality was based on things like stereotyping people in the face of clear contrary evidence (for example, all Black people [do bad thing][have bad attitude] EXCEPT for the several Black people she actually knew). All right-thinking people liked what she liked and disliked what she disliked. She felt her way through life, and might not have actually understood the concept of evidence.

    My point is that you can get through 81 years of life without actually doing much thinking, instead listening to what your heart tells you. Whether that makes for a good life, trust-based relationships, wise decisions, and such…you wouldn’t think it to judge from my mother’s life.

    The heart is a pump.

  8. Avatar
    Richard Portman

    This was hard to read because i still think there must be something we don’t understand. I could never describe it or speak for it. That is why i don’t participate in any religion. But i do have “spiritual moments ” from time to time. I would describe as a feeling of awe and beauty.
    I think the religions have kidnapped these feelings and are using them for their own perverted purposes.

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