Tag Archive: Reality

Quote of the Day: Why I am Not a Christian by Bart Ehrman

bart ehrman quote

I just now – fifteen minutes ago – came to realize with the most crystal clarity I have ever had why I cannot call myself a Christian.   Of course, as most of you know, I have not called myself a Christian publicly for a very long time, twenty years or so I suppose.  But a number of people tell me that they think at heart I’m a Christian, and I sometimes think of myself as a Christian agnostic/atheist.  Their thinking, and mine, has been that if I do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus, in some respect I’m a Christian, even if I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, or that he was raised from the dead, or that… or even that God exists.  In fact I don’t believe all these things.  But can’t I be a Christian in a different sense, one who follows Jesus’ teachings?

Fifteen minutes ago I realized with startling clarity why I don’t think so.

This afternoon in my undergraduate course on the New Testament I was lecturing on the mission and message of Jesus.

….

In today’s lecture I wanted to introduce, explain, and argue for the view that has been dominant among critical scholars studying Jesus for the past century, that Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalypticist.  I warned the students that this is not a view they will have encountered in church or in Sunday school.  But there are solid reasons for thinking it is right.  I tried to explain at some length what those reasons were.

But first I gave an extended account of what Jewish apocalypticists believed.  The entire cosmos was divided into forces of good and evil, and everything and everyone sided with one or the other.  This cosmic dualism worked itself out in a historical dualism, between the current age of this world, controlled by forces of evil, and the coming age, controlled by the forces of good.  This age would not advance to be a better world, on the contrary, apocalypticists thought this world was going to get worse and worse, until literally, at the end, all hell breaks out.

But then God would intervene in an act of cosmic judgment in which he destroyed the forces of evil and set up a good kingdom here on earth, an actual physical kingdom ruled by his representative.  This cataclysmic judgment would affect all people.  Those who had sided with evil (and prospered as a result) would be destroyed, and those who had sided with God (and been persecuted and harmed as a result) would be rewarded.

Moreover, this future judgment applied not only to the living but also to the dead.  At the end of this age God would raise everyone from the dead to face either eternal reward or eternal punishment.  And so, no one should think they could side with the forces of evil, prosper as a result, become rich, powerful, and influential, and then die and get away with it.  No one could get away with it.  God would raise everyone from the dead for judgment, and there was not a sweet thing anyone could do to stop him.

And when would this happen?  When would the judgment come?  When would this new rule, the Kingdom of God, begin?  “Truly I tell you, some of you standing here will not taste before you see the kingdom of God come in power.”  The words of Jesus (Mark 9:1).  Jesus was not talking about a kingdom you would enter when you died and went to heaven: he was referring to a kingdom here on earth, to be ruled by God .  Or as he says later, when asked when the end of the age would come, “Truly I tell you, This generation will not pass away before all these things take place.”

….

When I finished laying it all out in my lecture, stressing that Jesus thought this all was going to happen within his own generation, I had about two minutes left, and I had a final point to make (on my PowerPoint outline): “Jesus Now and Then.”  Today the idea that Jesus expected the imminent end of the age to be brought in a cataclysmic act of judgment leading to a world of peace and universal happiness is no longer preached or taught in churches (well, the vast majority of churches).  But it does appear to be who Jesus really was.

I told my students they had to decide for themselves if they agreed with this scholarly view or not, after looking at all the evidence.  But I stressed that they should not reject the view (historically) simply because they thought it was wrong religiously (since Jesus then would have been wrong about when the end would come).  I then explained why, and it was when I gave this explanation – impromptu, off the top of my head – that I realized why it was that I was not and could not be a follower of Jesus’ teachings.

I told my students that the apocalyptic Jesus realized that ultimate reality and true meaning do not reside in this world.  Following Jesus means to realize that ultimate reality resides outside this world, in a higher world, above this mundane existence that we live in the here and now.   I stated this as emphatically as I could.  Students surely thought I was preaching, that I was affirming this message.  I made the statement as rhetorically effective as I could.

And I’m not sure I’ve ever said it this way before in my 32 years of teaching.  When I said it I had two immediate mental reactions to what I had just said: (a) I realized that I really do think this is Jesus’ ultimate (apocalyptic point) and, even more graphically, (b) I don’t agree with that view at all.

My personal view is just the opposite.  My view is that there *is* no realm above or outside of this one that provides meaning to life in our world.  In my view this world is all there is.  Yes, I know there are aspects of physical reality that are extremely odd and  completely inaccessible to me.  But I don’t think there is anything outside our material existence.  Meaning comes from what we can value, cherish, prize, aspire to, hopeful, achieve, attain, and … love in this world.  There is no transcendent truth that can make sense of our reality.  Our reality is the only reality.  It can either be (very) good for us or (very) bad for us.  But however we experience it, it’s all there is.

That’s what I really think.  I never push this view on anyone else.  It’s simply my view.  And I think it is diametrically (not just tangentially) different from the view of Jesus.  It is completely at odds with his view.  That’s why I don’t think I do subscribe to his teachings, his views, or his message (in some metaphorical way).

For lots of personal reasons I do find that sad, but I’m afraid it appears to be the case.

Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Why I am Not a Christian, March 6, 2017

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The Differences Between Evangelical and Atheist Reality

reality christian magazine

No this is not a fake magazine cover. There really is a Reality Christian Magazine.

Each of us has a worldview. For Evangelicals, the Bible establishes the parameters of their worldview. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it, the Christian says. Anything that does not fit within the pages of their leather-bound Bible is rejected out-of-hand. Secularists and atheists, while prone to their own delusions, tend to view the world from a rational, materialistic point of view.

Evangelicals Christians view reality this way:

  • God has a wonderful plan for their lives and nothing happens that is not part of God’s purpose or plan for their life.
  • God uses pain, suffering, financial reversal, sickness, loss, and death to teach them a lesson, get their attention, make them stronger, or punish them for sin.
  • For those who love God and are the called according to his purpose, everything in life works out for good.
  • God loves them and would never do anything to hurt or harm them.
  • It only seems that God is not involved in the day-to-day machinations of his creation. Behind the scenes, in ways that no human can comprehend, God is working, moving, changing, correcting, tearing down, and building up.
  • God hears every Evangelical’s prayer and answers it according to his will.

Of course, the Evangelical view of reality is for Christians-only. Non-Christians are under the wrath and judgment of God and deserve to be cast into hell this very moment. Non-Christians may at times enjoy the blessing of God (it rains on the just and unjust), but God reserves his blessings for those who are his children. Non-Christians are the children of the devil.

I have come to see that Evangelical reality is delusional. It requires a suspension of reason, a shutting-off of oneself to what can be seen, experienced, and known. It requires the rose-colored glasses of faith, glasses which allow the Christian to see a reality that is not visible with human eyes.

What does a secular, atheist view of reality tell us about our world?

  • There is no purpose or plan.
  • Shit happens.
  • Life is a crap shoot and there are no guarantees that it will turn out one way or the other.
  • Genetics play a factor in our lives, and far too often condemn us to suffer horrifying diseases.
  • Being at the wrong place at the wrong time can have catastrophic consequences.
  • Human powers outside our lives make decisions over which we have no control.  Their decisions can, and do, materially affect our lives, both for good and for bad.
  • Talking to ourselves might be helpful psychologically and make us feel better, but we are cognizant of the fact that we are talking to ourselves and not some sort of mythical being.
  • Inanimate objects have no power of their own. Kicking the car and swearing at it when it breaks down may make us feel better, but it is just a car.
  • We understand, despite what the promoters of the American dream might tell us, that we can’t be anything we want to be. It is not true that anyone can be President and it is not true that we are destined to win American Idol/The Voice/The Sing Off/America’s Got Talent.
  • There are things that happen that we can not explain. The secularist and the atheist know that there are likely to always be unanswered questions or explainable events. They know that luck or being at the right place at the right time is often the sole reason for something happening.

Atheists and secularists know that the world is fraught with danger, and it is amazing that any newborn lives to old age. Christians, on the other hand, know that the world is fraught with danger, but newborns live to old age because God is merciful.  God controls the keys to life and death, and it is he alone who kills us at the appointed hour. I wonder, does God pencil in a time next to our name when we are born? How does God determine this? Is there an annual birth lottery where, like the military draft, God pulls death dates for each newborn?

What comfort is there in having a God who controls your life from birth to death? I much prefer a life where I at least have some say in the matter; a life where my choices and decisions materially affect my future; a life where disaster and death lurk in the shadows; a life that is a game, a chance to outrun the Grim Reaper.

I have no place in my worldview for letting go and letting God. I have no need of putting my hand in the hand of the man (Jesus), or stilled the waters and calmed the seas. With irreverent, even violent gusto, I refuse to surrender to the will of a mythical deity. I shan’t embrace death because a book-bound deity promises me a room in his mansion in the sky.

Life is harsh. If we live long enough it will bruise and bloody us, and ultimately it will kill us. I don’t intend to resign myself to anything. As much as lies within me, I plan on running hard, fighting long, and when I check out of this grand experiment called life, I hope to leave behind a testimony of one who lived life to its fullest.

[signoff]

Chronic Illness: Convincing Yourself Things Are Not as They Seem

i am fine thanks

Regular readers know that I battle chronic illness and unrelenting pain from the moment I get up until the time I fitfully fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning. For those of you who are new readers, let me give you the short version of my medical resume:

I have Fibromyalgia, which causes pervasive fatigue and muscle pain. I also have nerve pain in my face, hands, and thighs, loss of motor function and strength, osteoarthritis in every joint, including my back, frequent loss of bladder control, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Since late last year I’ve gone through numerous tests in an attempt to figure out why I am losing weight and frequently don’t feel like eating. An endoscopic ultrasound found a lesion on my pancreas and enlarged lymph glands. So far, they have not turned cancerous. I’ve been treated twice this year for squamous cell carcinoma (hip and lip) and several years ago I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I have a labrum tear in my right shoulder and joint damage in my left shoulder, feet, and knees.  I require the use of a wheelchair and/or a cane to get around.

This is my life. There’s little I can do to change it. I hunker down and try to live the best way I know how. It’s been a decade since I’ve had what I call a good day. These days, a good day is one where the pain is manageable and I can work in the office for a few hours and maybe go to a football game with my sons. A bad day is one where narcotic pain medications do little to ameliorate my pain and I am left curled up in bed wishing I were dead. Depression is the dark passenger in my life, and there are times when I fight the desire to end the suffering and pain.

I know there is no cure on the horizon, no magical drug that will make everything better. I’ve been tested, retested, and tested again, so much so that I glow in the dark. I have blood work at least six times a year.  My last blood draw required seven vials of blood, and that was after the phlebotomist stuck me three times trying to find one of my deep veins that would give enough flow to fill seven tubes. Despite all these tests, I remain, to some degree, an enigma to doctors, a patient with symptoms that don’t neatly fit into a specific diagnosis box.

As a skeptic, atheist, and humanist, I accept that life is what it is. I know that a deity isn’t going to magically heal me, and I’ve concluded neither are doctors. I have two choices in life; either endure whatever life bring my way or roll over and die. So far, I’ve chosen to endure, Yes, I hope for better days and I certainly desire for the good days to outnumber the bad days. But, regardless of my thoughts and desires, the die of my life is cast. In eighteen months I’ll be 60 years old. I’ve lived a decade longer than my father, who died of a stroke at age 49, and five years longer than my mother, who killed herself 23 years ago. I’ve watched death rob me of those I love, and I have little doubt that death is lurking in the shadow of my life, ready to claim me for its own. Death, like life, is certain, and as anyone who is chronically ill can tell you, the prospect of death is an ever-present reality.

Yet, I can have delusional moments where I pretend I’m not sick. There are times I become quite depressed as Polly goes off to work each day. As a man who was taught that the husband is supposed to be the breadwinner, I find it emotionally and mentally  painful to watch the most important person in my life go to work every day so we can have a roof over our head, food to eat, and all the trappings of a typical Midwestern lifestyle. I tell myself that Polly was a stay-at-home mom for many years and now our roles are reversed, but I still wish I could be the one kissing my spouse goodbye and saying I love you as I walk out the door for work. I know this will never be the case, but I can, at times, trick myself into believing that I can once again be Bruce Before Illness and Pain.

The chronically ill are known for convincing themselves that things are not as they seem. Put mind over matter, well-wishers tell the sick person. I’ve tried just such an approach many times over the years. Sickness be gone, pain depart, I say to myself. I can do anything I want to do. The only thing standing my way is me! Try as I might to convince myself that a wonderful new day has dawned, it’s not long before reality slaps me up the side of the head and asserts its rule over my life.

I continue to scan the help wanted ads, looking for the perfect job for a broken down, incapacitated old man. Every once in awhile, I’ll apply for this or that job, thinking that the prospective employer will be sure to call. Rarely does the phone ring. Recently, I applied for a job that required 2-5 hours every other week stocking display counters at the local Meijer. I sent the company my resume, and a week or so later they contacted me for an interview. On the day of my interview, I made sure I looked my best, donning a crisply pressed shirt and dockers. Not wanting to give off the cripple vibe, I left my cane at home and uprightly walked into Meijer for the interview. I was sure that this was the perfect job for me. Just enough work to restore a bit of my self-esteem and provide added income for our household budget.

The interview went well. I generally interview well. Having hired hundreds of people in my day, I know what an interviewer is looking for. I was pleasant, made eye contact, and asked the interviewer questions about herself, the company, and the job. She seemed to be excited about the prospect of hiring someone like me. Or perhaps, I just thought she was excited. Regardless, I left the interview thinking I would soon be stocking batteries at the local Meijer. A few days later I learned the company chose someone else for the job.

Not being chosen for an inconsequential, low paying job resulted in a weeks of depression and thoughts of suicide. Try as she might, Polly couldn’t rescue me and all my counselor could do was keep me holding on to the proverbial knot at the end of life’s rope. In time, the dark clouds lifted and I was able to put the rejection behind me.

I can convince myself that I can still work like I did before 1997, the year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I’ll convince myself that I can stand on my feet for hours at a time, even though I can rarely stand for more than an hour. Just shopping for groceries requires me leaning on a shopping cart, and by the time I leave the store my body is screaming in pain.

My body never lies, but I do. I lie to myself, and I often lie to Polly. I’ll tell Polly that I want to apply for a job at this or that store and she’ll give that look I’ve see uncounted times before. But I can do it, I tell her. I won’t know until I try, right?  The love of my life lets me drift on the sea of my delusion, knowing that I will sooner or later realize I can’t do what the job requires me to do. She never looks down on me or chides me for trying the impossible. She knows, based on almost 40 years of loving me, that I am a proud man, a man who has a hard time embracing his life as it now is.

Sometimes, I will inflict greater pain on myself, refusing to give in to what my body demands of me. Last Friday, my sons and I attended a local high school football game. The night before I got about 4 hours of sleep, and wisdom dictated that I cancel my plans to go to the game. So much for wisdom. I went to the game and endured three hours of being battered by people walking up and down the aisle. A man in back of me, thinking he still was in high school, spent the night cheering loudly and stomping his feet. Every time he stomped his feet my body rippled with painful shock waves. By the time the last touchdown was scored, I was ready to murder the man where he stood.

After the game was over, I haltingly made my way down to the ground. This particular school decided to build its football stadium a long distance from the parking lot, and I wondered if I was going to be able to make it back to the car. With head down, teeth gritted, I walked toward the car. My sons, still in their prime, quickly, even with grandchildren in tow, outdistanced me, and soon they were yards ahead of me. They stopped, allowing me to catch up, only to find me straggling behind a few minutes later.

During the game, we had been talking about Polly’s parents, her Dad’s upcoming hip replacement, and their unwillingness to change their way of life. Pride was their problem, we decided.  As I walked towards the car, a woman in a golf cart stopped and asked if I would like a ride to the car. Everything in my being said YES, but pride turned her offer of help away with a, no, I’m fine. Thank you. A few minutes later another woman in a golf cart stopped and  again asked if I needed a ride. I gave her the same answer I gave the first good Samaritan. My oldest son, watching my obstinate denial of reality, laughed and reminded me of my own pride. I chuckled, and then continued on my way to the car.

My son,of course, was right. It’s pride, the desire to rise above my illness and pain, that often brings more pain and debility. Try as I might to see my life as it is and embrace my new reality, I continue to have times when I attempt to conjure up the Bruce that existed before illness and pain took from me much of what made me a man. I look at old photographs and weep, lamenting a life that once was. And then I dry my eyes and remind myself that nothing I do can bring back that which is lost. The best I can do is embrace life as it is. I have a beautiful wife, six wonderful children, and ten awesome grandchildren. Surely, I’m blessed with that which many people would give anything for, I remind myself. I can choose to lament what’s been lost or rejoice over what I still have.

Today, I rejoice. Now, where’s the employment section of the paper?

[signoff]