The NDEs Keep Coming

Question from Halil:
Hello, I wanted to know what atheists think of this testimony, and if it scares them.
http://www.precious-testimonies.com/BornAgain/L-N/LaFondT.htm

Answer by SmartLX:
Not scary if you don’t already believe. When trying to threaten kids about the boogeyman, they have to believe it exists to some extent before they buy into the fear. This does not do a good job of supporting the existence of God, Hell or an afterlife at all.

Here are some but certainly not all of the reasons why not. Folks are free to comment and chip in.

– The guy had taken a variety of hallucinogenic drugs, some of which (e.g. LSD) can have after-effects causing hallucinations years later.
– His solid Catholic upbringing had primed his brain with all the imagery he needed to subconsciously pull together an authentic Christian afterlife experience for himself.
– His cardiologist didn’t understand how he survived, but his cardiologist wasn’t there for the accident and might not have been able to understand where the electricity traveled even if he had. His survival is a mystery, not necessarily a miracle.
– His conversion came at the hands of a travelling evangelist whose day job is to give people amazing conversion experiences, and after what he’d been through he was ripe for it.
– His back pain appeared as mysteriously as it disappeared. It could have been in his head, or a temporary effect of the electric shock on his back muscles, but it’s not as if a well-known chronic condition was miraculously cured. (In a similar vein, I know of an American healer who would lay hands on people and announce that he had cured small tumours, which had never been detected beforehand and obviously didn’t show up afterwards.)
– This page asks for money at the bottom. They’ll say anything, and since the story is a personal account that no one else can contradict they’re free to say anything.

Tackling Testimony

Question from Michael:
Hello I was wondering what your thoughts on this conversion story. I am an atheist, and for some reason this one is a headscratcher for me. I on a whim in a effort to appease a family member of mine and to be open minded watched the Its a new day Christian show. And they had a Muslim who converted to christianity and I first I thought big whoop, and then he got into his story and I honestly don’t have a really good reply for what he is claiming he did. Some of it is to me, obvious woo woo on par with things like being abducted by aliens, but some of it is well beyond my abilities at explaining things.

The closet thing I found in his own words to what he said on the tv show was these links

http://canadianchristianity.com/faith/iranian-muslim-encounters-living-word/

Another thing that was said on the show was that he went to Bangladesh and healed people in the name of Jesus and if he didn’t heal them he would have been killed by the people there. I at first thought of Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn and later people like Kathlyn Kulman. But still I would like to know what you guys think.

Thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
I found his testimony on YouTube, where he says most of what you describe.

While it’s nice to be able to explain stories like Javid’s, and I’ll try to help with this, you are not obligated to explain away every story you’re told. Javid’s testimony is entirely unsupported except by appeals to Javid’s own character, and Javid makes money from people who believe it. If some evidence showed up, then there’d really be something to explain.

As you say, there’s plenty of woo in the account of his textbook “religious experience” in prison. The bulk of it, even if it’s true from his perspective, consists of him alone in his cell speaking to Jesus, a Muslim demon and primarily himself for weeks on end. It honestly sounds like a prolonged psychotic episode.

Notice that the “djinn” appears to him exactly as described in Islam, but Jesus’ words and behaviour match his Christian depiction perfectly. A New Testament demon or a Muslim version of Jesus might have been a surprise, but to Javid the two characters were as if ripped straight from two mutually exclusive texts. It’s like a comic book one-shot crossover where Superman fights a T-800 Terminator. (That happened, actually.)

The one other mortal in the story is the man who amazingly knew to give him a Bible – after he asked for one, possibly loudly enough that word got out into the prison population that a Good Book might calm the fanatic. As for the language aspect, firstly the man now speaks English so he learned it at some point, probably in prison since there was English reading material there, and secondly it wasn’t his first Bible so he might have projected it (probably badly) from memory.

The story of faith healing on pain of death (which isn’t in the linked video) does not give me pause even if he really was in that situation. Faith healers are extraordinarily effective in a way; while there’s no sign of any real healing, the sheer faith they generate is incredible. After a concert-scale faith healing by Oral Roberts or Benny Hinn, the genuinely sick and desperate people in the audience will go away unhealed, brokenhearted (or just plain broke) but convinced that a few people up the front received miracles. If Americans, Britons and Australians can be taken in by these performances, why should the Bangladeshi be any different? The ones with the guns just had to think someone was healed.

It’s worth pointing out to whoever pointed you to Javid’s story that Javid himself doesn’t expect anyone to be directly converted by his testimony. (Here’s the moment in Part 2 when he says just that. He challenges people to pray instead.) It’s funny, in light of this, that It’s a New Day had him on for this very purpose. (Hear the hosts talk about it in the promo.) Just spreading the Word doesn’t make it stick.

God and Schizophrenia

Question from David:
What is the general consensus amongst atheists about the experiences of schizophrenics? Perhaps this is a naive question but bear with me.

I am referring particularly to the profoundly spiritual aspects of the experiences often had by schizophrenics, particularly in regards the feeling of depersonalisation and spiritual isolation and/or feeling of connection and closeness to God and depth of these experiences. This is often the case with people who have previously been complete atheists. I thought this type of spiritual conversion process might well be of interest, especially because it is considered a psychological/ physiological issue.

Any replies or insights would be helpful.

Answer by SmartLX:
Many Christians, especially those belonging to charismatic churches which celebrate, encourage and actively seek dramatic personal experiences of God or Jesus, will tell non-believers the stories of their own experiences because they think it’s the best way to convert them. This is because a perceived personal encounter with a deity can be so convincing that it makes people forget how much less convincing it is to hear others testify about the same thing. It’s a lot easier to suspect that another person is either lying or wrong about such a thing than to suspect your own senses.

Schizophrenics have it tougher than the rest of us in this respect. The condition produces aural and/or visual hallucinations which seem to the sufferer to be unambiguously real. In many cases they can be demonstrated not to be, but hallucinations people keep to themselves may never even be questioned. If I saw God in a full-blown ecstatic delusion, and didn’t know I was delusional, as far as I was concerned I’d have really seen God and I might not question it until I was diagnosed with a mental illness…maybe not even then.

So what do the intense experiences of schizophrenics and victims of other mental maladies tell the rest of us about ourselves? That our brains, though incredible, are fallible and susceptible things. We have a hard enough time sorting lies and falsehoods from truth and facts at the best of times; any impairment to our own faculties might make the task impossible. (That includes temporary impairment: intoxication, sleep deprivation, migraines, you name it.) We ourselves are among the things we must question in order to improve our understanding of reality.

Conversions

“It is certainly possible for the mind of a Christian to change. Whether they change as a result of outside influence or internal reflection is more of a philosophical matter.”

Question from Brian:
Is it actually possible to change the mind of a christian? It seems like they’re just so cemented in their ideas that it’s impossible.

Answer:
It is certainly possible for the mind of a Christian to change. Whether they change as a result of outside influence or internal reflection is more of a philosophical matter.

Check out Convert’s Corner on richarddawkins.net, where people describe exactly why they no longer believe in whatever gods they used to. Plenty of the contributors are ex-Christians.

Regardless of former religion, though, you’ll notice as you read that they generally see it as an internal process. What they were reading and who they were talking to is secondary to what they reasoned and realised and how they felt. The other thing you’ll notice is that deconversion takes a good long while, and is rarely complete at the end of a conversation.

Therefore, from your perspective as an advocate of atheism, even if what you say to a Christian is what ultimately convinces them that Christianity is false, they’re unlikely even to admit that you have a valid point while you’re talking to them. Encouraging deconversion often lacks the instant gratification of seeing people go, “Wow, you’re right!” About the most you can hope for is a look of frustration, then confusion.

Two other reasons why you’re not likely to see immediate change are peer pressure and doctrine.
– Evangelicals especially know that their fellow Christians will turn on them, in a sense, if they show doubt.
– It’s a common teaching that any words which sow doubt are ultimately from the Devil, so that doesn’t help your credibility among your audience.

Most importantly, none of this means that you are not having an effect.

SmartLX

Faith or mid-life crisis?

“My basic position hasn’t changed since I was 26, and I turn thirty in a week and a half. I’ll let you know if I have a religious experience before then…”

Question from Asylum:
I’ve notice a theme among atheists: many, including myself, start to question faith/reaffirm faith as they approach thirty. Is it more likely for a person to begin to reaffirm their faith and after thirty deconvert?

Answer:
I have no idea.

My basic position hasn’t changed since I was 26, and I turn thirty in a week and a half. I’ll let you know if I have a religious experience before then, but otherwise I’m evidence that what you’re describing isn’t a hard and fast rule.

If there is some kind of trend towards late-twenties reaffirmation, it’s too subtle to show up in hard statistics. For instance, ReligiousTolerance.org reports that only 6% of self-proclaimed “born-again” Christians say they had their “again” part after the age of eighteen.

I can see why some people might return to their faiths as they approach thirty, though. If they’ve deconverted as teenagers or young adults, in college/university or just after leaving home, and the deconversion was influenced as much by rebellion, peer pressure, would-be intellectualism and/or contrarianism as by actual reason, the age of thirty might well be when those other factors are no longer as important as whatever had them believing in the first place.

You’ve apparently got several people in mind who follow this “theme” of yours. Want to carry out some research? Go and ask them why they believe again, and let us know.

SmartLX