A Christian Plants His Feet

Question from Vern:
I’m a Christian. I think atheists have the wrong idea. I had a Near Death Experience involving Jesus. He told me the day my wife would have a baby boy, 3 years down the road. Sure enough it happened, he told me it would be a blond boy and sure enough it was. My wife and I have no family we know of with blond hair, so we were surprised. I have also researched Near Death Experiences, and they favour Christianity. This, plus read the Bible if you have not. Many historians and scholars agree that the Bible is true. Many many people witnessed Christ die on the cross, and they met him afterwards. He did rise from the dead. How can you deny it? There is lots of proof including the infamous shroud of Turin, the bible itself, and I met the lord. How can you dismiss it like this? Our religion has more proof than others, look at all the evidence.

Answer by SmartLX:
Everything but the kitchen sink here, it’s a pretty good jumping off point after a bit of a break. So let’s break it down.

– Thanks to some very persistent questioners we’ve covered every aspect of NDEs here: their place in Christian culture, famous claims, medical explanations and denials thereof, the information they impart and so on. Have a read if you want to consider experiences outside your own. From an atheist’s perspective, they favour Christianity basically because Christianity favours NDEs. (There are genetic and also potential practical explanations for your boy’s blonde hair which I won’t get into.)

– When a historian claims that the entire Bible is true, including the supernatural parts, he/she is not speaking as a historian (unless it’s as a really bad one) but as a religious apologist. Most of the arguments about judging the events of the Bible on their historical merit using the criteria of historians are totally invalid because historians have no standard of evidence for accepting supernatural events. Theologians, on the other hand, have to take it as a premise that God and Jesus are real to proceed with any of their work, because you can’t ponder the nature of God as anything but a moot point unless you think there is one. Consider how many of the scholars you refer to are in fact theologians.

– Post-crucifixion Jesus is documented as only appearing to a handful of people, except in just one passage in 1 Corinthians 15 where he appears to five hundred or so. An account of 500 witnesses is not 500 witness accounts. As for the greater argument about his divinity, it’s another popular subject here. Look.

– The Shroud of Turin appears to have finally bit the dust as a genuine relic in just the last few weeks, as reported here. Generally speaking, it goes through periods of high and low credibility based on studies and studies of studies. At the absolute best, it was really Jesus’ burial shroud, but tells us nothing about what happened after his burial as we have no idea where it came from.

– Your supposed personal experience of Jesus is not good evidence for anyone else. When you claim the supernatural you ask people to weigh the reality of the impossible against the integrity of your character and the constant impeccability of your senses and faculties. I don’t know you so I can’t even make that judgement, but it wouldn’t go well even for my dearest friends and family if they made the same claim. There are just too many ways that such an experience can seem real and not be.

If you want to follow up on one specific argument for Christianity, look it up here by keyword. If you think it’s less than done to death at this point, comment and we’ll talk about it.

Shawn Weed’s Adventures Through the Noose

Question from Kamil:
Hello there, thanks for answering all my questions thus far. I keep worrying about hell, and this testimony hasn’t helped, by Shawn Weed. His video can be found on YouTube, and he seems so genuine. He cries in his video, and I can’t imagine how someone could hallucinate absolute knowledge ex: he wants to know the demon’s height, and knows automatically it is 13 feet tall. Then, he claims he saw such a beautiful angel, again, how could he hallucinate that?
Here is his story, as his video is very long winded, but in the video, he tears up a lot.

Here are the details about Shawn:

-Was in the marine corps. Had a choice to chill with other broke comrades, go to Disney Land in CA w/ comrades, or Vegas w/ comrades. Lacking funds so he chilled with three others.
-One dude wants to take a picture of him in a noose.
-One other dude sneaks up and while in the noose actually gets Shawn Weed in the noose and it tightens.
-Loses consciousness and eventually dies; his soul leaves his body.
-Describes his soul as himself exactly except he is not physical. Shawn tried to enter his body while he was dead, sort of like matching a the last puzzle piece into the last spot. Didn’t work.
-Ends up in a dark parallel plane that extended forever. Complete darkness. He described it as a “darkness you can feel” and the only light was the dim glow of his own soul or essence. There was a ceiling that he could touch but no walls or doors. Just a never ending chasm dividing Heaven and Hell basically.
-(^^^) He would later describe that place as the doorstep of Hell.
-A demon grabbed him by the shoulders and he describes the demon and the pain he went through.
-Demon: 13 feet high, either blackish red skin or redish black skin, fingers as thick as a wine bottle length little more than a ruler per finger, width of hand was like 8-10 inches, says it’s a fair guess when he estimates the demon weighed 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime just ripped, grotesque face that scared him terribly (not afraid of no man on the planet will fight anyone no matter how big, etc. but only looked for one second with absolute horror and turned away), the demon was strong and in complete control; there was no fighting this thing.
-Pain: As the demon grabbed him by the shoulder, his legs popped and were kicking up and down rapidly kind of like when you twiddle your index and middle finger up and down quickly, pain in the spiritual is all around according to him meaning if you get pain in your ear you’ll feel it all through your soul all the way down to your feet. He described the pain as electrical current that didn’t stop, he could feel the pain everywhere whereas a cut finger will hurt near the finger an not much further…There are no pain receptors the pain of that finger would flow throughout the entire spirit/soul.

-Sees a light and his hand, almost instinctual, reached for this light that grabbed his hand and it was Archangel Michael. He described him as the most handsome man and the most beautiful woman but shaped like a man. Strong, “not bodybuilder muscle popping out strong but trainer strong” and claims he was definitely there to fight. He says he had the most perfect blue eyes, like flawless perfect blue eyes as if the blue sky were taken and put into his eyes.
-Michael says it is not yet his time, and while the demon still had a strong grip on his shoulder, Michael basically hit the demon like a palm to the neck sort of strike and this demon went flying back like a cartoon bent in half mid-air (hands touching toes) sort of way.
-Michael points a direction and Shawn follows, instantly back in his body alive.

***He claimed that once he knew the demon was taking him from the doorstep of Hell to the actual fire and brimstone part of Hell he kept repeating it in his head like “I’m going to Hell” “He’s taking me to Hell” over and over. Said it was mortal doom basically. And he described the hope he had in him sort of ooze out of him after that realization and he became numb and every bit of energy and will to live was gone drained from his soul.***

He said he was an average guy. Never murdered, stole, etc. Did some drinking and drugs nothing excessive just your average guy. Claims that there are good people in Hell, people who would call themselves Christians. His belief is that God doesn’t want average he wants full devotion and the people who follow Christ and God one foot in one foot out end up in Hell. Full devotion to the best of your ability is what God requires. That was the part that blew me away, to think that good people would be allowed to burn eternally for being lukewarm, spit out into Hell.

Answer by SmartLX:
Found it here.

Weed doesn’t have to be lying to be wrong. His experience can have been entirely real to him and yet not involve any supernatural beings. This is the nature of dreams, hallucinations, and false memories.

Whatever really happened, the more he tells this story the more he reinforces it in his own mind (especially with his emotions engaged), until he may believe it entirely when once he didn’t. All kinds of new and specific details can creep in that way too and become canon, so to speak. This could include not only the height of the demon but his memory of how quickly he knew it, so it actually is possible to fabricate a memory of having certain knowledge. Imagining a beautiful angel is pretty straightforward if you believe in angels.

Much of the story is consistent with him having fabricated the whole thing, consciously or not. It reflects his existing beliefs and even special interests. Besides the obvious Christian imagery, bodybuilder Weed portrays the entities involved as distinct beefcake body types. The bit about spitting out lukewarm people paraphrases Revelations 3:16, and reflects many other Bible verses telling Christians to be active in their faith. (Some evangelicals call it being “on fire for Jesus”.)

Let’s not forget that there isn’t even any obvious support for the non-supernatural parts of the story. We have only Weed’s word that he was in the noose in the first place, let alone accidentally strangled until clinically dead with three close friends present. For this story to be taken as evidence of anything, surely it should be the first pre-requisite to establish that he even had an opportunity to experience the afterlife.

Take note anytime you take “I can’t imagine how” as evidence for something. This is acceptance of an argument from ignorance, unconsciously made to yourself. It may well convince you at the time but it has no right to.

Cornering the Market on Divine Visions

Question from Spivak:
I had a question regarding proof of Jesus. People always say the bible or the quran are not reliable proof of Jesus or his existence. My question is, what about all the personal testimonies people have of seeing Jesus. There are many people who make claims that they met Jesus, or Jesus helped them in a particular time. More specifically, I have read and watched accounts of Muslims, Hindus, etc who say they had a problem for ex: they were about to die, they called out to Allah or Krishna, and wouldn’t get an answer. Yet, when they call out to Jesus, they see light, and he comes and saves them. He also tells them bible versus which they later confirm exist. There are healing testimonies, dreams, near death experiences, somehow, it seems no other deity really comes up in these kinds of potentially supernatural experiences other than Jesus. Does this mean Jesus is the most likely deity to exist?

Video examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PExVfzRsKU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjzdG2tNPgw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSUBn99mTkM

there are many more examples where that came from. There don’t seem to be testimonies of other faiths meeting other deities. Does this seem convincing for Jesus?

Answer by SmartLX:
We’ve often covered the implications of claimed personal experiences of the divine, and how they have little reason to mean anything to anyone who doesn’t already believe. Here I’ll focus on the supposed imbalance between claims of visits by Jesus and claims of other deities. There are a few potential and very likely reasons for this imbalance besides Jesus being the only real godlike entity that makes house calls.

The most obvious reason is the media sources available in the Western world and the English language, both of which have an immense Christian majority. Accounts of Jesus are written out, recorded, published and distributed because there’s guaranteed to be an audience for them. This is helped along by the engines that rely on people’s faith being continually reassured: televangelism and Christian Right political advocacy to name two.

The religion with the next most adherents worldwide, though with nowhere near the amount of English-language media profile, is Islam. It’s not surprising that there are no stories of visits by Allah, because it’s a matter of doctrine (see here for instance) that we’re not capable of comprehending or withstanding Allah’s presence while alive. As for Muhammad, Muslims take it practically for granted that he can appear in dreams (they have to take care that it’s not their Devil “Shaytaan” in disguise) so it’s no big deal when he does and they’re not so driven to proclaim it to the world.
That leaves Hinduism as the only other religion with more than 500 million followers, and it’s got even less profile in the West. From what I can gather it happens plenty for Hindus as well; many yogis, gurus, monks and priests have their own stories about how Ganesha or Hanuman appeared to them, but only their own congregations hear the tales.

That’s probably the big takeaway from this topic: only Christianity has the infrastructure in place to widely proclaim everything that happens to anyone as a miracle and a vindication. By and large people of other religions just rejoice and get on with it.

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.

Talking to God

“Many are convinced that their personal gods have spoken directly to them. The speakers are different, contradictory gods for different people in different places, mind you, so at least someone out there has to be completely sincere and yet wrong.”

Question from Brian:
Hi, it’s me again. I’ve been in many arguments with christians in the past few weeks, and there’s just one thing I don’t know how to respond to. What is the best way to respond when they say they’ve personally talked to god?

Answer:
It’s easy enough to talk to God, but getting Him to talk back is hard if He’s not there, and unless you record it there’s no way to prove it.

Many are convinced that their personal gods have spoken directly to them. The speakers are different, contradictory gods for different people in different places, mind you, so at least someone out there has to be completely sincere and yet wrong.

So, assuming just for the moment that a believer’s particular god either doesn’t exist or just didn’t really speak to him, how can he/she (he, henceforth, for convenience) be so sure it talked?

Foremostly, he wants it to be true. Perceived direct contact validates his beliefs, whether new or lifelong, and is a great honour to boot. Even if he’s in some doubt as to whether it’s true, he might still claim certainty in order to convince more people to seek God.

On top of that, any of a number of things might have happened. He could have dreamed it and not realised. He could have interpreted what he thought God’s answer would be as God putting the answer directly into his head. He could have been in something resembling a trance (evangelical group prayer methods, like many others, can sometimes approach hypnotic techniques) or on some substance (knowingly or unknowingly) and interpreted just about anything as God. Or, of course, someone else could have been pretending to be God.

No believer who’s really convinced that God spoke to him will accept (immediately) that any of the above might be the case instead, so in answer to your actual question listing alternative explanations probably isn’t a good response. Perhaps it’s better to generalise: “There are any number of ways in which that might not have been God talking to you.”

Ultimately, people who claim to have talked to God are trading on their own credibility. If they don’t know you well, they’ll talk that up as much as they can, probably making other claims worth examining. Otherwise they’ll use something akin to Lewis’ Trilemma: that they’re lying, mad or telling the truth, and they’re not lying or mad. The response to this is quite simple: you don’t have to be lying or mad to be wrong.

SmartLX

“Why did God choose me to be a Seer?”

“Without some kind of evidence that you really have been contacted by God, it’s not much use discussing His motives with someone who doesn’t think He exists.”

Question, verbatim, from Peter:
Why did god save my life when evil attack me and give me knowledge of his existence and his power over evil.And told me I was to be a Seer and give me strength and showed me the strength of love and how to used it as a shield for other poeple to stand behind for strength.I was a atheist a sinner.

Answer:
The real question isn’t why God chose you, it’s whether God chose you. Only if this were establshed would the why be of any use.

In short, how do you know? How would you demonstrate to someone else that you had been chosen by God? For example, as a “Seer” are there things you know that others don’t, and could you prove yourself to be in possession of information you couldn’t have gotten any other way?

Without some kind of evidence that you really have been contacted by God, it’s not much use discussing His motives with someone who doesn’t think He exists.

SmartLX