A Faulty View of God and De-Conversion

I spent some time exploring a blog recently dedicated to those who have “de-converted” from Christianity to atheism or some other belief system. As I explored the site, one thing became apparent. These individuals have a faulty view of God.

What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us (A.W. Tozer). This tells us what kind of God we believe in. Most nonreligious people are rejecting a god that they don’t even understand. And if they did, they would probably call a truce and stop fighting against Him so much.

It sounds to me that the kind of God they want is a “genie” they can rub or a “vending machine” they can deposit a prayer into and have Him to dispense their fix. It’s God in their image and it distorts who He is. God is very particular in how we think about Him, describe Him, and define Him. We want a god who is safe, nice, pampering, just so long as he keeps his distance. Provide, don’t intrude. Protect, never demand. Care, but don’t judge or meddle in my business. Don’t crowd me. And if you don’t do as I ask, then I’ll stop believing in you and this will be my way of getting back at you. This is what I sense over at the De-Conversion blog.

A former chaplain at Harvard, George Buttrick, recalls that students would often come into his office and declare, “I don’t believe in God.” The wise chaplain would then reply, “Sit down and tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.” See, if I can declare that God doesn’t exist or that he is like one of so many misguided concepts of God, then it relieves me from the responsibility of being one of His creations and wrestling with the hurt of life. These misled images and concepts of god have become our idols. And we have become our own gods.

So where do we get the right picture of God? After George Buttrick would ask his Harvard students that question, then he would go on to talk about Jesus, the corrective to all of our assumptions about God. “He is the aperture through which the immensity and magnificence of God can be begun to be seen (J.B. Phillips, 85).”

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24 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Christian Worldview, Christianity, Conversion, Deconversion, God, Jesus Christ, Rebellion

24 responses to “A Faulty View of God and De-Conversion

  1. The Tofu

    Why is your version of god necessarily more valid than any other? How do you know the god you worship is the true one?

    There are thousands of religions out there, and none of them agree on what god is. You’re an atheist in regards to all but one of them. Why is Jesus the exception?

  2. One primary reason: Resurrection!

  3. notreallyalice

    I never wanted a vending machine God; I wanted a relationship with God. (Though I wonder how I am supposed to “not consider God a vending machine” and simultaneously expect him to control my life and thoughts and desires. Does he only do it if I don’t ask him to? Contradict yourself often?)

    And then one day I decided to talk to some Jews about their faith. To my surprise, it occurred to me that if the Jews had it right, then Christians have it all wrong. And then I wondered why I should assume that the Jews have it right rather than any other religion. And then I was an atheist.

    And since I never asked God for anything in the first place, I didn’t lose anything. I didn’t lose my faith and I don’t miss God. I just go on wondering how I should live my principles of generosity and kindness and joy and acting on my ideals. The only difference is, now it’s up to me to figure out my life, instead of a magic man in the sky who can do everything… but only if I don’t ask him to, right?

  4. J. J. Ramsey

    joeynelson: “It sounds to me that the kind of God they want is a ‘genie’ they can rub or a ‘vending machine’ they can deposit a prayer into and have Him to dispense their fix. … This is what I sense over at the De-Conversion blog.”

    This is what C.S. Lewis himself called Bulverism, a form of the ad hominem fallacy where you say, “Oh, you only believe something because of … ,” and fill in the blank with the psychological reason or base motive of your choice, sidestepping the whole question of the evidence for or against the belief.

  5. C. S. Lewis came to mind when I read this too, but because his earlier books are full of such remarks. In the Problem of Pain he writes “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’ (Problem of Pain, page 31.) I’m almost thinking the genie example is Lewis too, but I’m not quite sure.

    But then his wife was diagnosed with cancer. They prayed for her healing and she was! Lewis then wrote “The Efficacy of Prayer” testifying to the miraculousness of her recovery. Shortly afterward, she died of the cancer they thought she had been healed of. It was then that Lewis wrote “A Grief Observed” – a very different book about pain and suffering.

    “What chokes every prayer … is the memory of all the prayers H. and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking; hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were ‘led up the garden path.’ Time after time, when He seemed most gracious, He was really preparing the next torture.” (A Grief Observed, 26-27)

    This was a man who could not be comforted by being told not to think God is a genie in a bottle. He wasn’t just grieving that God didn’t grant him his wish, but that God led him up the garden path and then blindsided him with a painful death for the woman he loved. Although Lewis himself wrote that the problem many have is wanting a grandfather in heaven, his own answers were insufficient to understand his own suffering.

  6. Hi notreallyalice. I’ve been thinking about you and your remarks.

    Check this post>

    https://spiritualquestions.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/attraction-of-jesus/

  7. The Tofu

    “Resurrection!”

    So a miracle? How do you know it happened? Why is this miracle more believable than any other? Couldn’t any other religion claim miracles as “proof” that they were correct? Don’t they make the same kinds of claims your religion does?

  8. Historically verified…eye-witness accounts…reliable documentation…dynamic origination of a movement from fearful followers…change of worship days from Saturday to Sunday in the early church…

    the evidence for Christian resurrection is overwhelming…and all of these things mentioned or alluded to by extra-biblical sources with no vested interest in the Christian movement (i.e., Josephus, a Jewish historian)

    No other world religion can substantiate such a claim, though they may have some rendition of resurrection woven in.

  9. J. J. Ramsey

    joeynelson: “Historically verified…eye-witness accounts…reliable documentation…the evidence for Christian resurrection is overwhelming”

    Eye-witness accounts? The evidence for this is less than compelling. Historically verified? By who? And how do you establish that the documentation is reliable?

    Josephus doesn’t really help much here. If you want to argue against the pseudohistory from the “Jebus didn’t exist” crowd, he’s somewhat useful, but not if you are trying to argue for the Resurrection.

  10. The Gospel writers – eyewitnesses or access to eyewitnesses (many of whom died for their belief – would you die for a lie?)

    Biblical Books – proven to be reliable through manuscript copy discovery and textual criticism

    Historically Verified – archeology confirms people, places, and secular events of the time that the Bible addresses

    Yes…overwhelming… historically sound… trustworthy… reliable… deserving of our trust… no intent to deceive…

  11. notreallyalice

    The authors of the gospel couldn’t keep their story strait! Have you not read the conflicting accounts of Easter Sunday? How could you consider that a reliable eyewitness testimony? As for people dying for a lie, people die for a lot of reasons, especially when Roman armies are involved.

    Bart Ehrman and many other Biblical scholars have demonstrated that the Bible is textually unreliable and internally inconsistent. I highly recommend you check a Jewish source such as the book “Why the Jews rejected Jesus” or the website “Jews for Judaism”.

    It is interesting that you say Bible stories are accurate because they take place in historical settings. In the same way, archaeology confirms the Odyssey. So by your argument, there is a God and her name is Athena and she interceded in Odysseus’s adventures, give her your heart today and know eternal happiness.

  12. Notreallyalice…you make me smile! Love how your mind works…But your distorting it…

    Can I ask a couple rhetorical questions…(Plato would be proud)

    Do you read about “flying carpets” in the gospels? No

    Do you read about “talking trees” in the gospels?
    No

    Do you read about “fairies” in the gospels?
    No

    Notreallyalice (can i just call you alice?), the gospels don’t read as fiction. It’s fact, but with some supernatural miracles performed by Christ woven into each of their arguments, not because the writers embellished the acts of one of their heroes; no – but because it really did happen.

  13. J. J. Ramsey

    “The Gospel writers – eyewitnesses or access to eyewitnesses”

    The problem with this reply is that even if you grant that the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses of Jesus or had access to same, you haven’t sufficiently defended the claim that the accounts themselves are from the eyewitnesses’ own memories rather than from tales that they heard later. The Lukan census doesn’t make historical sense, so it is unlikely that Luke got that story from an eyewitness. Matthew tells a tale of the chief priests and Pharisees requesting that Roman guards being stationed at the tomb on the Sabbath, which is suspicious enough, and from what witnesses is Matthew getting this story? It’s not as if the parties in this story are doing what they are doing in the open. One wonders how there could be witnesses to the story of Jesus casting demons into swine, when the swine are said to dive into a geographically improbable body of water. John appears to have miraculous recall of the long speeches of Jesus that he witnessed, unless he is being, ahem, creative.

    “Biblical Books – proven to be reliable through manuscript copy discovery and textual criticism”

    All that demonstrates is that the text of the copies was transmitted fairly faithfully, not that the text itself was that reliable in its descriptions of events. With the OT, transmission isn’t even that great and wonderful. The Septuagint has Jeremiah in chap. 27 rail against prophets saying “Behold, the vessels of the Lord’s house shall return from Babylon,” and leaves it at that, which contradicts Ezra. This is fixed in the Masoretic text, where Jeremiah rails against those who prophesy that the temple furnishings will soon be returned, but he also predicts that the furnishings will eventually come back.

    “Historically Verified – archeology confirms people, places, and secular events of the time that the Bible addresses”

    By that reasoning, archeology would confirm that Alexander the Great was the son of the god Ammon. Archeology can confirm the existence of Pilate, but it hardly keeps tall tales from being told of him.

  14. notreallyalice

    You can call me Alice 🙂

    I don’t understand what your rhetorical questions have to do with the validity of the Bible (though I will answer your questions: we do read about Jesus flying through the air to Heaven, talking donkeys, and angels who had sex with human women, resulting in a race of giants). The events either did or did not happen the way they are described. Miracles are either possible or impossible. Extraordinary claims extraordinary evidence, and the evidence you have provided thus far is anectdotal rather than extraordinary. It’s simply not convincing. Why would god perform a few dozen miracles thousands of years ago and then run off? Why is god always hiding? Why do we always tell stories about what he did in ancient Palestine rather than tell what Jesus in the flesh spoke about at church last Sunday or the great miracles that God-in-the-flesh performed last Sunday before the ball game? Why do we have nothing?

    Probably, because there is no god. He’s clearly got something to prove but he refuses to do so. He can be the god of ancient people who didn’t understand genetics or evolution or the germ theory of disease. But we don’t have any excuse any more.

  15. >Do you read about “talking trees” in the gospels?

    Jesus curses a fig tree and blames it for not bearing fruit. Just because a tree doesn’t speak, that doesn’t mean it can’t talk. Maybe this fig tree too ashamed to speak its mind. Or maybe it apologized and the gospel writers just didn’t think it was memorable enough to write down.

    >Do you read about “fairies” in the gospels?

    Just angels and demons. How is this different from good fairies and evil fairies?

    >the gospels don’t read as fiction.

    In The War of the Jews book VI, chapter 5, Josephus wrote “At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple.”

    How much credibility do you give this story?

  16. You mention things beyond the Gospels which takes us beyond our discussion. Constrain yourself to the Gospels for purposes of this dialog.

    I’m talking about the historicity of Jesus and the reliable historical record of his existence. My rhetorical questions were to demonstrate that there are fiction specialists (professors of Medievel literature, i.e., C.S. Lewis) who know fiction when they see it and when they read the Gospels, affirm it doesn’t read or feel like fiction. It’s intent is to communicate fact.

    Just because an eye-witness may see the same historical fact from “their” vantage point, it doesn’t negate that something actually happened – its just a different viewpoint on the same historical occurrence.

    It is true; there was a “clustering” of miracles at the time of Christ (not just a few dozen – try hundreds). Christ was demonstrating that He was the reversal of the Fall. That the broken and damaged and marginalized and the sick and the demon-possessed could be restored to what God had intended the world to be. it was part of his overall message; but even then, he refused to use his “powers” for selfish ends. He was always in submission to God’s will.

    Why is God hiding…to give you room to make a choice.
    https://spiritualquestions.wordpress.com/category/hidden-god/

    I feel I need to post something on why the Bible is so special…will do that soon.
    https://spiritualquestions.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/what-makes-the-bible-so-special/

  17. >Constrain yourself to the Gospels for purposes of this dialog.

    Why? If the standards of evidence you are applying to the Gospels could also affirm the reality of other religions or of other paranormal events, then this is strong evidence that something is wrong with the standards of evidence.

    If the truth-claims of your religion consisted only of thinking Jesus rose from the dead, that would make sense. But it also includes the belief the rest of the Bible is special in some way. If the rest of the Bible looks fake, and believing in the Resurrection causes people to believe in the rest of the Bible, then weakness in the rest of the Bible is evidence that Jesus didn’t rise. The other weaknesses in Christianity cannot be swept under the rug while considering evidence for the first piece.

    >I’m talking about the historicity of Jesus and the reliable historical record of his existence.

    Jesus existed. Sure. But that’s a giant leap from the Gospels being reliable.

    The entirety of the evidence you have given for the historicity of the Gospels is that Lewis and other experts think it isn’t fiction. The term Lewis used in God in the Dock was “legends,” although he may have made a more general statement elsewhere. (“As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends.”)

    That’s not good enough for me to think someone rose from the dead. For one thing, plenty of scholars think otherwise. I’ve read plenty of Lewis’s arguments and found them to be lacking.

  18. Jeffrey, your points are well taken. I plea for constraint to the Gospels, not because I believe the Bible to be errant in other books; only that I know my own limits and having studied the bible for years with graduate level training, it would be so easy to get caught up in “problem passages” that we never really are able to deal with the key issues related to the gospels. So, it’s more about my own limitations to balance multiple arguments than it is about the reliability of the text.

    I do believe in the resurrection. I do believe in the reliability of the text. I also believe that the writers of the bible were good writers, utilizing various genre’s, figures of speech, poetry, song, wisdom literature – to communicate their message. Form is meaning; whatever genre is employed, indicates how we should read it – whether literal or figurative.

    Dramatic narrative history is the primary genre with the Gospels being the center point. This genre necessitates that we take it literally. it really happened.

    In the OT, Messiah is coming (by the way, fulfilled prophecy adds further evidence for textual authority); in the the Gospels, He’s here. In the Epistles, He’s coming back. The Bible in a nutshell – with Messiah as a unifying motif.

    Jesus existed. He claimed deity. Demonstrated deific acts. And rose from the dead to authentic all that he said and to begin a new order of things. Death is not the end.

    It would be hard for us to know these things without a reliable text. But God gave us a living word – Christ. So if you mess around with all the rest and get all that mixed up, focus on Christ and get that right because he demonstrated all that the Bible teaches. Resist deconstructing the Gospels. One does so at their own peril.

  19. J. J. Ramsey

    “Resist deconstructing the Gospels.”

    Why? If something is solid, then it should withstand critical scrutiny.

    “In the OT, Messiah is coming”

    Evidence?

    One can certainly read messianic prophecy into the OT, especially if one ignores thinks like context. Whether one can find a Messiah in the OT without doing such eisegesis is another story.

    “(by the way, fulfilled prophecy adds further evidence for textual authority)”

    You may want to take a look at Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version, p. 323ff, which points to several places where the prophecy doesn’t work out so well. Actually, the whole book is worth reading, especially if you want to learn what sorts of challenges your favored apologists face.

  20. I did not say to stop studying it, probing it, questioning it, investigating it. “Deconstruct” – to omit huge parts of it, a Jesus-Seminar approach – a dismissing of the data, thinking that todays scholarship actually knows better than the guys who wrote it – a kind of chronological snobbery.

  21. >Dramatic narrative history is the primary genre with the Gospels being the center point. This genre necessitates that we take it literally. it really happened.

    I’m going to play the “The War of the Jews” card again… What I’m getting at is that narrative history should be read critically, especially when it makes claims about the supernatural. In the case of Josephus, the mere fact that the claim is supernatural is sufficient for it to be rightly dismissed, and this is even under the assumption that the text from which it comes is a value source of historical knowledge. It’s not chronological snobbery to think we know better than Josephus that cows don’t give birth to lambs.

    >I plea for constraint to the Gospels, not because I believe the Bible to be errant in other books; only that I know my own limits and having studied the bible for years with graduate level training

    On some level that’s fair, but it’s kind of a cop out. If a biologist has a new hypothesis of the timing of evolution, a geologists can point out a conflict with geology, even if the biologist doesn’t know much about geology.

    I don’t have formal training in anything directly related to religion, so it’s not like I’m drawing on years of esoteric knowledge. (My degree is in math/statistics.)

  22. As I’ve shared with another, its interesting to me that atheists can use the Bible to point out problems with a good God, but a theist can’t use it because its not reliable. You can’t have it both ways. If the Bible is not reliable, why do atheists use it to prove their points? It’s inadmissable, unless it serves their purpose.

    Besides, most of the problem passages (misunderstood parts) can be explained. But that takes a great deal of research and time (for purposes of this blog) and I’m not so sure that it would be productive for this simple reason. An atheist has already committed to a worldview and will not hear it or receive it. A valid argument is simply labeled and dismissed. It happens over and over again. The atheistic heart is bent on unbelief.

  23. >As I’ve shared with another, its interesting to me that atheists can use the Bible to point out problems with a good God, but a theist can’t use it because its not reliable. You can’t have it both ways.

    Here’s the argument: if the Bible is accurate, then God isn’t good and Christianity falls. If the Bible isn’t accurate, then Christianity falls. These two approaches are consistent.

    However, if an atheist points out a problem in the Bible, it is perfectly valid for a theist to point to another part of the Bible to help resolve the problem – this is where atheists must be careful to not have a double standard.

    >An atheist has already committed to a worldview and will not hear it or receive it.

    I found the problems with Christianity while absolutely committed to its truth. You’re using this as a defense mechanism against the possibility that Christianity is both false and obviously false.

  24. Jeffrey wrote:

    Here’s the argument: if the Bible is accurate, then God isn’t good and Christianity falls. If the Bible isn’t accurate, then Christianity falls. These two approaches are consistent.

    However, if an atheist points out a problem in the Bible, it is perfectly valid for a theist to point to another part of the Bible to help resolve the problem – this is where atheists must be careful to not have a double standard.

    Well said Jeffrey… well said.

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