We’re Still Here

waiting

I have been wanting to write this post for such a long time, and have no excuse for not doing it. Today, I have been handed the perfect reason for getting it done. My motivation comes curtesy of the Seventh-day Adventists. I am going to reprint an article in it’s entirety from usatoday.com. Please click the link to the original article to soothe my conscience:

Adventists pretty sad about their 150th anniversary

The 17-million-member church will mark the event quietly, with a May 18 day of prayer.
How does a church celebrate a 150th anniversary when it didn’t even expect to be around for a decade?

Such is the conundrum Seventh-day Adventists are facing, reports Religion News Service (RNS) in a fascinating look at the coming May milestone. As it explains, the church was founded in the 1860s, and one of its major tenets is and was that Jesus will return to Earth — in the very near future (hence the name “Adventists”).

“If you took a time machine and visited our founders in May 1863, they’d be disconcerted — to say the least — that we’re still here,” the church’s archives director tells RNS.

“In one kind of way it really is a sad event,” says a vice president with the church’s governing body (the director of education calls it “almost an embarrassment”). “We have been hopeful that long ago Christ would have come and taken the righteous to heaven and this world would have ended.”

So the 17-million-member church will mark the event quietly, with a May 18 day of prayer and a smaller ceremony at its Maryland headquarters three days later.
And until the apocalypse comes, they’ll continue doing what they’ve done for a century and a half: make the most of the time they have left in the pursuit of social good. Upcoming plans include the opening of a Hong Kong hospital and health centers in disadvantaged areas, notes RNS.

The key is in the second sentence of the piece: “How does a church celebrate a 150th anniversary when it didn’t even expect to be around for a decade?” I have to give props to the director of education for recognizing this state of affairs as the embarrassment it is. But this embarrassment does not belong to the Seventh-day Adventists, alone, but to all of Christendom. The greatest disconfirmation of the Christian religion is the fact that we’re still here.

Jesus was an apocalyptic Jew. His closest disciples were apocalyptic Jews. And their followers were apocalyptic Jews. That means they had an eschatological message about the end of the world, and like all apocalypticists, that end would be very soon. If adventists are embarrassed about being around for 150 years, Christians in general, should have 14 times the shame, having been around for over 2,000.

Jesus:

As Jesus left the Temple and was walking away, his followers came up to show him the Temple’s buildings. Jesus asked, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. Every stone will be thrown down to the ground.” Later, as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his followers came to be alone with him. They said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that it is time for you to come again and for this age to end?”
… I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. Mt. 24:1-3, 34

Peter:

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 1Pe. 4:7

Paul:

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 1Cor. 15:51-52 (emphasis added)

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died[h] will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. 1Th. 4:15-18 (emphasis added)

While Peter settles for declaring that the end of the world will be coming soon, both Jesus and Paul make predictions that give us a timeframe to work with. The particular end-times events are not important. The only thing that matters is the timeframe. Both Jesus and Paul nail it down to their lifetimes, or at least, the generation in their lifetimes. Assuring us that he is telling the absolute truth, Jesus says, “all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. ” No matter how hard you look, there is simply no wiggle room in that declaration. It was a direct response to his apostles asking, “what will be the sign that it is time for you to come again and for this age to end?” Jesus wants to be very clear on this point. “all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. ”

None of them are still living. Christianity has a problem.

Three times, Paul inserts himself into the end-times timeframe. He very specifically includes himself as one who will be around to witness and experience the event. This cannot be written off as the wishful thinking of an aging disciple. Like Jesus, he prefaced each pronouncement with the verisimilitude that this comes to him directly from the Lord. If the detail about his involvement is suspect, so, too, is the whole message, and everything else he claims to have delivered from the Lord.

Paul is no longer with us. Christendom, we have a problem.

Not to be let off the hook, Peter still makes a time-based prediction. He didn’t say anything directly about his lifetime, or the lifetime of his readers, but it was still implicit. Peter was not speaking generally about things that didn’t matter in a contemporary context. He was saying things to help provide context to a contemporary situation. He was telling them how to live and providing a reason for them to take him seriously. They should take heed because the end of the world was very near. It suggests something that would happen in their lifetime. When people say that something is near, they mean that it is attainable, close. 2,000 years, and counting, does not qualify.

Conclusion

There are even bigger problems than the predictions of scripture that have plainly, not come true. There is a logical conundrum that I simply can’t shake. I present it in the form of a question: What is Jesus waiting for? Why are we still here? His resurrection was supposed to represent the first fruits of the general resurrection. The expectation was that everyone would start experiencing resurrection. Even Matthew wrote about the graves releasing their dead upon the resurrection of Jesus. So, where are these resurrections? If death has been conquered, why do we still die?

The same can be asked of deafness, blindness, lameness, muteness, and every other human malady. One of the main points of the Gospels was to show that Jesus: God enfleshed, had mastery over all these things. He died, rose, and came into his power. Why are his followers still in wheelchairs? Such problems have already been dealt with on a cosmic scale, yet we still suffer from them. What is he waiting on?

Jesus told his disciples, as recounted by John, that he had to go back to his father’s house to prepare things for us:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. Jn. 14:1-3

This makes so little sense, I don’t even know how to quantify it. Whatever preparations need to be made, it has nothing to do with making space in cramped quarters. Jesus assures his disciples that there is plenty of room. Then, he goes on to say that he has to prepare a place for each of them. Just how long does it take to put in the plumbing? I’ve heard of construction running late and over budget, but 2,000 years is getting ridiculous, wouldn’t you say? Clearly, this celestial holding pattern has nothing to do with a few, minor preparations.

Moreover, everyday that passes brings a new crop of horrors. Everyday, more lost souls are born than saved ones. Everyday, the tempter has another chance to disillusion a believer. Everyday is another day removed from the founding stories of Christendom, and that science gives us more reasons to disbelieve them. Everyday that passes is another testament to the failure of end-time predictions. It is another day we must seriously consider the question, why are we still here.

At least some of the leading Adventists are rational enough to be ashamed of the fact that they are still here, this, after only one-hundred and fifty years. How many thousands of years more will it take for Christians, in general to feel the sting of this embarrassment?

David Johnson

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Room for Doubt

doubt_dice

One of the favorite, safe havens for people of faith when losing a debate with an atheist, is that since the existence of god cannot be conclusively disproven, then there is, at least, a possibility that he exists. That possibility means that atheistic certainty is unfounded. The atheist should have a little bit of doubt. That extremely small room for doubt is where the agnostic lives.

From either side of faith, I have had no patience with agnosticism. An agnostic is an atheist who is too afraid to admit it. Agnosticism is the belief that nothing is known, and possibly, can ever be known about the existence of a deity:

agnostic |agˈnästik| noun
a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

They stop just short of saying that there is no god. Rather, they say that there is simply no way to know. What the agnostic abhors is certainty. They are neither friend to the believer nor the atheist. They wear their uncertainty like a badge, as if uncertainty, itself, was a virtue.

Ignorance is not a virtue! It is a treatable condition to be overcome whenever possible. Ironically, the agnostic is certain that there can be no certainty. His certainty is just as strong as the believer and the atheist. Whatever the agnostic may believe, intellectually, is completely irrelevant. What matters is how the agnostic lives. In fact, that is what matters for all of us. The agnostic does not believe there is any proof for god, so he does not live as if there was a god. He lives exactly like the atheist: god-free. The only difference is meaningless rhetoric about certainty.

But this is not about the agnostic; it is about the atheist. Do believers have a point? Should atheists leave just a little room for doubt? Isn’t it the height of arrogance to suggest that a thing could not be possible? Isn’t it more than dismissive to suggest that the billions of people throughout time, have been completely wrong about the existence of god? Shouldn’t the atheist at least consider the possibility that it is he who is wrong? I think these questions are worth addressing, and I will endeavor to do just that.

Though the question is worth addressing, that is not to say that it is a fair question. In fact, I find it rather hypocritical. The purpose of the question is to quiet the atheist by forcing him to admit doubt. The believer asking the question, however, is subject to the same doubt, but would never be disarmed because of it. Also, though believers do not claim to be able to prove the existence of god, they will never acknowledge there being any room for reasonable doubt in the proposition. It does not seem to be a legitimate inquiry.

There is also a subtext in the question. The subtext is that it is not possible to be truly certain about anything. Since empirical evidence does not prove either side, belief in god is just as valid as disbelief. There are many problems with this subtext. I will deal with a couple:

First, this framework makes it just as valid to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Santa Clause, or Zeus. There is no limit to what one can reasonably believe, because no, wackadoodle fantasy can be disproven when sprinkled with enough magic and mystery. Second, my doubt would not make your assertion any more reasonable. If you could poke holes in my certainty, the best you could do is win the argument. With regard to proving your claims about god, all your work would still be in front of you.

Besides being disingenuous, the question is based on a false premise. The atheist does not say that there is no god. The atheist gives no intellectual ascent to any god yet proposed. That is a very different thing. Atheism is a negative assertion. It is a statement of disbelief. Humanism, on the other hand, is a positive assertion of beliefs. Though I do not believe in the gods I have been presented with, and for that matter, any god-centric framework, I refuse to be defined by what I do not believe. My brand of rational humanism has nothing to do with what is not there.

I do not have to offer any evidence, or even be convinced that there is no god, because in my worldview, god doesn’t even enter into the picture. Reason is not damaged by disbelieving in things that have yet to be entered into the book of evidentiary record. I also do not believe in gremlins, nor do I need to prove the non-existence of these, fictitious creatures. The fact that no rational basis for believing in gremlins has yet to be produced, is sufficient for satisfying reason with regard to my disbelief on the matter. In other words, my disbelief based on the lack of evidence, is reasonable. Belief in unprovable things is what has to be justified.

Now that we have addressed the subtexts and false assumptions hidden in the question, Let us move on the the substance. Are the chances of there being a god greater than zero. The answer is still a solid, NO, not with my current understanding of the universe and how it works.

Those who believe in god, believe in a universe where anything, and everything is possible. They believe that physical laws place no restrictions on physical reality. The speed of light, gravity, and space-time are never once consulted when declaring that Jesus floated into the air and ascended into Heaven. Such an event could only happen in a universe unregulated by inviolable laws.

I do not live in that universe. I live in a place where only certain things can happen based on the laws of physics that regulate reality. I do not believe that we have a complete understanding of the physical laws, or even that what we know is 100% accurate. But I do believe that science has made the case that there are laws, and that reality does not occur on an ad hoc basis.

If gravity effects me one moment, it will effect me the next. There is no framework in my universe for gravity to suddenly abandon its post. With an ad hoc reality, you can wish hard enough, pray fervently enough, or believe strongly enough to cancel out, or temporarily dismiss the effects of gravity. In that framework, the only thing that binds gravity is god’s will. Only if he wills it from moment to moment, will gravity operate as predicted. When he decides otherwise, gravity will take a coffee break, and you will simply float away.

Only in a universe where anything and everything is possible, can god exist. In a universe restricted by the laws of physics, he cannot. Therefore, it is fair to say that doubt is unwarranted. Doubting godlessness is tantamount to doubting physics. It is like doubting that, instead of stepping onto a solid floor when getting out of bed, I would fall through the floor and into an alternate dimension. I do not believe that is something we could experience, and I have no reason to doubt that. The same is true for god’s nonexistence.

Might god exist? Sure, in the same universe populated by unicorns and cherubs, fairies and demons. In such a universe, I freely acknowledge that anything and everything is possible. But even in such a universe, the believer would still have to make his case.

Conclusion

People sometimes ask me with much astonishment, how can I live without believing in something. By, something, they mean, unprovable things. How could I live without hope in the possibilities, a desire for something better? There seems to be no good answer to this question. The one asking the question lives in a completely different universe than the one I do. In their universe, thoughts are as easily transmitted through the vastness of space-time, as are sound-waves from one person to another in the same room.

Reality in my universe is not ordered by what I believe, hope, desire, or request. There are no ad hoc exceptions to inviolable rules. I do not have the luxury of believing, hoping, desiring, or requesting that the natural order be set aside at any time, for any reason. I am simply not that important, and cannot abide in the same universe as someone who is.

No. Categorically, I can say without any doubt, there is no god. But the admission of doubt would not hurt or change my position in any way. If I said that I doubt there is a god, to the believer, I would still be an atheist, and just as lost in my sins. I would still not live the life of a believer. I still would not be convinced of things for which there is no evidence. Doubt would only bring my understanding of the universe into question, not increase the likelihood of god’s existence.

Doubt, on the other hand, would devastate the believer. Faith is believing in things for which there is no evidence. Doubt means that more evidence is needed. As doubt increases, faith decreases. The believer’s position becomes untenable once doubt is introduced. It is not the doubt of atheists with which believers need be concerned. It is their own.

David Johnson