Edward T. Babinski: If It Wasn't for Agnosticism, I Wouldn't Know What to Believe!
Edward T. Babinski
The arguments that I had used to defend the truth of Christianity were peeled away from me like the many layers of an onion's skin. I put up all the intellectual resistance I could, and winced at each layer's removal. I suffered through dark nights of the soul pondering whether my beliefs might not be too narrow or even wholly false. Imperceptibly, my fears, doubts, and grief blossomed into relief, relaxation, and joy
-Edward T. Babinski
Edward T. Babinski has produced two manuscripts dealing with the question of what the Bible says about creation, Does the Bible Teach Scientific Creationism? and The Creationist Quote Book. His article, "Varieties of Scientific Creationism," appeared in the journal Faith and Thought. From 1985 to 1988 Babinski dialogued with creationists in his self-published periodical, Theistic Evolutionists' Forum. Ivan Stang's High Weirdness by Mail (New York. Simon and Schuster, 1988) contains the following review of TEF. "Once a Young-Earth Creationist, the editor now prints this big amateur magazine in which Evolutionist cranks and Creationist troglodytes can rant and rend and tear at each other. Compares Flat-Earth, Geocentric, Heliocentric, Young-Earth, and Old-Earth Creationist views, proving why the Bible will never allow them to agree with each other. Oozes with personality. . . . Also publishes Monkeys Uncle, a satire of both atheism and fundamentalist foolishness. . . the price is worth it for its potential weaponry value in psychological warfare"
I recall strolling down a shaded path when I was perhaps ten years old, improvising a tune that revolved around my love of God. I was a happy once-born Christian, a Roman Catholic. However, I was not entirely satisfied with that arrangement I nearly fainted during mass a number of times when I was young and the church was so crowded that my mother and I had to stand along the walls. During my early childhood the Mass was a bit longer than it is today and the priests recited it in Latin (and later, in English). Although I was raised a pious child and recall viewing my faith as both mysterious and intriguing, I eventually grew bored with its repetitiveness in both prayers and rituals.
At my confirmation the bishop was not familiar with the obscure French saint whose name I had picked out of a comprehensive book of saints, namely, St. Roch (pronounced, "Rock"), the "patron saint of pestilence and skin diseases." In front of the congregation he solemnly dubbed me, "Roach." My mother placed no pressure on me to continue attending church after I was confirmed so I ceased attending church at that time.
As a freshman/sophomore in high school I subscribed to a psychic book club and read some books by Edgar Cayce and Ruth Montgomery, the lady who was famed for her "automatic writing" messages from the spirit world. I tried to receive messages from the spirit world, sitting for a time at a desk with a blank mind, just scrubbing away with a pen. I never received any messages. I also read Plato's dialogues concerning the trial and death of Socrates, which impressed me immensely.
While I was a sophomore in high school, my best friend, Art McEvoy, encountered an alluring charismatic Christian girl. His attraction to her overflowed into a love for what she loved, for he became "born again" soon afterwards, but didn't quite know how to tell me about it. He had also become, as I was to find out later, very concerned over the state of my soul since I had told him about the psychic book club I'd joined. So he invited me one night to a meeting at a house there he and some others had gathered to pray. Once I arrived no one paid much attention to me. I sat in the kitchen a while and remember picking small cards with Bible verses written on them out of a little plastic loaf-shaped container that was labeled on the side "The Bread of Life." Then, when the meeting was about to begin, Art ushered me out of the house. This was all apparently planned. The group inside was going to pray, including prayers for my salvation, while Art was supposed to ask me politely to recite the "sinner's prayer" and invite Jesus into my heart to become my Lord and Savior. We walked to a deli on the corner, I ordered a sandwich, and on the way back, we sat on the curb that was lit by a street lamp. He asked me to pray with him, repeating what he said with meaning. So I prayed the sinner's prayer for salvation with heartfelt meaning (at that time I had no qualms about believing what I had been taught by the Catholic church, and there was nothing particularly "un-Catholic" about my friend's prayer). Afterwards my friend's previously cautious manner shifted to relief and happiness, as if a weight had been lifted off of his back. I felt that nothing special had occurred. Ah, but more persuasive influences were soon to follow. . . .
Immediately after this experience my high school history teacher, having apparently heard from Art that I had been "born again," gave me a copy of a Modern English New Testament to read, The Greatest Is Love, challenging me to finish reading it before he did. I loved reading the Gospels more than the letters to the churches, and I cried upon arriving at the end of each, at which point Jesus was scourged and crucified, then resurrected. Such behavior was not unusual for me. I was very taken with Plato's dialogues, as I'd mentioned, above, in which Socrates died at the end. But, having been raised on the story of Jesus all my life, and now reading it for the first time in the oldest extant church documents, it touched something deep inside me. That same point was also touched, later, as I read the fictional novel The Robe, and by C. S. Lewis's story of Aslan's death and resurrection in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was even touched by certain movies, such as E.T. or Short Circuit, where the beloved main character is believed to have died, yet survives. In a more general sense, I've always been a big fan, like most people, of tales where the hero must "beat the odds." It may require a genuine (or merely apparent) "miracle" for them to succeed, but succeed they do!
After I had finished reading the Modern English New Testament, Art gave me an entire Modern English Bible to read, which I proceeded to gobble up, cover to cover. I loved it. But boy was the book of Numbers boring! And all those laws in the Old Testament. And as for all the curses and stuff in the prophets, I couldn't understand what all the ranting and raving was about. They didn't appear to be thinking very clearly, if they were thinking at all, and not merely reacting against this and that injustice perpetrated upon their nation by layer nations and armies. But I plowed on, always keeping my eyes focused on anything in the Old Testament that resembled the New, my first love.
For a while Art and I began attending Catholic mass (something I would not have imagined I'd ever do again) on Sundays, and even during the week! We actually enjoyed it, played the part of altar assistants once, and got more out of mass, having read the Bible for ourselves by now, and having personally committed our lives to serving Jesus. Not long afterwards we switched from attending Catholic mass to strictly Protestant services in order to learn more about the Bible via those long sermons that Protestant ministers deliver, filled with Bible quotations we could reread for ourselves as sat in a pew and absorbed everything like the little Christian sponges we had become.
My history teacher was apparently the only evangelical teacher in my public high school, and quite unashamed of the fact. Besides the New Testament, he plied me with gruesomely illustrated miniature Christian comic books published by the Chick tract organization, with titles such as This Was Your Life, A Demon's Nightmare, and The Gay Blade. I also read various books he would give me from time to time, such as Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ and Brother Andrew's Godly Smuggler. They were about people in communist countries who were tortured for boldly expressing their beliefs, and/ or for smuggling Bibles into their countries. I ate them up wholeheartedly, and one night I even recall getting into a tizzy with my mother after declaring that I too would like to try and smuggle Bibles into Communist countries. She called my dad and asked him to try and talk some sense into me. I recall that I cried over the fact that my parents were pressuring me to avoid what was perhaps my "calling" in life. After all, were they not good Catholics? Did they not believe the promises in the Gospels? Was not serving God the most important part of being a Christian, even if it meant risking pain and death to "spread the good news"?
As my knowledge of Christian doctrine grew, so did my fears that many of my friends and relatives were headed for eternal destruction, not to mention just about everyone I saw in person, on television, heard speaking on the radio, or read about I prayed for the salvation of specific people and for hordes of humanity, like all the atheists in Communist China, not to mention all the dozens of toll booth operators I asked God to "save." It was very difficult at that time to refrain from handing a toll booth operator a tract (with the money inside, of course), since their outstretched hand was just waiting to be filled).
Only I had the antidote, the magic potion, the truth that would set people free, even if I had to corner them to administer it. For instance, I handed out tracts at my mother's second wedding. I didn't thank that the minister of the Reformed Church in which they were being married was saved, or that anyone in my family was. She married a very nice gentleman (who liked singing hymns in church, but not hearing preachers broadcast exclusivistic teachings-he was a former Alcoholics Anonymous member who believed in "God" in a very broad sense) with whom she was to share a very loving relationship for eighteen years before he passed away. His tolerance toward me and my views eventually proved an inspiration to me.
As a fundamentalist Christian I was corrupted by having what I thought was the "absolute knowledge of life and death," like Dr. Frankenstein. And Just like him I suffered much at the hands of my own creation, though in my case what I suffered most was continual anguish over the fate of "the unsaved world." I soon learned things that added to my inner apprehension and increased my sense of evangelical urgency. After reading Hal Lindsey's phenomenal bestseller (over eighteen million copies sold by 1984), The Late Great Planet Earth, I began seeing the pieces of biblical prophecy fitting into Lindsey's picture puzzle. I heard God's time bomb ticking in my ears. And I kept an eye on the sky, for I sensed my salvation "draweth nigh."
I attended end-time evangelistic crusades that featured Jack Van Impe (author of Revelation Revealed) and David Wilkerson (author of The Vision). They focused on the evil days ahead and scared the be-Jesus into you.
At one prophecy conference I was given a piece of "lignin" (compressed wood) that one preacher said "could replace metal in the fashioning of weapons of war. Rifles, cannons, and tanks could be made out of it."
It felt hard, yet light. I did not question at the time whether it might not be as strong as metal, or how wood (even tightly compressed) could avoid being scorched or shattered by the force of gunpowder explosions. I simply took the preacher at his word. Why? Because the preacher swore that the existence of "lignin" demonstrated the "truth" of Ezekiel's prophecy. "Israel shall go forth [following a ferocious end-time battle], and shall set on fire and burn the weapons [of her enemies] both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handshakes, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years. So that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests, for they shall burn the weapons with fire'' [Ezek. 39.9-10, KJV]
The preacher continued, "Could iron and steel burn for seven years? No. But weapons made of lignin could burn for seven years, if there were enough of them!" I took the piece of lignin with me to high school and told others of the prophecy and its "miraculous fulfillment". 1
But I couldn't keep my engine idling at such an "end-times" peak indefinitely. I eventually stopped thriving on mental pictures of raptures, A-bombs, anti-christs, God turning seas to blood, and final judgments. I stopped trying to match up the latest news from the Middle East with verses from the Bible.
After a few years I realized that the further my fellow fundamentalists and I ventured into such head trips, the further we withdrew from the person we were expecting to see. His arrival became another date on the calendar and not a date with a heavenly bridegroom.
I read an Interview with the Anglican theologian Robert F. Capon in which he stated, "Predicting dates is only important when the immediacy of a present relationship is lost. When people start haggling about whether Jesus meant ten minutes or fifteen, they have lost the connection with the person they are expecting."2
While in high school the books my teacher kept plying me with included Henry Morris's The Twilight of Evolution and Many Infallible Proofs, which advocated young-earth creationism. Since I had not read very widely at that time, I took everything that Morris said as "gospel truth." The fact that he cited Scripture to prove his points only made his views seem more attractive to me. My wish became to study biology at Christian Heritage College, which was closely affiliated with Henry Morris's Institute for Creation Research. I wanted to become a "creation scientist," spreading the good news of "creation evangelism" across the land, defeating evolutionists in public debates, like Duane T. Gish was apparently doing, according to the literature I was then reading. I phoned Henry Morris about attending Christian Heritage College, but he suggested that it would be better if I studied biology at a secular university so that my criticisms of evolution would come from within the scientific establishment instead of from without.
Five months after graduating from high school I was baptized as an adult believer in Christ at Jacksonville Chapel, Lincoln Park, New Jersey, November 24, 1974, by Pastor Earl V. Comfort, a man with a magnetic personality who used an overhead projector to illuminate his sermon points--in-depth analyses of the books of the Bible, mostly Romans, which included comparing and contrasting the views of the apostle Paul and Sigmund Freud! During the years I attended that church it grew considerably, including a brand new building, a brass ensemble, a gym, etc. It was in the vestibule there that I bought my first books of Christian theology, Paul Little's Know Why You Believe, John Stott's Basic Christianity, Francis Schaeffer's Escape from Reason, and C S Lewis's Mere Christianity.
I majored in biology at Mercer County Community College in Trenton, New Jersey, arguing all the while with my professors. I attended a creationist convention in Philadelphia. I obtained copies of sides that Duane T Gish used in his debates with evolutionists, and on two occasions I used them to present the "case for creation"-once, during a college science seminar, and another time before a group of Ph D chemists at Hoffman-La Roche, where I worked as a lab assistant. My presentation only converted one lab technician. The Ph D s remained unimpressed.
While at Mercer County I joined the most "on-fire" Christian campus group I could find, Chi Alpha (meaning, "Christ's ambassadors," the campus outreach division of the Worldwide Assemblies of God Church). In 1976 I was elected president of our little Chi Alpha group. We brought Christian rock groups to campus, showed a film that questioned evolution (after which I fielded questions from the audience), and pursued other avenues of evangelism. Although we had thirty names on the membership roll only about half that number showed up regularly at weekly meetings, probably about the same number of people who attended the gay group's meetings on campus. Like them, we were a distinct minority.
This brings me to a revealing tale. After learning that a gay group was posting sheets informing other gays to come out and join their group, I posted my own sheets (without prior permission from the dean) containing the apostle Paul's railings in Romans against homosexuality, at the end of which I stated that "we" at my group "loved" homosexuals, and invited them to hear the "good news" at our meeting. The dean spoke with me about my illegal postings, and told me that "Bruno and Melissa" of the gay group wanted to speak to me personally on campus that evening. I sweated out the pre-meeting time in prayer and met only Melissa. (Bruno couldn't make it). We two met alone in the quad as the sun was going down. She was incensed at my callousness and intolerance and blissful ignorance. She recounted some heartrending stories of what she had had to suffer due to her sexual orientation. I smiled and listened as she went on and on. Finally it was my turn to speak and I told her that I was just repeating what the Bible said, and showed her the passages in question. She quieted down, realizing, I guess, that I was not interested in "battling homosexuality," but was unintentionally causing her grief by blindly repeating age-old "wisdom" from God She shed some tears toward the end of our discussion, while I smiled blissfully at her. But my blissful example wasn't strong enough to hook her into my belief system and she let me know that I was "not going to convert" her.
I cringe a bit today, knowing what my illegal postings must have represented in her mind, how it rekindled her memories of previous acts of prejudice and pain, etc. Come to think of it, my one-dimensional interactions with "nonbelievers" (i.e., parroting "what Scripture sez" instead of dipping into the full range of my own thoughts and perceptions, and without ever really listening to other people) served two purposes (1) to isolate me from being understood by them, and (2) to isolate myself from perceiving their unique personhood. Such a one-dimensional way of interacting with "nonbelievers" helped keep me faithful. It kept the blinders on my true believer's eyes. 3
The overseer of our Chi Alpha group was a Church of God minister, Bob Wittick, who could speak in tongues, although I only distantly remember him doing so once.
My increasing interest at that time in charismatic gifts of the spirit coincided with my heartfelt wish to know Jesus, and discover for myself the depth of the truth of Christianity. I read pro-charismatic books, sold in the Lamplighter, a Christian bookstore in Princeton, New Jersey, that told about speaking in tongues, and why you shouldn't be afraid to ask for such a gift from God, and biblical reasons why the gift still existed, despite biblical interpretations by fundamentalist Christians to the contrary.
I began attending living room sermons and prayer meetings at Leon Kastner's farm with a couple of friends. Leon had attended a Charismatic Christian seminary, and his living room was his church. There we lifted our hands and praised Jesus. During one such session I experienced the hoped-for bliss of what I then termed "baptism in the Holy Spirit." 4 It was a great flow of joy raining down on me from head to toe, a joy to cast out fear and make me want to laugh. I barely resisted laughing, and wish to this day that I had simply let go and laughed. But I was much more serious then than now. I hugged everyone afterwards, and felt for the first time that such hugging was natural and not a feigned gesture.
Two weeks later, I moved my lips "in faith," and repeated one or two nonsense syllables over and over until others appeared. I was soon forming entire "words" out of those syllables. I can still "speak" in that "tongue" whenever I wish. No preparation, meditation, or trance is required. 5
For a year or two after being "baptized in the spirit" the mere memory of that moment was enough to maintain my utmost devotion to the "truth of Christianity." But eventually the memory dwindled and my ability to rekindle even a spark of the original bliss, through intense prayer and praise, ceased. That is not to say that my faith in Christ and belief in Christian doctrines waned at that time. It did not.
It was during my first year in college that I began reading all the Christian works of the Oxford English professor, C. S Lewis. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis mentioned how great an influence G. K. Chesterton's book The Everlasting Man played in his decision to become a Christian. So I read just about everything that Chesterton (who may be called an "evangelical Catholic") wrote on Christianity, including nearly all his fiction. I also read George MacDonald's Christian fantasy novels, Lilith and Phantastes, since Lewis prized both of those novels highly, and called MacDonald "my spiritual mentor."
My heart ached with unspeakable yearning upon reading Lilith, which depicted how one could be both a Christian and a universalist. I was impressed by MacDonald's perception of God's unfailing compassion. He depicted ordinary sleep and dreams as avenues of God's healing and grace. And in his Unspoken Sermons MacDonald portrayed the flames of hell as the fingers of God reaching out to touch His children who perceived His touch as "painful"--the pain of spiritual awakening. Yet God continued to reach out to them, and would succeed one day in awakening every last child of God.
Later I tied together the universalistic threads that linked Lewis to his two Christian mentors, Chesterton and MacDonald. But for the moment, there was still another branch of Christianity I was to encounter and reject before proceeding along the path toward Christian universalism.
After receiving my associate's degree in biology, I transferred to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, New Jersey, where I hosted two "Book Table Give-Aways." Standing to the side, I prayed for my fellow students to take and read some of the material on the table. I also sent twenty-five dollars a month to Pat Robertson, to spread the Gospel over the airways.
At one of my give-aways I met a girl at FDU who later introduced me to her brother, a theologically conservative Calvinist, who shared with me Rushdooney's, Van Til's and Gordon Clark's works, punished by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. I even made two "pilgrimages" to Westminster Theological Seminary during his period, where I caught a fleeting glance of Cornelius Van Til, talked with a few students, and visited the bookstore.
You might think that I would have trouble getting along with someone who believed that miracles (like the gift of tongues) ended with the age of the apostles, and who handed out tracts that stated on the front in bold green print, Mourn! God Hates You! But Calvinism intrigued me.
I attended the brother's church twice, and spoke briefly with his minister. What a "solid" faith, I thought. God "made some vessels for eternal honor and made others for eternal dishonor" simply to bring glory to Himself and embody His attributes of eternal "compassion" and eternal "justice". Conversion was up to God. He either bestowed upon people the "gift of saving faith," or damned them.
In a sense it was a relief, knowing that you were not responsible for anyone else's salvation. You did not have to plead with anyone, or devise clever gimmicks to entice them toward the faith, like many Christian youth ministries utilize. The "absoluteness" of God's will was emphasized. If someone did not agree, such was God's will, let them be damned.
It was also a demanding faith for those already in it. They had to avoid unclean associations, i.e., anything that might intrude on the "purity" of their theology and behavior. From thence have arisen "Reconstructionist" Christians who would like to see ancient Hebrew laws writ into America's Constitution.
I rejected Calvinism after realizing that, unlike the believers I had met, I could not relinquish the "nonelect" to God's eternal "justice." Heaven would not be heaven for me if that were true. Neither could I conceive of any reasonably good person maintaining an eternal concentration camp, let alone God Himself. And I could not accept the doctrine of "total [spiritual and mental] depravity," nor the Calvinist rationalization that any and all righteous behavior manifested by the nonelect was merely "common grace," without which the world would be a "living hell."
John Calvin's teachings appear in their most blunt form in his Institutes [Bk II, chapt xxiii, sect. 7] "Whence does it happen that Adam's fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? . . . The decree is dreadful [horribile] indeed, I confess." I had to agree that worshiping a God who was pleased by such things was horrible!
Martin Luther, another advocate of the biblically based view known as "predestination," wrote in his classic defense of that view, On the Bondage of the Will.
This is the acme of faith, to believe that God, who saves so few and condemns so many, is merciful, that He is just who, at his own pleasure, has made us necessarily doomed to damnation, so that He seems to delight in the torture of the wretched and to be more deserving of hate than of love. If by any effort of reason I could conceive how God, who shows so much anger and harshness, could be merciful and just, there would be no need of faith.
I agreed with Luther that worshiping a God who "seems to delight in the torture of the wretched" would take more faith than I had.
I would sooner side with Voltaire than with Calvin and Luther on such matters.
For Voltaire in his Philosophical Dictionary had the guts to stand up and say:
The silly fanatic repeats to me. . . that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the great Being, that His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh! how, you mad demoniac, do you want me to judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions I have of them? Do you want me to walk otherwise than with my feet, and to speak otherwise than with my mouth?
Even Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was too smart to fall for Calvin's "horribile decree" and Luther's "acme of faith":
[There are dangers in judging God by moral standards, but] believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him "good" and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. . . . The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scripture is to prevail when they conflict. [Lewis was replying to the Biblical accounts of what he called "the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua" and the account of Peter striking Ananias and Sapphira dead, called "Divine" decrees by those who believe Scripture is without error.-ED.) I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible. . . . To this some will reply "ah, but we are fallen and don't recognize good when we see it." But God Himself does not say we are as fallen as all that. He constantly in Scripture appeals to our conscience: "Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?"--"What fault hath my people found in me?" And so on. . . .
Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason) . . If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.6
The real danger is of corning to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not "So, there's no God after all," but, "So, this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer."7
In college I also read nearly all of Francis Shaeffer's works (popular apologetics in the Reformed Church tradition), and found him interesting, yet not as fine a writer as Lewis or Chesterton. For me, learning is exemplified not only in what you say, but how you say it. Perhaps that helps explain why after five or six years of avid church attendance and intense reading, I found it increasingly difficult to sit through a sermon. Most of them seemed dull and superficial in comparison to what I was reading at the time, and as repetitious in their focus and emphases as I had earlier found the Catholic prayers and rituals to be.
Generally, ministers find it superfluous to address questions. They stand in the pulpit, "three feet above contradiction." Preachers, like politicians are taught to embody, via a variety of rhetorical and nonverbal means, their utter conviction of the truth of whatever they happen to be preaching, regardless of how much they may know, or not know, about the subject. This reminds me of the story of a minister who wrote in the margin of his sermon notes, "Weak argument here. Shout louder." As I grew to recognize the diversity of opinions among Bible scholars and theologians (even just among evangelicals), the rhetorical posture of preachers (and politicians) increasingly appeared to me to be subject in its own right.
Furthermore, I began to realize that large groups of people are better at being manipulated by rhetoric and bald assertions-getting caught up in the "crowd atmosphere"--than they are at making logical inferences concerning the preacher's (or politician's) statements. That is the primary reason I chose at that time to conduct several one-on-one dialogues with nonbelievers through the mail. Such dialogues take more thought, more time to cook up and digest. And I thought that in such an atmosphere, the truth of Christianity would be irrefutably self-evident.
It was right after four years of college, and before I began a full time job, that I began swapping lengthy letters with William Bagley and Robert Price (former fundamentalists whose testimonies are contained in this book). Lists of books were exchanged during our letter debates. Both of my friends were already familiar with evangelical Christian literature. So, they patiently explained that it was up to me to try reading at least one of the books that they had suggested, and discuss it with them, in order for the debate to continue.
Up to that time my knowledge of what others believed had been gained almost totally via books written by Christian apologists. In fact, about the only "critiques of Christianity" that I had heard about were those whose notorious infamy had led to them being briefly mentioned and summarily dismissed by some of the Christian apologists I had read.
The few times that I had read books critical of Christianity (i.e., before I had begun my correspondence with Will and Bob), they were books that two in-the-flesh friends of mine had badgered me to read. One libertarian chess buddy suggested I read Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, and lent me his copy. My philosophy professor was fiends with Walter Kaufmann, and suggested a few times that I read Kaufmann's Faith of a Heretic, and some of Nietzsche's works Kaufmann had translated. I only read them to try and demonstrate to my friends and to myself how easily I could refute them. My mind by some miracle of double-think blithely disregarded what I would today consider to be the authors' most compelling points. As a Christian I would challenge each authors' arguments on a few particulars, though I soon found myself stretching the Bible's meaning to accommodate even the widest gaps in its truth content, and thinking that I had thereby discredited the nonbelieving authors' arguments in toto. I wasn't seeing the forest for the few trees I had chopped down, and the wide-angled blinders I was wearing.
Furthermore, those two books were not ones that dealt with matters that most concerned me as a fundamentalist. For instance, it would have been more of a challenge had I begun by reading Thomas Paine's smaller and more focused critique of specific Bible passages, Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, Quoted from the Old, and Called Prophecies of the Coming of Jesus Christ,8 rather than his Age of Reason.
In our letter exchanges, Will Bagley challenged me to view Christian symbols and sacraments, like "the Blood of Christ," "the Cross," even "the Resurrection," as pointers toward more universal truths, and not the Truth itself.
While corresponding with Will I first learned of C.S. Lewis's friend, Bede Griffiths, who was mentioned briefly in Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Griffiths was one of Lewis's pupils at Oxford and converted to Christianity about the same time Lewis did. Afterwards they "kept up a copious correspondence." Griffiths became a Catholic monk and far surpassed Lewis in his ability to perceive a similar spiritual center lying at the heart of all the world's major faiths. Griffiths died the same year and month I'm writing this, at eighty-six years of age, while living in a Christian-Hindu ashram that he founded in India. The titles of his published works illustrate his mystic universalist approach to knowing God, beginning with his autobiography, titles like The Golden String, The Marriage of East and West, Return to the Center, River of Compassion, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God, and his final work, The New Creation in Christ.
Dom Bede Griffith's obituary in the National Catholic Reporter (May 1993), by Tim McCarthy, stated:
As late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.
Discussing the CDF'S warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in NCR, "As if God in Christ had not already overcome that distance and united us with him in the closest bonds. St. Paul says, 'You who were far off, he has brought near-not kept distant-in the blood of Christ.' Jesus himself totally denies any such distance, 'I am the vine,' he says, 'you are the branches.' How can the branches be 'distant' from the vine?" . . .
We must "never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation," the CDF document insisted. "Of course, we don't seek to place ourselves on the same level," Griffiths countered. "It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, 'I have not called you servants, but friends.' And to show what such friendship means, he prays for his disciples, 'that they may be one, as thou, Father in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us.'"
In a letter published in the National Catholic Reporter, beneath the headline, "Vatican Letter Disguises Wisdom of East Religions," (May 11, 1990), Griffiths drew attention to several Christian movements in ages past that endorsed mystical prayer, then added, "This is not to say that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mystics all have the same experience. But it is to recognize an analogy between them and to look upon the Hindu and Buddhist experience as something of supreme significance, not to be lightly dismissed by a Christian as of no importance."
Naturally, if my friend Will Bagley resembled Griffiths, then I resembled Lewis. For I found it very difficult at first to widen my religious perspective. Christian universalism seemed attractive, but not a universalism in which the truths of all the world's faiths overlapped to varying degrees. It was during my dialogue with Will that I began tying together those universalistic threads I spoke of earlier.
G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy stated, "To hope for all souls is imperative, and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable." He also had many positive things to say about the non-Christians whom he debated and remained friends with. For instance, In his book on George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton stated, "In a sweeter and more solid civilization he would have been a great saint" And when H G Wells was seriously ill, he wrote Chesterton and said, "If after all my Atheology turns out wrong and your Theology right I feel I shall always be able to pass into Heaven (if I want to) as a fiend of G.K.C.'s. Bless you" To this Chesterton replied, "If I turn out to be right, you will triumph, not by being a friend of mine, but by being a friend of Man, by having done a thousand things for men like me in every way from imagination to criticism. The thought of the vast variety of that work, and how it ranges from towering visions to tiny pricks of humor, overwhelmed me suddenly in retrospect and I felt we had none of us ever said enough. . . Yours always, G.K. Chesterton"9 Talk about being ecumenical!
C S Lewis himself seems to had had second thoughts about the dogma of the eternity of hell's torments. In his novel, The Great Divorce Lewis named a major character after the universalist Christian minister and novelist, George MacDonald, and has that character escort a visitor from hell around heaven, where the visitor eventually chooses to remain.
In The Problem of Pain, a work published before The Great Divorce, Lewis had assumed that the orthodox Christian doctrine of hell had "the full support of Scripture". But in The Great Divorce it becomes evident that Lewis had begun to reconsider his earlier wholehearted avowal of that church doctrine. He even has the George MacDonald character in his novel deny that the orthodox Christian doctrine of hell has the "full support of Scripture," by having MacDonald say, "St Paul talked as if all men would be saved." Neither did Lewis have the angel (whom George was speaking to in the novel) deny George's interpretation of St Paul's words, but only reply that it was not for man to ask such questions. Yet Lewis felt strongly enough about that possibility to raise that question in one of his novels for all his readers to ponder.
It was in a little book called Salvation and Damnation by a Jesuit priest named Dalton that I first learned about the verses written by St. Paul that suggested "all would be saved." That little book by Dalton opened my eyes to a universalistic view of salvation that has ever after seemed a superior moral view.10
Still more revelations concerning my Christian faith were forthcoming. Bob Price was a professional biblical scholar. He was immune to my pot shots fired at his "liberal" faith. His replies to my letters consisted of in-depth analyses of verses in the Bible, keeping in mind their historical contexts. I requested a book list. What I received was a neatly typed annotated list of about sixty titles, arranged according to various categories "New Testament Studies . . . Old Testament . . Theology. . . Apologetics. . ." I began wading through the scholarly tomes.
The contention that Bob introduced me to that threw me for the biggest loop was that Jesus had incorrectly predicted that the Son of Man would come "with his angels, and reward every man according to his works" before "some standing" there with Jesus had "tasted death" (Matt. 16.27-28)-a prediction that Jesus reiterated, stating, "This generation [meaning his own] will not pass away" until the Son of Man has arrived. (Matt 24 30-34).
The attempt to overlook Jesus' error by citing Jesus' other saying, namely that, "No man knows the day or the hour," does not make Jesus' prediction any less false. "Days" and "hours" imply nearness in time and he within a "generation's" span of time. To quote the famous German biblical scholar, David F Strauss. "[Naturally there is a distinction] between an inexact indication of the space of time, beyond which the event will not be deferred (a "generation"), and the determination of the precise date and time (the "day and the hour") at which it will occur, the former Jesus gives, the latter he declares himself unable to give."11
Furthermore, look at what the apostle Paul has to say about the nearness of Jesus' "day" and "hour":
The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be [literally, is soon (Gk mello) to be12) revealed to us The whole creation groans and suffers the pain: of childbirth until now . . .
We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body . . .
Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed! The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. .
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom 8 18, 22-23, 13 11-12; 16 20 [NASB])
Paul was even more explicit about the imminence of Jesus' return in his letter to the believers at Corinth.
These things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come
The rulers of this age are passing away [i.e., they will not last much longer].
Do not go on passing judgment before the time [i.e., "before the time" of final judgment, which Paul taught was close at hand --ED], but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts . . .
The time has been shortened so that from now on both those who have wives should be as though they had none [i.e., Paul preached that the time was so "short" that married Christian couples ought to abstain from having sex, keeping themselves pure for their soon-returning savior--ED]; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice, and those who buy, as though they did not possess, and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it, for the form of this world is passing away [="This world, as it is now, will not last much longer" (TEV)]
Proclaim the Lord's death until he comes [i.e., not "until the day you die," which means that he taught Christ's coming was nearer than the time when the believers he was writing to would all be dead-ED.]
We [Pau1 and the first-century believers being addressed] shall not all sleep
At the last trumpet. . . the dead will be raised . . . and we shall be changed
Maranatha ["Come Lord"]
(1 Cor 2 6, 4 5, 7.29-31) 10 11, 11-26, 15 51-52, 16 22)
That's a "day" and an "hour" that both Jesus and Paul predicted was going to arrive very soon!13
Even when I first encountered it, this problem was not new to me, having read C S Lewis's acknowledgment of it in his book The World's Last Night. Lewis attributed Jesus' erroneous prediction of his "soon return" the limits imposed by the Incarnation, i.e., that Jesus, being fully human (as well as being fully God), could err in some of his knowledge and expectations, as humans do.
But, Bob also made me aware, contra Lewis's "God-man" defense, that "if we admit Jesus to have been in error on a very important factual/doctrinal claim like the near end of the world, then we must at least potentially think twice about his other teachings."
Debating Bob and studying books on his list I learned many other things about the Bible that I might have remained a happier Christian not knowing.
I read books that critiqued the idea that Jesus "fulfilled" Old Testament prophecies14. I read books that critiqued the notion that present day events were "fulfilling" biblical prophecies.15 Meanwhile, doubts crept into my fervent creationist beliefs after reading "The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark"-the title of a special issue of Creation/Evolution, a Journal devoted to answering creationist claims. (The article was written by Robert Moore, a former fundamentalist whose testimony appears elsewhere in this book). That particular issue of Creation/Evolution was chock-full of embarrassing questions for creationists, and made me realize for the first time that well-informed critics of creationism did exist, contrary to what the creationist press had led me to believe.
Then I read articles by Bob Schadewald in the Skeptical Inquirer in which he mentioned Bible verses that implied their authors' view of the earth was flat. Two primary verses were Daniel 4 10-11, "I saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth . . . it was visible to the earth's farthest bounds," and Matthew 4 8, "The devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory." In both cases such visibility presupposes a flat earth, since on a spherical earth, no matter how "high" you were, things would remain beyond your vision, i.e., those areas on the earth's opposite side.
Thus, I was awakened to the shocking thought that the authors of the Bible may have taken for granted that the earth was flat! And the more I studied the matter (at first to debunk it) the more Bible verses I found that implied a strictly horizontal view of the cosmos,16
The arguments I had used to defend the truth of Christianity were peeled away from me like the many layers of an onion's skin. I put up all the intellectual resistance I could, and winced at each layer's removal. I suffered through dark nights of the soul pondering whether my beliefs might not I too narrow or even wholly false. Imperceptibly, my fears, doubts, and grief blossomed into relief, relaxation, and joy. I realized that my God was too small. I caught myself using the Bible as a paper idol. (My experience at that point resembled that of John William Colenso, whose testimony appears in this book). I became a very moderate, but not quite "liberal" Christian. My favorite authors included Conrad Hyers (whose testimony appears in this book), Robert Farrar Capon (who wrote somewhat like G K Chesterton would have if he'd had a seminary degree), and Alan Watts (the early Watts, who, while still a priest in the Anglican church, wrote, Behold the Spirit)
I began to consciously admit that perceptions and questions raised by nonbelieving thinkers agreed with some of my own, and I sought out further correspondences of that type. My former distrust of skeptical literature dwindled merely to a hesitancy in continuing to read more. But even that hesitancy eventually vanished. I found myself thinking at a greater depth, and admitted how I really felt about certain aspects of my faith, instead of repeated my old fundamentalist response, which was, "Yes, that seems to make some sense, but not if the Bible is 100 percent accurate and authoritative." I even grew hungry to read all sorts of intellectual materials I had previously denied myself.
I certainly owe a debt to my fiends Bob and Will. Their learning, their tact, their tolerance and patience induced me to pursue three years of what was then the most intense reading, correspondence, and introspection of my life (though the entire process is perpetual, ongoing).
After reading yet more books on biblical criticism and the development of Christian doctrine, and after studying evolutionists' criticisms of "scientific creationist" arguments, I became disenchanted with Christianity in toto, and became an agnostic with theistic leanings of the Martin Gardner variety. Gardner is the prodigious author of skeptical articles and books (and former puzzle columnist for Scientific American). He believes in a benevolent (non-Christian) "God," and in immortality, but not because a preponderance of evidence exists to support those conclusions. Rather, he argues that there may be just enough scientific, philosophical, and heartfelt reasons to not simply abandon such an alternative to atheism. I found his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener very helpful during this period. Gardner was once a fundamentalist Christian, and lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of Oral Roberts University. The basic outlines of Gardner's own spiritual and intellectual odyssey appear in his novel The Flight of Peter Fromm
Where am I at today? I have not been able to regain any sort of faith in the Bible as the "highest" authority on spiritual matters. It contains some "inspiring" passages, as many books do. But I have also learned that many of the ideas it contains owe a significant debt to the cultural milieu out of which they arose. There are in the Bible some plagiarisms from other ancient works, lessons in morality (along with some stories that picture God committing wholesale acts of slaughter that would stain even the devil's character), some history mixed with some legend and myth, Old Testament verses lifted out of context and misapplied to Jesus' life, contradictions, redundancies, omissions, and passages that fundamentalists would brand as "obscene" if they ran across them in any other book except the Bible. Those who say that they believe everything in the Bible from cover to cover don't know all that lies between the covers. A few self-evident examples should suffice to make my point.
And the Lord said . . . "With thee will I break in pieces old and young and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid" (Jer 51-22 [KJV])
And the Lord said . . . "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling." (1 Sam. 15 3)
"The Lord delivered him before us, and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities and utterly destroyed the men and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain." (Deut 2:34)
And Moses said . . . "Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him [including pregnant women]. But spare the virgins for yourself" (Num. 31:17)
"Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones" (Ps 137 9)
And the Lord said . . . "I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters." (Jer 19 9 and Deut. 28:53, 57)
And Jesus said . . . Suppose ye that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother. . . . If any man comes to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 12 51-53 and 14.26)
And the Lord said . . . "I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall" (1 Kings 14 10 [KJV])
"The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous" (Ps. 58 10-11)
"Noah took . . . of every clean beast and fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savor." (Gen 8 20-21)
"In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and we refreshed" (Exod. 31 17) [According to learned editors of a Bible published in 1774, the true meaning of the Hebrew is, "on the seventh day He rested, and fetched breath."]
And Abraham said to his male servant . . . "Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh And I will make thee swear by the Lord . . . (Gen. 24 2-3 and 47 29) [Since God was the author of the mystery of reproduction and had blessed Abraham's "seed," the Hebrews took a sacred oath by putting a hand "under the thigh," that is, on another man's testicles. This type of "swearing in" is biblical and literal, unlike today's "liberal" practice in courtrooms of merely placing your hand on the Bible.]
"This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
I will take hold of the boughs thereof now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine." (Song of Sol 7 7-8)
"My breasts like towers then was I in his eyes as one that found favor" (Song of Sol. 8 10)
"Let us get up early to the vineyard there will I give thee my loves. The mandrakes give a smell and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved" (Song of Sol 7 7-8) ["Gates" refers to genitals. And the two-pronged "mandrake" root is crotch-shaped. Even in earliest biblical times "mandrakes" were related to sexual potency. In Genesis 30 Jacob's barren wife tells him she has "hired him (a child) with mandrake"]
"Your vulva a rounded crater, may it never lack punch! . . The smell of your vulva, like apples" (Song of Sol. 7 2, 8) [The Anchor Bible translation. The scholar who did the translation, Marvin H. Pope, concluded that the word "naval" has been the accepted unscholarly euphemism for an obscure term in the Hebrew. As he elaborates in his notes, the Hebrew much more likely refers to a woman's vulva]
And the Lord said . . . "She doted upon their paramours [her illicit sexual partners], whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses" (Ezek. 23 20) [It is plain that "the Lord" is describing men with "donkey dicks, who come like horses." Yet when was the last time you saw that translation in a modern English translation of the Bible?]
Recently, my agnosticism was shaken by the testimony of one man in particular, Howard Storm, a former hardened agnostic and chairman of a university art department, whose description of his long, involved, near-death experience roused me from my doubts and fear that there may be no afterlife, to positively hoping there may be one.
I am presently studying a numbers of books on near-death experiences, and have "confirmed" several aspects of Storm's story by comparing it with the stories of those who have had remarkably similar experiences. Few stones I've run across are as long and detailed as his. After his experience, Storm's life changed radically. He quit his well-paid position at the university and attended seminary. Today he is a minister in a liberal Christian denomination, United Church of Christ. He is much happier than he was before the experience and does not fear death. He continues to assert that his near-death experience was "more real" than waking reality, and that extraordinary experiences accompanied him long after he had it.
Moreover, I've discovered that my personal happiness has increased with my renewed interest in an afterlife. After studying only a few books on near-death experiences, and reading several skeptical pieces on them, I am still no expert on the phenomenon. However, I am no longer the skeptic I once was. There does appear to be some evidence for life after death. It wouldn't be much fun being a "skeptical inquirer" if there were absolutely no claims to "inquire" about, would it?
Life is a "racket," so get a few laughs, do the best you can, take nothing serious, for nothing is certainly depending on this generation. Each one lives in spite of the previous one and not because of it.
Believe in something for another world, but don't be too set on what it is, and then you won't start out that life with a disappointment. Live your life so that whenever you lose, you are ahead!
1 It never occurred to me, blinded by my faith in "miraculous-maybe" interpretations of Scripture, that perhaps Ezekiel was not "inspired."
He depicted his "end-time" battle exactly as any ancient Near Easterner might, being fought with wooden shields, bucklers, bows, arrows, handstaves, and spears, instead of with today's metallic arsenal. How much inspiration would it take for an ancient Near Easterner to prophesy the employment of such weapons? None.
Furthermore, in the same prophecy Ezekiel mentioned "not needing to take wood out of the field, neither having to cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire." Ezekiel took for granted the need to burn wood for cooking, heating, etc. But, like prophesying the use of spears and arrows, how much inspiration would it take for an ancient Near Easterner to speak prophetically about wood-burning fires, as opposed to today's gas and electric? None.
Looking back, I should have noticed how "literalists" only take a literal interpretation as far as they want, no further. For instance, Ezekiel's "end-time battle" and "seven years burning of weapons" are interpreted literally, but his "shields, swords, spears and arrows" are not!
What about Ezekiel's end-time adversaries, "Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal"? Hal Lindsey and other prophecy-mongers insist that Rosh equals Russia, Meshech equals Moscow, and Tubal equals Tobolsk (Moscow and Tobolsk being cities in Russia). Thus they interpret Ezekiel's prophecy to mean that present-day Russia will invade present-day Israel.
Not so, according to Edwin M Yamauchi, professor of history at Miami University and author of Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker Book House, 1982). Yamauchi explained on the basis of documented archaeological evidence how Ezekiel was "inspired" by the precarious situation of his own era.
In Ezekial's day, invading hordes, like the Urartians, Manneans, Cimmerians, and Scythians, occupied parts of what are now Armenia, Turkey, and Iran, as well as the Russian steppes. These "invaders from the north" were the ones Ezekiel (and Jeremiah) feared, and prophesied against.
"Meshech" and "Tubal" have been clearly identified as kingdoms/provinces that used to be in areas of ancient Anatolia (roughly equivalent to our present-day Turkey). They do not refer to Moscow and Tobolsk.
Yamauchi also explained why "Rosh" could not possibly be related to "Russia," and how archaeological evidence was being ignored by end-times preachers, who, apparently, only read each other's books, thus perpetuating their collective blindness, passing it off on their listeners as the "God-breathed truth."
Take for instance, end-time preacher Hal Lindsey, who stated in The Late Great Planet Earth, "[I do not] believe that we have prophets today who are getting direct revelations from God, but we do have prophets today who are given special insight into the prophetic word." Undoubtedly Lindsey considers himself one of these "prophets." So, let's see how "the special insight" he claims to have been granted by God stacks up with reality.
In The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan Press, 1970), Lindsey specified "an extremely important time clue" in Scripture, namely, Jesus' parable of the fig tree putting forth its leaves, letting you know that summer was near-after which, Jesus added, "when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door" (Matt. 24:32, 33). According to Lindsey, "This is the most important sign in Matthew".
"The figure of speech 'fig tree' has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the 'fig tree' put forth its first leaves. Jesus said that this would indicate that He was 'at the door,' ready to return. Then Jesus said, 'Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place' (Matt 24.34) What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs-chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948 [i.e., before 1988], all these things [including, according to Lindsey, the Temple being rebuilt, people fleeing to the mountains to escape the world's final battles, and Christ's return) could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so."
Well, it ain't so. What is so, is that Lindsey must now admit that a "life" of conservative/inerrantist "Bible study" can lead to erroneous "beliefs"!
Moreover, the extreme importance of this particular "sign" and "time clue" was reinforced by Lindsey in his later books. Note their titles: The 1980's: Countdown to Armageddon and The Terminal Generation.
In The Terminal Generation (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H Revell Company, 1976), Hal stated another of his "prophetic insights," namely, "Based on biblical prophecy, I believe that there will continue to be an increase in major earthquakes. . . . In a recent book called The Jupiter Effect, written by two astronomers . amazing things are predicted to occur in 1982. . . The 'Jupiter effect' is a rare planetary lineup which occurs every 179 years. . . According to the authors, a result of the effect will be that great earthquakes will be triggered."
Again, it wasn't so. In fact, even fellow fundamentalist Christians. like the folks at the Institute for Creation Research, have acknowledged that since 1990, data regarded the frequency and intensity of global earthquakes has followed no clear pattern of increase or decrease [Impact, no. 198, December 1989.].
Not surprisingly, Lindsey's enthusiasm inspired others to get into the "prophetic insight" business, including televangelist and presidential contender Pat Robertson, who stated just as unequivocally as Lindsey that, "If I am hearing Him right I believe in the next two years, I would put it at '82, but the dates are risky, there is going to be a major war in the Middle East. . . The Soviet Union is going to make the move, and that's what God is saying: we've got a couple of years . . . from now on its going to be bloodshed, war, revolution and trouble." (Robertson speaking at a Christian Broadcasting Network staff meeting, January 1, 1980, as recorded by Gerard Straub, one of Robertson's producers (Wayne King, "Robertson Looks at God and Politics," New York Times, December 27, 1987]).
Robertson also announced during a Christian Broadcasting Network broadcast, June 9, 1982, "I guarantee you by the fall of 1982 that there is going to be a judgment on the world, and the ultimate judgment is going to come on the Soviet Union. They are going to be the ones to make military adventures, and they are going to be hit . . . by the fall  undoubtedly something like this will happen which will fulfill Ezekiel."
"1982" was over ten years ago, and "1988" is over five years past. Meanwhile, what Robertson and Lindsey's "prophetic insight" told us to expect before then did not happen. Regardless of the fact that they approached Scripture with the utmost reverence, and prayed to receive wisdom from God to "interpret his word rightly," it is now apparent that either God did not answer those prayers, or God did not speak clearly enough to be rightly understood. (What might this imply about the claim of some fundamentalists that "God does not hear or answer the prayers of unbelieving Jews"? Does this put Robertson and Lindsey in the same category?) How many other interpretations of the Bible by its most fervent believers might be equally lacking in God-given "insight"? This may only be the tip of the iceberg!
2. Mike Yaconelli (ed.), The Door Interviews (Grand Rapids, Mich: The Door/Zondervan Publishing House, 1989), interview with Robert Capon, p. 233
3. Today I believe that the Hebrews, who depicted their laws as a "revelation" from Yahweh to Moses (just as the Babylonians depicted their laws as a revelations from the god Shamash to King Hammurabi, which "divinized" any and all local human prejudices by having them arise directly out of the mouths of "the gods") were wrong in unilaterally condemning homosexual activity, and equally wrong in their judgments concerning a number of other matters. The apostle Paul's exclusion of homosexuality from the realm of "natural behavior" was likewise an assumption on his part that is questionable today, and which in his day was likely to have been an argument from "natural philosophy" that he had plagiarized from some Roman philosophers who had used it before him. So, as I see it, neither the ancient Hebrews nor Paul were perfect and unlimited in knowledge with respect to what they wrote. The Bible is a book exemplifying what was believed then, and not necessarily what must be believed today.
Is the origin and spread of AIDS an example of "God's condemnation" of homosexual behavior? Many fundamentalists feel that it is. But, think again. There are other explanations. Male homosexual contact involves abrasive skin-to-skin contact and intermingling of bodily fluids, which automatically increases the likelihood of any contagious disease being transmitted from one person to another. The same is true of intravenous drug users who share needles, people who receive blood transfusions, and health care workers who accidentally get stuck with the needles they have put into other people's arms. Obviously, if male homosexuals practiced strict monogamy, or used condoms "religiously" and drug addicts used only their own needles and sponges, and no one sought a blood transfusion, AIDS would not have spread as it did.
A comparison may prove helpful. Say a Christian congregation all placed their lips one Sunday morning on the same communion cup. Now say that many of the Christians who sipped from the cup had lips with miniscule sores or cuts on them. In that case, AIDS (or some other disease) could conceivably be spread among a congregation of Christians. That may seem an unlikely scenario. But notice that the majority of Christian churches in America (even the fundamentalist ones) dropped the practice of drinking out of the same communion cup quite a number of years ago, due, I suppose, to warnings from health officials (although the Catholics still employ "germ baths" filled with "holy water" at the entrances to their churches that everyone dips their hands into and anoints their faces with). So Christians who drink out of many little separate cups at communion, instead of a single cup, are practicing "safe sacraments," regardless of the fact that Jesus probably shared the same cup with his disciples. So even fundamentalists choose less dangerous methods of doing what they want to do most, instead of curtailing their activities entirely.
If AIDS was some form of "judgment from God" sent to wipe out homosexual behavior, it has not had the desired effect. It has only made homosexuals more aware of the necessity of maintaining monogamous, long-term relationships, not of abandoning their inclinations altogether. It has done little toward discouraging lesbian behavior, which remains at a relatively lower risk for AIDS, perhaps even lower than the risk that heterosexuals run in catching the disease.
Besides, if AIDS represents "God's condemnation" of homosexual behavior, what do the host of other sexually transmitted diseases represent? "God's condemnation" of heterosexual behavior? And what about the "plague" that subsided about AD 594, after killing "about half the population" of Europe (Information Please Almanac, 1991)? Not to mention Europe's "Black Death" during the Middle Ages, which killed twenty-five million people. Did such plagues represent "God's condemnation" of Christian civilization?
And what about the barrage of illnesses that children contract: small pox, measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc. These used to claim far more lives than they do today. According to Buffon, the French naturalist, only half the children that were born two hundred years ago ever reached the age of eight. Did such a high mortality rate due to killer disease represent "God's condemnation" of children?
And what about any major outbreak of a killer disease, transferred not by genital contact but merely by breathing the same air, drinking the same water, or touching the same objects, diseases like influenza, tuberculosis, polio, and others? Do they represent "God's condemnation" of everyone who touches the same objects, drinks out of the same cup, and breathes the same air?
The trouble with AIDS is that many people wish that homosexual behavior and traits would cease, and AIDS is making their dream come true, by killing homosexuals.
Ipso facto, they rejoice at what is happening, some of them even stooping so low as to rejoice at what's happening in their deity's name. A similarly barbaric form of jubilation is evident in certain Psalms (58:10, NASB and 137:9, KJV]: "the righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked," and, "Blessed (or Happy] shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." "Beautiful" songs sung to Yahweh.
On the other hand, biblical literalists who believe that AIDS is a "happy" or "blessed" occurrence worthy of "rejoicing" over, should also meditate on Proverbs [17 5, 24:17 and 25:21, NASB] "He who rejoices at calamity shall not go unpunished. . . . Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles . . . . If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." (I leave it to infamous fundamentalists to "reconcile" the conflicting attitudes and messages being broadcast in the Psalms and Proverbs, cited above.)
Just how "flattered" God must feel with being credited for AIDS is anyone's guess. Too bad the people who prase God for AIDS don't praise Him for all the other rampaging illnesses that have plagued children and Christians throughout history (See A. Nikiforuk, The Fourth Horseman: A Short History of Epidemics, Plagues, Famines and Other Scourges.)
Ironically, fundamentalist Christians cannot maintain their numbers without some form of "evangelism" coupled with "teaching and training" in church doctrines that no one is born believing. Compare that with the fact that throughout history and in different cultures homosexuals have comprised a fairly stable few percent of nearly any given population. As the most recent genetic, historical, sociological and genealogical studies have shown, we will probably have the same proportion of homosexuals with us for as long as people continue to be born. That means that a solid few percent of the world will remain homosexual for generations to come. On the other hand, a recent Gallup poll indicates that the number of Americans who believe the Bible is the literal word of God has continually and radically diminished since the 1960's. So homosexuality, even with the AIDS epidemic claiming many, may have a greater chance of outlasting fundamentalism in the long run.
4. Today, I think that what I experienced may have parallels in other religion traditions, such as the Buddhist's satori, or the Hindu's samadhi. Perhaps certain drugs (naturally produced in the brain, or synthetically produced) might duplicate or help rekindle the ecstasy. I have no idea, except to say that the experience was one thing, while the meanings and interpretations I attached to it at that time, and in that setting, were another.
5. Although I prayed in tongues for years, my "vocabulary" remained limited to certain syllabic patterns: "Kiddy-ya-say, bed-aloo-way, amiddy-ya-kay . . . etc." The "words" were each about four or five syllables long (longer if I took a deeper breath), with the accents on the first syllable and childish, sound-alike endings. The "gift of tongues" appears to be neither eloquent nor miraculous. I can still perform this "miracle," without the "faith."
I am even less impressed by the "gift of interpretation of tongues." I have attended meetings where a brief tripping of the tongue was "interpreted" quite lengthily.
6. July 3, 1963, letter from C.S. Lewis to John Beversluis. Letter quoted in full in John Beversluis, C.S. Lewis, and the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1985), pp 156f.
7. C S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Seabury Press, 1963). pp. 9-10.
8. Thomas Paine, Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, Quoted from the Old, and Called Prophecies of the Coming of Jesus Christ (first published in 1807). Recently republished, with added notes as The Age of Reason--Part Three--Examination of the Prophecies, ed. Frank Zindler, (Austin, Tex. American Atheist Press, 1993). A briefer, edited version appears in An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism, ed. Gordon Stein (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1980), pp. 125-43.
9. December 10, 1933, letter from H.G. Wells to G.K. Chesterton. Undated reply from G.K. Chesterton to H.G. Wells. Letters quoted in full in Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1943). pp. 604-605.
10. William J. Dalton, S J., Salvation and Damnation (Butler, Wis: Clergy Book Service, 1977).
11. David F Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), ch. 115, "The Discourses of Jesus on His Second Advent: Criticisms of the Different Interpretations," p. 587.
12. A. J. Mattill, Jr., in The Art of Reading the Bible (Gordo, Ala., Flatwoods Free Press, 1988), p 12, stated,
I made an exhaustive study of the Greek verb mello and found what is seldom recognized, and even seldomer proclaimed by preachers and professors, namely, that mello in the New Testament is used again and again to indicate the speedy coming of the end of the world. "Before long" God "will judge the world" (Acts 17:31); "before long there will be a resurrection" (Acts 24:15), the age which is about to come" (Matt. 12:32; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5) to give a few examples. Needless to say, this imminent expectation failed to materialize
Mattill's "exhaustive study" can be found in his book Luke and the Last Things (Dillsboro, NC.: Western Carolina Press, 1979), ch. 4, "'Before long' (Acts 17:31): The Imminent Expectation in Acts," pp. 41-54, and in his article, "Naherwartung, Fernerwartung, and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: Weymouth Reconsidered," published in Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 3, July 1972, pp. 276-93.
In personal correspondence, Mattill has also pointed out, "It's interesting to note that in the Jehovah's Witness interlinear Greek NT they translate mello in the interlinear as 'about to,' but then in the English text to the right ignore their own translation . . . that would appear to be their way of escaping the imminent hope as expressed by mello."
No doubt, many fundamentalist and evangelical Bible translators employ the same mental gymnastics as the Jehovah's Witnesses.
13. I am composing "The Lowdown on God's Showdown," a lengthy essay examining the many New Testament predictions that Jesus would return in the days of the Apostles, not in our day.
14. Michael Arnheim, Is Christianity True? (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984), ch 6, "Fulfillment of Prophecy?"; David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod, Jews & Jewish Christianity (New York; Ktav Publishing House, 1978); Gerald Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary: A Jewish Response to Missionary Christianity (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1981); Farrell Till; Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled (Canton, Ill: Skepticism, 1991); Charles C. Hennell. An Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity, 2d ed. (London: T. Allman, 1841), ch. 12, "On the Prophecies," ch. 13, "On the Prophecies of Isaiah," ch. 14, "On the Prophecies of Daniel," pp. 325-403; John E. Remsburg, The Bible: I. Authenticity II. Credibility III. Morality (New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1930?), ch. 22, "Prophecies," pp. 293-305; Edward J. Barrett, "Can Scholars Take the Virgin Birth Seriously?" Bible Review (October): 10-15 and 29; Dennis McKinsey, various articles on "Messianic Prophecy" published in Biblical Errancy (see especially, no. 7 [July 1983], no 24 [December 1984]; no. 30-31 [June-July 1985], and no. 76 (Apr. 1989]).
15. Dewey M. Beegle, Prophecy and Prediction (Michigan Pryor Pettengill, 1978); Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? Are the Ancient Promises of the Bible Relevant Today? (Belleville, Mich: Lion Publishing, 1983); Grace Halsell, Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence H. & Company, 1986); Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 1977).
16. For instance, Scripture speaks of God at creation inscribing a "circle" on the (assumedly flat) "surface of the waters" (Job 26:10 and Prov 8 27). Could this be a description of God's creation of a pancake-shaped earth and the limits of its flat circumference? It seems likely. The biblical earth is often described as having "ends," and also a "center," where Jerusalem is said to be (Ezek. 5:5, 38:11, 12, and Ps 22:27 and 59:13). A flat, circular earth would square well with such speech.
Notice also the use of the phrases, "from one end of the earth to the other" (Deut. 28:6465); and "from one end of the heavens . . . to the other end of them" (Ps. 19.4-6). The writers of those passages were obviously thinking in terms of opposite "ends" of a flat surface. This is further corroborated by Isaiah 11:12, "Gather [them] from the four corners of the earth," and Revelation 7:1, "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth," which demonstrate that four flat directions (north, south, east, and west) remained the norm for the ancient Hebrews, even to the extent of a psalmist rejoicing, "He removes our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12), which, on a globe, is not irreconcilably distant. For on a globe, "east" eventually meets "west."
According to Genesis the earth was created before the sun, moon, and stars, which were afterwards "set" above the earth to provide light for the earth below. Likewise, as only on a flat earth, all the stars "fall to earth" when the heavens are shaken. "And the stars fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken by a mighty wind" (Rev. 6.13). "And the stars will fall from the sky . . ." (Matt 24:29 and Mark 13.25). Only on a flat earth with tiny stars hung above it to "light the earth," would their descent cause only negligible damage. This also explains why, according to Revelation 21, a "new heaven" has to be created to replace the one that "fell down" earlier.
Throughout Scripture the shape and construction of the earth is assumed to resemble that of a building (or a tent), having a firm, immovable foundation built by God, and a roof (or canopy) "stretched out" by God, overhead: "He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter, forever and ever" (Ps 104:5). "The world is firmly established, it will not be moved'' (Ps. 93:1). "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he set the world on them" (I Sam. 2:8). "It is I who have firmly set its pillars (Ps. 75.3). "Who stretched out the heavens . . . and established the world" (Jer. 10:12). "Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in" (Isa. 40:22). "Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain" (Ps. 104.2). "In the heavens . . in the true tabernacle [tent], which the Lord pitched, not man" (Heb. 8:2-3). "The One who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and has founded his vaulted dome over the earth" (Amos 9.6). "Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in his mighty firmament [i.e., sanctuary-shaped heavens]" (Ps. 150:1). Why no ball shaped, or sphere-shaped resumptions of heaven or earth?
Also, why no mention of the earth's movement, except in terms of an "earthquake?" And why was the shaking of the earth equated with a shaking of the heavens and the stars above? "The earth quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling" (2 Sam. 22:8). "The earth quakes, the heavens tremble" (Joel 2:10) Those were not mere "earthquakes," restricted to the surface of one relatively small planetary sphere. The biblical authors were attempting to depict a simultaneous convulsion of both halves of creation, God shaking the whole of creation from its roof to its foundation (namely, shaking the flat earth, and the heavens stretched out above the flat earth). "I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place" (Isa. 13.13). "There was a great earthquake . . . and the stars of the sky fell . . as if shaken from a tree" (Rev. 6:12, 13).
Of course, the book of Job does state, cryptically, that, "He hangs the earth on nothing, or, literally, without anything" (26:7) But that doesn't deny that God also hangs it solidly. Neither does such a verse suggest that the earth moved, or was spherical. Ancient Egyptian iconography, for instance, depicts ka, a personal power, directly supporting a flat earth disc. And, as Jeremiah 10 12 states concerning the mystery of the earth's ultimate support, which was an insoluble problem for ancient man, "He (Yahweh) established the world by His wisdom; and by his understanding he has stretched out heaven"
Apropos of any discussion of the book of Job is the fact that later in the book, God rebukes Job for having said, "He hangs the earth upon nothing," because such a statement is more than any man has a right to declare with certainty. God replies to Job sarcastically, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . On what were its bases sunk? Have you understood (or examined) the expanse of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this!" (Job 38:4, 6, 18). Jeremiah also declared that the mystery of the foundation of the earth was one that only God would ever know the answer to, "If the . . foundations of the earth (can be) searched out below, then I will cast off . . Israel" (Jer. 31:37). In other words, just as Israel will never be totally "cast off," the foundations of the flat earth are portrayed as ever remaining a mystery to man.
Furthermore, neither does the author of Job, in other passages, refrain from presupposing the earth's "flatness." For instance, "[God's] measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea," "Who stretched the line on [the earth]?" and, "He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens (Job 11:9, 38:5, and 28:24). Not to mention Job 38:13, which speaks of dawn grasping the earth by its "extremity or hem" (Heb. kanap; cf. Num 15:38 and I Sam 15.27) and shaking the wicked out of it. The picture is metaphorical, comparing the indubitably flat earth to a blanket or garment picked up at one end and shaken. In Job the flat earth's immobility is also asserted: God "leads forth" the constellations in "their season," instead of "leading forth" the earth in "its season." The earth, therefore, was considered immobile (Job 38:32), which agrees with the book of Joshua, where the sun, and not the earth, is commanded to "stand still"; and the book of Ecclesiastes, which says the sun must "return to the place from whence it arose" before it can "rise and set" again (Josh. 10:12-13 and Eccles. 5:1).
Against this vast array of scriptural evidence, inerrantists cite a single verse in Isaiah that they claim states the earth is a sphere, Isaiah 40:22 "He sits above the circle of the earth."
But there is an obvious link between Isaiah's "circle of the earth" and the "circle" inscribed at creation on the "surface of the waters" in Job and Proverbs. So, a flat circle appears like Nudace of the waters in Job and Proverbs. So, a sat circle appears like the most likely interpretation.
Moreover, if Isaiah had wished to write "sphere, globe or ball of the earth," instead of "circle," he could have done so, since he wrote elsewhere about a man being "rolled up tightly like a ball" (Isa. 22. 18).
And in discussing the creation of the earth Isaiah did not say that God "rolled it up," but that God "spread out the earth" (42:5), the Hebrew word for "spread" being used elsewhere in the Bible to depict a "pounding" or "flattening."
This "spread out" earth also lies beneath tent-shaped heavens. According to Isaiah 40:22, "He stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in" (the last part of the very same verse inerrantists cite in favor of 'sphericity").
Thus, I became convinced that Isaiah also viewed the earth as flat.
Finally, I discovered that the notion of a flat, circular earth also appeared in ancient Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek iconography and literature.
In fact, so clear are the biblical verses concerning the earth's shape that many of the fathers of the Christian Church--Lactantius, Diodorus, Severianus, and Chrysostom, to name a few insisted that Scripture taught that the earth was flat. Such a view was also defended by the Christian geographer, Cosmas Indicopleustes, in his sixth century work, Christian Topography.
As late as 1935, in Zion, Illinois, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, the first Christian preacher to own his own radio station, advocated the biblical view of the world's flatness in contrast to "modern astronomy."
Lastly, according to a study conducted by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics during the 1980's, almost one-half of children aged ten years and younger in the United States and other countries believe the earth is flat. And those who say it is round picture "round" as a giant pancake or a curved sky covering a flat ground. One in four thirteen-year-olds also believes the earth is flat.
In other words, people living during the infancy of observational science, could hardly have avoided perceived the world as flat. Indeed, it was so obvious to them that they never bothered to state outright that "the world is flat," until the idea of sphericity arrived contesting the notion of flatness. But, their figures of speech and iconography reveal what their view of the world's shape was.
17. Quoted in Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N. Sterling, Will Rogers' World: America's Foremost Political Humorist Comments on the Twenties and Thirties--and Eighties and Nineties (New York: M. Evans and Company, 1989).