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May 19, 2011


Hope as a Path to Belief

by juju2112

Today, I’m reviewing a sermon by Pastor Jon Harris of New Life Church. Thanks to Kassi for the link!

“Either Jesus really is who he says he is, and his words are true, and whether Jesus has really done what he claimed, and that is that he’s risen from the dead to validate what he has said, or forget about the whole thing. […] Jesus is either the truth or he’s not. That’s the way he set it up.”

We’re in agreement! I do think it’s interesting that he says the reason Jesus is either true or he’s not is because “That’s the way Jesus set it up”. Do we have a preconceived bias here? Do you think the pastor’s aware than when you have a preconceived bias of what you expect to happen, you only remember the confirming evidence and you completely ignore the conflicting evidence?

“You can live for a few weeks without food. […] And you can live without water, maybe for what? Maybe a few days? […] Okay what about air? If you were to hold your breath right now, what, maybe a few seconds? A couple of minutes at the most? […] But one thing that you really can’t live without is hope. ‘Cause if you don’t have hope, you know what? You’re soul’s gonna die.”

I have a hard time seeing a problem with my soul dying, since I’ve never seen any evidence of a soul. What does it mean for a “soul” to die? Are there studies that show that non-religious people just randomly drop dead?

I used to think I could astrally project into other dimensions. I now realize that was all in my mind. So, I understand why these people feel like there is proof of a soul. But the truth is, the scientific method is the only way we can get around the extremely powerful biases we have than can warp reality in our mind.

Also, what about false hope? Is it good to waste away doing nothing because of your false hope when you could be taking real action to remedy your situation? Hope isn’t everything! Once you get a better perspective on reality, you’ll actually feel empowered to affect your life in more effective ways. You can actually do things instead of praying about them.

“Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God.”

There’s no good evidence that this actually happened. All we have is the bible, which has been heavily edited and vandalized throughout the 2,000 years that it’s been copied. So, sure! Place all your faith in hope in something that there is absolutely no evidence for!

I’m all for having hope, but it should have some basis in rationality. Having hope is not a justification for living a life believing a bunch of lies.

“Because there’s a difference between hope and optimism. You know, the idea of positive thinking. It has some merit, I guess. But the idea of positive thinking is this idea of self-talk that you can just talk your way into a new reality. And so, a lot of times, optimism can actually deny the facts. So, you can have a situation where you have a diagnosis, and you just kind of deny it.”

I think the similarities between hope and optimism are closer than you think. In fact, I think you’re describing religion perfectly here.

“But what hope does is something much more significant than that. What hope does is it will face the dirty, rotten facts of your life. Because it might be one of the worst days of your life. Just like a guy that I really respect. Well, he’s over 90. And, you know, he just told me this week, the guy’s a deep man of faith, he looked me in my eyes and he says, “Jon, I’ve had the worst day of my life this week”.  And it’s because a spouse that he loved dearly for almost 70 years passed away this week. This is a man of faith. But this is a man of hope. And he’s not saying, “You know, I know tommorrow’s going to be better.” It’s going to be different and tough for a long, long time because of that loss. But he does believe in hope, he does believe in a day after this with Jesus Christ. This is what hope is.”

Good story, but it doesn’t make it true. Don’t you care whether your beliefs are true? Should we only believe things if they sound very promising? Or should we value the truth over hope? Earlier, the pastor said that this stuff was either true or not true. But now, he’s making pleas to emotion. Is this the path to the truth? Is it the best way to measure reality? Through stories?

“And so, there’s this gigantic historical precedent that has taken place that has influenced everything here. And why in the world would that happen? When he was alive, he had very few followers. Did you know that? He had a core group of maybe 100 people. He had a tight core group of maybe 12. And there were tons of other messiahs claiming things at the time. And they were doing all this stuff. How in the world did this backwater guy, carpenter from northern Israel at the time, conquered by the Romans, how in the world did this turn into this gigantic behemoth where we have over 2 billion people this time and this season saying Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? How in the world would that happen? It just almost seems implasible that could ever… it is psychologically disengenous to say, “Well that was delusional, and they just thought up this story because they thought, It’s good, you know, don’t tell people the truth, tell them a story they need to hear. There is no way that could have happened. That is psychologically disengenous to ever think that that could be the case.”

Here’s what I hear from this:

“A bunch of other people believe this is true, so it must be true!”

“It’s old, so it must be true!”

I don’t think those are good arguments for the truth of something. Lots of things are believed by everyone that are nonsense. Did you consider that people might be gullible? That there are fundamental flaws in human reasoning that cause them to be easily fooled? Have you considered all the various cults that have popped up through the ages? What about other religions? What about people’s belief in aliens? Or, dare I say it, the world being flat? Lots of people believe lots of crazy things. Christianity isn’t special in this regard.

There’s also the implication here that if you don’t understand how something could come to be, it’s okay to assume that:

  1. It’s because there’s an all-powerful deity.
  2. That deity listens to your thoughts.
  3. He judges you.
  4. He interferes in human affairs.
  5. He loves to be worshipped!
  6. He can only accept you into heaven if you love Jesus.
  7. The only way he could think of to forgive you is for him to create an avatar and then have it killed.

Now, come on. This is a whole lot of assumptions that you’re just letting slip by into your brain just because you don’t understand something. Each one of these needs to be evaluated on their own, and their own evidence amassed before each one is accepted.

“It’s never too late for a miracle. God could have a miracle for each one of you. Maybe a miracle for you is a miracle from a broken heart? Maybe a miracle for you is that some gal will actually marry you?”

How is that a miracle? I know you’re not supposed to pray to be able to fly or go invisible, but this is ridiculous. Everyone falls in love. If you’re lonely and then you find someone, that’s not a miracle. It’s called life. Miracles are supernatural by definition. Meaning: They can’t be explained by natural laws.

“Do we tend to do that? Can we tend to say, “I’m going to do the God thing, but this is what I expect, God, from you for my life”. And God’s saying, “I have a plan for your life.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, I know, but I have a plan for my life, too. And so, God, I need you to cooperate with me on this.”

This is all just prep work for the rationalization people will need to do when they realize their prayers aren’t coming true. In a real scientific experiment, failures would show that prayer doesn’t work any better than chance. But with the confirmation bias that this preacher is prepping people for right here, they have a good rationalization to pay zero attention to the failures of prayer.

[Talking about the book of John, when Jesus magically appeared to the disciples out of nowhere after he had been resurrected]

“You could call that kind of an old school Star Trek thing. But even quantum physicists would agree that is is very feasible the idea of being able to take molecular mass and take it from here to there. They don’t know how it, but they know theoretically, at least, in our universe, laws of the universe, that is a possibility. So, I don’t know how it happened. I do believe it happened.”

Quantum physics references in supernatural claims is almost becoming a joke at this point. No one understands it, so people think they can just insert it into any magical claim in order to give it scientific credibility. Even if I had a source for an actual quantum physicist who says this, so what? You still need evidence that it happened before you should believe it!

“We are creatures of faith, you’re going to believe something. Even to say you don’t believe nothing is a belief that there’s nothing.”

You know what? Faith isn’t everything. You need to measure your beliefs based on evidence. Otherwise, how do you know if they’re true?

“And so he says this: “Physics proves that you cannot hit a 90-mile-an-hour fastball.” Now, the truth is this, I imagine most of you do not agree with his conclusion. Why? There’s one reason: We have all seen people do it.”

Pastor Harris goes on to warn you of people who will put together packages trying to disprove the resurrection, and how we have a history of people who’s lives have been changed because of the resurrection.

Okay, if physics said something that reality demonstrated to not be true, then physics was wrong. That’s why science is so great. You can measure it’s claims by the evidence. If the evidence shows otherwise, you can adjust your beliefs to more closely align with reality. Faith has nothing like this. If you believe something because of faith, you just believe regardless of whether it’s true or not. You’re not measuring anything.

And the bible isn’t good evidence. But even if it were, it’s only one thing. Good scientists take measurements from lots of different sources to try to determine if something is true. Why not try to match up the claims of the bible with other sources in reality to see if they’re true? That’s the way you determine truth: by checking your beliefs against lots of different aspects of reality.

Audio Link:

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Kassi
    May 19 2011

    Great review! I’d say more but it’s getting late and I’m all theology-commenting out for one day.


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