Changes we undergo "without knowing why"
by Edward T. Babinski
Kate: I started to lose interest in many things for no apparent reason---I quit smoking, I quit drinking, I quit shagging, I even quit using profanity, all without knowing why. This building pressure was driving me buggy.
Ed: We all adjust to whatever group we belong to, or even visit. It's a subtle fact of us being social creatures. If you became a BOB JONES UNIVERSITY type of Christian, and were a male, then you'd probably cut your hair above the ears too, "without knowing why," and thinking it was due to "God's supernatural inducements." In fact, a guy from Bob Jones with a Ph.D. in Bible Studies from that college and who edits Bible Review wrote me a letter and told me that exact story, that he "didn't know why" he cut his hair for God, but he just did, and felt "better" afterwards, even though nobody in the church had "told him" to do it. Of course the fact the he was the only one wearing long hair in his church and his brother had cut his hair earlier had nothing to do with that "supernatural revelation" that his hair ought to be shorter than it was. Or if you became a BOB JONES type Christian you'd probably dress more demurely as a female than you do now, nothing but skirts a little above the ankles, "without knowing why," and attribute THOSE changes to some "supernatural" inducement.
There's also thousands of different Christian denominations and sects, each with their own subtle interpretation of just what "rules" God wants them to obey, and lo and behold, everyone in each of those thousands of different denominations and sects each "obey" the particular "rules" that distinguish their den. or sect from the rest, "without" really "knowing why." (This also applies to NON-Christian religions and sects and the people in them as well, who often undergo changes "without" really "knowing why," and consider such changes miraculous, including drug addiction "cures," and alcoholism "cures," etc. The Scientologists have plenty of such "testimonies," as do Christian Scientists, Mormons, you name it!)
Speaking for myself, I visited a Buddhist Sangha for the first time yesterday and "without knowing why," fell into the Buddhist way of interacting via quiet conversation and meditation, all "without knowing why." We all do it. There's nothing really miraculous about it. And when I visit a church I change too, "without knowing why." Perhaps an even simpler and easier example to grasp is how we "change" when we're around relatives at a family gathering. We "become" the person they love most, or perhaps hate most, again, "without knowing why," which often frustrates people at such gatherings.
As for giving up smoking, I never started. I think non-smoking is the natural state, especially since no other animals naturally and voluntarily take smoke into their lungs! Yeuch. I'm glad to hear you lost interest in it. But then, being around non-smokers in a church atmosphere will certainly influence you and help you to change, rather the opposite of being around smokers in, say, a comedy club or dance club atmosphere. I also know of lots of people who have given up smoking, including my Grandmother, my Dad, and my Mother, who aren't born again Christians. People do it all the time. But a supportive atmosphere of non-smokers is a great help. If you think it's "God" who is "leading" you to give up such things, that can help you give them up. Kind of self-fulfilling thinking.
But read the stuff below too, to give you a fuller image of the confusion and non-uniqueness of "Christianity." It's a section of a paper I have on the web that answers the claims of "Josh McDowell."
McDowell argues that "The claims of great numbers of people confessing Christ are amazingly similar regardless of place, time, environment or background." Is McDowell oblivious of the fact that members of any religion, church, denomination, cult, political party, twelve-step program, or philosophical school of thought, tell "amazingly similar" stories of how and why they were attracted to their particular group? People who acknowledge the same beliefs and practices are naturally going to "astonish" one another with "amazingly similar tales" of who or what led them to do so, otherwise they would be somewhere else, believing something else. And of course, folks who leave such groups often tell "amazingly similar" stories of how and why they grew disenchanted with the particular group they left.
McDowell does not even begin to deal with the fact that today there are over 20,000 different Christian denominations, missionary groups and organizations (according to the Encyclopedia of Christianity). Indeed, within the religion known as "Christianity" there are nearly as infinite a variety of sects (each with their own weird beliefs and practices) as in Hinduism: From silent Trappist monks and quiet Quakers - to hell raisers and snake handlers; From those who "hear the Lord" telling them to run for president, seek diamonds in Uganda or sell "holy" cosmetics - to those who have visions of Mary, the saints, or experience bleeding stigmata; From those who believe the communion bread and wine remain just that - to those who believe the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into "invisible" flesh and blood (and can vouch for it with stories of communion wafers turning into human flesh and wine curdling into blood cells during Mass); From predestinationists to free will-ers; From universalists to damnationists; From Christian monks and priests who have gained insights into their own faith after dialoging with Buddhist monks and Hindu priests - to Christians who view Eastern religious ideas and practices as "Satanic"; From castrati (boys who sang in Catholic choirs and underwent castration to keep their voices high) - to Protestant choirs (singing Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," which was based on the melody of a drinking song) - all the way to "Christian reggae" and "Christian rap music;" From Christians who reject any behavior that even mimics "what homosexuals do" (including a rejection of fellatio and cunnilingus between husband and wife) - to Christians who accept committed, loving, homosexual relationships (including gay evangelical Church groups); From Catholic nuns and Amish women who dress to cover their bodies - to Christian nudists, and born-again strippers; From those who believe sending out missionaries to persuade others to become Christians is essential - to those (like the Anti-Mission Baptists) who believe that sending out missionaries and trying to persuade others constitutes a lack of faith and the sin of pride, and that the founding of "extra-congregational" missionary organizations is not Biblical; From Christians who believe Easter should be celebrated on one date (Roman Catholics) - to Christians who believe Easter should be celebrated on another date (Eastern Orthodox), which resulted in the Roman Catholics excommunicating all the Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire; From Christians who worship on Sunday - to Christians who worship on Saturday (the Hebrew "sabbath day" that God said to "keep holy" according to one of the Ten Commandments) - to Christians who believe their daily walk with "God" and love of their fellow man is far more important than church attendance; From Christians who stress "God's commands" to those who stress "God's love;" From those who teach that obeying the Bible's command to be "baptized with water as an adult believer" is an essential sign of salvation - to those who deny it is; From those who teach that "baptism in the Holy Spirit" along with "speaking in tongues" are important signs of salvation - to those who deny they are (some of whom see mental and Satanic delusions in all modern accounts of "Spirit baptism" and "tongue-speaking"); From those who believe that avoiding alcohol, smoking, gambling, dancing, "contemporary Christian music," movies, television, long hair (on men), etc., are all important "signs" of being "truly" saved - to those who believe you need only trust in Jesus as your personal savior to be saved; From Christians who believe sticking one's nose in politics is wrong - to coup d'etat Christians; From "stop the bomb" Christians to "drop the bomb" Christians; From "social Gospel" Christians to "uncompromised Gospel" Christians; From pro-slavery Christians to anti-slavery Christians; From Christians who wave their Bibles above their white hoods - to Christians "in the hood" who march for equal rights for people of all colors; From Christians who worry most about doctors taking fetal lives - to those who worry most about doctors of religion raising questions that might "abort" a young person's faith and their eternal life.
The history of Christianity is the history of controversies too innumerable to mention. Moreover, within each major "Christian" denomination there are fundamentalists, conservatives, moderates, liberals, and "everything in between," including those who are conservative on some subjects and liberal on others. There are Christians in the same churches who disagree on interpretations from Genesis to Revelation - from how (and when) the world began - to how (and when) it will end, all according to the same Bible.
A variety of "Christianities" flourished before fourth-century church councils at Nicea and Chalcedon heatedly debated and composed their definitions of "orthodox" Christian belief. "There was no orthodoxy - only the pluralistic search for truth...There was a pluralism and fluidity to Christian theological experience...and the later creeds from Nicea and Chalcedon are only two slices of the whole." And those "slices" remained the biggest pieces of the Christian pie via the use of political force. The first Roman Emperor who was a convert to Christianity, Constantine, introduced and presided over the first major church council at Nicea in 325 and afterwards assured unanimity by banishing all the bishops who would not sign the new profession of faith. In 380, another Roman Christian Emperor, Theodosius, passed a decree that read: "We shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment." Even the average Christians in the street were at odds with each other over matters of dogma. In the fourth and fifth-centuries citywide riots broke out between Christians with differing theological views and probably more Christians killed Christians at that time than the pagans had done during the previous centuries.
From the day the "creeds" of "orthodox Christianity" were nailed down by political decrees, to today, Christian sects have continued to arise. A few of the stranger ones that stick out in my mind include the Skoptsy, each of whose male members cut off their "male member" - to become literal "eunuchs for the kingdom of God." (Shades of "Heaven's Gate!") And there were the Shakers, who were convinced that the Bible taught it was "best" for a Christian to never have sex, not even for procreation. (They raised orphaned children, but not enough of the children embraced Shakerism, so the sect died out.) According to some sources, there was even a Dutch Protestant Christian sect whose members murdered recently baptized infants to ensure that the infants would go to heaven (a service also provided by some Catholic conquistadors who feared that if they left South American infants alive after baptizing them, then the infants might grow up and forsake Jesus for their parent's paganism and wind up in eternal hellfire).
Even something as innocuous as "kneeling" proved a matter of debate within Christianity. The Church Fathers who lived in the days before the first Nicene Council (in 325 A.D.), along with the Council itself, agreed to forbid kneeling on all Sundays, and on all the days between Easter and Whit-Sunday. Kneeling was frowned upon as a pagan practice.
The existence of so much variety within "Christianity" proves that every "Christian" testimony could not possibly be "amazingly similar." No doubt members of each group tell stories of their attraction to it that others in the group find "amazingly similar." But that's only true of members in the same group. For instance, Frank Schaeffer (AKA "Franky," the son of the famous evangelical Christian apologist, Francis Schaeffer) harshly criticized evangelical Christianity in his first book, Addicted to Mediocrity, which was followed by a funny, charming novel about his family and his evangelical Christian home life that highlighted the shortcomings of both, Portofino: A Novel. Finally, Frank left evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodox Christianity and now speaks and writes about his conversion to that branch of Christianity with the same kind of intensity that marked his father's advocacy of evangelical Christianity. See Frank's books, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion (in which he critiques the secularizing influence of Protestantism), and, Letters to Father Aristotle: A Journey Through Contemporary American Orthodoxy. One could also cite the testimony of Dr. Charles Bell, a former Protestant charismatic who, like Frank, converted to the Orthodox Church, and wrote, Discovering the Rich Heritage of Orthodoxy. Or there's Frederica Matthewes-Green testimony in her book, Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey Into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy. In fact, Peter Gillquist has condensed the stories of over two thousand evangelical Christians and their quest for "historic Christianity" in his book, Becoming Orthodox.
Thomas Howard began his spiritual quest as a Protestant fundamentalist (not unlike that of Josh McDowell), but grew to reject such a faith in favor of a broader more mainstream Episcopalian-evangelical faith. In his books, Christ the Tiger: A Postscript to Dogma, and, Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy & Sacrament, he outlines the changes he went through. Later, Mr. Howard left Episcopalianism for Catholicism and wrote, Lead Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome, and, On Being Catholic.
Scott Hahn, a former hard-line evangelical Presbyterian minister and professor of theology, described in his book, Rome Sweet Rome, and in numerous videos, his journey away from "false" Protestant doctrines, and his discovery of the one "true" faith, Roman Catholicism. A number of former Protestants have written similar books about their move to Catholicism, like, David Curie, author of Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, or, Stephen K. Ray, a former devout Baptist who became Catholic along with his wife, and wrote Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historic Church.
So, Schaeffer, Howard, Hahn and many others testify to their rejection of fundamentalism (and/or hard-line evangelical) Protestantism. In fact, they point out the "errors" in their former beliefs and the "truth" of either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Not a lot of "amazing similarity" with Josh McDowell's Protestant fundamentalist beliefs!
Of the nearly sixty "Christian" testimonies that McDowell hand picked for inclusion in ETDAV there are few (if any) testimonies from folks who became Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Church of Christ, conservative Calvinist, or snake-handling, Christians. (I can not resist adding that a congregation of snake-handling Christians in Scrabble Creek, South Carolina, had a psychological test administered to them by a sociologist who gave the same test to a nearby Methodist congregation as a control group. And the serpent handlers came out mentally healthier!) McDowell only cites testimonies from Christians of his own "narrow bibliolatrous" persuasion and ignores testimonies from Christians whose beliefs differ in significant ways from his own.
Among the testimonies that McDowell published, it would appear that some "converts" were raised as children to believe only in "Jesus and Christianity," and later "rededicated" their lives. Some had a dramatic conversion experience that happened at a specific time and place. Others had relatively undramatic experiences. Cartoonist, Charles Schulz, attended some "Bible Studies" and "thought about the matter" until he realized he "really loved God," yet, "I cannot point to a specific time of dedication to Christ." C. S. Lewis "decided to rejoin the church" during a trip to the zoo. Author, Eugenia Price, had a Christian friend and they argued about religion until Eugenia said, "'Okay, I guess you're right.' And that was it...Now I like to get up in the morning. He is my reason for waking up." Such stories are no more "amazingly similar" than testimonies from converts to other religions or belief systems.
McDowell cites fellow hard-line evangelical Protestants, E. Y. Mullins and Gordon Allport as experts on "Christian experience." (McDowell also cites Bernard Ramm - but I have discussed Ramm's "heretical" views above.) Naturally, Mullins and Allport write glowingly of "...irrefutable evidence of the objective existence of the Person so moving me...my certainty becomes absolute...the certainties of Christian experience...the blessedness of certitude." Such "absolute certainty" and "blessed certitude" is found universally among the most pious and devout adherents of different Christian denominations, other religions, and cults.
If McDowell had more of the curiosity of a genuine scholar, and less of the "blessed certitude" of an evangelist, he would have discovered that a far wider spectrum of religious testimonies and convictions exists than the narrow band he focuses on in ETDAV. For instance, there are the testimonies and convictions of Schaeffer, Howard, and Hahn, mentioned above; and those of many others recorded in the books below:
1) Journeys in Belief, edited by Bernard Dixon (testimonies of people who converted from Catholicism to Judaism, from Christianity to skepticism, from skepticism to Christianity, etc., each time convinced that their new beliefs supplied the "best, or final, answers").
2) Amazing Conversions: Why Some People Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion, by Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger (testimonies of some "amazing believers" and some "amazing apostates" contrasted and compared).
3) What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth (featuring the sincerest beliefs of Albert Einstein, James Thurber, Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, et al.).
4) The Courage of Conviction: Thirty-Three Prominent Men and Women Reveal Their Beliefs - And How They Put Those Beliefs Into Practice, edited by Phillip L. Berman (the beliefs and convictions of Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, Andrew Greeley, Harold Kushner, Jim Henson, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Mario Cuomo, et al.).
5) The Door Interviews, edited by Mike Yaconelli (interviews with Christians who are theologians, novelists, musicians, and politicians, and whose beliefs run the gamut from fundamentalism to liberalism and mixtures of both).
6) The Varieties of Religious Experience by the noted psychologist William James (who compares "once-born" and "twice-born" Christians).
7) Once-Born Twice-Born Zen by Conrad Hyers (about a school of Zen Buddhism whose descriptions of "satori" resemble being "born again").
8) The Inner Eye of Love by Robert Johnson (a Catholic in Japan compares Christian agape love with Buddhist karnua compassion; and compares devotion to Christ with devotion to the compassionate Amida Buddha).
9) The Marriage of East and West, and, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God by Dom Bede Griffiths (a Catholic who founded a Christian-Hindu ashram in India, who was also a close friend of C. S. Lewis, talks about his inter-religious discoveries).
10) The Spirituality of Comedy, The Comic Vision and the Christian Faith, And God Created Laughter: The Bible as Divine Comedy, and, The Laughing Buddha: Zen and the Comic Spirit by Conrad Hyers (the spirit of comedic grace shared by both Christians and non-Christians).
11) Cosmic Trigger, Vols. 1, 2 & 3 by Robert Anton Wilson (wild transcendental experiences as seen through the eyes of a "transcendental agnostic").
12) Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists by Edward Babinski (thirty-three testimonies from "narrow bibliolators" who converted to either moderate/ liberal Christianity, the wiccan religion, eastern mysticism, agnosticism, or atheism; including the testimony of evangelist Chuck Templeton, Billy Graham's closest friend, who became a "reverent agnostic").
Today, not just books, but also the World Wide Web makes available (to those who seek) many first-hand "testimonies" to the validity (and invalidity) of different religions and philosophies. And you can often e-mail the authors of such testimonies and receive e-mail from them in return, until your bloodshot eyes, carpel-tunnelled wrists, stiff shoulders, and patience, is frazzled trying to show them the error of their ways and the superiority of your own.
"Millions...From All Walks of Life"
Next, McDowell proudly proclaims, "The following testimonies of men and women from all walks of life demonstrate the unity of Christian experience. While each one embraces a different background, profession or culture, each points to the same object as the source of new power for transformed lives - Jesus Christ...Is the Christian experience valid? These and millions more believe so, and they have new lives to back up their statement."
But compare McDowell's proclamation with this one:
"People who have benefited come from all over the globe and from all walks of life. L. Ron Hubbard's technology knows no economic, ethnic, racial, political or religious barriers...Literally millions of stories are on file in churches and missions in all parts of the world. These are not the stories of the privileged or select. They are the successes of everyday people who were looking for answers and who were bright enough to know when the answers had been found."
The latter statement comes from the "Church of Scientology" web site which features glowing testimonies of miraculous healings, miraculous cures from drug and alcohol addiction, increased compassion, confidence, intelligence and the ability to "live life to its fullest."
It should be obvious to McDowell, as it has been to sociologists and students of comparative religion for quite some time, that every new religion begins with a founder and a few dedicated disciples (whom outsiders call "fanatics"). Next it is denounced as a "cult" or as an "unauthorized" "heretical" offshoot of a previous religion. After a hundred years or so the budding faith will grow and mature, or it will fail. It has either satisfied many of its members of its authenticity and importance in their lives, or it has not. If it continues to grow, then it will eventually include millions of satisfied customers drawn from all walks of life. There is Judaism (with its ancient and new branches, and its most famous "heretical" offshoot, Christianity); Christianity (with its denominations and "heretical" offshoots like Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, and the Unitarian Church); Islam (with its divisions and "heretical" offshoots like the universalistic Bahai faith); Hinduism (with its thousands of sects - including the Sikh religion that believes in one God and no caste system - and its most famous "heretical" offshoot Buddhism). All of them boast millions of followers from all walks of life. Who can predict what next seedling of faith will blossom into a full blown religion with "millions of followers from all walks of life?" (For a fuller discussion of this interesting topic, I recommend, The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy: Neo-Confucian, Islamic, Jewish, and Early Christian Patterns by John B. Henderson.) [END OF EXCERPT]