Night with a Utilitarian Naturalistic Pantheist*

I arrived home just now from having the most in-depth religious discussion I have ever participated in. It seems to have gone absolutely nowhere, but like I said the other day, that isn’t for me to say or know. God can allow hearts to change.

I and the young man I was talking with remained calm, patient, and kind with each other, but I still came away from the discussion a little angry. I realized this as I was driving and it surprised me quite a lot. Why should I be angry? I didn’t really care about winning an argument, did I? Surely my purpose wasn’t in winning an argument but in him seeing the truth, wasn’t it? On reflection of my anger I realized it wasn’t that I was angry about the losing of an argument but my anger was toward his hard heart and my enemy—the enemy of my God. This was seriously righteous anger.

I am angry at the power Satan has over individuals. I am angry that Satan can promise a certain amount of pleasure, security and fame on earth to those who will follow him, but it’s in return for souls captive to death and minds blinded to evil, even to reason.

Strangely, he says he’s jealous of my faith. I don’t think that’s completely honest but it’s how he views it. He’s jealous that I can believe something so strongly without knowing for absolute certainty that it’s right. He views religion as a comfort/peace of mind and that’s why he would want it but he says he’s incapable of that kind of faith. I think he hasn’t honestly looked as deep down into his reason for rejection of a personal God as he could. I believe he simply doesn’t want to submit to a higher authority–he wants to enjoy life without someone telling him he’s doing wrong.

Originally I thought unbelief was simply pride, and not weakness, but I’ve been thinking about the idea longer and decided pride leads to doubt, which is weakness and humility can lead to belief in Christ, which is strength. I first avoided coming to this conclusion because I was comparing myself with my friend and I couldn’t imagine how I could be stronger than him in any way. I was thinking about it all wrong though, God is the one who gives me strength and my friend is weak because he doesn’t know God. It’s about what God has done in us; we are all weak without him. The proud are not too weak to believe (if they were who would believe?) and those who believe were not mightily strong when they first began to believe. I think strength grows in proportion to the amount of faith in God one has and it takes humility to believe and surrender to a righteous, personal God.

It is belief in that Jesus Christ is God that we become strong, not belief in just anything. I say this because we must draw our faith from somewhere or someone and we can’t draw lasting strength from illusions. Apart from God the little strength we may find in ourselves or in others around us will quickly wither away. To have faith apart from God, even strong faith, one will still be a weak person. No matter what we believe in, we all have faith, but faith in faith is no faith at all–we cannot be saved by any mere convictions. Convictions do not create truth and truth remains whether we believe it or not.

Christians’ strength is not from their faith. To me, of all religions, it takes the least faith to accept that Jesus is the Son of God. I think as shallow as it may sound, part of the reason I am a Christian is because I am too scared and too weak on my own to take such a leap of faith as to believe Jesus is not the Son of God. It was easy enough for me to be convinced of the logic that Jesus is the Son of God, the belief that he existed and who he is was simply a step of faith (rather than a leap). Beyond this acknowledgement of God, to believe I am a sinner in need of this personal, righteous God took a humble heart. So since belief and acceptance aren’t a matter of faith alone, it follows that they aren’t a matter of our mind alone; they’re a matter of the heart as well.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9

Here’s how I picture it. God has given us wood to build our ship called ‘Life,’ an anchor called ‘Faith,’ set us in the ocean called ‘The World,’ given us a compass called ‘The Gospel,’ and a gravity called ‘Morality’ leading us toward the truth. ‘Truth,’ is the sand beneath the ocean, so gravity leads us to set our anchor down for it to hold fast. It’s our choice where we set anchor though and we may fight reason all we want.

We can do what we please with our ship and anchor, but in the end our strength lies not in the ship we’ve built, or in the anchor we’ve made strong. Instead, our strength (or lack-thereof) lies in where we’ve set our anchor and it will be measured by how deep we’ve let the anchor settle. If our pride is too great in the ship we’ve built and our gigantic anchor (forgetting we were given these resources and didn’t create them), we may hook it around the most beautiful sand castles in the air. Some dreamers enjoy practicing the ‘art’ of building these castles, and believing the most fantastic ideas they can think of or have heard—but these castles, though beautiful, are simply weightless illusionary ideas. Anchored in nothing we’re recklessly letting our ship drift to and fro.

It might be hard for us to let our anchor down in calm weather, because we feel steady enough without being rooted, but no matter what kind of ship we’ve built or where we’ve set our anchor storms will come, reminding us we aren’t in control. If our anchor is firmly buried in the sand when the storms come raging we’ll not be swept aside or shipwrecked.

No matter how large we each built our anchor, castles in the air will never become reality, and reality will not fade away with the absence of an anchor. The sand is always there, ready at any moment to give us life, but it takes humility to first acknowledge the weakness of our ship, then surrender to a power outside ourselves, and finally to simply let the anchor down.

If my friend and I died tonight believing what we just gave a defense for and he’s right in his beliefs then we’ll both go to heaven (if there is a heaven) because according to someone’s standards we’re both good enough. Okay, that works for me. If I’m right, I’ll go to heaven and he won’t (I’m not saying that to judge him but he himself said that by biblical standards he would not be welcomed into heaven). This doesn’t worry him enough to make a heart and lifestyle change.

One final thought about the evening. This young man has partially chosen against the Christian religion because of the way professing-Christians act. He’s known judgmental, hypocritical, close-minded, religious people who claim to be an example of Christ. What is the church doing? We’re turning people away and no wonder when many of our “bible” churches are so ugly. He flat out doesn’t want to be with people like that in an afterlife so if these so called “Christians” were filling heaven he would be content in hell. I find that understandable. I told him that to faith, just like money, there’s counterfeit and there’s the genuine thing and these arrogant people he’s met are a counterfeit to the real thing, but he’s already made up his mind about the whole belief system. He says I am one of two Christians he admires and respects. He went to church for years, claims to have been a Christian for four years and throughout the almost twenty years of his life growing up in Boulder as a social butterfly he has met an awful lot of people.

_________

* I refer to this friend as a naturalistic pantheist and utilitarian. He hasn’t said how he would refer to himself. I find these words well describe his belief system.

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