Monday, October 31, 2005

Conversations with God, part 6

The meaning and purpose of life

The whole reason God created us is so that God could experience herself through us. Our purpose in life, then, is to experience ourselves, and we do that by creating, deciding, and being Who We Really Are. Indeed, there is only one purpose in life, and it is stated in a few different ways.
There is only one purpose for all of life, and that is for you and all that lives to experience fullest glory (p.20).

The point of life is therefore to create—who and what you are, and then to experience that (p.104).

There can be only one purpose for relationships—and for all of life: to be and to decided Who You Really Are (p.122).
Given those three statements, you'd thing that life actually had some specific purpose, and according to God, "There is a divine purpose behind everything--and therefore a divine presence in everything" (p.60). But after finding out that God has a purpose in everything, and that the one purpose in life is for us to create and experience Who We Really Are, God turns around and says that life has no purpose at all. She says, "Not long ago you lived life as though it had no purpose. Now you know it has no purpose, save the one you give it" (p.157). This statement contradicts everything God said before. There's a divine purpose in everything, but life has no purpose except the one you give it. There can only be one purpose in life, but each person gives life whatever purpose he chooses.

Walsch's God can't even decide whether she cares what kind of lives we live. Near the beginning of the book, she says, "You are living your life the way you are living your life, and I have no preference in the matter. This is the grand illusion in which you have engaged: that God cares one way or the other what you do" (p.12). But then later, she says, "I desire for the whole life process to be an experience of constant joy, continuous creation, never-ending expansion, and total fulfillment in each moment of now" (p.65). Does God have a preference in the matter or not? Is there a divine purpose to life or not? We are given contradictory answers to both of these questions.

to be continued...

Part 7

Friday, October 28, 2005

Conversations with God, part 5

Does time exist?

One of the things that was created in the big bang was time. "As the elements raced forth, time was created, for a thing was first here, then it was there--and the period it took to get from here to there was measurable" (p.24). So time was created as a result of space and motion. But in the wacky world of Walsch, just because a thing was created doesn't mean it actually exists. Later in the book, God was assuring Walsch that all paths lead to God, and that it was just a matter of when a person would get there. Yet it turns out that "when" is a misnomer since time is an illusion. She says, "There is no such thing as an incorrect path--for on this journey you cannot 'not get' where you are going. It is simply a matter of speed—merely a question of when you will get there--yet even that is an illusion, for there is no 'when,' neither is there a 'before' or 'after.' There is only now; an eternal moment of always in which you are experiencing yourself" (p. 104). If it's true that time is only an illusion, then space and motion must also be illusions since that's what time is based on. But that means the whole external world is an illusion. If the whole universe is an illusion, then in what sense did God create it? Doesn't creation imply that it exists? But if it's an illusion, then God didn't create it after all. At most, God only created the illusion. (Who is having this illusion anyway?) The simple answer to all of this is that God contradicted herself, because in the beginning of the book there is every impression that the big bang was a real event which brought about a real physical world, and time is just as real. But now she's saying that time is not real but just an illusion.

to be continued...

Part 6

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Conversations with God, part 4

The worldview of the book

In the beginning, before time began, God was all alone, being the only thing that existed. But it would be a mistake to say that God was merely All That Is, for God was not only All That Is, but was also All That Is Not (p.24). Since God was both All That Is and All That Is Not, she referred to herself as the Is Not-Is.

The problem with the view so far is that it treats non-existence as if it were existence. God was the only thing that existed, but God was made up of both that which existed and that which didn't exist. But how can you be made up of that which doesn't exist? That which doesn't exist doesn't make up anything!

Anyway, God knew herself cognitively, but she wanted to know herself experientially. She couldn't know herself experientially because for any experience to happen, there has to be such a thing as otherness. There has to be two things so that one thing can experience the other. So God created a distinction within herself so that "this" and "that" could experience each other (p.22-23). To create this distinction, God exploded into an infinite number of parts.

Since there are two parts of God—the IS, and the Is Not—each exploded into something quite different. Out of the Is came spirit beings—our souls. We are all the children of God in the sense that we came from God. Collectively, we are God. Out of the Is Not (i.e. non-existence) came the physical cosmos, and it exploded in the big bang (p.25). So the universe was created ex nihilo.

Another problem with this view is that it contradicts a view later expressed in the book. Since God is all that is and all that is not, we must all be a part of God. We make up the part that Is. Anything that exists must be part of God. The contradiction comes on page 197 when we find out that God, whom we thought was the summation of all things that exist, is actually part of something bigger. Just as we are children of God, so also is God the child of another. But if God is the child of another, then God can't be all that exists, just as I am not all that exists. I'm only part of all that exists, just as God would have to be only part of all that exists. But if God is only part of all that exists, then God can't be the summation of all that exists. We have here a contradiction.

Anyway, God had created both the physical and the spiritual worlds. The purpose of the physical world is to allow those in the spiritual world to know experientially, not just conceptually. We spirit children were made to enter the physical world for that purpose (p.27). When we became physical, we forgot who we were so that we could choose to be Who We Really Are. The process of remembering allows God to experience herself. Here, and in several other places, God uses several clever puns to get her point across. "Remembrance" takes on two meanings. On the one hand, to remember means to recall what was previously known. But to re-member is to join back together with the other parts of God. It is through remembering that we are able to re-member.

The question in my mind was this: Why would we want to? To be absorbed back into the cosmic oneness, in my mind, is no different than ceasing to exist as an individual.

to be continued...

Part 5

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Conversations with God, part 3

Did God really speak to NDW?

There are a few possibilities about how this book came to be written: (1) God really did talk through Walsch, (2) Walsch believes God was talking through him when it was really him all along, (3) Walsch was knowingly pretending that God was talking through him, or (4) Satan or some other spiritual being besides God was talking through Walsch pretending to be God.

I don't think God or Satan was talking through Walsch, mostly because the book was too full of contradictions, and I would expect God or Satan to be a little more consistent. So either Walsch was deceived or he was deceiving. My impression is that Walsch was intentionally deceiving, and the reason I think that is because a lot of his questions seemed to be no more than set-ups for God to present some information. That is, they didn't seem like genuine questions. For example, God tells Walsch several times in the book that there's no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, should and shouldn't, or do and don't. Then on page 72, Walsch asks God several questions about why certain things are immoral, like sex. Was Walsch not paying attention, or was this just a setup for what was to come?

Another reason I think Walsch was behind this books is because the one opportunity God had to give any evidence that the book was inspired by her, she turned down. God refused to say whether or not we will see irrevocable and indisputable evidence of extraterrestrial life in our lifetime (p.72). She was quite willing to tell us that there was extraterrestrial life, but she refused to make any future predictions. It seems to me that Walsch was just being careful not to say anything in the book that would be falsifiable.

to be continued...

Part 4

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Conversations with God, part 2

How this book came to be written

According to the author, his life was full of disappointment, so one day he decided to write God a letter to express his anger and frustration. Just as he was about to toss his pen aside, his "hand remained poised over the paper," and then "God began talking with you. Through me" (p.1). The entire book turns out to be a dialogue between Walsch and God. He writes, "Before I knew it, I had begun a conversation...and I was not writing so much as taking dictation" (p.2). God was talking to Walsch through his own hand.

God wasn't just talking to Walsch, though. She was talking through Walsch to the rest of us. There seemed to be a sense of destiny in the way Walsch explained himself. He writes, "I want you to get into this dialogue as soon as you can, because what's really important here is not my story, but yours. It is your life story which brought you here. It is your personal experience to which this material has relevance. Otherwise you would not be here, with it, right now" (p.2). According to Walsch, then, I would not have been reading his book if the material in it did not have some relevance to my life. It all sounds as if I was meant to read it. [Maybe I was meant to read it so I could give it a good thorough critique!] Later in the book, God says, "there is no such thing as coincidence" (p.46), so it was no accident that I was reading his book. Whether it's true or not, such statements appeal to a person's need to feel important, and nothing satisfies that feeling more than the notion that God has a message meant especially for that person. It's all very seductive, and I found myself wanting to believe it. Was God really talking to me? Was little ole me really meant to read this? If I was meant to read it, then who am I to question it? It was meant for me, so it must be true. No wonder so many otherwise intelligent people have been impacted by this book. It appeals to their emotions, not their intellect.

On page 60, God said to Waslch, "You'll spend your whole life looking for God and not finding Her. Because you're looking for a Him," so throughout this review, I will be referring to God as "she" or "her" except where I lapse into habit and don't catch my own mistake. All of the italics in quotes are in the original unless otherwise indicated.

to be continued...

Part 3

Monday, October 24, 2005

Conversations with God, part 1

Since we're on the subject of the power of words, I thought I'd post a review I did of a New Age book a few years ago. In this book, written by Neale Donald Walsch, he claims that we all create our own reality by the power of our thoughts, words, and deeds. It's interesting that in Bill Gothard's book, he said God could've created the universe with his thoughts, but he chose to use words, and then in NDW's book, he claims that we can all create reality with both our thoughts and our words. Gothard's book wasn't half as crazy as Walsch's book, though, as you'll see if you decide to read this whole review.

This was a long review, so we'll be on this book at least for two weeks--maybe three, depending on how much of it I decide to post each day. That works out great for me, because I'm still too busy with school to do any writing for the blog. And here we go...

How I came to read this book

I was having a discussion on a message board about the nature of truth, and the person I was talking with [who was a Unitarian Universalist in case you want to know] insisted that truth is relative, and that we each create our own reality. Since truth is relative, he argued, those who make absolute truth claims are flawed in their thinking. I pointed out what seemed to me to be a flaw in his own thinking, which is that if truth is relative, a person who makes an absolute truth claim can't be mistaken because the claim would be absolutely true for him. By saying that those who disagree with the claim that "truth is relative" are flawed in their thinking, he was assuming that his claim was absolutely true. He was contradicting himself, because the only way a person can be mistaken in their claim is if there is some objective truth. If truth is relative, then the claim itself is only true for the person who makes the claim, but the person I was talking to was working with the assumption that "truth is relative" is an absolute truth, since he argued that those who disagreed with it were flawed in their thinking. His claim was self-refuting. I tried to point out the flaw in his thinking, and that's when he directed me to this book. He told me I would just have to read it for myself.

The person who let me borrow this book [who was also a Unitarian Universalist] told me that I'd "need to suspend this everything-has-to-be-logically-consistent point of view," which for me was a red flag. If you have to abandon logical consistency in order to hear what an author is saying, then that ought to clue you in on the fact that the book is irrational nonsense. And having read the book, I have found that irrational nonsense is exactly what it is. I don't know when I've read a book so full of contradictions before. That's my major complaint about the book, so I'll spend some time in this review going over some of them. I don't think I'm being unfair in my criticism, either, because I'm using the same standards the author used to criticize other views. He criticizes Christianity for not allowing you to ask logical questions which challenge the Christian worldview (p.64), and he criticizes people in general who complain about 40,000 people dying of hunger each day while at the same time bringing 50,000 people a day into the world by saying, "It is a plan which totally lacks logic or reason" (p.49) Apparently, the author thinks there's some value in logic and reason, and since he holds other viewpoints to those standards, I think it's appropriate for me to hold Walsch's book to those same standards. Of course even here he's inconsistent. He writes, "Every heart which earnestly asks, Which is the path to God? is shown. Each is given a heartfelt truth. Come to Me along the path of your heart, not through a journey of your mind. You will never find Me in your mind. In order to truly know God, you have to be out of your mind" (p.94). So should we take a rational approach to religious subjects or not? Apparently, we shouldn't when we look at Walsch's religion, but we should when looking at every other religion. It's a double standard.

As I was reading the book, I was looking for statements or assumptions about the nature of truth and reality. There was certainly plenty in the book about us creating our own reality, but nothing at all explicit about the nature of truth—whether truth is relative or absolute. There were a few statements which vaguely implied that truth is relative (e.g. "If you want to know what's true for you about something, look to how you're feeling about it" p.3), but the vast majority of the book seemed to be working with the assumption that truth is objective and absolute (e.g. "That's the problem with truth. The truth is relentless. It won't leave you alone. It keeps creeping up on you from every side, showing you what's really so. That can be annoying" p.140). There was a particular worldview which was being expressed, and which the author obviously thought was true and that corresponded with reality. I did not get the impression that the author was merely expressing what was true from his point of view, because he even went so far as to say that those who disagree are wrong.

The author did use phrases such as "the world of the relative" and "the world of the absolute," but he did not appear to be talking about the nature of truth in those passages. The "world of the relative," according to the author, is the world in which we live. The "world of the absolute" is the world in which God lives. For anything to exist in the world of the relative, it must exist relative to its opposite. For example, for love to exist, fear must exist also, since fear is the opposite of love. There also seemed to be another sense in which this is the "world of the relative." When God says that he built relativity into the universe, I got the impression that he was talking about Einstein's general and special theories of relativity, neither of which have anything to do with the nature of truth.

to be continued...

Part 2

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Power of Crying Out (Can words really have supernatural power?) part 11

Considering the above observations about words and statements, here's a few questions to consider, and try to consider them under the assumption that words have power. Does it matter whether the word is spoken, written, or communicated in sign language? What if the word is mispronounced or misspelled? What if the person intends to say something but uses the wrong word? Is it his intention that matters or is it the word itself? What if a person repeats something he heard in another language without actually knowing what he's saying? Do the words still have power? What if some ancient long ago began to experiment with sounds and, by a fluke, happened to say a few English words before English was even invented? What if a person makes a statement where grammatically, it could mean any of three different things? Which meaning carries the power? What about a pun in which a statement can actually mean two different things at the same time? What if the statement a person makes is grammatically incorrect? What if a person intends to say one thing, but actually says something else because of a slip of the tongue or because they use the wrong words or use bad grammar? Is it what thte person actually says that has power or what the person intended to say that has power? What if a speech is recorded played over and over again? Does it have the same power coming out of a tape recorded as it does coming out of the original person't mouth?

It seems to me that when you really think about what a word is and what sentences are, that words cannot really have supernatural power. A written word is only a string of letters made with ink or something. It only has meaning insofar as everybody agrees to associate the string of letters with something in reality. A spoken word is nothing but a sound one makes with their mouth and their vocal chords. It only has meaning insofar as everybody agrees to associate that sound with some particular meaning. So words can't literally have supernatural power. Words are just conventions used to convey ideas between persons who agree by convention to what the words refer to. Remove the agreement, and the words are just meaningless sounds. If words did have meaning in and of themselves, then the sounds are the power regardless of whether anybody attributes meaning to the words at all. In that case, one could harness all the power of the universe by exhaustively learning every sound it's possible to make with the mouth. But then he'd be using some sounds that weren't really ordinary words in any language. If you follow this train of thought, you find that a person who harnesses the power of words will end up using "magic words" which are typically just sounds in some secret language which bring about effects by their use. That's magic. It's not Christian.

Well that's about all I have to say. I wonder if I should send Bill Gothard a copy of this? :-)

Your ole buddy,

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Power of Crying Out (What are words anyway?) part 10

That's about all I have to say about the book, but before I finish, I want to say a little more about the idea that words have power in and of themselves. I just want to bring up some issues that it raises that I think are worth thinking about. What is a word, anyway? It seems to me that a word is a token used to represent something else. For example, when I write the word "car" the word itself is not a car, but it signifies a car. The car is actually out in the parking lot. The fact that we call the thing in the parking lot a "car" is just a convention. In another language we might call it something else. Even in our own language, we have different words for it. We might call the same thing an "automobile." So both words represent the same reality.

How is it that the word "car" comes to actually correspond to the thing in the parking lot? Is there something about the word itself? When spoken, the word "car" is just a sound. It is only by convention that we have come to agree to associate the sound "car" with the thing in the parking lot. You can imagine a person who is just learning English and who intends to refer to a motorcycle, but can't think of the word "motorcycle" using the word "car" instead. If everybody began to refer to motorcycles as cars, it would be okay, but by convention, we have come to associate "car" with somethign else.

In different languages, several different sounds may be used to refer to the same thing. Through time, words take on different meanings because they are used in different ways. Words have no meaning in and of themselves. They only carry the meaning we intend when we use them.

When we make a statement, we string a bunch of words together in such a way that the statement has a meaning. Take this statement for example: The car is in the parking lot. What does that statement mean? Well it has a subject. It's about "the car." And the statement says something about "the car." It says that the car is "in" the parking lot. So what would it take for the statement to be true? For the statement to be true, it must correspond to reality. In other words, when I say, "The car is in the parking lot" the statement is true if and only if in reality the car actually is in the parking lot. So just like words, statements have meaning inasmuch as the statement corresponds to reality.

to be cotinued...
Part 11

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Power of Crying Out (things that trouble me about Gothard's view) part 9

There are a few other things in this book that aren't directly related to his thesis, but are nevertheless a little troublesome. For example, on p. 30, he says that the early Christians were known as people who "call upon the name of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:2). Throughout the book, "calling" refers to using ones voice, so apparently, if we do not use our voices to call on the name of the Lord, then we're not really Christians.

Another thing that bothers me about his book is how on p. 84 he recommends that group prayer should involve everybody speaking out loud at the same time rather than one person leading the prayer. But this is contrary to the advice Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 14. Those who speak in tongues are to do so one at a time, and those who prophesy are to do so one at a time. Paul says to "let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner" (v. 40) for "God is not a God of confusion" (v. 33). If you're in a room full of people, and you're all speaking at the same time, that's not group prayer; that's individual prayer done in the midst of a crowd. Everybody's praying their own prayer, and you can't say 'amen' to what the others are saying since it's impossible to follow what they are all saying.

[Here I'm skipping part of the review, because it's not at all relevant.]

If you think about it, Bill Gothard's teaching about the advantages of vocal prayer over silent prayer could lead to some hairy-eyeballed consequences. In most of the stories, both Biblical and anecdotal, the purpose of crying out is for deliverance from some catastrophe. One of the potential catastrophes was when Mike tried to rob and kill Sherman (p. 14-18) and Sherman was delivered by crying out to God while Mike was in the car. Now imagine a scenario where an intruder breaks into the house of a woman living by herself. She hears him come in and becomes very afraid, so she hides herself in the closet and waits. Eventually, she hears him coming into her room and looking around. Terribly afraid that he's going to open the closet, find her in there, and either rape her or kill her, she debates with herself, "Should I pray silently, or should I cry out? Which would be more effective?" She may consider the fact that crying out would give her away, but she has to decide where her faith lies. If she believes that crying out is more effective than silent prayer, then she may believe God will deliver her if she cries out and trust that over silent prayer. The results could be disastrous. God doesn't promise anybody deliverance from every evil that might befall them in this life. On the contrary, Jesus said, "In this life, you will have trouble" (John 16:33).

to be continued...
Part 10

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Power of Crying Out (In what sense do words have power?) part 8

The overriding point in saying that words have power is to argue that words can be effective in prayer. There's only one of two ways that could work, though. Either it's because the words themselves have the power to bring about the desired result of the prayer, or it's because spoken words have the power to reach God's ears in a way that unspoken words don't.

Regarding the first possibility, it's clearly false. When we make our petitions, we're not making our petitions to some blind force, but rather to a personal God. Since it is to that God that we are making our requests, it is the power of that God that answers our requests, not the power of our words. If we think that somehow our spoken words are what produce results by themselves, then that's no different than a magical worldview in which incantations (or spell or chants) are used to bring about results. That's why I said this worldview has more in common with witchcraft than with Christianity in a letter I wrote you a while back. Even if we grant that God created the universe by the power of his spoken words, this can't be used to prove that our words have power. After all, we cannot create a single thing whatsoever merely by speaking. Just try it. Try to create a simple drop of water by speaking it into existence. You won't be able to do it. Obviously, God using the "power of words" cannot be a precedent for us using the "power of words." Our words have no power, and that's a demonstrable fact.

Regarding the second possibility, it is also clearly false. Since God knows all things, even the deep things of our hearts and minds, then the "power of words" have no advantage over the "power of thoughts" to convey our requests to God. God knows them both equally well since God knows all things. So words can have no more power to reach God's ears than our thoughts do. On p. 18, he writes, "Do you ever wonder why some of your prayers don't seem to reach the 'ears of God'?" Apparently, he thinks it's because they aren't audible as if God is more likely to literally hear our prayers if we speak them out loud than if we pray silently. But I don't think God has anymore trouble hearing silent prayers than our vocal prayers. Which is a good thing for people who are unable to speak!

to be continued...
Part 9

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (three proofs on the power of the spoken word) part 7

On p. 24, Gothard makes the case that "Spoken words have power," and he gives three proofs. First, he quotes Proverbs 18:21, which says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." He may mean simply that our words have consequences. For example, a witness to a muder trial can bring about either the life or death of the person on trial. A judge, by his spoken verdict, can bring about the same result. There's nothing supernatural about this sense of the tongue having power, but it's clear from Gothard's second proof that this is not what he has in mind. He thinks spoken words literally have some kind of inherent power in and of themselves. But such is not taught anywhere in the scriptures. The sense in which words do have power is found in James 3. It is with our words that we bless and with our words that we curse, and our words have consequences.

In his second proof, Gothard points out that although God could have created the world with his thoughts, he chose to use the words of his mouth. Apparently, he thinks the spoken words of God had the inherent power in themselves to create the universe, but such an interpretation has many difficulties. First, God is spirit. He doesn't literally have a mouth. Second, sound is, by definition, vibration through a medium. For sound to happen, then, there has to be some medium through which vibration can take place. There has to be some material to vibrate. But before God created anything, there was no such medium. So God could not have literally spoken words in the same sense that we speak words in order to create anything. Third, it was the power of God himself that created the universe, not the power inherent in the words. If it were the power of words that created the universe, then we would be able to create universes by speaking those same words. Since we can't, it's obviously not the words that have the power, but God.

In his third proof, Gothard points out that in a wedding, the bride and groom need to say their vows out loud so the witnesses can hear their voices, and so it is with God. But there's a reason witnesses need to hear the voices of the bride and groom that doesn't apply to God. The witnesses have no other way to witness the vows except by hearing the spoken word. Surely the God who searches the heart and knows all things does not need to hear our voices in the same way that human witnesses do. So his analogy doesn't work at all.

to be continued...
Part 8

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (Does God need to literally hear our voices?) part 6

There are basically two reasons Gothard gives for why he thinks audible prayer is more effective than silent prayer. First, God can hear audible prayer, and second, spoken words have power.

In chapter 2, Gothard developes his case that "God actually hears us" (p. 22) and he apparently means that in the most wooden literal sense. He cites scripture after scripture showing that when people used their voices, God heard them. The implication is that God literally heard them because they literally made sounds with their voices. On page 18, he asks, "Do you ever wonder why some of your prayers don't seem to reach 'the ears of God'?" The implication is that our prayers don't reach the 'ears of God' because we aren't praying audibly. Notice the use of italics to emphasize his points when he quotes Daniel 9:17-19:
Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications....O my God, incline your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name....O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.
Another example is Psalm 18:6, which says, "In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help; he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry for help before him came into his ears."

Since God doesn't literally have ears, it's obvious that this passage is figurative. To hear somebody doesn't mean to literally perceive audible sounds. Since God is all-knowing, he knows everything everybody is saying, and yet the Bible tells us there are occasions when God does not hear prayers (Isaiah 59:2). Obviously, then "to hear" means to respond or to be moved to action, not to perceive sounds. This same sense of "hearing" is used in John 8:45,47 where Jesus said, "But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me....He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." In this context, the crowd had no problem literally hearing what Jesus was saying. But they could not accept what he was saying as true. It is in that sense that Jesus said they do not hear the words of God. Jesus also uses this same sense of "hearing" in John 10:27 when he says, "My sheep hear my voice." Obviously, everybody can literally hear Jesus' voice during his ministry, but only his sheep are able to believe and respond to it. That includes you and me. We never even literally hear the voice of Jesus, and yet because we are his sheep, we hear his voice in the sense that we recognize that Jesus is our Lord, and we follow him.

to be continued...
Part 7

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (from rebuttal to refutation) part 5

So far, I've just tried to show that Gothard has not made his case. At this point, I haven't shown that his thesis is false. It may be true for reasons he hasn't given us. So now, I want to say specifically why I think his thesis is false.

The first reason I think his thesis is false is because, contrary to his assertion on p. 14 that "the Bible makes a distinction between 'prayer' and 'crying out to God,'" the Bible makes no such distinction, and nowhere in his book does he even attempt to substantiate that claim. In fact, there is no distinction. To pray literally means to ask or petition. In all of the scriptural examples of people crying out to God, they were making petitions, so they were praying out loud. Oddly enough, Gothard seems to contradict his own assertion by quoting scriptures that are about praying in order to support his thesis about crying out (e.g. Daniel 9:17-19, Psalm 102:102).

The second reason I think his thesis is false is also provided by Gothard himself. On p. 27 he offers scriptural examples of when silent prayer was effective (e.g. 1 SAmuel 1:10-15) and on p. 82 he offers scriptural examples of when crying out was not effective (e.g. Psalm 22:2).

to be continued...
Part 6

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (effective vocal prayer v. ineffective silent prayer) part 4

The third line of evidence Gothard uses to support his thesis is, in my opinion, the only line of evidence that is even relevant to his case. It is anecdotal evidence of occasions where "crying out" yielded results when silent prayer did not. If anything, that would be the only evidence that actually supports the thesis that vocal petition is more effective than silent petition.

All of these stories fall under the heading, "The difference it can make" on p. 39. In one story, a teenage boy prayed for God to help his family, but nothing happened. Then in another story, a family had been praying consistently that dad would get a job, but to no avail until the teenage daughter went outside and "cried out." Her dad got a job the very next day. The moral of these stories is clear--crying out loud works, and prayer doesn't.

Although that is the clear intention of the stories, I don't think they actually prove his case. First, among the wealth of stories Gothard obviously has at his disposal, these are the only ones that actually support his case. Second, the stories are ambiguous. All we know about them is that it involved a teenager with unspecified family problems in one story, and a teenager, her family, and her father in another story. We know nothing else about these people or where these stories came from, and precious little about the circumstances. Third, all one would have to do to prove the opposite conclusion is to find one story where a silent prayer did yield results and a vocal prayer did not. That's why anecdotal evidence is so weak. It's selective. Gothard has chosen stories that support his thesis and ignored stories that are in conflict with his thesis.

I suppose there is a fourth line of evidence, but it's implicit. On p. 19, Gothard says that the reason prayers in Bible times were so effective and modern prayers are so ineffective is because the people in Bible times "cried out" and modern people don't. I have two problems with this argument. First, it's far from obvious that modern prayers are any less effective than prayers in Biblical times. Second, even if that observation is true, how does Gothard know that the reason for the difference has anything to do with whether prayers are said out loud or silently? He just assumes that!

to be continued...
Part 5

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (anecdotal evidence) part 3

The second line of evidence he uses is anecdotal evidence. For such a short book, he uses and impressive number of anecdotes. I counted seventeen in all, and I'm not sure if I may have missed some. There were only about three of the anecdotes that even seemed relevant to me. All of the stories showed that people cried out to God, and God answered them. But that doesn't show that God answered them because they cried out rather than using silent prayer.

Anecdotal evidence is notoriously unreliable in the first place, and there are a few reasons to be suspicious of Gothard's stories. The reason they're unreliable isn't necessarily because they're untrue, but because they're selectively chosen. You could prove the opposite thing by merely selecting different stories. [Some people call Gothard's method "cherry picking."] But let me mention a few of the reasons I'm suspicious even of the reliability of these anecdotes.

First, I'd just be very impressed if one person could remember that many stories all illustrating the same point. I was impressed with the sheer volume of stories until I got to p. 86 where he gave the address to a web site where you could submit your own "crying out" stories. That [possibly] explains where he got all those stories. But that throws the stories into doubt because of their questionable origin. It's impossible to verify them. The only anecdotes that really count in his favor are the ones that he was personally involved in. The rest are just hearsay and don't differ substantially from the urban folklore you see being passed around on the internet through email forwards.

Another reason that I'm suspicious of his anecdotes is because of the wording he uses in them. Notice the similarities in all of these episodes of crying out:
"O Lord, Abba Father, deliver Anna from cancer and raise her up for your glory, in the name of Jesus!" p. 10
"Father in heaven, hear my cry and deliver me from this present evil..." p. 16
"O God, deliver Dima from death and raise him up for your glory." p. 29
"O God, save me!" p. 38
"O God, deliver me!" p. 39
"O God!" p. 40
"Abba, Father, in the name of Jesus, deliver me from anger and lust!" p. 46
"O Lord, Abba, Father, deliver us from this situation!" p. 50
"O God, deliver me from being overweight and give me self-control!" p. 52
"Oh God, Abba Father, give us another child--and make it a girl!" p. 57
"Abba, Father, convict the thief and return the truck." p. 61
"O God, deliver my daughter from this boy!" p. 62
"O Lord, abba, Father, deliver this property to us for Your work!" p. 81
"O Lord, deliver this man from his infirmity!" p. 84
Notice the repetitive use of "O God" "O Lord" and "Abba Father" followed by "deliver." Now don't you get the impression that all of these prayers were authored by the same person? It would be hard to account for their striking similarities otherwise.

[I suppose Gothard could've written a book proving that the use of "O God, "O Lord," "Abba Father," and "deliver" causes prayers to be more effective than prayers used without them. He could write such a book with all the same stories as this book to prove his case.]

One last reason to question at least the majority of these stories is that he doesn't cite his references, where he got the stories, or even the names of the people involved. In the first anecdote (the woman healed of cancer) he says that God answered their prayer with a medical miracles, and he says, "Just ask her doctor," but he doesn't tell us who her doctor is! And the only thing we know about her is that her first name is Anna, which for all we know could be a pseudonym. Authors typically change the names of characters in true stories to protect their privacy.

to be continued...
Part 4

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, (post hoc ergo propter hoc) part 2

There appear to be three lines of evidence Gothard uses to support his thesis. First, he makes the point on page 14 that throughout the Bible, people use their voices and God answers their prayers. Then the rest of the book is filled with example after example of where this is the case. The mistake I think he is making is in assuming that in each case, God answered because they used their voices as if it were the method used for petitioning God rather than the fact of petitioning God that compelled God to act. There are two reasons I think his assumption is false. First, because it isn't clear in each case that "crying out" literally means to use your voice. Gothard argued on p. 13 that "crying out" means to use your voice, but then he contradicted himself by showing on p. 27 that God "can hear the faintest silent cry of the heart. Even if it's only a passing thought," and he gives scriptural examples of effective silent prayer that does not involve the use of the voice. The second reason I think his assumption is false is because praying out loud was just the common way people prayed. He makes this point himself on p. 24 that "not only prayer, but even reading was commonly done aloud in ancient times." So the fact that so many of the prayers in the Bible involved people using their voices is only incidental. It's simply because that was the common way to pray. It doesn't show that praying that way has some advantage or that it's prescriptive. As far as I can see, Gothard never substantiated his assumption that these Biblical prayers were answered because they used their voices rather than silent prayer.

to be continued...
Part 3

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Power of Crying Out, part 1

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine sent me a book called The Power of Crying Out by Bill Gothard. I wrote her a letter in return giving her my thoughts on the book. Unfortunately, there's a lot more fluff in Christian literature than substantial writing. This book is a good example of the kind of fluff that becomes popular for a while, but is really full of silly ideas and poor argumentation. There's a lot of overlap between the ideas in this book and the ideas in the Word-Faith movement (especially the whole idea that words have power), so I thought I'd post this letter in the next few blog entries. And in case anybody is wondering why I'm always posting stuff I wrote already instead of new stuff, it's because I'm in school, and I work, and I have very little free time. I haven't even made a bow in over a month, and that's shocking! Here we go...

Hello Fraulein Jessica,

When you sent this book to me, I asked if you were sending it to try to "brainwash" me. You said, "sort of," so I was curious to know what it was that you were trying to convince me of. Judging by the content of the book, and by an earlier conversation we had, I'm guessing that what you meant to try to convince me of was that words have power. So I'm going to give you my thoughts on this book as a response.

To be true to what the author intended rather than assuming that he was advancing the point I take you to have wanted to convince me of, I want to look specifically at what he was trying to demonstrate in this book.

He begins the book with an anecdote about a woman being healed of cancer, and he asks, "Did it matter that we cried out to God, calling on Him with loud voices? That is what this little book is all about" (p. 11, emphasis in original). He means to advance the point that it did matter. On p. 12, he makes the point that there's a difference between "prayer" and "crying out to God," and on p. 13, he argues that "crying out" means to use our voices in fervent appeal for God's help. The whole thesis of the book, then, is to argue that using your audible voice to cry out to God is more effective than silent prayer.

There are a few minor points he makes, though, that have some bearing on the "power of words." He attempts to explain why crying out is more effective than silent prayer. So I'm going to look at those reasons to see if they justify his conclusion.

to be continued...
Part 2

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Do miracles violate the laws of nature?

I wrote a paper on Hume's argument against miracles for one of my philosophy classes, and I've been debating with myself lately about whether I should post that paper here. You see, the problem with writing papers for school is that you don't get to say what you want to say the way you want to say it. You have to focus more on fulfilling the criteria your teacher is looking for. There are some things in that paper that I'd like to post on this blog, but I don't really have the time to write it the way I want to write it.

One of the issues I addressed in there is whether or not miracles violate the laws of nature. Since I've been thinking about that tonight (October 4), I've decided to go ahead and write a blog about it.

A miracle is an event in the natural world whose cause is not natural. For example, Jesus rising from the dead is a miracle. Since the resurrection happened to Jesus' physical body, it was an event in the natural world. The resurrection was not caused by natural processes, though. It was caused by divine agency. That's what makes it a miracle.

A law of nature describes natural processes. It describes the way nature behaves. For example, the law of gravitation says that there is an attractive force between any two objects that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and indirectly proportional to the square of the distance between them.

What would it mean for a law of nature to be violated? If a natural law describes the way nature operates, then a violation of a law of nature would entail nature doing something contrary to what the law describes. Nature would have to deviate from its usual course. If it turned out that in some isolated case, there was not an attractive force between two objects, that would be a violation of the law of gravity.

Assuming I've explained "law of nature" and "miracle" correctly, it seems clear that a miracle is not a violate of a law of nature. When we say that a miracle has occured, we aren't saying that nature has spontaneously done something other than it usually does, or that some event is uncaused. We aren't saying nature has done anything unusual at all. Rather, we are saying some supernatural force has acted in nature to bring about some effect that nature could not have produced by itself.

People do not naturally rise from the dead. Nature does not deviate from its course in order to bring about resurrections. Rather, resurrections are caused by supernatural agents, such as God.

When God acts in nature, nature accomodates those causes according to the ordinary laws of nature. Take gravity for example. If the law of gravity is true, then an object will fall to the earth until it is stopped by some force acting against it. When it lands on a surface, for example, the surface will exert a force equal to the force of gravity in order to keep the object from moving any farther. When we catch a falling rock in our hands, we do not violate the law of gravity by preventing the rock from falling. Rather, we apply a force up to counter the force of gravity pulling the rock down.

Now suppose you see a rock sort of floating there in midair. You pass hoops around it, put your hands around it, and take all kinds of measurements, and you can find no physical causes that keep the rock suspended in midair. If there is nothing at all causing the rock to remain in midair, you might say the event was a violation of a natural law. Nature was, by itself, doing something other than is usually does. But if it turned out that God or some angel was causing that rock to remain in midair, then the event is a miracle, not a violation of any law of nature. Nature didn't produce the result; it only responded to a cause. It is quite usual in nature for rocks to remain where they are caused to remain.

If you think about it, a violation of a law of nature isn't even possible, because it would entail a logical contradiction. If some law describes the way nature behaves, then any way nature behaves would have to be part of the description. If it turns out that there are objects without any attractive force between them, then the law of gravity simply isn't true. It needs to be revised to account for the anomoly. If some law said, "X happens in situation Y," and there was some situation, Y, in which X did not happen, then reality contradicts the law. The law does not accurately describe reality. Any true law of nature must accurately describe the way nature behaves, so whatever nature does would have to be accounted for in the description.

But there's nothing logically contradictory about a supernatural agent having causal influence in the natural world. So a miracle cannot be a violation of a law of nature.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What is faith? part 5

The apostles didn't expect converts to accept the gospel without reasons. They actually gave arguments for why the gospel is true in order to pursuade people. In Acts, 2:22-36, Peter argues that Jesus is the messiah by pointing to his resurrection, and he points to the empty tomb of Jesus in contrast to the occupied tomb of David as evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead. Acts is full of examples of the apostles (especially Paul) debating and trying to pursuade. Here are just a few examples:

Acts 9:22 "Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ."

Acts 9:29 "He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him."

Acts 18:4 "Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."

Acts 18:28 "For he [Apollos] vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ."

Acts 19:8 "Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God."

In his own writings, Paul talks about his own purpose in defending the gospel and trying to pursuade people of its truth:

2 Corinthians 5:11 "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men."

2 Corinthians 10:5 "We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Philippians 1:7 "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me."

Philippians 1:16 "The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel."

Not only does he think he should defend the gospel, but he also admonishes us to defend the gospel. He writes, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:5-6). And again, Peter tells us to be prepared with reasons for the hope that we have and to be able to articulate these reasons to other people with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

For all of these reasons, I take faith to mean "trust in what you think is true," and I think the notion that faith is "belief without reasons" is at odds with what the Bible says.

That's it for the email.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What is faith? part 4

Another scripture sometimes used to support the notion of "belief without evidence" is John 20:29 which says, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Again, it is wrongly assumed that "not seeing" equates with "not having reasons to believe," which is clearly false, and the context bares this out. In the context John writes, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). The entire gospel of John, then, is an apologetic. John was giving reasons to believe in Jesus. He would've been in a hopeless contradiction if, on the one hand, he gave reasons to believe, and then on the other hand told us "blessed are those who believe without reasons." Thomas had prior reason to believe in Jesus even before he saw him. He had the testimony of his companions that they had seen Jesus alive. So the lesson being given in the story of doubting Thomas isn't that we should believe without reasons, but that we are blessed to have a basis for belief in Jesus without having to see him with our own eyes.

One other passage used to support blind faith is 2 Corinthians 5:7, which says, "We live by faith, not by sight." Again, lack of sight is wrongly taken to mean lack of reason. If we keep in mind Hebrews 11:1, we can see that the contrast between living by faith and living by sight is not a contrast between living without reasons and living WITH reasons, but rather, it's a contrast between living with hope and living with the realization of our hope. We live by faith in the sense that we hope for what we don't yet have rather than by having the thing we are waiting for, namely the resurrection. Check out the context, and you'll see how well this understanding fits. Paul is talking here about our desire to be with Jesus, so he's clearly talking about hope for something in the future. He's not talking about believing something we have no reason to believe.

Part 5

Monday, October 03, 2005

What is faith? part 3

I want to look at a few more passages, especially the ones that are commonly used to advocate this notion of "belief without reasons." You often hear people use the phrase, "child-like faith," and this is supposed to mean some kind of naive approach to Christianity. The idea comes from Matthew 18:2, Mark 10:15, and Luke 18:17 which says, "Whosoever shall not recieve the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." In Mark and in Luke, we're left to interpret for ourselves in what way we are to be like children in order to enter the kingdom of God, and most people seem to take it to mean we're supposed to have a blind and naive faith. That's where the phrase, "child-like faith" comes from. But I think this is a mistake for two reasons.

First, Matthew doesn't leave us to speculate about what it means. He clarifies it for us. He writes, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." So far, he's saying the same thing as Mark and Luke, but he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say, "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." In answer to the question, "In what way are we to be like children?" we can see that it has nothing to do with naive thinking, but rather, it has to do with having humility. We are to enter the kingdom with humility, not with blind naive faith.

Second, if we take it to mean that we are to think like children in order to enter the kingdom, we will be in direct contradiction with Paul who wrote, "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men" (1 Corinthians 14:20). In the NIV, it says, "Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults." Earlier in the same passage, he wrote, "When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things" (1 Cor 13:11). Clearly, then, the Bible doesn't advocate that we have "child-like faith." We are to be like children by being "innocent about what is evil" (Romans 16:19), but we are to be adults in our thinking because "a simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps" (Proverbs 14:15).

Part 4