Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Finding an Unseen God - Alicia Chole

When I selected this book to review for theooze.com, I did so because of the description. I was intrigued that the author had moved to Christianity from an Atheist point of view. I find the views of the truly atheist intriguing, and I was curious how she got around some of the common barriers that would keep one from theism. However, I ended up leaving this book deflated because I felt that none of my questions were satisfied.

So overall, this review is truly a critique. I don't like writing this kind of piece because someone poured their soul into this work. Also, because I feel unqualified. She is a published author... let's see... where are my published works? None to be found. Somehow it feels like I am backseat driving.

So let me start out with what I did like. The author is a wonderful story teller. Her book goes back and forth chapter by chapter between the narrative of her life, and the commentary on those parts of her life. She brought me into the tale of her journey and I cared about the directions she was taking. Particularly fulfilling were the parts that dealt with her relationship to her father. She knows how to translate love to the written page.

What I did not like in her book was the commentary. To me, it seemed very contradictory and inconsistent. She seemed to vacillate between speaking of the large God of the Universe... to the smaller god of evangelical Christianity. She wanted to speak of the freedom of questioning... but only if you come to certain conclusions.

For example, she presents four filters with which she determines that Christianity is true. Christianity passes these tests, whereas other religions don't. They are that the religion is:
  • Livable,
  • Consistent
  • Sustainable
  • Transferable
She uses examples to show where Christianity passes each of these markers. The problem is that each of her points could be used against Christianity as well as for it. They also are passable by many other religions. These kind of logic efforts only work for the convinced.

I also feel she made a weak argument against pluralism. She falls into dualistic premises that require you to agree with her definitions to move forward in her argument... and she is rather prideful at that. She says that "world religions are incompatible at their core", and of pluralists:

World religions are NOT saying the same thing, but that is okay because religious pluralists either (1) understands each world religion better than those who practice it, or (2) is enlightened to the point where they can comprehend a reality ("all roads lead to the same god") that either eludes or offends actual adherents of the great world religions.

In this, she insists on the same "either/or" arguments that pluralists resist. To her, every Christian is a fundamentalist Christian; every Muslim is a fundamentalist Muslim, etc... What she ignores (or is unaware of) is the overlap that can exist. Where the Muslim who is genuinely moving toward the way of God finds himself having more in common with the Jewish man who is on the same journey, than he does the fundamentalists of his own faith tradition.

Also, she spends a lot of time using her filters trying to rationalize why Christianity is true. Yet in the end, it was a "Damascus Road" experience that brought her to Christ. She wants to show that Christianity can be rationally discerned... but that was not her route to conversion. It kind of felt like a bait and switch.

I have no problem with a "Damascus Road" experience because I had a similar conversion. I thought church and church people were annoying and God was far away. In less than an hour, God became my personal obsessive compulsive disorder.

But the more I learn about other religions, I discover that all my Christian experiences and arguments can be duplicated in those religions as well. The author tells the story of how a certain miraculous event stumped her atheistic mind. However, I have heard similar tales in every branch of Christendom and other religions as well. Her conversion story can be told in every religion since time began.

My difficulty is not that she had these experiences... but that she tries to make them sound unique. That somehow these validate Christianity, while invalidating everything else.

So in the end, I didn't see where she had anything new to offer. When she was an Atheist, she was right and everyone else was wrong. Now she is a Christian; and she is right and everyone else is wrong.

She switched jerseys, but is still playing the same game.

13 comments:

Redlefty said...

Excellent review -- it was written very well and I understand exactly where you're coming from. It sounds like my opinion would be similar.

Steve H. said...

Andy,

I TOTALLY sympathize with your desire to validate the genuine and sincere religious experiences of others...but Christianity is, to some degree, exclusive in that by declaring yourself a Christian, you are, by default, declaring others wrong. (Christianity does not hold a patent on this mind you)

I mean, it is inclusive in that through Christ, it is available to EVERYONE, but the New Testament writers, as well as Jesus himself, basically were "exclusive" in how one came to God. Heck, the early Christian church called themselves, "The Way"...that pretty much declared everyone else "wrong" and I hazzard to guess they still slept pretty sound.

Compare that to churches these days with names like "Discovery", and"The Journey"...there are not to many more "The Way" churches around

Tit for Tat said...

Something that is very different about atheism and Christianity is that one says show me the proof, the other says just believe me. The woman sounds like she just wants to be believed regardless of her facts.

Bruce the Agnostic said...

Andy,

Great review.

I do think Steve is correct tho. Christianity, along with many other religions, is exclusive. The essence of being a Christian is that I am a follower of Jesus. There are things "I believe."

I have found in recent discussions on my blog that some Christians jettison most everything about the Christian faith but Jesus, yet want to still be called a Christian. They don't want the Bible but they want Jesus.

This all seems intellectually inconsistent to me.

Bruce

Andrew said...

Overall, I have no problem with someone wanting Jesus but taking a pass on the bible. If one is going to interpret scripture the way most of Christianity tends to, I think that might be a healthy move. Bible worship is pretty common in the Western church. But Jesus warned against that trap, "You diligently study the scriptures, because you think that by them you gain life". I always liked the line from the movie "Saved" - "This (bible) is not a weapon!"

Yet for many, that is what it is. They study apologetics so they can trap, trick, or ensnare the "other". I think this is a result of Christianity moving from an Eastern to a Western religion. It is about being right, better, faster... winning.

For every exclusivist scripture one could quote, I could give an easy contrary. So which is it? That's why I think the bible, amongst other things, is one giant Rorschach test. What do you see? How do you read it?

And I agree that Christianity doesn't hold a patent on this. If it isn't religion, it's politics, or the way to teach children. We will argue to the death over anything and everything... it is not a religious failing, it is a human one.

So the way I see it ( I too have my biases),is similar to the movie Wargames. Joshua saw the futility of tic-tac-toe and the no win scenario in nuclear confrontation. So as I look at the end-game of our "competitive" philosophy mentality, I have to agree with Joshua:
"Strange game... the only way to win is not to play".

Bruce the Agnostic said...

Love the not playing quote.

Doesn't the Christian, at some level, have to embrace the Bible (the written form of the oral traditions)?

Without the Bible there is no Christianity, no Jesus. How would we know about Jesus without the Bible?

So I can buy into minimizing the Bible and certainly buy into not using it as a weapon and an apologetics tool but at some level, to some degree the Bible and Christianity are hitched together.

Mnay of us are tired of the Christian version of "size matters" My dick is bigger than your dick type of thinking that permeates western thinking. It is not just a religious problem. We find it in our politics and economic structures, etc.

Bruce

Andrew said...

I think some of that depends on whether we think the title of Christian really even matters. I have been told on a fairly regular basis that I am not a Christian... does it matter?

I am thinking at this point that "the way" matters more than the profession or the title. In Jesus' parables we see often that it is those who did, not those who said, who were really following his way (the son who said he wouldn't but "did" was the obedient one). In fact in one parable it is clear that there were people acting in the "way" of Jesus who had never heard of him before. I read recently that when we started worshiping Jesus we quit following him.

For myself, I do not see the Bible as magical. I do believe that it is the varied accounts of people who sought after and/or encountered God and I do learn from it, but I also learn about God reading Borg, or Gulley, or Thich Nhat Hanh. We seem to forget that Christianity existed for centuries amongst scores of people who had no bible and couldn't read it if they had. Admittedly, I do see it as a "Primary Source" (to use Social Studies lingo) and therefore take it seriously, but if I never saw a bible again that would not stop me from loving my neighbor... and therefore following the way of Jesus.

Steve H. said...

Andy,

I like your use of "the way" to validate someones following in the ways of Christ, even if they have not yet been exposed to Him.


I think though we have to be careful not glorify ignorance. And I use that term mearly as a lack of knowing or exposure, not in a derogatory sense. Someone may be doing things in a Christ-like manner but that doesn't mean we don't share Jesus with them.

Personally, I think Thich Nhat Hanh needs to be reading your book...when you write one

We still have the Biblical admonition to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that even that phrase possibly causes a small shudder to run through many Christians today. They associate it with arrogance, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, intolerance...but when all the arguments are done and the smoke clears, we still have the command to "go, and make disciples" wWe still have Peter "pleading" with the people to save themselves from this corrupt generation!

Redlefty said...

And we still have the apparent contradiction between The Great Commission (go and make disciples) with some of Jesus' own interactions with outsiders (the woman at the well, who sorta got a promise but nothing she could act on to become a follower/disciple).

I understand the old saying that we love people where they are, but we love them too much to let them stay there. But I still haven't really figured out how to do that.

Andrew said...

I have no problem with sharing Christ or discipleship. I just think our approach and motivation are pivotal. I think Jesus warned against the exclusive, for-me nature of the Pharisee's religion. He felt their making disciples was only worsening the problem (making them twice as fit for hell). I think that is where much of Western Christianity sits presently. John McArthur recently said in an interview:

"I believe the church has one function, and that is to guard the truth, to proclaim the truth and to live the truth. So you take the Word of God, you teach it, you proclaim it, you protect it, you defend it, and you live it, and that’s a church. The Word of God rightly divided, rightly understood."

The love of God for his creation does not even make the list. Transformation, redemption, reconciliation? Not even part of our purpose.

Instead the church is to proclaim, protect, and defend. Has the American church, for the most part, not turned into the very folks that Jesus was exasperated with?

Steve H. said...

No arguments from me there...well said

Tracy Faith Clark said...

My questions are for those who claim to follow Christ but deny the role of scripture in their walk.

-Where did they hear of Christ?
-How do they listen to Him?
-How do they grow in revelation of Him?
-Do they think that God has the ability to supress or reveal what He wants to represent Him?

I KNOW Christ, the Holy Spirit and God. I am led by His voice through others who Know Him, the Word, His voice to me and even situations.

The problem comes in when we use our OWN opinions or emotions in our reveations or advice to others -on who God "IS".

Weren't all Christians agnostic or atheist until we were presented with the choice to believe through faith that Christ is "the way"?

Once presented with the gospel, we should not choose to accept or deny what we FEEL is human err or not. God speaks to us and He tells us Christ is the only way.

We are not to cast doubt on the road of others who walk with Him. We should always point to Him and let Him deal with the inacuracies in their testimony on the Christ.

The Savior of mankind.

He sifts the weeds.
There are foundational truths we cannot deny. Though we want to mold God to suit our wants and needs, He says He is constant.

Revelation is personal, but we are told and have been for a very long time that Christ is the only way.

In having the CHOICE we all do, I think I would choose the door that says it is the only way to KNOW God rather than the 1000's that say "Hey- try and see of this works for you right now".

There is much prophecy in the scriptures. Just a good guess or does the world still try to crush out the name of Jesus the Christ?

Peace,
;)
Faith

Andrew said...

Red - I heard that phrase recently (God loves you too much to leave you as you are) and it is interesting to hear someone say it. God may be able to say it with a straight face, but I am wondering if it is one of those things that is absolutely pointless for a human to utter.

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