DAVE ARMSTRONG-EDWARD BABINSKI CONVERSATION 5/27/05
ED [defending Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong from an anti-Catholic blogger, Brian Literski, who thinks Dave is going to hell for being a Catholic who refuses to convert to Protestantism]:
Dear Brian Literski,
I'm Ed Babinski, another former Catholic like yourself who ceased attending Mass soon after being confirmed and then became born again. However in my case I eventually left the Protestant fold as well. My story as well as that of about three dozen others who left conservative Protestantism for moderate/liberal Christianity, or for other religions, or for deism/agnosticism/atheism, appears in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (at amazon.com there are currently four different books, only one of them mine, with the title Leaving the Fold). I think that if you dialogued with Dave and his blog friends you might recognize and even come to respect the sincerity depth of Dave's faith, and the thoroughness of his arguments on every topic, without necessarily agreeing with his theological, doctrinal and creedal premises concerning everything he currently believes. He certainly believes far more about the variety of seen and "unseen" things in this life, and the life of the "world to come," than I currently do. And he believes more about the veracity of the Bible and the decisions of the church fathers than I do. But then, you, Brian, seem quite certain also. Perhaps you ought to read more about Protestantism's sins, something that Dave's site has more information about than most other websites. Dave's blog section on Martin Luther even contains some additions by yours truly. And chapter two of Leaving the Fold includes a rundown of "[Protestant] Fundamentalism's Grotesque Past" that you also might find interesting. Wishing you well, Brian, in your continuing journey of dialogue and understanding concerning the beliefs of your fellow human beings,
DAVE'S RESPONSE TO MY DEFENSE OF HIM AND HIS WEBSITE
DAVE ARMSTRONG: Wow, Ed. That was awful nice [the blog message you wrote to Literski]. I'm speechless.
ED: Thanks for those kind words.
DAVE: I guess I've really come to a unique place when I'm defended by an agnostic against a fellow (Protestant) Christian. :-) He thinks I will go to hell if I continue on my terrible path of Catholicism.
ED: Wasn't Constantine's day all the way to the arrival to Pre-Enlightenment Europe filled with Christians who believed other Christians were going to hell? (At one point in time the entire Christian church split right down the middle, church fathers, saints and all, the Catholics in the West and the Orthodox in the East, simultaneously excommunicating each other.)
DAVE: You don't believe in hell.
ED: I can't conceive in my heart or my head that it would be "ethical" to "cast" people into a "lake of fire" (metaphorical or not) and impose endless suffering upon them; nor can I conceive that any infinitely loving being would create creatures for such a fate; nor can I conceive of how a finite creature could resist the will of God eternally. I believe that time and God are the best teachers. (Jewish aphorism)
In short, it's not that I "don't believe in hell," but if hell exists, I can't conceive of it otherwise than as folks like George Macdonald argued it must be, when he wrote:
I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing. That hell will help the just mercy of God to redeem his children. Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, and rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.
George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from "I Believe," Unspoken Sermons
DAVE: One must see the humor in these things. :-) I hope you can appreciate it with me, just as Shaw and Chesterton enjoyed many a laugh together.
ED: They did, and I loved reading the book about their friendship and humorous debates, a book subtitled, The Metaphysical Jesters--as well as enjoying reading Chesterton's novel about a Catholic character and a Shaw-like character trying to arrange a duel to the death over the topic of religion, which keeps getting interrupted by the police, until the Chesterton character and the Shaw character find they have become close friends while fleeing the police together. Chesterton even included two dreams in that novel, one in which the Catholic character dreams of a perfect Catholic world, but it turns into a nightmare of fascist proportions, while the Shaw character dreams of a world of angry irreligious anarchists, another nightmare. The dreaming brings them together. (Hmmm, MacDonald's universalist novel, Lilith, one of Lewis's favorites, also revolves around the power of dreams).
DAVE: The world is full of strange anomalies, isn't it?
ED: I find humor and humanity everywhere, except in those relatively few folks who are unable to converse with other people unless it is in the most literal "Bible-speak," or citing quotations directly from Chairman Mao's little Red Book, et al. There's an old Latin proverb that perhaps applies to such people, "Beware the man of one book." I am NOT comparing you to such people. I am speaking in Christian terms of sects like the "Garbage-eaters," who try to memorize the whole King James Bible and learn to communicate mainly by repeating Bible verses. They seem to me to have lost their souls and grown more like automatons. Some sects of Islamic fundamentalists are probably like that too, to varying degrees.
DAVE: One thing you and I can agree on is the importance and necessity of critical thinking.
ED: We even agree on more than that, we agree in many matters of the heart as well.
DAVE: We can respect that in each other even though (as you say) we start from different premises and then reason to different conclusions.
ED: I would say that I hold several ideas in mind simultaneously when it comes to the big questions and the claims of certainty that some people make concerning things beyond my sight or concerning supernature or the afterlife.
DAVE: That's what I feel that we Christians have in common with atheists and agnostics (the valuing of reason and evidence). But many of your number seem not to think that we do value reason.
ED: I think it best if neither of us start comparing the other with "many of our number," because that seems to be where misunderstandings often begin. In fact I bet if I simply asked you questions all day long I'd find out specific things about you, your life experiences, and the particular and precise beliefs you have arrived at that I might have never even guessed otherwise, i.e., not if I began by assuming that you were just like "many of your number."
DAVE: Part of my goal as an apologist is to convince atheists and agnostics of that very thing, if I never convince them of my theological beliefs. One can only try.
ED: I don't try to convince anyone to believe anything in particular at all, but I would like more people to simply acknowledge which things they know the most about, and which they know the least about, rather than tying to get others to agree with them concerning their beliefs about all things seen and unseen, in nature and supernature, in this life and the next.
DAVE: At times it almost seems as if you wish you could believe, but sincerely cannot because of those different premises you referred to.
ED: My only "wish," I can honestly say, is to live after I am dead in a world as least as hospitable as this one, with friends at least as nice as the ones I have now, and with chances of gaining further knowledge and more friends.
DAVE: We'll pray for you. After all, it's grace that helps us all believe.
ED: I'm not sure what you mean by "grace helps us believe." It only helps us believe? Is that what Paul said when he wrote, "We are saved by faith and that not of ourselves for it is the grace of God?" The word "grace" means "divine favor," and if that divine favor is not granted then apparently you can't have saving "faith" at all. Paul also wrote about God creating some pots just for destruction (perhaps "chamber pots" is the metaphorical intent), and hence God favors to (or grants "grace" to) some of us pots, not to all. That seems to have been Paul's reasoning on the issue. So grace is far more than just a help.
Of course the issue to me is not grace at all, it is the totality of my particular knowledge and reasoning skills that I have built up during my life, as well as my reactions to a multitude of things I have read about or seen in the Bible, science, psychology, history, Christians, as well as having studied myself and my own experiences carefully (both as a Christian and after leaving the fold).
Speaking of which I received this email just today, and have received other like it on at least a monthly basis since writing LTF: " * Private Message * for Ed Babinski
Dear Mr. Babinski: Just a quick note of thanks for your website and publications. As a former charismatic myself, I often find comfort and encouragement from writings like yours. I once taught at a Christian Pentecostal university, as well, until my disbelief became too much for them (and reason prompted me out, too!) and I was asked to leave. Like yourself, I was immersed in that world for a time, even published with nationally-known Christian publishers (Baker Books), but for the first time in decades I can say that I am free. Thanks again for your courage and example to others! G. S. C., Ph.D. State Historian, North Dakota
DAVE: If you are open to the possibility, I challenge you to allow God to make Himself known to you.
ED: I am always open to that possibility and in fact prayed for it last night, as well as continue to do so on a fairly regular basis. Neither do I fret that God does not exist. I sometimes imagine I am living in a godless universe. Other times I imagine I am living in a Deistic universe, sometimes with, and sometimes without eternal life for human beings (Einstein's view was that God existed, but it was Spinoza's god and no personal afterlife). Sometimes I imagine that the religious world of devout human beings and their holy books, beliefs and practices, contain intimations of God though not an inerrant revelation in matters of doctrine and practice, and that our purpose is to continue to discover not only the general purpose of helping one another, but also to help each other discover the individual purposes and focuses of our fellow human beings' lives, purposes that make life worth living for each of us. Hindus believe there are several major paths toward God, one being personal devotion to God and to others, another path being meditation, another one being the path of acquiring knowledge and gaining in wisdom.
Dom Bede Griffith's (C. S. Lewis's lifelong friend) dialogued with Hindu priests and Buddhist monks in India and defended eastern religions even from Vatican attempts to belittle or mischaracterize them.
DAVE: It won't come (if it does) from intellectual argument (most likely). It'll come when you are all alone, gazing at the stars or at a sunset, and wondering if all of this has an ultimate meaning or no meaning in the end, and if your existence will cease some 30-40 years henceforth.
ED: You seem to be assuming that there are only two choices, 1) no meaning whatsoever to life, or, 2) meaning lay in accepting the dogmas, doctrines and holy book of one particular religion.
As I said, I remain open. Are you open to imaging the world and seeing it through other eyes that leave open questions whose answers you currently take for granted, i.e., leaving open questions to which you believe you already possess the absolute answers?
Have you studied some of the multi-sided, maybelogic philosphical questions that folks like Robert Anton Wilson and Raymond Smullyan raise in their works? Check them both out on the net.
Wilson recently wrote at his site:
I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.
I strongly suspect that a world "external to," or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense.
I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology.
I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.
I more-than-half suspect that all "good" writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of "alteration in consciousness," i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. [Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.]
I sometimes suspect that what Blake called Poetic Imagination expresses this exact thought in the language of his age, and that visits by "angels" and "gods" states it an even more archaic argot.
These suspicions have grown over 72 years, but as a rather slow and stupid fellow I do not have the chutzpah to proclaim any of them as certitudes. Give me another 72 years and maybe I'll arrive at firmer conclusions.
END OF WILSON QUOTATION
Here are also some comments from a former fundamentalist contributor to Leaving the Fold, Will Bagley, who writes:
For me, everything on the spiritual path does not require faith of any kind. You learn from your own experience each step of the way. Even if you want to, you cannot know something as true until your experience reveals it to you. It is of course possible to hypnotize yourself into believing some particular dogma or other is true, but that hypnosis does not add up to any kind of knowing. Merely memorizing that 2+2=4 and believing that equation to be true does not mean that you can add and does not mean that you know "why" it is true. This is why fundamentalist spirituality of any kind, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, and even Buddhist is filled with memorized slogans, like "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior?" I did experiment one time with answering a fundamentalist Christian with nonslogan words and found that they did not register and made the person very uneasy. I was not using the secret handshake of the tribe to get "in." The word "conjure" is French meaning "with knowledge" and means that a formula only has the power to evoke reality when it is used with a genuine understanding of what it means. (A related thought is this: The word "idiot" means "one who is sacrificed" and there are 18 idiots that need to be sacrificed in one Sufi system in order to arrive at enlightenment or sanity). Another kind of faith emerges from study, practice, and meditation, and arises from experience itself.
The second thing I do not believe in is trying to prove I have the answers concerning the major questions about this life and the next, in both the seen and unseen worlds.
One thing however does appear to be quite true in a very experiential way anyone and everyone can understand. It is this: What you decide is true affects how you see "reality." There are some interesting experiments you can do to feel this and which are mentioned in a lot of Sufi and Buddhist training manuals. Try to imagine for one week that the universe is merely physical and that everything happens because of physical laws governing essentially random and meaningless causes. Get deep into this belief system, believing that you are merely a body and when the body dies you will be completely annihilated and that aging and death is inevitable and that there is not supreme Being running the show and that life on Earth is a freak improbable happening and that we might be the only lifeforms around and will probably be completely annihilated something when our Sun goes supernova. Feel that if something happens to you, it is pure coincidence with no higher meaning. Notice what life feels like when you live this view out.
Next try out the view that there is a personal God watching you and judging your every move and that depending on how good or bad you are that you will go to heaven or hell forever and that everything that happens to you is this God blessing or cursing you for things that you have done or even merely thought to do and that every disaster, every death, every disease, etc. is this God punishing someone for "sins" or for the sins of their parents and that if you repent hard enough and beg for forgiveness thatü something this God will forgive you if you are "sincere" enough.
You can note how each belief system feels just by the use of active imagination, even while simply reading the above descriptions. You may notice that some parts of you empathize with parts of both stories. For instance, it might feel like a relief to know that when you stub your toe that it is merely an accident and that God is not trying to tell you something through this or a relief to feel try when you do something wrong that it is not counted and weighed upon Judgment Day. Yet it also might not feel good to know that "evil people" can get away with shooting and annihilating "good people" and that there is no justice woven into the universe at all and that everyone that you love will be less than a memory and that some people that you love, dying very young, will never have had any kind of meaningful existence, and for some of these their entire short existence may be just pure pain.
There are, of course, many views about what reality is, not just two.
There's a view that God exists and created the cosmos, but does not ensure human immortality. Or the view that God exists and intimations of his existence have appeared in all the world's religions, no one of which is "inerrant" in its holy book and traditions.
If you play around with beliefs, you might develop some "ontological flexibility" and also question whether it's wise to look through the lens of one particular belief so fervently as to exclude the possibility of entertaining multiple beliefs or living with a wider range of questions.
Having said all this, Dogen Zenji, an advanced Zen master, once said, "The universe is a bright pearl." What could he have meant? What kind of space was he coming from? What happens to our mind when we try to feel what it would mean if it were true?
Some capitalists say, "Time is money." What could they mean? What kind of space are they coming from? What happens to our mind when we try to feel what it would mean if it were true? How would Dogen Zenji and the capitalists view paying our rent every month? *smile*
END OF THE PARAGRAPHS I WAS QUOTING FROM WILL BAGLEY
DAVE: We'll just have to keep making our arguments and see what happens, I guess. In any event, thanks again for your kind words.
ED: Thank you too, for yours.
DAVE: And y'all be nice to Ed! Don't treat him like the anti-Catholics treat us, but as a fellow human being (as we believe, made in the image of God), who has dignity and deserves to be heard.
ED: Only those who listen will hear.