Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Hideous Rigors of Christian Salvation Doubt

Apologists routinely present their religious faith as though they were as certain of its alleged truth as rock is hard. In fact, the bible even likens faith to rock. But even the biblical imagery is at odds with itself: faith as solid as a rock is a virtue, but a heart of stone signifies vice; and yet a heart of flesh is the mark of piety and righteousness, but at the same time the flesh is spiritually weak and sinful.

But going by the bravado which apologists present in their debate performances and the tone of unflinching certainty they never fail to project in their writings, one might never suspect that, in the private corners of their minds, they are in fact shivering frenetically in a chilly, endless winter of persisting doubt. The tough exterior of certitude and sureness might in fact be nothing more than a tenuously thin shell concealing a frightened hollowness that is all that is left behind once the Christian devotional program has done its task in getting the believer to reject himself, surrender his virtue, and eviscerate his own character.

Outwardly, the believer likes to posture himself as a pious soldier fighting the good fight of good vs. evil (in spite of teachings which make his god ultimately responsible for evil and even on morally cozy terms with evil), while inwardly the believer’s mind is a battlefield in which an endless war is waged, a war between salvation assurance and salvation doubt. Here the believer is trapped in an endless tug-of-war between doubt-free assurance in the gospel and personal salvation on the one hand, and the terrifying possibility, entirely real in the believer’s mind, that he may in fact not be saved, but in fact chief among those who have been damned for all eternity, a possibility which no believer can reliably rule out completely. Given its psychologically mutilating effects, this never-ending tug-of-war continually rips the believer into splinters that are barely recognizable as belonging to a real human.

Christian doubt is very much like Christian depression: the believer wrestles with it throughout the duration of his commitment to Christianity, but he tends to hide it from the world with a façade of pious calm that gives airs of steadfast spiritual security, like a thought-criminal who has devised effective ways of concealing his private thoughts from the prying eyes of the Thought Police, who could be anyone in the fold. If anyone finds out, they might be outed as an imposter, a closet “unbeliever,” a counterfeit who actually “hates God.”

Christian elders who minister to their flocks on the topic of doubt will predictably instruct them in clever ways of using the doubt that enthralls them to “draw closer to God.” And if any discussion about why one is experiencing doubts, the mere presence of doubt is very often taken as a sign that “sin” is still active in the believer’s life, thus ebbing against and undermining his sense of spiritual security.

This is to say, a believer is never to allow himself to consider the possibility that he suffers from persisting doubts because none of what he’s trying so desperately to believe is at all true. And herein, ironic as it may be, the perpetual teeter-tottering between salvation assurance and salvation doubt is itself assured.

And even though there have been throughout the history of religion many stories of famous pious doubters, I’ve never encountered any comparable concerns involving doubt when it comes to Objectivism. In fact, since I adopted Objectivism in the early 1990s, I’ve never experienced anything remotely resembling the incapacitating doubt struggles that believers routinely report and wrestle with. Nor do Objectivists need to meet every Sunday to try to convince themselves that there is a reality, that the objects of our conscious activity exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity, that wishing doesn’t make it so, that reason is the proper epistemological standard of knowledge, that values are inherently selfish in nature, that the proper social structure for human beings is one predicated on the concept of individual rights, that each individual has a right to exist for his own sake, and so on.

There are many reasons for this. For one, Objectivism’s truths are in fact true, and they are accessible by means of reason, a faculty which all normal adults possess and can exercise if they choose. Also, Objectivists do not pretend that truth is dispensed to human beings from a supernatural source by an invisible magic being whose wishes control reality, nor do Objectivists fear that evil spirits are trying to rob them of anything or deceive them. Moreover, Objectivism does not hold man’s mind hostage to that which is merely imaginary – Objectivism has no use for hostages to begin with! Lastly, Objectivism is all about the individual, not the group, and all about living this life that we know we have, not about getting to some fantasized alternative to life.

With full confidence Objectivists observe and recognize facts intellectually and govern their lives accordingly, while Christians wrangle with their “worldview presuppositions” interminably, even hopelessly.

I suppose, if I may be able to project a bit here (and, having been a Christian myself, I have some firsthand experience on this to draw from), if my worldview were causing me to wrestle perpetually with fundamental issues that were so elusive to my ability to achieve certainty that I was racked with painful, endlessly reverberating doubts, I might very well become very envious, even resentful, of those whose understanding of the world did not cause them such internal psychological turmoil. Even worse, I might focus my burgeoning ire on them personally, allowing my resentment to distill into obsessive hate, which in turn may cause me, for example, to go to social gatherings and try to get into people’s faces (cf. Dustin Segers) or post an average of 13 blog entries per day stewing in negativity and sniping at “apostates” for all the defects I might imagine them having.

Against this, I’m happy to report, my worldview does not induce such divisionary resentment. I know on the one hand what it’s like to be a Christian, to be swallowed up by a cult, to writhe in pain from salvation doubt, to exist in a private, inescapable panic, and, on the other, what it’s like to have a rational understanding of the world, to marvel at discovery as such, to relish existence, to enjoy fully being me, to love my life as I have created it for myself. And I know that what I have achieved in my life since leaving Christianity far, far behind, and the non-contradictory joy that I have enjoyed since, are not possible on Christianity’s terms.

And this enjoyment of my life that I have earned for myself is not something that has been given to me by means of some “divine revelation” from a god which I can only imagine. It’s something that I’ve earned, and through my adult years I have learned that something that I have earned has value unlike anything that is “freely given” to an individual. A lunch that I buy for myself is in fact more enjoyable than any that I might get “for free” at a soup kitchen. The same is the case with all values that I enjoy.

But the believer is to suckle his soul on the unearned, to pretend that he can spiritually nourish himself at the imaginary teat of a supernatural wet nurse, even if it requires utter self-deception. Consider the example of John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism. In a journal entry dating from March 1738 when he was wrestling with severe doubts, Wesley, himself an advocate of Arminianism, wrote:
Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Reacting to this, Edmund D. Cohen writes (The Mind of the Bible-Believer, p. 245):
Note how a self-deception that would instantaneously be identified as illegitimate in any other setting was freely accepted by these otherwise highly intelligent and decent men. How beleaguered one’s thought processes must be to do such a thing!
And indeed, we would hope that we would not find anything resembling such a testimony in the sciences. For science rests, not on deliberate self-delusion, but on reason, while the determination to convince oneself of something he cannot secure in his mind rationally is the hallmark of faith. And never shall the two meet in agreement. Yes, faith and reason are wholly incompatible.

In a video titled Factual Doubt, Christian apologist Gary Habermas defines “religious doubt” as (11:45-11:56):
uncertainty regarding God, or our relationship to Him.
Curiously (if not coincidentally), Habermas refers repeatedly to what he calls “the labyrinth of doubt” and states (22:39 - 22:48):
I don’t know any malady that is more common among Christians than doubt. You know why? Because everybody asks questions at some time.
Habermas is here addressing other Christian believers, but it’s not an accident that he uses the pronoun “our” in his definition of “religious doubt,” lumping everyone one within earshot into the first person, as if to say: “we’re all in this together,” or, “let’s erase any interpersonal distinctions among us.” In the Christian’s mind, the safety of the group holds primacy over the intellectual responsibility of the individual. (This makes the “take one for the team” sacrifice of Jesus easier to accept.)

What’s noteworthy in all this is his effort to discuss a gravely important issue while simultaneously trying to downplay its importance: on the one hand, salvation doubt will reverberate violently throughout the believer’s entire psychology, and yet it’s simply the result of a bunch of harmless questions.

Habermas states openly that he went through a period of ten years (“consecutively”) of doubt, and suffered doubt on occasions after this. Ten years straight! And for what? But how can this be? How can any Christian doubt even for one second, let alone years on end, if their “truths” are “revealed” to them by the creator of the entire universe? Christians routinely tell us that everyone knows that the Christian god is real, and they cite Romans 1 to support this, which, they say, cannot fail to be true. They claim to have it straight from their god’s proverbial mouth, that the truths they espouse have been “revealed to in such a way that they can be certain,” and they claim that these same truths have also been revealed to those who are outside the Christian faith – such as evil atheists like me (indeed, I’m out plotting all kinds of misdeeds as I write this – like brushing my teeth, not forgetting my lunch, getting to work on time, and other exploits of indulgent self-interest).

But in fact, as we explore this topic deeper, a hidden truth – a truth which believers themselves would prefer to remain concealed – comes to the surface. Doubt among Christians really isn’t all that rare. In fact, it’s a huge problem! We can even say, it comes with the territory.

Speaking of doubt and how it generally affects believers, Habermas states (4:12 – 4:38):
There is possibly no subject in Christianity, or very few anyway, where there’s more twists and turns in a labyrinth, and it’s not likely that you’re gonna get out unless it’s just by God’s grace. If you try to work your way through this deal, because I can’t think of a subject where most of common information is incorrect.
How can it be that most of the common information on a subject that any believer is likely to face, is incorrect, especially when spiritual knowledge is sourced in an infallible, omniscient loving god? None of this adds up. Indeed, with the endless stream of contradictions that the believer is expected to swallow whole, how could he avoid having any doubts?

Habermas divides doubt into three “species,” presumably denoting what gives rise to the doubt or its nature given what motivates it. They are factual doubt, emotional doubt, and volitional doubt. He argues that doubt usually begins with a question about some factual point, thus giving rise to “factual doubt,” but since this naturally has emotional ramifications, an “emotional doubt” thus arises, and at the stage of “volitional doubt,” the believer essentially says, “God, you stay in your half of the universe, and I’ll stay in mine.”

Curiously, Habermas says little about what specifically it is that the believer who suffers persistent doubt, is actually doubting. Believers might pretend not to know what a Christian could possibly doubt, but it’s not hard to figure out.

As we have already seen, the worst kind of doubt that a believer can suffer is not the existence of the Christian god, but the assurance of his own salvation. A person who believes that the jealous, wrathful and vindictive god of Christianity is real and yet has any doubt that he has been spiritually redeemed, will be a psychological wreck, petrified by fear and paralyzed by psychological immobility.

The central importance of doubt in the believer’s mental life should not be under-estimated. The experience of salvation doubt in the mind of the believer necessarily plays out in the context of the holy terror which the biblical narrative necessarily inculcates in the believer’s mind. Salvation doubt coupled with fear of the supernatural is a terrifying combination! But this terrifying combination is vital to Christianity’s hold on the believer’s mind.

In his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), a Calvinist himself, described a horrific picture of terror that could only make a believer’s salvation doubts all the more bitter and unendurable:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet 'tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment; 'tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was [sic] suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep: and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up; there is no other reason to be given why you han't [sic] gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don't this very moment drop down into hell.
This, more than any statement you’ll find among apologists making in defense of Christianity today, encapsulates the truly hideous essence of the Christian worldview insofar as believers themselves are to understand it. This is a statement from one believer to other believers, shorn of any efforts to attract newcomers to the faith. It presupposes acceptance of Christianity’s fundamentals and represents the stage of the believer’s commitment to Christianity after he has been netted and the doors to the outside world have already closed behind him. This “for insiders only” statement and others like it are what bible-authentic ministers have used to keep those doors shut. And there, in the confines of the converted, the hideous nature of the Christian worldview is finally unleashed. They were first brought in on the premise of a loving God who will take care of them, comfort them, give them peace, rest, and joy, and once inside they get this.

Raging behind all this soul-searing fear-mongering and its cause for deep-seated doubt, is the premise of unearned guilt which all believers are to accept as their spiritual starting point. This holy trinity of the Christian devotional program – fear, guilt, and doubt – each unquenchable in its own right and immersed in biblically induced imagination, works to turn the screws on the believer’s psychology ever tighter as he seeks in desperation for a way out of the labyrinth of horrors that is bible-authentic devotion. The guilt is what tells the believer why he should fear, and the doubt seals both in placed, giving them a fixity that his faith will never have. The labyrinth in which he finds himself trapped is an end in itself.

To understand how biblical teaching manipulates and exploits the believer’s psychological vulnerabilities that fantastical fear and unearned guilt create in his mind, it is important to observe the jumble of mixed messages that serve to keep the believer off-balance and in a state of perpetual doubt. The biblical marinade of mixed messages is key to Christianity’s staying power. These mixed messages can be found both in the bible as well as in the preaching of today’s ministerial elites. Their purpose is to keep the believer straddling the no-man’s land between salvation assurance and salvation doubt, making on the one hand salvation seem as easy as accepting a “free gift,” and on the other so elusive as to never be possessed with full assurance. And the reason for this is simple: so long as the believer suspects that his salvation is in question (no matter what assurance he projects to the world around him), he will find it necessary to redouble his focus on devotion.

Consider for example, Romans 10:9-10 offers the following formula for salvation – a sort of incantation invoking the resurrection:
if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Aside from the erroneous notion that belief has some kind of transformative metaphysical power and the fact that such verses give believers a hypnotic motivation to want the resurrection story to be true, this formula seems easy enough, and every believer is lured into a false sense of security by its impression of straightforwardness. “That’s all I have to do?” he wonders. But then he goes on to explore other statements in the bible, some of which make it clear that salvation really isn’t so easy after all.

In Mt. 7:21-23, for instance, straight from the Sermon on the Mount, the following words are put into Jesus’ mouth:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Verses of this sort are useful not only in drawing divisions within Christianity (“the pastor at the church down the street teaches an ungodly message”), but also in telling the individual believer that whatever he is doing will never be enough. He might be calling on Jesus, he might be praying and fasting, he might be evangelizing in the prisons, he might be helping the poor, he might be doing everything he understands biblical faith to require (whatever that might be, nobody knows), and yet he’s still missing something essential.

The biblical worldview abhors any whiff smacking of human pride and continually presents impenetrable obstacles to any sense of fulfillment resulting from personal accomplishment. It is not a worldview which celebrates human achievement, but rather delights in cutting man’s spirit down to barely a stump. The underlying yet deafening message that “you’re still not good enough” is loud and clear and naggingly pokes the believer into remembering that he still has yet to make it through the Pearly Gates, and nothing else really matters. This is no accident, for “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mk. 4:19), and the believer is to “lay not up for [himself] treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal,” but instead to lay them up “in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”(Mt. 6:19-21). It is surely not possible for a man to ignore “the cares of this world,” nor is it rational to forego long-term planning and strategize one’s abilities to maximize his wealth-creating potential, but the Christian worldview teaches that these “cares of the world” and any focus on “treasures” will serve as impediments to his salvation. In just this way, the bible teases the believer with the haunting, soul-disfiguring discord trapping him between salvation assurance and salvation doubt.

Cohen asks appositely (Op. cit., p. 20):
If salvation is not available to all, is salvation doubt a necessary consequence of deep Bible knowledge, such as Edwards and Wesley possessed? What does the Bible have to say about indicators of salvation? It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the Bible gives only this, for a working definition, as a criterion observable or distinguishable by the believer: “…he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” [Mt. 24:13] The point that a true saint of the church can be known only when the entire span of his life is known is made numerous times in the New Testament.* Apparently one cannot measure a saint until he is dead. Examples in the early church of individuals who wanted to be Christians, but turned out in the long run to lack the right stuff, include Judas, Ananias, Sapphira and Simon the Sorcerer; in the later church period, whole ostensible churches, or even the majority of them, outwardly professed the faith but were condemned.**
(* Cohen cites these biblical passages: Mt. 10:22; 24:12-51; 25:1-13; Mk. 13:13, 35-37; Luke 12:35-40, 42-48; 21:19; Rom. 2:7; 8:25; 1 Thess. 5:2-8; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:12; 4:7; Heb. 3:12, 14; James 1:12; 5:11; Rev. 2:17; 3:3-13; 13:10, and 16:15.)

(** Cohen cite these passages: Mt. 7:21-23; 8:11-12; Lk. 22:3 ff. (Judas); Acts 5:1-11 (Ananias and Sapphira); 8:9-24 (Simon the Sorcerer); 2 Cor. 11:13-15, 26; Phil. 1:15, 17-18; 1 John 2:19, and Rev., chaps. 2 and 3, generally.)

I’m reminded of the peculiar case of Michael Sudduth. Sudduth, who is a highly credentialed academe (D.Phil. from Oxford University), was a beloved darling on James Anderson’s long defunct Van Til List (where his signature was “Sudduth of Windsor”), a celebrated authority on presuppositionalism, even serving as a consultant for an early version of Anderson’s paper If Knowledge Then God. But in spite of Jesus’ unrivaled good shepherding and loving care for his flock, the Lord allowed Sudduth to wander off the reservation as he renounced his Christian faith and embraced Gaudiya Vaishnavism (for some background, see here).

How could this be? How could someone so knowledgeable of Christianity, so revered for his faith, so adored for his pious valor, suddenly depart from the faith that made him great in preference for what Christians have for millennia considered a backwater form of pagan idolatry? What are the chances that Sudduth will return to the faith, have his salvation restored (supposing he was ever saved in the first place!), and redeemed in the sight of the Lord? Indeed, doesn’t Mt. 24:13 very strongly suggest that salvation – as something not fully assured until one has endured until the end – reduces essentially to a probabilistic affair?

The believer is told that the “first commandment” is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mk. 12:30). But what’s missing here? What’s missing is any sense of measurability: there’s no way for the believer to determine whether or not he truly does “love the Lord” with all his heart, with all his soul, wit all his mind, for he has no way to measure these things. And without being able to measure these thingw, the “greatest commandment” simultaneously becomes empty of meaning while hanging over the believer like a dark scourge: “Am I truly loving the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, all my strength?” It would be very easy for any human being to fall short of the totality of devotion demanded here, and impossible to determine reliably that it has been fully met. The believer can claim it, but he can also be pretending to himself, just as Wesley determined to pretend to himself.

When you bake a cake, you follow a recipe. The recipe tells you how much flour you’ll need, how much sugar, how many eggs, how much water and milk, etc. Without these measurements, your cake might turn out to be an inedible brick or a gooey splotch. But if you have these measurements and prepare your cake accordingly, you’ll bake a delicious cake. Your efforts will be successful. Measurement is necessary for success. But the bible’s own salvation formula doesn’t even have what cake recipes the world over have by default. Christianity delivers a formula for failure if there ever were one!

The lack of anything other than “enduring to the end” as something approaching even a semblance of an objective measure of one’s salvation, plays havoc on a mind steeped in the unbearable panic of holy terror grounded in unearned guilt. When he was first lured into Christian devotion, the believer was told that salvation was a “free gift,” that he didn’t need to do anything to earn it (since it cannot be earned – he is to accept the unearned), that the “yoke is easy” and the “burden is light” (Mt. 11:30). This is what is told to him to get him into the door of the labyrinth. But as he crawls further in, he finds himself sliding into a bottomless chasm of darkness, much like the aspiring puppeteer Craig Schwartz is flushed down a moistened tube and dumped into John Malkovich’s mind.

Once inside, the believer finds that salvation is not so easy after all. On the contrary, he is confronted with verse after verse driving home the point that salvation is indeed a most elusive prize. Not only must he “endure to the end,” faith requires tireless mental effort, psychic energy, concentration, determination, “longsuffering,” even persecution (which he may need to bring upon himself if “the world” is not offering it up voluntarily). In contrast to those verses which promise him that he’s being looked after by the creator of the universe, he sometimes gets the impression that he’s at it all by himself. For example, he is told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) – hardly encouraging words for someone who’s been told that his salvation was sealed before the beginning of creation itself (cf. Rom. 8:29).

Consider the following verses – note carefully the use of terms denoting work, love and peace:
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. (Gal. 5:6)  
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (I Thess. 5:5-9)  
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father(I Thess. 1:3)  
Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:11-12)  
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen. (Eph. 6:23-24)
Reacting to these verses, Cohen observes (Op. cit. p. 282):
Even though we are not told what it is, besides steeping himself in the Word, that the believer is supposed to do, we are duly notified that it is something effortful, labored, difficult and adverse… Apparently “faith” entails a constant outpouring of energy, and whatever “peace” and “joy” there are to it do not necessarily bring respite from the drudgery of it. Obsessive conscious concentration, resembling nothing so much as insomnia, is lauded, and mental relaxation, flight of fantasy, and anything at all resembling ecstasy are devalued and negatively characterized. The prescribed preoccupations for consciousness are deemed “light” and all else, benighted debauchery. Let our guard down, and that may be just the moment when Christ returns like a “thief in the night,” to whisk you away to Hell!
References to Jesus coming back when the believer least expects it – “as a thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:2) – are intended to do one thing and one thing only: scare the living daylights out of the believer! A believer may think that he is “about the Lord’s business,” doing “the Lord’s will,” whether it is keeping up on his prayers, spreading the “good news” of salvation, defending the Christian faith, or what have you. But he’s only human: how can he know that, while his attention has been occupied with one area he believes is of concern, that he has not been neglecting other duties necessary for fulfilling Christ’s will? As soon as he asks himself this question – and if he’s reading his bible faithully, he is surely prompted to ask such questions of himself – his private spiritual panic meter will be off the scale.

Even the most empty-sounding verses can be “expounded” in ways to tease with the believer’s restless doubts. Consider for example Romans 1:17:
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Any thoughtful believer sincerely looking for genuine understanding will ponder this verse, wondering what it could possibly mean. Clearly it must mean something important, since it affirms the grave role that faith plays in the believer’s life. And yet, it comes across as a riddle.

In explaining what this verse is supposed to mean in terms of salvation assurance, Christian Tim Conway tells a small gathering the following (0:07 – 2:48):
The righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith. In other words, it is… This is key. From faith to faith means, contrary to what many are saying today, if you do not continue believing in acceptance with God based on a righteousness not your own, you must believe this gospel, you must believe in this righteousness of God, not just once. It’s… a lot of people have this idea, ‘Oh, I believed, I did… I believed, I did that, I believed in Christ, I took care of that.’ But that’s not what the Scripture says. The Scripture says we live on this gospel from day to day. In other words, if you’ve already been saved on this gospel, you need to live today and tomorrow on it as well. You know one of the problems we’ve been having with these people that have all of sudden been doubting their salvation, wondering whether they’re in, whether they’re out, it’s because they’re not feeding on this truth day by day. As much as it’s a reality that regeneration produces a transformed life, and it is, and we need to emphasize those texts, because there needs to be transformation. But I’ll tell you this, if the person who has trusted in Christ suddenly gets bogged back down by the law, and by their performance, they’re gonna suddenly find themselves in all sorts of trouble. We have to live on the gospel day by day. You could go to the book of First John, and you could look at all it says about the realities of true Christianity, and a myriad of other places. You can go to Romans 6, and you can go to Romans 7 and Romans 8, you can go to Matthew 7. You look at all these characteristics over and over and over and over again that are set forth as to what true Christianity is. But I’ll tell you this, as you go and look at them, you need to not be drifting away from the cross. We need to feed on the reality of an imputed righteousness from faith to faith. You need to live on it today and tomorrow, that’s why we need to go back to the cross, again and again, to the life of Christ, to the perfect righteousness earned by Christ.
If you watch the video, it may be hard not to get the impression that Conway is grasping for something that resembles a substantive answer to a question about the meaning of this one verse. He begins by restating the verse and seems to be trying to buy time in order to come up with some way to explain the verse he’s been asked to explain.

Notice also that Conway does what the apostle Paul did in his letters (cf. II Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-7), and that is to drive a division between what he (Conway) is preaching and what other, unnamed evangelists are preaching, thus bringing back to his audience’s conscious mind that there are wrong paths to take here. This not only acknowledges that there are different interpretations of the issues involved in the present matter, but that one interpretation (Conway’s) is authoritative while the others are deceptive or worse.

But the broader point which Conway says is “key” here, is that the believing that warrants biblical approval is not a one-time acceptance of the Christian message. Rather, it requires constant re-affirmation, re-dedication, re-invigorating, so much so that it must consume one’s life as an obsessive pre-occupation. Because, if you don’t do it enough, it won’t be enough, and you may be in danger of everlasting hellfire. In Christianity, you've entered the ultimate Roach Motel of worldviews.

Consider the reaction that one might elicit from a group of conservative Christians if he were to say, “Okay, I believe it all. I know now that I am saved. I’ll go about my business now.” As he scoots away, the Christians in his midst would be outraged. No one is to be allowed to have such faith, for he has not yet endured to the end.

But later in his little speech, Conway gives the impression, contrary to having to continually “go back to the cross” – i.e., back to where payment for sin was made in order to continually kindle its redemptive effect, that the work done on the cross was in fact a one-time deal. He states (6:08 – 6:50):
Look, if Christ once pays for all your sin… Away with this Catholic mentality that only my past sins have been forgiven! Now I’ve somehow gotta get the future ones paid as I’m committing them. That’s garbage. That’s Catholic heresy. Christ atones on that cross. He said it’s finished. It means all my sin, once and forever, I’m justified. That means I am declared righteous. I am an ungodly person declared righteous. Not… not based on my performance. I am declared righteous. And the reality is, on my worst day, I’m still declared righteous.
So quickly the believer transforms his rendition of the salvific formulation from a constant, grueling drudgery that’s akin to walking a shaky tightrope with tempestuous cross-winds threatening to blow the believer to his doom if he allows his attention to divert away from “the cross” for a flicker of a moment (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” and “endure to the end”), to something that was accomplished “once and forever” (“it is finished”) long before the believer was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes, all apparently without noticing the fundamental switch that has taken place here.

Believers desperately want the psychological liberation of salvation assurance promised in the bible, but end up going through their days in a mind-numbing haze of salvation doubt which the bible actually delivers right on schedule. (Perhaps this is why Sye Ten Bruggencate doesn’t want to do his “bible study” with non-believers – is he afraid that they’ll learn something he doesn’t want them to know?)

It is instructive to keep all the foregoing points in mind when considering a common presuppositionalist assertion stemming from their use of Romans 1, which, according to their interpretation, teaches that all men automatically know the Christian god. And yet, the dirty little secret is that gung-ho Christians themselves are so racked with cringing doubt that their minds are turning in flame-broiled knots over the fear that they very well might be found among those whom Jesus “never knew” in spite of their deliriously strenuous efforts to fulfill their devotional quota (cf. Mt. 7:21-23).

Thus it is most ironic when Greg Bahnsen, who devoted his master’s thesis to a study of “self-deception,” writes (Always Ready, p. 38):
Although he outwardly and vehemently denies the truth of God, no unbeliever is inwardly and sincerely devoid of a knowledge of God.
And yet, Habermas’ admission that doubt is the most common “malady” among Christians can only suggest that, if there is such an inconsistency between outward expression and inward psychological conditions, the believer is wrongly projecting this inconsistency onto the non-believer here: he alleges that atheists outwardly deny what they privately know to be true, when in fact it is the believer who is outwardly affirming something he persistently doubts.

And notice something else here. Typically, when interacting with non-believers, Christian apologists do not come out and admit their private doubts before non-believers. This would only undermine the tough exterior of rock-hard confidence that they want to erect in the minds of non-believers. This is all a deliberately deceptive façade camouflaging an inner picture of mental housekeeping that is, to put it mildly, not quite so rosy after all. By contrast, amongst themselves, believers often begin to discuss the problem of salvation doubt because their internal social hierarchy provides a natural opportunity for such things to be openly discussed. A pastor will often get questions from members of his flock who are suffering from persisting doubts. Usually the doubts have been festering for months if not longer before finally, as a last resort, they bring the matter to leadership for counsel. The believer – ironically doubting what he’s expected to believe – is compelled by holy terror to ensure that he really does believe something he’ll never really believe. This is why they have to continually go to church and participate in religious services on a regular basis, in order to reinforce something they doubt and yet, at the same time, claim that all men already automatically know. How often have believers been instructed in a manner similar to the advice given to Edwards, that they should pray until they believe, and then pray because they believe?

Contrast all this with the sober approach of rational philosophy. If you discover a fact and validate it as a fact, you subsume it into the context of your knowledge and integrate it with any relevant judgments, decisions and actions which might be affected by it. Rational philosophy does not require that one become obsessive in re-affirming it, as some kind of totemic object of worship. A chemist, for example, learns that the atomic number of carbon is six, and he utilizes this information when and where it applies; he does not need to continue re-affirming it into his mind until it finally “sinks in,” which never fully happens in the case of Christianity’s articles of faith. But that’s because genuine truths are in fact not articles of faith, but facts that have been identified and integrated in a rational manner.

If you’re not a Christian, be glad these aren’t your problems. If you are a Christian, it’s time to come to come out of the labyrinth.

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...


I've just started digging into your latest, and it is as enjoyable and enlightening as always.

You wrote: "Nor do Objectivists need to meet every Sunday to try to convince themselves that there is a reality, that the objects of our conscious activity exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity, that wising doesn’t make it so, that reason is the proper epistemological standard of knowledge, that values are inherently selfish in nature, that the proper social structure for human beings is one predicated on the concept of individual rights, that each individual has a right to exist for his own sake, and so on. "

Dammit! There go my plans for Objectivist Sunday School.


Unknown said...


Note the grammatical error in the section you quoted. It says "wising" as opposed to "wishing".

Unknown said...

Talking about Bruggencate, he apparently surfaces only once a year nowadays. I've found his most recent interchange here (, from May this year.

At one point, Bruggencate uses the light in the room to 'prove' a point. Bruggencate argues that if he was to stare into the light his vision would be affected, so we cannot trust our senses.

Needless to say, Sye, if "mere man" cannot trust his senses, how do you know there is even a light there to begin with?

His opponent isn't much better, he seems to think that if an assumption is pragmatically useful, it is "powerfully circular" to beg the question.

For his part Bruggencate seems to have changed his tack in this video. Far from his "Christian Shark" persona (his laptop accessory) when "debating Dillahunty", he appears now as a friend, genuinely caring for his enemies. From what you have described here, it would only be the beginning of a descent into the 'Christian Cake', fear, guilt, and doubt in unspecified quantities, baked in the imagination until crispy brown, ready to shout at heathens in the street.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Cameron and Ydemoc,

Cameron wrote: "Note the grammatical error in the section you quoted. It says 'wising' as opposed to 'wishing'."

That was my mistake, not Ydemoc's. Thanks for pointing it out! I've corrected it. Now it's even better!

Yes, I think I watched that debate between Sye and Dillahunty. And I agree - I'm not at all impressed with Dillahunty. Nor with many of the other campaigners for atheism. There's a profound difference between defending atheism and defending reason. It's reason that needs to be re-awakened on mass scale in our culture. If it's not re-awakened here, it's not going to suddenly wake up where it's never thrived before. But this seems to be lost on the pop atheists of our day.

To argue that the senses are unreliable because, for example, staring into a bright light can damage them, is embarrassingly weak. If I break my arm, I won't be able to carry heavy bags of groceries from my car to my kitchen. Does that mean that arms are not reliable in the first place? Rather, what we should learn is to take care of ourselves, not dismiss our bodies' abilities. And indeed, how did Sye know that he was staring into a light? Blank out.

Your mention of "heathens in the street" made me realize something. Over on T-blogue, Steve Hays seems to have special disgust for "apostates." John Loftus, for example. Or Bart Ehrman. But now that Michael Sudduth is officially an apostate, where's all that ire? There was a bit of a kerfuffle back in 2012 when Sudduth announced his departure from Christianity, but it died down not long after that. But Loftus, Carrier, Erhman, etc., continually get raked over the coals over there.

Why does Sudduth now get a pass?


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

The link I gave was to a much more recent interchange on the Youtube channel of "SecHummer" from May 2015. The Dillahunty debate was in 2014, hence the comment about Sye emerging 'once a year'. I didn't make that too clear, so I apologise.

praestans said...

Is there within this philosophy of reason room for PMA - positive mental attitude? "As one thinks, so shall one be" [James Allen; Proverbs etc). This is a very old saw.

Psychologists and Physicians talk about psychosomatic illness - where consciousness/mental states can affect one's body.

And what is the the Objectivist metric of love? Is love 'measurable' this is plainly unreasonable, surely. 100 luvetres?

I can't find the surch butn. I was hoping t' find summat on Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and so on.

Ta loads


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Alif,

You asked: “Is there within this philosophy of reason room for PMA - positive mental attitude? "As one thinks, so shall one be" [James Allen; Proverbs etc). This is a very old saw.”

We have something better. It’s called the benevolent universe premise. You can read about it here.

You asked:”And what is the the Objectivist metric of love? Is love 'measurable' this is plainly unreasonable, surely. 100 luvetres?”

I cannot speak for others here. But as for me, I measure an individual’s love by his visible choices and actions. If someone says “I love accounting,” but his visible choices and actions do not demonstrate this, would I be wise if I did not integrate this fact into my assessment of the truth of his claim about himself?

We do not need a unit of measure (e.g., “luvetres”) in order to measure love, just as we do not need a unit of measure in order to recognize that a basketball is bigger than a tennis ball. I don’t know the precise measurements of either a basketball or a tennis ball, but I know that one is larger than the other just by comparing the two. That’s enough to give us an objective standard of measurement. It is only later that we come up with units by which we can quantify the measurements we observe in the world.


praestans said...

Hello Dawson

Ah, Objectivism with a heart!

I'm not sure I understand the BUP at all it's unclear to's called benevolent universe but then it reads it's not a benevolent universe (eh up?! here it seems A=A isn't quite true)

"Success and happiness are the metaphysically to-be-expected. In other words, Objectivism rejects the view that human fulfillment is impossible, that man is doomed to misery, that the universe is malevolent."

If the universe is neutral/impartial/disinterested - how can there be any expectation at all? Many many have perisht without fufilment.

"Pain, suffering, failure do not have metaphysical significance—they do not reveal the nature of reality."

the converse can just as easily be statid:

Success, prosperity and wellbeing do not have any metaphysical significance....

We shall ultimately die. So will the universe. Isn't this deem'd a 'tragegy' a 'doom' a 'misery'?

How can deth not be a part of reality? Deth will overtake prosperity, success, life etc..isn't that the massiv wully mammuth in the objectivist room?!



Unknown said...

I think Peikoff tried to address those concerns later in the quote from him:

"But reality is “benevolent” in the sense that if you do adapt to it—i.e., if you do think, value, and act rationally, then you can (and barring accidents you will) achieve your values. You will, because those values are based on reality."

samonedo said...

"There's a profound difference between defending atheism and defending reason"

At present only objectivists stick to reason. The rest are ready for many concessions, principally when they have to justify their depraved morality

johzek said...

Bohler's advice to Wesley to "Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith." reminded me of the suggestion that Blaise Pascal offers concerning his wager to those who just could not will themselves to believe. He advises them to dutifully perform the rituals of the faith and with time some may simply find themselves believing. In effect they would be confusing the familiar with the truth.

When Kim Davis, celebrity county clerk, was released from jail she said, "It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision". I would think that statement is indicative of a bad case of salvation doubt. Maybe she feels she needs to make up for a lot of past sins, or should I say what she now considers sins since she recently converted to her current faith.

c papen said...

Hi Dawson,

I found this post via your 'Improbably Resurrection' post and the Habermas hyperlink.

I thought that this conversation was another instance of 'salvation doubt' of the Justin Seeger's variety.

Kathy Kinsley November 13th, 2015 (#):

“But it is not true between man and God.
God CAN be proven by any man to himself through mental prayer.”

No. I spent a couple of years trying – really trying to be a good Christian. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

Either God hates me, or your prayer is only a self-defined “safe space.”

I reverted to agnostic, and there I shall stay. I have no proof for or against. And, quite frankly – I don’t much care anymore.

asdf November 23rd, 2015 (#):
@Kathy Kinsley
“I spent a couple of years trying to be a good Christian”
“Either God hates me, or..”

There couldn’t be any other option?
I can think of at least 5 other options which could block or diminish your relationship with God:
You were living in sin,
You were living ungratefully,
You lacked bodily mortification(fasting),
You lacked spiritual mortification(humbling yourself and keeping a proper perspective of your own importance)
You lacked spiritual reading.

You set out to be a good Christian but struggled with prayer and doubt.
Did you read the writings of the saints/early Christians on those topics(e.g., Ignatius/Augustine on doubt, Ignatius/Alphonsus/Teresa of Avila on prayer)?

Oh. You didn’t? Didn’t you think someone in the last 2000 years had the same questions. Don’t you want to know what answers they found?
Or maybe none of them were as bright as Kathy Kinsley.

“I don’t much care anymore.”
You probably didn’t care much then either.
That might have something to do with your failure.

“Dear God if you’re out there please show me a sign, by giving me what I want. Otherwise, I will do what I want MYSELF.”

c andrew November 25th, 2015 (#):
Hi Kathy,

Do you notice how easily ‘blaming the victim’ comes to those who would discount your internal state while vociferously asserting the universal validity of their own?

Just another instance of the ‘Motte and Bailey’ Fallacy. Or, perhaps, just ‘Bait and Switch’.

The entire post and commentariat can be found here.

Alex Lloyd said...

Also, how very strange it is that the same arguments which are given so confidently to unbelievers are not used on those within the movement who have doubts.

"Pastor, I'm struggling with doubt."

"What? That's incoherent. You inherently know God exists in the same way I know God exists - because it is revealed to you in such a way that you can be sure."

"Well, I'm no longer sure about that, Pastor."

"Well then, you've given up knowledge. Couldn't you just as easily be strapped face-down to a bed in some asylum if you doubt something as fundamental to reality and reason as the existence of God?"

"I guess so."

"Well then, there's no point me continuing to talk with anyone so stupid they can't even account for their own reason."

"But Pastor, I was hoping to discuss with you Hebrews 6:6. It's a real stumbling block for me."

"I don't do Bible study with unbelievers, and you admitted to me you 'doubt' the existence of God! Bad day, 1 John 1:11!"