Ask an Atheist: Religious Experience

John writes:

You mention lack of evidence is one reason why God must be a fantasy. After all, if he is God, surely he could leave some verifiable stuff around, couldn’t he?

That used to drive me crazy. Something so important, and you were just supposed to take someone’s word for it. I was in one of my attacks on a longtime Christian friend Jeff, for his ridiculous adherence to the fairy tale crutch. He said that if I really wanted to know, then to sincerely ask Jesus to come into my heart.

That night, I was walking home from the college library and I told God that I didn’t know if he existed or not. But that if he did, would Jesus please come into my heart? Ironwolf, I then felt a unique rush, a strong tingling from my head to my toes! It stunned me.

Got home, no roommate. I am excited, wanted to talk to someone. Get knock on door – it is my friend Jeff, dropping by. He never did this, and certainly not so late on a school night. Coincidence? Maybe but don’t think so.

After this, I found that I could believe. It as not a silly topic to me anymore.

My point: The way to the Lord is through your Heart, not your Head. You can’t believe unless God lets you. He does this by sending the Holy Spirit or Jesus, or whatever it was that flew into me. That is why the bible is all about Faith. Because only through Faith are you likely to be unshakable. If it was all intellectual, a better debater could change your mind. But what is in your heart, is what is real.

I was incredibly lucky, to feel that rush. Most people don’t get that. Who knows why I did? Maybe cause I was so adamant against religion. I don’t know. But your test could be does Jesus seem so mockable after you ask sincerely for Him to come in? Because if you ask sincerely, if He is there, why wouldn’t he come?

Your point is basically built on the Argument from Religious Experience.

When I read your message, the point at which red flags begin going up is where you say:

…and I told God that I didn’t know if he existed or not.

Over ten years ago I wrote an article called McNally’s Challenge, with an experiment for “true doubters.” Clearly, if you are in serious doubt as to whether God exists or not, and willing to pray about it, then you are not a considered atheist— and perhaps you never were.

Now, the biggest problem with the argument from religious experience in my opinion, is that many people from many cultures have religious experiences, and even if some of them point to a true metaphysical reality, they cannot all do so. Since they are in conflict, how can one be proven true over all the others? And, couldn’t they all be wrong?

Put another way, you say you asked Jesus to come into your heart. What if you had instead earnestly and openly asked Allah to guide you to his truth? Would you now be a Muslim? That is the honest experience of many converts to Islam. Who are you to say that you know the reality, and it is they that are deluded?

It is also quite clear to me that “beliefs” are much more malleable than people like to think. Our beliefs are shaped by culture, advertising, politics, friends, neighbors, and many other influences. The one thing that people miss in this equation is that we ourselves can also choose to change our beliefs. Indeed, you find that people into New Age mysticism are often quite open to adopting new beliefs or syncretizing them with their existing ones, pretty much on the “evidence” of how it makes them feel.

I think it comes down to a question of values. It gives me peace and tranquility to only adopt beliefs which have strong empirical support: that point to a reality outside my own skull. This is a major reason that I value science. Others do not hold that value so strongly— perhaps the fear of death keeps them searching for an afterlife until they find a system that assures them they will receive it.

One additional thought: in the Bible account, the idea that a non-believer remains untouched by God simply because they have neglected to “ask Jesus into their heart” never stopped God from directly reaching into that person’s life and revealing himself in no uncertain terms when he chose to do so. The main case-in-point here is Paul, but there are others. No Christian I know would deny that God is capable of touching even a “hardened heart” when he chooses to do so. So even though many Christians I have spoken with wish to claim that I am an atheist because my heart is hard, the account of their own Bible is against them: if God exists, and can change my heart, and has not done so, it is because God has not chosen to do so.

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