Musing on the conversion of atheist Bill Maher to Free Christianity

February 5, 2012

Musing on the conversion of Bill Maher and atheists generally.

Before the 1700’s the following was the common science of Western thinking: God created Adam and made him a creator (of children) and created woman then to be a field in which the seed of life was planted and which then nourished the life and gave birth. So instead of having Adam masturbate on the ground and have little children take seed and grow and develop, Adam was to spew his life potency and creation into the womb of the woman.

And so naturally it would follow from this thinking that man was the king and the woman was his servant and whom he was to treasure as a gift of God and to treat with love, etc. The man could see straight (when not tempted by woman) and alone could be in charge. The woman was a wife and help-mate. Man was like God and woman was like the earth, and from this woman-earth God brings forth child after child, but it is the man that was being transmitted, and not the woman. The woman was not a transmitter of life, but a field.

Now (since the science of the early 1800’s) we can realize via Immanuel Kant’s notion of the Anschauung that we were just seeing our own objects in the world, and these were not real, but only an illusion, like taking a face in the cloud for a real face. And so we must meet as equals, the man and the woman, for both are creators and both together have a hand in the creation of the child. So this sheds a new light on things, and now we must go back and look at the scriptures in this same light and realize that what we are getting is the word of God, but in the form of human appearances where the man was considered the “real thing” and the woman was secondary.*

* If God wants to speak to humans, then obviously God will do so in terms of the human capacity to understand God.

Now regarding evidence for God, I want to present the following as a thought experiment. I will propose that God does in fact speak to us and does so within the confines of the brainarium* (of our reality), and that this communication can be lost or mixed up in the constant barrage of self-produced thoughts and recollections and sudden thoughts and insights or hints and suggestions. (This suggests C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.) And so we will have to admit that it is indeed possible that God were actually speaking to us now and then, and that we simply are unable to distinguish the divine in the makeup of the communication, i.e., appearing as another thought in the head. This certainly does not prove it, but merely opens the door to that possibility.**

* Quickly: the brainarium denotes here a panorama within the brain at the end of the nerves of the eyes and ears, etc. and what we call the visible universe. This is proven by the simple fact of a finger splitting into two “ghosts” as it approaches the nose (of two-eyed people).

** As a speculation I assert that God does not want to overcome the human with his power, etc., but rather seeks to convince him via a camouflage so that the human will come to want contact with God, and not be forced to do so out of fear. Sort of a respect for human freedom, perhaps.

An analogy. I will suppose here: nature is so constituted that a (totally) righteous man cannot die against his will, and even if he should die via his will it is impossible naturally for him to remain dead any longer than enough to establish the death. Now we have evidence of this in the person of Jesus, as I continue in my supposition here.* The trouble is that the report of this life and experience blends in with wild and unnatural reports of other incredibilities. For example, the King of Siam at first refused to believe the European reports of water so solid that elephants could walk on it. He had experienced different degrees of coolness of water, but never freezing, and saw that there was no change in the consistency of the water as it got cooler. And so freezing was a natural fact, but it was an unexpected fact, and which could not be anticipated by the King given the circumstances of his environment. Let it be then with the death and resurrection of Jesus, a true story, but which was not evident to anyone but his disciples (whose truth could be questioned by science, even as the King of Siam questioned the truth of the freezing of water).

* This supposition here is similar with respect to evidence as is the supposition in modern science of the multiverse, i.e., no evidence, except that the stories of the Christian scriptures at least report of a death and resurrection.

So we have the possibility of the truth of the Jesus story and that of the intervention of God’s word into the lives of people. And neither of these as described would be against the laws of a single all encompassing nature.

So we have a hypothesis. But is it a testable hypothesis? Here is the reply.

William James spoke of a situation where a man would not be friendly with people unless he ran into some friendly people. The thing though is that it could well be that if the man had been friendly with all people to begin with, he would have found many more being friendly with him. And so sometimes you may have to step out in faith and take a chance in order then to experience the truth.

What then might Bill Maher expect if he were to do that?

In the first place, and this per Kant, we have a priori knowledge that the only way any God can speak to the human is morally, that is to say: the only interpretation of a divine communication is the moral. So in advance of any communication of this God we know it will be the moral imperative that pops up in one’s head on its own or through some external or earlier prompt.* **

* This is confirmed by Jesus according to John 5:1-18, i.e., no command of God may be understood to inhibit and immediate act of love.

** It is also noteworthy that Immanuel Kant declared Christianity to be the only moral religion in the history of humanity (Rational Religion, Part I, General Remarks, Paragraph 8). See also: Converting to Islam?

Now we turn to the Wesleyan Christian and speak of a positive piece of evidence, namely the personal experience of growing more lovingp, namely despite ups and down you see that you are in fact getting better, getting to be a better person, and finding it increasing easy and natural to be loving. And this in many ways, e.g., becoming a better husband or parent or a youth, and a better employer and becoming better in wanting to help others.

Now the story might go: and God (seemingly to confuse us or to stay hidden?) also has spoken and dealt with others (non-Christians) to have them grow and develop in love. According to the Wesleyan this is the so-called “prevenient grace” (preceding grace) where God gives everyone the impulse and capacity to do what is good and loving and moral, and the most that anyone can do is to reject that; for otherwise the good impulse with become a good act. And since this is common to all people, there is no overt reason to subscribe this to God.

Accordingly and following James’ argument, we have a promise of an experience of divine grace by the Wesleyan Christian, and this is exactly what happens, but otherwise, since it is grace, this is dispensed only occasionally elsewhere, and where it is not recognized to be a gift of God. This (prevenient grace) is a potential which can only be obtained by one’s effort in willingness.

So again there seems to be a camouflage. There is an actual evidence of the truth of the Christian gospel (at least the gist of it) and which can be experienced by undertaking this experiment: give yourself over to it and practice it and you will see the result in your own life.

The only reason that I can think of why God would only appear in camouflage is either because there is a trickster at play (and I think the Muslims call him Satan) or because we humans refuse to be told what to do and want to figure things out on our own (and which is the strong suggestion of the creation story in Genesis). That is perhaps our nature, to figure things out on our own without the guidance of an external authority, like God, and so where we have chosen to turn our backs on his authority and strike out on our own and take upon our own heads all our ills (which are our accomplishments, among other things). And I expect this story is replicated in the lives of all (except Jesus, of course, and according to ecclesiastical thinking about him), for we refuse to be told what to do. We are free and we are sovereign (made in the image of God).

This then is our nature, free and sovereign, and all the ills are due to us. But God at the opportune time has sent Jesus to tell us this important truth (articulated by Gandhi also) that God loves us and has already given us all the answers to all of the problems that shall ever arise and has done so in a fragmented way, so that all may take part and join in in a great team effort, and so where we must share with each other if we are to get the solution.*

* However, humanity in its fallen state will not share but insists upon payment and will only sell.

This is then the Wesleyan Christian’s story. God has created us because he conceived of us and loved us. And he let us go our own way because he created us to be free to make our own choices, and we did and still choose to be like God and become creators ourselves and continue to get into deep trouble. After a period of experience in the mess we have created, giving hints to guide events in a certain way, God showed that he never stopped loving us. The proof is that he gave us his son to inform us of a new way of heeding his command, namely of obeying the law of love on our own, in which case the universal sharing would take place and in the progression of this ensuing state, can be experienced by actually taking part in the effort.*

* See the Awakening Atonement.

The way for Bill Maher to go, in my opinion, is as a Free Wesleyan Christian where the creeds and sacred history are not binding on conscience and indeed where the only thing binding on conscience is the law of love, and where the creeds and sacred histories are pronounced as evidence of a commonality, a common purpose and solidarity, namely the exemplification of love of neighbor and brother with all kindred spirits through the ages. Here he can take part (and still maintain reservations about the sacred histories) and come to experience the progressive increase in a new loving nature. In that way he will then have the most certain evidence of the truth of the gist of Jesus as reported, for that is the promise of that gospel, namely that we will approach perfection in love.*

* John Wesley put it like this: “what the gospel promises has been accomplished in my soul”, namely he was approaching the promised perfection and had every reason to expect it before death.

 I think Bill Maher could do this. I think that if he is convinced enough to give it a try as a Free Christian, he will do it, even though it goes against his grain. He gave evidence of this sincerity to me in his “Religulous”. I think it had to do with the concept of the trinity where he was taken aback, but still left it in his film. He would be duty bound to continue unmasking hypocrisy in the church and elsewhere, only now he would be more hopeful about the future.

* Speaking of the Trinity see this blog.

A final evidence perhaps is the realization of the moral state of the atheist. He must perforce be an animal or “bold” atheist, admitting the total inanity and silliness of any moral code (without God) and acting accordingly; or he must be a moral or “timid” atheist, namely adding that he has decided to follow this inane and silly code anyway. In the first case he is immoral, and in the second case he is irrational. It is one or the other. (See Lectures to the Atheist Youth.)

And so then a refusal to accept the meaning of atheism, i.e., losing all meaning for the moral law, calls for a search for a meaning to the moral law elsewhere. The Free Wesleyan then invites Maher to give Free Christianity a try, as earnestly as a champion ball player, and promises him that he will come to see that he is in fact getting better and that that experience will make him happy and give him confidence and finally, at the end of the day, he will come not only to acknowledge God, but even to love God.

Concerning the pressing question of justice in existence I think we need to appeal to St. Francis and speak of diverse capacities of enjoying God. As a child will relate to a father in one way,  his adult children will relate to him in a different and more expansive way and can enjoy the father differently from the young child. One person will enjoy a symphony differently than another, depending upon personal capacity. The final rule then, perhaps, is that all will enjoy God according to their own capacity. Francis will be able to enjoy him much more than many others because he got to know and love Jesus even to the extent of the stigmata. Maybe some people are happier when by themselves than with others. If Hitler were at a party with Jews he would probably be happier just by himself. Perhaps that will be his choice in the hereafter. (See C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)

In a nutshell: The gist of the gospel stories could be in total accord with the laws of nature. The truth of the gospels can be ascertained through their tie-in with Kant’s universal moral law and through one’s own personal experience in accepting the teachings and example of Jesus and acting on them per John Wesley and à la William James. The first says: since the Free Christian Church is moral it could be the truth. The second says: due to my own experience (in growing in love) I know that it is the truth.

Postscript. Here is an interesting blog which notes that the faith that scientists have in certain matters is no different from the faith of Christians. And consider another take on the Atonement. And there is this essay on the possibility of an atheist moral code which entails a comparison of the religious thinking of Carl Sagan and Immanuel Kant. See also this short blog on Discussions between Christians and atheists. And as a finale try perusing Christian Liberty.

Author contact: pmr#$kantwesley.com, replacing #$ with @

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