Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thor's Day: Experiencing Jesus

Is that experiment necessary?

By Morris Dean

[Republished with corrections.]

We’re not ready yet to sign up volunteers for the experiment we proposed last week (“Experiencing Jesus: Could we do a scientific experiment?”). But I can tell anyone thinking of volunteering that we weren’t envisioning attaching you to any machines.
    In fact, it became clear to me the same day I posted last week’s column that we’d simply ask you. You’d do whatever our advisers (Kyle Garza, Patrick Sawyer, Robert Regallie) prescribed for experiencing Jesus, and we’d ask you, “Did you experience Jesus?” and “Please describe the experience for us.”
    And we would take your word for it.
    But then I immediately realized, why do an experiment? Why not, rather than question whether people like Kyle and Patrick and Robert actually experience Jesus, we simply took their word for it – and stop imagining that they only imagined that they did. Isn’t that what I’d been doing for years – imagining? Rejecting their claims because they didn’t fit my metaphysics?

In my interchange with Robert on Saturday, he wrote:
When I tried to explain to you how I felt when baptized, I fell short. I don’t believe I have the literary ability to put it into words. Something happens, one’s relationship with the maker of one’s soul is real....I know my relationship with God is real. How do you measure it or prove that it is real?
    And I replied:
Robert, as I indicated in the public reply comment I made to you, I am willing to accept that you really do experience Jesus – I take your word for it. The same as you may not be able to prove that you do, I am not able to prove that you don’t. I am happy to be able to tell you that I only in the last few days (as a result of posting Thursday’s post about the experiment) came to realize that I have no personal investment in what others do or don’t experience when it comes to God or Jesus or anything else supernatural. That is, I am not threatened by other people’s being able to “experience Jesus.”
    I confess that telling him I wasn’t threatened and had "no personal investment" was something like an act of faith – or an “act as if” – on my part. After all, my recent history of verbally attacking religion didn’t seem like that of someone with “no personal investment.”
    Maybe I was in the process of divesting myself of some baggage?
    I went on to tell Robert:

I haven’t experienced Jesus and am okay with not experiencing him. I accept that I just seem not to be one of the people for whom that is possible. No big deal. “It takes all kinds to make a world,” as someone has said. This realization of its being okay for me if others find the supernatural real has been very liberating, and it has dissolved all of my antipathy toward “believers.” Marvelous feeling!
    Sounds like I’d been saved, doesn’t it? Saved from unconstructive negative feelings and actions. Saved from rancor.
    Saved perhaps from the ire of having previously believed that I was one of the people who could experience Jesus, so why wasn’t I experiencing him?

Patrick, even before I heard from Robert, had told me that
there is an actual experience with and of Jesus that can happen outside of a saving relationship with Him. Such an experience is felt and earmarked by joy and peace for a time but fades betraying it wasn’t salvific in nature [emphasis mine].
Grateful for having learned a new word, I told Patrick:
I experience joy and peace almost daily; it would be interesting to be able to compare my experience with the experience of which you speak. If comparable, it would begin to look as though “salvation” is very different things in the eyes of different people.

Ed Rogers’s comment early on the day the column appeared had been the very first feedback received (aside from Kyle’s reaction to my showing him a preview: “OOooooooo I love the idea!”):
How do you prove a feeling is real or not real? To the person having the feeling it is very real but to others it is not...No matter how many times you ask the question it will always be the same answer – you believe or you don’t.
    How many times had I been told that? You believe or you don’t. But I seem to have walked right past it, persisting in my own belief that if you believed [in God], you needed to “be fixed.” (Had I been going to fix what was wrong with people who believed?)

Ed, Chuck Smythe, and I are different in some way from Kyle, Patrick, and Robert.
    Ed has had the experience, and he believes that there is “something outside of ourselves,” but...:

They call it God, and I say I don’t know, because I don’t. It could only be a strong imagination or like, with a radio, people pick up different stations from time to time.
    I do not truck with religions, not because of a religious belief in a god but because religions do much more harm than good. There is no room for doubt within religions, because the believers feel that if they speak out about their religion’s wrongs they will be cast out. Why would anyone want to join a club like that?
    I have been so-called “saved” twice but felt no different after going under the water than before. However, any experiences I had were outside of any church. Although I was not doing any drugs at the time, the experience was not unlike being on a drug.
    My wife Janie has asked me many times why I was baptized. The truth is I wanted to have that feeling again, but it has never happened in a church nor has it happened when I went looking for it. That was when I realized it was not some group experience but a very personal one.
    All religions exploit the feelings of their believers to increase the size of their religion. The experience is part of the way they keep control, by taking credit for giving it to the person who has been saved. Don’t misunderstand, I believe the person had an experience, I just don’t believe that his or her religion had anything to do with it.
    Churches are more like a rehab center where all the drug users come to talk about that great high and look for that next fix. I’ve had the experience two, maybe three times in my life – I just took it for what it was and never got hooked.
    Chuck Smythe doesn’t not believe in Jesus, because  
he was certainly an historical figure. Nor even, exactly, don’t I believe in his divinity. I don’t “believe in” belief itself, at least in the sense the religious use the word....
    Many people, including myself, have had experiences that are wildly beyond the everyday (I’m thinking here about my “transcendent” musical experiences [“In pursuit of ecstasy,” April 8, 2013]). Whether such an experience is “supernatural” or just an unusual emotional state I can’t say. I keep trying to have them, though, because these experiences feel supremely important, and I’d love to understand them. A number of psychologists have tried – I assume you’ve read The Varieties of Religious Experience [by William James]?...What I wonder about is people’s certainty that such experiences are caused by communication from a god. Even in my own case, I know no reason to assume that. Or to deny it.
    If the Christians are right that failure to believe in God will cause you to fry in hell, then of course all this matters more that anything else. It seems implausible to me, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee that it’s wrong. I’ve managed to relax about that only because there is nothing I can do. I can’t simply decide to believe something is true because it might be expedient. It just doesn’t work that way.
    I myself don’t believe in Jesus in the sense that he’s the Son of God, mankind’s Savior, etc. I only admit a theoretical possibility that it might be so. Like Ed and Chuck, I don’t know. But neither do I any longer care, although I did at one time. I am not burdened by any fear of hell, nor any wish for heaven. Isn’t that a sort of salvation?
    When I referred above to the “joy and peace that I experience almost daily,” I was referring to “transcendent experiences” (to quote Chuck) of a humbler, more domestic variety – a profound kinship with Siegfried, for example, loving and caring for him as I let him out and back in, brushing his teeth before bed – often if not always accompanied by a sense of love and respect for his “other-personness”; or the glad heart-leap almost daily felt while watching goldfinches hang onto the thistle feeder – feeling a thankful fullness to be a part of their world in the act of keeping thistle in their feeder; or the rarer voluminous overflowing of heart when experiencing a sense of gratitude for life and its superabundant beauty, typically accompanied by the exuberant sense that I would willingly die the next moment and have no regrets, nothing not experienced.
    And, of course, I have read William James on the varieties of religious experience (referred to above by Chuck). I've quoted James’s book a few times on this blog, and in my post of December 18, 2014 (originally published on January 22, 2012), I characterized myself as being “of a mystical bent”:

About three years ago, I included myself among “others of a mystical bent,” and I even quoted [Rainer Maria] Rilke. Admitting to a mystical bent surprised me as much as quoting Rilke; I hadn’t meant to get into anything like that.
    Maybe I’m ready to try to say what spirituality (or being spiritual) means for me?
    Phrases like reverence for life (Albert Schweitzer), benevolence toward the humblest living creature (Charles Darwin), practice compassion (Dalai Lama), and The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth (Chief Seattle) come to mind.
    What can I say? Dwelling on such concepts in the awareness of nature and of our life on Earth casts a sort of numinous spell over me, a feeling that resonates with William James’s characterization of mystical experience as “a deepened sense of significance.” And, even when I’m not “having the experience,” I try to maintain an abiding sense of the deep significance of things, the deep significance of choices and actions.
    James even excuses my inability to say much about this deep sense: “There is ineffability: the subject of a mystical experience cannot find words to describe it.” [Remember what Robert said, above.]
So, what about the experiment? As conceived, I think it’s a lost cause, scientifically. And Chuck agrees:
Philosophers of science claim as the subject of science the things we can observe, experiment on, and expect others to be able to try the same experiment and get the same result. As Robert pointed out, in the case of subjective experience you can philosophize yourself silly over what is “real”; the element of confirming experiment just isn’t available. One can hook the brain up to electrodes and measure the neurological correlates of a subjective experience (and this has often been done), but that will tell you nothing about whether a subjective event was caused by a god or by a misbehaving neuron. It is for this reason I’ve been dubious about your research proposal. Until you can suggest a reproducible experiment whose results could only be explained by the presence or absence of a god, you have nothing scientific to work with. People have been trying to concoct such an experiment for centuries, with no success that I know of, and I have no reason to think I’m cleverer.
I confess that I don’t think I am either.
     While it is intriguing to speculate, for example, that people who seem capable of believing in Jesus may be somehow genetically different from people who seem incapable of doing so, we are not well situated to undertake biological research into genes that might compel the former to believe in Jesus – or prevent the latter from doing so (somehow inoculating them from being infected?).

Coda. I shared with Kyle my communication with Robert [quoted above]. Kyle wrote that he found my thoughts interesting, but he doubted that I could possibly have meant it:
Are you suggesting that you are open to the possibility that there is a God, Jesus truly was God incarnate, and He really does commune with people (like me), but He just resigned you over to an inability to experience that fellowship? I.e., that He just made you incapable of experiencing Him, hence you never did when you once thought you were a Christian in your youth?
    If that is the case, you say you’re okay with that?
    I confirmed that it was fine with me, but he still seemed incredulous:
That comes as quite a surprise to me. Let me make sure I understand the full extent of what you are now thinking, though:
    You are comfortable with embracing the idea that God (the Christian God that I always refer to) has not given you the means to properly “connect” with Him: that though He loves and cares for you as an individual and wants you to be in eternal bliss with Him in splendor, that He has made you incapable of accepting Him as your proper and true God and Savior – incapable of confessing you are imperfect and in need of His help in life to be righteous – incapable of admitting that He has more authority over your life than you – all this because He made you this way – which is really to say that He has created you with the end goal in mind that you would be forever separated from Him in Hell, left in eternal torment due to no particular fault of your own volition? Thus, when you die and resign yourself over to the eternal sentient pain of Hell, you will forever be left with the memory that you could not have chosen to surrender your life to His authority and so enter Heaven because He made you incapable of such an act.
    I’m afraid that I was unable to hide my frustration at Kyle’s not taking my word for it:
Ha, Kyle, you almost outdo yourself in florid, flamboyant rhetoric! I could see you delivering that in a Toastmasters “tall tales” contest!
    While I of course do not “embrace” any of the ideas you express in such loving detail (but allow only for the theoretical possibility that the gist of it might be true), it appears that your understanding is, in some sense, correct, although obviously you are not really, truly understanding me at all.
    I have already drafted Thor’s Day’s column, so you will be able to learn more about me in roughly 29.5 hours [this was early Tuesday evening]. Even if I die tonight, the first draft is already scheduled for publication, so you will not be left hanging.
Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean


  1. Last night, under some duress to stop working on the blog, I scheduled publication for midnight even though I was aware of a few typos and other errors. A few minutes ago, I finished correcting these (the ones I could spot), reverted the post to draft, and republished with a 6 a.m. time-stamp. [The reason for reverting to draft was to ensure that anyone subscribed to automatic email notifications would receive the revised text.]

  2. I hope this is an end to all this bullshit.

    1. Ed, mi amigo! I think I know what you are saying, that the back-and-forth about religious beliefs rarely if ever produces any changes in the minds of the people who are going back and forth, as though everything they're saying might as well be "bullshit"? I agree that little happens in the way of mind-changing when it comes to discussions of religion and religious belief.
          But I think I regard the Thor's Day columns in a way different from you. The two "Experiencing Jesus" columns meant a lot to me in my finally coming to understand (and incorporate into my speech and action) that I can take religious people at their word and respect their personal experience (rather than, as I say in today's column, imagine that their experience isn't "real"). And I can, and have, given up my need to "fix what's wrong with them."
          I think I had a real-life example of this just a couple of hours ago. I'll tell you an anecdote:
          There is a gray-haired lady who works as a "greeter" at our local Walmart. I have long been struck by her pleasant demeanor and ever-present smile. Today I felt drawn to stop and say how much I appreciated her cheerfulness. I even said, "Barbara [not really her name, which I don't want to divulge], I just feel like giving you a hug." We embraced, and I added, "I just love you. You seem so benevolent!" And she said, "Everything's fine when the Lord's on your side." Now, if it hadn't been for these two Thor's Day columns, I don't think I could or would have done or said what I did and said next: I stretched my arms out wide in a gesture of beholding, smiled really big, and said, "Absolutely!"
          It was a very nice moment – sort of up there with the "transcendent experience" of beholding and feeling akin to the goldfinches on the thistle feeder.
          Obviously, these columns haven't meant anything like that to you (if they've meant anything at all to you), and for that I am sorry. I do appreciate your willingness to let me quote you in today's column. I value your input, as I valued that of everyone else who communicated something to me that I used in the column. (And this very much includes Kyle's input; I hope that today's column will have meant something to him, too – that he can cease trying to fix what is wrong with me, for one thing.)
          As a result of my personal "transformation" during these two most recent columns, I think that Thor's Day will become more "gathering" people together than "dispersing" them. I hope so, anyway. You know that I wish to do good, however challenging and difficult that might be.

    2. I'd have to respectfully disagree about the supposedly fruitless endeavor to dialogue about theology/ontology/soteriology. To say that such dialogues "rarely" produce transformed hearts and minds is to deny the reality of all people like myself and C.S. Lewis (and everyone in between and above and below) who through such dialogues became grounded in Christianity (identifying oneself with the historical Jesus) above all other worldviews.

      Likewise, to think of my contributions to the Thor's Day column as attempts to "fix" anyone is to misunderstand soteriology. By no means do I think I can fix anyone’s innate hubris, lust, envy, sin, etc. I think only God can do that. I do however think that I may play some small part in speaking into someone’s intellectual barriers that blockade him or her from the “transcendent experience” (as Morris might put it) of God Himself. We often just refer to that as a “hard heart” though.

      Perhaps we all should be reminded of Penn Jillette’s words back in (I think) 2009. As loud and outspoken as atheists can get, he still summarized in five minutes what I think we do here (sometimes) on a weekly basis:

      Whether it be considered proselytizing or mere “dialoguing,” to not have such discussions as these actually reveals a deep-seated hatred or apathy for the well-being of other sentient people—a hatred and apathy that I have for no man or woman, no matter how much he or she may consider my words BS.

      As a result of this kind of thinking, I don’t think it safe nor honest to simply smile at someone and say “Absolutely!” when I think his or her worldview places him or her in infinite peril. My worldview produces a constant motivation to bring light into darkness. But then perhaps there is a point when those who think that darkness is all that awaits us get tired of hearing about the light.

      Plato, the teacher of Aristotle, after whom this blog is partially named, said the same of a certain cave after all.

    3. Kyle, what did you think of Moristotle's thought of "gathering" people together rather than "dispersing" them? I personally love that idea.

      And you took exception to his saying "Absolutely" to the lady "Barbara." I also love that he did that. What did it hurt? No one. And it made for a very nice moment. There aren't many nice moments in this world sometimes, so we have to grab them when we can.

      No one can really "fix" another person, but we sure can try to show human kindness and love and respect each other's thoughts and differences. Humor, as I've said many times, helps me survive. Especially good humor (in the sense of being cheerful, of good cheer).

      —Dawn Burke, your cousin in Arkansas

  3. Kyle I had hoped you would not reference me, but like all opinionated assholes you could not help yourself. Your beliefs are of no concern to the world, but for some reason you think God has a great purpose for you an that is to enlighten those who you feel are standing in the dark. What great insight do you have that says what is light and what is dark? A book! A book that without it you would be lost. A book that you and your Christian friends pick and choose from. Don't play some game about how it's such a great thing to be a Christian and Jesus smiles on those who follow him when there are so few of you who do so. The stupid idea that government is bad and the church is good; this does not stand up well in the history of the Christian movement but I forget, you get to choose what is Christian and what is not. Your follow Christians have supported war and killing from the beginning. At the start there may have been two camps: let's fight and let's turn the other cheek. It is not hard to see which won that debate. Your own book tells of a Jesus who threw the money changers from the temple. So why is it now you welcome them with open arms. The school where you teach, is paid for by fellow Christians and is tax free. Why are those kids not taught in a public school and the money to run your school given to the poor. Is that not what Jesus said to do? Do not quote from a book you don't live by----I know you think you do and that is your biggest problem. Pride is the biggest sin of all or that is what I hear anyway. This is not to open a debate with you so save the new found vocabulary to impress someone else.

  4. Ed, for someone who doesn't want to open a debate, you sure have chosen "fightin' words," and then just asked that I don’t respond to them. The only response I made that referenced you was your calling the subject of Morris’s post “BS.” I did not intend that as a personal attack. And while I don't have any personal qualms against you, I do take issue with that slew of potshots you wrote (I counted 10 in total). So please don't take this response personally: it's your ideas that need redressing--not you.

    1. "Your beliefs are of no concern to the world."
    I think it goes without saying that millions (possibly billions) disagree, and more are disagreeing every day. The very content of the ideas the Christian worldview offers are of the highest concern to humanity in particular.

    2. “A book that without it you would be lost.”
    Here I think is a misunderstanding of history. The book itself (really, an anthology of history, poetry, prophecy, and personal letters), doesn’t make Christianity survive. Bear in mind there weren’t Bibles in mass production in the first few centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection: the meteoric rise of the early Christian church in the face of Rome’s persecution didn’t hinge on “a book.” Likewise, the same can be said of the underground Christian church growing in China.

    3. “A book that you and your Christian friends pick and choose from.”
    I’m not sure what my friends and I cherry-pick in the Bible. If you would clarify, I could have an easier time responding.

    4. “… Jesus smiles on those who follow him when there are so few of you who do so.”
    I’m not sure what the presence of Christians is like in your neck of the woods, but I didn’t know this was the global status quo. How do you measure something like that?

    5. “The stupid idea that government is bad and the church is good”
    I’ve never heard of Jesus making a statement like that. What makes that seem like a Christian idea to you?

    1. 6. “… you get to choose what is Christian and what is not.”
      I don’t. If it follows the example of Jesus Christ, or lives out His life or His teaching, it is Christian. I think that’s a pretty standard definition most would accept.

      7. “Your follow Christians have supported war and killing from the beginning. At the start there may have been two camps: let’s fight and let’s turn the other cheek. It is not hard to see which won that debate.” (sic)
      I’ve not heard of Christian support of “war and killing” in the first few centuries A.D (which is what I assume you mean by “from the beginning). To what do you reference? Are you perhaps referring to the crusades? That tends to be what most people reference. Those followed a millennia after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And I think those give better evidence to what happened commonly in the Roman Catholic Church with a corrupt pope in authority. Jesus Himself never said anything about a need to “keep the Holy Land holy,” so the idea of driving out the Muslim people during that time seems obviously un-Christian to me.

      8. (the comment about Jesus and the money changers and the school where I teach)
      This one I think makes the least sense, and is probably your most personal attack. Jesus drove money changers out of the temple because of their larcenous money trading in what was intended to be a holy place. The school in which I teach is a school—not a church or some kind of “holy place.” And I’m not sure what you mean by “paid for by fellow Christians.” Non-Christians attend and fund the school plenty because they think the quality of our education is great. It’s not as if we’re making a “profit” from educating the youth to make a positive impact on the world. And “the school,” apart from the humanitarian donations of its donors, does help “the poor.” Are you suggesting we don’t help the poor enough? How do you measure that? If you’d like to get a better look at how the school is stewarding the money it receives to educate our students and serve the world philanthropically, I could try to get that information for you upon request. And to answer your question, “Is that not what Jesus said to do?” no, Jesus never said “The majority of your money should be given to the poor.” I’m not sure where you get that idea either.

      9. “Do not quote from a book you don’t live by—I know you think you do and that is your biggest problem.”
      I don’t live by a book. I attempt to live by a Person. And I don’t think I live perfectly up to that Person’s standard of righteousness. It is my inability to live up to that Person’s holy standard that is my biggest problem. Fortunately, I have accepted the grace that Person offers me, as He knows I need Him in order to live in fellowship with Him, according to His character.

      10. “Pride is the biggest sin of all or that is what I hear anyway.”
      While all sin is equally sin in God’s eyes (and so leads to death and separation from God), “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is considered to be the greatest sin of all because it is the one sin that Jesus Himself said was unforgiveable (Matthew 12:31). It is the constant rejection of God’s offer of eternal life and grace to wash our broken, sinful, rebellious human nature.

    2. Kyle, as I said via email I would do, I thank you publicly for including no Biblical citations in your ten queries of Ed (whom, as you know, I have advised not to take you up on them – not that he needed any such advice).
          In case I failed to say as much in any of the conversations you and I have had on matters "Christian versus atheist," I always gritted my teeth whenever you drug the Bible out. I am interested in what you experience and decidedly NOT interested in whatever the Bible (or any other religious scripture) says or might be thought to say.
          Using experience as our guide, let me ask you this: rather than ask Ed what he meant, why not ask Jesus? Surely he knows Ed's heart and mind better than Ed does and could tell you, if you asked him. And, if Jesus didn't make you sign a non-disclosure agreement, you could then respond to Ed's comment above without the need to query him. Please consider this.

  5. Mi buen amigo Ed & mon cher neveu Kyle, thank both of you gentlemen for your comments. I admire the directness with which you both forge ahead in pursuit of truth and goodness. Would that I myself could be so assertive!
        Kyle, don't get a big head at the honor of being called an asshole by Ed – you're not the only one Ed has referred to as such. Others have included me, Bob Boldt, and – believe it or not – Ed himself. (Ed is a rare person of modest and unsparing self-assessment.) I hope you will count yourself honored to be included in such august (and aged) company (even a going-on-73-year-old like myself is junior to both Bob & Ed, who have experienced much more of life than I, and acquired an incomparable degree of wisdom).

    Ed, I see that Kyle hopes to engage you in that debate you hoped not to be offered. I want to warn you that if you engage him, it won't be any fun. He is deadly. He may be a young person, but he has an uncommon degree of sang-froid, and I myself try my utmost to avoid debating him. Debating with Kyle is a rattling, decidedly unsettling undertaking. Proceed with caution, and at your own risk!

  6. I am pleased to be able to report experiencing almost an hour's "transcendence" this morning to a lovely, transporting plane of love and connection with other human beings while shopping successively in Chapel Hill's Whole Foods & A Southern Season stores. I credit yesterday's column (and my brief conversation with "Barbara") for inspiring this, although I have had many such experiences in my life, though perhaps not as extended in time.

    This got me to thinking about what Kyle said he would not do if he encountered a "Barbara" whom he found so pleasant and cheerful that he spontaneously embraced her and told her he loved her, but who then didn't invoke "the Lord" to explain her good cheer (I thank Dawn Stella for the phrase), but rather somehow indicated that she was of good cheer because she didn't believe in God (i.e., someone whom Kyle regards as having a "worldview [that] places him or her in infinite peril" and as living in darkness). Kyle indicates that he would not have said "Absolutely!" or anything else that might have shown support for, or acquiescence in, her explanation, because, first of all, he seems to think that would be both unsafe and dishonest, and, I guess, be encouraging her to remain in peril and in darkness. But he might, if he didn't judge that "Barbara" had become "tired of hearing about the light," try to get her into a conversation to show her the advantages of accepting Jesus as her personal savior.
        I think that Kyle is probably right about how productive shop talk can be about doctrines of Christian salvation (which is what I learned "soteriology" is all about when I looked it up in Wikipedia) when the shop talk is among believers like C.S. Lewis. But attempts to have such talks with non-believers aren't quite so productive and are more likely to lead to animosity than to human bonding. Note my frustration with Kyle at his "florid and flamboyant" follow-up inquiry into my being "fine" with going to hell.
        But, Kyle, I forgive you that. You are young and inexperienced, you think you mean well, and your expectations are still unrealistically high. I have the realistic hope (I hope it's realistic) that you will come, as I finally have, to take other people's word for their personal, subjective experience. I respect your experience of Jesus (do you ever even experience C.S. Lewis in a similar way?). Please learn to respect my non-experience of Jesus.

  7. Good Saturday, everyone whose eye catches this, hopefully including mon cher neveu Kyle's.
        Kyle, on my cool-morning's 1-mile walk to the fitness center just now, I fantasized the Last Judgment. You were standing over to the right with the other sheep (if I may use a Jehovah's Witness metaphor for the saved), and over to the left was I, just as you have predicted, with the goats. In my fantasy, you whisper to the sheep near you: "I told him so!"
        It is difficult for me to decide, from all that you have said to me, which you would regret more, my continuing to be unable to experience Jesus, or my finally being able to experience Jesus and get saved (thereby depriving you of an atheist to try to engage in debate, not to mention the opportunity to say "I told you so"). I really, really can't decide.

    1. Morris,

      Based on my limited exposure to Kyle, I submit he would regret your not being able to experience Jesus and not regret losing a debate partner. I feel certain Kyle would gladly give up debating you for the knowledge and joy he would have knowing you had closed with Christ and were experiencing the salvation, love, joy, peace, and freedom that comes with knowing Christ personally and intimately. Kyle being a real Christian recognizes his relationship to Christ is founded on the mercy and grace of Christ and not anything within himself. Kyle doesn't think he is "better" than you because he believes in Christ and you don't. He just has a clear understanding of the stakes and wants you to come to the saving knowledge of Christ as he has.

      Now of course I don't know Kyle, but these are my suspicions. I bet he loves you and that love is driving him to be concerned about your soul, recognizing he has the same soul needs as you do.

      By the way I plan to offer my experience of Jesus in the near term. Appreciate you Morris.

  8. Patrick said everything I would have, Morris. I would get no pleasure out of "I told you so." I can't say it would make my day, but I can say it would certainly make my life to know that I would spend eternity getting to walk and talk with you. And we would get to talk about art and music and people together--everything that makes life beautiful really. Honestly, the very thought chokes me up and nearly brings me to tears (McKenzie can testify).

    It's the mental exercise of debate that I enjoy, not the idea of "being right" and others "being wrong." But I have a sharp tongue (fingers?), and so I can understand why "love" being the impetus for my engaging with you may come as a surprise. I truly am sorry if I have given you the impression that I enjoy being an "adversary."

  9. Kyle (and Patrick), I have told both of you thanks via email. Thanks to Patrick for interceding, and thanks to Kyle for not needing the intercession.
        As both of you know from my email, my personal thinking (such as my thinking is) about these matters is more a matter of inspiration than of "mental exercise" – although I admit, Kyle, that your "mental exercise" may involve inspiration. For me, though, I don't willingly think of it as participation in a debate. I insist on such interchanges being collaborative, among minds in harmony.
        Thankfully now, from my point of view at any rate, our minds are in harmony, however much we may disagree on definitions and things that are written in books.

  10. Morris,

    I appreciate your invitation to comment regarding my experience of Jesus. Due to its length, I will attempt to put several comments in succession as you have advised.

    First, I apologize for my delay. As I think you know I have been out of town getting my sons settled in their new apartment at the coast where one will start his college career as a freshman majoring in English and Film Studies and the other, just having returned from India for the summer, will start his post culinary school culinary career in the kitchen of a tony, fine dining restaurant that is making some regional waves in the culinary world. I also have a hip that likes to flirt with dislocation who has been trying to get a date all week! This has also put me behind in giving you a response. I mention this insight into my family and my health to underscore to your more skeptical readers that I am a normal guy with common, accessible experiences, trying to carve out a meaningful life, just as we all are. This is an important point. While I will relate perspectives that will necessarily call attention to the divide that exists between those who have had an authentic experience of Jesus and those who have not, my overarching perspective is that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

    To relate my experience of (and with) Jesus, one that had a beginning and is ongoing, I want to convey the first time Jesus arrested my attention and interrupted (graciously) my phenomenological experience (my day to day felt experience).

    Before I begin I want to mention two things. First, human beings can have an actual experience of Jesus that is not salvific in nature. These experiences are often marked on the front end by intense emotion and a felt desire to be committed to Jesus but over time either fade or morph into something that is reduced to self-deception. In terms of fading over time we see this phenomenon occur in Jesus' parable of the sower found in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20; and Luke 8:1-15). In terms of morphing into self-deception we see this in Jesus comments in Matthew 7:13-23. In these instances it is usually the hardships of the world or the pleasures of the world that overcome the initial desire to follow Jesus or a continuation in lifestyles dominated by sin (activity at variance with God's moral law) contributing to self-deception, all betraying that bona fide salvation by Jesus was not the context of these experiences because authentic salvation is a permanent condition that affects a permanently transformed life (John 3:14-16, 1John 3:1-2, Galatians 4:4-6, John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:14-16, 28-39, 2Corinthians 5:17, John 10:25-30, Philippians 1:6, 1Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 2:8-10).

  11. Second, post-modernism emphasizes that all our experiences (and by derivation our perceptions and beliefs) about reality are socially constructed. Ergo, nothing stands outside or transcends a socially constructed paradigm. Consequently, people of religious faith exist because they have been socially constructed to accept the belief systems they hold to. Certainly the myriad of social systems that press upon us greatly influence our understanding of reality. The Arendtian notion of belatedness, that we arrive into a world that already is, and one that has actively defined us by our positionality, by our ethnicity, gender, and class as well as by the historical era in which we arrive and by the geography in which we reside, no doubt collectively conspire to formulate our perceptions of truth and reality. But (and this is quite a prodigious but I might add), the notion that social construction is the ultimate arbiter and sole author of perceptions of truth and reality is seriously flawed. One runs the risk of having to submit to the notion that the conclusion, ergo the belief, that all of life is socially constructed is, itself, a social construction. To put it another way, ascribing totality to the concept of social construction makes social construction an Absolute Truth. In this way social construction becomes its own telos and the post-modern mind certainly can't have that.

    Moreover, such totality has difficulty in explaining how someone can come to live a life that is at great odds with how he or she has been socially constructed. And this is where my initial experience of Jesus comes into play.

    I was not brought up in a Christian home. I was brought up in a marginally religious home of a "Christian" persuasion that understood the "Christian" experience to be reduced to one hour on Sunday and being 'moral'. A morality that centered on properly socialized outward behavior designed to adhere to what it meant to be a 'good kid' growing up in small town America in the 70s and 80s, which, by the way, could be accomplished without one ounce of genuine spiritual renewal. I thought that since I wasn't as bad as some, even most, my moral ticket would get me to heaven. My parents never once opened a Bible in our home. In fact I don't remember if they even owned a copy but I'm sure they must have. Our 'prayer life' was reduced to a rote prayer just before most meals.

  12. When I was a senior in high school a friend of mine came over to tell me he was going to commit suicide in a few days. At the beginning of our senior years my friend and I had the possibility of playing football in college. Unfortunately we both had season ending injuries that also ended any hopes of playing college ball. This devastated my friend. (It was no small matter for me either). After he got hurt his girlfriend decided to hook up with a couple of other guys and end their relationship. This was too much for my friend to take. He came over to my house seriously depressed to give me the news he was taking his life in his bedroom in a couple of days (on the weekend when his folks were out of the house).

    I spent about 4 hours with my friend giving him all kinds of advice that essentially focused on "believing in himself", that he "could do better than his girlfriend anyway", that "college would be a new beginning", that he was "better and stronger than to take his life", etc. I also told him I would be crushed and needed his friendship in my life.

    After he left I felt he seemed to come out of the need to take his life but I wasn't certain. (He did not take his life by the way). I also knew I had mainly given him pop psychology platitudes that may not hold up a few weeks later when he may come crashing down again.

    So after he left an idea came to me: maybe God could help him. So that night I went and found a Good News Bible that I had received when I was 12 years old in Confirmation Class at my church. It was buried in my closet unused and unread. That night I decided to start with Matthew in the New Testament and just read until something came up that I thought might be helpful to my friend. I was open to whatever God would show me. Well, 5 hours later I was still reading! I was blown away by what I read! By the end of the night I had read most of the New Testament stopping just before the book of Revelation. As I was reading the Bible and contemplating what it said, it's as if the Bible was reading me and contemplating and analyzing me. Three things jumped out at me and left a permanent impression upon me: 1) this Jesus I had heard about was much more that what I had heard. He was God and as such He had an absolute claim upon my life. I felt He was very near and immediate, not off at a distance somewhere, 2) the wisdom and relevancy of Jesus and the Apostle Paul's teaching to my specific life were astounding, and 3) that my moral ticket was not going to get me to Heaven. That such a ticket was a myth, nonsensical in light of what I had just read. I came to see myself as one who had been deceived about my perceived goodness. That in truth I was a desperate sinner who needed a pardon from God that was outside myself. That I needed what Christ did on the cross personally applied to me or I was undone.

  13. That night lying in bed after hours of reading I asked God to forgive me of all my sins and to do whatever it took to get me to Heaven. That whatever I had to give up or change would be fine as long as Jesus would truly be my Savior and Lord. I asked Jesus to take complete ownership of my life and lead me where I needed to go and cause me to do whatever He wanted me to do with my life. So what happened in that moment? Well, nothing outwardly. There was no flash of light, no sound, no great emotion. But something more powerful: A settled belief that I knew I meant what I said and that God would honor it. A radical inward change was put in motion.

    That morning I woke up and knew my life was different. I immediately went to my girlfriend, head cheerleader of our rival high school, and told her what happened and that we would have to stop our sexual life. We were going at warp speed sexually and all of it had to stop. I remember feeling at the moment I was explaining this to her that it was crazy for me to want to stop our sexual life. I even laughed to myself; God had become seriously real, immediate, and undeniable! He had made me "born again" (John 3:3, 7). God had made real and actual Ephesians 2:8-10 in my life. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them". I had a settled calm that my soul was safe in Christ and that He was now leading my life. He opened my eyes to reality and there was no turning back. He now had my life and would never let it go (John 10:25-30). Almost three decades later He hasn't. From that initial experience of Jesus, the point of being 'born again', the point at which God moved me from being dead in my sins and transgressions (Ephesians 2:1) to being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5), the point at which all my sins, past, present, and future, were forgiven and salvation became mine ( really, actually, personally mine), Jesus has been with me every day.

  14. Consequently I experience Him every day. My entire life is in reference to Him. I experience Christ's grace, mercy, and power as He moves me down a path of sanctification, a path where I am moving away from sin and towards His will and desires (1Thessolonians 4:2-3a). I experience His discipline (as a loving Father towards a son) when He corrects me over my remaining sin (Hebrews 12:5-11). I experience His wisdom and guidance as He enlightens my understanding through His word (Psalm 119:97-105) and directs me by His sovereign providence (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:26-39). As Christ continually mediates on my behalf (1Timothy 2:5), reconciling me to the Father, I experience an Abba Father relationship with God, that is an intimate relationship with God as my Dad, marked by tenderness and gentleness (Romans 8:14-16). I experience His peace that passes all understanding in the midst of trial and difficulty in this life (Philippians 4:7) as I cast all my cares upon Him because He cares so deeply for me (1Peter 5:7). I experience His joy and the palatable pleasure of His presence as I follow Him as the psalmist conveys in Psalm 16:11 "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore". I experience clear headed yet highly emotive, even tearful ecstasy in corporate worship of Him alongside a multitude of fellow believers (9500 strong at my church across 9 campuses). I experience solidarity, a oneness with Him right down to the desires of my heart as I delight myself in Him (Psalm 37:4).

    I could go on but hopefully you are seeing the point. As a believer in Christ my experience of Christ is pervasive, felt and known in every area of my life and existence. Indeed, I recognize the truth and reality of Acts 17:28 "In Him we live and move and have our being" as well as the reality of my life as one redeemed by Christ found in Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me".

    These are some of the dynamics of my experience of Jesus. Hope it is helpful. It is my sincere desire that everyone reading this blog would know Christ and experience Him and the salvation He offers and secures for everyone who turns to Him in faith.

    ** This completes my 5 part comment. Thanks for bearing with me.

    1. THANK YOU, Patrick! Beautifully written. I have heard perhaps everything you write said before, but never, I think, in one person's single narrative. You have a Christ-centered life, for sure.

    2. To anyone else who experiences Jesus, or has experienced Jesus, please comment. Is or was your experience similar to Patrick's. If different, how is or was it different? Thank you very much for contributing to our understanding of a person's experience of Jesus, as much as we who have not experienced Jesus can understand the experience of another person. We appreciate it and are grateful.

    3. I need to suggest that while religion can be a tool for some mean people, to hurt other's with. Yuck. I think that Jesus is a personal relationship, and knowing him in a loving way is not idealistic, nor is it lustful. Becoming acquainted with Jesus, is like being open minded to the strengths of Thor. Simply put, we are weak but he is strong. Bad things still do happen to good people.

  15. In 1989, at the age of 19, I was an intellectual, scientific-minded, womanizing atheist. In fact, I clearly remember when one of the girls I was dating asked me what I thought about God, and I told her “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I referred to people who built and attended a large church near my town as “a bunch of suckers.” My paradigm was shaped by my education, and I was sure that I was just a piece of meat brought to life by the right chemistry, evolution, and lucky chance over eons of time.

    In 1991, I was fresh out of the University of Illinois, at my first job as an engineer in Texas. I received a call from my family in Illinois. My nephew had been in a tragic accident, he had been climbing on the boom of an old junk construction crane that was sitting in a farm field; the boom fell; he had a massive head injury. I went to comfort my sister, and for the longest 5 days of my life, I watched my 15-year old nephew being kept alive by machines. The doctors could do nothing. So clearly, I remember the sight of my strong, manly brother-in-law holding his son’s limp hand; tears in his eyes when we came in to say goodbye, just before they turned off the machines. Deep dark sadness.

    It made me question everything in life. How could such a vibrant young man come to such an untimely end, at such pain to his mom and dad and extended family? What does it mean? Why am I here, anyway?

    My friend Jamey, at work, was a cowboy and a preacher and he worked with at the factory to support his family. He invited me to his church in Star, Texas. Jamie showed me kindness that I did nothing to deserve. He treated me and the girl I was living with just like we were family. He told me about Jesus, and even more than that, he acted as the hand of Jesus in my life. One Sunday evening at Jamey’s kitchen table, I asked Jesus to be my boss from now on (Lord) and the one who saves me (Savior.)

    (continued below.)

  16. (continued from above.)
    So what? That’s the question that the scoffer within me asks. Jesus isn’t real, right? Just a story for a bunch of emotional suckers that can’t make it through life without a crutch, right? I know that’s what the 19-year old me would say.

    I can’t prove to you that Jesus real. Or that He’s here where we are and that He wants to know me and you. I now understand that this by His design. He gave us an intellect for use, but He requires that we come to Him by faith, which is a matter of the heart. And faith comes by hearing the Word of God. I was created for the purpose of hanging out with Him and loving Him. He allowed me to decide for myself whether I wanted to do that or not; I didn’t have to love Him and follow Him. He let me choose.

    So how do I know that Jesus is real? This is what I would like to tell to the 19 year-old me.

    I have personally watched Him change my closest friend from a no-account drug addict who periodically left his wife and kids on months-long binges… into a protective, loving, steady husband and dad who was there to see through his son’s Eagle Scout project, with years since his last fall.

    I have observed that the happiest, most fulfilled people I know are also the most thankful people I know. If there is no God, why would there be any reward for thankfulness? And I’ve noticed that this thankfulness phenomenon even includes people who have a thankful attitude, but who don’t understand or identify the God of Jesus. People like James Altucher (see his book “Choose Yourself.”)

    I have talked to Him about my sins and my problems, and he has given me forgiveness and guidance. I have personally experienced forgiveness that literally felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders.

    There is something inside of me which tells me that I am more than just a living hunk of meat in a meaningless chance life. There is something in me that says that people are more than just things; people are not to be treated as means to an end; they are to be treated with respect. Perhaps that’s because something inside of me recognizes that people are created by God, in His image.

    I have watched as a truck driver/preacher in a tiny church in a low-status Haw River NC has reached thousands of people with good news about Jesus. They get drawn to the Lord (the boss), and their live change for the better. And now this church is no longer a tiny one but a big one; and never once has this preacher asked for money or forced his congregation into any outreach project. He prays. Behind closed doors. And he does what the Lord tells him to do (even down to cleaning out a toilet in a convenience store.) Now why would prayer make any difference without a God steering things?

    When it comes to science, I have studied quantum physics. The wave-particle duality which I personally observed in the double-slit experiment blew my mind ( and it points out that there are things about our universe that might just be beyond our understanding. Then, there’s the fact that the second law of thermodynamics points out that the DISorder of the universe is always growing…so how did chance come to form me from a bunch of random chemicals in a mud puddle? I’ve witnessed enough explosions to know that things like the big bang don’t tend to create more order; they create more chaos. Then there’s the fact that quantum physicists and cosmologists recognize the existence of additional dimensions which we cannot even observe. Well, it seems like there’s room within the unknown to allow for a loving God and who made a way for us to know Him through his Son Jesus.

    But He wants to know you by a matter of your heart, even if your mind argues with it. The issues of life flow from the heart. I (imperfectly) follow Jesus, and my life is blessed because I do. He treats me as family. He gives me direction, and my life is more fulfilled the more closely I follow. I want everyone I know to be blessed too.

    1. Thank you for your account, KyleE4HShootingSports. I apologize for the long delay in acknowledging it, but I only just saw it, when I came on to post Tony Diana's account (below). Blogger "always" sends me email notifications for posted comments, so I "must" have just missed the ones for your two comments. Your mention of Haw River leads me to suppose that you know both Patrick Sawyer & Tony Diana? Do I have that right? I now know that Tony brought Moristotle & Co. to Patrick's attention, so I can easily imagine that he (or Patrick) brought it to yours I am grateful.

  17. [received by way of email about two hours ago, posted here in two parts because of length]

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my personal experience of how I came to know, trust in and love Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. This happened almost 35 years ago and by the grace of God I love and trust Him more now than I ever did before. Truly experiencing Jesus in a saving way is a life transforming, all consuming, irreversible, eternal, personal experience. The bible uses many images to communicate the intimacy of our union and describes our relationship as me being "in Christ" and Christ living in me. It says that "I have died with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20). "I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col.3:1-4). Christ is the vine and I am a branch abiding in Him and bearing fruit. (John 15:1-11).

    I grew up in an Italian Catholic home with a wonderful family and loving parents. We attended a catholic church as I was growing up so I was baptized as an infant, made my first communion and confirmation. I believed in God intellectually and I knew and believed that Christ was the Son of God and that He died on the cross for "the sins of the world," but I had no idea what that meant for me personally. If you had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have told you yes because of this intellectual assent.

    I stopped attending church for the most part in high school and upon graduating I went into the Marine Corps. I had met my lovely wife Ina when she was in eighth grade, but we simply knew each other as friends throughout our high school years. In November of 1972 we ran into each other when we were both home for the Thanksgiving holiday and began a romantic relationship that led to our marriage 4 years later. Ina had been raised in an orthodox Jewish home, but after the birth of our first son, during our pregnancy with our first daughter, by invitation from her sister she attended a service at a Baptist church where a "missionary to the Jews" was speaking. Her reasoning was, because this person was connected to Judaism it would be OK for her to attend and as a result get her sister to stop inviting her. When the preacher stood to speak, before saying anything, he began to read from the bible. As he began to read, Ina knew enough history to immediately think she did not need to listen to this man because he was just talking about Jesus again. But when he finished reading he said, "I just read from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. This immediately arrested Ina's attention and that night she was persuaded by the Spirit of God, through the communication of the word of God that Jesus Christ truly was the long awaited Messiah. That night, by the grace of God she repented of her sins and put her faith in the long awaited Messiah and became a true child of Abraham.

    She came home and told me she had become a Christian that night and I rejoiced, telling her that now we were both Christians. I definitely was not a Christian and didn't even know what a Christian was. Because we had a young child and she was pregnant with our second child, she did not go back to church for a while. Then some friends of hers were killed in a car accident and it sobered her. She realized that it would do her no good to “play” church. God wanted her heart and many weighty issues of life were at stake. She felt she needed to be baptized to publicly proclaim her faith in Jesus and begin to walk more closely with Him. This was the occasion that brought me to church. My family was going to attend her baptism on a Sunday evening, so she asked if I wanted to go that morning to see what it was like.

  18. I was 27 years old and had never attended a bible preaching church. I had never read the bible, though I had tried at times when I was in the service but could not understand it. I never remember hearing the gospel before that day. The morning I attended that Baptist church was the first time I ever heard anyone read a passage of scripture and expound it's meaning. I was mesmerized and hung on to every word he spoke. I remember that he was preaching on the spiritual battle between Satan and the Christian. At the end of the sermon, when our heads were bowed and our eyes closed the pastor said, now maybe some of you who are here have no idea what I am talking about, and maybe you think your good works will out weigh your bad and you will be able to earn your way into heaven. But that is not what the bible teaches. He began to explain the gospel, that God is infinitely holy and just and that we are all sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins. He explained the bible's teaching that the wages of sin is death, not only physical, but spiritual death, eternal separation from the God against whom we have rebelled, who we have hated and offended. But he went on to explain that the gospel is the glorious news that God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Christ. It is by His grace that we are saved. Though the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8,9). I remember crying out to God (silently in my mind and heart) telling Him I knew I was a great sinner and though I had never read the bible I believed what that preacher was saying. I told God I desperately wanted and needed Jesus to save me and I wanted to give Him my life.

    God super-naturally changed my life that day. It was God the Holy Spirit who came and changed my heart so I could respond to the truth of the gospel being preached. God gave me the faith to receive and rest upon Christ alone as the only hope for my salvation, as He is freely offered in the gospel. Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." John 14:6. I left that church almost 35 years ago a new man. I went home and for the first time in my life I sat down and began reading the bible. I was like a man dying of thirst in the desert and Jesus was the Living Water, coming to me through the living word of the scriptures satisfying my deepest need and refreshing my soul.

    I left work the previous Saturday the chief of sinners among the men with whom I worked, and returned Monday carrying my bible. The bible explains what happened to me in 2Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away, behold new things have come." That is what happened to me. How did it happen? The Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power (the dynamite) of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16).

    The heart of the gospel message is this, "He (God) made Him who knew no sin (Christ) to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2Corinthians 5:21). God, by an act of His free grace, has pardoned all my sins and accepts me as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone.

    In closing, Paul says, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." I am grateful for the privilege to share my faith experience with you. It is the desire of my heart that every person who reads this would come to know, trust in and love the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

    Thank you again!

    1. Tony, thank you. And thank Ina for actually being the original person among you and Patrick (and KyleE4HShootingSports?) who became aware of Moristotle & Co., although I think it was just "Moristotle" at that time. I am going to go now to the subsequent week's Thor's Day column ("Thor's Day to reflect on experiencing Jesus") to add a comment alerting people to come here to see your and KyleE4HShootingSports's accounts of their experience of Jesus. I appreciate it.