Posted tagged ‘Unbelievable!’

Homosexuality and the Church

November 27, 2018


I am a big fan of Justin Brierley’s podcast, Unbelievable! on Premiere Christian Radio in the UK. The theme of the podcast is to interview persons with different viewpoints on a variety of subjects that usually focus on some aspect of faith. Often the interviewees include a person of faith and a person of no faith. Sometimes, the interviewees are people of different faiths. The podcast that aired on November 24, 2018, included two Christians on different sides of the debate about homosexuality: How should gay Christians express their sexuality?

David Bennett “grew up in an agnostic/atheist home” but became a “conservative” Christian, while Justin Lee represents the mirror image of David’s experience. Justin grew up in “a very devoutly Christian home”.

Justin relates that he understood that being a Christian meant “taking a loving but principled stand against homosexuality” and that “being gay is a sinful choice”. He felt it was his obligation as a Christian to speak out and encourage people not to be gay. He believed that God would “lead people out of homosexuality”. He believed that homosexuality was a choice, which is what his Southern Baptist church taught.

But then, Justin came to realize that he was same sex attracted himself. In spite of praying and believing that God would change him, his feelings didn’t change. He struggled with that realization until he came to believe that same sex attraction is not a sin. Though Justin is still single, he now engages in ministry to the gay and lesbian community who he says have been left adrift by the greater Christian community.

These two men, both same sex attracted, have come from opposite shores, crossed in between, and take different positions in respect to homosexuality and faith. They engage in a very thoughtful, honest and thought-provoking conversation with Justin Brierley in the podcast.

You can hear the whole thing by clicking on the link in the first paragraph above. Meanwhile, I will summarize their divergent experiences that cross over from opposite shores below.

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The Myth of Human Rationality

November 17, 2018


Ed Atkinson was recently interviewed with Austin Fischer by Justin Brierly on his podcast, Unbelievable, on the issue of doubt. (A Tale of Two Doubters) The personal of story of both men involves their public dealings with doubt. One ended up on the unbelieving side of the faith divide, and the other on the believing side of the divide.

The point that intrigued me most about the discussion was when Ed Atkinson brought up Jonathan Haidt, who wrote a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionOne of the topics Haidt addresses is what he calls “the rationalist delusion”, which Atkinson summarizes as a “wild overestimation of our rationality that was … birthed to us in the Enlightenment”.

Atkinson says, “We like to think of ourselves as very rational beings [who] very rationally work and think our way through the world sorting through the syllogisms and … coming to what is the correct answer.” The work that Haidt and others have done on the subject have debunked that view of ourselves. Atkinson says, “Our decision-making process really isn’t very rational.”

I have often thought about this very thing. When I look back on my own journey, I recall that I went off to college with a passionate desire to discover meaning and truth, believing it was attainable, and having a very naïve confidence in the rationality of the human mind. What I found in college was a very mixed bag. Though my quest for meaning and truth never waned, my confidence in the rationality of the human mind was disappointed.

I came to distrust that confidence in myself and in others, especially in others whose confidence in their own rationality seemed unwavering. Elevated self-confidence often seems more like human will than pure rationality.

Since that time I have been continually disappointed in the rationality (or lack thereof) of the human mind, especially in those who seem to have no doubt about their own rationality. That I am sometimes guilty of the same over-confidence only adds to my disappointment and angst.

As a lawyer whose vocation is getting at the truth through the presentation of the evidence on both sides of a matter to a neutral judge, I have had generous opportunity to test human rationality. What I have found (over and over again) is that human rationality is affected by other things that have nothing to do with reason.

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The Trickiness of Consciousness

November 9, 2018


Justin Brierley has been doing a series of interviews entitled “the Big Conversation” on his Unbelievable? podcast on the British Premiere Christian Radio. In the latest, and I believe the last, episode, he interviews Daniel Dennett, the Tufts professor and so-called “new atheist” and Keith Ward, the British philosopher, theologian, priest and scholar. Their topic is consciousness. The idea of the “ghost in the machine” comes up about half way through the discussion, and Dennett responds in the segment below:


Among other things, Dennett says that the “ghost in the machine” is nothing more than information. He says, “Information is embodied in the brain”, and “the user of the brain is the brain.” There is no “ghost”.

Of course, to call what Keith Ward describes as the most important aspect of you and me a “ghost” is to minimize it and to reduce it to something of insignificance. Dennett, though would say that the information is the significant thing. There is nothing going on other than the embodiment, transfer and process of information.

So what about consciousness?

Dennett says, “Consciousness is the user illusion of the brain itself…. The brain has been designed to have user interfaces inside it…. Consciousness is a user illusion that is designed by evolution and by learning and by cultural evolution to make our brains capable of getting out bodies through this complicated world.” [Emphasis added]

These remarks are the backdrop for my thoughts today.

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When the Why Questions become Rhetorical

July 26, 2018


I am not sure that I am up to the task of writing what I want to write, but I’m going to attempt it anyway. These thoughts occurred to me as I was listening to Justin Brierley interviewed by David Smalley. Brierley hosts the British show, Unbelievable! on Premiere Christian Radio, while Smalley hosts the atheist counterpart, Dogma Debate.

Both men are cut from the same cloth in the sense that they usually host people with opposing views, and they do it in a refreshingly even-handed, civil manner, giving deference and respect to both “sides” and both individuals. They are shining examples of open, intellectual discourse. I much prefer the informal, civil discussion to the formality and contrary tone of a debate.

Much of their discussion focused on the “problem of evil”. If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen to people? Either He isn’t all-good, or He isn’t all-powerful. This is the classic problem of evil. For David Smalley, the answer is either that “God doesn’t care, or God doesn’t exist”, and if God doesn’t care, then David Smalley concludes, “God isn’t worthy to be worshiped”.

Many very smart people, like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, have run their faith aground on these rocky shores.

As the two men discussed their respective views, and as Smalley questioned Brierley (because Brierley was the guest of Smalley in this show), I listened with interest and some mild frustration and disappointment. To paraphrase (and very poorly, I’m afraid), Smalley repeatedly asked unanswerable questions, and Brierley repeatedly tried to answer them.

I don’t blame either man. This is the condition of our finite beings. How can we know what we don’t know? We have a lot of unanswerable questions and insufficient answers.

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Malcolm Guite

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