Thursday, 30 October 2014

Self-conversion of un-spiritual people to Christianity - some advice

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If you are un-spiritual by nature, and (yet) want to become religious; especially if you want to become a Christian - the traditional approach would be through reason and evidence - but this may be a mistake.

The best approach - even or especially for un-spiritual people - may be to seek personal revelation and personal miracles by prayer and meditation.

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The traditional approach to conversion would be to argue that Christianity is reasonable, has evidence to support it, and overall is the best decision. The trouble is that the process of arguing, gathering evidence, asking and answering questions, seeking clarification, weighing up pros and cons... can go on for a very long time.

In fact the process can go on for a whole lifetime and still not have reached a conclusion. Reason and evidence seldom clinch matters.

Even worse, the reason-evidence process may lead to a conclusion that Christianity is true, but this belief carries only the feeblest of conviction. Belief in it is no more compelling that belief in some scientific theory, or some particular interpretation of the historical record - which is to say these are merely hypotheses which we are happy to entertain, but not something to which we make any kind of deep, lasting, or transformative commitment.

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The key is to acknowledge that personal conviction - not reason and evidence - is the bottom line.

So long as there is plausible reason and some evidence to support our belief, that is sufficient - always has been, always will be.

Life is not, cannot be and indeed should not be 'put-off' until some in-principle impossible standard of overwhelming and unopposed proof is attained. Our fundamental beliefs are something that we must feel as warmth in our hearts, grasp with our hands, and which moves us at 'gut-level'.

Therefore we must seek the answer by praying for personal revelations, communications from God; praying for miracles in our own lives; and by meditating to hear the answers and perceive the miraculous happenings.

We must ask, and ask; and must listen for, and listen to the answers.

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But what of those people who are too stolid, too common-sensical, too literal minded, too unimaginative, too rationalistically-skeptical - people who have not a spiritual bone in their bodies...

The answer is that these are the exact people for whom revelations and miracles are the most effective, and such people (among whom I number myself) have a strong track record of being granted precisely these gifts, and finding them compelling in a way that nothing else has been or could be.

All such people need to do is firstly to give themselves a chance.

Set aside time for prayer, for meditation; time alone; unstructured and undistracted time - private time.

Make an effort.

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Secondly they must not talk about what they are doing with other people, and especially they must not discuss any revelations they receive, nor should they discuss any miracles which happen to them.

Revelations and miracles are personal - they are for you and not for other people; they are given to convince you, and to give you faith and sustain your faith - revelations and miracles are not given to become public discourse, to be picked-over, critiqued, analysed, explained and explained-away or mocked by other people.

Revelations and miracles are not to serve as an argument for your new faith, nor are they to impress other people, nor are they to convert other people, nor can they or will they convince other people of their validity: they are for you and nobody else.

All you can and should do is state clearly and firmly that you have had revelations and miracles which have convinced you - that is enough, and it would be unwise to say more.

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8 comments:

Adam G. said...

As someone who did precisely what you advise, and had exactly what you say will happen, happen, a word of advice for anyone planning this: the supernatural has agency and will--it doesn't come running whenever you whistle--but if you go into with the mindset that you will not be heard and answered, you won't be answered.

deconstructingleftism said...

In the more literal translations, Jesus doesn't say "born again", he says "born from above", which I take it to mean receive the Holy Spirit in the same way he did. Pray to receive the Spirit and I think you will.

Cameron said...

A fine post, you're in fine form of late. Thanks.

pyrrhus said...

Excellent post, I totally agree from personal experience.

TE said...

My two cents: I think praying specifically for personal revelations or miracles has some potential danger and is a bit "off the mark." Rather I would encourage the non believer to pray something like "God, lead me to the truth and find a way for me to believe it by whatever means necessary. If there is a true religion then let me somehow come to believe that it is true."

What I think is the key thing that's needed is the willingness to accept personal revelations rather than specifically asking for them. By praying for God to help you believe the truth "by whatever means necessary," personal revelation is included in that (if it actually is what's necessary) and it avoids some of the dangers of praying specifically for personal revelations.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TE - For un-spiritual people, I think a full commitment would be necessary.

If revelations and miracles are not asked-for, then they cannot be granted.

What is needed is the feeling from recognizing that God is a person, with a personal concern for me.

TE said...

I thought about this for the past few days and came to the conclusion that you're probably right-- (many/most) people probably should ask for revelations and miracles.

A few things I still disagree with:

"For un-spiritual people, I think a full commitment would be necessary."

To me, saying "by any means necessary" is a full commitment-- the fullest possible commitment.

"If revelations and miracles are not asked-for, then they cannot be granted."

I think they can, as there are some cases in scripture of unasked-for miracles and revelations.

Nonetheless, you've convinced me that it probably is good to ask specifically for them-- I would only add the caveat that God may not answer in the way you expect or at the time you expect-- but he will find some way to answer.

I still think that openness to the possibility of miracles is most important, but now I'm considering that asking specifically for them is one of the best ways of increasing openness.

"What is needed is the feeling from recognizing that God is a person, with a personal concern for me."

I'm certainly agreed here. Hopefully I'm not being too nitpicky with my thoughts on this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TE - Thanks for your comment.

wrt un-asked for miracles. I think this may be a bit of a red herring. If the miracle has not been asked for, then it is usually easy to explain away as a coincidence or as some psychopathological phenomenon (an hallucination or delusion perhaps) or by some kind of fraud.

The really self-convincing miracles are when we know, by inner conviction, that *this* is the answer to our prayer. As you say it may be an unexpected answer - but one we recognize from the heart.

The unasked miracles of scripture took place in a world where I think everybody believed in the miraculous (and the only dispute was over the miracle had been done by god/s or demons).

And, in that context, the miracles we hear-about were seemingly designed as public demonstrations of Christ's divine powers, and also to fulfill prophecies.

I don't think we could easily generalize from then to now; and from a supernatural-believing completely religious society to the modern cynical secular people I was addressing.