Mike Licona in a guest post on William Lane Craig’s blog denies Bart Erhman’s assertion that mass hallucinations can occur. He explains hallucinations are always personal. Dreams also. But illusions are not. Many people can share an illusion. Like a mirage or a magicians sleight of hand. This can then turn into delusion. Yes, I’m suggesting that the religious are delusional. Not crazy, not stupid, just deluded. Nice, sane, people can witness illusions that to turn into delusions. Delusions are persistent beliefs contrary to any evidence to the contrary. (Mike taught me that).

Leaving supernatural explanations aside, any reasonable person would have to admit that mass illusions leading to mass delusion are possible.

The Miracle of the Sun was most likely a mass optical illusion of the sun. See here for modern video evidence of a similar scenario: https://youtu.be/njP-9LC4Hu0

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to 500 all at once. How can we be certain the 500 didn’t experience something similar, which quickly evolved into “we all saw Jesus”? Constantine also saw a sign in the sun (the cross) that he interpreted as a sign from God. Many expertd believe he saw a type of optical illusion called a sun dog or solar halo.

Daniel L. Everett, linguist and former Evangelical missionary to the Amazonian jungle Piraha tribe, in his book “Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes”, tells an interesting story:

“Look! There he is, Xigagaí, the spirit.” “Yes, I can see him. He is threatening us.” “Everybody, come see Xigagaí. Quickly! He is on the beach!”

I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I turned to Kóhoi, my principal language teacher, and asked, “What’s up?” “Don’t you see him over there?” he asked impatiently. “Xigagaí, one of the beings that lives above the clouds, is standing on the beach yelling at us, telling us he will kill us if we go to the jungle.” “Where?” I asked. “I don’t see him.” “Right there!” Kóhoi snapped, looking intently toward the middle of the apparently empty beach. “In the jungle behind the beach?” “No! There on the beach. Look!” he replied with exasperation. In the jungle with the Pirahãs I regularly failed to see wildlife they saw. My inexperienced eyes just weren’t able to see as theirs did. But this was different. Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahãs were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I just missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagaí, was still there. Everyone continued to look toward the beach. I heard Kristene, my six-year-old daughter, at my side. “What are they looking at, Daddy?” “I don’t know. I can’t see anything.” Kris stood on her toes and peered across the river. Then at me. Then at the Pirahãs. She was as puzzled as I was. Over more than two decades I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European-based culture and the Pirahãs’ culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahãs that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

It seems quite reasonable and natural, based on this evidence, no demonic deception needed, to assume that people can, under the right mental conditioning, all fall under the same mass illusion, which quickly evolved into a mass delusion. Give it a few years, without video evidence, and you have illusion being touted as proof positive of the particular supernatural claim the tribe wants confirmed.

I place truth above blind faith. Many Evangelicals I know personally and many famous ones I have read put faith above truth. They’d vehemently deny this of course but listen long enough and read deeply enough and it is clear.

The chapter ‘The Self-Authenticating Witness of the Holy Spirit” in John W. Loftus’ book ‘Why I Became an Atheist’ might interest you. The chapter mainly deals with WLC who is the king of fideism dressed up as scholarship and philosophy. It’s hard not to get a little pissed off at the obvious intellectual dishonesty parading around as deep wisdom and learning. His whole life seems built around the desire to keep his faith alive in the face of the ultimate meaninglessness of existence. I’m convinced it absolutely terrifies him.

I don’t doubt that the top layer of Craig’s work is decent and that he’s clever, but he’s just another religious charlatan in my view. Making claims he cannot make good on, deceiving even himself in the process. He plays mind tricks. Like a magician he uses sleight of hand to swap out the genuine intellectual work and replace it with faith before any of his faithful fans can even notice.

This was brought home powerfully to me when I dared call him a fideist on the Capturing Christianity Facebook group. Man, I pissed them off. How dare I claim that such a giant of Christian intellectualism is a fideist dressed in a philosopher’s robe! I was blocked soon after that. People don’t like having their basic assumptions challenged so powerfully. Christians are no different.

Unfortunately he is revered among the Fundamentalist masses. He is in many ways the people’s scholar. His veneer of intellectual sophistication thinly hides his true state. I remember being an Evangelical as YouTube began to really take off. He was making so many intellectually hungry Evangelicals excited as he confidently debated top intellectuals while unabashedly asserting that the primary way one knows Christianity is true is by the “inner witness of the Holy Spirit”. The logical contradiction just doesn’t register and even if you point it out they deny it.

Craig has done a few evangelistic videos that reveal why he is willing to do this. The existential threat of a cold, harsh and meaningless universe is too much for him to bear. The comforting drug of religion whispering sweet lies into his ears is too much to resist.

“I began, then, by going to confession to that priest of whom I spoke before. He took an extreme liking to me, because I had then but little to confess in comparison with what I had afterwards; and I had never much to say since I became a nun. There was no harm in the liking he had for me, but it ceased to be good, because it was in excess. He clearly understood that I was determined on no account whatever to do anything whereby God might be seriously offended. He, too, gave me a like assurance about himself, and accordingly our conferences were many. But at that time, through the knowledge and fear of God which filled my soul, what gave me most pleasure in all my conversations with others was to speak of God; and, as I was so young, this made him ashamed; and then, out of that great good-will he bore me, he began to tell me of his wretched state. It was very sad, for he had been nearly seven years in a most perilous condition, because of his affection for, and conversation with, a woman of that place; and yet he used to say Mass. The matter was so public that his honour and good name were lost, and no one ventured to speak to him about it. I was extremely sorry for him, because I liked him much. I was then so imprudent and so blind as to think it a virtue to be grateful and loyal to one who liked me. Cursed be that loyalty which reaches so far as to go against the law of God. It is a madness common in the world, and it makes me mad to see it. We are indebted to God for all the good that men do to us, and yet we hold it to be an act of virtue not to break a friendship of this kind, though it lead us to go against Him. Oh, blindness of the world! Let me, O Lord, be most ungrateful to the world; never at all unto Thee. But I have been altogether otherwise through my sins.

I procured further information about the matter from members of his household; I learned more of his ruinous state, and saw that the poor man’s fault was not so grave, because the miserable woman had had recourse to enchantments, by giving him a little image made of copper, which she had begged him to wear for love of her around his neck; and this no one had influence enough to persuade him to throw away. As to this matter of enchantments, I do not believe it to be altogether true; but I will relate what I saw, by way of warning to men to be on their guard against women who will do things of this kind. And let them be assured of this, that women—for they are more bound to purity than men—if once they have lost all shame before God, are in nothing whatever to be trusted; and that in exchange for the gratification of their will, and of that affection which the devil suggests, they will hesitate at nothing.

Though I have been so wicked myself, I never fell into anything of this kind, nor did I ever attempt to do evil; nor, if I had the power, would I have ever constrained any one to like me, for our Lord kept me from this. But if He had abandoned me, I should have done wrong in this, as I did in other things—for there is nothing in me whereon any one may rely.

When I knew this, I began to show him greater affection: my intention was good, but the act was wrong, for I ought not to do the least wrong for the sake of any good, how great soever it may be. I spoke to him most frequently of God; and this must have done him good—though I believe that what touched him most was his great affection for me, because, to do me a pleasure, he gave me that little image of copper, and I had it at once thrown into a river. When he had given it up, like a man roused from deep sleep, he began to consider all that he had done in those years; and then, amazed at himself, lamenting his ruinous state, that woman came to be hateful in his eyes. Our Lady must have helped him greatly, for he had a very great devotion to her Conception, and used to keep the feast thereof with great solemnity. In short, he broke off all relations with that woman utterly, and was never weary of giving God thanks for the light He had given him; and at the end of the year from the day I first saw him, he died.

He had been most diligent in the service of God; and as for that great affection he had for me, I never observed anything wrong in it, though it might have been of greater purity. There were also occasions wherein he might have most grievously offended, if he had not kept himself in the near presence of God. As I said before, I would not then have done anything I knew was a mortal sin. And I think that observing this resolution in me helped him to have that affection for me; for I believe that all men must have a greater affection for those women whom they see disposed to be good: and even for the attainment of earthly ends, women must have more power over men because they are good, as I shall show hereafter. I am convinced that the priest is in the way of salvation. He died most piously, and completely withdrawn from that occasion of sin. It seems that it was the will of our Lord he should be saved by these means.”

I experienced a spiritual awakening at 19 when I became a Born Again Christian, but dogma and stupid ideas (I’m sorry, but Young Earth Creationism is not a very clever idea these days) got in the way and bogged me down for a decade. So much so that I ended up worse than when I started out. Not because of the ideas, but because in my intellect I knew the ideas didn’t make sense, but I felt compelled to believe them under threat of eternal damnation. It made for a very unhappy existence.

So I rejected the whole thing, but I also rejected all meaning and faith and hope because I still implicitly believed the narrative the Bible teaches that life without God is meaningless as taught by such people as William Lane Craig.

Eventually I came to see this, and I became convinced that if Christianity isn’t true my experiences still were and it must be possible to have the born again experience without having to believe that Jesus or the Holy Spirit were responsible for it and that without believing in them I could not have it.

This is when I started finding teachers like Alan Watts, Ekhart Tolle, Adyashanti, Mooji and others.

So to be born again is to have a sudden change in perspective. It is not supernatural and it is accessible to anyone willing to challenge their own preconceptions of what is true and obvious.

And you don’t have to start believing in crystals and ghosts either. Just recognize that you are not your thoughts. You have your thoughts, they don’t have you. And you can change them. For me I just started to pretend I have faith. Faith in life/universe/God. It didn’t matter. The brain doesn’t know the difference. It can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Watch a scary movie and you will be frightened even though you know it is not real. Have faith and the same thing happens. So you must recognise this and begin to change your thoughts. Your feelings will quickly follow behind.

I read what I hoped would be an enlightening piece from Cardinal Basil Hume’s “The Mystery of the Incarnation” called The Choice Between Mystery and the Absurd. I am continually dumbstruck by the terrible arguments the top lights of religion put forth to comfort us mere mortals. This comes across as nothing more than a Noble Lie at best, a cynical attempt to keep the masses ignorantly at peace over the brutal facts of reality that evolution has endowed us to understand with soul crushing clarity.
 
His story compares Jesus to a Nazi concentration camp soldier who realizes the error of his ways and decides to go die an absurd death along with the innocent little girl he was so cruelly treating moments ago. How does that portray a perfect sinless god-man who sacrificed his life so we could live? Maybe it portrays more than we would like to admit just how cruel this god would really be if it were real. Many hundreds of millions, if not billions, have died pointless deaths and according to many in the Church will now burn for all of eternity because they did not bow the knee to Jesus as Lord while they were alive.
 
Cardinal Hume doesn’t offer any proofs, at least not in this article, I haven’t read the other articles in the book, to back up his claims. Sure, if Christianity is true, then life seems less absurd. But does it really? The Christian story is pretty absurd, as Cardinal Hume has shown us below. Its real trick is in making us believe that somehow all this pain and toil and trouble and confusion and sickness and death has some purpose, and Hitler and his soldier, sorry I mean God and Jesus, have some plan that is going to make it all turn out right in the end. At least for his followers that is. The unbelievers will indeed go to God’s torture chamber. Which will make Auschwitz look like a day at the beach by comparison.
“Every reflecting Christian, as soon almost as he is capable of reflection, must have continual occasion to observe with sorrow and anxiety the multiplied varieties of opinion that divide the Church of Christ, on every point or article of Christian faith; the confidence with which every sect lays claim exclusively to the possession of saving knowledge, and the unqualified severity with which each party reprobates the other, as being implicated in unpardonable heresy. On hearing (and who can escape hearing?) the fulmination of these mutual anathemas, we not only grieve for the state of dreadful peril in which, if we admit such principles, a large proportion of our neighbours, friends, and fellow Christians must be involved: but we grieve likewise on our own account. We are visited with doubts, misgivings, and apprehensions, lest we ourselves, through ignorance or prejudice, should have adopted unawares into our creed some article containing deadly error; or should have omitted something indispensable to salvation.”
 
From “An Essay on Papal Infallibility” by John Sinclair
 
This is the way it was 170 years ago. And this is the way it still is among the fundamentalist Christian denominations and individuals who “admit such principles”. The only difference I see among more open minded modern Christians is that they simply do not “admit such principles”. They’ve just agreed not to condemn each other to hell anymore. How nice.
 
It was more or less this very state of affairs that made me realise that if Christianity can mean so many different things to so many different people, and with no definite and clear way to determine who actually has the correct interpretation or the authority to correctly interpret, then it means nothing at all. At least not on a practical level. Sure, all the denominations say Jesus died on the cross (because that physical event is recorded in the Gospels) and that this means something. What though? 2000 years have only been the means of more confusion, not less. Entire libraries have been compiled dedicated to the varying interpretations of Christ’s death and what that means practically and spiritually for the one who believes. It’s the interpretation that is the problem. The interpretation is always the problem.
 
Surely God knew the written word of dead people in an ancient culture and language was a terrible medium to convey such an important truth? The usual response at this point is that the Holy Spirit was given to us to lead us into all truth. Or Catholics will point to the Pope and say that he infallibly declares such things. But we are still no better off. Even if Christians could prove the bodily resurrection of Jesus, then what? They still can’t agree with each other on what the hell it means except in the vaguest of terms. There was no agreement back then. Paul and Peter seemed to have disagreements and Paul didn’t have much respect for the Apostles before him. Could this indicate doctrinal disagreement? Then we have different sects from year dot disagreeing on everything from the purpose of the Crucifixion, to the Resurrection, to the body of Christ, the nature of Christ, to the Canon of the Bible, to the role of works and so on. So clearly merely having a group of Christians agreeing on an interpretation still doesn’t prove the interpretation is correct. It just mean a particular group of Christians have agreed that is what it will mean for them!
 
So you either continue to assert your group is right and all others wrong, or that most groups (most are still not willing to admit Mormons and J.W.’s in just yet) have the basic idea right and God will forgive the rest of their ignorance. But each individual still thinks he has it more or less right and all those other folks in those denominations, while saved, are more or less wrong on the issues they disagree with the individual on.
 
You’d swear by the way most Christians carry on that they are never “visited with doubts, misgivings, and apprehensions.” Not with “the confidence with which every sect lays claim exclusively to the possession of saving knowledge.” Christianity simply does not offer the kind of confidence that Christians pretend it does. Is there a God? I don’t know, but I’m quite confident that Christians don’t know either.

The first is that unfortunately True Christians © will not listen to the reasonable objections raised by unbelievers. They can’t. Their faith won’t allow it. This goes for any believer in any religion or pseudo-religion.

The second is that life and reality itself truly are mysterious and there may never be forthcoming answers to the fundamental questions of existence. No matter how far the march of science takes us this means believers will always have a gap to exploit to justify their beliefs, however tenuous.

The third is that while we cannot accept the Bible as literally true and while it contains some truly awful segments it is a deeply profound work in places that shows humanity grappling with existence and trying to come up with workable solutions for life. The Bible is one book among many of collected human wisdom and experience. Perhaps it the greatest of all religious texts in some ways. I don’t say that lightly as Fundamentalist Christianity almost destroyed me. There is a lot of insanity and evil in the Bible that most Christians ignore or reinterpret so that their conscience can go unperturbed. We can remain angry about this or we can simply choose to accept the Bible for what we know it is and seek to learn from it since it can reveal both the best of humanity and the worst.

The fourth is that I have come to the conclusion that life is “sacred”. That the purpose of life is life. So that family is sacred too. If this is true then we should protect it and nurture and seek to build it up. We need to protect the unborn. We need to protect children. We need to preserve their innocence so that they grow up without fear or dread where possible. And we need to teach and guide them so that they are ready to become responsible adults when the time comes.

The fifth is that I’m also convinced that the negative emotions we experience such as anger, hatred, resentment, jealousy and so on are deeply destructive and we do not help ourselves or the world by engaging in them or harbouring them. We owe it to the next generation to be the change we want to see in them. To at least point the way.