Monday, January 24, 2011

Desire to Believe

The Desire to Believe and the Way it Shapes Perception.
(Christians Don't Lie part 3)

In my article about Ghosts, I started with some personal experiences. Here I continue my thoughts on the topic, but will widen the perspective to include some related issues.

I had an interest in strange phenomena from my childhood. I think it started with UFOs. I grew up during the “space race” and like many young boys at the time I became fascinated with the space programme. Around the same time UFOs were getting a lot of publicity with many parts of England experiencing a “UFO flap”.

Somewhere along the way my interest broadened to include other unexplained things. It was an interest I kept well into adulthood and I read a great deal over the years about UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, ghosts, and anything else that defied rational explanation. I strongly believed there was something beyond our everyday world and I was so willing to believe that I never considered that any of the things I read might be less than truthful. Why would anyone make these things up? I was beyond trusting, I was totally gullible. I believed some of the wildest claims.

Even after becoming a Christian in my teens I managed to keep one foot in each camp – without seeing any contradiction between the two. Somehow I kept things separated in my mind. My main concession was to attribute experiences of ghosts, aliens and other aspects of “the unexplained” to demonic activity. That conclusion was even supported by some UFO writers who didn’t have a Christian bias. Jacques Vallee, John Keel and Whitley Streiber all made comparisons between UFO activity and folkloric accounts of demons – suggesting that UFOs were a modern day way of interpreting what previous generations had seen as spiritual entities: fairies demons, angels etc.

Those non-religious writers confirmed my own conclusions. But they were conclusions based on the assumption that the reports of experiences were trustworthy. Here I would like to stress an important point. Note the change in emphasis at the beginning of this paragraph, from “experiences” to “reports of experiences”.

My own understanding began to change slowly. Perhaps this started with my personal UFO encounter.
One morning I was driving to work. The road followed the shores of a lake so there was a clear view across the water with an open unobstructed sky. I saw something above me, coming across from the lake. I glanced up and saw it was a very strange, clearly mechanical object. It had a narrow, elongated hourglass-like shape. After my brief sight of the object I turned my attention back to the road and then looked up again for a second look. This time everything became clear. The object turned and revealed itself to be a common light plane. My initial view of it had been from an unusual angle and my mind hadn’t correctly processed what I saw.

This experience reminded me of a UFO report I’d read a few years earlier. I think it came from a book called The Flying Saucerers by Arthur Shuttlewood. Shuttlewood was a prominent figure in the 1960s UFO “flap” that helped spark my childhood interest. In that book he wrote of an experience where a UFO approached him, changed into a plane when it was overhead, and then after passing turned back into a UFO. I think the similarity to my experience is easy to see – the big difference being the degree to which each observer (myself/Shuttlewood) was willing to continue believing an extraordinary conclusion even when faced with clear evidence for a very ordinary explanation.
I can only wonder what the results of my own experience may have been if I hadn’t taken that second look to see that the object was only a plane, if that first glimpse had remained as the only “fact” to build my conclusions upon.

Around the same time as my “UFO” experience, I was introduced to a new concept related to UFOs, one that I didn’t come to understand until many years later. I had written to a well known British UFO expert and had mentioned a series of iconic UFO sightings. In her reply she referred to those sightings as mostly “media hype”, it was a concept that I later realised could be extended to other reported experiences of anomalous phenomena. And I had to consider the extent of which our knowledge and understanding of those phenomena is totally dependant on the quality and veracity of the information we receive.

Another eye-opening encounter I had was with the writings of Jim Schnabel. His book Round in Circles rescued me from any remaining gullibility. The book was about crop circles, but instead of merely investigating the circles himself, he also spent time with the major players in crop circle research – the ones who provide US with the reports about all of the various formations found (mainly) around southern England. He clearly showed how public understanding of the crop circles was formed by the information being fed to them by investigators who were often far from objective in their reporting. Schnabel gave the example of a crude circle he had personally created being announced as “genuine” – even though his own muddy footprints were clearly evident across the circle
Not surprisingly Schnabel was accused of being an agent of CIA disinformation by those who refused to be swayed from their belief.

Basically, people believe what they want to believe. They are not swayed by evidence. They do not even consider evidence. They will merely collect and refer to stories that seemingly support what they believe, no matter how dubious those accounts may be. And Christians aren’t immune to this. We are often too quick to swallow the same kind of stories, but instead of seeing spirits of the dead, or alien spacecraft we interpret these things as demonic manifestations. Effectively we give “credit” to demons when in most cases credit is definitely not due.
Before we think of attributing a reported experience to demonic manifestation, we should be certain that the experience was a reality and not a misperception, a misunderstanding or even a lie. Through being too credulous in accepting everything as valid, we can effectively undermine the evidence and acceptance of those experiences that ARE genuine.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"God of Love part 5", teaching from David Pawson

"God of Love part 4", teaching from David Pawson

"God of Love part 3" teaching from David Pawson

"God of Love part 2" teaching from David Pawson

"God of Love part 1" teaching from David Pawson

Audios not videos.

A few things I've learned

I have learned these things from interaction on Christian forums:

1) Relativism rules! – Everyone seems to have his/her own truth and we are expected to tolerate everyone’s right to determine truth. (However, that tolerance is not extended to those who deny that truth is relative).

2) If you insist a biblical foundation is required for what we believe, and if you question someone’s right to their own truth, you are a Pharisee.

3) Some things are just too hard and cause too much strife so we are better off avoiding them.

4) Play the Word vs Spirit game, taking the side of the Spirit if you want to appear REALLY free in the spirit (unlike those dogmatic Pharisees).

5) Promote sound teaching and someone will take offense or will contradict it.

I have learned these things in my own relationship with the Lord – through allowing the Holy Spirit to teach me from His word.

1) Doctrine reliant on selective proof texts is highly questionable

2) Scripture is not a book of doctrine – it is a biography, a history, a love story all centred on God and His relationship with mankind, culminating in Him presenting His Son with a pure bride, after which they GENUINELY live happily ever after.

3) Before I can understand a single verse, a single chapter, a single book from the bible, I need at least a basic understanding of the whole bible and how each part fits together.

4) ALL doctrinal disputes would be resolved if EVERYONE looked at what scripture ACTUALLY says in context rather than trying to reinterpret parts of scripture to support a desired belief.

Friday, January 14, 2011


How do ghosts fit into a biblical view of reality?

On one of my other blogs I questioned the possibility of an authentic Christian ghost story. The article was partly of a review of a book I’d recently read (see here: review ).

Within that article I mentioned I’d had some “ghostly” encounters of my own without giving a lot of detail.

The first happened in my Sydney home. One morning I’d been getting ready for work when I saw a shadowy figure on the other side of the room where the dining room merged into a hallway leading to the front door. It was only a momentary glimpse and apart from feeling slightly startled I thought little more of it, until later that day.

In the afternoon, my wife and I were sitting at the dining table when she saw someone/something standing behind me – in exactly the same place as the figure in my experience. Again it was only a momentary glimpse.
She told me what she had seen and it was only then that I told her what I had seen earlier that day.
Despite the strangeness of the experience, there was no fear associated with it, neither then or any other time while we lived there. We were merely curious.

On another occasion we were on holiday and staying at a motel in Tamworth, NSW. We were there for two nights. At 1.00am on the first night I woke up and saw that the bed was surrounded by several human shaped shadowy figures. Even though the room was dark, the standby light on the TV cast enough light to give definition to the figures around me. I lay there watching them for some time until eventually I fell asleep again. In the morning I more or less dismissed the experience as a trick of my half-asleep brain.
Then the next night a sudden sound, a sharp rap woke me. I looked at the clock and saw it was again 1.00am (exactly the same time I’d woken the previous night) and this time I saw a single figure near the bed; it seemed to have a bottle in its hand which it raised up to drink from, tipping its head back in the process.

The next morning I told my wife of both experiences and she was annoyed that I hadn’t woken her to let her see what was happening. Again, like the time at home, I felt no fear from the experiences.

The question that arises from this is what was really going on? What did we see? Were they disembodied spirits caught between the physical world and the afterlife? Were they demons masquerading as something else? Or were they merely tricks of the mind, misperceptions or the result of over active imaginations.

How often do we think we’ve seen something but soon dismiss it as a misunderstanding? We see the hunched figure in the corner of a darkened room – only to turn on the light and find it is a coat, a wayward curtain, or a piece of furniture. Also interrupted sleep can bring us into a semi-woken state in which we think we are more alert than we actually are and we find our real surroundings becoming part of dream-like experiences.

But despite these mundane solutions, some reported experiences can’t be so easily explained away. Are they all hoaxes or did something out of the ordinary really happen?

No matter what the experiences may infer, no matter what theories seem to fit the situation. The only conclusions a Christian can draw are those compatible with God’s revelation in scripture. (to be continued later...)

Monday, January 10, 2011

“When in Rome” and Irresistable Grace, by Kevin Jackson

I recently saw the film When in Rome but I failed to see the parallel with Calvinist doctrine that Kevin Jackson brings out in the inspired article here:

Thanks Kevin for sharing that inspired insight.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


The importance of scriptural context can’t be stressed enough. So often we jump to conclusions and make interpretations of a particular verse without taking into account what the surrounding context is saying. This can lead us to a totally different understanding to the one intended by the writer.

Today I came across a very clear example of this in the comments section of another blog.

The writer was trying to prove that baptism was only a symbolic act and he quoted 1 Peter 3:21 “this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

“Woa!” the writer says – “Peter emphasises the symbolic nature of water baptism…”.

Woa! I say – what about context? What is being presented as the symbol? Is it baptism or is it something else?

Let’s look at the context – let’s look at the preceding verse.

20…God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also…

Here we can see a totally different meaning to the one the comment writer proposed. It is not the waters of baptism that are being presented as the symbol; it is the water of the flood that is being presented as symbolising the waters of baptism.

A TOTALLY different meaning arises out of a CONTEXTUAL reading of the text.

I have seen this happening over and over again.

I have found myself doing the same thing, but now I have learned to be cautious whenever a verse comes to mind.

I stop and check it again.
Are my thoughts consistent with the overall context?

Don’t be lazy about it.
Don’t take the risk of deceiving yourself and others.