Russell and Duenes

Addicted to Proselytizing?

with 25 comments

One of my fine commentors has suggested that I’m addicted to proselytizing others to believe in Christ. He asked me whether I deny such an addiction? The answer is simple, and yet requires some justification.

The apostle Paul wrote, “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” What does Paul mean when he says he is a “debtor?” Does he owe the Roman people money? Not exactly. Rather, I believe Paul means that he has come into the possession of something so valuable, that he is now obligated to share it with others.

Think of it by way of example (an example suggested to me by Dr. Daniel Fuller). What if I were a doctor who suddenly came into the possession of a cure for all forms of cancer? And let’s say that I was the kind of doctor who decided that I didn’t really want to spread around my knowledge of this cure. I was content to simply use it on my family members and perhaps a few close friends who had cancer. So for a few decades I sat on this cure, not telling anyone about it. What would you think of me when you found out I had done this? Would you be angry that I had not shared? Would you think it was criminal to sit on such knowledge, knowing all the people in the world with cancer who could have been cured, had I been willing to share? Would you say I had a debt to discharge to humanity? And if I did discharge my debt, by working feverishly to disseminate my cure, would you say that I was “addicted to sharing” it? I suppose so.

But the gospel is a “cure” infinitely more valuable than any cure for cancer would be. A cure for cancer would merely prolong my life (provided I didn’t get run over by a car the day after I took it), but such medicine would do nothing for my ultimate sentence for violating God’s law: death and condemnation. We are all of us sick with sin and rebellion. We live with the effects of our own sin, ingratitude, shame, degradation, selfishness, greed, envy, malice, strife, anger, and idolatry each day. And God has told us that the ultimate penalty for our sin is physical and spiritual death, banished from the presence of God and from all of his kind gifts to us that we enjoy. “It is appointed for man once to die, and then comes the judgment.” But God has provided a way, a “cure,” as it were, so that we might experience eternal joy and pleasure in His presence, rather than the blazing fires of His divine anger. And as St. Paul has said, that cure is “the gospel.”

The gospel is what Christmas is all about, namely, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that His Son, Jesus Christ, might save people from sin and death. Jesus brought about this salvation by offering His life on a cruel Roman cross as a payment for our sins, an offering to God on our behalf. We come into possession of this eternal life and salvation by putting our trust in Jesus and His promises to us. This is the best news of all, for “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It is true joy and contentment infinitely beyond any of the fleeting pleasures and temporary promises this world has to offer. St. Paul has knowledge of this saving gospel, and in having it, he became a debtor to all mankind. The stakes are so high and the message is so valuable that it would be most cruel and unloving to not share the good news of Jesus Christ’s love with the world.

So, am I addicted to sharing it? Gosh, I hope so. Indeed, I am, and would like to be even more addicted. I hope I share it out of love for you, my friend, and countless others, knowing the great benefit of experiencing God’s love and salvation in Christ. The Scriptures tell us that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy, in His right hand are pleasures forevermore. This is true. But away from God’s loving grace, there is only His wrath and fury. I would rather people experience the joy and pleasures, and so does God, so I hope to share this good news with others. I, too, am a debtor. I’m an addict.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 21, 2011 at 7:21 am

25 Responses

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  1. That is a well-written (though unconvincing and unpersuasive to me) reply to my comments. As far as I can tell, the world exists and I exist. I wake up in the same house, next to the same wife, go out and feed the same chickens, and admire the same garden and woods where I live every day. This is my “reality,” and I believe in it.

    People I know have died. I know they are dead and will not come back in this life. I know that I will die.

    This view of reality; that we can only know it by the evidence of our senses, and by the results of scientific investigation, induction, and deduction, is sometimes called “empiricism.” I am an empiricist. If you wish to call me “addicted to empiricism,” I will shrug and agree.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    • M – You stand in a long line of empiricists over the years, but I do find it curious that, as an empiricist, you believe in the results of “scientific investigation,” which surely rests on more than bald empiricism. For example, the entire scientific enterprise presupposes that our senses are not deceiving us. How does “scientific investigation” verify this fact? Further, doesn’t the empirical scientific enterprise involve the need for truth-telling among scientists? But do we come to see the need for “truth-telling” based on science, or based on meta-science? Indeed, since science is based on numbers, tell me: Do numbers actually exist empirically, or are they part of the meta-cognition necessary in order to get the scientific enterprise off the ground? You see, if you are simply nothing more than a bunch of chemicals, composed randomly according to accidental mutations, then what you and I are doing is not thinking and reasoning (which are surely necessary for “scientific investigation”). Rather, given your premises, we are simply reacting to certain conditions in temperature and pressure the same way all similar chemicals would react at these temperatures and pressures, and there is no thinking going on. The modern scientific enterprise was not built on the foundation of empiricism. You would do well to do some research on the history of science. Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, Pasteur, Washington Carver, Pascal, Boyle, Faraday, Mendel, Bacon, and Francis Collins were (are, in Collins’ case) robust theists, if not fundamentalist Christians (see Newton and George Washington Carver).


      russell and duenes

      December 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm

      • For example, the entire scientific enterprise presupposes that our senses are not deceiving us.

        Moreover, if you are going to rely on the evidence obtained through “senses”, then to be consistent and fair, you must take into account the many, many people who believe their “senses” give them evidence of God’s existence and presence. You may respond that, “Well, *my* sense don’t offer *me* such evidence.” But I think that would be a misleading road to follow, leading to solipsism.

        Samson J.

        December 25, 2011 at 10:57 am

  2. I have opinions about right and wrong and good and bad, even though you energetically and repetitively tell me that I have no basis for these opinions. That is why after calling myself (over many years) first an atheist, then an agnostic, I now call myself an “ethical nihilist.” Most people are not satisfied with such a conclusion, but quite a few are, so I don’t feel totally isolated. I have an above-average (though not astonishing) ability to go against the majority of people in my social environment, but I would not like to be in a situation similar to the ones that people such as Solzhenitsyn or Bonhoeffer found themselves in, where they were condemned, persecuted, and in . They are the gold-standard to me as examples of people who were willing to “swim upstream” against popular opinion in their environment even though it brought them much suffering and persecution, and in Bonhoeffer’s case, execution. The irony that both were zealous religious believers is not lost on me; nor does it change my opinion, which may be a [small] example of my [secular] non-conformity.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm

  3. There are many religious beliefs. Either none are true (most likely); one is true and all the others incorrect (very problematical, but closest, I suspect, to your view); or most religious beliefs (especially the kindest, most tolerant, most peaceful, and most inclusive) dimly reflect some mysterious truth about reality. (There are other possibilities, but logically these three are the most likely ones.) While I don’t particularly find #3 more convincing than the other two, the world seems to be gradually and erratically moving to this position. (For that matter, it seems to be the view my daughter and her partner are raising our granddaughter to hold.) Although I don’t buy it, of the various common religious beliefs this unitarianism (with a “small u”) is the most tolerable to me.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    • There are many religious beliefs. Either none are true (most likely) [etc.]

      This line of argumentation is problematic from the get-go, and reminds me of the slogan you sometimes see on atheist boards that “We are both atheists, and I simply believe in one fewer religion than you do.” There is a failure here to understand that an atheistic worldview *is* a “religious belief” – your worldview, modesty, is just as “religious” as mine or D’s is.

      With this mind, it follows that *some* religious belief *must* be true. It further seems quite reasonable, and – for me, anyway – easy to accept, that if one worldview is accurate, then of course all the other ones are false.

      Samson J.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:06 am

      • Hi Samson, and Merry Christmas to you. Besides visiting this board, I hope you are having a good Christmas. Whether or not you want to call my lack of belief “another belief worldview,” does not matter much to me. As far as I can see 1) the universe exists with no reason and purpose. 2) Obviously, if this is true, than all the other ones are indeed false (including yours, which I presume is evangelical Christianity). Have you ever converted someone to your belief system? If so, was it an adult? Are you addicted to converting people?


        December 25, 2011 at 2:53 pm

      • Modesty – You really need to get out more. To imply that very few Christian adults come to faith is simply laughable, given the history of the Christian faith over the past 2,000 years. I became a believer as an adult, and I’ve seen many others do the same. Indeed, one of my old high school friends recently converted. An old college friend of mine phoned me up many years later to tell me that she’d become a Christian, and she wanted to thank me for preaching the gospel to her all those years earlier. Again, this comment shows me what I’ve said before: the evidence is there, but you don’t WANT to see it.


        russell and duenes

        December 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm

  4. It is interesting and amusing to me that most evangelical Christians “vote with their feet” (as the expression goes) when it comes to medical care. If they fall ill, they pray to God but they also go the doctor and follow his or her instructions in regard to medical care. A few years ago, I fell quite ill (with a malady never successfully diagnosed by my doctors); they treated it with the best guesses they had. I was ill enough in the intensive care unit that I knew that I might die. I never felt any impulse to pray or become a religious believer. I was cured and am well today. Perhaps it was a miracle; it is much more likely that I was cured by the empirical guesswork of the doctors who treated me.

    Again, we all will die; just about all animals strive to avoid death; only humans fantasize that they will in (some form) live after physical death despite lack of empirical evidence for such existence. The most frequently and energetically presented “empirical” claim is that Christ rose from the dead. To many people (including me); this claim is very thin gruel indeed.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    • I love it: when it suits you, you are an empiricist (modern medicine), but when it doesn’t, you aren’t (the resurrection of Christ). Methinks we’re back to what you and I agreed upon earlier, namely, you don’t believe in Christ because you don’t WANT to, no matter what kind of evidence should be forthcoming. You appear to me to be the kind of person who would ask God to send down fire from heaven to “prove” his existence, and then when he does, find some way to explain it away as a merely “natural” phenomena. Jesus said, “The light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” Indeed.


      russell and duenes

      December 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm

  5. I have more, but dinner is on the table. As an empiricist, I will eat before the food gets cold and my wife gets cranky.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  6. Most humans have a general (though not universally accepted) idea of “right and wrong”; the rules presented in Judeo-Christianity by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule (and similar formulations in other religious traditions) reflect our shaky and uncertain efforts in this regard.

    Although there have been nihilistic (in the non-ethical sense) societies in human history such as Sparta, Nazi Germany, and Stalinist Russia (and today, Iran, Myanmar, and above all North Korea), these societies seem to have low survival value (in a cultural sense) in that outsiders strive against them (Greeks against Sparta, Allies against Nazi Germany, non-communist world against Stalin and Mao, various groups against Iran, Myanmar, and North Korea) and also that insiders (both oppressed victims and competitors at the top competing for power) also turn against them. So from a cultural and social point of view, “history” does (in a very shaky and uncertain sort of way) seem to side with ethical/moral people.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:51 pm

  7. As I’ve mentioned, there are evolutionary indications that animals (besides humans) can behave in altruistic and helpful ways. (Did you look at the video I linked to showing a crow caring for a kitten?)

    It is in our genes to reproduce ourselves. We not only mate (usually a fun activity); we (most of the time) care for our young until they are old enough to care for themselves. All human societies do this. We don’t do this because “Jesus tells us to”; we do it because it is in our genes.

    I don’t remember exactly how this developed, but from an early age I have had an aversion to people telling me stuff that is (to me) obviously not true. Now in the empirical world this is sometimes obvious. I once stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon; if a person next to me had said to me, “Hey, jump off, you will float down and land safely like a petal of a flower,” I would have replied, “No, you go first; based on what happens to you, I will decide whether to try it for myself.”

    It is not quite as obvious that there is no life after death, but not many religious believers decide to test ideas about Heaven (or reincarnation, etc.) and life after death out by ending their lives of their own volition. Self destruction is a little more common among Muslims than most other religious believers, but even so the great majority of Muslims do not voluntarily end their own lives. Whether Bonhoeffer really believed that he would go to Heaven for his principled stand against Hitler I don’t know.

    My guess is that about 80% of human beings profess to believe in God.

    My suspicion (with no way to verify) is that 80% of the people who profess to believe in God do not really believe in Him (or Her or It). My guess is that the most common reasons for making this profession even not held or at least not strongly held are mostly:

    1) Belief that people are mostly bad (especially children) rather than mostly good; so without religious belief they have little or no reason to be good (fits well with “fallen” arguments of evangelicals).

    2) Children should be spared for as long as possible (perhaps even for their entire life) from the existential dilemma (“Life is a ***ch; then you die” in a cold and meaningless universe).

    3) “Pascal’s wager” (maybe religious belief is true; better to “err” on the side that may be true than on the existential dilemma side). There are a lot of logical flaws with this argument, but it lies at the heart of a lot of evangelical claims for religious truth.


    December 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm

  8. So I don’t KNOW that religious belief is not true, but as an empiricist I consider it most likely. As a person who is “addicted” to disputing assertions that strike me as not true, I tend to argue with (though usually politely) people who assert to me their religious beliefs. As a person who shares the values of (though not the beliefs of) the “unitarians,” I generally find myself in opposition to (though usually peacefully and politely) to the beliefs of fundamentalists and evangelicals. In that sense, we tend to be “co-dependent” “addicts” (for lack of a terms).


    December 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    • Perhaps so, my friend. I certainly don’t mind our little “back and forth” we’ve got going on this site. Though I’ve never seen you nor heard your voice, I value you as a person, and consider myself grateful that you continue to read my little musings, and even respond to them. I don’t doubt that were it possible, you and I would likely enjoy chatting about these things over a cold beer somewhere. Regardless of your lack of faith in Christ, I do indeed hope you will enjoy this Christmas season with your family, and that your New Year will be rich with love and blessing.


      russell and duenes

      December 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm

  9. There is no very good term for how religion developed. My belief is that religion was created by human societies over centuries, so everything I say is premised on that opinion. “Evolution” is not quite the right word. “Invented” is not quite the right word. For lack of a better term (and with a little malicious irony) I will say humans “created” religion).

    To be alive and self-aware is to suffer (some more than others, but no one is exempt). We know we will die. We suffer illness and mishaps. We experience disappointment and disillusionment.


    December 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm

  10. Religion served several purposes.

    1) Religion explained how things came to be in a mysterious and amazing world. In a time before science (empiricism). creation myths provided explanations and entertainment. As science developed, creation myths lost a lot of their explanatory value and usefulness.

    2) Religion helped rulers (shamans and priests allied with chiefs, nobles, kings) seize and maintain their power. That in the Western tradition phrases such as “Divine Right of Kings” promulgated widely is hardly surprising.

    3) Religion helped cultures pass on values. It is in the interest of a culture to support common values. Sometimes these values are worthwhile and helpful, such as take care of your children and your elderly. Sometimes these values are dangerous and harmful, such as kill strangers and ask questions later, or some people deserve to be slaves and serfs. (I know, where did these values “come from,” if not from God? Well, most cultures have such values, regardless of their religious beliefs.)

    4) Religion is more powerful than individual opinion, especially because it “lines up with” ideas we want to believe. In a primitive society, chiefs arise because they are stronger, smarter, more charismatic than the average person. The tribe is more likely to obey and support the chief because of his qualities. The chief is more likely to want his son to be the next chief because of his genetic drive to support his offspring. If the priest says to the people, “’God’ wants the son of the chief to be the next chief,” the chief will say, “Listen to the priest and obey him and feed him,” because the priest is saying what the chief wants to hear.

    5) Religion tells us that we will live after we die. Most of us do not want to die.

    6) Religion tells us that good will be rewarded and evil will be punished. Most of us have a sense of “right and wrong,” based on empathy (which most humans have) and based on our cultural values passed on by parents, kin, and tribe. Obviously evil people sometimes prosper (often the chief or king or priest as a matter of fact) and good people often suffer, in this life. It’s very inspiring to believe that there is an all-knowing, impartial, benevolent judge who sorts it all out, either through reincarnation (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) or through Heaven and Hell (Judaism a little, more in Christianity and Islam).

    7) Abraham Maslow described a hierarchy of values. If we are barely surviving in the face of asphyxiation, dehydration, hunger, and imminent threats, we don’t worry too much about the “meaning of life.” But once our basic needs are met and we confront the existential dilemma, we crave meaning and purpose. Besides comfort over mortality and suffering, religion argues that there is an inherent purpose and meaning to an apparently meaningless universe. What’s not to like about that idea? (Besides that it is probably nonsense?)


    December 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm

  11. Different religions compete with each other (as part of the process of different cultures and societies competing with each other). Over time, some religions become predominant over others. In world history the following are probably the leaders: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

    The first three might be called “genetic” religions in that most people inherited the belief from their parents and tribe. The last two are often called “viral” religions in that people who hold these beliefs are strongly motivated to pass them on to others not necessarily in their clan or tribe. (Obviously, in the interest of concision, I skip over many exceptions and messy details for the sake of generalization.)

    Religions arise fairly infrequently, but some have arisen in modern times. In American society two especially notable and successful new religions have arisen and taken wide root: Mormonism and Scientology. Whether we can infer anything about older religions from these examples I don’t know.

    If they do tell us anything about how religions arise, they are to me a bit disturbing. The founders of both of these religions, Joseph Smith in the case of Mormonism and L. Ron Hubbard in the case of Scientology were unpleasant charismatic individuals who used their “psychic power and magnetism” (for lack of a better phrase) to dominate other men and to collect “harems” of women.

    It’s hard to say anything positive about Scientology. At first, Hubbard, a science fiction writer, claimed he was developing a “science” (with little empirical basis for this claim); later for various tactical and strategic reasons he turned it into a “religion.” Many accusations (which I find credible) have been made about the harm done by this religion to the point that it is banned in places such as Germany (a society with some bad experiences with other quasi religious cult-like activities).

    Mormonism has gone through an interesting series of changes. At first it claimed to replace Christianity. In nature, there are birds that “prey on” other species of birds, most notably cuckoos. Cuckoos often lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. When the cuckoo hatches, it kills the other birds and takes over the nest.

    Mormonism might be considered (in a slight degree) a kind of “cuckoo religion.” (Pun maliciously intended.) When threatened by stronger forces, it yields and adapts. When it became clear that polygamy was not acceptable to American society, it dropped the practice (except for a few splinter sects). When it became clear that prejudice against blacks was not acceptable, it changed course. When it became clear that advertising itself as a replacement for traditional Christianity did not really fly in America, Mormonism recast itself as just another denomination of Christianity.

    Now “burrowing from within,” two prominent Mormons, Romney and Huntsman, have become leading Republication candidates for President. While Romney gains no traction with me (I regard him as mostly an empty suit who says whatever he thinks will gain him approval and support within his party); I find Huntsman tolerable and don’t regard his possible election with intense distaste and some apprehension (as I do most of the Republican candidates). So if Romney becomes our next President (not impossible), it would be the ultimate “cuckoo” move. It is wryly amusing to me that so many conventional and traditional Christians would support Romney over Obama (who is, as far as I can tell, a fairly conventional and traditional Christian).


    December 21, 2011 at 8:15 pm

  12. Well, I am done for tonight. If you want to keep trying to convince me and convert me, you are just playing into our co-dependent addictions. As the plant said, in the movie Little Shop of Horrors, “Feed me, Seymour!”

    If you choose to do so, I will explain to you why your strategy is so flawed in the case of nihilists such as me.


    December 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    • You’re prolific, my friend. I can’t keep up with you. But I’ll comment when I get the urge.


      russell and duenes

      December 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm

  13. OK, I just read your last response. Thank you for your courteous and friendly words, and as was the case with Christopher Hitchens and evangelical pastor Douglas Wilson, I second your comments about how we might be able to meet and chat amiably while disagreeing. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. (If you haven’t seen the video the two of them made together, titled Collision!”, take a look at it.)


    December 21, 2011 at 8:22 pm

  14. To imply that very few Christian adults come to faith is simply laughable, given the history of the Christian faith over the past 2,000 years. People change beliefs all the time. I’ve known atheists who have become Christians; Christians who have become atheists; Muslims who have become Christians; Christians who have become atheists…and so on. You can go down the whole list of human beliefs and find frequent changes. Humans are the only animals with self-consciousness, an awareness of our own mortality, and a sense that the world ought to be “fair.” [That is, that virtuous behavior should be rewarded and wicked behavior should be punished. Which is obviously not consistently true in this world and this life; so why not imagine a perfect world where it is true?] Religious beliefs compete with each other like consumer products. Over time, the most successful ones (like the most successful consumer products) predominate over the others. Successful germs spread vigorously and energetically; thus we have “viral” diseases such as colds, flu, and hepatitis. Something similar happens with ideas. Thus we have “viral” ideas (referred to as “memes; the top two” viral” meme religions are Christianity and Islam. It’s no wonder that they regard each other with some distrust and hostility; they are competing to infect hosts. Though even with these two aggressive and competitive religions there are slight signs that they are trying to live in peace. What kind of God would allow a world where different religions (and it doesn’t bother me of you want to call atheism a religion) can live in peace and tolerance? After all, the ones who choose wrong will burn in Hell.


    December 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    • OK, people change beliefs all the time, and it’s all explained as the accidental, irrational forces of purely mechanistic “viral memes” that happen to dominate and confer a greater survival advantage on those who “believe.” Yes, that definitely sounds more believable – and more attractive – than the assertion that a loving God came down to earth to redeem his wayward children and woos and wins them to Himself by the greatness of His loving power, and that’s why people convert to Christ. Who could believe such a hoax when the neo-Darwinian storyline is so compelling?


      russell and duenes

      December 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

  15. In case I don’t talk to you before then, Happy New Year. Watch out for windstorms and falling trees.


    December 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    • Same to you, my friend.


      russell and duenes

      December 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

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