“Changed Lives” – A Letter from Jim

Dear …

I understand that your life may have changed in remarkable ways since you came to believe in Jesus. But I am not sure why you think this amounts to proof of anything. Many people put their faith in untrue systems and have big changes in their life. Many Mormons, for example, find that their lives are much improved by their newfound religious faith. Also, like Christians, they believe that a personal experience has verified for them the verity of their faith—they appeal to burning in the bosom.

And of course this is not limited to Mormons. Muslims have big life changes. So do Hindus and Buddhists. Even New Agers can have significant life improvements through their faith in the power of crystals, body energies, and other forces of the imagination.

I hardly think you hold them all to be true, because of the improvements in their lives.

So how does this happen? How do all of these people change their lives through the power of belief? I argue that what happens is a placebo effect, which is one reason the same faith will “work” for one and not for another. It is not that they are equally credible; they cannot all be true with their conflicting claims. Rather, like a sugar pill which alleviates pain because of a person’s certitude that he is taking a pain reliever, one, who previously felt himself helpless before his appetites, when he believes he has found spiritual help, is often able to overcome his appetites and change his life for the better.

An interesting documentary, called Kumare’, illustrates this point. The filmmaker wanted to show that religion is a sham, and that people are able to improve their own lives. He posed as a guru, growing his hair and beard, adopting an accent, and teaching yoga. People believed that he was a “holy man” and began to come to him for spiritual enlightenment. They hoped he could help them improve their lives. He taught them a meditation techniques where they passed a blue energy from one to the other, an object of the imagination that he invented. And, they believed that they actually were passing along this blue energy. And he told them they had the power to change.

As time went on, he got a core following. They really believed in him. They believed his spiritual teachings brought them enlightenment and changed their lives. But it was all made up. The point was that they had the power to change themselves the entire time. When he finally revealed the truth to them, a few were angry and left. Most were fascinated. But the point is, he invented a “spirituality” that seemed to improve one’s life. However, it was not true. The blue light was a fiction. They only imagined this spiritual energy.

But it appeared to be real to them. They were searching for something and they found it. Unfortunately, they were not searching for truth; so they did not find that. And the enlightenment they found turned out to be a product of their fruitful imaginations. They had attached themselves to fantasy.

Torah does not bring one to fantasy. It empowers the person through expectation, not through imagination. HaShem tells Cain that he can overcome sin. He does not need special intervention to live a good life. The Torah also commands the Jewish people to circumcise their hearts. I believe this means that one should bring his desires in line with the correct path. He should not fantasize about things that are inappropriate and degrading to the human being. He should not wish that he could violate the Torah. He must constantly bring his desires in line with the Torah, with the teachings of His Creator and Master.

Unfortunately, people sometimes feel powerless before their own desires. They desire a shortcut to happiness and personal improvement. They desire to be rescued from themselves. And when this happens, they are more easily influenced to embrace false religions. And, when they feel that the religion has given them the easy answer they desire, they become convinced of its verity. However, they are mistaken. They have not submitted themselves to Truth.

Christianity, in its many guises, has relieved man of personal responsibility. It has denied the value of man, that he can choose the good and refuse the evil. Torah tells us that the Law is not too hard to keep. And if we falter, it beckons us to return to God and His Torah.

Christianity offers an excuse to the sinner. It lies to him, convincing him that he could never have kept the Torah. It enforces his feeling of powerlessness, and tells him that it is all right. Someone has taken care of things for him. To this individual, he feels indebted and devotes himself to him. But this error is tremendous. The Torah was never beyond his reach, and the excuse offered to him by the followers of Jesus only convinces him of the futility of following God.

It is no proof of religious truth that it has changed your life. Many lives have been changed by religions you hold to be false. You do not hold them all equally true. The Truth will not be found by abandoning oneself to a sense of hopelessness or the search for easy answers. The Truth requires investigation and thought. Your life may very well be better, and I am glad for you that it is. But that does not make Christianity true, any more than Mormonism is true.

Jim

If you found this article helpful please consider making a donation to Judaism Resources by clicking on the link below.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=FEAQ55Y7MR3E6

Judaism Resources is a recognized 501(c) 3 public charity and your donation is tax exempt.

Thank You

Yisroel C. Blumenthal

This entry was posted in Correspondence. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to “Changed Lives” – A Letter from Jim

  1. Dina says:

    I am fascinated by this documentary, Kumare. My goodness, that is really something. It makes such a powerful case for the placebo effect of faith creating changes. Wow! Thanks for that.

  2. Concerned Reader says:

    All faith systems do it Dina. I haven’t come across one that doesn’t. 🙂 Kumare was a great Documentary. Watched it a year or so ago.

  3. ‘Christianity, in its many guises, has relieved man of personal responsibility.’ That’s a pretty bold claim, given that Protestant Christians were behind the abolition of slavery, the restrictions on child labours, the reform of labour, illegalisation of prostitution, slavery, a marked reduction in bribery and increase in productivity and industrial creativity after the reformation, as part of the so-called Protestant work ethic. Yes I agree there have been serious faults too, deadly ones in the case of German ‘evangelicals’, though liberalism’s bitter habit of denying the historicity of Torah has often been at the root for these.

    As to experience trumping doctrine. Rabbinic Judaism has had its own problems with charismatic leaders and the ‘placebo effect’, Bar Kochba, Sabbatai Sevi, and arguably with some adherents of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, has it not? So the rabbinic kind of Torah loyalty you’re advocating has not proofed against delusion has it?

    Real spiritual experience is founded on doctrine, doctrine that comes from the scripture.
    How can we know the love of God, without entering into the communion between the Father and the Son (1 Jn.1.2-3, Prov.30.4, Dan.3.25, Ps.2.6-12)? how can we know the peace of a angry conscience accused justly by the Law, without a solid foundation for justification (Rom.5.1-3, Lev.17.11, Jer.23.5-6)? How can we know joy in the face of death and suffering without a solid understanding of redemption and the resurrection (Dan.12.1-2, Job.19.25-26, Ps.16.9-11)? Examples of this kind could be multiplied and explored. I have not time to debate or linger over this, but your post is misguided.

    • Dina says:

      Charles, your question shows that you missed the point. Every religion, including Judaism, has its share of spiritual experience. That is precisely why it is meaningless to rely on that as proof of the validity of any given faith.

    • Jim says:

      Charles,

      I did not write that Christians have done nothing good. You have taken one sentence out of context to mischaracterize it. I do not have time to clarify today, as I will be out. But I would urge you to reread the context of what I wrote if you want to understand my comment.

      Jim

    • Sharbano says:

      Isn’t it interesting that in order for Xtianity to raise itself Up it has to tear someone else Down. This seems to be the entire basis for the theology, as shown in all its references to Jews and Torah.

    • Sharbano says:

      How is it “misguided”. Does Xtianity not teach a change in the character of a person once he accepts Jsus. That is the premise behind every single Xtian I have heard going back decades. Since this premise is predominant, then a challenge to that should be where the same occurs by a different means. If the same can be achieved elsewhere then its authority and validity becomes questionable. So, it is Not misguided but a reasonable analysis.

  4. Concerned Reader says:

    As to experience trumping doctrine. Rabbinic Judaism has had its own problems with charismatic leaders and the ‘placebo effect’, Bar Kochba, Sabbatai Sevi, and arguably with some adherents of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, has it not? So the rabbinic kind of Torah loyalty you’re advocating has not proofed against delusion has it?

    That’s why Jews don’t trust in a miracle, or a claim to divinity by anyone as a proof of legitimacy from G-d Charles. It’s why jews focus on mitzvot. Some very few in Chabad treat the rebbe as though he is a power alongside G-d, (very similar to how Christians view Jesus,) point being that anyone’s students can claim miracles and divinity as an attribute of their founder. The Halacha exists so that you can tell true from false, because doing what G-d commands in torah is the most unambiguous teaching in the Bible.

    I’m sure you wouldn’t pray to the rebbe? Or Bar Kochba? If you wouldn’t pray to them, why would you pray to Jesus? How can you be objectively certain that someone who says, “I am G-d” really is or isn’t G-d? See the problem with resting on miracles and claims to deity?

  5. Reblogged this on Noach ben Avraham and commented:
    “Changed Lives” – A Letter from Jim

    I understand that your life may have changed in remarkable ways since you came to believe in Jesus.

  6. Pingback: “Changed Lives” – A Letter from Jim | Noach ben Avraham

  7. YoAv says:

    Another factor is the ‘community’ or ‘family’ affect of mutual support. The more a congregation of people embrace a new-comer with a vibrant social network, the more one feels affirmed and protected. When their deity falls short of miracles or real prayer answers, they join together in a chorus of puffed-up excuses (the bigger the lie and the more often it is told…) to comfort and reassure the grieving ones. Christianity has the biggest hook: Eternal Salvation, and the biggest club: Eternal Torture.

  8. YoAv says:

    A point that Charles S. overlooks (above), is that all his points are well covered within Tanakh (though he is blinded as to Israel/Ya’akov being YHVH’s first born). Over-looked, also: Isaiah 43:11, 45:21 & 60:16. Even ‘the New Covenant’ of Torah written upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6, Psalm 37:31 & 40:9 (8)), is adequately introduced, while still awaiting full implementation.

    None of us has arrived, so let us love our neighbor as our self, by praying to the Elohey of elohim, YHVH, Blessed be HE, the Holy One of Israel, that our eyes would be opened to His Truth (Psalm 119:142 & 160).

  9. Jim says:

    Charles,

    As a sentence by itself, I understand you how object to my writing: “Christianity, in its many guises, has relieved man of personal responsibility.” Since the context did not seem to help you understand my meaning, let me clarify.

    I certainly do not mean that Christians feel that they are under no moral obligations. Nor do I mean that they have never done good acts. Nor do I mean that the good they have done is irrespective of their faith. Christians certainly believe that they ought to do good acts.

    And yet, they simultaneously deny that without Jesus they truly have moral agency. How often has a Christian echoed Paul’s misunderstanding of the psalmist: “There are none righteous, no not one.” They feel unable to improve their lives without Jesus. Too many preachers teach that you may want to do good, but you just cannot.

    Testimony after testimony comes from a person who felt hopelessly lost. A man is a serial adulterer, and he feels unable to stop himself. His sin nature is too great for him. But now that he has found Jesus, he is magically able to remain faithful. (Maybe.) The teaching of sin nature is an excuse for his bad behavior. He wanted to control himself, but he could not… until he came to Jesus. This “could not” is a denial of moral agency and therefore of moral responsibility.

    Note that this is pre-Jesus. Post-Jesus, the Christian does have some moral responsibility. For example, he is to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. He is commanded to care for the poor and other good works. He is not to practice witchcraft, lying, murder, etc. I certainly am not saying that Christians hold that one may be immoral.

    (It is difficult to know how much responsibility he has, however. Paul writes that as long as one is alive, he must wrestle with his body. He even excuses/is pained by his sins as a Christian, pleading that it is not he that sins but the sin within him. This itself indicates a lack of autonomy and, therefore, responsibility.)

    Pre-Jesus, one is lost, however. He cannot improve himself. He needs someone to save him from himself. He does not wish to live the adulterous lifestyle. He cannot help himself. He is filled with self-loathing and guilt, but also desire. And so he continues to do what be knows he should not.

    The Christian has offered him a comforting excuse. He has a sin nature. Only with Jesus can this be overcome. The man is helpless. And if he is helpless, then he is not really responsible. This is a comforting thought to some, but it is not true.

    Jim

  10. Jim says:

    Charles,

    I am deeply troubled at the liberties you take when employing scripture. You have attempted to turn Tanach into your puppet in the final paragraph here: https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/changed-lives-a-letter-from-jim/#comment-17701 . But however hard you try to superimpose the voice of God with your own, God’s voice is stronger. Let us examine your abuse of those scriptures from Tanach that indicate in your opinion that we cannot enter the love of God without entering into communion with the Father and the Son. (Because you are short on time, I will limit myself to discussing the only this egregious abuse of scripture, and not the other two topics as well.)

    You have grossly misrepresented Tanach to suit your own purpose. Do you have no respect for God? None of the scriptures from Tanach teaches that one must enter “into communion with… the Son” as you pretend them to do. You take verses that mention a son and impose upon it your own theology.

    Examine Prov. 30.4 honestly. The author writes of his ignorance. In that framework, he asks: “Who ascended to heaven and descended? … Who established all the ends of the earth? What is his name and what is the name of his son, if you know?” This question is rhetorical. But you jump upon the mention of a son to the one who established the earth. What you ignore is that it teaches nothing about entering communion with him. It is too bad that you did not read v. 6: “Do not add to His words, lest He prove to you, and you be found a liar.” Had you taken that to heart, you might not have seized so readily upon a phrase that sounded Christological on the surface but taught none of what you wanted it to teach.

    Shall you fare better in Daniel 3.25? I doubt it. Let us see, here we have one who appears to Nebuchadnezzar to be like a son of a god (or a son of the gods). So, in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego a powerful being appears, and you have quickly seized upon the phrase. But you know what it does not say? It does not say anything about having communion with such a being. (By the way, Nebuchadnezzar’s exclamation means nothing that a powerful being, i.e. an angel, has appeared in the fire with the three men.) You have once again seized upon something that sounds vaguely Christological and attached to it meaning that is not in the text.

    In fact, the omission of such a being in their profession of faith is glaring in light of your misappropriation of the verse. They tell Nebuchadnezzar: “Behold there is our God whom we worship; He can save us…. And if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not worship your god, neither will we prostrate ourselves to the golden image that you have set up” (v. 17-18). They mention nothing about the son in whom you have placed your faith. Their faith is only in God. The one who appears to the king as one like a son of God is only an agent. Nothing justifies your gross misrepresentation of the text. It does not exist for you to impose your voice upon.

    And for the psalm, it does not speak of having with communion with the son either. David writes that God has declared David to be his son. (If this seems far-fetched, consider that God tells David that Solomon will be a son to Him in 2 Sam. 7.14.) And there he says nothing about having communion with the son. David writes: “Serve the Lord (HaShem) with fear, and rejoice with quaking” (v.11) He writes nothing of having communion with the son. But you have reacted to the word “son” as if it meant that something Christological. It clearly says nothing of the sort.

    None of the three passages says anything about having communion with the son. But you, hearing them mention a son of a god in one sense or another, stopped listening to the passages at that point. Then you took over and attempted to superimpose them with Christian doctrine. I can hardly believe that you would be so careless and disrespectful of scripture; the precious scripture you to which you ascribe true doctrine and real spiritual experience. And yet, this is precisely what you have been. You have tried to drown the voice of prophets with your own idle musings. You have attempted to paper over the Word of God with the word of man.

    Recently, I answered you on “Facing Scripture”. There I pointed out that you had only proven R’ Blumenthal correct through your arguments. You reference Deuteronomy 4, but you ignore that essential teaching that does not fit your theology. “To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides Him” (Deut. 4.35) and “So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (v. 39). There it is stated twice that God is alone: “there is no other”. It says nothing about having communion with the Father and the Son. It teaches against your man-made doctrine.

    If you wish to know what God says, you will have to be quiet long enough to let Him speak. You cannot drown out his message with your own and hope to get it right. The liberties you have taken here are nothing short of disgraceful. Surely you do not expect us to listen to you over God.

    Jim

  11. Pingback: Facing Scripture III – An Open Letter to Charles from Jim | 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.