Saturday, January 21, 2012

A mind at the end of its tether

I’m going to quote in full, then comment on, Michael Sudduth’s recent deconversion testimonial:

My Conversion to Vaishnava Vedanta:
An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends
"Knowing me as the enjoyer
of all worship, the Lord of all worlds,
the dearest friend of all beings,
that man gains perfect peace."
(Bhagavad Gita 5:29)
Since summer 2011 I have received a number of emails from Christian friends who have inquired about a perceived shift in my theological beliefs. I think it’s been relatively clear in my various status updates and comments to respondents on Facebook that I have developed a very positive appraisal of eastern religion, specifically the bhakti tradition of Vaishnavism. For a number of years I have had a growing interest in and appreciation for the insights of Vedanta philosophy and the various Vaishnava traditions. I wish now to disclose to my Facebook friends that I have come to personally embrace many of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Gaudiya Vaishnavism (GV). While I still retain many of my former Christian beliefs, the move in the direction of GV marks a decisive break with my long-standing adherence to traditional Christianity. I feel it’s important at this time to explain the nature, grounds, and evolution of this substantial and dramatic change in my theological perspective and spiritual practice.
I. From Christianity to Vaishnavism: The Move Eastwards
I have spent twenty-five years as a Protestant Christian, a tradition that I came to through my reading of the Bible and personal experience of the Lord Jesus Christ in my early 20’s. For most of these twenty-five years I have been an adherent of the Reformed theological tradition, though with an appreciation for both Catholicism and Protestant traditions other than my own. As a professional philosopher of religion since the mid 1990’s, I have devoted much of my work to bringing as much clarity as possible to important questions concerning the nature of religious knowledge, the concept of God, and the project of natural theology (i.e., rational arguments for God’s existence). I have regularly streamlined these interests in the philosophy of religion with their relevance to and development in the context of Reformed philosophical theology.
Despite my long-standing adherence to the Christian tradition, my spiritual journey has now moved me eastward and outside the framework of Christian theism. For the past few years I have been increasingly drawn to the Indian philosophy of Vedanta, specifically the bhakti tradition of Vaishnavism. By being “drawn” to Vedanta I mean both a philosophical attraction to the ideas of Vaishnava Vedanta (and GV in particular) and an experiential attraction to the person of Lord Krishna in my spiritual/devotional life. This began with my readings in the Bhagavad Gita over the past several years (including a reading of Ramanuja’s Gita Bhasya), dramatically intensified in 2011, and culminated in a powerful religious experience of Krishna in the fall of 2011. It was this personal experience of Krishna that inspired me to visit Audarya, a Gaudiya Vaishnava ashram in northern California, during Thanksgiving of last year. There I discovered what I had in a sense known for quite some time: the depth of my love for Lord Krishna as the person who now reveals God to me in a way essential to my spiritual life.
I would like to share the details of my conversion process, as well as briefly explain how I see my new perspective in relation to my former religious identity as a Protestant Christian.
II. The Bhagavad Gita and Spiritual Transformation
I started teaching the Bhagavad Gita in my world religions classes several years ago. It was a time of great transition in my personal life, and, as is often the case with times of transition, it was also a time of intense spiritual struggle. While I was drawing wonderful support and guidance from the Bible during this time, as I began my systematic and in-depth exploration of the Bhagavad Gita, I found myself profoundly affected by this text. Krishna’s words would stay with me, often arising spontaneously in my mind at times of crisis. They not only instilled a wonderful serenity in me, gradually they began illuminating many aspects of my life and relationship to God.  I will discuss some of these insights below. Most importantly, though, I sometimes found myself overwhelmed with a powerful sense of the presence of God while reading from the Bhagavad Gita, in much the same way that I had often experienced God through reading the Bible.
Many of my Facebook friends are aware of the many past references to my “jetted tub,” which I know many of you found humorous. But I tell you now that I liked that tub most because I spent countless nights there reading from the Gita, with tears of joy running down my face as I read the words of Lord Krishna and felt the presence of God.
"The man who sees me in everything
and everything within me
will not be lost to me, nor
will I ever be lost to him.
He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being; wherever
he goes, he remains in me."
(Bhagavad Gita, 6:30-31)
This dynamic engagement with the Bhagavad Gita intensified in early 2011, shortly after my near fatal car accident on March 28, 2011. The accident was in itself a catalyst for profound personal and spiritual transformation, and it’s fair to say that my relationship with the Bhagavad Gita would never be the same after this. It’s difficult even at this time to adequately express the decisive break I experienced with my former life in the aftermath of the accident. At the moment of impact I accepted the inevitability and imminence of my own death for the first time in my life. In that moment I let go of everything, every attachment (e.g., family, friends, career, belongings, projects, future plans), even the attachment to life itself. In a sense, I actually died in that moment. When the vehicle came to a stop and the shattering glass had settled, I was conscious, but I was not the same. In letting go of my attachments, I had shed the harder layers of my self, or more precisely the self I had become through my various attachments to non-enduring aspects of my life. In the aftermath of the accident, which miraculously my then five-year old son and I survived, I found myself with the most beautiful gratitude for life. I found myself with a bliss and enjoyment of God that I had not known for many years in my life, and perhaps had never known at all.  I had the most profound sense of God’s presence in the sight of the sky, clouds and mountains, and in the fragrance of the air and each breath I took, and ultimately a sense of the divine presence within my own heart. If I died on that day in March 2011, clearly I was reborn.
"Abandoning all desires,
acting without craving, free
from all thoughts of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’
that man finds utter peace.
This is the divine state, Arjuna.
Absorbed in it, everywhere, always,
Even at the moment of death,
he vanishes into God’s bliss."
(Bhagavad Gita, 2:71-72)
Many of Krishna’s identity claims would spontaneously arise in my mind in the days following the accident.
"There is nothing more fundamental
than I, Arjuna; all worlds;
all beings, are strung upon me
like pearls on a single thread.
I am the taste in water,
the light in the moon and sun,
the sacred syllable Om
in the Vedas, the sound in air.
I am the fragrance in the earth. .  .
I am the primal seed
within all beings, Arjuna."
(Bhagavad Gita, 7:7-10)
"I am the heat of the sun.
I hold back the rain and release it;
I am death, and the deathless,
And all that is and is not."
(Bhagavad Gita, 9:19)
As before, words such as these illuminated my life, comforted me, and guided me, but this time I began to feel the presence of God through Lord Krishna himself, not merely his words. Better put, I was beginning to experience Krishna himself through his words. Krishna and his words were becoming one. And I found God directly present to me in such experiences, but present to me in such a way that I experienced both tremendous awe and reverence for God and a deep intimacy with God through my consciousness of Lord Krishna. And I began to see my former “God conceptions” as limited expressions of a fuller, richer, and more experientially meaningful view of God that was now present in Lord Krishna himself.
In summer 2011 I began listening to lectures on the Bhagavad Gita by Swami B.V. Tripurari, a Vaishnava sannyasi (renunciate) and the guru of one of my former students. Under the guidance of Swami Tripurari I began digging deeper into the Gita and acquired a wonderful understanding of the GV tradition’s understanding of the Gita, which interestingly corresponded in many ways to my own.
Feeling more deeply drawn to Krishna, throughout summer 2011 I had regularly devoted time to meditating on the lilas of Krishna, that is, his activities on earth as described in the Bhagavad Gita and the Shrimad Bhagavatam. It was at this time that I began regularly reciting the maha “Hare Krishna” mantra as part of my daily routine as well as listening to and singing bhajans, often on my iPhone while driving.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna, Krishna
Hare, Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama, Rama,
Hare, Hare
I experienced a wonderful sense of God’s presence in the chanting and singing of this mantra.
III. My Religious Experience of Sri Krishna
Having spent the entire summer deeply engaged in readings in the Gita and the lectures of Swami Tripurari, I began the fall semester with a wonderful enthusiasm for teaching the Gita once again. But I did not anticipate what would happen to me on September 16, 2011: a profoundly moving religious experience of Krishna himself, of even greater intensity than I had felt before in my readings of the Gita.
On Thursday, September 15th I spent time in the afternoon meditating on Krishna’s lilas while listening to singer and musician Deva Premal’s “Homeage to Krishna.” Later in the evening I spent some time working on my final lecture on the Bhagavad Gita, to be given the next day, and then I went to bed. I meditated for a few moments on the later part of Gita chapter 18, on which I had spent some time earlier in the evening. These passages in particular:
"If you focus your mind on me
and revere me with all your heart,
you will surely come to me; this
I promise, because I love you."
(Bhagavad Gita, 18:65)
"Krishna, I see the truth now
By your immeasurable kindness.
I have no more doubts; I will act
according to your command."
(Bhagavad Gita, 18:73)
Around 4:20am (Friday morning) September 16th, I woke suddenly from a deep sleep to the sound of the name of “Krishna” being uttered in some way, as if someone was present in my room and had spoken his name out loud. Upon waking I immediately had a most profound sense of Krishna's actual presence in my bedroom, a presence no less real than the presence of another living person in the room, though I was alone at the time. I responded to this felt presence, first through my thoughts that repeated Krishna’s name (and inquired of his presence), and then verbally out loud by uttering Krishna’s name twice: Krishna, Krishna. I was seized at this moment with a most sweet feeling of completeness and joy. I felt as if Krishna was there with me in my room and actually heard my voice, and that my response had completed a process that began with his name within my mind. I pondered this experience for several minutes, while at the same time continuing to experience a most blissful serenity and feeling of oneness with God, not unlike I had experienced on many occasions in the past in my relationship with the Lord Jesus. It was a most profound sense of both awe and intimacy with God in the form of Lord Krishna.
I should add, and I think this is very important, that I felt I was experiencing the same God that I had experienced on many occasions throughout my Christian life. However, I felt like this being was showing me a different face, side, or aspect to Himself, or – better yet – a different mode of my relationship to Him. I felt a certain validation of my spiritual journey, both past and present. I had gone so far in my Christian faith, but it was now necessary for me to relate to God as Lord Krishna.
After my journey to Audarya in November 2011 (See my facebook note Reflections on Audarya), I had further confirmation that my heart had taken root in the soil of the eastern bhakti traditions. I can only describe my experience as one of being irresistibly drawn to Sri Krishna, overwhelmed with His power and beauty, convinced of his Godhead – in short overflowing with love for Him as the Supreme Personality of the Godhead, and through him love for all beings, as He resides in the hearts of all beings.
Since this time I have experienced Krishna’s presence in the air, mountains, ocean, trees, cows, and equally within myself. I experience Him in the outer and inner worlds, and my heart is regularly filled with serenity and bliss. In short, I have learned the essence of the Gita. As Ramakrishna once said, repeat the name “Gita” ten times and you will know the essence of the Bhagavad Gita: GITA GITA GITA GITA GITA GITA GITA GITA GITA GITA. The name “Gita” will transform verbally into the word “Tagi.” “Gita” means “song” (Bhagavad Gita – song of the Lord) and “tagi” means “absolute surrender.” Having surrendered to God, the Gita has become the actual song that passes through my lips in every moment of awe and intimacy with the creator as He manifests himself through his shaktis (energies) in the world. And the love is returned: flowing from Him to me. And I have the strongest of conviction that love arose in me by virtue of his own love, drawing me to Himself.
"Concentrate your mind on me
fill your heart with my presence,
love me, serve me, worship me,
and you will attain me at last."
(Bhagavad Gita, 9:34)
"Now listen to my final words,
the deepest secret of all;
I am speaking to you for your own welfare,
since you are precious to me.
If you focus your mind on me
and revere me with all your heart
you will surely come to me; this
I promise, because I love you."
(Bhagavad Gita, 18:64-65)
IV. Exploring Gaudiya Vaishnavism (GV)
Although my movement towards Vaishnavism has been largely experiential in its genesis, as indicated above over the past few years I have increasingly found different aspects of Vedanta theologically and philosophically appealing to me. Here are some of the points of intellectual attraction in connection with GV in particular.
(1) GV articulates a model of love of God (bhakti) in which “intimacy” and “separation” are both acknowledged as essential and dynamically coordinated elements in the human-divine love relation. Moreover, there is not only a detailed model of bhakti itself in GV but a set of spiritual practices that are efficacious in cultivating it.
(2) In connection with (1), Krishna as the Supreme personality of the Godhead embodies both aishvarya (lordship) and madhurya (sweetness) qualities, which make Him the most perfect object of bhakti (under the separation-intimacy assumption embedded in (1) above). Krishna’s aishvarya qualities are His majestic qualities (e.g., omnipotent, omniscient creator and controller of the cosmos), which give rise to feelings of awe and reverence for the Lord.
The aishvarya elements induce in us a profound sense of the distinction or separation between the self and God. This is essential to bhakti since love of the other presupposes the actual otherness of the other and therefore a certain degree of separation between lover and beloved. This idea of separation is half of the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophical equation and works to intensify one’s love for God when properly cultivated.
Krishna’s madhurya qualities are His human qualities that engender a deep sense of closeness and intimacy with Him (e.g., his playfulness as a child in Vrindavan, His friendship with Arjuna, flute playing cowherd, youthful dancer, His relationships with thegopis, His physical beauty, etc). This is the second part of the equation and equally essential in the bhakti tradition because one’s love for God manifests in varying degrees/modes of union with God.
(3) Related to (1) and (2), the GV tradition specifically views the relationship between God and the self as an inconceivable and simultaneous difference and non-difference (achintya bheda abheda tattva). This strikes a wonderful balance between the monism of Advaita Vedanta and the strong dualism of the Dvaita schools originating from Madhva (and also reflected in most streams of the Christian tradition). As I see it, the ways of unqualified oneness and unqualified separateness (between self and God) each tends ultimately to dissolve the love relationship between the self and God. Love requires a merging of two beings into one, yet without a loss of their individuality. This is inconceivable, but its truth is the precondition for the possibility of real love between the self and God. Consequently, I now accept a panentheistic metaphysics in which the universe and human souls are, to put it roughly, in the being of God.
(4) GV has the intellectual resources for a reasonable inclusivist understanding of religion. By this I mean a few things.
A sensible way of acknowledging religious truth found across different religious traditions.
A sensible account of the efficacy of different religious traditions to guide their adherents to salvation, whilst
retaining the truth of a particular, robust, and historically grounded religious tradition.
True to its conception of God as infinite or absolute being, GV acknowledges that God is manifested in diverse ways and that God-realization (or salvation) takes on diverse forms. God is one, but we do not relate to Him in one way. Krishna means the “all attractive one.” He draws all people to himself, but in accordance with their own dispositions and tendencies. “However men try to reach me, I return their love with my love; whatever path they travel, it leads to me in the end” (Bhagavad Gita, 4:11).
Krishna is the all-attractive Absolute who is manifested in the different religious traditions of the world. There is merging into impersonal Brahman. There are also distinctly theistic experiences in which the self encounters a personal God. Some experience the personal God under the name “Yahweh,” others “Allah;” and others “Jesus.” The names are many; God is one. Of these experiences, some are awe and reverence experiences; some are more unitive experiences with varying degrees of sensed intimacy between the self and God. Some are combinations of separation and intimacy. GV acknowledges that transcendental consciousness (the aim of nearly all religious traditions) is in fact variegated in nature. There are different modes or degrees of penetration into transcendence. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the transcendental experience of impersonal Brahman is not the ultimate religious experience, however, it is a legitimate one and need not be discredited. It occurs when the individual spirit soul, the jiva, merges into the brahma-jyoti, (something akin to the aura or effulgence radiating from the body of Krishna himself). Similarly, those who worship Lord Jesus experience a mode of transcendence through a particular divine incarnation.
As Swami Tripurari has stated:
"Thoughtful, objective analysis reveals that all Gods are but partial manifestations of the same purusa, Sri Krsna, and all Goddesses partial expressions of the primal sakti, Sri Radha. Krsna possesses all attributes of divinity found in other incarnations as well as aspects found in him alone. There can be only one God, yet . . . he has many expressions of himself." ~ Swami Tripurari (Rasa: Love Relationships in Transcendence, p. 71)
Just as there are different practices that produce these different experiences of God realization, GV acknowledges that how we experience God depends on different aspects of our own personalities. This seems supported by a substantial body of literature in western psychology extending back to William James. The religious impulse is deep in human nature, part of the imago dei (according to the Christian tradition), but it takes on various forms (not merely because of sin – as Christians would say), but because of features of our individual psychology and local culture. God doesn’t override this in the scheme of salvation, but works through it. Otherwise put, given human nature, it is not surprising that God should manifest Himself to human persons in diverse ways.
(5) GV maintains that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (the fons et origo of GV) is the combined manifestation of Krishna and Radharani. In the lila of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Radharani was Krishna’s consort and the highest caliber devotee. She demonstrated unparalleled, pure love for Krishna. It is said that Krishna could not begin to fathom the depths of her love for Him so he appeared in this special combined incarnation to taste the highest levels of devotion to Himself. I find this a wonderful image that complements the Christian idea of God taking on human nature to achieve righteousness for the sinner and to pay the penalty for sin for the sinner. It is most fitting that God would seek to experience the love of the devotee in much the same way that he would seek to experience the suffering of the devotee (in the person of Jesus). In Christ God suffers with us. In Chaitanya, God loves with us.  In each case, there is an important identification between God and us. God tastes the suffering that distances us from Him and the love that brings us near to Him.
I think it’s important to underscore, mainly for the sake of my Christian friends, two points relevant to the relationship between my adherence to the principles outlined above and Christian theism. I do not perceive myself as worshipping a different God than I did as a Christian. It’s the same God under a different (and for me fuller) manifestation. Krishna reveals himself in diverse ways across culture and time, personality and life circumstance. Christians and Muslims are also bhaktas, though they cultivate love of God in a different way.
Secondly, the basic principles of Gaudiya Vaishnavism are logically compatible with a number of fundamental Christian beliefs: the deity of Christ, virgin birth, his resurrection, and the soteriological importance (even necessity of) his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. In converting to Vaishnavism I do not relinquish these beliefs but simply situate them in a different philosophical and theological context. That being said, I intend in the future to write on the subject of the relationship between the above aspects of GV and Christian theism.
For those who are interested in learning about the different Vaishnava traditions, I would recommend reading the online historical account here:
http://www.gaudiya.com/index.php?topic=history
V. The Road Ahead
My conversion to Vaishnava Vedanta will not alter my continuing interest in the areas of philosophy of religion that have interested me for many years, but it will signal a shift in emphasis to working on these issues now in the context of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and its relationship to western theism. While there have been many books written on the relationship between Vaishnavism and Christian theism, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in this area. At an earlier time I announced that I had started working on a book on Yoga and Christianity. While I still think that popular Christian criticisms of yoga are pretty silly and riddled with misrepresentations and over simplifications of so-called “Hinduism,” I have decided to focus rather on a book on theism and modes of transcendence for my philosophy classes.
I wish to express my appreciation for those Christian friends who have expressed patience and openness regarding my spiritual journey and theological changes. I wish to especially thank my Christian friends who – due to their love for me and passion for truth – will continue to be gracious interlocutors with me on matters that we equally deem of ultimate importance, even if we should approach this truth from different paths. Since two eyes are better than one, I hope they will benefit as I have from the broadening of vision that comes from dialogue across traditions. I have no interest in converting any of my Christian friends to Vaishnavism, but I do hope that we shall each help make each other better devotees in our respective faiths.
Hare Krishna, Jai Krishna, Jai Radhe
Michael Sudduth
1/20/12

Several problems:

i) Frankly, the juvenile tone sounds like a schoolgirl crush on a teen idol. Bieber fever. While that maybe natural and age-appropriate for a teenybopper, for a middle-aged man to carry on this way reflects emotional immaturity.

ii) As I recall, Michael has been on antidepressants. I don’t say that as a criticism. There can be perfectly legitimate reasons for that. Still, someone who’s been in a condition requiring psychotropic meds isn’t necessarily in the best position to evaluate his own state of mind.

iii) I trace Michael’s problems back to when, as a teenager, he and some friends toyed with a ouija board. This precipitated some paranormal experiences.

I think dabbling in the occult opened a door which he was never able to close. Later in life he found himself living in a haunted house. He’s also experienced Old Hag syndrome on a regular basis.

I think he’s been under some degree of occultic bondage for most of his life. Never able to shake free of that. It left him susceptible and vulnerable.

iv) To my knowledge, Michael has never been biblically oriented. His Christian faith has always been more philosophically oriented. Now, there’s nothing wrong with philosophical theology. But Christianity is ultimately based on historic revelation. Unless your faith is moored in Scripture, you’re adrift.

v) Michael’s makeshift syncretism is an exercise in self-deception. A way to rationalize his idolatry. Jesus is squarely in the jealous God tradition of Isaiah and the Pentateuch. That can’t be harmonized with devotion to “Lord Krishna.”

vi) One thing we always need to ask ourselves is how we know what we believe is true. What’s our source of information? Is it reliable?

In the nature of the case, Michael’s experience can’t be veridical. For Michael is positing a fundamental dichotomy between how we perceive reality and reality in itself. He seems to combine this with a type of modalism according to which an ultimate divine reality projects itself into nature and history in a wide variety of disparate manifestations. But somehow these all map back onto the same ultimate reality.

An obvious problem with this paradigm is that, from our side of the transaction, we’d be in no position to compare our experience with reality. Because we’re on the receiving end of this process, we can’t retrace the process to arrive at a knowledge of what the source of origin is truly like.

And not just because we’re the recipients, but because the framework itself posits a blackbox between our subjective experience and objective reality.

Michael is fudging by tacitly acting as if he enjoys a privileged topdown perspective. As if he can start from a God’s-eye viewpoint. But if what he says is true, then he could never know it’s true. If what he says is true, then no one (including himself) has the inside track on what ultimate reality is ultimately like.

vii) Which brings us to another point: what does Michael think Krishna represents? Why does he think Krishna lies behind experience? What kind of entity does he think Krishna is?

Why think Krishna is real? Why think Krishna is a person?

What’s the relationship between Krishna and Jesus? Is Jesus a projection of Krishna? Is Jesus a different manifestation of Krishna? Are Jesus and Krishna both projections of something more ultimate?

viii) In any event, there’s no way to salvage orthodox Christology from Michael’s syncretism. In Christian theism, the Trinity is the ultimate reality. Not just a mode of something over and above the Trinity.

Basically, he’s reducing Jesus to a parochial religious metaphor.

ix) By the same token, it doesn’t matter whether we can accurately distinguish all the different shades of Hinduism. For however you slice it, a cow pie is no better than the constituent ingredients.

Imagine if L. Ron Hubbard had 10 rival protégés. Imagine if each protégé lay claim to be the one true interpreter L. Ron Hubbard.

You could spend your life patiently mastering the minutiae of each variant on Scientology. But what’s the point? Variations on nonsense. Competing interpretations of nonsense.

78 comments:

  1. I am sorry to read of Dr. Sudduth's apostasy.

    To my knowledge, Michael has never been biblically oriented. His Christian faith has always been more philosophically oriented. Now, there’s nothing wrong with philosophical theology. But Christianity is ultimately based on historic revelation. Unless your faith is moored in Scripture, you’re adrift.

    This seems apt given how little Sudduth mentions Scripture in his testimonial.

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  2. I want to make some quick comments. I have not finished reading this but I have to leave soon ... so want to get these out of the way... be back later.

    1) Always do a background check on your guru's. For example, when your favorite guru has been charged with multiple counts of rape in Guyana and India... you kinda have to wonder about what you are learning and how his/her mystical experiences mesh with the rapes. Now, no doubt this does not settle everything, but its a cause for a pause. So if anyone is interested in Eastern-isms of one sort of another - do a google search and check the Indian papers. (Similarly so for our televangelists btw.)

    2) This sort of thing has happened a lot among Roman Catholic and liberal Protestant intellectuals in India. What seems to be the case is that their faith prior to their conversion to Hinduism was very much so an intellectual faith.

    2.1) Inability to clearly separate Hinduism from Christianity seems to be a problem that plagues some "converts." Where does one end and the other begin?

    3) Although I have not finished reading his reply in full, we need to remember that there are serious problems with the Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta and so on. How does one construe those statements in the Gita which seem to support the Caste system?

    4) I am not sure of the nature of Dr. Sudduth's mystical experiences as yet, however, you don't need to go to Hinduism to get them. I am talking about the Oneness-style experiences. Even Xtn mystics claim to have similar experiences. I think its possible to achieve them via drugs or meditation techniques. Both involve altering our brain states. What after all is the Soma that the ancient rishi's of India used to drink?

    5) The convert and apologist Nehemiah (Nilikanta) Goreh is a good man to study.

    ~ Raj Rao

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  3. So I guess "Slay with glee" is a new mantra for Dr. Sudduth?
    Very sad. As someone who has been a missionary to people like Dr. Sudduth for many years now, it is so rare to find someone who says that reading the Gita brought them out of the Christian faith. But as you pointed out in your response, there are many other factors involved. If he really understood the Gita, then he would "know" that there was nothing happening in that accident because nothing could happen. Atman cannot suffer, so why was it so pivotal? Its not like Maya is worth getting upset about is it?
    Yall pray for this man. Spiritual deception does not respect intellect - it crushes it. He really needs a savior now and throwing himself on the floor daily in front of a statue or two is no answer.
    Lord Jesus please save him from this demonic deception.
    Bill

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  4. "i) Frankly, the juvenile tone sounds like a schoolgirl crush on a teen idol. Bieber fever. While that maybe natural and age-appropriate for a teenybopper, for a middle-aged man to carry on this way reflects emotional immaturity."

    Yeah, the stuff about him weeping while reading the Bhagavad Gita in the tub was pretty over the top. Was Moonlight Sonata playing at the time as well?

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  5. Mr. Hays,

    Thanks for addressing this.

    Very sad.

    Sudduth's account makes it seem like he had only recently come to immerse himself in the Gita, but I thought he was citing it as one of his favorite works many years ago.

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  6. What's the big deal? He just traded one delusion for another. Says something about the need for such delusions.

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  7. Yikes! I'll be praying for him.

    Because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, “Peace!” when there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10).

    i'll go with scripture and what Augustine mused:"What do I love when I love my God? Not the sweet harmony of song, not the fragrance of perfumes, not manna or honey, but when I love my God, I love a certain light."

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  8. Zilch, you need to make some arguments for your claims ,otherwise stop trolling.

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  9. So the title of your post last year on Sudduth, "One with Krishna: Yoga and Sycretism," was quite prophetic.

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  10. Thanks for modeling the ad hominem fallacy so expertly. Apparently being on the butt-end of such mistreatment by anti-Christian smart alecks doesn't heighten awareness of the "golden rule" (e.g., Matt 7:12) in some Christian apologists. Maybe ultimately Sudduth has to be written off as an unrepentant apostate, but what's the rush? Unless and until such a judgment, members of the Church who are in touch with him should take him up on his professed desire to keep lines of communication open. He needs to be on the receiving end of apologetical outreach.

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  11. I had him this semester and it's very interesting to see that he had mentioned all of these mystical experiences in classes. Never thought he would convert. But at the same time I questioned his theological support for the fruits and actions he was bearing/committing in the beginning of the semester..after writing my paper from a reformed background (regardless of how good the paper was) he did not seem to advocate or support my view.

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  12. "Lord Krishna" will be of little comfort to Sudduth as he burns in eternal torments in hellfire for his repudiation of Christ Jesus.

    Just sayin'...

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  13. Freakin' unbelievable.

    I thought it must be a different Michael Sudduth.

    I googled and found the following remarks by Paul Manata about Michael Sudduth in the archives:

    "Michael Sudduth is highly qualified to write a book on the topic of a Reformed objection to natural theology. With a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford, Sudduth specializes in the philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, and the history of Christian thought. Sudduth has published a number of influential articles on the subject of natural theology as well as religious epistemology. Sudduth’s doctoral dissertation was on the topic of the book as well. The back cover of The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology comes with endorsements by the likes of Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Alister McGrath. These high expectations are met within the pages of the book. Sudduth’s book also profited from the feedback he received by putting various drafts online and requesting critical comments on the book. The end product is high quality and the reader gets a good value."

    From Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.

    Yikes!

    This disturbs the "P" of TULIP and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints because if Dr. Sudduth permanently apostasizes, then he was never a genuine Christian and disciple of Christ!

    And Paul Manata has just endorsed a book by an apostate!

    Ai-yi-yi-yi-yi!

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  14. Pseudo- my "claims" are the only reasonable default position: that things don't exist if there's no evidence for their existence. It's theists who must support their claims with evidence. And to date I've seen none. One would think the fact that billions of people are utterly convinced of the truth of several mutually irreconcilable gods, and the fact that people convert from one utter conviction to another, as this guy did, would make you think twice about the nature of these convictions.

    Don't mean to troll, though. I wish you well in all your endeavors, as long as you behave nicely.

    cheers from sleety Vienna, zilch

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  15. TONY FLOOD SAID:

    "Thanks for modeling the ad hominem fallacy so expertly."

    His justification for converting to Hinduism was ad hominem. Anecdotal and autobiographical.

    Since he appealed to personal experience, it's perfectly appropriate for me to draw attention to other biographical facts about him which might explain his state of mind.

    "Apparently being on the butt-end of such mistreatment by anti-Christian smart alecks doesn't heighten awareness of the 'golden rule' (e.g., Matt 7:12) in some Christian apologists."

    i) If I did what Sudduth did, I'd deserve the same treatment. So, yes, it cuts both ways.

    ii) As a process theist I hardly think you take Biblical authority all that seriously. You're on the extreme left end of the theological spectrum.

    "Maybe ultimately Sudduth has to be written off as an unrepentant apostate, but what's the rush? Unless and until such a judgment, members of the Church who are in touch with him should take him up on his professed desire to keep lines of communication open. He needs to be on the receiving end of apologetical outreach."

    This isn't just something he shared in private with a few friends. It's a public manifesto in which he tries to justify his defection from the Christian faith. Make converts. He has to build up Hinduism by tearing down Christianity.

    So his claims need to be addressed head on.

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  16. Truth Unites... and Divides said...

    "And Paul Manata has just endorsed a book by an apostate!"

    That's anachronistic. He wrote the book before his deconversion. Moreover, non-Christians can still be competent analytical philosophers.

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  17. I didn't mean to write an anachronistic statement.

    Maybe it's better put this way:

    "Paul Manata endorsed a book by someone who later revealed himself to be an apostate."

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  18. Steve

    I trace Michael’s problems back to when, as a teenager, he and some friends toyed with a ouija board. This precipitated some paranormal experiences.

    Do you think there is a connection between the occult and Hinduism?

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  19. "And Paul Manata has just endorsed a book by an apostate!"

    In fairness to Paul, Micheal has fooled a lot of people over the years. John Robbins once awarded Micheal with the Clark Prize in Apologetics (a prize Robbins stopped giving out after his experience with Micheal and his initial dive into syncretism as an employee of the Roman state/church).

    While I think Steve Hays' analysis of Sudduth's defection from the faith is excellent, another one comes to mind from the Apostle John:

    "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."

    I think the case of Sudduth, a man who has fooled so many who believed him to be a Christian and even a Reformed scholar, is both a tragic and terrifying lesson that should cause all of us to continue to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."

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  20. ZILCH SAID:

    "One would think the fact that billions of people are utterly convinced of the truth of several mutually irreconcilable gods, and the fact that people convert from one utter conviction to another, as this guy did, would make you think twice about the nature of these convictions."

    What makes you think "billions" of religionists are "utterly convinced of the truth" of their respective religions? Seems to me that most Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, &c. are fairly nominal in their religious adherence.

    In addition, Eastern religions are more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy. Ritual.

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  21. zilch said...

    "Pseudo- my 'claims' are the only reasonable default position: that things don't exist if there's no evidence for their existence. It's theists who must support their claims with evidence."

    That's the fallacy of imagining that if you just express your position in negative terms, then you have no burden of proof.

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  22. Zilch wrote:

    "Pseudo- my 'claims' are the only reasonable default position: that things don't exist if there's no evidence for their existence. It's theists who must support their claims with evidence. And to date I've seen none. One would think the fact that billions of people are utterly convinced of the truth of several mutually irreconcilable gods, and the fact that people convert from one utter conviction to another, as this guy did, would make you think twice about the nature of these convictions."

    We've argued for Christianity many times, and you've had little to say in response. Here's a post I wrote about people like you.

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  23. This is why it's important to cultivate the mystical dimensions of the Christian faith.

    After all, the Apostle wrote to the church in Ephesus of the "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (4:6).

    And the Wisdom of Solomon proclaims:

    "[21] I learned both what is secret and what is manifest,
    [22] for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.
    For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
    unique, manifold, subtle,
    mobile, clear, unpolluted,
    distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
    irresistible,
    [23] beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
    all-powerful, overseeing all,
    and penetrating through all spirits
    that are intelligent and pure and most subtle.
    [24] For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
    because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
    [25] For she is a breath of the power of God,
    and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
    therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
    [26] For she is a reflection of eternal light,
    a spotless mirror of the working of God,
    and an image of his goodness.
    [27] Though she is but one, she can do all things,
    and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
    in every generation she passes into holy souls
    and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
    [28] for God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with wisdom.
    [29] For she is more beautiful than the sun,
    and excels every constellation of the stars.
    Compared with the light she is found to be superior,
    [30] for it is succeeded by the night,
    but against wisdom evil does not prevail" 7:21-30).

    Christianity without mystery is disenchanting. It does not nourish the soul. Thus people turn to pagan spiritualism, however absurd and nonsensical.

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  24. People didn't like what Jesus or the Apostles had to say either, therefore their example in word and deed was to tweak the message to make it more appealing to their hearers, make it attractive, spice it up a bit, throw in a little "mystery" to jazz it up because God's Word alone is insufficient...wait a minute...(1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)...nevermind!

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  25. God's Word is full of mystery. Mystery not in the goofy New Age sense, but in the sense of joyful and marvelous wonder.

    Thus we find Saint Paul, who speaks so often of the Christian mysteries, describe the incarnation in this luminous manner:

    "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (I Timothy 3:16).

    Calvin, commenting on this verse, wrote, "What a hidden thing is this, and how wonderful a matter; that God was manifest in the flesh, and became man! Does it not so far surpass our understanding, that when we are told of it, we are astonished ... When we hear this word, mystery, let us remember two things; first, that we learn to keep under our senses, and flatter not ourselves that we have sufficient knowledge and ability to comprehend so vast a matter. In the second place, let us learn to climb up beyond ourselves, and reverence that majesty which passeth our understanding."

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  26. PHILIP JUDE SAID:

    "This is why it's important to cultivate the mystical dimensions of the Christian faith."

    No, we shouldn't cultivate mysticism. If God wishes to grant a mystical experience, that's different. That's spontaneous.

    "And the Wisdom of Solomon proclaims..."

    Quoting from an apocryphal book doesn't do it for me.

    "Christianity without mystery is disenchanting."

    Mystery and mysticism aren't interchangeable categories.

    "It does not nourish the soul."

    We should nourish our soul on the Bible, on prayer, on Christian fellowship, on the natural blessings that God brings our way, as well as God's ordinary providence.

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  27. SEAN GERETY SAID:

    "I think the case of Sudduth, a man who has fooled so many who believed him to be a Christian and even a Reformed scholar."

    I was never "fooled" by Sudduth. Neither was Manata, or Engwer.

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  28. Steve, you actually made an effort (in your initial post) to engage some of Sudduth's claims, but you got off on the wrong foot with ad hominem speculations about his state of mind, which do not engage those claims.

    You did not merely "draw attention" to certain alleged facts, but prejudiced their evaluation to his great disadvantage. If they should turn out to have been no facts at all, or not quite wholly the case, or if there are other facts that need to be taken into account, then you have committed slander. All for a good cause, of course.

    The reasons Sudduth has given for (as of now) rejecting Christianity and converting to Hinduism (why call it "deconversion"?) may be inadequate, but you cited nothing that warrants describing his proffered reasons as ad hominem, i.e., personal, attacks on Christians.

    "Anecdotal and autobiographical" statements are not enough to make an attack personal and ad hominem. Even if, motivated by the desire to "win converts" to Hinduism, Sudduth tried to "tear down Christianity," he would not for that reason have committed that (or any other) fallacy. And even if he had committed a fallacy, he would not thereby have provided you with a warrant for committing one.

    When someone says you've committed a particular fallacy -- assuming you understand what the fallacy involves, which you have now given me reason to doubt -- the integral response is either to deny it or to admit the charge and withdraw what you had said. What you seemed to have done, instead, is make excuses, compounding the offense via a tu quoque ("You too!") charge.

    You may have visited my site and found material supporting process theism there, but somehow managed to overlook my recent statement on the home page where I disclose that I have returned to Christian orthodoxy and away from process thought (for many of the reasons Royce Gruenler retailed in his The Inexhaustible God, which I hope trust is suitably orthodox for you).

    (As evidence that this represents a return on my part, I offer my decades-old critique of George Smith's Atheism, which shows the influence of Greg Bahnsen. That critique has been on my site for eight years.)

    Years ago I read a few papers by Michael Sudduth, but never met the man. I do not know him, and therefore I am not as quick as some apparently are to conclude that his dallying in the vineyards of "Krishna" is the last word for which he has sealed his eternal perdition. I'm certainly glad my brothers in Christ didn't assume my decade-long affair with Whitehead's thought was the last word on my earthly career and then quickly write me off as an apostate.

    Without giving a great deal of thought to it, I had taken your site to be devoted to Reformed apologetics. Having seen what that amounts to in the case of Michael Sudduth's straying from the Faith, however, I will henceforth classify Triablogue as the go-to place for Extreme Pop-Psychoanalysis: "Reformed" Edition, a rugged terrain where sheep that go astray (Matt 18:12-13) are graciously told, in so many words, "Watch your step! It's a long way down!"

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  29. Really Steve. You never thought Sudduth was a Christian all this time or is it just the Apostle John who you don't believe?

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  30. I can't understand why so many are so quick to label Sudduth as a "sheep gone astray". The Bible never presents apostate false teachers who know the truth about Christ, yet who are actively proselyzing for false religion as "wandering sheep", instead it presents such men as ravening wolves and condemns them in the strongest of language.

    Sudduth isn't some neophyte, wide-eyed and confused about truth claims after a semester in a World Religions class, he's a hardened apostate.

    The Bible lays out clear instructions about how to deal with such men.

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  31. Also, what the heck is a "deconversion." Are you an Arminian now?

    All I can say this blog is full of interesting news. Needless to say Sudduth's testimony to his new birth in Krishna is another complete indictment of the entire bankrupt RE enterprise. Even if some are too foolish and blind to their own philosophic failings to notice.

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  32. @Coram Deo. Well said. God willing Steve will take your words, since he evidently won't take John's.

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  33. SEAN GERETY SAID:

    "Also, what the heck is a 'deconversion.' Are you an Arminian now?"

    You need to brush up on elementary Reformed theology. Conversion is not synonymous with regeneration. There can be false converts as well as true converts.

    Likewise, Reformed theology makes allowance for both backsliding and apostasy.

    Finally, "deconversion" has become a standard term. Google it.

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  34. Sean Gerety said...

    "Needless to say Sudduth's testimony to his new birth in Krishna is another complete indictment of the entire bankrupt RE enterprise."

    By what process of reasoning did you arrive at that illogical conclusion?

    Oh, and since Sudduth used to be a Clarkian, does his newfound Hinduism equally discredit Clarkianism?

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  35. Sean Gerety said...

    "Really Steve. You never thought Sudduth was a Christian all this time..."

    It was never germane to evaluating the quality of his arguments. They rise or fall on the merits.

    "...or is it just the Apostle John who you don't believe?"

    You mean in reference to your Clarkian heresies?

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  36. Bizarre; it reads like a weird joke. Catholicism, Orthodoxy maybe... but HINDUISM?!

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  37. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, NOR TAKE UP THEIR NAMES INTO MY LIPS.
    {Ps. 16:4}

    Not be superstitious about this, but maybe we can get dirty playing with filth?

    "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you.
    {2 Cor. 6:17, NASB}

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  38. Steve/ Sean,
    What's 'RE'? I don't see 'Reformed Episcopalian' here.
    'Raging Evangelical'? 'Running Eastward'?

    And what's 'Old Hag Syndrome'? Is it akin to Progeria?

    A oujia board & a haunted house? Curiouser and curiouser.

    Neat post!

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  39. I believe "RE" stands for "Reformed epistemology," first formulated by philosophers like Plantinga and Wolterstorff.

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  40. Steve,

    ***Quoting from an apocryphal book doesn't do it for me.***

    It is a book that has been in good standing with the Church for centuries, so it is at least worth considering as a classic text of Judeo-Christian wisdom.

    Anyway, God's sustaining presence in all things is referenced in numerous canonical books as well (see my quote from Ephesians).

    If God did not actively infuse every little bit of matter with existence, the universe would snap out of being.

    Christ is "all in all"; "in Him all things hold together"; "in Him we live, and move, and have our being"; "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things"; for God is "over all and through all and in all." He fills the heavens and the earth and His spirit is everywhere, as the Psalms attest so often.

    "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

    If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

    If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

    Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" (139:7-10).

    I find the Lorica of Saint Patrick (c. 8th century) to be a fine example of authentic Christian mysticism.

    ***Mystery and mysticism aren't interchangeable categories.***

    I'm not so sure.

    Still, understand that by mysticism I mean nothing more than meditation, at once solemn and joyful, upon God and His actions in history, especially the incarnation and the resurrection, so that we might declare with Saint Paul: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20).

    ***We should nourish our soul on the Bible, on prayer, on Christian fellowship, on the natural blessings that God brings our way, as well as God's ordinary providence.***

    I think you too easily dismiss the mystical nature of such enterprises. I certainly agree that we can not "work" ourselves into mystical states, nor should we try.

    But the Spirit, as He desires, surely grants tastes of the Beloved that can rightfully be termed "mystical."

    Really, since the Greek origin of the word simply means an "initiate," all Christian life is mystical. For Saint Paul tells us:

    "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

    If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

    How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

    Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

    Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

    That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

    Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.

    Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

    And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:1-9).

    I understand your wariness regarding words like "mystery" and "mysticism," given exactly these sort of situations, but we can't shy away from authentic Christian spirituality.

    Protestantism often seems strangely eager to forsake the mysteriousness of our faith, perhaps because it emerged distinctly in the modern age, a time of dry rationalism. Alas.

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  41. Steve, you're kidding, right? You mean to tell me MS can't use RE to justify his new found belief in "Lord Krishna" as warranted or even "properly basic"? I realize you may want to attribute Sudduth's rejection of the one true God and the Christian faith as a result of his failure to "function properly," i.e., your reference to MS's use of antidepressants. I'm surprised you didn't include emotional stress as a result of his near death car accident which drove him to Krishna and not to Christ(although I think you're spot on to attribute MS's lifelong fascination with the occult as a mitigating factor). My guess is MS can just as easily use so-called RE to justify his new found faith in Paganism on the basis of RE as he did his defense of NT; the very anti-Christian philosophy Manata gushed over in his sad review of Sudduth last book. I'd put money that you'll find the RE connection in future MS classroom syllabi or even in his next $90 book complete with pictures of his new "Lord."

    At least Gordon Clark grounded his philosophy on the Word of God alone and not on such vacuous and stupid notions as the "reliability of the senses" to include the delusional sensate experiences that drove MS to reject the one true God for the pantheistic fantasy he now embraces as just "another manifestation of God."

    Heck, you can't even bring yourself to admit Sudduth is an apostate. Instead you talk about his "deconversion." Give me a break. Where is your basis in Scripture now? As already noted the Bible gives us clear instructions on how we should view and treat MS and it's not as one who has "deconverted."

    Finally, while certainly tragic, none of this is any surprise to many of us who have been following Sudduth's wayward trajectory for years now. I hardly think the late John Robbins would have been surprised in the least.

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  42. Sean Gerety wrote:

    "Heck, you can't even bring yourself to admit Sudduth is an apostate. Instead you talk about his 'deconversion.'"

    I don't see the significance you're suggesting in Steve's terminology, but go look at the labels at the end of his initial post.

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  43. Tony Flood wrote:

    "I do not know him, and therefore I am not as quick as some apparently are to conclude that his dallying in the vineyards of 'Krishna' is the last word for which he has sealed his eternal perdition. I'm certainly glad my brothers in Christ didn't assume my decade-long affair with Whitehead's thought was the last word on my earthly career and then quickly write me off as an apostate. Without giving a great deal of thought to it, I had taken your site to be devoted to Reformed apologetics. Having seen what that amounts to in the case of Michael Sudduth's straying from the Faith, however, I will henceforth classify Triablogue as the go-to place for Extreme Pop-Psychoanalysis: 'Reformed' Edition, a rugged terrain where sheep that go astray (Matt 18:12-13) are graciously told, in so many words, 'Watch your step! It's a long way down!'"

    I doubt that many people here have adopted the "last word" perspective you've described. Sudduth could repent. I hope he will, and I'm praying that he will. In addition to his value as an individual, he's done a lot of good work and has a lot of potential to do more. But the passage you've cited in Matthew 18 has to be combined with a lot of other principles scripture gives us. For example, the welfare of other people who are or might be influenced by Sudduth has to be taken into account.

    Given your suggestion that we're being careless in our evaluation of Michael Sudduth, it's ironic that your judgment of our site is so careless. You can get a better overview of this site by clicking here than you'd get by just reading a handful of posts about Michael Sudduth's conversion.

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  44. You don't see the significance? How about Sudduth was never really converted in the first place.

    You Triabloguers are an odd bunch, but I'm glad to see you stick up for one another even when you're wrong.

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  45. Steve- you say:

    What makes you think "billions" of religionists are "utterly convinced of the truth" of their respective religions? Seems to me that most Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, &c. are fairly nominal in their religious adherence.

    Okay, leave off the "utterly". What makes you think you can see into others' hearts and judge their belief as "nominal"?

    That's the fallacy of imagining that if you just express your position in negative terms, then you have no burden of proof.

    And that's the "fallacy" of thinking the burden of proof is some kind of logical law, rather than simply a pragmatic way of looking into claims about what is. Do I, or you, have a "burden of proof" as regards the existence of, say, Atlantis or the Loch Ness monster? It seems a bit impractical, doesn't it?

    Jason, you say:

    We've argued for Christianity many times, and you've had little to say in response.

    Depends on what you mean by "little". A couple years ago, I had a pretty extended convo here. But what can I say in response? What you present as "evidence" is exactly the same as any self-respecting religion can present: conversion experiences, appeals to Holy Writ, and anecdotes. You can't all be right, and we know that people make up stories all the time (don't we?), so the most reasonable default position, pending any real evidence, is skepticism.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

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  46. "Really Steve. You never thought Sudduth was a Christian all this time or is it just the Apostle John who you don't believe?"

    Believing someone to be a genuine Christian because of a *credible* profession of faith doesn't necessarily mean that we also claim to have an infallible knowledge of whether he is genuinely regenerate or not (i.e. also possessing a *saving* profession of faith). Our acceptance of someone's conversion is always tentative in that sense since only God can see what's actually the case spiritually (2 Tim. 2:19). But shouldn't this be all the more true for a Scripturalist, and therefore empirical skeptic, like yourself, Sean?

    Also, I'd like to say to everyone else that for all we know Michael is among the elect and has yet to be truly regenerated. OR that he already has been regenerate and he's just seriously backslidden but that the Lord will eventually bring him back to the fold. Assuming, of course, the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is true. Which, I hope is a true doctrine, though I'm no longer dogmatic on it since I think a high view of predestination requires the perseverence of all the *Elect*, but not necessarily the perseverance of genuine *Saints* (which assumes the elect might be a smaller number than genuine saints). Since even Augustine, Aquinas and Luther (et al.) believed genuine saints can fall away.

    Though, I do think we should lovingly treat Michael as a non-Christian so long as he continues to mix Hinduism with Christianity.

    Finally, I recommend everyone prays that the true sinister and malevolent character of the spirit or spirits Michael is encountering be manifested to him. There are many instances of people coming out of the occult, or the New Age, or Hinduism (etc.) who were finally convinced of the truth of Christianity and of the demonic nature of their former gods (avatars, spirit guides, ascended masters etc.) because the demons who were formerly friendly started harrassing them verbally (even physically), tempting them to commit suicide, and threatening them harm if they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

    Steve said...
    "Oh, and since Sudduth used to be a Clarkian, does his newfound Hinduism equally discredit Clarkianism?"

    Is this a clue to the identity of AquaScum? [heh]

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  47. By using the word "loving" I didn't mean to down play the truth in Coram Deo's post where he said...

    "...instead it presents such men as ravening wolves and condemns them in the strongest of language...The Bible lays out clear instructions about how to deal with such men.

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  48. Steve said to Sean Gerety...

    You need to brush up on elementary Reformed theology. Conversion is not synonymous with regeneration. There can be false converts as well as true converts.

    Likewise, Reformed theology makes allowance for both backsliding and apostasy.

    Finally, "deconversion" has become a standard term. Google it.


    Sean, you should know that the Calvinist doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints doesn't mean that everyone who ever professes to be a Christian cannot fall away (either temporarily if truly regenerated, or permenantly if never regenerated). In that sense Christians can deconvert.

    The term "conversion" can refers to either 1. the actual internal spiritual and personal change resulting from regeneration (which is ontological) and/OR 2. the external appearance or process of such a change (whether it was real or not).

    So, it's possible for someone to "convert" in sense #2 without also converting in sense #1 (i.e. a false convert).

    While the term "regeneration" has to do with what ACTUALLY does happen in the the (invisible) spiritual world from God's perspective and due to God's saving action.

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  49. Zilch wrote:

    "What you present as 'evidence' is exactly the same as any self-respecting religion can present: conversion experiences, appeals to Holy Writ, and anecdotes. You can't all be right, and we know that people make up stories all the time (don't we?), so the most reasonable default position, pending any real evidence, is skepticism."

    The notion that the evidence is "exactly the same" across the board is absurd. Even if you think every religion is false, their differing circumstances and claims will give them differing levels of credibility.

    We've frequently appealed to philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments, so your characterization of our evidence as "conversion experiences, appeals to Holy Writ, and anecdotes" is false.

    Ironically, your comments in this thread don't reflect well on your own concern for evidence and truth.

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  50. In addition to the specific arguments that Jason and Steve (and the other Triabloggers) present, there's the fact that the Christian worldview does better than the other worldviews that it has been compared to in providing for the preconditions of intelligibility and human experience. Christianity does better abductively in that it has the greatest explanatory power and scope compared to its competitors (including the various forms of atheism). I admit that doesn't prove Christianity is true. Better or working hypotheses can nevertheless be false. But it does show that it's rational for one to accept Christianity and reject other inferior worldviews.

    Besides, Zilch seems to assume that a person must ultimately (if he were to be rantional and justified in his decision) accept Christianity based on the preponderance of the evidence. But that's not true (or even possible) for most Christians down through history. The centuries between the 3rd and the early 19th centuries didn't have as much evidences available to them as those prior to the 3rd century or past the 20th.

    The reality is that while the evidences can, should and do support Christianity, the ultimate basis for why a Christian ever does truly believe is the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. Related to this....

    I HIGHLY RECOMMEND people watch the following video if you haven't read Craig's book Reasonable Faith (or even if you have!)

    Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? - William Lane Craig
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDH-_4vkKUk

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  51. SEAN GERETY SAID:

    "Steve, you're kidding, right? You mean to tell me MS can't use RE to justify his new found belief in 'Lord Krishna' as warranted or even 'properly basic'?"

    Sudduth seems to be using John HIck's framework to justify his syncretism. Plantinga, in Warranted Christian belief, presents a detailed critique of Hick's framework.

    But thanks for illustrating your ignorance of RE.

    "My guess is MS can just as easily use so-called RE to justify his new found faith in Paganism on the basis of RE as he did his defense of NT."

    Natural theology is a traditional fixture of historical Reformed theology.

    "At least Gordon Clark grounded his philosophy on the Word of God alone..."


    To the contrary, Clark was heavily indebted to secular and/or pagan philosophy, viz. Platonism, Neoplatonism, Kant, and Blanshard.

    "...and not on such vacuous and stupid notions as the 'reliability of the senses'..."

    Since God made the senses, are you attributing design flaws to God's handiwork? Do you think God is a maladroit Creator?

    "Heck, you can't even bring yourself to admit Sudduth is an apostate. Instead you talk about his "deconversion." Give me a break. Where is your basis in Scripture now?"

    i) The Bible doesn't even use the word "apostasy." At best that's a term which some modern translations (rarely) use.

    So it's not as if the word "apostasy" is more Biblical than the word "deconversion."

    "Apostasy" is a traditional term in ecclesiastical usage, not biblical usage.

    ii) In addition, if you weren't such an ignoramus, you'd be aware of the fact that apostates frequently describe their departure from the faith in "deconversion" testimonies. So it's not as if "deconversion" can't mean apostasy.

    iii) However, I don't have to classify Sudduth one way or the other to critique his position. The label is not a big deal.

    "I hardly think the late John Robbins would have been surprised in the least."

    Robbins was no paragon of orthodoxy.

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  52. zilch said...

    "Okay, leave off the 'utterly'. What makes you think you can see into others' hearts and judge their belief as 'nominal'?"

    You yourself were vouching for their piety.

    There's a correlation between belief and behavior.

    Finally, most religions aren't that belief-oriented in the first place.

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  53. Tony Flood said...

    "Having seen what that amounts to in the case of Michael Sudduth's straying from the Faith, however, I will henceforth classify Triablogue as the go-to place for Extreme Pop-Psychoanalysis: "Reformed" Edition, a rugged terrain where sheep that go astray (Matt 18:12-13) are graciously told, in so many words, "Watch your step! It's a long way down!"

    The Bible distinguishes between wolves and sheep.

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  54. TONY FLOOD SAID:

    "Steve, you actually made an effort (in your initial post) to engage some of Sudduth's claims, but you got off on the wrong foot with ad hominem speculations about his state of mind, which do not engage those claims."

    When Michael deploys the argument from religious experience to defend his faith in Krishna, his state of mind is highly germane to how we evaluate his (alleged) religious experience. Even in his open letter, he comes across as emotionally disturbed and mentally unstable. Add to that other biographical factors I cited, and that's something to take into account when he appeals to his experience of Krishna to validate his Hinduism.

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  55. Annoyed writes; “Believing someone to be a genuine Christian because of a *credible* profession of faith doesn't necessarily mean that we also claim to have an infallible knowledge of whether he is genuinely regenerate or no…”

    I realize you’re jumping in this late, so perhaps you missed that it was Steve who asserted that he was “never fooled” by Michael. Unlike Steve (Aquascum) I am more than willing to entertain the idea that Michael has fooled a lot of people, particularly in light of his very credible profession of faith in his “Lord Krishna” above.

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  56. Sean, don't confuse RE with externalism and reliabilism. Sudduth will use several *elements of* RE to argue for the positive epistemic status of his belief, but that won't suffice to show the "failure of RE." In fact, he'll need to modify RE at several places. Then there's issues of internal vs. external rationality, etc. Moreover, if someone uses a deductive argument to argue for atheism, that doesn't show the failure of deduction.

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  57. Sean, just because one Christian (say Aaron) accepts another Christian's credible profession of faith (say Bob) doesn't mean that he (Aaron) was "fooled" into believing that that other professing Christian (Bob) was a genuine Christian if he (Bob) eventually and finally fell away. Since, no Christian is required to have an infallible knowledge of who the elect are (or aren't) or even which of the elect have already (or haven't yet) been regenerated.

    Every Christian is required, by the Biblical principle of Christian charity, to accept any other professing Christian's claim to be a genuine Christian so long as his profession of faith includes a basically orthodox theology and his lifestyle is one of apparent faith and obedience.

    I think that's the sense in which Steve said he was never fooled. Yes, he once believed MS had a credible profession of faith, but he wasn't "fooled" into thinking MS was a genuine Christian because he (Steve) had Biblical warrant to believe it tentatively (without the need for apodictic certainty).

    Given your Scripturalism (and by extention your empirical skepticism) COUPLED with your Sandemanian-like view of faith, there's no way for you to have knowledge of (or even confidence as to) whether MS ever assented to the understood (true) propositions of the Gospel. No amount of hearing his words, reading his books, or observing his behavior could lead you to know it. You could merely opine it.

    So, of course in one sense you could never be fooled into believing MS (or anyone else for that matter) was a genuine Christian (given your empirical skepticism); yet in another sense you could be fooled right now into opining that there is such a person as MS who once claimed to be a Christian. Your comments on this topic must necessarily be jejune and otiose.

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  58. Sean Gerety said...

    "Unlike Steve (Aquascum) I am more than willing to entertain the idea that Michael has fooled a lot of people, particularly in light of his very credible profession of faith in his “Lord Krishna” above."

    Are you claiming that AquaScum is in fact Steve? If so, how could *YOU* know? Or at least, why do you opine that? I'd really like to know the answer to this mystery.

    Maybe someone can make a movie of it. Indiana Jones V: "Indiana Jones and the Identity of AquaScum". I'd recommend to you AquaScum's refutations of Scripturalism but you could just doubt whether such apparent webpages actually exist.

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  59. In fine, Steve (and the rest of the Reformed world) had Biblical warrant to (indeed were under Biblical injunction to) believe MS was a genuine Christian. Therefore, they weren't "fooled". Just as the other eleven apostles weren't "fooled" into thinking Judas was a genuine follower of Christ. Being wrong isn't equivalent to being fooled.. That's just part of being fallible.

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  60. Annoyed Pinoy: "OR that he already has been regenerate and he's just seriously backslidden but that the Lord will eventually bring him back to the fold. Assuming, of course, the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is true. Which, I hope is a true doctrine, though I'm no longer dogmatic on it since I think a high view of predestination requires the perseverence of all the *Elect*, but not necessarily the perseverance of genuine *Saints* (which assumes the elect might be a smaller number than genuine saints). Since even Augustine, Aquinas and Luther (et al.) believed genuine saints can fall away."

    This is a highly interesting comment.

    I have a derivative question which has puzzled me for some time.

    With regards to "P" (the Perseverance of the Saints), how does "P" escape the charge of falling into the "No True Scotsman" fallacy? If someone could help my muddled thinking on this, I'd appreciate it.

    Thesis: Only genuine Christians persevere. And never apostasize or deconvert.

    Thesis: Michael Sudduth apostasized (or deconverted).

    Conclusion: Michael Sudduth was never a genuine Christian (supposing that Michael Sudduth died today and never repudiating Hinduism and Lord Krishna and never repenting of his worship of a false idol).

    Question again: How does doctrine of "P" refute the allegation that it's an example of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy?

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  61. Steve said that Sudduth used to be a Clarkian; Sean seems to imply that Steve is AquaScum; and AquaScum's webpages are on James Anderson's website. Determining who AquaScum is as hard as determining who the Republican nominee for president will be (Romney won the New Hampshire primary, Santorum the Iowa primary, and Gingrich the South Carolina primary). [heh]

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  62. Talk about insipid and superfluous, Annoyed barks:

    “…just because one Christian (say Aaron) accepts another Christian's credible profession of faith (say Bob) doesn't mean that he (Aaron) was "fooled" into believing that that other professing Christian (Bob) was a genuine Christian if he (Bob) eventually and finally fell away.”

    Assuming Michael’s new and damnable profession of faith in his new lord and savior Krishna is genuine, and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t, then it follows that his previous claim to being a Christian was false. Hence, those who previously believed him to be a genuine Christian were fooled. Only a complete jackass would have difficulty following this, which perhaps explains why Annoyed continues:

    “No amount of hearing his words, reading his books, or observing his behavior could lead you to know it. You could merely opine it.”

    This is all loud mouths like Annoyed or anyone else for that matter, apart from new revelation, could ever do (unless Annoyed thinks believing something “tentatively” is somehow different from opining). Besides, I don’t know where Michael has ever given a credible profession of the Christian faith? I’ve never read or heard one from him. Frankly, there was more scripture in his above confession of faith than anything I’ve ever seen in anything Michael has ever written, just not from the Christian Scripture.

    There was a time in the early ‘90’s when I “believed tentatively” that Sudduth was even a Scripturalist when he won the $1,000 first prize in what may have been the first and only Clark prize in apologetics. In that piece Michael wrote:

    The theological defense of logic is an argument quite easy to follow. Since theology implies Scripture, and Scripture implies logic, it follows that theology implies logic. Or, in other terms: to reject logic is to reject truth, and to reject truth is to reject God; therefore, misology is the rejection of God.

    In the beginning was the Logic,

    and the Logic was with God,

    and the Logic was God.
    -
    John 1:1


    Certainly sounded like a Scripturlist and a man fully deserving of the Clark prize in apologetics. But, hey, maybe he was just after the $1,000 prize? Either way he had me fooled, even if Steve and Annoyed are just too clever for the rest of us.

    So, what Session examined Michael as to his credible profession? I never even thought Michael attended any church and years ago when he was employed by the RCC I asked him on more than one occasion what church he was affiliated with, if any, and he refused to tell me. And, if he was ever part of a Bible believing church, especially at the time of his “visitation” by his new demonic lord “Krishna” and his subsequent conversion into the implicit atheism of “pantheism,” why was he never brought under church discipline, which admittedly should have occurred in the early days of his “Bieber fever” with the demonic that were documented on this very blog?

    So, let me ask you guys who claim to love Michael so much, did anyone here think to contact the Session of his church when he started dabbling again in the occult – at least as far back as ’09 when he published his "Ouija Board Recollections"?

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  63. Truth Unites... and Divides, Here's a link to my blog where I respond to you there since it's going way off topic to deal with it here.

    Again, here's the link:

    http://gospelcrumbs.blogspot.com/2012/01/p-and-no-true-scotsman-fallacy.html

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  64. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  65. Why did I feel like I was reading something written by John Piper minus the Vaishnavism?

    Desiring Vaishnavism: Meditations of a Vaishnava Hedonist?

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  66. As a former Protestant, now Catholic, I obviously disagree with Michael's decision to convert to Hinduism. But I do recognize in this post the seemingly irresistible temptation for those left behind to attempt to psychoanalyze those who are doing the "leaving." It's tempting for former co-religionists, and ridiculously impossible for the convert to refute. (i.e. "You say I'm becoming Catholic because I have a need for an authority to tell me what to do? How can I possibly persuade you otherwise, since you obviously think I'm not conscious of my real reasons for conversion?")

    But I never encountered any pseudo-psychoanalysis quite so appalling as that in your post. Emotional immaturity? Surely you can do better than name-calling. I'll leave aside your speculation about the occult, and I don't mean to suggest that there isn't some validity in some of your other questions. But if you happen to know he's taken antidepressants, in what universe of ethics was that okay to share with perfect strangers on the web? I think you owe Dr. Sudduth an apology. Not everything you say is wrong, but I think it's a rude and uncharitable post.

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  67. Ed,

    For one thing, Michael doesn't have a very private private life. Back when his Facebook wall used to pop up on my Facebook wall, I was struck by how much his social networking resembled an MTV reality show. He volunteered all sorts of very personal info to 1100 Facebook "friends."

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  68. Steve, is the fact that this guy is on anti-depressants supposed to be public information? If not, you've reached a new low. Didn't think it was possible, but with you, anything is possible. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

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  69. Yes, I believe it is public information.

    It's revealing that some commenters aren't equally offended when professing Christians dishonor Christ through apostasy. That says a lot about your own priorities.

    Instead of rushing to the defense of men who dishonor Christ by their apostasy, maybe you should be more concerned with honoring Christ.

    By your priorities you demonstrate that Christ isn't very real to you. Just a theological abstraction.

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  70. ED SAID:

    "But if you happen to know he's taken antidepressants, in what universe of ethics was that okay to share with perfect strangers on the web?"

    i) Why not? Do you think it's shameful to use antidepressants? Do you think that ought to carry a social stigma?

    ii) Also keep in mind the context. What I'm responding to. In Michael's open letter he volunteers many intimate, lurid details about his private life, about his emotional turmoil.

    The whole thing is written in the style of a "reality show."

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  71. Steve wrote, “I think he’s been under some degree of occultic bondage for most of his life. Never able to shake free of that.”

    How does one shake free of that?

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  72. How does one shake free of that?

    Repentance, confession, faith in Christ as sufficient Savior and Lord, abstinence from sin, and living in holiness.

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  73. 'RE'? Thanks, Steve. It could be 'Reformed Epistemology,' or (from Sudduth's piece) 'Religious Experience'?
    I'm still unclear as I can't find where anyone here using it defines it.
    Harry, Harry: www.youtube.com/watch?v=a48gIt84AZc&feature=related

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  74. How exactly is the unsupported speculations of ii, iii, and really iv, in your comments justified in part of a public discourse, examination, or civil discussion? Particularly written discourse that makes a claim, albeit rather far-fethced, at being Christian and Biblical?

    Frankly, to my mind, it's neither and should be repented of and removed forthwith.

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  75. Dennis,

    I don't know why you're asking questions I've already answered.

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  76. One converts to Hinduism, Catholicism, Buddhism, et. al.

    Or, one is converted to Christ.

    Maybe a small semantic difference, maybe not.

    The 1st is a work of the will. The 2nd is a passive reception on our part, a unilaterally sovereign work of God.

    This is posted due to the range of religious experiences referenced above.

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  77. It says that he separated himself from his family and worldly possessions at the point of his fatal car crash. I know if I was his wife I certainly wouldn't want him back but what about his kids and parents? There is not much mention of them? He has not 1 picture of his child on his web page. I've heard he has a stepson, I wonder if he has seen him? That can be seriously damaging to be dropped suddenly for Krishna. Imagine being raised with Easters and Christmas' and suddenly your dad is in a tent meditations to Krishna on the holidays. I suppose if I were them it would be as if he did die that day.

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