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The Reasonableness of Religious Belief
Crisis Magazine ^ | May 21, 2014 | Rachel Lu

Posted on 05/21/2014 6:23:19 AM PDT by NYer

Gozzoli_The-Glory-Of-St.Thomas-Aquinas-620x320

I have always been a believer. Among other reasons, that’s because I think rationality demands it.

When I talk about “belief” here, I mean it in a very broad sense, which is not synonymous with “Catholic” or even “Christian”; Sikhs, Hindus and Zoroastrians might all qualify, and I myself was raised in the LDS church and not (according to Rome’s decree) validly baptized until the age of 25. When I speak here of “believers,” I am distinguishing those who are prepared to believe in more than what eye can see, ear can hear or elaborate scientific machine can detect.

I wouldn’t mind if someone also wanted to refer to this group of believers as “non-materialists.” That would point us towards the same divide between those who seek to explain everything that exists or occurs reductively, as a complex interaction of quarks and atoms and firing neurons, and those who are prepared to consider explanations that refer to what lies beyond the merely physical.

Of course, the differences between believers themselves are vast and highly consequential, and I do not at all mean to trivialize them. Some believers commit themselves to deeply malignant forces, while others are so frivolous and inconsistent as to give real justification to those skeptics who take religion to be just a collection of just-so stories designed to comfort the weak-minded. In the very broad sense that I have just delineated, a person could even be a believer without committing himself to any specific metaphysical worldview. I myself was an “uncommitted believer” at one time. In one sense, then, it doesn’t take much to be a believer, and there have probably been whole epochs of history in which almost everyone alive would qualify.

Still, in this day and age, it isn’t nothing. Despite enormous differences, believers are natural allies in the midst of a gravely serious conflict. Although Catholics are today embattled from many sides, I myself believe that the most epic spiritual battle of our time is not with Muslims or Protestants or political liberals, but rather with the deadening spirit of secular materialism, which cloaks itself in the guise of reason and enlightenment, and ultimately consumes all its children into a black pit of nothingness.

This may sound hyperbolic. In the end, I do not really believe that it is, although in some contexts I would moderate my language for the sake of respectful discussion. The disciples of secular materialism pride themselves on their capacity for critical examination and rational thought. In reality they are not so much extraordinary logical as extraordinary limited, but penetrating the logic of limitation requires prudence and discernment. Drunk on Occam’s Razor and malnourished by evidentialist epistemology, materialists have adopted the prejudice of thinking it vastly better to refuse to believe in something that exists, than to believe in something that does not. They make a project of shrinking their metaphysical commitments as much as they possibly can, taking enormous pride and comfort in the idea that they will never be “taken in” by folk tales and fabrications (the like of which they assume to be responsible for most of the human race’s ills).

Over the course of my philosophical education, I received extensive instruction in the logic of unbelief. In the world of academic philosophy today, believers are few and far between. So I learned about the philosophy of mind, which today is mostly an exploration of the question: how is it that machines of meat (that is, humans) can do such amazing things? I learned about contemporary meta-ethics, which involves endless puzzling over whether and how we can speak of “right” and “wrong” given the manifest silliness of believing in, say, divine laws, or an objective final good for man. I studied contemporary metaphysics, in which the main game was “material constitution,” which has been cleverly nicknamed “the philosophy of piles.” Here the goal is to determine how the mere act of sticking together a lot of small things (such as grains of sand) can give us a categorically different thing (a pile). Of course metaphysicians of all stripes must ask questions like these since it is their task to determine what it means to be. But, as I came to appreciate, it is especially difficult to make progress on such questions if you are committed to the idea that everything that exists really is no more than a collection of tiny things all stuck together.

Unbelievers can be intelligent, or even brilliant. Having dwelt for awhile in their temples (that is, the Academy) I can say this at least: their leading figures are fairly well aware of the limitations of metaphysical minimalism, far more than most believers seem to suppose. Analytic philosophers are distinctly different from swaggering braggarts like Richard Dawkins, who make a hash of basic theistic arguments even while repeatedly trumpeting their superior mental acumen. They do realize, to a great extent, that they are trying to prepare a fine French meal in a kitchen with limited equipment, and that their only available ingredient is a weak gruel. That might partly explain why, more than many disciplines, philosophers are willing to tolerate the occasional theist in their midst, like a rare, exotic beast that can remind them of a happier philosophical age.

Unbelievers are more likely to be “turned” by a life-changing experience (falling in love, becoming a parent, losing a beloved person) than by argument.

Obviously, this is intentionally provocative, but I absolutely believe it to be true. It is not reason that urges us to consign ourselves to the emptiest and most limited worldview we can stand.

In any case, I was never converted to unbelief. Anxious parents and pastors (hoping to protect the soul of some other young person ensconced within the Academy) occasionally ask me to explain how that happened, and from the distance of a few years (and realizing now how rare it is), I myself find it a bit puzzling. To me it never seemed like much of a struggle; despite many years of being surrounded by secular materialists, their world view never held much allure. No doubt I was blessed with many graces and positive human influences, but from a subjective point of view, I believe I would always have said that belief seemed more rational to me because it was so self-evident that the universe is full, not only of matter, but also of meaning.

I believe in beauty. It isn’t in the eye of the beholder; the world doesn’t just seem, but actually is, beautiful. I believe in love. I don’t accept for a moment that love comes down to brain chemistry, or an evolutionary mechanism that helps to perpetuate my species. I believe in virtue, or, to put the point another way, I believe that humans are capable of far more than the “critical thinking” that the disciples of secular humanism love to champion. Virtue requires a much higher standard of objective goodness than the meta-ethicists will ever be able to justify.

Belief is more rational because the world is manifestly better than the materialist is prepared to believe. If you want a fine French meal (and who doesn’t?), you should stock your kitchen with the proper ingredients, and this is what belief enables us to do. I realize that this truth is hard, but I would urge materialists nevertheless to grin and bear it. The universe is far, far better than they ever supposed.



TOPICS: Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics; Religion & Science; Theology
KEYWORDS: crisismagazine; faith; materialism; rachellu; secularism

1 posted on 05/21/2014 6:23:19 AM PDT by NYer
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To: Tax-chick; GregB; Berlin_Freeper; SumProVita; narses; bboop; SevenofNine; Ronaldus Magnus; tiki; ...
Even those raised with no faith, respond to the universe around them. I am reminded of the words of St. Josephine Bakhita:

"Seeing the sun, the moon and the stras, I said to myself: who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage...".
St. Josephine Bakhita

2 posted on 05/21/2014 6:23:50 AM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: NYer

deadening spirit of secular materialism ping


3 posted on 05/21/2014 6:35:13 AM PDT by Rich21IE
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To: NYer

Like.


4 posted on 05/21/2014 6:37:07 AM PDT by ryan71 (The Partisans)
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To: NYer
Lessons from Royalty, Part 3 of 4
5 posted on 05/21/2014 6:39:14 AM PDT by Berlin_Freeper (You can't be passive and moral.)
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To: NYer
I have always been a believer

Believing is an important first step but believing without acting on the belief is not different from not believing. Faith provides the courage to act on one’s beliefs as you have done.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. William Arthur Ward

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Ephesians Chapter 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

A man dies and goes to heaven

Of course, St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."

"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"

"Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."

"Terrific!" says St. Peter. "That's certainly worth a point."

"One point!?!!" "I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."

"Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.

"Two points!?!! "Exasperated, the man cries.

At this rate the only way I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God."

"Bingo, 100 points! Come on in!"

6 posted on 05/21/2014 7:02:04 AM PDT by MosesKnows (Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.)
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To: NYer

What, exactly, is the difference between “uncommitted belief” and “committed belief”?

You say it doesn’t take much to be a believer. What is the mechanism that can make someone believe something one day, which was to them unbelievable, the previous day?

How does one test an individual, so that it can be determined by others, that someone believes something, or they just say they do?


7 posted on 05/21/2014 7:21:12 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag

My own view is guided by Ephesians 2:8, quoted above. Belief and faith are the same for these purposes. One cannot simply choose to believe. God’s grace allows us to believe. One can pray to God for faith to truly believe, even though one may not believe even as the prayer(s) is being made. I believe that everyone, at some point, observes the world around him and at least begins to ask himself about the existence of God, although some may deny they have ever done this. I can’t answer as to why and how God extends His grace to some and perhaps not others— perhaps He grants His grace to all who seek it.

It is for this reason that I have a hard time with those who say they “convert” from one religion to another. Either they did not truly believe in the faith they say they had, and are abandoning in favor of the “new” faith, or they don’t believe in the faith they are “converting” to.


8 posted on 05/21/2014 7:39:15 AM PDT by NCLaw441
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To: NCLaw441

Your view requires a certain belief in the bible, correct?

Since someone cannot simply choose to believe, that God’s grace allows one to believe, why aren’t all faiths valid?


9 posted on 05/21/2014 7:45:07 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag

My faith includes a belief in the Bible. I am not sure that it requires it. My RELIGION does have such a requirement, though.

On the “all faiths being valid” question, Unless God is much more universalist than my faith allows, there is only one “true” God or one “valid” God. I could be wrong, which is part of the nature of faith. So, if it turns out that it was Norse gods or Buddha, I guess I was wrong...


10 posted on 05/21/2014 7:55:09 AM PDT by NCLaw441
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To: NCLaw441

Is God really defined by your faith?


11 posted on 05/21/2014 8:00:24 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: NCLaw441
Belief and faith are the same for these purposes.

They are the same for any Christian purpose, because they are the same word in the Bible, pistis. I believe in the Internet, even when my e-mails do not get replied; I believe in God, even when my prayers do not [seem to be] answered. The type of faith is the same; only the object differs.

12 posted on 05/21/2014 9:05:07 AM PDT by chajin ("There is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12)
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To: NCLaw441
I have a hard time with those who say they “convert” from one religion to another.

For nine years, I was a Dr. Ornish-very-low-fat-diet vegetarian. I believed it was best for my health. I was then presented with better evidence and logic, and I converted to become a Dr. Atkins-very-low-carbohydrate omnivore. I believed Dr. Ornish, because I was sufficiently convinced of the truth of his diet to live it out; I converted, because I wanted to believe the truth, and I found the truth to be closer to Atkins then Ornish. That is how conversion happens in anything requiring belief, and action based on belief.

P.S. OTOH, when I switched from being a United Methodist to an LCMS Lutheran, I didn't "convert" at all, because my beliefs did not change: it was the UMC denomination that had changed, I wanted to be where Christ was, and I found Him in the Lutheran church. If I ever find Him elsewhere, I'll follow Him there as well.

13 posted on 05/21/2014 9:12:41 AM PDT by chajin ("There is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12)
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To: redhawk.44mag; NCLaw441
You say it doesn’t take much to be a believer. What is the mechanism that can make someone believe something one day, which was to them unbelievable, the previous day?

Here again, I feel the life of St. Bakhita is an excellent example of going from nothingness to faith.

​St Josephine Bakhita was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date, to a wealthy Sudanese family—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. She was given the name Bakhita by the slave traders which means "lucky" or "fortunate."

​Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Her body was branded, beaten and cut. In her biography she tells one tragic story of torture:

"One day I unwittingly made a mistake that incensed the master’s son. He became furious, snatched me violently from my hiding place, and began to strike me ferociously with the lash and his feet.  Finally he left me half dead, completely unconscious. Some slaves carried me away and lay me on a straw mat, where I remained for over a month. A woman skilled in this cruel art [tattooing] came to the general’s house…our mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor. When she had made her patterns; the woman took the razor and made incisions along the lines. Salt was poured into each of the wounds. My face was spared, but six patterns were designed on my breasts, and 60 more on my belly and arms. I thought I would die, especially when salt was poured in the wounds…it was by a miracle of God I didn’t die. He had destined me for better things."

St. Bakhita's heroic virtue impressed Pope Benedict XVI so much that he wrote about her in his encyclical on Hope Spe Salvi.

We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

14 posted on 05/21/2014 9:17:38 AM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: NYer

What about regular people nowadays?


15 posted on 05/21/2014 9:22:43 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag
What about regular people nowadays?

No different. The spark might come from a NatGeo special on the universe. According to NASA, more is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. When it comes to the oceans, we know only 3%.

It might occur when a child is born. The Holy Spirit sparks enlightenment by moving hearts. St. Bakhita's spark was ignited when she looked at the crucified Christ on a crucifix. She recognized by his wounds that this "paron" understood what she had endured in her life.

16 posted on 05/21/2014 11:21:21 AM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: NYer

If it doesn’t happen, what happens to that person’s soul after they die?


17 posted on 05/21/2014 11:25:44 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag
If it doesn’t happen, what happens to that person’s soul after they die?

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
St. Augustine's Confessions

Consider the life of St. Augustine. This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore.

Notice, he says .... "our heart is restless until it rests in you." God calls to all men; it tugs at their hearts (ref. St. Bakhita). One can either respond or ignore it. In contemporary society, as God is gradually removed from society, the void is filled with self justification and gratification. No amount of money can bring joy or peace to the heart. The gnawing of God's call increases and a conflict is set in motion. I hear so many stories of youth who, despite a good education and plenty of electronic 'toys', remain restless. Some take their own lives.

St. Augustine's mother is St. Monica. She prayed for him daily. When he had become a Manichaean at Carthage, she appealed for support from her bishop. He consoled her with the now famous words, "the child of those tears shall never perish."

Each day, people find themselves in circumstances that test their ability to cope. You and I know the answer is to turn to God. In your concern for lost souls, like St. Monica, you should consider devoting a portion of your daily prayers for them. You may have recently read about a young woman who shot a video of her abortion. In an interview a few days later, she confessed that if her home were on fire, she would grab the sonogram image of the child she aborted. One blogger posted photographs of this woman before and after the abortion. The transformation was dramatic. In the before image, she looked alive and radiant with internal joy. In the after photo, her face is forlorn, her expression dour and depressed. We may never know what truly prompted her to go through with this heinous act but now, she, like so many others, is a victim. I pray for all of these victims each day.

What happens to these souls is between them and God. Pray for them!

18 posted on 05/21/2014 1:59:23 PM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: NYer

Thank you for a pleasant yet undefinitive response.


19 posted on 05/21/2014 2:08:26 PM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag
Thank you for a pleasant yet undefinitive response.

Thank you, as well, for the exchange. You know, of course, that there is no definitive response because that resides with God. What we can know, and apply in our daily lives, is a better understanding of what "can" happen at death. Here again, I am reminded of the visions of St. Faustina Kowalska. About.

"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell."

"...I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings"
Read More

FWIW, in His appearances to St. Faustina, Jesus asked that she paint His image with these words: "Jesus, I trust in you!".

So, resolved that one must trust in Jesus Christ, pray for lost souls and have faith that God is in charge.

20 posted on 05/21/2014 3:35:24 PM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: NYer

I guess I was expecting something more original from a philosopher, but then I realized not

What do you think of those that believe in God, but are not Christians? God must have touched them, right?


21 posted on 05/21/2014 4:08:50 PM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag
What do you think of those that believe in God, but are not Christians? God must have touched them, right?

During my lifetime, I have met some amazing non-christians, with sincere faith in God. They too are in my daily prayers, both the living and the deceased.

Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith, said Benedict XVI. The Pope made this affirmation at the general audience on Nov. 30, 2005, commenting on a meditation written by St. Augustine (354-430). GENERAL AUDIENCE

22 posted on 05/21/2014 4:58:24 PM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: NCLaw441
Belief and faith are the same

Belief and faith are not the same. One requires action. The other does not. A boatload of disciples believed that God could make it possible to walk on water. But only one had the faith to demonstrate it.

23 posted on 05/21/2014 5:08:44 PM PDT by Hoodat (Democrats - Opposing Equal Protection since 1828)
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To: NYer

Thanks for the nice responses


24 posted on 05/21/2014 5:21:04 PM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: redhawk.44mag

You asked: Is God really defined by your faith?
****

In my view, of course not. God is who God is. We are trying to learn just who God is, and what He is like. Faith is our belief about those things. We cannot define God, any more than we can choose the attributes of a lemon. If we “believe” a lemon is sweet, does it become sweet? The same with God. What we believe does not define God. We just hope and believe that what we believe about God is correct.


25 posted on 05/22/2014 4:52:49 AM PDT by NCLaw441
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To: chajin

It sounds like you did not “convert” at all. Your beliefs did not change with your change of denomination. I am the same way. My first church experience was with the Southern Baptists. When I got married I became a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA). When we had children we moved to a United Methodist Church in the town where we live. My core beliefs have not changed. I am sure that I differ with several principles of every denomination I have belonged to.


26 posted on 05/22/2014 4:55:42 AM PDT by NCLaw441
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To: NCLaw441

When you talked about God being something other than what your faith defined, that is what I thought you meant.


27 posted on 05/22/2014 7:45:51 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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To: NCLaw441

Please replace defined with allowed in my last.


28 posted on 05/22/2014 8:22:32 AM PDT by redhawk.44mag
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