Recently I was posting on a message board and I made the remark that the search for God is in the heart. An atheist responded by saying "I don't make decisions based upon emotionalism." That response made me angry becasue it's so pretensions. The very same guy, Mr. Rational thought will turn right around and wail in the most emotional tirade about how deeply he hates the Bible and hates God for telling him what to do. The Audacity of this God person! Atheism has a strong tendency to reduce everything deep, complex, and richly textured to the most banal they can get. They constantly reduce "life transformation," the upshot my religious experience arguments to "gett'n happy." Once when going on about the empirical scientific studies from academic peer reviewed journals an atheist said this was ministers emailing their people and asking them to report on how they are "gett'n happy." This reminds me of how everything the atheists have going, their entire project is nothing more than an attempt to hide the phenomena and reduce everything to such a truncated view of reality that all one has left to turn to is their shallow and simplistic view.
They do this by mocking and ridiculing the concepts of depth, being, and faith that are required to believe. They do it by arguing that the only form of knowledge is science, the only valid scinece is empirical evidence, the only valid form of empirical evidence that which agree with their views (the religious experience studies are empiric and scientific but they mock and ridicule them as "ministers emailing their flock." It makes sense that they would think of "the heart" as "emotionalism." That's becuase their greatest fear is "the subjective." That is, feelings. they are terribly afraid of feelings. That's becuase if they allow themselves to feel they will be convicted of their sin. I've seen atheists actually deny the concept of "the heart." They have ridiculed it as "the heart pumps blood." So the whole idea of an inner life is abhorant to them. That's probably because if they dealt with the inner life they would have no choice but to be convicted and believe. It is entirely essential that the believer cultivate the inner life. Inner is what faith in God is all about. There is no real point in belief in God without the inner life. Before discussing the nature of inner life let me remove the charge of emotionalism.
First the concept of the heart is not ridiculous, not based upon magic, not difficult to prove. The idea of the "heart" is merely based upon the Greek term "cardia." The Greeks did not see the brain as the seat of the intellect they saw the chest as the place of the intellect. This is because when one feels emotions deeply one can feel a palpable constriction in the chest, the pulse races, the blood pumps faster and that gives the link between the blood pump in the chest, the Greek term "cardia" which we adopted to refer to the pump but the Greeks used to refer to the "inner being" as the seat of feelings and emotions. The Biblical term heart, which atheists confuse with spirit or soul and thus react to indignantly (as they react to everything) is just the will, the desire, the sense of conviction in deep seated ideas we care about. Secondly, this is not "emotionalism." There's a lot ore to "the inner life" than just being emotional. What most people mean when they say "emotionalism" is not an organized philosphy that says based decisions upon feelings. The term is a pejorative destined to mock and ridicule anyone whose decision making process is other than the atheist ideology. There is much more to the "inner life" than just emotion. Existentialism and the concepts of self authentication are included in "inner life." The intellect is part of the inner life. Going about the business of the intellectual life style, reading, thinking, mediating, this is all part of inner life.
No one actually bases decisions upon raw feelings, as an example of inner life. Immature people make rash decisions based upon raw feelings, but that's not the aim of Christian life. When we speak of "the heart" in connection with decision making, such as faith based decisions, we are talking about conviction. Conviction can be borne of deep intellectual analysis, logic, and deliberation as much as it can "feelings." Feelings per se are not necessarily 'emotionalism' either. One doesn't make decisions based upon "I hate X therefore I will not do X." Actually feelings can play different roles in decision making and belief but they must always be grounded in reason. The most important feeling in relation to faith is a sense of conviction that is beyond a mere physical sensation or emotion. Conviction is reducible to just emotion. Conviction stems from the deep seated assurance that a course is correct, that comes from reasoning it out as well as determining actual "feelings."
Atheists will try to mock and ridicule the notion of the inner life. This is because they mock and ridicule anything that doesn't stack up to their ideology about truncated reality. They must collapse reality to eliminate possibles, so one doesn't seek God.the way they do this is to prescribe only one aspect aspect of reality as real, that which is empirically derived from scientific observation. Now a good deal of empirical scientific data disproves atheism but of they can't allow that. Evidence which does not support their conclusions they reduce to their canon of prescribed reality by indicting it's scientific nature in all manner of bogus ways. They have to create the idea that only that which supports the ideology is valid. To do this they cling to the surface of reality. Things are only what can be gleaned form surface level facts of existence of physical objects and nothing else. There is no depth of being, they must create confusion about the very concept of being. They will call it abstraction and say it's pretend and so forth. Just as they label faith as "pretending" and what have you. Everything feeds back into the central thesis; reality is surface level only. That is the level of reality for them because that's what their knowledge controls. Anything deep requires thought, and thought is liberating. If one begins to think about reality and what depth means one begins to unravel the mythology that says only transcribe scientifically derived things can be in existence. To unravel that is to step onto the road to belief and they must avoid that at all costs.
For the believer the situation is just the opposite. Not that the believer needs to pretend, quite the contrary. Pretense in belief is deception. Faith is not about pretending it's about seeking truth. If we are not seeking the TRUTH with a capitals we are not living in faith. We are not cultivating the inner life if we ware not seeking truth. Even if that means digging up some deeply rooted and cherished misconceptions we still have to do it. That statement is not some radical prescription I got form Paul Tillich, it's a statement I got from very conservative A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God. The situation is the opposite of that described as "atheist tactics" above because it means expecting that there is more to reality than meets the eye and that finding it will entails a search based upon global knowledge, not just one method. My "global" in don't mean the occult I mean both science and philosophy as well as a phenomenological approach and mystical experience. The mystical is not someone one can control so that should come under the heading "phenomenology." A phenomenological approach would work best with mystical experience; allow the phenomena to suggest it's own categories.
The inner life requires cultivation. We can't just expect to stop with belief, nor can we imagine that constant argument and constant apologetic is spiritual nourishment. The ability to do a sustained apologetically debate requires a strong inner life, it not a source of inner life. That's not say that doing apologetic on a regular basis doesn't' help build the inner life. Yet it can't all be oriented around arguing about God's existence. The primary aspect of innerl ife that is the water for the roots of the plant of faith is prayer. I'm going to start mixing metaphors here but prayer is the nourishment of relationship with God and relationship with God is the foundation upon winch one is able to conduct a successful apologetically approach. We have to draw a line in the sand and ignore the atheists, forget the arguments, move away from that and go into your own space and deal with God. We have to do this every day. You don't have to get down on your knees and shut our eyes real tight. You don't have to speak in a stilted King James fashion, you don't have to even do discursive inner monologue, just focus on God.
I find that the thing that works best is the old fashioned prayer and praise. That may sound incongruous with all my high and mighty liberal theology, but the hold over from my old charismatic days is that prayer and praise works best to bring in the sense of God's presence and open one up to the possibilities of God. There's no formula, once might experiment and find what really excites one on an individual level. For me it's praise thing. It's very repetitious but singing works. The older hymns are more meaningful, they have more concepts in them. Repetition is good too though because it's like a mantra, enables focus. Meditating upon the presence of God is important. When you feel a sense of presence however slight, dwell on it, think about it, cultivate the contact with it. Study the Bible ever day and pray every day. Prayer is not a list of wants. There's a time in prayer for presenting petitions. First get into the spirit, praise God and mediate on God until you feel close to the divine and then present wants when you feel led to. We should all pray at lest two hours a day as a minimal effort. Do I do that? NO! Sometimes I do. It goes in phases. I went through a phase a couple of times when I prayed four hours in row every day. That's not even accomplishment there are people who pray much more than that.
It's a discipline, the firsrt time you try it will be hard to make five minutes. Do it at a regular time every day and increase by a few minutes every day. There are endless schemes for Bible study. Don't just look up answers to atheist attacks that's as bad as doing the atheist thing and only reading it to find problems. Read what speaks to you and dweel on it. Meditate on the ideas the thoughts. There are endless books on all manner of meditation. Meditation doesn't always mean eastern style with mantra. Discursive reasoning can be meditation. Cartesian style meditation is through development of ideas. Mark out a passage, look up every word, read a long way around before and after to get the context. Ask basic questions about context, what's the point of this? Why was it written? Who is it speaking to? There are tons of study guide things on the bible one can find. For internet message board people who are arguing with atheists one of the major hang up is going to be overcoming the doubt tape atheists have constantly tried to imprint on your brain. You are going to have to learn to respect the word of God all over again. I recommend that book Models of Revelation by Avery Dulles. That's not a sprituiaized study guide has nothing to do with bible study. It's on the nature of academic work about the nature of Biblical revelation. It's important because it will sharpen one's sense understanding about the nature of the Bible and enable one to endure the problems encounter in the Bible. One of the major helps it bestows is in understanding that it doesn't matter if there are problems in the Bible. Problems is not a reason to trash the Bible the way the atheist have attempted. The intellectual and philosophical approach si part of the inner life.
For the average person the spiritual aspects are going to be more accessible than the intellectual. One can educate oneself academically but there is no substitute for learning in a university environment. People guy reference books for bible study, works like Strong's Concorde. That stuff has gotten so popular it's much more available online than in hard copy. There's no substitute for taking Greek. Those references books are biased by doctrine and they are all written by conservatives and biased by their doctrines. Take some Greek classes and use the secular Greek Lexicon of Classical Greek (Lidell and Scott) along with Strong's. It's hard to give yourself a college education. It's a good idea to take of seminary classes if you are lucky enough to be in a town with a seminary. I really don't understand why atheists refuse to study. They would be more effective as atheists. That makes me think their real purpose is just emotional (ironically sense they are afraid of being emotional) they are just looking for a place to vent.
The perennial danger is always deception. The potential of making a mistake probably scares a lot of people off from spiritual life. One must stay grounded. Get grounded then stay grounded. We do that in three ways: fellowship, Bible study, prayer, in reverse order. "Fellowship" has huge drawbacks. Churches are rough. We are social creatures and social support is necessary. Just a small group can be a big help. Look for a place where they are not condmening or legalistic and where they treat people right and seeking God is their top priority. Don't fear mistakes so terribly because Grace covers a multitude of sins.
Don't let atheist destroy your faith. Don't allow mocking and ridiucle to discourse you from seeking God. There are intellectual answers to every intellectual issue. The real issues that kill faith are daily living issues for that we need to be strong in a daily living sort of way. That's what prayer strengthens us in. The intellectual life takes care of itself if you cultivate it, and the inner life includes the intellectual life. The spirit and the intellectual are not contradictions. The two can be integrated and working on the integration is a great project for the inner life. It's something we work on every day and it's a major focus of our lives. It gives us meaning and fulfillment. I am reminded of the phrase at the end Voltaire's Candide. He says several times, "we must tend our garden." The context is speaking of a literal garden where several aging and starving castaways have wound up living together and pulling for mutual survival after a life of carnage and hardship. The phrase is usually taken as a metaphor, mainly it's the last thing said in the book and repeated. The metaphor implies the cultivation of an inner life, or a life of the mind just as one tends and cultivates a garden. It must be tended and cultivated every day, this is what keeps up alive, as the physical garden kept Candide and his friends alive at the end. Don't let atheists stop you from tending your garden.