supernatural beliefs

September 9, 2009 at 9:19 pm 27 comments

flameWhen I was an older teenager, a Christian friend told me about some miraculous way in which all the characters of the Hebrew alphabet could be combined three-dimensionally to form an image of a flame. This was said to be an evidence of the supernatural origin of the Hebrew script, imparted by God to his chosen people. This was someone I looked up to a lot, and I was coming to believe much of what he told me about God and the spiritual / spirit-filled world.

This Hebrew character thing didn’t convince me that Christianity was true, nor was it presented that way. But at the same time, because I was coming to believe a lot of things I had not believed previously, I was willing to believe this to be true as well. And I certainly did ascribe to it some sort of supernatural miraculous nature.

I find it strange now that I believed it at face value. To this day I have never seen this alleged image. The story I believed was based on hearsay from someone I trusted, not knowing where they obtained their information from. I don’t doubt this person believed what he said, but looking back I realize he was not a very discerning person in general, at least in certain areas. Who knows, maybe he just misheard something.

Another reason I find it strange is that something like that would enhance my perception of the validity of Christianity. While it didn’t make me become a Christian, it did add some weight to the whole package of supernatural beliefs. If God were to give letters to his people, wouldn’t it seem fitting that it would be in an amazing supernatural way which would not be discovered until later times? Well, actually yes, that would be amazing!

But call me a skeptic, I don’t have any reason to find that story to be true today. It is unsubstantiated information. And also it is very easy for me to believe an artist could manipulate Hebrew characters into the shape of a flame. Or something like that. Believing it was supernatural was naive at best. Not that it couldn’t be supernatural, but I think the evidence would need to be more compelling to believe it to be true. I’ll write it off as the foolishness of youth, but this kind of thinking had deeper implications as my belief set changed into Christian faith. The way I evaluate information has changed a lot since I was a teenager.

For an “alternate” perspective on the origin of the Hebrew alphabet, click HERE. It seems to likely have been derived from Phoenician script, though that doesn’t disprove the miracle flame image theory! Does anyone else out there remember any strange beliefs they once held?


Entry filed under: belief, skepticism.

I become a sermon illustration losing my religion

27 Comments Add your own

  • 1. amy  |  September 9, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    When I was in high school, I was totally into astrology–I bought into it lock, stock, and barrel. Looking back, I shake my head, but it turns out I’m still looking for something “magical” so to speak. I’m just having a more difficult time finding it ;-)

  • 2. Lorena  |  September 10, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Amy, I’ve stopped looking. But I’m still wishing.

  • 3. Brandt  |  September 10, 2009 at 1:51 am

    As far as I know, the modern Hebrew script is a straight steal from the Aramaic alphabet. But the older Hebrew scripts were pretty much borrowed from the Phoenicians, like you mentioned.

    Combining the letters into an image that looks like a flame seems completely irrelevant to me. Who cares if you can do that? If you want supernatural evidence, it seems like you’d be better off investigating the Bible codes.

    Hmm, strange beliefs I once held… you mean besides the whole God thing? ;) Well, I remember “knowing” beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never ever ever ever try alcohol. Not because it would send me to hell, but because it might turn into an addiction that turned me away from God.

    ‘Course now I drink like every night. So much for youthful certainties.

  • 4. Ben Sanders  |  September 10, 2009 at 5:31 am

    Great example of confirmation bias ATTR. When people really want to believe something they will grasp at the thinnest straws to prove it is real. Of course in this case, the natural conclusion is that artists can do some pretty creative stuff, but there it is. I have to go with Sam Harris on this one. If God were all powerful, and wanted us to know of His divine existence, he is doing a pretty crappy job of it. Why would such a being hide his messages in seemingly random series of numbers, or alternate and obscure meanings or interpretations of some arbitrary piece of information. How about giving us a book that glows with inner light, but only if each word is writen exactly as intended? Ah well, I was as bad as the worst of them in my youth. This whole rationality thing is relatively new.

  • 5. Sabio Lantz  |  September 10, 2009 at 6:10 am

    I once believed in the amazing power of both acupuncture and homeopathy.

    And BTW, “Sanskrit” was the language from the gods. When you put Sanskrit letters all together you see an elephant headed boy.

    Seriously, I have heard Hindu, Japanese and Chinese speak of their own languages as being special and unique and from the gods.

    People everywhere fall into the same cognitive traps because they all lug around a human brain.

  • 6. Zoe  |  September 10, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Amy and Lorena,

    I’ve stopped looking but I still wonder. :-)

  • 7. christian  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I am not giving credit to the Hebrew alphabet flame hypothosis but what I am curious to know is what would make you believe? Your argument, like any, can be argued both ways. Since the athiest/agnostic does not believe, then his world view causes him to discredit the supernatural. It really depends on what lens you are looking at the world with as to how you view the “evidence”
    Would you really believe, Ben, if you did have “the book that glowed with inner light” or would you pass it off as imaginary or explain it away “scientifically”?

    If you were God how would you choose to reveal yourself to your creation? Is the fact of an ordered universe not enough? The fact that the earth is the only planet even remotely of its kind as far as we can see in the known universe?

    I thought these two quotes were telling:
    Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Likewise, Nobel laureate Francis Crick writes, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

    Really? We must constantly remind ourselves that even though the earth appears to have been designed for a purpose that it was in fact, not??

    The evidence is there, it is just how you choose to view it.

  • 8. amy  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:23 am

    The evidence is there, it is just how you choose to view it.

    The evidence could be there, or the evidence could not be there, depending on how you choose to view it.

  • 9. amy  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Sorry, one more thing, christian:

    For what purpose does the earth appear to have been designed?

  • 10. christian  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Or is there or isn’t there. :)

  • 11. christian  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:48 am


    Romans 1:19-29 ………….because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

    That’s what the bible says anyway and since I can’t figure out any other reason I am going to go with that but you can do what you want with it.

  • 12. atimetorend  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Christian, I think the problem with looking at design issues that way is they are not a proof either way for or against God’s existence, yet people try to use them that way, creating a false dichotomy (not saying you are). The problem with intelligent design is not that God cannot be involved in the process as intelligent design, but once a process can be described by evolution, how is it distinguishable from a natural processes that God was not involved in? It comes down to faith then, which is fine, but it is no longer a proof in a scientific way.

    No, I don’t agree with Crick’s comment in that context. But in that context there is the false dichotomy at work in my opinion: either evolution is true and proves God does not exist vs. creation is true and proves God does exist. Obviously there are many theists, including a vast number of Christians, who believe in God and in evolution. Perhaps Crick was critiquing a view of design that is in opposition to belief in evolution?

    Here is the quote at greater length:
    Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved. It might be thought, therefore, that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already very well understood.

  • 13. atimetorend  |  September 10, 2009 at 11:05 am

    One more thing: “Since the athiest/agnostic does not believe, then his world view causes him to discredit the supernatural. It really depends on what lens you are looking at the world with as to how you view the “evidence”.

    Certainly we have biases which affect how we understand evidence, but they do not need to dictate what we believe. I don’t find a supernatural explanation likely or necessary for the Hebrew character thing, but that doesn’t mean I believe it to be impossible. People can be completely open to the possibility of supernatural phenomena and still reject a supernatural explanation for a particular evidence.

  • 14. DagoodS  |  September 10, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Christian: We must constantly remind ourselves that even though the earth appears to have been designed for a purpose that it was in fact, not??
    I am always amused by how egocentric we are. Americans assume the world runs by “American” terms. Humans think the earth is “designed” for humanity. I am reminded of the line in Lilo & Stitch where it is noted Earth is a nature preserve for mosquitoes. If fish could speak, they would tell us “Earth” has been uniquely designed for fish. Humans are just an unnecessary, evil by-product. (Much the same way we view viruses, earthquakes and tsunamis.)

    We look for design, because that is the way our brains make relationships out of the world. So when I use the term “triangle”—other humans envision a three-sided shape. Not a four-sided, six-sided or pyramid shape. In the same way, when discussing nature, we communicate easier by design classification—putting some animals in the “mammal” category, others in “fish” and so on. To a large extent, these are arbitrary classifications, but useful for discussion.

    We utilize design as a convenience; the danger is to start looking at design as a cause, rather than a result. The same way letters developed over time; to start looking for “design” in the letters forming certain shapes as having any meaning is patently ridiculous. As silly as saying the “design” of “Ronald Wilson Reagan” having six letters in his three names being 6-6-6, and therefore he was the anti-Christ.

    As to the initial question, I admit quite a few strange beliefs. Satan possessing a snake? 6000-year old earth? Global flood? Amazing…

  • 15. Zoe  |  September 10, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    It might be easier for me to say what strange beliefs didn’t I believe in. If the Bible said it, I think, I believed it. I didn’t necessarily like it, or might have struggled with it, even doubted it…but primarily, I worked to believe it or chalked up the mysteries to God and left it at that, only to find out the truth sitting at the foot of Jesus for all eternity. Lots of time to get the answers to the mysteries.

    Oh, okay, one strange belief. I use to believe that demons sat on the roof of a church we use to go to and I went through this ritual prayer to rebuke them all in the name of Jesus.

  • 16. Lorena  |  September 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I used to believe God was going to change my mother. 20+ years of prayer and nothing. She needs either prison or strong medication.

  • 17. OneSmallStep  |  September 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm


    **She needs either prison or strong medication.**

    But if she ever gets either one, that’s totally proof that God answered your prayer! 20 years is the blink of an eye compared to eternity.

    If she never changes, well … sometimes, the answer is no. ::regretful sigh::

  • 18. Lorena  |  September 12, 2009 at 1:42 pm


    LOL! With Gawd we always lose, don’t we?

    No wonder I came to believe, as a Christian, that I had control over nothing and that whatever was gonna happen to me was going to.

  • 19. tysdaddy  |  September 13, 2009 at 9:26 am

    As a youngster, I used to believe that “wet dreams” were a sure sign I was Hellbound due to all the lust that lingered in my mind. Lustful thoughts, even in dreams, were a bad thing, and my predicament upon waking meant I had a fairly shitty heart.

    Strange, I know. But there it is . . .

    As for miracles, supernatural signs, and whatnot, isn’t it recorded that even Jesus felt they held little efficacy in changing the hearts of those who witnessed them?

  • 20. Sabio Lantz  |  September 13, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Gandhi felt wet dreams were bad. Jesus felt that thinking something was as bad as doing it. Certain Buddhisms claim that as the mind is tamed, such dreams subside.

    It all depends on what you want your mind to do.
    You wouldn’t dream it if the circuitry did not exist.
    But being “Hell bound” — wow, the ant-sex, anti-body mentality in many religions has very perverse consequences, doesn’t it.

  • 21. tysdaddy  |  September 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm


    Indeed. The wiring, I have no problem with. It’s the way we interpret spiritually the natural, biological occurrences that is scary . . .

  • 22. isnessie  |  September 14, 2009 at 8:12 am

    I also noticed this as a Christian. One didn’t have to buy lock stock and barrel into a story or concept with supernatural elements in order to still have it take place of substantiation in spiritual beliefs.

  • 23. TitforTat  |  September 14, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Is it logical to suppose a “designer” or “creator” without having to know exactly what it is? I suppose these things and feel it is perfectly rational. I always get the sense that Atheism and Theism are just bookends.

  • 24. Ben Sanders  |  September 14, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Well Christian, though I think you have been answered better than I could have answered you, but since you addressed me personally, I feel the need to answer your question.

    Keep in mind, I am a physicist, so by default I don’t subscribe to the supernatural; but then I have a problem with the word itself. All that exists and is observed in our reality is natural. Even Gods, if they exist, are natural creatures obeying their own laws and relationships with the other forces of the universe. Would you claim that Jesus is ‘unnatural’, or part of the natural order of things as you know them?

    If I saw a spring which had the power to regrow limbs, or a glowing book, I would assume that there was a cause which could be studied, and perhaps replicated. I would even be open to the idea that a God was behind it, if the evidence lead me to that conclusion.

    The problem I have with these types of self affirmations is that the conclusion of Deity is jumped to anytime there is a lack of understanding, without regard to evidence or Occam’s Razor; indeed sometimes the Deity conclusion is reached in spite of both. This not only shows a careless disregard for truth, but shuts down the mind by removing the necessity for further investigation.

    So what it take for me to believe? Not much from an Omni-God. I would just need a voice to be heard in all languages across all the earth saying “Look guys, this is my name, and this is what I want you to be doing, and this is what it is all really about. Just stop fighting about it already!” or some such. There are many tests to prove the legitimacy of a given deity, and they all seem to prove the existence of the deity in question. For this reason, because these tests are largely fallacious in general, and because of overwhelming evidence for a lack of Omni-God involvement, I am an atheist.

    But, I have had my fair share of odd beliefs. I once believed that if I obeyed a certain prophet in all things I would become a God with a universe of my own. I believed it enough to die for it, or kill for it, or both…

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

  • 25. atimetorend  |  September 14, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    T4T: I think it is logical to suppose a designer or creator in the terms you describe. Really, are not atheists and theists and everyone in between pretty much at the same level in knowing where the universe came from? It is when you do know exactly what it is that things get a bit strange.

    Ben, I’m glad you didn’t get to the point of dying or killing for that belief!

    tysdaddy: I have read where some call wet dreams, “God’s gift” for boys to experience relief when pre-marital sex and masturbation are not considered options. The problem I have with that concept is that I can’t even think about it, I have never been able to force my brain to even consider thinking through it.

    Sabio: kind of late but, LOL at “BTW, “Sanskrit” was the language from the gods. When you put Sanskrit letters all together you see an elephant headed boy.”

    Lorena: I’ll hope for answered prayer for your mother. :^(

  • 26. Zedge  |  September 15, 2009 at 10:41 am

    If an artist is given a bunch of random shapes, he will eventually sculpt an art piece. One of some distinct shape, I’m certain; however a “flame” has a very fluid shape and is very subjective. Were I may see the “shape” of a flame , you may see a rose bud.
    A rose by ant other name is still just a bunch of letters.


  • 27. Zedge  |  September 15, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Sorry about the typo I usually catch those. A rose by ant other name? Ha! Can there be “any” doubt now; that I am a fat fingered klutz?

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