Clear Reason

A young Christian apologist recently left a comment on my last post, which I put up quite a ways back.  I feel compelled to respond, perhaps in response to the sincerity of youth, or perhaps because I’m bothered by the assumptions in the comments and feel they open up a couple of issues I wish to address.

Actually, it’s mostly that she happened to refer me to the teachings of Chip Ingram, who was my pastor in Santa Cruz for over a decade.  She had no way of knowing that, but the coincidence makes it more compelling than the average comment.  Anyway, to her comments:

I have read a few of your post (and maybe there are more that better explain you reasoning) but from what I have read I do not see a clear reason as to why you decided your faith no longer had weight.

I’m guessing it’s more to do with not seeing it yet rather than it not being there.  I’ll refer you to a couple of links later in this post.

I am sure that you have reasons which, to you, are clear. However, I think that if you truelly (sic) want to intelligently discuss the absence of a god, you need to be able to state your point and reason, and these should prove what you now believe.

In saying this, I simply mean that if you want to blog about it and share your story, not only for yourself but for your readers, you need to be able to refute evidence that proves Christianity, Jesus Christ, and the Bible if your statement is that God does not exist.

A couple points:

1 – I have spent a lot of words discussing my reasoning. I feel that if anyone wishes to imply that I haven’t provide reasoning, they should first take the time to read through all of the 20-some posts and a number of comment threads (some of the comments are more vitriol, admittedly on my part too, than they are informative, but some of the fleshing out of arguments can be found there) on those posts.  It’s a little disingenuous to claim there’s nothing to see if one hasn’t looked.

2 – To put a finer point on it, it’s not that I argue for the absence of a god, but rather that I note the lack of evidence for the presence of one, whether we’re discussing YHWH/Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or any other deity.

3 – And speaking of proof, the atheist doesn’t bear a burden to prove the absence of something.  We as humans have 5 senses with which to perceive and evaluate the universe and reality around us.  To the atheist, only what we can perceive in one way or another do we claim to exist.  The Christian says there is all of the same perceivable reality, PLUS there is an omnipotent deity behind it all.

ATHEIST:  What Exists?  Everything we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, or anything that could be experienced through one of those senses.

CHRISTIAN: What Exists?  Everything we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, or anything that could be experienced through one of those senses – PLUS – Invisible Deity who is 1.) In control of everything, 2.) Made everything, 3.) Interacts with everything, 4.) Has a purpose for everything, and 5.) Can be influenced to change his interactions based on specific requests from individuals.

If you are to claim the existence of this unprovable invisible being, it is up to you to provide ample evidence of its existence.  I don’t need to prove it/he doesn’t exist.  I only need express the fact that Christians have not provided evidence sufficient to convince me.

If you present what you think is evidence, and I’m able to provide a more likely, natural source for that evidence, then that is not evidence.

I encourage you to build your knowledge in this area. You stated that you were a Christian for 26 years and that you suddenly came to the conclusion that God is not real. So my question for you is what did your 26 years in the faith look like? Did you know God during this time or did you simply attended church without pursuing personal relationship with God?

This is another area in which I believe I’ve provided considerable material on the topic of my Christian past.  I was a spirit-filled believer who was certain he saw god working in his daily life.  I was a worship and ministry leader who was often told how inspiring his participation was – and I did it from a very tangible belief that what I was sharing and singing about was real.  I gave him all the glory, as I knew that such inspiration could only come from the indwelling holy spirit within me – I did not have it within my worldly self.  I knew him and prayed to him and strived to run the good race and not be found wanting.  I was a new creation, with a regenerated spirit, sealed for heaven by the holy spirit.

You get a bit close to the No True Scotsman fallacy here, a common rabbit trail in these conversations.  I think there’s even a post in which I delve into that trail a little bit… Or maybe it’s one of my many unfinished drafts… who knows?

I am in no way seeking to throw judgement upon you or to call you out. More so I am existed (sic?) for you because (from what I assume) you want to discover truth. For you, I recommend digging into the facts and deciding for yourself if you want to oppose them or support them. To be an atheist, to be anything, you must be able to stand for what you believe and back it up with evidence so that you can communicate it to others.

I think the reality of my stance is a little bit different than you might perceive, and your perception might be colored by preconceptions.  Most of us who grow up in a household with any sort of religious tradition take the concept of god for granted, as a starting point.  But the real starting point is from a point of complete agnosticism.  We are taught our religious concepts, indoctrinated from a very young age so that the very concepts seem to be but postulates, obvious and unquestionable.  The idea of the existence of a singular, personal god is so ingrained by the time we’re old enough to reason with others that the existence of said god becomes a starting point, rather than the natural starting point of zero input we’re born into.

That’s what’s behind the general perception that if I say that I don’t believe god exists, I somehow have to provide evidence disproving the claims of the religious.  But this is backwards.  After examining the claims of the religious, I find that there is not sufficient evidence to back up those claims.  In the absence of any reasonable proof, I hold a position of disbelief.  Should proof be forthcoming, I am happy to change my mind.

In this case there is nothing to particularly stand up for – religiously speaking.  Instead I evaluate that which others, like yourself, stand up for, and decide whether or not they’re worthy of my belief.

That’s not to say that I did not test my previous beliefs and assumptions.  I did so, and my archives provide a good deal of that.  If someone wishes to put forward a particular religious belief and the evidence they think supports it, then I’m more than happy to review the argument and its evidence and share and discuss my conclusions.

Why I Believe by Chip Ingram was the most factual, historical, insightful and intellectual lecture I have ever witnessed.

Of course you didn’t know this, but I sat under Chip’s teaching for a decade at Santa Cruz Bible Church. Chip is very intelligent and engaging, and an excellent apologist – a pretty nice guy all around.  I had my minor differences with him at the time, but overall appreciated his work there.  During his time at SCBC, I was in charge of several different ministries, either music or drama related.

I, like yourself, fell from the faith. The church I was attending did not encourage me in the ways I needed. I asked the question, “Is this all there is? Because if so, it’s not fulfilling enough for me.” I began to dig and dig deep. For me, God guided me to see that I did not know Him- that my preconceived notions of Him were not all sound or based on truth.

I would expect your and my “falls” were quite different from one another.  Fulfillment wasn’t quite the issue for me, although it probably touches on it.  I’ll post some links here to a better description of the process of my deconversion.  In a rather inadequate nutshell, it was a combination of realizing that Christianity didn’t reflect the reality of the world we lived in, a realization of the impotency of faith and of the Christian faith in particular, and the effort to do what I had claimed I was doing all along – taking the bible at face value, for exactly what it said.

Here are some of my previous posts that will better describe some of what went into my leaving:

The Line Between Hot and Cold

The Birth of Dr. Evil

The Devil Made Me Do It

Cruel and Unusual

Who Do You Trust?

All of these go some way to explaining the issues I have with Christianity as a reasonable explanation of reality.  I hope you will take the time to read through some of them.  Your thoughts will be welcome.

I recommend Chip Ingram’s Why I Believe because it’s designed and created for a scientific/ fact seeking mind set. There are plenty of lectures, books, and videos out there, but of all the ones I have heard, Why I Believe is the best. I am not recommending it to you because I want you to become a Christian again, I am recommending it to you because Chip discusses facts- the whole audio set is loaded with historical evidence and factual information. Those facts will either build up your cause or tear it down. If you can take the facts and refute them or show them to not be true- if you can find fault in them- then you can truly claim to be a none believer.

The problem with his teachings, with which I’m very familiar, and in fact still to this day find notes and worksheets from, is the he carries many of the same presuppositions, and that he perpetuates many of the same empirical errors, especially as concerns science and evolution.  I’m not sure I have it in me to sit through another teaching series after the time I took exploring apologetics in my attempt to hold onto my faith, but maybe one of these days I’ll at least give part of it a try.

I do not claim to be all knowing. I do not claim to know what is truth and what is not truth. How can anyone say to the masses, my religion (of the millions of religions) is the one truth. Truth is, for the individual, what you want it to be. I hope that in your search, you find your truth. But if you want to find truth, don’t seek to be comfortable- to please or satisfy yourself- seek truth.

Well, that’s a stance most of your brothers and sisters don’t take.  It does seem above that you do claim to know, but I appreciate your respectful attitude.

And do let me assure you I did not go for comfort or to please myself.  I sought Truth, or at least truth.  It has long been my assertion, well before I ever thought to consider the hardest of my doubts, that all truth would be god’s truth, and that any truth from god can withstand any and all reasoned scrutiny.  I do not believe that is the case with Christianity.

I’ll mention one more – step, if you will, in my journey.  I may have written about it in one of the posts cited above, but I’m not sure.

At a time when I was trying to figure out how to discuss my faith with my wife, to try and convince her to come back to the fold, I thought it was time that I got a better grasp on the arguments of atheists.  I thought that god’s truth must surely be greater than any arguments of man, so understanding those arguments would give me insight into the application of the truth of god.

I was in the bookstore and found a book by John Loftus called Why I Became an Atheist.  Being as it was by a former evangelical minister, I thought it might best represent the arguments against my particular position and best equip me to win my wife back to the faith.

I looked through the table of contents and found the chapter called “The Outsider Test for Faith” (upon which he has expanded in a separate book.)  I turned to the chapter, because it reminded me of something my wife had mentioned from time to time.

The long and short of the chapter was:  People from the same region of the world believe that same religion, often with a fervor, and with the conviction that theirs is true, just as I did.  Those religions we reject out of hand.  Therefore, whatever justification we use to reject those foreign religions, we should also by them test our own religion, the one we were brought up in as children.  Are the arguments for our religion better than the arguments for theirs?  Are the arguments against their religion any better than the arguments against ours?

I started to think through this, then quickly closed the book and put it back.  I could see the writing on the wall, though it would still be another nearly two years before I found the courage to read it.

I would encourage you to explore your own faith by the same criteria with which you reject others.  At the very least it will make for excellent conversation.

I’m sure this is incomplete, but hopefully it will help answer some of your questions and start a productive dialogue among any who still check in from time to time.

Timeline Timing

Sooo… traipsing through my Facebook timeline after work today, I found these two pictures next to each other:

First:

walkswater

And then:

drownsus

I found this a very amusing contrast.

Well into my second year of non-faith, I find myself still navigating the waters of reason rather erratically.  For instance, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted at this blog.  I began this blog for the purpose of sorting out my own thoughts and feelings.  Once I’d made the decision that Christianity was not the truth I thought it was, I still had (have) many things to sort out for myself.

I needed to figure out what I believe, if anything.  My friend Zen commented once that I needed some sort of religion, amused as he was by my new and ongoing forays into Buddhism.  He may be right.  I tend to glom on to a position and entrench myself once I’m satisfied with my level of understanding, whether or not that level is really adequate.  I’m very emotional and very sentimental.  I’m easily driven about by hyperbole and platitude, and make as much use of them as they do of me.

I also needed to figure out what my altered worldview meant in terms of the real world around me.  Realizing there is no god, that there is no magic rescue coming, no cracking of the Mount of Olives in the near future – realizing that this is all there is, that it’s up to us to take care of our world, to take care of each other – well, that’s a political shift as well as a spiritual one.  And in the same way I tend to let my passion outstrip my purpose.

So after a time of considering all of these things, of dealing with the aftermath of my leaving the faith and having to deal with myself with no magic help, I thought about just leaving this blog behind, and the whole issue.  I thought about just focusing on myself and my loved ones, of pursuing a philosophical brand of Buddhism and leaving behind the argument.  Let others come to it in their own time, or not at all.

I’m probably not wired that way, really.  For instance, I believe there is significant injustice in the world.  I believe we shouldn’t be quiet about it.  I believe there is too much violence in the world, and that we too quickly choose violence as a solution rather than recognize it as part of the problem.  I believe I can be a positive, compassionate person, and I believe that doesn’t take place in a personal vacuum.

So I guess I’ll still be blogging, here and there anyway.  And I guess platitudes will still fascinate me, despite my efforts to be more thoughtful.  I’ll try to learn from the people who challenge me, and try to deal compassionately with those I think propagate the worst problems in our society.

At least that’s what I think today…

Time and Again

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog.  I have 8 posts currently in some level of development.  It seems after running through some basic ideas, getting down to the details takes more research.

Hopefully there will be more for you to see soon.

I will say this, in the mean time:  The deeper I look, the more I’m convinced it’s just us, here on this planet, with the silent, empty universe looking on.  If there is other life, its not in heaven, and its not in the form of angels, demons, or an all-powerful god.  Neither are they coming to earth to violate our livestock, but that’s a whole different conversation, and beyond the scope of this blog.

So please stay tuned.  There’s more to come.

An Open Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear ones:

I write this today to express a few things that have bothered me in the course of my deconversion.  This will be an imperfect and incomplete expression of my thoughts.  It’s the best I can do for now.

This was probably brought to a head over Easter when I responded to a posting by a Christian friend which mocked non-believers 

with a post of my own.

Not skillful, I admit, but here we are.  So many of the issues raised and explored when one leaves Christianity can become endless conversations charged with emotion.  Eternity can do that to a discussion.  I confess that I have at times been less than skillful in my communication.  I’m certain I’m not alone in that failing.

When I began this blog, not so long ago, it was never my intention to convince anyone so much as explain what led to my abandonment of Christianity, as well as to explore it myself in detail.  The questions I had that led me to this decision are many and detailed.  Obviously I think that the questions, and their answers (or lack thereof) are substantial enough to abandon Christianity as a viable worldview and belief system.

I feel the need to write this because, instead of addressing the very specific philosophical, historical, anthropological, scientific, and literary questions that led me to this point; my motivations, methodology, personal integrity, intelligence, and overall worthiness have been questioned, denigrated, and even attacked, sometimes in pointed detail, by some of you I consider, and would still hope to consider, friends.

There are a few key aspects of being an ex-believer which, if I am able to communicate clearly, might help us focus on the content and the philosophy, rather than the perceived conflict of motivation.

First – I did not leave Christianity: so I could sin/because I’m mad at God/because other Christians hurt me/because I wanted a change of scenery.

None of the above.  Period.

It had next to nothing to do with any sort of personal behavioral preference.  What little relation it may have had was just the opposite – during my exploration I wished to make a positive change I could not apparently achieve in my devotion to Christianity.

I wasn’t mad at god.  I’ve never been mad at god.  When I believed in god, I was always mystified how anyone could be mad at god.  I mean, if he’s god, he’s – well – god.

No Christian ever hurt me very deeply until after I gave up my belief.  The hardest part of leaving Christianity was leaving behind friends who, for the most part, have always been very good to me.

I didn’t want a change of scenery.  I will say, however, that a change of scenery motivated me to take a very hard look at the faith I’d followed unquestioningly for 26 years.

This is not the first time I have clarified these points.  Yet I have been accused of all of these, occasionally with some offensive specificity.  You know who you are.

Second - I did not decide to leave god, then try to justify my position.

When I realized where my questions were leading me, I clung to god.  I explored every question from both sides, hoping I could find a way to resolve what I saw (and still see) as unsolvable problems with Christianity without having to lie to myself about what I found.  In the end I could not.  After exploring thoroughly, I abandoned my belief.  But to be clear, I did not “leave” god.  That would imply that there is a god there I have actively abandoned.  That is not the case.  I looked behind the curtain and found there was nobody there.

Third - I do not think I’m smarter than you.

It is not a matter of intellect.  It may be that I have been more willing to explore the issues intellectually than some of you are.  That is not a value judgment.  That is not one being better than the other.  I have begged several of you to directly address the specific issues that led me to abandon my faith.  On this very blog and in offline conversations I have laid out many of my reasons in clear detail and offered ample opportunity to have them questioned, explored, and even refuted.  Why would I do that?  Because I’m certain that all of you are reasonably intelligent, as I’m certain I am reasonably intelligent, and I think we can dialogue on facts.  Yet I am met mostly with obfuscation, insults, questions of my character, speculation of my motivation, and simple refusal to engage with the material at hand.

Fourth – My non-belief is not an open invitation to judge or disparage my character.

I suppose this is related to my first point, but I’ll say it anyway.  This has become a terrible habit among some of my Christian friends when engaging with my personal expression about what I believe and do not believe.  You accuse me of being bitter, angry, egocentric, an attention whore, and more, all the while ignoring the content of my expression.  The Easter posting is a perfect example.  It had a very particular message about the nature of sacrifice.  Of the long comment thread accusing me of being bitter and expressing anger that I should sully their special day with my own personal expression, only two comment touched briefly on the actual point made; one saying they’d never thought of it that way, the other finding it humorous.  I don’t know if you’re afraid of the conversation or if you disrespect me so much you’d rather just insult me than engage.  Honestly, unless you are able to intellectually engage with the questions I ask about the faith, I’m not really willing to engage with a dissection of my personal motives or morality.

Fifth – My thoughts about my Christian experience are not attacks directed at you personally.

They are simply my thoughts about my Christian experience.  That’s all.  As I examine my life as a Christian I see turning points and decisions that I would have made differently.  I see ways in which my biblical mindset influenced me in ways that I now deem negative.  I also see the opposite.  I see ways in which my Christian past influenced me in ways that are positive no matter what mindset one would have.  These are my thoughts about my life.  If you disagree with my assessment of these decisions, you’re free to say so, but taking personal offense at the way I assess my life decisions is overstepping boundaries.

Sixth – Skepticism is not a belief system.

No matter how some of you wish to argue it, an attitude of skepticism of any claim is simply a requirement that a claim be proven to a reasonable extent before being accepted.  Whether your claim is about Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Mithra, Horus, the universe, the afterlife, human origins, evolution, what color your car is, or the spirituality of eating a peanut butter sandwich, I only expect that such a claim be supported with evidence that any reasonable person can verify independently.

That is not a “belief” system.  It is actually a method of examining belief systems to determine if they are worth believing.  It is not a position that makes any positive claim except that truth should be evident.  It is a refusal to invest in any set of claims for which there is no reasonable evidence.  It is a starting point only.  I don’t know how many other ways to say it, but I do know at least one of you will insist otherwise and use repetition in place of evidence.

I’ll say it again – I will accept your claim if you present it with reasonable, verifiable evidence.

Seventh – I do not want to deconvert you.

I really don’t.  I’m more than happy to have Christian friends.  You who are my friends through church I would still consider my friends outside of it.  Perhaps you don’t feel the same way.  Perhaps you perceive that my deconversion is a threat to your continued belief.  I can’t help that.  All I seek is for you to respect my viewpoint and lack of belief with the same respect you demand for your beliefs and your expression of them.  This is severely lacking on the part of many of you.  This is also much in evidence on the part of others of you.  At the same time as some have gone on the attack, others have messaged me to apologize for you who have attacked, and we had the chance to express mutual respect for our individual journeys.

What I seek is that you recognize that our individual expressions of belief will often conflict.  If you wish to ignore these expressions, that’s fine.  If you wish to engage about them, even better.  But, as expressed above, I expect you to engage with mutual respect.  I expect you to respect my intelligence, as you would expect me to respect yours.  I expect you to engage about the topic rather than make unwarranted accusations about my motivation or disparage my moral character.

I do not want you to change your mind about being Christian.  I do want to change your mind about something, though.  I want you to accept that, while you may be sure of your beliefs, there are a good 5 billion people who think you’re wrong, many of whom are at least as certain of their position as you are.  I want you to accept that maybe, just maybe, you could be wrong, if even you think you’re not.  I want you to treat me as an intellectual equal, not as someone blinded and unable to think for himself.  And just in case you think I exaggerate, that is pretty much a direct quote from more than one of you.

Of course, accepting that someone who doesn’t agree with you might have a point might be a deconversion of sorts in and of itself.  Maybe that’s just a bridge too far.  But it’s the only way we’ll be able to engage in constructive conversation.  If instead you insist on battering me with bible verses, disrespecting me and my viewpoint, and pointedly refusing to engage in the actual question at hand, then I don’t know what to tell you.  Maybe we’re not friends anymore.

I hope that’s not the case.  I leave it in your hands.

Thanks for listening.

Let Them Pray

Last weekend during a football match in the UK between Tottenham Hotspurs and Bolton Wanderers, a young player, Fabrice Muamba, aged 23, collapsed to the ground, suffering a cardiac arrest.  It looked very bad for the boy.  To fans of English Football and the game worldwide, it brought back memories of other tragic losses, such as Marc Vivien-Foe.  I expected the worst as medics worked on the lad.  Cameras scanned the crowd, showing shocked, tearful faces.

As the boy fought for his life, people around the world were called on to pray.

Amongst my atheist and agnostic acquaintances, prayer is often considered with some derision, if not outright disgust.  It’s seen as a way to do nothing while seeming to do something.  It’s seen as empty.  If there’s nobody there, who is everyone talking to?  And if they’re talking to nobody, isn’t that worse than doing nothing?

In some respects I see it that way.  Praying to do well on a test, to find one’s car keys, for the rash one contracted to heal, etc.  The schism that must take place for someone to assume god would want to do those things and at the same time let millions starve to death every year can make a mockery of the concept of prayer.

But there is another side to it, and it’s to that side that I think we, as non-believers, should lean.

At times like that, when something terrible has happened in our view, we are often powerless to help or to do anything.  We are half a world away, perhaps.  Or we are in the crowd even, but we can do nothing.  The medics have it under control, or at least under as much control as can be mustered.  By intervening ourselves, we would only do harm.

Yet emotionally we are moved.  We are social people.  We often feel each others’ emotions.  We are affected by the fortunes and misfortunes of others; not directly, to be sure, but we can identify with others and know to some extent what they are feeling.

That moment we each approach in whatever way we understand the world at that time.  For me, it was just to think on Muamba’s struggle and hope that the medics and doctors would get the lad through, that his family would not lose him.  For myself, I didn’t need to appeal to someone greater than myself.  It was enough to have compassion in my heart, and to know that if the tables were turned, others would have compassion on me and my family.

It is not all that different for those of faith.  They know that personally they can do nothing to aid the situation.  But they too care.  They too want to see the boy recover.  So they participate in the only way they can.  They pray.  Whether they are really invoking any god is immaterial.  They, as people, are focusing their thoughts and energy on this stricken young man.  That is really only a positive thing in my book.  Perhaps my friends and I can be too harsh sometimes on the practices we ourselves have left behind upon taking a more rational, limited view of the universe.  Sure, I think we’re right.  But that doesn’t change the fact that these people, otherwise powerless, are giving of their own thoughts and emotions in the hopes the young man will recover.  They are giving the best of themselves, because there is literally no other thing that will help other than staying out of the way.

So perhaps their prayers aren’t as much for the stricken lad as they are for each of them.  They want to show caring and solidarity.  By expending their own energy and time on the issue, they do that.  We should probably give them a little more room to do that without taking arrows.

Now, I suppose I still do take exception to the prevalence of “see, prayer works” as Fabrice recovers.  “Thank god” dots the headlines over and over again, when it should be “thank doctors and hundreds of years of accumulated medical expertise.

We may wish to have that semantic discussion one of these days, but for now, we ought to give people a little more space and let them pray.  If nothing else, it might be helping them to cope with an unexpected emotional trauma when they only wished to watch a simple game of football.