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Archive for October, 2007

Sometimes I miss being a Christian. I don’t miss Christianity, but I miss being a part of this whole thing. This whole thing that goes on at this school, where I am way out of the loop.

Tonight I went to All-School Communion for the first time in a long time. We have this once a month (it’s not mandatory), where communion is served in the chapel, and there’s worship music and a speaker. It usually lasts about an hour and a half. I stayed for the whole thing, dodging in between spectator and participant. It was strange. I went initially because I missed worship music, but was a bit dismayed to find that after skivving off chapel so much, many of the songs were new.

At times I got really into the music and the atmosphere of the place, and I actually felt like I was one of them. I felt like I actually was a Christian and like I believed what I was singing. That felt good, to tell the truth. For a few moments, I detached myself and thought: it is not that unlikely that I could become a Christian again tonight. I really felt like a Christian; I could just go through the motions and become a part of this community again and will myself into believing that I actually love God. Nobody would be able to tell that I don’t actually believe in God. I might not even be able to tell the difference… But that would make me delusional. So I snapped out of it.

At other times, especially during the breaking of bread and all the prayers and proclamations that go with that, it felt very foreign and ghastly. Like some bloody ritual of sacrifice on a Mayan temple. The ritual of eating the bread and drinking the grape juice itself didn’t seem odd to me, but the words around it and chaplain digging his fingers into the bread to break the loaf, and the flickering candles and wooden cross, seemed so cult-like and barbaric.

Not long ago, I was one of the students serving communion, holding the bread and grape juice and solemn with the privilege of serving my classmates and serving God. At the time I truly saw that as a privilege. I loved it. It’s a good memory. (more…)

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Contentment

A couple of weeks ago Dr. Lisa McMinn, a former Wheaton sociology professor, spoke in chapel about contentment. She was one of the most popular profs on campus (and one of my favorites), and her message was on the whole pretty good, with one major flaw.

Contentment, she said, is being present in the moment, even when your plans are waylaid. Being at peace regardless of your present circumstances. Being aware of the world around you and being present in it, even when you are in pain.[1] So far, so good. Except the basis of Christian contentment is that God is in control and will eventually work everything out in our favor. God will one day fulfill everything that we (or Christians, at least) long for, even if it doesn’t happen within our lifetime, so because God is constantly at work, we can/should be content in the moment. Because the future has already been decided, and there’s nothing to worry about in the long run, we should realize that present struggles are part of the process of redemption, and be fully present in them.

So I ask: what kind of contentment is that? This is the same kind of reasoning that Christians use when they talk about accepting death, which I wrote about in a previous post. Just as truly accepting death means accepting that it really is the end instead of glossing over it with heaven, true contentment is being present and accepting that things don’t always work out. Some desires and injustices will never be fulfilled, now or in the future, and we have no idea which things will or won’t turn out for good. Contentment is accepting that and being present in the moment when you have no ultimate insurance policy, and you know that some bad situations will just end up being bad. In the face of suffering or injustice, you do all you can to change it, and then you accept what you can’t change. You live with the sucky aspects of being human because that’s what we are, and in some cases neither we, nor our future descendants, nor our future resurrected spirits will get what we long for. (more…)

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random notes

I want to thank everyone who has been reading, commenting, and discussing here. I really enjoy reading your comments. Writing this blog and reading your comments have done wonders for my sanity.

It’s always fun to see how people find this site. Shout out to the person who got here by googling “wheaton college sucks”.

A few people have requested to contact me privately. I welcome anyone to email me: leavingedenblog@gmail.com.

Good luck with your midterms, Wheaties. And safe travels for Fall Break.

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It’s midterm week at Wheaton, and everybody is frantically taking exams, writing papers, and getting ready for Fall Break. For devotions in every class, we pray for our exams, preservation of sanity, and safety traveling during Fall Break. I think it’s incredibly hokey. So I was surprised, as I walked across campus on my way to take a midterm exam, to find myself wishing that there was some atheistic equivalent to prayer.

I used to be one of those Christians who prayed at every opportunity, including before a test. Sometimes it was a last-ditch plea for God to save me from my lack of studying. Most of the time, I simply found prayer a nice way to prepare myself for any event, to put my mind at ease and wrap up the preparation before the execution phase of a project. Praying before a test was a way of acknowledging the preparation I had done and get into the right mindset. It seems like a nice, quaint 17th century thing to do. Except that I kind of miss it. Not the God part, but the pausing and recognizing and pulling things together. And, it’s kind of fun to have someone you can talk to in your head all the time.

Is there an atheistic equivalent of prayer? A way to recognize the good, prepare for the worst, and put your mind at ease, maybe with a small ritual? How do you express concern for someone where you might normally say “I’ll pray for you”? How do you keep friends’ troubles in your thoughts and mentally provide moral support? Or are these psychological games purely the domain of religion?

Or, is praying essentially the same as thinking?  As I once overheard a Wheaton student say to another, “sometimes I don’t know if I’m praying or thinking”.

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I see that more and more Wheaton College people are finding their way to this blog, so I thought I should extend a welcome and also explain a little about the purpose of this blog. Welcome, Wheaton readers. Don’t be shy.

When I became an atheist and realized I was locked in at Wheaton, I spent hours poring over the internet, searching for people in the same situation. I found plenty of atheists who were former evangelical Christians, and some who had attended Christian colleges, but googling any combination of “Wheaton College” and “atheist” got nil. When I started this blog, I had to decide between leaving my school unnamed and including more personal details about me, or remaining anonymous and unidentifiable while writing specifically about Wheaton. I chose the latter because I didn’t want any other current or future students in my situation to search for hours like I did and not find anything relevant.

There have always been and always will be atheists and other happily non-Christian students at Wheaton (and at other Christian colleges as well). My experience is not new or unique. It is just unspoken. I’m tired of atheism and deconversion being a shameful thing that is only discussed either secretively by the nonbelievers or mockingly by the believers on campus. So I want this blog to be a kind of collective voice of the Wheaton atheist. Maybe if I can lay out my reasoning and experiences here, people will be able to consider my position and listen, instead of simply hearing the word “atheist” and immediately running to start a prayer group for my lost soul.

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Last night I attended an event on campus sponsored by CACE, Wheaton’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics. Called “Christian Moral Engagement in Politics: a Bi-partisan Conversation,” it was a discussion with a former Republican senator and a former Democratic congressman, moderated by Michael Gerson, former Bush presidential speech writer and Wheaton alum. Here’s a paraphrase of some of the more interesting questions and responses:

Why did you enter politics?
R: I had no previous interest in politics. But I happened to attend a prayer breakfast where Charles Colson was the speaker, and when he spoke I sensed the calling of God. I knew without a doubt that God was calling me to enter politics.
D: I was inspired by my father, who was a public servant on local boards and councils all his life. I was also inspired by JFK, and I became involved in the Civil Rights movement. (more…)

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For your daily devotions, complete with Bible verse and plenty of C.S. Lewis references. Enjoy.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

C.S. Lewis talks a lot about this idea of seeing dimly as in a mirror. The idea is that heaven is more real than the world we know now: the world we live in is only a reflection of the true reality, which is found in Heaven. All the goodness and beauty on Earth are only a reflection of the real goodness and beauty of God. In other words, Heaven contains the Platonic Forms for everything good on Earth. God is the Form.
At the very end of The Chronicles of Narnia, the world is ended and the characters enter the heavenly Narnia, to find that the old Narnia they knew in this life was “only a shadow or copy of the real Narnia which has always been here”. They spend their time going “further up and further in,” discovering more and more of the “true” Narnia. The heavenly Narnia is also described as being “like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”

When I became an atheist, I discovered that the universe was that onion. I became a man and put childish ways behind me. I saw the universe face to face, with no intermediary. It was as if previously there had been a thin, fuzzy film over everything I saw or sensed or felt– not the result of sin or distance from God, but the result of painting a veneer of God on the surface of everything. All that was stripped away when I began to see the world as the thing itself and not a reflection or footprint. Every sound, every sensation and feeling and morsel of knowledge, was magnified.

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis illustrates the ‘realness’ of heaven this way: when the people from Hell/Purgatory visit Heaven, even the blades of grass are so real and hard and solid that they cut into the feet of the visitors, who were not accustomed to the realness of heaven.

When I became an atheist, every pain and joy and sorrow was magnified as well, and I felt the breadth of what it meant to be alive in the universe, unshielded and unbuffered.
Adam and Eve must have had a similar experience when they left Eden. The world outside the garden was a more accurate depiction of reality than they had known, yet because it cut their feet, they pined for the place they had left, like the visitors to Heaven who just wanted to get back on the bus to Hell.

I, too, wanted to get back on the bus at first: to be back in a place of comfort and familiarity, where I could pray and put my trust in God and look to him for everything. But I recognized the pain for what it was: reality. Realness is not in the future, or in some eternal heavenly Form. Reality is now, and if you’re looking for it elsewhere, you’re missing it. There is no limit to the wonder and breathtaking detail of this world, unless you decide that there is. If you put all your hope in a future world and cover up the wonder before your eyes with a film, a filter, then it will be limited, and you will never see the full extent of it.

How many people really drink up the full extent of reality? It is more than we can imbibe, yet some look at the filmy breadth before them and say, “everything is meaningless”. Let us put childish ways behind us, peel away the narrow filter, and go further up and further in.

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