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Archive for December, 2007

hail and farewell

Drumroll, please…

I graduated from Wheaton College this month. Yes that’s right, I’m “free”. I’ve known for awhile that I was going to graduate early. That’s why I stayed at Wheaton after becoming an atheist.

You’re probably expecting me to divulge some personal details about myself now that I have my Wheaton degree. But I’m not going to give a big reveal, and I feel bad about that. I probably owe my readers at least a portion of my life story, for staying with me and enduring my annoyingly vague and anonymous blog. But I’m not actually a blogger or an internet person, so that’s not going to happen. And now that I’m out of Wheaton, I can go back to what’s actually important in my life instead of keeping a disproportionate focus on my lack of religion.

The truth is, I’m really sick of this blog. I’m sick of talking about being an atheist. Frankly, I don’t really care anymore that I’m an atheist. While I was at Wheaton it seemed like a big deal, and it probably was there. But now that I’m slightly closer to the real world, I just don’t think it’s that important whether you’re an atheist or a Christian. It’s definitely not important enough for me to keep up a blog about it.

Thanks for staying with me, and thanks for your comments and discussions. I’m going to keep this site up here for now in the hope that it might help some other Christian-college-student-turned-atheist who goes online for hope that they aren’t alone. I won’t be approving any new comments, but I will be checking the blog email address every once in awhile.

Well, that’s it.  Peace.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I decided to take a break from finals to answer some of the questions that have been inundating my email and comments lately. I’ve answered them in a separate FAQ page and made it a permanent fixture on the blog. It only includes the questions that I get asked painfully often, and/or have the most obvious answers, so I really hope I don’t have to add to it. At any rate, any comments asking questions that are answered in the FAQ will be deleted from now on.

As always, you’re welcome to email me with any questions/comments.  If you email me, please specify if you want something answered on the site; otherwise I’ll just answer things privately, unless I get something often enough to add it to the FAQ.

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I had hopes that my evangelical regurgitation would be detected. I had a crazy idea that someone would call me out on it, that after listening to one of my class devotions or reading one of my papers, a professor would pull me aside and say, “nice try, but this isn’t real.” That would have made me feel better about Christianity and Wheaton.

But no such luck. When I give class devotions and write papers about my personal Christian beliefs, I get good grades and people thank me for my sincerity. It makes me feel terrible. And it makes me wonder whether the people who I admired for their sincerity really were.

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There are two weeks left in the semester, and I’ve been writing papers. Not to belabor a point that I have probably beaten to death already, but writing in the evangelical Christian voice is not my favorite thing. I was reminded of this quote from C.S. Lewis, talking about his ease of writing in the diabolical voice for The Screwtape Letters:

Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment. The ease came, no doubt, from the fact that the device of diabolical letters, once you have thought of it, exploits itself spontaneously… It would run away with you for a thousand pages if you gave it its head. But though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical [evangelical] attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality [critical thinking, truthfulness to my nonbelief, any trace of my actual self] had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.

(from the Preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters)

The fact that I remembered some random portion of a preface to The Screwtape Letters while writing final papers probably tells you what kind of Christian (or what kind of Wheaton student) I was– the kind who was constantly reading or re-reading one C.S. Lewis book or another. Anyway, I remember that when I read The Screwtape Letters as a Christian, I had the same kind of reaction as a reader that Lewis said he had as a writer– I really liked it, but there was still something about it that crept under my skin and made me feel depressed. Like a good dead baby joke. (Yeah, I’m an atheist. I like dead babies.)

I wonder if my professors can tell, when I write in the evangelical voice, that it’s not my real voice. So much of evangelical culture is like that anyway, requiring fluency in the language, that they probably can’t. Like people who stand up and raise their arms during worship at all-school communion– some of them are just regurgitating choreography. But you can never tell.

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“Do I believe in God?” I ask myself this question several times a week– sometimes several times a day. It can be easy to forget the answer, when I’m caught in the moment in the atmosphere of Christianity. Like when I’m at all-school communion. Or when I’m reading a particularly well-written work of C.S. Lewis’ (currently reading The Four Loves). Or even sometimes when I read the bible (which I don’t do often, but sometimes it can’t be avoided). But the easiest way to forget the answer is by assuming you already know what it is.

For me, the question of which ideology or worldview I “follow” is something that I choose every day. I don’t want to get so caught up in being an atheist that I forget whether or not I am an atheist. I’m not committed to atheism, I’m committed to following what I think is the truth. I’m constantly re-evaluating the truth, and I’m constantly choosing atheism.

On the other hand, I saw Christianity as more of a commitment than a choice. Commitment is also something you can renew every day, but the actual question of “do I believe in God?” or “do I want to follow Christ?” was something I only asked myself occasionally. When I did ask myself that question, and answered in the affirmative, I made a commitment to live by it. For example, my decision to attend Wheaton was a result of a commitment to Christ. It was the first time in my life when I asked myself, “is Christianity really something that I want to follow for the rest of my life?” It was the first time I considered Christianity in the long-term, as more than something that I adopted from others or something that I was just trying on for size. I decided then that the answer was yes, I decided to take responsibility for my life as a Christian, I made a commitment to follow Christ for the rest of my life, and I decided to come to a Christian college to learn to better understand and carry out that commitment. That was not the last time I chose Christ before my answer started to change, but that’s ancient history.

The whole structure of Christianity, of being a Christian, demands commitment. I don’t see it being any other way. There is nothing about atheism that should demand commitment, and I would be very uncomfortable if it did. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with commitment. I think the worst possible thing is having neither commitment nor belief, but following something anyway.

I’ve been calling myself an atheist for over six months. During those six months, I’ve asked myself almost every day whether I believe in God– and really thought about the answer. I’m an atheist today, and I will probably be an atheist tomorrow. But I’ll probably ask myself again tomorrow, just to make sure.

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My friend Bill recently interviewed me for his site, FriendlyChristian, which is a great community he’s created for Christians and atheists alike. Bill is a stellar guy with a great blog, but many of you already know that because you only read my blog because he links to it. Our interview is posted at FriendlyChristian today and tomorrow.

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The Giver

Yes, that Lois Lowry book you probably read in fourth grade. It’s about a utopian society where there is no pain or suffering, but also no great joy or love– for everyone except the Receiver, the one member of society who knows the full breadth of human experience. Having Received the memories of failed societies from those before him, he uses that knowledge to advise the community on how to avoid them. When a new Receiver is chosen, the old Receiver becomes the Giver, transmits his memories and experiences to the new Receiver, allowing him to experience them firsthand. Only after having felt pain and sorrow can the Receiver fully know the consequences of failed society.

I wish I could Give my memories to someone. The good as well as the bad. I can talk about them, I can write about them, but words are only a symbolic approximation and fall far short of actual experience. Can you truly understand anything unless you’ve experienced it firsthand?

The things I most wish I could Give are the good memories I have from being a Christian– of landmarks in my spiritual development, “conversion experiences,” etc. Things that were my most precious memories when I was a Christian, but are no longer so meaningful to me now. In fact, I knew I had truly become an atheist when I realized those memories no longer meant much to me.

I’m not ashamed of having been a Christian. But I wish I could give those experiences to someone who would appreciate them. I think they deserve better than the back alley of my long-term memory.

I’ve been posting more prolifically this week than I ever have. That’s because it is absolutely killing me to write devotionals and papers on my spiritual development and Integrate Faith and Learning “For Christ and His Kingdom”. Not to mention reading things like Alister McGrath, who for God’s sake just needs to shut up about Dawkins and get his own material already.

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