Archive for December, 2008

Change your bookmarks

I’m not usually a fan of compartmentalization, so I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the compartmentalization of my blogs: Leaving Eden as the serious, long-winded one about my Christian college experience and reasons for deconversion, and peaceful atheist as the lighter, calmer chronicle of my post-Christian exploits.  (Don’t you just hate the expression “post-Christian”?  Me, too.  I really loathe it.)

So I’m merging them into one.  Soon I’ll copy the entire Leaving Eden archive to peaceful atheist.  I’ll continue to write the more serious, discussion-generating posts about my deconversion that I’ve been writing here, but they will be posted on peaceful atheist.  At first, some things will be double-posted; eventually I’ll blog only at peaceful atheist.  I want to rectify the brisk tones I’ve used on Leaving Eden while preserving the discussion and continuing to answer questions about my atheism on peaceful atheist.  I know that Leaving Eden gets a lot more traffic than peaceful atheist, so I hope you’ll all follow me there.

You can now email me at peacefulatheist@gmail.com.  I’m going to continue to protect my internet anonymity, but if you are a Wheaton student or alum, or a frequent commenter, I will probably tell you who I am and friend you on Facebook if you email me.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has read, commented, and linked to Leaving Eden, especially over its long hiatus this year.  My journey wouldn’t be what it is without you.

Wishing everyone a peaceful new year,


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This began as a response to Ryan’s comment on the post the simple answer.  After failing to answer his questions, it turned into something else and I set out to do more of what I do best: complicate the obvious and reinvent many wheels.  My explanations are roundabout, but this is the way my mind works, and this blog, after all, is a record of my thinking.

*Edit:* Make sure you read the comments, where my conversation with Ryan continues.  I think it’s pretty fascinating.

First I’ll answer the easy question.  I have read a few works by Ravi Zacharias but not the book you mentioned.  From his other works, I remember thinking that his apologetics was uninspired because he lacks the ability to understand the atheist’s lack of Christian presuppositions.  Actually, every work or message of Christian apologetics I’ve ever seen has answered completely the wrong questions, and is not on the same wavelength as any of objections to Christianity that I could conceive.  This was true for me even when I was a Christian.  This is also true of every type of apologetic found in the bible itself.

I should also note that unless otherwise stated, when I say “God” I mean the Christian God, the triune God as he is described in the bible and by orthodox Christianity.  I admit that my objections to Christianity don’t themselves completely preclude a deistic god or something resembling the Force in Star Wars, and my reasons for not believing in those types of gods are a whole other discussion entirely.  (I think I touch on it at the end.)

When I said that I could see the edge of God, I didn’t mean any of the things you suggested in your comment.  I definitely did not mean that God became real to me.  I wanted that.  I wanted God to become bigger and clearer, no matter how he manifested himself.  This is where my powers of explanation fail, because I’m a very visual person, and I think in pictures and diagrams that are hard to translate into words.  The best explanation of what I mean by the “edge” of God (and this is itself an analogy) is that I began to see God as an idea rather than a person.  Another analogy that comes to mind is my understanding of Descartes’ ontological argument for God’s existence: God is completely perfect, and existence is a part of perfection; therefore God must exist.  When I was contemplating this argument in freshman philosophy class, I had a lightbulb moment when I realized the reason why this argument didn’t work.  At the most, all that could be determined from the ontological argument is that any idea of God must include the idea of existence.  Sorry, but this explanation is the best that I can do to turn pictures into words.  Maybe if you marinate in the analogy for a good long while you’ll understand what I mean by seeing the edge of God.

The existence of God and the truth of Christianity as a whole are predicated on a set of antecedent assumptions.  The most important assumption, in my view, the one without which the entire thing would fall apart, is that the world is Fallen and in need of a Savior.  Christ didn’t come to add to the world, he came to fix something that was broken.  I stopped believing in the brokenness.  I’m not saying that the universe is perfect, or that people don’t mess up, or that the world isn’t shitty.  But the way I see it, the philosophy of Christianity digs a pit for the universe to fall in so that it can rescue us from it.  I realized that I didn’t want to base my life on the righting of a wrong.  It was already becoming harder and harder for me to believe that my sinfulness was such a big deal to God that I had to spend my life mourning over it and thanking him for rescuing me from death.  You know what that reminds me of?  It reminds me of what abusers do to their victims to keep them from seeking something better.

The gospel is predicated on a negative– sin.  Christianity first creates a system in which God is necessary, then satisfies its own dilemma.  It’s a closed system, a system with no net change.  I wanted something better, something more than the Gospel could give.  I wanted an open system.  If Christianity were the supreme Truth, it shouldn’t have to dig a hole in order to fill it.  It should be able to be good news without being bad news first.  It should be able to do more than save us from the wages of sin.

For those who have suggested that I consider postmodern, emergent, or any related version of Christianity, I already have.  During my last year of being a Christian (when I was still trying fervently to save my faith) I read every single book by Brian MacLaren, Rob Bell, Don Miller, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.  I found none of them even remotely intellectually satisfying, rather insulting to my intelligence.  In my opinion, the God described in those books was much smaller than the God of orthodoxy.
I’ve never wanted God to merely help me live a better life.  I know there are a lot of people who believe in God for that reason, who follow him for that reason.  I commend you.  But Pascal’s wager does nothing for me.  I wanted to follow a true God.  I wanted to follow a powerful, omniscient God.  I realized that he wasn’t there.  And I would rather not have anything to follow, than follow a God who may or may not be there, who may or may not perform miracles, who saves me from thinking too much.
(I know a lot of readers of this blog are postmodern Christians who follow the theology of Brian MacLaren and company.  To them, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, if I have offended anyone.  Those Christians are the ones who have been the most gracious and loving towards me all along.  You are a credit to your faith, but that doesn’t make it true or any more appealing to me.)

I’m a scientist.  I believe in objective truth.  I believe that God either exists or he doesn’t.  I wanted nothing more than for God to exist.  I wanted nothing more than for God to be immeasurably huge and powerful, capable of satisfying and astounding the most voracious intellects.  But I found that he was not.  All God could do was fix what he told me was wrong with me, and if that small savior god existed, I didn’t think him worthy of dedicating my life to.  But that small savior god probably doesn’t exist, just like all the other savior gods of myriad cultures.  Since Christians like to recommend books for me to read, I will recommend one that extremely enlightened my perspective on the uniqueness of Christianity.  “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.  It’s anthropology, psychology, evolution, and just so fascinating that I keep re-reading it and haven’t actually gotten to the end yet.

So I will echo what Richard Dawkins said in closing his debate with Francis Collins.  All the evidence points against the veracity of Christianity– but I’m willing to keep an open mind.  My mind is open, but not to mere parochial gods who save.  My mind is open to things that are beyond what anybody can dream.

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Friendly Atheist has a post about a guy who works at a Christian university and became an atheist while he was there. He still works there, and hasn’t come out as an atheist to anyone, including his wife, who also works there. His story is pretty sad.  He also now has a blog where he’s telling his story: Closeted in Academia.

A couple of comments mentioned that depression would be highly likely if he were to stay at his present job and stay in the closet. That was definitely true for me. I was depressed during my last year at Wheaton. From the time when I began to seriously doubt the veracity of Christianity, I grew more and more miserable while I was at Wheaton. Around the time I first started thinking that I might be an atheist, I realized that my misery had turned into depression and was spiraling downward very quickly. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to recover completely until after I had left Wheaton and could be honest about myself, but I had to somehow keep myself from falling so deep that I would be unable to recover.

So I went to the Wheaton College Counseling Center and began to have weekly sessions with a counselor. It was pretty miserable. The counselor kept giving me books with Christian approaches to dealing with depression. I didn’t read them. It was not very helpful, but just being able to talk to someone, even someone who patronized me and pissed me off, was enough to keep my depression from getting out of control. It didn’t get any better, but it didn’t get much worse.

My relief from depression wasn’t immediate, but it started happening in small steps as soon as I graduated. The misery of being silenced for so long made me determined not to hide my atheism once I left Wheaton. A friend said to me once that my journey of deconversion took a lot of strength, and once I had used up all my strength in keeping quiet, it would be time to take back that strength and use it to speak out.

Even a year after graduation and nearly two years after becoming an atheist, I am still recovering from the effects of having suppressed my true beliefs for such a long time. And as I recover more and more, I’m gaining more confidence in making my true self known. I’ve come out to a few more people, and now I’ve taken the (somewhat laughable) final step: I’ve come out on Facebook. Ever since I began having serious doubts, my Facebook profile has remained silent about my “Religious Views”. If I were a Christian, it would not have been silent. This small step for me marks the end of my acquiescence to fear.

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