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Archive for the ‘deconversion’ Category

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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My friend Grant is a Wheaton alum and a political scientist who is writing a book about student culture at Wheaton. I met him last year after I began this blog, upon which I found that not all Christians are complete morons.

One of the chapters in his book-in-progress is about atheism at Wheaton, and my experience as chronicled here. Reading his synthesis of my blog posts was a great gift for me, and helped me understand my own experience better. You can read a description of the book with a link to the chapter on Grant’s blog. He also has another chapter up about homosexuality at Wheaton.

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This week passed the anniversary of the day I was baptized.  I was baptized while I was a student at Wheaton, and it was a big, big deal to me.  I saw it as more than a symbol.  For those at Wheaton, I’ll just say that my thoughts on baptism were very heavily influenced by professors Gary Burge and Mark Husbands.  I don’t remember much of the theological terminology.

Anyway, I regarded my baptism as the best day of my life.  From that day on, whenever my faith failed, whenever I struggled or doubted, I remembered my baptism.  It was like a jewel that would always be there, never tarnishing no matter what the state of my life or my faith.  Every time I thought of it I was filled with a sense of goodness and peace that reached deep into me like a well.  It was the core of me.

Of course, I no longer feel these things.  I had to reach deep for these memories.  In fact, one of the ways that I knew I was really becoming an atheist and not just ‘falling away’ from Christianity was when I realized that my baptism was no longer sacred to me.  When I remembered it and realized that I no longer felt a sparkling core that was the essence of my identity.  When I remembered it and it seemed like any other memory, like a memory of a wedding that I attended a long, long time ago.

At first, it felt like a loss.  In addition to the loss of community and belonging and cultural identification that came with deconversion, there was also a deeply-felt loss of memory.  I no longer had such a memory to depend on, to reach back to whenever I needed confirmation, strength, assurance of who I am.

The feeling that I had when I thought of my baptism as a Christian was similar to what I see in some Christians’ eyes of their love for God.  It’s similar to what I witnessed in Francis Collins when he talked about Jesus, his voice and expression cradling something holy.  Sometimes I have wondered why I have never seen anything similar in atheists.  Why haven’t I met any non-Christians with that sense of peace and tenderness in their countenances?

But I’ve forgotten– I have seen it in atheists, but not when they were talking about atheism.  I’ve seen such pure expression of love in the eyes of a friend talking about her beloved.  The fierceness by which her entire being told of her love for the person standing next to her rivaled that of any Christian boasting their love for Jesus.  I’ve seen passion and complete certainty in someone as he called for the protection of the earth and the raising up of the next generation to do good, tangible good in the world.  The pillar of strength that I saw in him resembled the well of strength that the memory of my baptism gave me, and that was what inspired me to enter my current line of work.

Atheists have every measure of peace, love, reverence and conviction.  They just direct it towards what is really worthy of being called holy.  I don’t derive my worth as an atheist from a memory or from someone telling me it is so.  My life is a continual making of myself into something, something that I think is special and worth remembering.

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