Saturday, January 21, 2012

Changing faith and our relationships

I've edited and almost posted this entry at least ten times over the last 10 months.  Just when I think I've got it right, something else changes and it no longer seems relevant.  So, I'm going to have to just take a snapshot in time and get on with things.

This is a work in progress.  There are still many people who don't know of my departure from conservative to progressive Christianity, let alone my movement toward Secular Humanism.  There will be some tough conversations yet to come.

This is the most important and sensitive topic I've encountered on this expedition.  I place a high value on relationships.  Although I have many friends, few are in the inner circle of trust; But those who are in my closest circle have earned my respect and my love, all in ways as unique as the relationships themselves.  I'd like to say I can grant all of that unconditionally, but I'd be lying; I don't know anyone who can live up to that ideal.  Suffice it to say for my purposes here, there are very few things those closest to me could do for me to abandon the relationship.

Transition #1: Conservative Evangelical Christianity --> Progressive / Liberal Christianity
The first edition of this post began during my unwinding from Conservative Evangelical Christianity and adoption of Progressive / Liberal Christianity.  To a nonbeliever, this might not seem like a substantial enough different to impact relationships, but you would be wrong.  I would assert that the more conservative, orthodox one's circle of family and friends, the more scrutiny one might encounter to ensure that you believe the right things.  Any deviation from orthodoxy, leads to the slippery slope, then, BAM!...You're in hell.

I got some of this when I began to question literal reading of scripture, but not much.  People that I had gone to church or Bible study with became a bit more distant, looked at me strangely, and sometimes politely responded with "Interesting..." before cutting the conversation short.

Some of those closer to me took me to task with more vigor.  I suggested some books to read that had helped me with questions and helped shape my view, not so much as to turn them to my way of thinking, but to answer their questions of me.  If you want to know how someone got where they are - if you're genuinely interested - you might want to read what they've read, experience what they've experienced, read what they write, and try to see their view from their lens.  Relatively short conversations about enormous topics without access to reference materials is difficult.  It is, of course, impossible to really experience someone else's life, but taking more information in that they've relied upon to shape their view will certainly help bridge the gap.  Some read one of the books (but no more than that), others politely took the list and never entertained them.  These books are, after all, pure heresy in their eyes.

There are many reasons why some won't go there; Read a previous post as many of the same reasons apply.  I think that some don't want to open themselves up to a different perspective because that whole eating from the tree of knowledge thing in Genesis scares them.  Others default to the proverb Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but that's just an opinion; No one has admitted this yet.

What is not just an opinion - what cannot be overstated - is this: Challenging core beliefs you've had your whole life, especially when you're told that asking questions and believing anything different has such dire consequences, scares the ever-living hell out of many people.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to challenge dogma and look into these things.  If you weren't born into it, you may not quite understand, but it's true.

The good news is that those closest to me, whether they attempted to read any of the material I found helpful or not, have remained my friends because both of us put the relationship ahead of our differences.

Transition #2: Progressive / Liberal Christianity --> Secular Humanism
I need to start this section with admitting that the Conservatives at my former church were right about one thing: Studying church history, the historical vs. mythical Jesus, and metaphorical views of scripture can lead someone to question their faith.  Yep, I'm living proof.  Looking further into many of the problems with scripture and dealing with them honestly will raise even more questions.

Some self-proclaimed "wise men" (conservative evangelicals)  thew a fit when some more progressive Christians at our former church invited the Jesus Seminar folks to do a weekend seminar that was sponsored by many churches in the area.  I wrote a little about this in a post on my previous blog, Grace to Wisdom: It was easier then, but it's better now.  But it was their reaction to what the Progressives were reading that piqued my interest.  What was all the fuss about?  I had to know.

Once I really started digging into scholarship and thinking through things, questions got deeper, more numerous, and more difficult to reconcile.  I didn't set out to disprove god, but the one I had always believed in, as described in the bible, no longer made sense to me.  Yet another full reading of the bible, cover to cover, even less so.  Columns and rows kept getting added to the Rubix Cube of dogma required to hold it together until my mind went into the Microsoft "blue screen of death".  I couldn't get there anymore.

Back to relationships.  When I finally admitted to myself that I can no longer claim to believe these things, I had to decide if I would ever "come out out of the closet" with my new views (see my Coming Out post).  This is not a trivial decision.  How would people react?  I had to attempt to honestly assess what the impact would be on each relationship that I cared about.  I had to weigh whether the benefits  outweighed the potential costs of coming out.  In another culture, say northern Europe, this would not be a big deal and I'd actually be in the majority.  But in the USA - especially the South - it's a very big deal to many.

Reactions have been varied and different than I anticipated.  I've received an amazing amount of support from some whom I thought would neither comment nor care.  I've received silence from some whom I thought would be upset and engage me.  I've received combative engagement from some whom I thought would support me.  Mostly, people have been silent and distant.

The silence can feel lonely.  When I went to church, I would at least engage people in conversation about shared beliefs, and enjoy their presence in my life.  When you're in the minority, there are few options for honest discussion and community.  Some friends from your previous life may run like you're the devil when they see you coming.

To the would-be "comer-outer"
Some will say they "just want to understand" but refuse to read any of the scholarship that's gone into your thought process.  How will you react in this scenario?  I've found this to be the most infuriating situation of all.  It seems disingenuous to say you want to understand but refuse to take in an information that would facilitate your understanding.  This tells me your mind is made-up and you don't want to be confused by the facts (or you will refute the facts without considering them).  I'm not necessarily trying to de-convert these people; I'm trying to answer their questions about why I'm espousing the notions that I do.  If it's someone you love deeply, how will the relationship move forward?

It's difficult to forecast how people will react, but I think you need to be prepared for any reaction and decide how you'll react to each of the possible outcomes.  This can mean being prepared for some awful worst-case scenarios.  If you were a Christian when you got married, will your spouse still want to be married to a non-believer?  What about your kids?  You took them to church for years and indoctrinated them with your former belief system.  Now you've changed, or at least admitted questions you've had all along; How will they react?  If your spouse still wants to take them to church, how will you deal with that?  What if that church tells them things like "if your parents don't believe XYZ, they'll burn in hell for all eternity."; How will you deal with that?  Will you force a conversation on anyone or just let them discover this about you happenstance somewhere down the road?  What about your job?  Is your boss a "believer"?  Many people have lost their jobs or had their work life become a living hell because the boss prefers to surround themselves will fellow church-goers and those who validate his worldview.

I want to encourage people to come out so that we can have community and a voice, together.  We'll all benefit.  I've got many reasons for coming out but I know not everyone will want to do the same.  It can be dangerous to relationships depending on how it's handled and the nature of the other party; Relationships are a two-way street.  In some communities, there's a real threat of violence against non-believers.  Do so with your eyes wide open.

I've decided that all of my closest relationships are top priority for me and must - to the extent I can control - survive different religious and political beliefs.  I've also decided that I won't live a lie.  So far, all of my closest relationships remain intact, but not without some strane.  There are also many conversations yet to be had.  I'm confident we'll survive the differences.

I'd like to hear from you about your experiences.  I've got a long way to go.

Peace to you my friends,

Allen


28 comments:

  1. Thanks for the thoughts. I wrote down my feedback as I went along.

    "I'd like to say I can grant all of that unconditionally, but I'd be lying;" Yeah, for the most part, I don't think these decisions are made consciously (save extreme cases). Often, the relationships were started and built on common ground, when that commonality disappears, the relationship just grow apart after a while.

    "I would assert that the more conservative, orthodox one's circle of family and friends, the more scrutiny one might encounter to ensure that you believe the right things." This religion has severe in group / out group implications. The more someone takes them seriously, the greater the effect. This is way I mentioned the extreme cases above. "Don't come around me or my family. I don't want the devil's poison in you impacting me or my loved ones."

    "I got some of this when I began to question literal reading of scripture, but not much." That a doubter doesn't get more of this from people in fundamental circles has always baffled me. But, basically, you have millions of people claiming a text which they've never read is perfect. I think the silence is more a reflection of their insecurity stemming from conscious ignorance.

    "I suggested some books to read." Don't hold your breath there. Most are not interested in assessing the validity of their worldview. I've now implemented the policy of only reading a suggested book if there will be a book swap.

    "not so much as to turn them to my way of thinking, but to answer their questions of me" I thought the same thing for a while, but now I'm pretty sure I do want to change their minds. Sometimes I think it may be ingrained in us to bring people to where we are. I'm not saying you're there, I'm just saying don't remove it from the possibilities on the table. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult to determine our motivations.

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  2. "No one has admitted this yet." I've had many say this. Those subjected to this indoctrination simply refuse to trust themselves. The Bible is littered with warnings against thinking on your own. Then a fundamentalist preacher, like Joyce Meyer, will come out with this. "I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me, 'Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being confused.' I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together...I was totally confused about everything, and I didn’t know why. One thing that added to my confusion was too much reasoning."

    "Some will say they 'just want to understand'". Those introductions to conversation with me have always ended with, "Well, I'm going to pray god makes himself real to you."

    I have had a couple conversations with people who were doubters in the closet. They simply smile and go with the flow. It seems people like you and I are not capable of this decision. In the end, I empathize with the faithful; I was there for 30 years. And in my own relationship, I'm learning my spouse has needs corresponding to her faith. I once heard someone say you can know when you've recovered from dogma when you can go to a church and not be angry. I think I'm getting close to that point.

    While I find religion harmful on almost every conceivable front, Christianity has made it through the evolution of religions up to this point. People suck at thinking, and I'm a people. And I'm trying to not take life so seriously. I think this seriousness is another "gift" from a religious upbringing. It gets difficult to be laid back, though, when people around you are impacting you and others with nonsense. Religions are being declawed and defanged by humanitarian thought process, so the negative impacts aren't nearly what they used to be. However, I imagine those changes have been brought about by humanists who take life seriously.... ;)

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  3. Owen,

    I really enjoy and appreciate your perspective. The thing that I struggle with most is that it seems almost impossible to dissect, evaluate, and criticize my former belief system with friends who are still there without offending them. I need a community of friends where we can discuss and recover openly. I wish I had taken this trip 30 years ago, but that didn't happen then and it's time to rebuild now.

    I love my friends and family deeply, but it's possible that this is an area of my life that will need to be dealt with elsewhere in some regards. I won't shrink from discussing my views when absurdities are spouted when it relates to public policy (religion in schools, separation of church and state, etc), but I really don't care what anyone believes until it effects me and public matters. I've told friends "I don't care what you believe, but if you come at me, you had better bring you 'A' game, because I've done my homework."

    Also maddening is this notion that humanists / atheists have some burden of proof. We aren't the ones making any claims, we are rejecting fantastic claims due to lack of evidence or even sound philosophical rationale. The burden of proof is on the one making the fantastic claim. Christopher Hitchens is famously quoted, "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence". Even so, there are mountains of quality scholarship which directly challenge many of the claims made in the bible, not to mention the thousands of inaccuracies, errors, and conflicting accounts; All on deaf ears.

    Thank you for your engagement and your friendship.

    Allen

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    1. "The thing that I struggle with most is that it seems almost impossible to dissect, evaluate, and criticize my former belief system with friends who are still there without offending them."

      Yeah, I think that's just not possible. No matter how soft the communication, the implication, "Everything you base your life on is wrong, imo." isn't going to fly over well. It's the encompassing nature of the topic for the listener, imo.

      I think there's a couple reasons why others don't understand the atheist position. Firstly, they don't get this: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/210/believeb.jpg/. So, the statement "I'm an atheist" gets a response like, "OK, then how do you think this universe started?" They automatically believe your positing an alternative, not to mention saying "I don't know" is unfamiliar territory in the world of fundamentalism.

      So you respond, "How should I know?" And you get, "Ah, then you're just an agnostic." And that's the second reason I think people don't get the atheistic view. It's a matter of semantics, but I think the introduction of the term agnostic did harm to the perception of an atheist. I talk about that a bit in this blog: http://www.dragthebar.com/poker-blogs/2010/10/semantics-regarding-belief-in-god/.

      The popular view seems to be there are three answers to "Do you believe in a god?": Theist(Deist), agnostic, and atheist. This view puts the atheistic answer at an extreme positing "There is no god." I know very few atheists ill-informed enough to make that claim (depending on the definition of god before that question is asked).

      Further, I don't see a middle of the road with belief. You either do or you don't, which is why I have no third circle in that diagram. If I ask you if you believe x is true, and you say "I don't know", you don't believe it.

      (Can only get 4,096 characters in these responses) :)

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    2. What I'd like to learn from you as well as some of your friends is what is moderate/liberal Christianity? I don't understand it at all. When I question to get clarification, I only get fuzzy, nonsensical answers. But, I'm not sure if that's verbalized confusion from them or mental dullness from me.

      Every time I've heard some parameters from moderate/liberal Christians, I think "That's not remotely what Christianity has EVER been. Both the founders and the followers of the last 2,000 years would not admit you to the group while you hold those views. You're going to have to find some other label."

      But, I think one of the largest obstacles for people to hurdle in challenging myths is the hold is has on their interpretations of life's happenings. I once read "every faith provides a framework for interpreting
      experience so as to lend further credence to its doctrine." After a lifetime of interpretation, it's a matter of personal incredulity to see watch these experiences play out through a different lens. An example is in Bob's response (hopefully no offense Bob): "I can confidently say at a very personal level that it is my faith that has kept me from making a small army of horrible decisions that often seemed like no-brainers at the time..."

      I've heard it said by the faithful many times "If it weren't for God in my life, I'd be a terrible person; stealing from and hurting anyone I please." Sweetest people I've met make that confession. I don't believe it for a second, but they can't see it any other way. Both what they've been told about their nature as well as their interpretation about the motivations of their decisions in their life keep them believing it's true. When you believe there's nothing good in you and God can have the credit for anything good you do, your interpretation of why you didn't do x or did do y is going to be warped. Not only are you left with a warped view of humanity, but you have a lifetime of evidence built up by experiencing your faith in action.

      Goodness...I'm rambling again.

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    3. Owen,
      Yep...the notion of belief in god, as described in the bible as keeping someone from being a terrible person: The bible places these seeds of fear in the mind. When you look at the evidence objectively, you find that billions of people have a different experience. Not only people that have never been exposed to the bible, but people who have walked away from faith, realize that they don't wake up every morning wanting to kill someone. They still find meaning in personal relationships and try to behave in ways the nurture good things in themselves, their families, communities, etc. If you believe what scripture says about human nature and depravity, then I suppose you will fear the worst in yourself if you don't believe the right things about the book. If you look at what psychology and surveys of human behavior as correlated with religious beliefs have to say, you find a very different story.

      For me, when I stopped ascribing my behavior as being dependent upon biblical beliefs and afterlife reward, I wanted to be a better person, not suddenly free to do harm; a humanist.

      Regarding your questions of progressive Christianity, you might be interested in reading Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, and authors of their ilk. They see Christianity as a "way of being" because of their cultural heritage and not about theism, atonement, etc. (Marcus is a self-proclaimed panentheist, not a theist). Marcus it not interested so much as claiming biblical truth as historical fact and accuracy, but as a collection of largely mythical stories that tell a narrative metaphorically; He's interested in "what the stories mean" and what can be gleaned from them, not whether the events actually happened or not. Brian sees the bible as a collection of stories that tell a narrative, written by man, not god-spoken law.

      Good ramblings Owen.

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    4. Thanks for the thoughts and the recommendations. I'll check some out.

      However, just reading over your brief synopsis, 500 years ago these authors get burned at the stake, 2000 years ago the apostle Paul declares them anathema and calls them Satan's servants masquerading as servants of righteousness.

      To me, this is removing oxygen from H20 and calling Hydrogen "progressive water".

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  4. Allen, these are wonderful musings to read, they form such intimate rational thoughts that I feel like I'm walking alongside you on this journey. Thanks for sharing. Myself, I've changed substantially from a conservative Christian view to a far more laid-back view of Christianity as my 'walk' has matured over the past decade+. As I've delved into different views of Christianity et al, my personal observation (to myself - I don't feel like it's my job to convince anyone of X, Y or Z, but it sure is my job to live my life according to the mores that I claim to believe) is that I can convince myself over time that anything is relatively ok from a world-centered point of view, but when I consider the impact of those decisions on those in my life, I keep coming back to the deep wisdom of Scripture and a simple faith that a loving Creator has blessed us with this priceless treasure. When I stretch and allow myself to philosophically consider that this Creator may not exist - which I have done on more than one occasion, the discussion doesn't scare me - there are a lot of things that don't make sense to me until I allow my faith to reenter the picture. I think you're aware that a core segment of my training has been focused on group psychology and emotional development, so I've enjoyed these forays into spaces that remind me of some of the landscapes from Breaking Bad :-). But at the end of the day, I can confidently say at a very personal level that it is my faith that has kept me from making a small army of horrible decisions that often seemed like no-brainers at the time, but in retrospect would have been tragic to my version of the inner circle of people you discuss above.

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    1. Bob, thank you for chiming-in. You and I have had many great conversations over the years and I'm very glad that you've opened yourself up to more possibilities. I also appreciate that you can engage in civil conversation while holding different views, even passionately. You are a passionate, intelligent dude, and I enjoy speaking with you.

      You and I have different experiences regarding scripture and faith. I too still see some beauty in it, but for me it's becoming no different than any other work of literature, art, or philosophy. But I cannot ascribe to it as a divine gift any more than anything else written by man. I still enjoy some of it's beauty while patently rejecting much of what is asserts to be attributed to god. I no longer see it as a divine gift, but as a human work that's very interesting from an anthropological perspective...not much more. I see much of it as far from "deep wisdom"; I see it as absolutely heinous, immoral, and a very poor model upon which to build one's life...Unless, of course, you choose to be selective on which elements "got it right", like everyone except the most fundamental of believers does, whether they admit it or not.

      I'm genuinely glad that your faith and walk with scripture as your guide has led you to a fulfilled life and aided in quality decision-making; It has had the opposite impact on my life. My "faith", religious experience, and reliance upon scripture has led me to many poor life decisions and has been a constant source of angst and confusion.

      I do not consider myself to be an anti-theist in the regard that I'm out to disprove the existence of a god, creator, or all things spiritual. But I can no longer reconcile all of the problems with scripture with sound scholarship and philosophy that I find far more compelling and in line with my experience and construct. If someone put a gun to my head at this very moment and said "Tell me that you believe in god and what it's attributes are or I'll blow your brains out!", I would have to respond "IF there is a god, it is all that is good that connects everything that is; that is all."; a very pantheistic or panentheistic (cannot decide quite which) view.

      Would love to discuss these matters with you more in the future, my friend. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts here.

      Alen

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  5. I agree with you, which is why it became merely an intermediate step before throwing my hands up. I tried to reconcile things there for a while, but ultimately to no avail. I still see its usefulness for some, but that is a whole new topic. Those authors will likely only help you understand the movement better but are unlikely to change where you are right now.

    Allen

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  6. Great post. This is something that all of us have had to deal with. My brother accepts it and is probably going down the same road that I did. My parents both avid Catholics, not so much. I have chosen to keep it out of my public life---work and friends. If a friend asks, I am always honest. If they are truly a friend, they will realize I am the same old me, if not then there is not much I can do...

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  7. Thank you for your comments. Sometimes I wish I could keep my mouth shut on such matters, but I suppose I'm somewhat an activist at heart (or evangelist?). It's the only way progress is made. But we all have different roles to play. I try my best to keep it out of the workplace though. The subject comes up occasionally with those closest to me at work, but in the context of friendship, after hours, on the road, etc.

    One of my favorite quotes: "Always be yourself, because the people that matter don't mind, and the people that mind don't matter - Dr. Seuss". Perhaps a bit naive, because bigots can cause us all harm, but I just refuse to live in fear.

    Peace!

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  8. Your quote from Dr. Seuss is a good one. The only problem I have is that some of us need to live in that fear out of practicality. My livelihood depends on people in my community coming to me and trusting me to help them. I know that if they knew of my secular humanist views, my business would suffer greatly. That is not something that I can put my family through.

    It is really sad that atheism is something that has such a negative connotation attached to it in society. I try to be the activist through a blog I just started. I realize that I will never have many readers, but hopefully, with just a few at a time, we can create a society where all views are accepted.

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    1. Totally understand and agree. We all do what we can, given where we are (which can and does change over time).

      Sharing perspectives on deeply personal topics always involves risk. Like investing and other big decisions, there's a big difference between measured risk and recklessness. For example, I would never march into Indonesia and announce any position contrary to theism...that would be suicide, something that does not interest me.

      We're probably generations away from the world being a reasonably safe place for people of all beliefs and non-beliefs, perhaps we'll never get there and believers will destroy us all first, becoming a self-fulfilling apocalyptic prophesy. I hope not, but hope is not a strategy and I intend to do what I can, within reason, so to speak ;-)

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  9. Ah, I totally get this. It is a shift, and it's been surprising who has reacted well and who has reacted poorly. I too came out last summer. I've dealt with the well-meaning friends who want to save me or win me back. I've several friends who are still my friends and love me just as I am.

    But it is lonely in some ways. It is different. I classify myself as an agnostic Buddhist. I like the philosophy and the meditation, but can't ascribe to the Hindu rooted theology that goes with some sects. Anyway, too much about me. I really appreciate what you've written. I'm going to link you on my blog. Feel free to drop by. Best to you in your journey :)

    http://winlb.wordpress.com/

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  10. Thank you Anthony. I appreciate your comments. I've read some of your blog posts and appreciate your thoughts there as well. I look forward to reading more as your story unfolds.

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  11. It's interesting that you should entitle this article "Changing Faith and Our Relationships". Being a Christian is about being in a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. I could never say God didn't exist after having been in a relationship with him so long. It would be like saying that, one day, I decided that my mother didn't exist so I no longer have anything to do with her.

    I also find it interesting that it was through study that you decided Jesus wasn't real. I have had the opposite experience. It has been through study that I have become more and more convinced of the truth, the rationality and the integrity of the Bible/Christianity. It makes me wonder just what books you were reading. You can read what the Jesus Seminar people say and what Bart Ehrman believes and atheists like Dawkins, Harris, etc. But it's also important to read the people who have refuted their arguments.

    For example, Geisler and Roach lay waste to Ehrman's beliefs in Defending Inerrancy, as do Craig Blomberg's work on the historical Jesus and F.F. Bruce's volume on the reliability of the Scriptures. John Dickson (The Christ Files) takes a look at the historical process that determines how historians can come to valid decisions about the past. And there have been so many books written about the shallow, faulty and invalid approach to scholarship that the Jesus Seminar people employed.

    Then there's Hitchens’ statement about no evidence for God. Of course, there's evidence -- cosmological, teleological, axiological, historical, experiential, etc. But most atheists don't even bother to study them.

    Ex-atheist, J. Warner Wallace, a cold case homicide detective, decided to apply the same investigative methodologies he used on the job to the arguments for the existence of God. He found that they would stand up in a court of law and that changed his life. You can read his story at pleaseconvinceme.com

    God created us to be in a relationship with him and with each other. That was his SOLE purpose in giving us life so it doesn't surprise me to hear you talk about the importance of relationship, the feeling of loneliness you have now that you have left a church community.

    But what kind of community was it? You say that belief in the Bible is about making you a good person, putting fear in your heart. I think that misses the point. I know there are legalistic churches that are all about following rules, but here's the thing: Our relationship with God has been broken by sin. God wants to re-establish that relationship with us through Jesus. That's what the Bible is all about. That's what the good churches are all about. I love the Lord and want to please him the way I want to please the people in my life, out of love, not fear. So I repeat: It's ALL about relationship.

    I know people who have walked away from God because they are angry at him because of a terrible tragedy of some kind. But God doesn't promise to make our lives pain-free, only to help us through the challenges successfully. I understand the great disappointment that some people have in God. I was disabled in a car accident and had to work through that with him myself.

    Did you try looking for another church family, one where you could connect with God and get answers? Your craving for relationship comes from him and he's the one who can fill that gap. The best relationships in the world with people (and I have been blessed with some good ones) will never compare with the one I have with the Lord. I encourage you not to give up on him.

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  12. MaryLou,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Regarding your comments on Ehrman, Dawkins, Harris et al, have you read them or "read about them"? Frankly, you are deeply wrong about atheists having never read scripture or the arguments for their veracity. Indeed, this is how many people come to become atheists and/or agnostic. Most are far better-read in scripture than most believers. I've read volumes of apologetics, including Dr. William Lane Craig's "Reasonable Faith", a seminary level apologetic, considered the gold standard by many evangelicals and a favorite on the debate tour. There are sound points against the arguments he cites. Other points are very interesting and thought provoking, but are probably not knowable (such as the original "uncaused cause" of the universe). My take as they relate to scripture, is that the notion of God as advanced by all of the ancient texts (the many versions of the bible and the koran) run counter to the very arguments that WLC and others assert.

    I think you confuse my problems with scripture - as detailed by Ehrman and others - with "walking away from God". I remain agnostic but open to concepts of God that make sense, but thusfar in my journey, the ancient "revelations" of a God that is worthy of all we assign it, fail. Scripture paints terrible notions of the nature of God and man has acted in kind. It seems more a reflection of all the worst that man is capable of than a reflection divinity. Back to the inerrancy of scripture: 1) Which bible (of the hundreds) is inerrant? 2)If a scholar has made a good case refuting historical critical scholarship and Ehrman's case, I'll be glad to entertain it. I am not interested in ACCEPTING OR REJECTING anything dogmatically; that's what rational thought is for...to make-up our own minds through our life experience and study.

    It's also interesting that you questioned "what church I was attending" as if it were a matter of not belonging to the right group of believers. I've attended and served many churches throughout my life and have found amazing, loving, caring, genuine people in all of them, from the most conservative to more moderate. I've also encountered the opposite, in all of them; Just like in the population in general. But it is this notion of being in the "right" group that I find so deplorable and divisive. But, scripture says exactly that - there are the chosen and "the rest" and scripture indicates that "the rest" are the be thrown into the fiery abyss, wiped out by God himself; An absurd notion to me. But that's just how I'm built I suppose. So if you want to make a case for predestination (and there's mounting genetic research which indicates that we all have far less free will than we would hope), I suppose I'm not one of the chose who's been blessed with the gift believing absurdities such as this.

    If there is a God who is all that we hope for him to be (and I'm honestly open to such a revelation), then he is noticeably absent, or at least wrongly understood, in every bible I've ever read.

    I will continue to read both sides of the argument because I find the topic fascinating. But for now, let me simply state this: I do not care what beliefs anyone has about anything whatsoever. I am only concerned about who is here to help care for this world out of love and compassion, here and now. Many believers think that we experience divine love and compassion through others; without others, there are not hands to touch us; that we are his hands and feet, etc. Whatever you believe drives you to act out of love, fine. The rest remains a mystery that is interesting for some of us to contemplate, but if it drives us apart or to atrocities (as detailed in scripture), it is a worthless and dangerous endeavor.

    Peace.

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  13. Wow! I have been wondering why I have not seen you Friday mornings at Dukes; I guess now I have my answer :0). I must say I was surprised to learn of your change of beliefs but I certainly don’t judge your decisions or think any less of you. I always enjoyed your take and understanding of Biblical matters, and as anyone that knows you can quickly tell, your very intellectual, analytical and are not afraid to ask the hard questions. I applaud your intellectual seeking as we should never base our beliefs simply on what others say or how we were raised. In fact, this is a concern for me now as I have a 13 year old son going through Confirmation and am really struggling with how to ensure he makes an informed decision for himself (as much as one can make at 13 years old!) and not simply based on the fact that he has grown up in a Christian home with his mom as his youth director.

    Frankly, there has been many times throughout my life that I have questioned my beliefs and my faith - I'm sure there will be more. Like you, somewhat an academic by nature, I tend to not take things at face value. During my times of doubt, I have taken to deep study in Christian apologetics (Norman Geisler, Frank Turek, Tim Keller, Alex McFarland, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, C.S. Lewis, etc..,), science (Stephen Hawkins, etc...) and other religions teaching. I feel that in everyone there is a deep rooted knowledge that there is something more to our world and our life than what we see and know that pulls at us; many times resulting in us feeling inadequate in our ability to find answers. For me, the facts (historical, scientific and moral) as well as frankly my "heart" has always retuned me to wanting to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The empirical, forensic, and philosophical evidence, as I see it, strongly supports conclusions consistent with creation, a theistic God, and the events described in the New Testament. This is simply my belief; not saying I'm right or have all the answers; just where my research, mind and my heart takes me.

    You may notice that I did not say that I believe my research and heart points to "Christianity" as the truth, but the collection of writings combined together by the early church known as the New Testament. As I'm sure you know "Christian" was a term given to "The Way" as a negative label from those on the outside looking in. Jesus nor the early church leaders ever called themselves this. Today the term "Christian" carries with it a lot of baggage and negative connotations and looks very little like what is described in the New Testament. This is an important distinction for me as I describe my faith view. I do not feel we should judge the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus based on the actions and stated beliefs of people who call themselves Christians.

    I feel that one of the biggest downfalls of "Christianity" is held with those of us that call ourselves Christians. Many simply go through the motions - to simply fit in, because "its always been this way", it just feels right, its the least point of resistance, etc... - but not really intellectually studying and making an informed decision based on empirical, scientific, philosophical and historical evidence. In fact, I don't believe this is truly faith at all! Jesus even said "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!" (Revelation 3:15). In other words, its better to not believe than to be lukewarm. I believe C.S. Lewis says it best: "You must make your choice. Either this man (Jesus) was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

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    You are right, it does take a tremendous amount of courage to challenge dogma and look into these issues for yourself but its even more insane to put your head in the sand about issues that affect your life. No matter what you believe you should always be able to back it up and be able to articulate it to others. Something as important as your faith - a filter where all your other decision and world views flow - demands it. One of my favorite books to date on this topic is called "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. I would highly encourage reading it if you have not already.

    I hesitate when brining this consideration up because it can quickly be misconstrued but I feel compelled to include it. Note that I strongly believe that you should never base your faith decisions on fear-uncertainty-doubt (or FUD) or in an attempt to "hedge your bets". This doesn't work anyway in my mind as I don't believe you can have a "fake" relationship with Jesus; or a true relationship simply based on dogma. However, I do believe its a very important point to consider in highlighting the gravity of our decisions. If I choose to believe in Christianity and follow the teachings of Jesus - become a true disciple - and I'm wrong what have I lost? Time lost at meaningless church services, in fellowship with believers? Or participating in mission activities helping the poor and less fortunate? I know I could have used the time for something else. Maybe a waste of time, but in most cases still rewarding -- and frankly, what does it matter...I'm dead, I will never even know I was wrong! However, if I'm a non-believer and I am wrong - as I read and understand scripture - I lose everything for eternity. I didn't make the rule, not even sure I like it (even understanding freewill, justice, etc....) but it is what it is. Truth doesn’t change based on belief or how we feel about it, it just is. Simply put, there is a lot at stake in our decisions.

    Allen, I will continue pray for you and your family - as well as me and my family - that through our brief journey here on earth we may truly find the Truth and it will set us free.

    Take care, lets not lose touch, keep searching!
    Chris

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  15. Hello Chris!

    Thank you so much for taking time in crafting a thoughtful response.

    Firstly, much of what you've expressed here relates to how your faith effects your life in outreach, fellowship, etc. I fully appreciate this. I don't consider these activities a "waste of time" no matter what set of beliefs get you there. For me, that's pure humanism. As I've stated in several places throughout this blog, I don't care what beliefs lead a person to a place of compassion and service. If you're helping someone, you're never wasting your time.

    Very few - if any - people believe exactly the same thing. Therefore, I just don't want to divide along beliefs, I'm only interested in behavior...that which benefits us vs. divides and harms us. All of the arguing over theology and doctrine is fruitless. Doctrine is 100% man-made, as are all of the interpretations of ancient scripture. A deep dive into canonization will lead you to understand the history of scripture and you'll see man's hands all over it. There is no such thing as THE Bible, only 100's of versions and they can't all be right (and new ones being written all the time). We don't have the original letters and books are outright frauds. Constantine and others decided what Orthodox beliefs would be and they've knitted together stories which supported their view.

    As I've stated before, I no long find the notions of God they've constructed compelling in the least, just ancient mythology bent like crazy to conform to a primitive worldview.

    Your notion of being a disciple of Jesus is a beautiful one, but in my opinion, requires a selective reading of scripture to construct. But if one is going to take our Christian heritage and construct a helpful, humanist life out of it, one MUST be selective and ignore the heinous picture of God described elsewhere. (cont.)

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  16. Pascal's Wager carries no weight with me as an omniscient God could see right through it. I'm not worried in the least about an angry, judgmental God who would cast anyone into a fiery lake based upon their beliefs about him; that God is neither great nor worthy of worship. If there is a theistic God, he is almost certainly a Universalist. If Jesus is the messiah, they did he really need to die as a sacrifice to such a God? Is it even plausible that the amount of suffering he endured, compared to all of the suffering of children at this very moment in Africa, the thousands of child rape victims at the hands of the church, etc. etc. would be an effective atonement for all of the sins of all of humanity?

    So...God created the Earth. He impregnated a virgin with himself, so that he would die as a sacrifice to himself for the sin of man that he created with Original Sin. It just makes no sense to me anymore.

    I get lots of requests to read "just one more set of apologetics", just read this or that book. I've read and read and read, while I was a believer, almost every book ever recommended to me. The more I read, the more the story fell apart, the more tangled the rationale got to try to make it all hold together. No one who has suggested these readings has agreed to read the other side of the argument...they continue to cling to only the readings which validate their presumptions. I've even been told "knowledge is a dangerous thing", which immediately sends me over the edge. Rather, the facts set us free and help us understand the errant ways of our ancestors.

    There may very well be a God, but all of the man-made religions of the world wrong, at least in part, in many areas. The God of the Bible doesn't even stand-up to the arguments offered by Christianity's leading apologists.

    So what I'm left with in my limited time here on Earth is to do the best I can to help and not harm. The rest is unknowable while we're here, although I'll still continue my search. I hope there is a spiritual reality and I'm completely open to it. But as to such a spirit being revealed through "inerrant" scripture, the case against it is just too strong.

    Blessings to you and your beautiful family, my friend.

    Allen

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  17. Thanks for your quick and thoughtful reply as well. I truly do appreciate this open dialogue and hope not to be a pest. But like you, sometimes I just can’t keep quiet :). So, I have a few comments regarding your reply that I hope you would consider:

    Pure Humanism
    Knowing you from the past and reading your blogs, I know you are a very caring, passionate and driven person. I believe you would now label much of this as "humanism". The American Humanism Association defines humanism as "a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms the ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity". To me the question we both have to answer is: by what standard or moral law do we derive our understanding of "ethical lives" or "greater good of humanity"? This statement seems to imply some moral law or code that is telling us certain activities (i.e., help the poor, love children) are good and just. We all get that love is better than hate and courage is better than cowardice; murder is wrong. Without some moral law or code how can we know what is right or wrong? When you call God unjust, what standard are you basing your judgment on?

    Bible is a Fraud?
    I do recognize that the original 27 letters and manuscripts that make up the New Testament have yet to be found. However, we do have copies within 15-30 years of the actual events. To date we have found over 5,700 handwritten Greek manuscripts and over 9,000 copies in other languages. The fact that we have not found the originals does not surprise me since the early Christians were under extreme attack by the Roman empire with strict laws to destroy any Christian documents found. All of this climaxed in 70 AD with the "Siege of Jerusalem" where Roman besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, killing over 1 million Jews and destroying the Temple ( btw - Jesus predicted this). The fact that so many copies were found in many diverse locations dating back as early as A.D. 50 is remarkable; far exceeding any other historical or classical literature during this time that we consider fact.

    The idea that the events were fabricated to support the Orthodox world view does not resonate with me. If the church were knitting a story together to support their world view why would it not address the hottest topic at this time which was should the Gentile's be circumcised? Why would they make up the cross, which would make readers assume Jesus was a criminal; put in the fact that Jesus cried out that God abandoned him which would strongly offended possible converts; use women as the first witnesses of the resurrection when a women's testimony was not even admissible as evidence in court; paint the apostles as petty, jealous, slow and even denying Jesus as he was been condemned? This simply doesn’t add up logically. Skeptics can dismiss the teachings in the New Testament but historical and forensic evidence as well as logic simply overpowers the thought that they are frauds or modified by Constantine and the early church.

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    Was Jesus' Suffering Enough?
    Your question "Is it even plausible that the amount of suffering he endured, compared to all of the suffering of children at this very moment in Africa, the thousands of child rape victims at the hands of the church, etc. etc. would be an effective atonement for all of the sins of all of humanity" is a fair one. To me this answer lies in our true understanding of God. A very simplistic example, one most everyone understands and accepts, is the concept of justice. If you were to lie to a friend, what are the consequences? An augment, loss of trust, etc... Now what if you lie to your wife? Not good, but still your consequences are limited. What about lying to a police officer or under oath to a judge? Now the punishment moves to jail time and significant fines. Now what happens if you lie to the President or Congress; this can get you life in prison or even death. See it’s the level of authority in which an act is performed that determines the fair and appropriate consequences or value. Now consider a holy and infinite God the creator of all things - using our own logic -: what would be a fair punishment? In the same vein what value is that holy and infinite God, creator of all things, choosing to come on this earth and die on the cross? What is his voluntary sacrifice worth?

    On another note, I tend to agree with many theologians that believe that Jesus' most intense suffering was not the result of the unbearable pain that would come from his crucifixion but the fact that this infinite being - truly human while being truly God - was cut off from his father whom he had been with for eternity. This is pain and suffering we cannot even contemplate or begin to understand. This is hell - a true separation from God. What is this worth?... Frankly, I'm not worthy to even estimate.

    Human Suffering
    C.S. Lewis captures my point here very well. As you know he originally rejected the idea of God because of the cruelty of life. However he came to realize that evil was even more problematic for his new atheism. In the end, he realized that suffering provided a better argument for God's existence than one against it. I quote: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? ... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies...Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple".

    Knowledge and a Book
    For me knowledge is not a dangerous thing at all, but a God given desire. If my faith is true, and I believe it is, then it will withstand and even become more self-evident as true knowledge is learned. If not, then I would need to further question my own beliefs. Of course half-truth's and half-baked ideas are many times dressed up and presented as "enlightened" truths so we have to be very discerning in what we accept as true knowledge. We need to ensure we are placing the same level of scrutiny and burden-of-proof on the knowledge we take in on both sides of the issue. Having said this, I will be happy to read a book that you would recommend that presents your side of the argument. Please let me know what you would recommend.

    Sorry for my long "camp letter" :0). The scary thing is I could keep going and going as each of these topics takes entire books to fully unpack. I really appreciate your openness and thoughts.
    Blessings my friend!
    BTW - My 22 year old daughter, Cecily, is getting married this summer; I'm starting to really feel old... ;)

    Chris

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  19. Chris,
    A few point by point responses then some book recommendations:
    Pure Humanism
    I no longer see how positing a God makes the case for moral code. The evolution of man includes social evolution and coming to an understanding of "what works" in human relationships and cooperation. You may suggest, based on faith, that God has imprinted his moral code on us, whether we believe or not. I would suggest otherwise, but won't belabor it here.

    Fraud
    I think you mistook my assertion about fraud in the Bible. The whole thing isn't a fraud, but there is strong evidence that some books were not written by the author indicated in many editions.

    Understanding of God
    There is a good body of work out there about Spiritual Types...the degree to which people of different constructs believe, if there is a God, if it is knowable or revealed. Many believe that God is beyond all human understanding, others believe he is fully revealed in the life of Jesus, and people exists on all points in between.

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  20. Just of few of books for your consideration (I have many I would recommend, but I'll limit this to a few).

    EVERYONE should read Bart Ehrman's book: Jesus Interrupted. IMO, it's the easiest read of his works. You may come away from it with all of your thoughts / beliefs still fully intact, but I think his scholarship is very solid as he applies the Historical Critical method to the Bible - which is taught in just about every credible Christian seminary today (and has been for a very long time).

    Secondly, read Godless, by Dan Barker. This book resonated deeply with me. Dan is a former Evangelical preacher.

    Thirdly, read Losing my Religion, by William Lobdell

    Fourthly, read God is not Great, by Christopher Hitchens. An absolute masterpiece. The title is off-putting and he doesn't deal gently with religion, but his writing is world-class and you'll find very good arguments against the work of apologists that you currently align with.

    My recommendations are by no means an attempt to "deconvert" you from Christianity, but to offer credible counterpoints to the arguments you proffer. For me, it's essential to hear both sides of a case before rendering a verdict...facts are good. If you only have an appetite for one, start with the Ehrman book.

    Cheers my friend,

    Allen

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    1. Thanks Allen, I appreciate it. Hope you had a great vacation! I just added Ehrman’s book to my Kindle list. I totally get that you are not trying to “deconvert” me and appreciate the concern. As we have both stated, if something is true then it will ultimately stand up to criticism and opposing arguments. I suspect we will have to agree to disagree on this topic but this is ok and has no bearing on our friendship. Anyway, I do feel I owe you a least one read as you have been so gracefully in putting up with my arguments over the last few weeks.

      Take care – Let us both keep learning and searching for the Truth!
      Chris

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  21. There's one more I think you will really like: Jesus Wars: how four patriarchs, three queens, and two emperors decided what Christians would believe for the next 1,500 years. Pure history of the canon...good stuff. Authored by Philip Jenkins.

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