Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Minimum Faith Required

Yet again, I found myself listening to Dr. Moore on Albert Mohler’s radio program. The discussion was on Charismatic Healings such as the recent influx of stories regarding Todd Bentley. One of the concerns with this situation was the claim, “You will be healed if you have enough faith.” It was mentioned how detrimental this could be, since the lack of healing would always be blamed on the victim…er…”healee” who could eventually question their spiritual health by feeling they did not have enough faith.

As a Conservative Protestant, the circles I traveled in did not believe in these healings. As a Christian, I thought Benny Hinn was a fake. The same people would find Bentley a fake. It wasn’t that the person did not have enough faith—it was that God wasn’t doing any of this flim-flammery. It was solely a human response to a human interaction.

We didn’t question the person’s faith—we questioned whether the god portrayed (healing by kicking people in the face) actually existed.

As I listened it struck me that the very people who recognized it was not the person’s lack of faith, but rather the lack of such a god existing, are often the same people who tell me it was my lack of faith which prevented me from finding their particular god.

Isn’t it much the same thing? If you believe a person can have the strongest of beliefs that there exists a god who heals with a “Pow!--couldn’t a person equally have the strongest of beliefs that other god(s) exist?

We realized the failure to heal was not based upon the person’s strength of beliefs; it came from no god showing up. Even as a theist, we saw that. In the same way—my loss of belief did not come from not having a similar strength of belief. It came from no god showing up.

Monday, July 21, 2008

“Being Atheist” is Not Who I Am

“Who are you?” The answer to that question can differ depending on your location, time, place and person. At a wedding, we answer that question in relation to the happy couple. “I am the groom’s friend.” “I am the bride’s cousin.” Or at our children’s events—in relation to our child. “I am Bob’s father.”

When taking a personality test, we respond with a set of letters like “ESTJ” that is supposed to provide meaning and insight regarding “Who am I?” Upon interacting with people, we constantly take mental inventory, checking off items, to better determine who the person is.

“Prefers vanilla over chocolate. Check.”
“Doesn’t like dogs. Check.”
“Doesn’t know the words to the song, but will sing loud and proud what they think the lyrics are. Check.”

For over 32 years, who I was consisted of being a Christian. It was a part of every molecule within my body. That meant I relied upon a God to direct my life. New Job? New Wife? New House? A God, somewhere in the cosmos, was intimately concerned and involved with each of those situations in my life.

I derived my morals from what I thought a God was saying—specifically the Protestant Bible. I searched out friends who held similar Christian beliefs, with similar morals, similar Christian goals, and similar Christian emotions. When moving to a new city, we immediately sought out a new church—why? To find others who answered, “Who am I?” in a comparative fashion. And the base foundation of kindred spirit would have to be that they are a Christian. Because this was core to who I was.

When I deconverted (it was four years ago I was in the process. Wow.), it is unremarkable I continued to desire the same relations with the same persons. Despite what you may read in the Christian papers—we don’t deconvert to begin a new life of crime, sin and immorality. We have much the same morals. The same concerns. The same guilt of breaching our moral code. It is no surprise, then, we would want to continue to associate with those who retained the same similarities.

Looking back, I shouldn’t be shocked that Christians wanted no part of this “new” association with me. I (as a Christian) wouldn’t have wanted an association with some new atheist. Atheists were immoral, grumpy, unlearned, anti-god, anti-good, anti-everything-I-wanted-to-be. In answer to the question “Who are you?” they were so far on the opposite end of the spectrum, we could hardly find common ground.

Each year, I go to my wife’s employment work party. There, people answer the question “Who are you?” in one of two fashions. Either you answer by what department you are in (“I am a nurse.”) OR you answer by your relation to the employee followed by what department they are in (“I am the husband of Diane, who is a nurse.”) So we sit at a large table with employees from various departments, and their relations. Nurse with nurse’s spouse. Occupational therapists with occupational therapist’s boyfriend. Secretary alone. And so on.

We have all been to such occasions. What do we do? Although there is only the slimmest commonality, we talk and laugh and joke and get along as best we can. Do we plan a get-together the following Saturday with the same people? Of course not! We return to the friends who are far more like us.

It is much the same level of interaction between Christians and atheists. We could get together for a time, share a few laughs; but in the end we would return back to our own kind. I watched my friends start to pull away from me. The Checklist of similarities just dropped “Christian”—such a huge part of their lives, they were no longer interested in associating with me.

I tried to continue with church, to keep the same friendships. It didn’t work. And not only because of Christians—I was no longer interested in the same subjects. I could only take “Yippee Jesus!” so long. The people wanted to revel in an inspired Bible, and I wanted to discuss why they thought it was inspired, why they thought Paul even wrote 2 Timothy, and their understanding of the compound Greek word which was translated “inspiration.”

So I did the natural thing we all do—looked for friendships amongst atheists. But I found I did not really fit in there, either. I was informed (sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much) how I had to be outraged at the label of “Christmas Tree” for the pine in front of our State Capitol. How a cement block with the 10 Commandments will over turn society as I know it. How “under God” within the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag is oppressive.

I understand these things are important to people…but not to me. My atheism is not dogmatically caught up in separation of Church and State. My atheism consists of being persuaded by the evidence there is no god.

To me, it is as remarkable as the fact I am equally not convinced in Big Foot, Yeti’s, or the Loch Ness Monster. When asked, “Who are you?” we rarely start proclaiming all the things we don’t believe.

“I am a person who thinks UFO’s are bunk.”
“I do not think 9/11 was a U.S. Governmental conspiracy.”

We tend to think of who we are in terms of what we believe—not what we don’t. I believe in living life to the fullest. I believe in enjoying moments, even tough moments, and appreciating them for what they are. I believe there is no such thing as learning too much. And that every person has something to teach.

Part of who I am is a person who loves to discuss Christianity on-line. I enjoy the interaction—the nuance, the new thoughts. I don’t bother in real life because it is too painful a reminder to those I would discuss. Here, on the internet, I think of myself in terms of a label of “atheist.” Because I am so rarely placed in situations where such a label is useful, I don’t as much when not on-line.

As a Christian, my theistic belief defined every element within my life. It defined how I lived, who I lived with, and who I wanted to spend time living with. My lack of theistic belief, I am finding, is less defining in those regards. My lack of theistic belief does not define my morals. It does not define my relationships with others. It doesn’t define who I am.

It says something about me—sure. But it doesn’t demand direction from me. I find it as noteworthy as my preference for carrot cake. I love carrot cake (no nuts; no raisins.) Yet my love for carrot cake does not force me to choose certain people to spend time with; it does not demand I act in certain ways. It means, given the chance, I prefer carrot cake. That’s all.

I don’t mind the label “atheist”—but that is all it is. Exterior. Limited in its use. And something that removed would not change the essence that is me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Useless Conversations

We’ve all had ‘em. We recognize fairly quickly the other person has no interest in actually communicating with us, as much as talking at us. The other day I was conversing (in the loosest sense of the word) with a person who was upset about something that had nothing to do with the conversation.

Me: I understand you are upset—
Person: I am NOT upset! I just DON’T understand why they would DO that! And without consulting me! No one does that! THEN I come to find out about THIS!

Me: Well, we talked about it, remem---?
Person: No, YOU didn’t talk about it—not with ME. We NEVER talked about it! This is something I NEEDED to know about, and you NEVER said anything…

Me: Mmm.

I retreated to the non-committal grunt, because the other person was not having this conversation to obtain information from me, or discuss the issue with me—they wanted to rant at me. And there is no gain trying to have a rationale conversation when a person is in such a mood.

I happened upon another such conversation. Let me set the scene…

Thursday, Dr. Russell Moore was guest hosting on Dr. Mohler’s radio program. The topic was Michael Dowd’s book Thank God for Evolution. From what I could gather, an attempt to marry the theory of Evolution with the theology of Christianity. Of course, Dr. Moore was having none of that!

And at one point Dr. Moore opined Rev. Dowd’s book was actually leading people away from Christianity. This prompted “Ash,” a deconvert from Florida, to call in. Ash admitted he had not heard the entire program, but had heard the comment regarding evolution leading people away from Christianity. Ash stated among all the deconverts he knew, evolution was very rarely the reason for a person to deconvert.

[As a note, I would have to agree with Ash. While the study of science and realization of the mischaracterization of evolution by Christianity has certainly lead to some deconverts, it would be a very distinct minority.]

Now this could have lead to an interesting discussion. Dr. Moore could have asked a number of questions:

“What IS the primary cause of a person to deconvert?”
“Why ISN’T evolution a primary cause?”
“Do you think, as an atheist, evolution can be married to Christianity?”

And so on. Instead, Dr. Moore engaged in the following conversation:

Dr. Moore: Why did you embrace atheism?

Ash: [after discussing how everyone is an atheist toward some God, Zeus, Allah, etc.]….For me it was the lack of evidence.

Dr. Moore: I think it was more than that, Ash; and I going to pray you’ll come to know the god that reveals his glory through Jesus Christ. But I think your issue is the same as mine was and the same Michael Dowd’s is, and the same as the Apostle Paul said his was before that Damascus road. I think you know there’s a god, I think you know there is certain fiery expectation of judgment. I just think exactly as the Apostle John says, “The light comes into the world and the men hate the light and they love the darkness” and why? Because their deeds are evil and they want to cover it over…

The issue isn’t evidence. The issue instead is exactly what Paul is talking about in Romans chapter one, “Although they knew God as God they would not honor him or give thanks.” That’s the issue. So what do they do? They turn to the Creation instead of the Creator…

Need I point out how condescending and rude this remark is? I think not! When Dr. Moore asked the question, “Why did you embrace atheism?”—he was not interested in Ash’s answer. He wanted to engage in useless pontification as to all the reasons Dr. Moore was quite certain atheists are atheists. (And apparently the reason for evolution, too—so we can sin!)

Think about the statement, “The issue isn’t evidence.” It isn’t? All those apologists like Dr. Craig, and J.P. Moreland and Lee Strobel and Dr. Plantinga must be quite surprised their books and articles and websites and debates are all for naught. The next time Dr. Habermas is debating another philosophy professor regarding the resurrection of Christ, according to Dr. Moore, he need not bother with such silly notions as evidence, or the New Testament writings, or the actions of the people of the time. Oh, my no! All Dr. Habermas need say is, “The reason you {insert Professor’s name here} don’t believe is that you want to Sin, Sin, Sin! I do not need to show an ounce of evidence—you need to stop sinning!”

Dr. Metzger, Dr. Wallace, Dr. Ehrman. Textual Criticism? Waste of time. The reason we know Dr. Ehrman is wrong, is because he wants to sin. Drs. Wallace and Metzger do (did) not. Don’t you see?

Why is it when Christians want to talk about the reasons they believe, they love to drag out the “evidence” of the alleged eyewitness testimonies, the archeological facts which refer to events in the Bible, or non-Christian writings regarding Christians in the first Century? Yet when we want to inspect such evidence, we are told we aren’t rejecting it because of our study—oh, no! We are rejecting it because of our secret desire to keep our pimp hand strong.

The reality is that humans are complicated creatures. We don’t all march to one tune. There is no “one thing” that persuades all humans. Some Christians believe because of evidence; some non-Christians believe for the same reasons. Some Christians believe because of an emotional experience; same is true for non-Christians. Some Christians believe because of moral implications; same is true for non-Christians.

For the Christian, imagine this, if you can. What if they discovered a First Century authenticated copy of Matthew in which Jesus says it is acceptable to divorce your spouse for any reason? Yes, it would turn textual criticism on its ear—but more importantly would every Christian rush right out and get a divorce?

Of course not! Most would stay married because they are married to their spouse for MORE than just the reason that divorce is a sin. Things like commitment, love, a genuine desire to be married to the other person, the detriments of divorce, children, social stigma, etc.

It is absolutely ridiculous to make the claim the ONLY reason Christians stay married is that divorce is a sin. The same way it is equally ridiculous the ONLY reason people reject Christianity is to sin. I didn’t have any desire to obtain a new lifestyle of pillaging small villages, so “Christianity had to go.” Quite the contrary—I desired with my whole-heart to keep Christianity! It had nothing to do with sin. The same way we desire to keep our marriages—it has nothing to do with the concern of “sin” of divorce—we do it because we want our marriage!

Likewise, the statement, “…I think you know there is certain fiery expectation of judgment” is truly inane. Do you know why people don’t murder? Because they don’t want to go to jail. Why they don’t swipe items from the store? Because they don’t want to go to jail. Why people stop at a stop light at 2 in the morning when they can clearly see for miles around there isn’t a blooming car in sight? Because they don’t want a ticket.

Punishment is a strong motivator.

This past year my oldest daughter received a two-day involuntary vacation from school. (I.e.—a suspension.) When questioned, she said, “I couldn’t help it. I reached my breaking point.” I explained to her when her parents were done punishing for the offense—she would amazingly discover she had a much higher breaking point than she realized. That her “breaking point” will reach new heights so when she was faced with a similar situation she would think, “No, this is not worth it, because my punishment will be more pain than the momentary pleasure.”

Some of us drive over the speed limit. Why? Because the punishment (a ticket) is not severe enough to cause us to not. If they started to impose Capital Punishment for speeders—we would stop!

Why do we slow down when we see a police officer on the side of the road? Because we “know” we are in danger of getting a ticket. Who has the guts to blow past an officer at 100 miles per hour, thinking they won’t get caught?

Imagine knowing the punishment of fire. Of burning alive. Of sheer, excruciating pain covering our entire body, from the top of head, to our armpits, to our delicate parts, down to our toes. Of the inside of your throat swallowing boiling tar. Imagine that for 30 seconds. For a minute. For a half an hour. We can’t even exercise for a half-an-hour; let alone endure such torture!

If we really “knew” such judgment was coming—don’t you think we would do everything in our power to avoid it? Let alone an eternity of it! Pick one or the other. It is curious we are told we are so selfish we refuse to acknowledge a God because we want to sin; if we were that selfish, wouldn’t we do everything we could for our own comfort? And highest on that list would be to avoid hell!

Even though there is the possibility of becoming rich, we don’t steal from banks because of the punishment; we certainly aren’t going to reject what we “secretly” know is true in order to commit some perceived sin when the punishment is far more terrible. Besides, as Christians, we are informed due to our sin nature, we will continue to sin anyway and will be forgiven. What is the point of giving up Christianity to sin, when we don’t have to give up Christianity to sin?

I “hate the light”? Bwahahahaha. Explain why every single pastor I have discussed my deconversion will be “getting back to me.” If it is me, the darkness, “running from the light” it sure is odd how the light won’t call me back. Every Christian leader I talked to—I’m waiting to get back to me. My entire Christian family—no response to me e-mails on the topic. The church I attended, “We don’t really have a place for you.”

This “darkness” is extremely amused to be told I am running from the light. No, that is the light running from me, and from their perspective and speed, it only looks as if the widening distance is my fault.

I am less inclined to continue such conversations. You want to state I didn’t believe in Christ as Savior and God with the same intensity as “true Christians”? Useless conversation. You want to claim the Bible as authoritative, but don’t even know the history of its formation? Fine, we can learn together. However it becomes a useless conversation when you say, “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it.”

You want me to read Christian authors (many of whom I already have) but you are not interested in reading scientists? Useless conversation.

I know we are so caught-up on the web, we feel we HAVE to point out every wrong. Every error. Thus assuring the longevity of useless conversations.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What Legacy do we leave?

My grandparents purchased a cabin on a lake in northern Michigan many, many years ago. Early 60’s. It has been a part of my entire life; I’ve gone there every summer with maybe 2 or 3 exceptions. We keep a log, in which each visitor is supposed to record their stay. [More than one family “discussion” has arisen over whether such a log is necessary.] Still and all, it is fun to go back and read of previous trips.

This last journey I looked up the summer I turned the same age as my son is now. What was it like to see the cabin in the eyes of an 11-year-old?

1977. I had received a 3-speed bike for my birthday, and brought it up with me. (Do they even still make 3-speed bikes? It was my first bike with handlebar brakes. You remember--the first time you needed to brake and jammed your feet backward only to spin your legs and desperately grab onto the handle brakes.) I had forgotten I even owned that bike.

I read notations of us buying cherries at 25 cents a pound. And peaches at $8 a bushel. How my brother rode to Lake Michigan on his bike to continue to perfect his skill at finding petoskeys. That boy could find a petoskey stone on a gravel road! (On this trip, my daughter with the fun way of viewing the world was desperate to find a petoskey of her own on our trip to Lake Michigan. At one point I asked how she was doing and with a look of intense concentration she said, “I am trying to think like a petoskey.”)

And I read how friends brought up a brand new card game for us to learn called “Uno.” (We resorted back to “Rook” and “Pit.”) I read of people who are now divorced (and re-married) and people who have since died. Names of friends I had forgotten existed, but could now recall the days and evenings of raucous fun we had together.

Which got me to thinking—what am I leaving for my children to read? To remember? What will they look back on and recollect what they had forgotten? I cannot imagine them finding and reading this blog 30 years from now. “Bo—ring!” I can picture the look upon their face.

We write so intently on things we find so important to the here and now. Obama’s nomination. The name of latest Hollywood star’s baby. Intelligent Design. The misnomers of what some Christian leader said. Or how we are fighting with this blogger, or that argument.

30 years from now—are our children going to care? I found myself more fascinated with what we ate for breakfast 31 years ago than what bill President Carter was signing. Yes, these things are important, and history books will record more of Jimmy Carter’s presidency than all my breakfasts combined—but dammit—this was my life. My memories.

Would I even want my children to read my blog? Obviously there are things now which are strictly forbidden. And over their head. Let them find their own way in theistic determination. And since this isn’t about them (really) they would quickly lose interest.

What do you do to pass on memories to your children? I am extremely fortunate (one of a billion things) to have a wife who likes to scrapbook. She is creating many books with pictures, and short blurbs, and most importantly—memories. Things my kids can look at 30 years from now and laugh with their own kids. “You wore THAT?!” “Look at that car! Bwahahaha.”

I know I have been a bit lazy in posting blogs. Somehow the entry about the use of numbers in Acts just doesn’t seem as important, realizing 30 years from now this blog will be in a dusty corner of the internet, unread and a piece of memory piled amongst the millions of other blogs. All of which we feel are so important to write right now and with great vigor and our descendants will shrug while they write their own blogs about their own issues with the same urgency and enthusiasm.

What are you passing on to your children?