Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God vs. Us: A Divorce

“I love you.”

Do you remember the first time you ever hear that sentence? Probably not—most likely it was first spoken by a parent or loved one when you were just a baby. It is doubtful you would remember the first 100 times you heard those words. And even if you recall, you didn’t know what it meant at the time.

As you grew, you heard it over and over. Books, plays, movies, real life. Sometimes directed at you—often overheard throughout living. And with the re-telling, the phrase’s significance grew—we understood it meant something. We learned in the second-grade it was a weapon: “Johnnie loves Sally! Johnnie loves Sally!” We learned as teenagers it had consequence, avoiding the “L” word until one’s relationship reached a certain commitment level. We learned it had impact.

Eventually learning it can be a hard word to implement.

Growing up, we understood (even when we didn’t like it) our parents loved us when they punished us. They explained it. They didn’t give us everything we wanted when we wanted it, but there was love. Once we had children of our own, we understood (and hopefully attempted to communicate) we love them when distributing punishment or withholding their demands.

We learned it loving others romantically. It is the reason we cry (or some of us) when the climatic scene finally arrives in the movie: “Because……….I love you!”

Certain phrases are jarring contrasted with “love;” when the wife claims her husband loves her, even though he beats her, we think, “That is wrong!” The boyfriend who stays with a girl after she sleeps around with other guys, claiming he knows she loves him. We shake our head.

All of us, in observing relationships, understand there is a point where we categorize the action as “loving” and where we would claim it is not.

Growing up Christian, we are told, “God Loves you.” We had buttons and bumper stickers; signs and bookmarks. Our No. 1 Hit starts off, “For God so Loved the World…” “Jesus Loves you.” “Jesus Loves the little Children; all the Children of the world.” [Funny, I don’t remember the Holy Spirit doing much loving.] It was the first verse we learned; it was the first song we sung.

It should therefore come with no surprise we reached a point where we thought….well….God loved us. With all that entails within the resounding reverberation and pitch of the word.

Does that mean we thought God would give us whatever we wanted? Of course not—we understood our parents did not, yet still loved. Does that mean we expected to always be happy? Don’t be silly, we understand the commitment of love within a marriage, even though we aren’t always giddy and giggling.
We truly, truly get it—when it comes to love, there would be times God would have to make hard decisions, causing us to not like the results, but we would still be loved. When we were told, “God Loves You”—we didn’t expect an ATM Machine; we expected the word “love” to mean what it means in other similar contexts.

However there is one significant difference. In all our other relationships, we can communicate, with those involved, or with others, to learn, grow and differentiate as to what is love. With God there was only silence. We are left in continual speculation—guessing how this or that conforms to what we understand is love. Sure, others provide their own (conflicting) guesses, but that is all it is—conjecture on the human’s part.

“God, why did my 16 year old son have to die?”

“Is it because he had lived long enough, and you wanted him home?”

“Was it a testimony to others, giving them a chance to get right with you?”

So we grapple and postulate; others giving their own theories, and arrive at some queasy solution. An uneasy restlessness, often wondering if we got it quite right. Always willing to re-evaluate and guess again.

For many deconverts this silence grew into a disconnect; it become more and more difficult to use a word so well understood—“love”—that when applied to God held little-to-no relation to everything we understood the word to mean. A “loving” God would allow ten-year-old boys to be raped by football coaches? And allow it to continue for years because the person involved were people of privilege? That is the BEST a “loving” God could do?

And already I hear some Christian say, “We can’t explain it….but maybe _________” and then provide some poor excuse for God’s absence. If you can’t explain it—shut up. Shut up with your easy explanation of “Why God allows kids to starve in Africa” when your car is strewn with McDonald’s wrappers. Shut up with your theologically overbearing rationalization as to why a “loving God” allows this atrocity or that tragedy because we are too insignificant to understand such a infinite creature.

If that is your excuse, stop saying “God loves you.” Because even you aren’t buying the product.

Over at Black, White and Gray, ,Bradley Wright is doing a series of posts regarding deconversion. (The first is here.) In this recent installment, he discusses an observed reason for deconversion—namely a “God who Failed Deconverts” by not answering prayer.

He states:
I am struck by how much these accounts resonate with sociological theories of human relationships, especially those coming from social exchange theory. This theory describes humans as judging the value of relationships in terms of costs and benefits. One variation of social exchange theory, termed equity theory, holds that people are satisfied with their relationships when they get the rewards that they feel are proportional to the costs that they bear. An inequitable is unstable, and it usually occurs because a person thinks they receive too little for how much they give.

Many of the testimonies given by former Christians described a broken relationship with God as one might talk about a marital divorce. They are emotional, even bitter at times. They contain the language of inequality. The writers did so much for God – praying, attending church, following God – but God did not do enough in return.

As usual with Christians attempting to understand deconversion, (and with genuine respect) Bradley Wright doesn’t get it.

We didn’t gauge God as, “I didn’t get enough for what I put into it.” We realized it made no sense to call God “loving” when the results we saw were nothing but. It is the abused spouse coming to terms that one doesn’t beat one’s wife, and receive approval for being “loving.” They must stop making excuses for the spouse.

In the same way, we came to terms with the fact we were making excuses for God. We, too, were trying to explain away these actions as loving—actions we would never accept the label of “love” in any other relationship. We, too, tried to apologize for God, using weighty meaningless terms, but our own words were now ringing as hollow.

We didn’t abandoned belief in God, because we weren’t getting what we wanted; we came to realize the patent ridiculousness of fitting the word “love” (and a whole host of other words) to a creature we immediately and in complete contradiction, claimed we did not understand. One who was silent when asked. One who allows any human, anywhere to make excuses for it, without support, disapproval or response of any kind.

We realized the true difference between the Christian’s “loving God” without plausible explanation and a God who doesn’t exist. None. No difference at all, except the growing recognition “no God” makes a whole lot more sense than “a loving God who doesn’t act loving, but we assume he IS loving, because any other possibility is too scary to even contemplate.”

It was not a divorce. In a divorce, the other person is still alive. There is still a relationship, an understanding of past love, and the possibility of future love with another.

This is a death. We see now God was never there.

God is gone, not an ex-spouse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Doubting, avoid Thinking

I remain on Credo House’s mailing list, receiving notification of C. Michael Patton’s recent blog entry concerning doubt.

What struck me was how the response proposed was one-sided when doubts arise regarding Christianity. The first point, recommended focusing on the Resurrection, rather than minor issues such as inerrancy or evolution vs. creationism. (Curiously, this came across as a concession minor issues were a lost cause.) He states:

Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate tohere and here . Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection.

(I was secretly pleased I guessed the books before clicking on the link. Habermas & Licona’s “Case for the Resurrection” then Licona’s “Historiography of Resurrection” and finally N.T. Wright’s “Resurrection of Jesus.”)

Notice what is missing from the list? Yeah…any skeptical books. Now I will grant you, there are not many non-theists writing on the Resurrection, but even a mention of “The Empty Tomb” or possible Loftus’ work, or Erhman’s concerns would have been interesting. What was more interesting was the suggestion to “set down” conversations “with those who are representing another religion.”

Why? Why, when doubting, must one only look to one side of the issue?

The third point Patton makes solidifies his intentions—he recommended “fellowshipping” (that’s Christianize for “socializing” or “relationshiping.”) He notes:

One normally becomes emotionally predisposed to those of their immediate fellowship. “Following the crowed” is a very effective means of being persuaded of the most unlikely beliefs. In fact, I have often said that if I hung around the flat-earth society members too long (and there is a flat earth society!), I may begin to doubt that the world is round. This is not because the arguments or evidence is persuasive, but simply because of implicit emotional control of belief that such constant fellowship affords.

I believe his concern is for Christians to begin assuming the beliefs of non-Christians because of emotional attachment. Ironically, the very action he fears is the very action he suggests the Christian engage—only hang around flat earth society….er….Christians…and one will become emotionally attached to the arguments one assumes.

I find it very telling skeptics not only encourage fellow skeptics to read non-theist literature, but ALSO theistic literature. I, too, would recommend Licona if one wants to study the Resurrection. I, too, would recommend non-believers engage with Christians, or “fellowship” with them. But I go farther and recommend one also engages and reads people holding to alternate views.

What would you think if I told you to ONLY read what non-theists write, or ONLY associate with non-theists? Does that sound like a person who is confident regarding the strength of their position or one who fears weaknesses would be exposed if someone dares inform themselves?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bad Law Makes Bad Cases

How are lawyers like nuclear weapons? Because if the other side has one, you have to get your own; once launched they can never be recalled and when they hit the ground, they screw everything up forever.

Michigan, being on the forefront of nothing, has no anti-bullying law. The State Board of Education does provide for a Michigan Anti-Bullying Policy, however, no legislation mandates even a single school district adopt the policy. There have been previous attempts to pass such legislation, all having quietly dropped from sight.

“…that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; or a mental, physical, or sensory disability or impairment; or by any other distinguishing characteristic.”

However, this year the State Senate has decided to correct this oversight, and yesterday passed Senate Bill 137 mandating each school district implement and enforce a policy on bullying.

Good for us, right? Well…as the saying goes, the two things you should never see getting made are sausages and laws.

I suspect (with no confirmation of any sort, mind you), someone in committee worried that a statement such as “I think being gay is immoral” may be interpreted as bullying, and feared a Student stating a religious conviction would be considered a “bully” for having done so.
Stories such as this: Student expressing their opinion regarding homosexuality being immoral could generate such concern.

Therefore, SB 137 added a clause never seen in any previous submissions of the bill, providing the following exception:

“This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.”

The (Democrat) minority leader expressed her frustration with the exception. Her statement on video is recorded at the Huffington Post article.

On the one hand, I understand the reason behind the exception. We do not want to temper or quash a student’s freedom of expression. However, the minority leader is precisely correct, by creating this exception, the law opens a HUGE loophole that every single lawyer, even the ones fresh from law school, understand can allow for bullying.

This exception does not protect a person from striking, kicking or beating, but so what? Those actions are criminal anyway, without the necessity of a new law. The concern is (since everyone has experienced it, either by being a bully, by being bullied or observation of bullying) how to prohibit this action. And verbal bullying is what this law is designed to prohibit. (There are provisions regarding using telecommunication devices. You can’t hit someone across Facebook.)

Yet now, if the bully continues to berate the student, “Hey, gaywad. You’re so gay. What’s up, faggot?” They can cite their religious belief and this is merely freedom of expression.

The law literally gives them to provision (and arguably the endorsement) to do so.

This is a bad law. We shall see how the Michigan House addresses it.

UPDATE: Looks like the language will not stay in the bill. Shows what a different world we live in, with the internet causing such an outcry the Michigan Senate Republicans agree to back down on this.