Monday, 20 October 2008
JT, a while ago, asked for a personal testimony on why I am no longer a Christian. It makes a good addition to my site. So here goes!Why I identified as a Christian:
Childhood naivety and young earth creationism:
I took Christianity seriously at age 16, despite my initial skeptical impressions, thanks to young earth creationism. Pastor Haberkost, in Ohio, took us on a tour of virtually the entire Bible based on Genesis. I had experienced what creationists refer to as "creationist shock." In my naivety, I never would have guessed that full grown adults would bother developing something to such an extent if there was not something more to it. I was hooked by the book, "The World That Perished" because their conspiracy theory seemed plausible at the time and fell in love with what I thought was a divine romance between God and all humanity. I believed the testimony of a former good friend in regards to the spiritual realm who said he'd personally encountered angels and demons. From there I spent nearly a decade following up on all sorts of apologetic tangents.
Blissful ignorance of what you really had to believe to be a modern Christian:
I knew very little of presuppositionalism and thought C. S. Lewis' "argument from reason" (which I had come across) was meaningless pandering to theistic sensibilities although I do recall some rather flakey bits with me pulling junk out of my hind quarters that resembled some presuppositionalistic philosophy (Is that where theirs comes from, too, I wonder???). As a Lutheran, religious experiences were downplayed. Physicalism made enough sense to me though I saw no reason why there could not be a spiritual backup drive that allowed our consciousness to transit into another dimension of heavenly experience. I didn't get the "faith talk," abhorred falling back on it, and thought I was making an argument to the better explanation in terms of which worldview worked the best overall. I struggled to formulate a legitimate proof of God's existence and had to settle for mere teleological plausibility and poking holes in metaphysical naturalism (what happened before the big bang, the lack of proof for abiogenesis, evolution and entropy, and the idea that evolution cannot be tested in the here and now). I never really thought there was much of a historical case for Jesus, and settled for mere plausibility there, too, thinking that as long as skeptics couldn't prove any of it absolutely wrong, it could still be true, and had to be true because it fit so well with young earth creationism and the rest of the themes of the Bible. My mad ad hoc skillz that I love to apply in the realm of fiction, I can fully credit to folks like internet apologist J. P. Holding and my general experience in Christian apologetics. I read the Bible at age 18 wanting to know what to expect from God and that was probably the worst thing I could have ever done. I may have had some moderate surface positions, but at my core, clearly I was much more in line with the Calvinists.What changed my mind:
I found out I was wrong:
Many life events conspired to put me in my place. A main influence was the canceling effect of Eastern Orthodoxy on my Protestantism. I had to abandon a great deal of the shallow things which justified my Protestant viewpoint, and in mid-process noticed I wasn't standing on anything at all. The straight forward earthly criticisms of both the EO and general Protestant continuum were both more credible than their positive claims or anything they had in common. Not only that, but if we are to take what the Church Fathers said seriously all of the sudden there are some very specific things to disagree with on a variety of issues not necessarily elucidated in Scripture. I was better off in Protestantland where I could very easily disagree with everyone and heed my own interpretation. Eastern Orthodoxy was clearly a better denomination and also clearly set itself up (to me at least) for a major fall. Another factor was a girlfriend at the time whose opinion I respected showed me what a Prot-bot I was (that is, someone that prioritizes their Protestant doctrine over other people's feelings and common sense to undermining degrees). And yet taking the "cult think" guidance one gets from the New Testament seriously led directly to being one. What was more important than doctrine when eternity was at stake? It doesn't say on the Bible, "Humanistic values and common sense not included" as though you are supposed to add them wholesale yourself. Further, the more I learned about how the Church Fathers danced their way around spiritual objectivity, the more obvious it was to me that I was dealing with the religion category I had always ridiculed.
The need for firmer ground:
I knew I needed an epistemic overhaul, and so I just started being honest and fair with everything. There was no conclusion to come to. With a clean slate, I called myself an agnostic and from the ground up rebuilt my worldview based on what I honestly thought were reasonable expectations for any Joe Schmoe. Maybe Christianity would justify itself with a more adult perspective than the one I'd previously built. Maybe it wouldn't. At the time, I was finally at the point where I didn't care one way or the other. I just didn't want to have to spend all my time justifying my belief system versus actually believing it and making use of it in my personal life when other people's feelings were at stake in addition to mine. I was done with the innate confidence problems Christianity presents its adherents. I started listening to those little sideline voices I'd ignored for so many years and took them as seriously as seemed warranted. The four basic issues I had with metaphysical naturalism listed above were arguments from ignorance and the proposed alternative solution was no more demonstrable and had a nice list of vexing issues of its own. Maybe that didn't prove evolution was true, but to be fair, it didn't prove creationism was true either. Maybe all atheistic evolutionists were evil and it was a big conspiracy to get away from the idea of God. But then again maybe all creationists were self absorbed existential prima donnas who would believe anything that validated their solipsism? Most of what I had believed was a matter of accommodating the evidence on a wide range of issues. I was constantly trying way too hard to justify an intensely personal relationship based on severe evidential straining. It wasn't very hard to unravel the whole thing and build an agnostic humanism. After eight rather abusive years of being a Christian, I knew I didn't know whether God really existed or not. And that's just not right.What keeps me from ever being one again:
Proper religious methods are crap:
From my current vantage point, I will often say that certain things only make sense as nonsense. In other words, I understand them too well from the standpoint of them being false. I can see them coming, and going, and how they are in many contexts and it is clear that the positions are flatly irrational and in a sense meant to be irrational. The Christianity I criticize now isn't exactly the Christianity I thought I was representing. The veil has dropped and most Christians do not seem to justify their belief how I did and the Bible is right there behind them. So in a more formal sense, despite the twisted subjective gimmicks of my youth, I can successfully label Christianity as a metaphysical scam. Fideism, presuppositionalism, and experientialism are all way too flimsy to ever stand up to serious scrutiny. Why should I believe that my a-rational deposit of faith in orthodox Christianity is from God while the one for Mormons is not? Trying to convince someone with other evidence ignores the part where people can get that magical faith from a mere suggestion and a desire for it to be true. And if you can make a good case, then you didn't need the fideism in the first place, now did you? Just the fact that Jesus advocates credulity directly as a virtue screams "bullsh*t." Originally I had thought such things were beside the point, but now I realize these are the pillars of epistemology I was ignoring. Presuppositionalism can't help but find a netherzone between an abductive argument and asserting its conclusion. But if you make an argument to the better explanation...then why do you need the presuppositionalism? Isn't starting with the premise that everything in the Bible is true supposed to make everything work out so marvelously? Well isn't that what an abductive argument already is? Isn't that what the evidentialists are already trying to do? But you've already declared that they fail...and hence all you can do is assert your conclusion and be in denial of it. I'm sorry...I can't come to the table as a Johnny Agnostic and pretend like the presumptuous question, "What savior is willing to die hardest for my sins?" is anything but a laughable starting place. And I know there are many Christians who think so as well. Much like fideism, if religious experientialism is a slam dunk, then we live in a bizarre world where every religion is true...in addition to lots of other bizarre things like alien abductions. I'd have to be a gnomist given my own silly experiences. I cannot dig my way back into the ground like the eternal groundhog who is forever afraid of its shadow hoping this landscape is ever going to change.
Metaphysical Naturalism always wins:
When you aren't trying so hard to figure out why the entire scientific community is dead wrong about the age of the earth and the origin of species, it is actually pretty easy to see why they are so confident about their conclusions and why scientists from just about every point of view out there can all come together and agree about the evidence. I can't sell myself the Ken Ham (from Answers in Genesis) lie anymore that it is really a big sinful conspiracy against God. Why would it be? How does a global Flood make such consistent radiometric dating results that layer on top of one another with many different methods cross referencing with one another? Why is it that modern creationists still admit this is a "problem" for them to solve? Why isn't there a big gap in something very specific like dendrochronology (collective tree ring dating) for the time of the Flood? No matter how much ambiguity creationists can kick up, even when I was originally falling for the claims, I still recall distinctly the "magic bullet-ness" of the Flood explanation in creationist literature. If there was a case for young earth creationism, there doesn't seem to be a reason for Christian theistic evolutionists to compromise. Aren't there more of them than the evil atheists? How hard would it be to turn that tide? Everyone would be on the bandwagon and atheists would be the minority denialists nipping at the heels of a young earth creationist scientific consensus. Science has already steamrolled the efficacy of prayer, witchcraft, supernatural healing, fortune telling, and tons of other Biblically validated supernatural claims that should be easy enough to confirm. It seems silly to be impatient and unfair with far reaching and difficult questions like the origin of life and the universe itself. Supernaturalism just hasn't won a single battle and has had ample opportunity to try. If we could even confirm just one line item like say transcendental meditation ("How many fingers is my assistant holding up in the next room?"), that would at least tell us, "Hey, the spiritual realm is real." But we don't even have a slight objective baby step in that direction. Maybe your average Joe Christian has the remarkable ability to compartmentalize all this into just ancient Bible land, but I don't. One has to invent yet another huge divine conspiracy to hide all the evidence or some silly reason to believe it all stopped before science started looking even though apparently reports of these things likely never skipped a historical beat. Are the witches over time complaining, "Why don't my spells work any more? Guess we'd better just start pretending or face shame at Witchcraftcon!" If you start your inquiry as Joe Agnostic and not Joe Christian, it is not hard to see where all this has been and where it is probably going. In my experience the puzzle pieces always fit so much more closely together and even many more of them are able to go together in lots of mundane ways. This happens routinely in contradiction to what you'd have to believe from the Bible on a number of issues. To turn away from that and try to forget the wealth of intimate understanding "normal thinking" has brought seems impossible.
Even if true, a relationship with the Christian god is practically vacuous:
There is nothing personal about a relationship with Jesus available on this earth. Let's say you prove God exists and that Jesus is him. What does God want of you personally? There's no honest answer to that question that does not involve long chains of subjective conjecture with a great deal at stake. Clearly God does not give a damn about what delusions a vast spectrum of religious people entertain and even when you find the "correct" religion, there's no guarantee you are in any more special a position to sort it out better than anyone else. Christianity is a relationship with no contents even if you can prove the metaphysics of the religion are true. In every other area of our lives, healthy relationships are sustained with the basis of good communication. It's not number 50 on the list...I think it's number one. It also happens to be the Biblical God's weakest point. Hence a true Christianity still has nothing to offer that agnostic humanism does not already satisfy.
I'm not stupid or evil:
I am unable to take the answers to the big philosophical questions personally as most Christians seem to be a slave to doing. Metaphysical and epistemic entitlement seem to be necessary prerequisites for theistic philosophers to hold their ground when you unravel their rhetoric down to its core. However, in my world, the best answer is simply the best answer, whether that is motivation to love life or not. Perhaps a question like, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" does yield a special purpose for human beings. But if it doesn't (and actually I think the question is invalid), it is simply undignified to cry about it. We live our lives as grown ups in so many areas...and this is just one more. I also can't be blind or bigoted enough to suppose that the lack of God ends in nihilism. Happy atheists must just not exist. I'm just not dumb enough to think that the subjective negation of how I felt as a Christian if I'd given up God cold turkey can actually be imposed on how everyone else should feel. That's just not how psychology works and yet that seems to be where most Christians are coming from (where they'd have to be coming from in order to disregard atheist testimony to the contrary) in order to claim living a non-theistic life can't be satisfying.
I have no interest in waking up every morning knowing that most people on this earth are going to burn in hell for all eternity thanks predominantly to God's cruddy people skills. I have no interest in selling out my humanity and telling myself, "Well at least I get to go to heaven" or even supposing I am likely to make it myself (as though I know any better). People just aren't that evil and a god who thinks otherwise is. There is nothing in the Bible that makes salvation seem as "easy" as your run of the mill Christian would advocate and if it is so easy to fail for whatever reason (given the ratio of the people in hell to the people in heaven), then it is cold comfort that there is an all powerful Holy Spirit out there to help you. I have no interest in being forced to evangelize and thus make eternity worse for most people by giving them something more specific to reject and therefore be more accountable for. I have no interest in telling homosexuals they cannot have the best form of happiness available to them in this life that hurts nothing but God's feelings on the basis of what is as good as make believe. And I have no interest in trying to make moral heads or tails of a number of other dubious Biblical positions that much more resemble ancient human prejudices than what one might expect from divine wisdom.
The argument from evil is valid and Jesus' solution is lame:
In my honest opinion, to the best of my knowledge, there is no reason to think a good God is respectfully taking care of the salvation of all humanity and every reason not to. Aliens aren't going to look down on the planet earth and go, "By jove, I think a divine hand is at work here!" I cannot respect a God who falls by every reasonable moral standard I know of and can only get by with the "whatever he done did" standard. The evidence is most consistent with a negligent god who is willing to settle for whatever ultra saintly crop that happens to spring up on its own. What kind of "good shepherd" is that? What kind of good shepherd leaves tending the fields to his enemies? Why should I accept responsibility for the fall of humanity when I was born 6,000 years after the "fact?" What does that have to do with me? What justification could a good god possibly have for heaping this great burden upon all of us? I couldn't help but notice that Jesus himself wasn't born a sinner. How am I really supposed to ever respect that? We're born with serious handicaps...but not almighty God. Since when is playing a video game on god-mode considered a challenge? If Senator John McCain really did choose to stay locked in a box for five years rather than be released ahead of his comrades, I respect that a great deal more than I do Jesus' bad weekend for my sins. And I'm not even voting for McCain.
Jesus is evil and Christians don't exist (gasp!):
I am not of the atheist appeasement crowd who can say that Jesus was at least a "good teacher." The parade of moral extremism is a joke (that no one laughs at or follows) and no one waxes on more about eternal damnation in the Bible than Jesus himself. Whatever is left from that is too easily found some place else with a great deal less to overlook. Many folks out there would like to sell themselves the idea that I was never a Christian in the first place (despite what Hebrews clearly says is possible), and I don't actually have a problem with that. However I think I can safely say that I've never even met a Christian. Where are the mountain movers? The miracle workers? Why doesn't God heal amputees by them? Where are the people who can speak in foreign languages they do not know? Why aren't churches almost full of willing celibates just like Paul and Jesus so strongly recommended? How many have sold all of their stuff like the rich man who had followed every other law since his youth? How many have sold even half of it like Zacchaeus? Where the hell are the Christians? The crazy Ebonites of the first and second centuries who had celibate marriages...that's the crazy hyper-moralistic Christianity I read about in the Bible. Modern Christianity is an unrecognizable cultural artifact and rejoining them would be vanity. Christians are like the fanboys and fangirls of a rock star who doesn't really have anything to do with them other than some shallow allegiance to their own interpretation of a myriad of convoluted ideas.
The whole scheme is just too messed up to take seriously:
I'm unable to pretend for Jesus that he has a spiritual place to fill in my life when he just doesn't. The beginning and the end of these divine connections simply don't appear to have anything to do with me in any reasonable sense and pretending like I'm involved, absentee ballot like, is a connection I don't see any Christians pulling off plausibly. Apparently we are all to believe that I was born imperfect (not contesting that) and there's supposedly a god out there with a serious chemical imbalance (or whatever the divine version of that is) that can't tolerate my innate imperfection. Is that anything like being wired up so that if one sneezes, 10 million kittens die instantly? But it's okay because this god is slightly enthusiastic about rescuing us from this plight he has allowed to transpire! Isn't being rescued exciting! According to the Apostle Paul, I'm supposed to respond with wonder and awe at this Jigsaw Jesus setup and apparently there must be something wrong with me. However, if it's not just me, I would have to conclude that I've never known anything so evil as Christian doctrine taken seriously and could never respect myself in so many ways if I ever had to go back to it. The comparisons to dysfunctional relationships we all know to avoid are never ending. Joe Christian may be able to gloss over the entire armada of ridiculousness, but I can't. Christians manage to respond to the Godfather comparisons with the equivalent: "It's not extortion if you pay the mafia the protection money!" *sigh* A simple and sufficient life is obviously available and the evidence for the contrary (for even maltheism) is not.
How many deal breakers does one need to part with a religion? Not this many, certainly, but I have used my skill set to help fight the good fight for the cause of humanism, science, and solidarity and hence I've run across a great deal more. I'm sure I've left quite a few things out that maybe I'll try to summarize and add over time. I hope this was helpful to someone.