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Resumé: My Religious And Academic Background


R. S. Martin

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This was originally written as an application for a forum that is fairly strict regarding who is allowed to join. Except for published authors, real names of people and institutions are removed as also are parts relevant only to the application. Perhaps this entry will serve more or less as a resumé of my religious and academic background for those readers who are interested. Here goes:

 

I have explored a fairly wide variety of Christian theology, esp. since beginning my work on a degree in Master of Theological Studies. Nowhere can I find an answer to the foundational question regarding how the plan of salvation works. I wrote out my problem regarding this in considerable detail on my blog entry for The Missing Link: Why I Reject Christianity posted Oct 12 2006, 07:27 PM.

More of my ideas are posted on my website.

 

I am presently studying at a Lutheran Seminary in Ontario. I will be 50 in another few weeks. I was born, raised, and lived the first forty years of my life in an Old Order Mennonite (OOM) community. OOMs are very much like the Amish. Being unable to find a fulfilling life inside the community, due in large part to the community's unanimous consent that I wasn't smart enough for other than menial labour, in my early forties I explored the viability of university education.

 

I have no high school education; only a college level course creative in writing. On the strength of this course, I was accepted on probation into a fairly prestigious international university at the nearby city. In due time, due to excellent performance I moved seamlessly to full acceptance.

 

For fourteen months I secretly attended university, often driving an hour by horse and buggy to a horse barn in town, then taking the city bus to campus. At the end of those fourteen months I "came out" and informed the community what I was doing. That led to the very difficult decision to leave the community. It was liberating in that I no longer had to meet the standard of the church. It was extremely traumatic in that the entire context crashed from which I had derived my life-long identity. I had to go through it and I barely escaped with my life (suicide was a major threat), but I am alive and thriving today.

 

In 2002, I graduated with honours with a BA in Social Development Studies (foundation for Master of Social Work programs in the province), and a fair number of half-credit courses in philosophy, sociology, religious studies, and cultural anthropology. It was an intense search for an identity, for my core interests. I don't do too well in philosophy, either in online debates or course work. I can handle abstract theory quite well so long as I have a solid idea on how it relates to the human experience.

 

I was a child of perhaps eight when I first heard my mother tell some of my younger siblings that Jesus died so we could go to heaven. Instantly a burning question popped into my mind: HOW DOES THAT WORK? (This question is described in considerable detail as listed above.)

 

I pursued that question for the next forty years. Neither simple spiritually-minded OOM farmer-preachers nor the most highly educated Christian professor of theology has yet been able to answer that question. I conclude there is no answer. I also conclude that whether or not God exists is not terribly important. Via the ex-Christian forum I learned to feel fairly comfortable with being an unbeliever. I was made aware of my position mainly when I noticed Christians inexplicably pulling back from me. This includes family.

 

I describe some of those experiences on ex-Christian.net and won't repeat myself here at this point. Via university, seminary, and a variety of religious debate forums, I arrived at my present position. My long-term goal is to dismantle traditional Christian theology and, since Christianity seems to be here to stay, provide an alternative theology that accommodates diversity without compromising core tenets of the Christian faith.

 

Via my experiences I conclude that good Christians exist. Faculty and students at the seminary are inclusive not only in terms of gender but also in their acceptance of students holding diverse beliefs. I was but one of their students who are outside traditional Christianity. I do not see these people's religion as a threat to humanity or the planet and I cannot in good conscience attack these "good" Christians. I will refute their theology on the intellectual level if presented with the ocassion but I will not condemn them for being Christian, nor will I condemn their religion on the level of morals or ethics. If this is a problem, then I cannot join your forum.

 

 

I conclude that religion has very little or nothing to do with whether a person is good or bad. However, abuse justified with religion is probably the most perverse--not to mention stubborn--kind of abuse that exists. This must be stopped, dismantled, and remade. Fundamentalist religion must be debunked.

 

You're the first group of people I've found whose mission statement it is to debunk evangelical/fundamentalist religion. I could not believe my eyes when I saw Edward Babinski's name. I used his book Leaving the Fold for a major undergrad project. In this project I looked at the experience of several individuals throughout the US and Ontario leaving a visible minority religious group, like the Amish and OOM, for mainstream society. Had I known any individuals from orthodox Judaism or other visible minority religions who had left I would have included them, too.

 

The first part of his book looks at people leaving fundamentalism and the second part looks at people converting to fundamentalism. At the time of that study, I had not yet solidified my spiritual/religious identity, but I was impressed with the stark difference between those two groups of people. The apostates were people like me who asked hard questions--in vain; the converts seemed so stupid, to put it bluntly. Like I said, that was several years ago before I had come to any personal decision.

 

Marlene Winnel is another person I found on the internet in my search for guidance, research material, etc. I am on her mailing list but can never attend any of her events because I am in Ontario living off student loan and she is in the vicinity of the west coast in the US. My personal search and academic research often coincided over the years, and fed each other. I see potential for your forum to serve both these purposes. For these reasons I would like to join.

 

 

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