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I Thought He Was Liberal Christian


R. S. Martin
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The following was written in a letter to a Christian (Modern Mennonite) colleague who has moved far from fundamentalist religion.

 

I can critique Christianity if you want me to. I wasn't sure how you felt about that and I want to respect people's beliefs and personal space. So if you don't want an intense critique of Christian doctrine, this would be a good place to stop reading. In case you're interested, as you seemed to be near the end of our meeting, here's some things that might interest you.

 

I am not hereby making any statements about my personal position because I am always learning and growing. But you may be interested to know that atheists today do not claim that there is no God. I think this is a shift from earlier in history. They claim not to have enough evidence for God's existence to believe. They will add: But if God showed up tomorrow I would not longer be an atheist. I would be a believer.

 

This raises the question: What is faith or belief?

 

I can only speak for myself here. You probably know a lot more about the psychology of faith than I do. When I say "I believe...." I mean that it makes sense in my brain. It has never made sense in my brain that Jesus' death and resurrection could in any way open the way to heaven for human souls.

 

There are many atonement theories, but why is an atonement needed? If I want to retain my sanity I have to forgive humungous offenses that the offenders claim should not have hurt me. As a person with training in counseling I guess you know that we each have a right to our own feelings. Well, if I can forgive these offenders, then why does God need an atonement before he forgives repentent sinners--people who confess their sinfulness and feel deep remorse for their offenses? I understand God is almighty.

 

It requires considerable emotional energy to forgive hostile offenders. I'm not asking God to do that. All I am asking is that God forgive people who are truly sorry for their offenses WITHOUT atonement. If I, a mere mortal, can do it, so can an almighty God. I think the atonement models are based on the stratified society of the Roman Empire with the patronage system, from which the NT writers would have taken their cues.

 

But even if an atonement were needed, how could Jesus' death atone for anything? I just don't get it. Nor has any Christian been able to explain it in a way that answers my questions. They always get to a certain point in the discussion, and then they say "Faith doesn't make sense/is not logical." Okay, if people feel good with that, fine. But don't ask me to say "I believe" something that makes no sense. For me, that's lying, pure and simple. Sorry, Andy, that's not aimed at you because you have not made any religious demands on me; it's just the feeling I get when Christians judge me.

 

When I was a child, my mother would always promise that I would understand things when I got older. When I hit forty, it occurred to me that I am now "older." And I have no more understanding on the topic than when I was a child. The theology I have been studying these past several years, which includes indepth conversations with my Christian doctrine prof, has brought me no closer to an understanding. It's time to just move on in life. I will no longer openly lie, as in professing to believe things I don't. But, as we discussed today, God is so amorphous and can't be pinned down, that I do believe in God from a certain perspective.

 

I know how to twist things in my brain to make it mean what I want. For example, you say you are convinced that God exists, that "there is something out there." However, given that this sense or feeling derives from a certain firing of the neurons in your brain, then the "God" you know about is something I know about, too; I get the same experiences and sensations. Anyway, this is where the line between truth and falsehood becomes really fuzzy.

 

Because of the extreme treatment I've experienced at the hands of conservative Christians, some of them in KW, I will allow people in general to believe what they will about me. I may even resort to evasive answers, depending on the situation. For the most part I just try to avoid situations where "dangerous" people are likely to question me.

 

What I find incredible is that most Christians, laypeople, when confronted with my questions outlined above will scurry for their Bibles to find the answers. I don't understand how anyone can claim to be a Christian without knowing the basic tenets of the Christian faith well enough to attempt an answer. On second thought, maybe they think I will accept it from an authority like the Bible. But how do we know the Bible is true? That's the point at which some people will say, "If you don't want to believe, then nothing I can say will change that."

 

It's as though belief were a choice. And, as I explained above, it's not. I hate being accused of choosing something over which I agonized for half a century in my effort to understand. It's so utterly unfair and unjust. Nothing that I have ever experienced requires more faith than to continue my walk in life without God--WITHOUT knowing whether it's really true that hell is not real. Hell makes no sense but if the faith makes no sense then hell still fits.

 

I have had to confront the hell question long ago. The decision to go for an education was a life and death decision. They won't accept it. I know that much without trying them out so I'm not throwing my pearls to the pigs. (Don't tell them I called them pigs, okay ?) But it's true all the same. Since they rejected me with my education, I had no choice but to leave the church. When official plans were in place for me to leave the OOM church, I had my new birth experience.

Modern Mennonite people have tried to tell me that I wasn't leaving God when I left the OOM church. I don't accept that. Disobedience is as the sin of witchcraft, Samuel told Saul. Children obey your parents, say the Old and New Testaments. And in the Bible, the child-parent relationship does not end so long as the parents are alive; after their death, one has to honour their memory. I was deliberately turning my back on all I had been taught to consider holy. That is not the time at which God normally blesses a person with the new birth. That is what I believe. Maybe if that were the only problem I had with Christianity I would think differently. But it's just one more detail.

 

So there you have what some people call an extestimony--a testimony about deconverting.

 

********************

Well, I got a response to that letter the next morning. (I wrote it last week some time.)

 

I should mention that he's a trained counselor and that he is now training to become a Chrisian professor.

 

In his response he said some really hurtful and ignorant stuff to me. (Counselors should know better and profs in the making should at least be able to read what is spelled out for them right under their noses.) I corrected him and have now given him several days to defend himself. I didn't feel quite right at first just ripping his stuff to pieces on a public forum. He has not responded.

 

It's not just that he said hurtful stuff, it's that he said stuff fundies would say and he thinks he has left fundyism far behind. I don't think so!

 

Twice--get this: two separate times in a single letter--he told me that honest atheists cannot prove that God does not exist.

 

Here's his very words:

 

  • Personally I think that even many atheists actually believe in God they just don't realize it yet.
  • An honest Atheist can't even say there is no God, because he can't prove it.

Yet.

 

I've been seeking and struggling with this since before he was born and he dares suggest that I have not yet come to realize this crazy thing. Who does he think he is??? Oh yeah. He's the guy studying to become a prof. He should know. Must be Ruby who's wrong because it couldn't be him.

 

And I didn't explain it either, did I, that atheists today do not claim to know that God doesn't exist. I told him to read my second paragraph again. Hasn't responded. At the very least he owes me a big apology.

 

1. He implies that I am atheist when I clearly stated that "I am not hereby making any statements about my personal position because I am always learning and growing."

2. He is implying that I am dishonest because he knows I am an atheist who claims God does not exist even though I clarified that "atheists today do not claim that there is no God."

 

Part of becoming a prof is being able to "read between the lines" and pick up subtle nuances. Another part is being open-minded. This guy is not only NOT reading between the lines, he is openly stating that he does not believe what I say. Can't get any more closed-minded than that!

 

Here's some more. He just answered between the lines of my letter so I sorted some of it out in conversation format.

 

ME: When official plans were in place for me to leave the OOM church, I had my new birth experience.

 

HIM: Very interesting use of words--I get it though; you found life as you never before experienced--you found something profound--alive--life giving. To me that is God, but that is a faith statement.

 

Very interesting use of words--for crying out loud! I am describing a real live experience--an experience born out of extreme desperation, something that made life possible to go on, and he discounts its very meaning. Why? I can only guess. He would have to actually think about, and maybe rethink, his faith if he accepted my testimony. Sure, it was profound and life-giving. What else is a new birth supposed to be? Oh now I get it--it's supposed to be Christian. Well, maybe the fundies got it WRONG.

 

ME: I was deliberately turning my back on all I had been taught to consider holy.

 

HIM: I think you were turning your back on all that was unholy--of course you are human so you will not get it all right and thus make mistakes. But I still see this as a movement toward light.

 

MY RESPONSE: I feel and see so much light around me that it seems absurd to suggest that I am “on my way to” light. I am there! I would never return to the slavery of Christianity. Note, the word “slavery” is not my term; it is the term of the Apostle Paul.

 

See what he did here? Okay, you can see my response so you know part of how it made me feel. BUT--exactly why would he inform me of my human state at this specific point? Why does he infer that I lied? I did not say the OOM people, church, and way of life is holy. I said I was taught to consider it holy.

 

For a guy who wants to become a prof he's awfully thick-skulled. If students are any indication of the school they are studying at, then I am so very sure I made the right decision NOT to study at THAT school. The program director really wanted me there. They're Mennonite and they seem to think that automatically gives them some claim on me--just because I'm culturally Mennonite. And they think because they are modern Mennonites they are so enlightened. They think the Old Order Mennonites are so backward and repressive and oppresssive and all that's dark and--he actually used the word--unholy. That shocks me. He is saying the people in whose bosom I was born and lived for forty years are unholy. As though he were somehow not unholy. I love these people! They are my flesh and blood! Sure we've got major differences and love-hate relationships. But that does not mean we have to call the unholy.

 

I know I'm supposed to feel comforted because he is taking my side against the people who so seriously hurt me, but I don't. He's speaking down to me, condescending to speak to a sinner who may yet be saved. And he's judging. BIG TIME. No person in his right mind gets to call another human being (religion, culture, way of life) unholy.

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Are you going to engage him further Ruby?

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Proving an absence is all but impossible. TBH the onus is on them to prove a presence in an objective, avoiding circular logic, appeals to faith, authority of the bible etc. An a-priori assumption that God exists isn't much proof either.

 

But I've never seen an honest 'proof' of absence... that doesn't mean one can't exist, but...

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Ruby,

 

You certainly are one persistant individual.

 

You know, I went through a period where I waged a war of words with some family fundies. Like you, I was well reasoned and considered many different angles of an issue.

 

The responses I got were deflected and I also took a lot of basic Ad Hominin abuse - gave some pretty damn good ones in return too. :wicked:

 

At some point it may find it fatiguing if you think that the people you are challenging will not rise to the level of evidence and logic that you are demanding. I think I had an internal gauge that told me I'd had enough once a certain quantiy of good arguments were consistantly rejected them out of hand. I had done my due dilegence and that not finding truth (a relative term) was for their lack of personal integrity and lack of interest in truth itself.

 

A learning point for me was to see first hand, the sheer degree to which loyalty and allegience to the brothern took greater priority than finding and understanding what is true and right. They would never correct a brother who was making a bad argument and often cheered complete nonsense.

 

There came a point where it all became redundant and predictable; I no longer benefited from the struggle.

 

Things to consider:

For a guy who wants to become a prof he's awfully thick-skulled.

Many people find it hard to believe that well educated people can be dumb. We look to them for answers and while they demonstrate a host of exceptional abilities, they can simultaneously have significant gaps in their mental abilities. Many autistic people have tremendous mental skills and yet are often inept in reading body language, gauging vocal tone and often anything that requires sequencing. My son can't remember 3 tasks he does each day (sequencing) like washing his face, brushing his teeth and combing his hair but can tell you when you read a word in a book wrong at bed time. I'm not sure but I think he may have surpassed my reading speed; he's 7.5. I'm well below average reader speed wise (your posts challenge my limits) but when I can often see an angle in a passage that others don't.

 

So, don't be afraid to conclude your prof is being sub-logical and that you are indeed smarter than him in some or perhaps many aspects.

 

Next...

So the guy says:

Personally I think that even many atheists actually believe in God they just don't realize it yet.

 

So Ruby... here is my beef with liberal xtians. Lib-xtians are tied together by a doctrine that makes no sense to them or any other truly thinking person. This reality forces the thinking and educated lib-xtian to rationalize (tell rational lies) to themselves if they want to keep that sack of crap doctrine together.

 

They have no way out of this connundrum. Either they rationalize (cherry pick AND twist) or they go elsewhere in search of a spirituality that gives them a more rational basis on which to build.

 

I have no doubt whatsoever that liberal Muslims and Jews have the same difficulties.

 

Your professor addressed a difficult issue by taking a bad argument and putting it in as nice words as he possibly could.

 

In business we call this putting lipstick on a pig.

 

Next...

Have you read Candide by Voltaire? I picked up the tapes at the library and listened to it when I used to commute.

 

Essentially the main character finds himself on a trek and encounters an array of problems and no lack of people with foolish ideas to guide him in life. In the end, he and his friends/mentors, each with different philosophical views, find a plot of land and live together and tend their garden.

 

I think the aspect of Candide I find interesting is that Candide looked to many others for advice and wisdom and was very poorly served by his experts who inevitably brought clamity his way.

 

I think one of Voltaire's themes was thinking for yourself and the difficult transition between youthful naivety to wisdom.

 

In some respects this is the trek of the Atheist. For me my trek passed through Catholicism and fundamentalism and now I'm tending my garden and taking the advice of experts with a grain of salt.

 

We trust doctrine, dogma and authority and eventually come to realize that our own judgement is sufficient.

 

Anyway... I have rambled enough.

 

Mongo

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Ruby,

 

You certainly are one persistant individual.

 

What else is new. :wicked:

 

There's other ways of saying the same thing. One word I've heard a lot, or its equivilent, is pig-headed.

 

You know, I went through a period where I waged a war of words with some family fundies. Like you, I was well reasoned and considered many different angles of an issue.

 

The responses I got were deflected and I also took a lot of basic Ad Hominin abuse - gave some pretty damn good ones in return too. :wicked:

 

I'm sure you did. I'll try not to be the brunt of your wrath because it can't be fun.:)

 

You're probably right that some day I will have had enough of it and will move on. I'm not there yet. In case you're interested, I did a fairly rational analysis of this conversation on this thread.

 

With my family--we've been through the arguments backwards and frontwards--both them and me. Not much left to say that hasn't been said. Like you say, no more benefit from the struggle. Last night I called my one sister for advice on a cooking project I was doing. Had a wonderful sisterly chat.

 

Things to consider:
For a guy who wants to become a prof he's awfully thick-skulled.

Many people find it hard to believe that well educated people can be dumb. We look to them for answers and while they demonstrate a host of exceptional abilities,

 

He may have serious blind spots like you mention in your son but I doubt it. He's too "normal." Sounds more like me. I can't balance a check book. I just realized I have an appointment I have to go to in about five minutes so I will have to cut this short.

 

I always like your rambles, Mongo. Usually some bit of wisdom I can garner from them.

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I'm back. There were a few more things I wanted to respond to.

 

I'm not sure but I think he may have surpassed my reading speed; he's 7.5. I'm well below average reader speed wise (your posts challenge my limits) but when I can often see an angle in a passage that others don't.

 

This is somewhat off-topic but how does reading speed relate to reading comprehension? The bolded part seems to be talking about reading speed and the underlined part seems to be talking about reading comprehension. My own reading speed is about in the first percentile for my age group. You are probably not much slower than that. This measures how many words per minute a person can read. My reading comprehension, however, is right up there. Just takes me a very long time to read something. Is your son autistic?

 

Your professor addressed a difficult issue by taking a bad argument and putting it in as nice words as he possibly could.

 

In business we call this putting lipstick on a pig.

 

A pig with lipstick. Let's see. Mouth opens to let out a squeal and I see two horseshoes--a top one and a bottom one--of bright red outlining the contours of the pigly lips. Yeah, I can see the resemblance between that and the logic of ribboning and bow-tying bad logic in a package of bad argument meant to pass are good advice. Now if he hadn't wrapped the thing with arrogance...

Next...

Have you read Candide by Voltaire? I picked up the tapes at the library and listened to it when I used to commute.

 

Essentially the main character finds himself on a trek and encounters an array of problems and no lack of people with foolish ideas to guide him in life. In the end, he and his friends/mentors, each with different philosophical views, find a plot of land and live together and tend their garden.

 

I think the aspect of Candide I find interesting is that Candide looked to many others for advice and wisdom and was very poorly served by his experts who inevitably brought clamity his way.

 

I think one of Voltaire's themes was thinking for yourself and the difficult transition between youthful naivety to wisdom.

 

In some respects this is the trek of the Atheist. For me my trek passed through Catholicism and fundamentalism and now I'm tending my garden and taking the advice of experts with a grain of salt.

 

We trust doctrine, dogma and authority and eventually come to realize that our own judgement is sufficient.

 

I love that story. No I've never read it so thanks for summing it up for me. Candide is me alright. It took me about forty years to wizen up and trust my own insights but I haven't looked back. Except to ask why it took me so long and that gets me nowhere so I just feel grateful that I did get out. Some people don't.

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There has been considerable conversation with this man since I posted the above. He has proven himself to be an honest man. He affirms that he sees life in me--life as in feeling truly happy. He thanked me for seeing him as a seeker. I will not repeat everything we exchanged; I just want to say that I feel our correspondence has been successful.

 

I do not think it is successful as in converting him to atheism. I mean successful as in coming to a mutual understanding and respect. I think this should be our goal. You can see part of my last email to him in my post Role of Religion. That post explains how religion can play a constructive role in human life. I do not think it is ethical to impose atheism on religious people. I think mutual understanding and respect is what we should aim for. I am sure he got a different view of himself and the world as a consequence of our dialogue.

 

The arrogance and condescension were gone from his last email to me; nor did I sense the phony humility I had sensed earlier. I don't think he was consciously aware of his attitude at first, but that eventually he realized that he was perhaps over-reacting because his faith was being challenged. I have seen very few Christians who were mature enough and strong enough to stick to a conversation long enough to come to this level of mutual respect and understanding. It gives me new insight and understanding.

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