Saturday, January 21, 2012

My "Testimony" (Condensed Version)

My parents were very keen on their children being followers of Jesus. Dad often told me that he didn’t care what career I held, as long as I was following Jesus. I remember praying the “sinner’s prayer” at an early age. It seemed like the right thing to do.

It’s an interesting thing, growing up in a Christian home. On one hand, there’s the standard held up for all to follow - try to be like Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want you to hit your sister. Jesus wants you to try your best at school. On the other hand, I was a human child, and like every other kid I’ve met, I was pretty self-absorbed. Somehow I retained the Christian label for myself in my mind, while externally I expect I was pretty normal. I did hit my sister. I didn’t try my best at school.

At around 17, I realized my life felt empty and seemed to be going nowhere with myself in control. I also realized that if this Christianity thing was any good, it needed to be my faith in God, not my parents’ faith as a proxy. And so I gave my life over to Jesus, calling him Lord and Savior. I spent the next decade dedicating myself to serving God, and to learning to be more like him. This included 4 years studying the Bible at a Bible college, 2 years studying music at a different Bible college, and then 4 more years teaching at the first Bible college.

I enjoyed this time, for the most part. I don’t feel like I was ever “spiritually abused” like some of the “deconverted” have reported.

A turning point in a faith I considered strong and unshakeable was the friendship with strong Christian friends at the second Bible college who were theistic evolutionists. That this was even possible went against everything I had come to expect in a real Christianity, but I had to admit that they did not fit with my expectations. As far as I could tell, they had a strong faith in God through Jesus Christ, despite their rejection of a literal interpretation of Genesis. I decided to investigate for myself, and read a lot of literature on evolution and creationism, from both sides of the argument.

In the end, I had to admit that evolution was the best explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. Still considering myself an Evangelical Christian, I nonetheless wondered that if I had been so wrong on the subject of Creation, was it possible to be wrong in other areas as well? A host of all the skeptical questions from my past came flooding into memory. They were questions I had rationalized away. Or ignored. Now I wondered if it was time to sincerely address them.

I waffled for quite some time with this question, but finally decided that truth was important to me, and that if I were wrong in my beliefs, I wanted to know. And so I embarked on another quest - one that I hoped would strengthen my faith and make me a better follower of Christ, as well as an example to other Christians struggling with doubt. Once again I read a lot of literature - apologetics, books on atheism, etc. - from both sides of the argument.

At the end of this, I no longer had any faith (around May 2010). My life was shaken in several ways.
The place where I worked was very Evangelical, and I knew I could not continue to teach there in good conscience, so I resigned.

My wife and I had gotten married in part because of a mutual faith (that is, marrying a Christian was on both of our lists of “musts”). This loss of faith was a blow to me, but it was a very big blow to her as well. It felt as if all our dreams for the future had just blown away.

We have three kids. How now to raise them?

Almost every one of my friends is an Evangelical Christian. I had fellowship with these people. We would pray together. We would discuss topics within the Christian system. Now that I was an outsider, there was a shift in friendship. I never felt abandoned by my friends, but the friendships changed a little - through no fault of theirs.

I made several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim my faith (the quote “Why oh why didn't I take the blue pill?” comes to mind). It’s been a hard couple years, but I’ve adjusted. My wife has adjusted. My family has adjusted. I guess we’re all still adjusting, here and there.

Change happens. I suppose adjusting is part of what it means to be alive.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Early Questions

As I write this blog, I intend a slow autobiography as I recall events from my life. Some of them will be related directly to the way I see the world now, and some will be memories - both fond and shudder-inducing. Perhaps at some point I'll be able to piece the sections of my life together into something that is cohesive and evaluable.

I have no intention of embarrassing anyone I know if they ever come across this. I hope to portray people's beliefs and opinions as accurately as possible. So I guess I'm leaving the door open to possible edits when I write posts like this.


Early Questions.

I grew up in an Evangelical missionary home. My parents were (and still are, as far as I know) Young Earth Creationists - taking Genesis 1-3 very literally. I was taught to do the same. Adam and Eve were always regarded as real history in our house, as was the historicity of the creation account, the conniving serpent, the fall of humanity, the world wide flood, the Tower of Babel, and so on down through Genesis.

This is what we believed.

But I remember having questions as a kid about these stories. Seeds of skepticism, perhaps?

At some point I learned about the Andromeda Galaxy in school, and that it was 2.5 million light years away, give or take a few thousand.

I remember asking Dad how the Earth could be a few thousand years old if the light from Andromeda was a few hundred times older than that. The fact that Andromeda is (barely) visible in our night sky means that we are seeing it as it was a couple million years ago!

I don't remember how long it took Dad to respond. But I'm pretty sure his response was something like, "Mark, God can do anything. If he can create Adam as a fully formed adult human, he can just as easily create the light of a galaxy on its way to Earth." (Let me know if you remember it differently, Dad.)

That answer satisfied me at first. Of course God can do that.

After a while, though, I began to wonder what kind of God would create things that only seemed ancient, but in reality were very young. And even worse, it wasn't just that these things only seemed ancient, but they tested to be ancient.

Assume, for a moment, that the Adam and Eve story is factual, and that we somehow got into a time machine and flew back to moments after Adam's whole breathe-into-his-nostrils-the-breath-of-life experience. Here is Adam, a few minutes old. He certainly appears to be a full grown man. But let's take a swab of his saliva, and run some tests.

How old would the tests reveal Adam to be? What was the shape of his methylation? I imagine that, since all of Adam's organic material was completely new, his age would have been revealed to be quite a lot younger than he looked.

The problem with modern examples like light from Andromeda and the geological strata is that these things don't just appear to be old. Scientific tests reveal that they are old.

If God created light en route to Earth so that scientists - people using the brains God gave them - would come to the conclusion that the universe had to be at least as old as the farthest galaxy was lightyears away, then Science is an illusion. Nothing more than a hoax. A forgery. Evidence deliberately planted to make us believe a lie. Like the Piltdown man.

If the world is indeed only ten thousand or so years old, God invented modern Cosmology. Biology. Geology.

So my question eventually was this:


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Flying too Close to Reason

The stories in the Bible are fantastic. But then again, so are the stories about Odysseus. And Apollo and his chariot. And that kid who attached feathers to his arms with wax and then flew too close to the sun.

If you want me to believe that Jesus turned water to wine, wine to blood, and blood to water (with the appropriate mixture of vinegar), why shouldn’t I also believe in... man, what’s his name? Excuse me while I look it up.

Icarus. Why shouldn’t I also believe that Icarus did indeed embark on his doomed flight?

But, you say, the stories in the Bible are true. And I know this because no other religion or mythology has God actually becoming a man and dying for his creation. All other religions, are the stories of Man’s efforts to get to God. Christianity tell’s the truth: Man can’t get to God. God has to come down to him. God has to rescue him. And that’s what God did through Jesus Christ. Jesus walked with humanity. Jesus performed miracles and told parables - and not for no reason. He turned water to wine to show that there was a new way of doing things. He called wine his blood at the Last Supper to show that he was about to give his life for humanity. Water came forth when his side was pierced by the spear as a cleansing symbol, and to show that he had indeed just sacrificed himself. The other religious stories pale in comparison.

Um, yeah. I find the story of Icarus far more compelling. It’s got people flying in it.

Jesus ascended into heaven.

Yeah, but the story doesn’t have much description in it. The story of Icarus has far more detail. We know what they did and how they did it. In that sense, it’s far more believable. Kind of like explaining exactly how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

My point is that “compelling” is a completely subjective word. While Christians find the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus - and his vicarious atonement - satisfying and compelling, others (like that Hitchens fellow) find it repulsive, barbaric, and immoral.

And just because something is compelling doesn’t make it verifiable or true.

I’m not sure you believe it because it’s compelling. I wonder if you believe it because the alternative is definitely not compelling. To think that what you’ve held onto so tightly all these years might just be a fool’s dream is not a fun thing to contemplate! So you make your feathers, and attach them to your arms. You believe you can fly.

I had faith. It was firmly implanted in my brain. But the closer I got to reason, the faster the faith melted, and eventually it was all gone.

The difference between Icarus and me? Gravity killed him. Reason saved me.

Also, Icarus isn’t real… :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Wave of the Sea

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8 ESV  
Hi there.

I live in community and isolation. My thoughts are cluttered, and rarely agreed with by those in my immediate circle of friends. Sometimes I get ideas, and this might be the place they go.

I used to be an Evangelical Christian.

I think I've given up trying to demonstrate the truth of my claim. If you believe that a Christian who falls away from the faith was never a Christian, and are unwilling to examine or admit to any evidence to the contrary, there is nothing I can do about that.

Those who know me have no problem believing me, because they knew me back then as well. Some people think they know me and try to put me into an ideological box; perhaps so that they can keep their dogma. Some people don't even pretend to know me personally, but because of what they think a deity has told them (or someone else) about my type, they can still put me into a box. God said so.

I've included the verse above, because I feel it to be a big part of why I lost my faith.

I asked for wisdom, expecting to receive it. I prayed the prayer of the father in Mark 9: "I believe! Help my unbelief!" I expected God to strengthen my faith, strengthen my resolve; to give me real wisdom. I admitted that I could not do it on my own. And then came the evidence that I was indeed doing it on my own; my faith slipped through my fingers while I wept.

I became, in the eyes of the author of James, a Wave of the Sea. Driven and tossed by the wind. Unstable and double-minded.

I suppose this is true. As I slipped into doubt, my world indeed became unstable. I indeed became double-minded. I worked at a Christian institution. I was driven and tossed between my own doubt and the ideology of my employ. I was unstable in my emotions. I was double-minded and a hypocrite. The face I presented to the world was not the same face I presented anonymously on the internet forums. I know I'm not alone in this. This blog is by no means novel.

I am no longer unstable. I still don't believe I'll get wisdom from God, but I no longer ask for it.

I finally arrived at the thought that, given a choice, I would choose truth over faith. And once I had decided this, truth became more important to me than faith, and I began to examine my faith again. I had examined it many times before and was able to tell others what I believed and why I believed it. But this time, before the examination, I discarded my presupposition that my faith was true. Every time before that, I was studying the Christian faith already believing it to be the absolute truth. This time, I allowed myself to say, "Wait and see. It might be true. It might not be. Suspend judgment until judgment can be made."

I am no longer double-minded.

For a while, I waffled between a desire for truth and a desire to keep my social network intact. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I should have taken the BLUE pill... But no. In the words of a blogger I respect:
I am, in every way…..a normal example of a person who devotedly followed after Jesus who woke up one day and finally realized that most of what he spent his life doing was predicated upon a fantasy.
I have no desire to believe in fantasy, even if it means continued comfort.

Even though I no longer feel unstable or double-minded, I'm content to think of myself as a Wave of the Sea. I have no control over the wind. I can only do my best and enjoy the clean air as I surge along with all the other waves.

Well. I've exhausted my attention span for today. As every blogger says, I hope to update this often, because I think I often get thoughts I'd like to share with no one in particular. But we'll see.