Posts tagged ‘skepticism’
Ok, maybe not embrace, but befriend?
Recently on a whim I bought a book from the new books display at my local bookstore (what else is new, right?). The title is The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church. I’m on page 53 right now, and I had to stop to think and write about something that’s been on my mind since Sam Harris’s first book came out. I’ve been thinking about it even more since I read about half of Chris Hedges’s latest while having coffee at the bookstore a few weeks ago (I decided not to buy it).
Here’s the question: Is fundamentalism the authentic religious voice?
My answer is “no”…. but I seem to be in the minority of opinion.
The media features fundamentalists or extreme conservative believers every time a topic regarding morality comes up, as if these are the only people who can speak for believers, as if they have authority to speak for all people of faith on these issues. Not only are atheists and agnostics left out of the conversation, but moderate and liberal believers often are as well. They are not taken as seriously as those who are literalist or extremist in their views, and are often considered “soft” or “lax,” as if they were not “true” followers of the faith. When journalists act this way, they are echoing the fundamentalist point of view…
I applaud many Christians on something that self-proclaimed “freethinkers” often overlook about certain religionists: the quality of their skepticism. I laud the way that a Christian can systematically dismantle their religious rivals, yet at the same time I praise those same rivals in their endeavours to knock down the Christian religion. Christians, as well as other religious adherents, definitely have a healthy dose of skepticism, defined as someone “inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions” (OED).
Many Christians doubt not only evolutionary theory, but also the actual physical evidences for it (certainly a radical skepticism indeed!). Christians, by necessity, doubt not only Hinduism, but also its philosophically astute and more universal descendant, Buddhism. If they can doubt such a sophisticated and ancient religion such as Buddhism, then certainly New Religious Movements, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Latter Day Saints, that call themselves “Christian” are certainly no match for those of “sound theology”. Furthermore, scores of Christians doubt that morality apart from God is not only improbable, but completely impossible. And almost every Christian doubts that the universe can be explained without a divine presence. I celebrate such skepticism!…
I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments on Karen’s recent post “Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?” I do appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this topic.
Discovering the meaning of life was my biggest, baddest bugaboo upon de-conversion. Life seemed drained of color without God. It was more than just no longer having a sweeping trans-historical drama in which to play a part. It was, for me, that the universe no longer seemed like a home. It was no longer warm and friendly. Instead, it was harsh, alien, bare, and empty. Working through meaning was my biggest challenge.
Here’s how it went for me. Christianity teaches, in essence, that all the sorrows of life are destined to end. All the “existential givens” such as loneliness and isolation, the responsibility to create one’s own life, the thirst for larger meaning and purpose, even death itself — all these problems are solved, for the Christian. C.S. Lewis quite explicitly teaches that all you have ever desired is destined for ultimate satisfaction in heaven. You will not die. You will not be alone. Your responsibility is only to obey. Your meaning is given to you.
Losing God for me was like that moment in all of our lives when we realize, really realize, that our parents are not really larger than life…
Oftentimes, those of us who have left religion behind are asked to define what keeps us going, what motivates us, what rescues us from the pit of existentialist despair now that we no longer believe in god. Some of us do not seem to have much of a positive belief system, others have adopted skepticism or humanism, others excavate their own philosophies of life.
A new member of an ex-fundy support group I help moderate addressed this topic recently and his answer was so interesting that I asked him if I could re-post it to this group and he graciously consented.
I wanted to share an epiphany I’ve had after many years of wandering a post-fundamentalist wasteland. Maybe it will have meaning for some of you.
My Southern Baptist fundamentalist belief began disintegrating right around the time I went off to college. This was very painful for me (as I’m sure comes as no surprise to most of you). I fought it every step of the way as my faith slowly bled from me — my belief in Christ had formed the core of my self image, and my view of myself collapsed along with the elaborate theological construction that had undergirded it…
I think it is fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his own death, is the key historical event on which Christianity rests. I know many Christians who if in their heart of hearts came to the conclusion that Jesus had never turned water to wine or made blind men see, would still hold on to their faith as long as they were convinced of the resurrection. I also think that there are few people who truly believe the resurrection happened or that Jesus was the son of god yet do not consider themselves Christian. Conversely, people who don’t believe in the deity and resurrection of Jesus don’t really fall into the category or believer with which I am interested.
So what is the process from damnation to Christian salvation?
Discussions with believers tend to follow a consistent path. If I say that having read the gospels, I am unconvinced that they represent proof or even good evidence of the resurrection, they will argue sometimes very intelligently as to why the proof is good and why I am wrong to disbelieve. If I am honest with them and say that I remain unconvinced they say that I need to open my mind and let the spirit in… let Jesus do the work, he’s knocking at the door just let him in. Or something along those lines…
My former pastor had a favorite anecdote to share on why his flock should not look beyond the teachings of his faith camp in their studies. He relayed that the individuals who are responsible for discovering counterfeit money do not study the different counterfeits in order to learn about counterfeits. They ONLY focused on the real thing so when the counterfeit came along, they would immediately know it was not real. If they also studied counterfeits, they would be too confused as to what is real to be effective in their job. This admonishment was aimed at keeping the flock in subjection to his teachings and to discourage them from listening to those who were critical of the message of faith.
In response to the chaplain’s post Christian Education or Indoctrination?, Karen made this comment:
Education teaches people how to think; indoctrination teaches people what to think. All the religious instruction I went through as a child was distinctly of the latter variety. Even as an adult, I was warned not to educate myself about other religious beliefs. As I was questioning Christianity, I looked into Buddhism and Judaism and bought a couple of books on those topics. My husband objected that I was bringing evil spirits into our household and he did not want them physically “tainting” our home! The only way to learn about other religious beliefs “safely” was to take a course on world religions that a missionary group offered at our church. Of course, you can imagine how “objective” that course was – all other religions were presented as deceptions of Satan! There was absolutely no objective presentation of religious beliefs outside of Christianity…