Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rites of passage: Faith, Reason and Coming of Age

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Me, 1999. I'm not this fat now
but I don't have digital camera




Ok listen up deadbeats,


Sunday, October 07, 2007On the Debunking Christianity Blog Caleb Wimble posted an article: "The Greatest Enemy". This is basically an anti-testimony. The atheist community began using this tactic several years ago. I always thought it was a sign that they were intimidated by the dramatic "born again" testimony. The dramatic testimony is the major reason the Jesus and Charismatic movements of the early 70's grew to such great proportions. This article is really a coming of age myth. It's the story of how Wimble grew to manhood and somewhere along the way decided to re think the Christianity he had been raised in, eventually rejecting it. The ultimate "moral" of the tale seems to be the lesson learned, that Christianity is counter to reason. Wimble's seems to have been an initiation into the world of thinking for oneself and thus religion was something that had to be left behind.

By way of introduction to this theme, Wimble quotes Martin Luther:

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God."


He then adds

Martin Luther could scarcely have worded it better. For the greater part of my life, I held a faith that I believed was unified with reason. I was a devout Christian in every sense of the word, living a life for Christ and striving to place him (or at least my perception of him) at the center of all my endeavors. I was a regular Apostle Paul in regards to my fiery defense of the Word, taking every opportunity to engage in debate with the skeptic and show him the error of his ways.


Of course I need to bitch at this guy about this. He takes the Luther quote out of context. Luther said that from the stand point of a real thinker who was clearly involved in questioning his tradition and his faith.Anyone who would think that Luther did not question is sadly ignorant. Anyone who thinks that Christianity itself is devoid of reason, knowns nothing about the Western tradition in letters. The lions share of great thinkers in the west have been Christians and only trickle have been atheists.

But he goes on:

Through all this, however, I committed the same crime of reason that nearly all believers are guilty of committing throughout the whole of their walk: I never truly questioned my faith. However deeply I thought through the issues, however strongly I researched and defended my beliefs, the possibility of being wrong was never more than unnoticeable abstract, hidden somewhere within the recesses of my subconscious.
And when the day came that I finally accepted that possibility, my world was rocked to its core.



This is the part I want to talk to you about. He assumes that Christians never question. I quoted my faith at the same age that he did, and with the same result. I became an atheist. I was an atheist for a few years. I was a good atheist a "real" gung ho atheist. I hatred religion and religious people and I took every opportunity to deride and degrade them and to show how much more intelligent I am than they are, like any good little atheist knows he should do. But I went a step further. I began to really seek truth, which of course no atheist will. Through this I began to see that yes it is a coming of age initiation to question your faith. It's independent and intellectually mature to reject the faith of your youth, but it' more intellectual and more responsible to go through that and come out the other side realizing that the fault lay not in God belief but in the proventialism of the fundamentalist camp.

Once I found a theologian who was brilliant and profound, and yet held to the true faith sincerely and in a moving way, I was stunned. That theologian was Burnett Hillman Streeter. The book was The Privative Church (1924). I was researching to disprove the bible. I was going to write a rebuttal to Josh McDowell. This was the late 70s I was a sophomore in college. At first I loved the book because I thought he was the tearing the bible to shreds. I was so ignorant of the liberal theological tradition that I thought his talk about the Q source and so were arguments against the truth of the New Testament. Then I came across a statement where he expressed his actual faith in a deep and moving way. I was stunned. There was a lot more to it than that. This was not my conversion, but tit was a necessary first step. I think it's important here because that "counter testimony" of Wimble's trades upon an old and cherished truism, one that meant a lot to me during my atheist years. That is the myth of intellectual freedom. Of course one who has never experienced intellectual freedom doesn't know what it really is. One who had not delved deeply into the world of thought is easily led astray with the first few amazing outings into the rearified air. It's take familiarity with the world of letters to realize just how deeply indebted is the modern world of thought to Christianity and Christian thinkers. I suspect that many of those on the DC blog are not aware of this because they are, as I was, sequestered into the closed subculture of the fundamentalist. As I learned, there is a whole world of liberal theology out there and once you become aware of it and draw the circle of Christianity bigger the whole complexion of faith changes.

I have a dramatic testimony. Apparently atheists seem to either find them intimidating or they know the power of them them. They seek to counter the technique with their own stories of the loss of faith. I find their "deconversion stories" to be pale imitations. I'm not saying they are not true, but I don't find them moving or exciting I find them a please imitation. It's like they are saying "I can tell stories too." but their stories are not exciting, they don't end in the subject finding great joy that lasts a life time and so forth. Of course they claim they are exciting and that they find joy that lasts a life time. At the same time of course they disparage experiences and live in horror of the dreaded "subjective." With me they have a problem. I experienced the alleged great joy of finding the world of books as an escape hatch from the dreaded religious world. Now I have to admit the have a point. If the religious world from which one is emerging is very oppressive, then discovery of thinking for oneself, and the world of books, is quite joy making. Of course the world of books is a wonderful thing in its own right, but to claim that one cannot discover that and remain a Christian is, of course, silly. The problem is I have experienced this. While I do not claim that my experiences are exactly like all other atheists, I do know what its like to emerge from an oppressive religious environment through the discovery of letters. It was great, it was joyful, but it does not compare to the joy that came with finding Jesus, not to any degree. Moreover, the person who led me to the Lord, a friend of my sister named "Judy" who was an award winning journalist* showed me early on that there is nothing anti-Christian or anti-faith about an intellectual life. Nothing meant more to be than the intellectual life. That was basically my religion. It became even more important to them after finding God, because I found that there is a connection, God is on the other end of all the things I find in art that give me transcendence and prompt me to continue seeking perfection through art.

It seems odd to me that atheists are always so intent upon imposing upon their reality their own experiences as though they think they are so universal. They find faith and reason a burden, they shirk any word from a real person of faith who is also a thinker, as though we, the religious minded thinking people, can' possibly know our own experinces, and ony they, who shirk faith, can understand how impossible it is to have both faith and reason. There are times when those two things have to be reconciled. There are thorny issues that must be resolved, yet I rarely see the issues that seem to baffle atheists and cause them to stumble as anything like a problem. For example, John Loftus seems to think that free will in heaven is a really big deal. I think think its a pseudo problem. It's more like the bread and butter that keeps theologians employed is just really too much for them, but just up our alley. Perhaps that's why we have faith and they don't, and perhaps that's why they should leave the theologizing to us.

I think two things precipitate this problem:

(1) They define faith as "believing things when one has to reason or evidence upon which to place belief." That's the polite way of saying it. I suspect they really define faith as "being stupid."

(2) They insist upon a totally unrealistic version of inerrancy. The atheist notion of inerrancy is more legalistic and unyielding than the most hardshell baptist.Atheists oten make the guys in white button down shirts and crew cuts standing on the corner wailing about hell look like Paul Tillich.

Faith is a complex concept. In the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology there's over a page of definition there. When boiled down it amounts to a kind of faithfulness like being faithful to someone, and placing confidence in an hypothesis. Hebrews tells us faith "the evidence of things not seen." Faith is a from of evidence in itself own right. It is not believing something without any evidence it is evidence itself. If you recall my blog pieces about the "co-determinate" you can see what I mean.

Something about the skeptical mind that drags one into a abyss of circular reasoning, begging the question and special pleading. Skeptical minds feed off of themselves. The logical end of atheism should be solipsism but for the contradictions inherent in the natural way people build their castles of the air. The skeptical mind is anything but reasonable. It is actually based upon the dictum if there is the slightest room for doubt then I must doubt." OF course no atheist lives up to this or the would go nuts because we can doubt even our own existences. But the natural ability to people to reason inconstantly saves them from this fate by allowing them to manufacture a truth regime and an ideology that glosses over the inconstancies in their own views while dogmatically refusing to ever recognize anything that could count as evidence for faith. This is why it's so totally meaningless for them to disparage faith; because their views is not reason, it's question begging. Nothing can ever count for faith. If religion isn't proven 100% then its' totally false and that makes it irrational, but of course they don't require that that their own or the positions they do hold be 100% proven.

The whole problem can be summed up in saying it's fine to break out of a closed universe and discover the limitless world of the intellect. But there is a danger of creating another closed world and being trapped by one's own pretensions if one doesn't' keep moving intellectually. It's not enough for a basis of a world view to just doubt other people's world views and not seek anything beyond that. When you predetermine that nothing beyond that could possibly be true and that no evidence can ever count for it, then you just seal yourself up again in another limited world.








*she won two national press awards, one for a photo and one for a print story.

13 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

(1) They define faith...
(2) They insist...


You stereotype us. Why?

Say, how does it feel to actually get a comment here?

Nice picture!

J.L. Hinman said...

You stereotype us. Why?

>>>Message boards. all the atheists I see on boards say that. Maybe blog atheists are different? I hope so. Refreshing change.

Say, how does it feel to actually get a comment here?

>>>I get comments sometimes. once and a while. Its' money I don't get.

Nice picture!

thanks. Bergmann is my favorite!

J.L. Hinman said...

you meant the pic with the article. I thought you meant by blog pic that's always up, the knight playing chess with death from Bergmann's Seventh Seal.

well thanks.

Layman said...

Meta,

I added a link at the bottom of my post on the same subject so people could read about your experience.

I especially like how you framed the issue as the DC poster giving up to early and actually being lazy in his intellectual search.

Loftus,

I notice you didn't sign off with "Please, no ad hominens." Curious.

John W. Loftus said...

Layman, I think I initially misjudged Metarock since I get so many ad hominems thrown at me over at your CADRE blog. It was quite natural that he would do the same, especially since his first comment to me was my first impression of him, and it reinforced my views of the people at that blog. I think Metarock is different, and respectful, so I will treat him the way he treats me from now on, with respect, until proven otherwise, and I don't think he will prove otherwise. I apologize to him.

Layman, that's all it takes. Not too much to ask from you, either, okay?

J.L. Hinman said...

hey thanks John. I appreciate it.

Caleb Wimble said...

"This is basically an anti-testimony. The atheist community began using this tactic several years ago."

I wouldn't know; I've been an atheist less than a year, and the "community" in which I live is a Christian one. I apologize for utilizing an overly familiar "tactic," if that's what you wish to call it. The simple truth of the matter is that I was asked to create an introduction for myself, and I complied succinctly to the best of my abilities.


"This article is really a coming of age myth."

How nice of you to so conveniently dismiss my entire life story. It's always so pleasant to be given the benefit of the doubt in this manner.


"It's the story of how Wimble grew to manhood

No, it isn't. My journey to atheism in no way correlates to a "coming of age" of any sort. Incidentally, I regard my father as among the greatest men I have ever know, regardless of his belief in what I consider to be a delusion. But I scarcely see how "manhood" has anything to do with the issue in the first place.


"The ultimate "moral" of the tale seems to be the lesson learned, that Christianity is counter to reason."

There is no "moral" of the tale. It is a story for acquaintance sake alone.


"Wimble's seems to have been an initiation into the world of thinking for oneself and thus religion was something that had to be left behind."

Not at all. I was a free-thinker for years before giving up my faith. The issue of whether my belief in Christ was reasonable simply took longer to come to my attention than numerous other issues which I began to examine for myself intellectually.
My parents, when asked, can attest to my lifetime nature of questioning, of challenging blind acceptance in all areas of thought.


"Of course I need to bitch at this guy about this. He takes the Luther quote out of context."

Yes, yes, I am fully aware that whenever an atheist brings forth a quote of any Christian or any portion of the Bible, he/she is invariably taking the quotation out of context, regardless of its blatantly obvious meaning.


"Luther said that from the stand point of a real thinker who was clearly involved in questioning his tradition and his faith.Anyone who would think that Luther did not question is sadly ignorant."

Of course Luther "questioned" a great many ludicrousies - all the while clinging blindly to a host of others (I suggest you research his bizarre "convictions" regarding the so-called inspiration of the Bible as a whole).
We are talking about a man who seemed to attribute any and every natural phenomenon to the work of fiendish demons, need I remind you. In any case, I provided the quote for narrative sake alone, and I certainly wasn't attempting to build a thesis (let alone an argument) off it.


"Anyone who thinks that Christianity itself is devoid of reason, knowns nothing about the Western tradition in letters."

Oh, I agree with you completely. I would never presume to claim that Christianity is "devoid" of reason, by any means.


"The lions share of great thinkers in the west have been Christians and only trickle have been atheists."

And I don't suppose that could have anything to do with the fact that the church ruled and firmly dominated the west for well over a millennium? Good god, man, think about what you're saying for a minute. In the year 2007, in the supposedly "post-Christian" nation of the United States of America (which incidentally still has a professed Christian population over well over 50%), atheists are maligned and mistrusted by society moreso than any other minority, despite being the least violent and most highly educated minority in the nation.


"He assumes that Christians never question. "

I make no such assumption. If that were true, I would obviously never have left my Christianity.


"I hatred religion and religious people and I took every opportunity to deride and degrade them and to show how much more intelligent I am than they are, like any good little atheist knows he should do."


Your comparison of your own life to mine is misguided, at best. I do not hate religious people by any means - virtually everyone I love is a believer, both among family and friends. I take no such opportunities to degrade them, and I certainly do not pretend to be of any higher "intelligence" than any of them.
If anything, my fear of the loss of my relationships with those I love is the reason I am still in the atheistic closet. We are not alike at all, you and I.


"But I went a step further. I began to really seek truth, which of course no atheist will."

Whatever else you may accuse me of, I will certainly not let you get away with so blatant an erroneous assertion as this one.


"It's take familiarity with the world of letters to realize just how deeply indebted is the modern world of thought to Christianity and Christian thinkers."

This goes without saying. Again, the western world is only just now leaving millennia of Christian dominance over life and thought. Of course a great many of our best thinkers were Christians.


"I suspect that many of those on the DC blog are not aware of this because they are, as I was, sequestered into the closed subculture of the fundamentalist. As I learned, there is a whole world of liberal theology out there and once you become aware of it and draw the circle of Christianity bigger the whole complexion of faith changes."

Every Christian group blames every other Christian group for atheistic misconceptions of Christianity - this humorous "tactic" has been used unceasingly with full force since the days of the Protestant Reformation. You have no idea just how amusing it truly is to read comments identical to your own from every end of the board.
"No TRUE Scotsman would do such a thing," after all.

Regardless, I can assure you that I was fully exposed to "liberal" theology during my journey to atheism. Indeed, I spent a fair period of time in such a state, as more of a backlash from the ludicrousy of fundamentalism than anything else. It did not take long, however, before I realized that the liberal Christian faith was every bit as ludicrous, if often for different reasons.


"With me they have a problem."

Do we? I must have missed the memo. I hardly see how your personal re-conversion should pose a threat to my personal faculties of reason.


"Moreover, the person who led me to the Lord, a friend of my sister named "Judy" who was an award winning journalist* showed me early on that there is nothing anti-Christian or anti-faith about an intellectual life."

I strongly held such a belief before I began to leave my faith. Again, our stories differ a great deal more than you might think.


"Nothing can ever count for faith. If religion isn't proven 100% then its' totally false and that makes it irrational, but of course they don't require that that their own or the positions they do hold be 100% proven."

I do not have "100% proof" for any of my current beliefs regarding reality, nor do I demand it. I require only sufficient evidence, not proof.
Incidentally, I seriously doubt that you have researched even the tiniest fraction of the total number of religions in the world, and yet I suspect you believe with fair certainty that they are all wrong while your religion is right, despite the fact that you have not seen fit to look into each of them with the same attention you have given Christianity throughout your life.

From the most basic precept of the Christian faith, I do not even require 100% proof of the mere existence of a god. I simply ask for one shred of reasonable empirical evidence in favor of such a notion. I have yet to find any thus far, let alone evidence to lead me to believe that Christianity should be more valid than any other theistic belief system. If anything, Christianity has a great deal more evidence against its validity than other major religions, due largely to the severe detail of the Bible (which leaves only more room for gross error and inconsistency, especially given its hybridist origins).


"It's not enough for a basis of a world view to just doubt other people's world views and not seek anything beyond that. When you predetermine that nothing beyond that could possibly be true and that no evidence can ever count for it, then you just seal yourself up again in another limited world."

I have done no such thing. If, for instance, the rapture or the second coming of Christ were to occur tomorrow, you can bet I'd change my beliefs about truth in an instance. However, we've been waiting nearly two thousand years now, and there the chances of either occurrence do not seem to be growing any higher.

And that is merely an example of great exaggeration. It would take much less than the rapture to make me reconsider the Christian God for existence, but obviously he seems to be spending most of his time in utter silence and inactivity these days.

In closing, I would like to comment merely for notice's sake that my post to which you wrote this "rebuttal" was nothing more than an introductory topic to tell the frequenters of DC a little bit about myself. I find it fascinating, to say the least, that you are willing to expend so much effort in an attempt to somehow invalidate my life story. Obviously I am not worthy of simple human respect; again, who cares about the benefit of the doubt these days? Especially from a stupid teenager, right?

J.L. Hinman said...

This is basically an anti-testimony. The atheist community began using this tactic several years ago."

I wouldn't know; I've been an atheist less than a year, and the "community" in which I live is a Christian one. I apologize for utilizing an overly familiar "tactic," if that's what you wish to call it. The simple truth of the matter is that I was asked to create an introduction for myself, and I complied succinctly to the best of my abilities.

this is not like some damming thing. But if you had said "this is an intro I was asked to make" it would have been better.


"This article is really a coming of age myth."

How nice of you to so conveniently dismiss my entire life story. It's always so pleasant to be given the benefit of the doubt in this manner.

I think you might mistake the term "myth" here. A coming of age "myth" is not a lie. this is one big problem with atheists a lot of their disgruntlement with the bible stems from just not knowing anything about literature.

a myth is not necessarily untrue, and a coming of age myth is a literary genre, like the novel Cather in the Rye. Or Hawthorne's story "my Kinsman Major Molenot"


"It's the story of how Wimble grew to manhood

No, it isn't. My journey to atheism in no way correlates to a "coming of age" of any sort. Incidentally, I regard my father as among the greatest men I have ever know, regardless of his belief in what I consider to be a delusion. But I scarcely see how "manhood" has anything to do with the issue in the first place.

because it does.You were a kid, rebelling against what we are given is the first step to becoming independent grown ups.


"The ultimate "moral" of the tale seems to be the lesson learned, that Christianity is counter to reason."

There is no "moral" of the tale. It is a story for acquaintance sake alone.

you are so easily riled and put off by literary writing style. Or what it is, for want of a better way to describe the way I was writing. It's just a writing style.


"Wimble's seems to have been an initiation into the world of thinking for oneself and thus religion was something that had to be left behind."

Not at all. I was a free-thinker for years before giving up my faith. The issue of whether my belief in Christ was reasonable simply took longer to come to my attention than numerous other issues which I began to examine for myself intellectually.
My parents, when asked, can attest to my lifetime nature of questioning, of challenging blind acceptance in all areas of thought.


Ok

"Of course I need to bitch at this guy about this. He takes the Luther quote out of context."

Yes, yes, I am fully aware that whenever an atheist brings forth a quote of any Christian or any portion of the Bible, he/she is invariably taking the quotation out of context, regardless of its blatantly obvious meaning.

do you really expect us to believe that you weren't trying imply that Luther was against reason because Christianity is against reason? If not then you should be more aware of how it will be taken because I know a couple hundred atheist who do think that.

you going lnie by line through the whole deal? ok well have fun.

thanks for sharing.

John W. Loftus said...

Joe, I see you and Caleb have met. How's it feel to deal with a 17 yr old who can take you apart? ;-)

As I said, you really need to dialog with us atheists to find out what we believe. You either were not an atheist for very long, or you forget what atheists believe.

Cheers!

J.L. Hinman said...

Joe, I see you and Caleb have met. How's it feel to deal with a 17 yr old who can take you apart? ;-)

I'm not 17. You didn't meet me when I was 17.

As I said, you really need to dialog with us atheists to find out what we believe. You either were not an atheist for very long, or you forget what atheists believe.

Atheists in my day were different. I was an atheist in the mode of Jean-Paul Sartre. Dawkins wouldn't be worthy to caddy for Sartre.

J.L. Hinman said...

I wasn't an atheist that long, ages 15-23. But I knew people who were close to Madylin Murry O'Hair.

John W. Loftus said...

I said...Joe, I see you and Caleb have met. How's it feel to deal with a 17 yr old who can take you apart? ;-)

Joe, I was NOT referring to you, but the Caleb. He's 17 years old! Surprising isn't it?

J.L. Hinman said...

Joe, I was NOT referring to you, but the Caleb. He's 17 years old! Surprising isn't it?

I know I was making a joke. this is why I stuck with market research and didn't take it on the road doing stand up.