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.