Search This Blog

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Atheists in the Pulpit

I came across a fascinating article yesterday in the Washington Post by Daniel Dennett entitled, Skeptical Clergy a Silent Majority. The article deals with a study that was done by Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He begins the article by saying:
Here are some questions that have haunted me for years. How many preachers actually believe what they say from the pulpit? We know that every year some clergy abandon their calling, no longer able to execute their duties with conviction. This can never be a decision taken lightly, and many of them labored on for years before taking the leap. Are they the tip of an iceberg? Is there a problem of deep hypocrisy separating many pastors from their flocks? What is it like to be a non-believing preacher? How do they reconcile their private skepticism with the obligations of their position? And how did they get into their predicament?

Dennett and LaScola interviewed five Protestant pastors who are all still currently serving their churches, yet have given up belief in God (you can read full interviews here). Three of these men are in liberal churches and two are in conservative churches. Some people, I think, would initially react by saying, how hypocritical of these men to continue preaching when they no longer believe what they preach. I can sympathize with that sentiment but I can also sympathize with the preachers because I used to be in their same shoes.

I started having serious doubts about my faith sometime in the year 1994. I can remember being in El Paso, Texas preaching in a Baptist church and during the middle of my sermon, the thought hit me, you don't really believe what you are saying. It was a frightening thought and almost disrupted my sermon. I was taught to attribute such thoughts to the devil. So I went back to my room and prayed for the Lord to defeat the devil in my life and to increase my faith. I decided to investigate as thoroughly as I could all of the issues that were causing me to doubt my evangelical theology. I was in my 8th year of teaching in a Bible college. I never shared with anyone the nature of my doubts because frankly that is not allowed in strict evangelical circles. It was okay for students or new Christians to have doubts but not for a leader and especially not for someone with a Ph.D. in Theology who was entrusted to teach young people studying for the ministry.

At the end of the 1995 school year, I decided that maybe what I needed was a less academic role and a more pastoral role. Thus, I accepted a position as a Pastor at a local Baptist church in Arizona. I spent two years there and my doubts became worse. The last 6 months of my stay, I was convinced that the Bible was not the Word of God and that evangelical Christianity was like every other religion that exists, man-made. Those 6 months were difficult because I felt like a complete hypocrite. I had to get up and teach something that I personally could no longer believe.

The honorable thing, some would say, would have been to resign immediately. I agree but its difficult when you are married, your wife doesn't work, you have two small children, a mortgage and no marketable skills. What could I do? Resign and go to work at Walmart? It was a very difficult situation. Fortunately, in my case, someone approached me who was starting a new business, a recruiting business, and asked me if I would like to run the administrative part of it. I was delighted. I resigned the church and began my new career. It has worked out very well for me and I have been in the executive recruiting business now for 13 years.

So, I do sympathize with these men, but I also think that they need to find a way to get out of the ministry for the sake of their own sanity and self-esteem. In addition, they need to get out for the sake of their parishoners. I believe its wrong to intentionally mislead them. One of the pastors had this to say about his role:
Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I kind of see myself as taking on a role of a believer in a worship service, and performing. Because I know what to say. I know how to pray publicly. I can lead singing. I love singing. I don’t believe what I’m saying anymore in some of these songs. But I see it as taking on the role and performing. Maybe that’s what it takes for me to get myself through this, but that’s what I’m doing.

I think that is sad and its unhealthy for the church and for the preacher. I wonder how many preachers are doing the same thing as this man every Sunday?

Here is the story of Scott Campbell , an evangelical Baptist pastor who found himself in the pulpit although he no longer believed.

I must also ask why do Christians have so many doubts if the Christian religion is true? Someone in the comment section on the article by Dennett and LaScola said this: Even the most devout and confident among us will have days when we step into the pulpit praying, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." To which another person replied:
I have often heard religious people say this, and frankly, it boggles my mind. This kind of crisis of confidence seldom, if ever, happen to people in other lines of work. A programmer does not wake up thinking that computers don't really work after all. Biologists don't worry that natural selection doesn't exist. Farmers do not question the wisdom or benefit of growing carrots. With all due respect, it seems to me that if you have difficulty believing something, or you keep coming up with reasons to doubt, you should immediately stop trying to believe it. Put aside religion and if compelling evidence emerges later on, you can always go back to believing. (I'll grant it would hard to do that if religion is your livelihood.) When a programmer develops grave doubts about a design, it is time to abandon that approach and try something new. A Democrat who decides Republican ideology makes more sense should change parties (and vice versa!). What possible benefit can there be to holding back and trying to persuade yourself to ignore a logical conclusion that fits the facts? It is an abuse of your own intellect. You can't do it anyway; your mind rebels. You just give yourself a headache -- or neurosis. It is like trying to eat food that tastes rotten.

He is correct. We don't doubt most things that we believe. Why do so many doubt Christianity? Could it be because its really not true?


  1. Yes, that constant dis-ease in your mind when you are always doubting is very unpleasant and can't be healthy in any way. Best to admit that maybe you are trying to believe something that isn't true-at least consider that possibility.

  2. Difficult situation indeed. I certainly don't envy you or anyone going through that.
    Couple questions though:

    It seems that the examples given - computer programming, biology, farming - have made huge advances, or at least huge changes, based on doubt in once popularly accepted ideologies. So, I'm not sure that these fields are immune to doubt.

    Does the suggestion to “immediately stop trying to believe it” work both ways? religion > doubt > de-convert, OR no religion > doubt > convert? Or, more to the point, do you ever doubt what you believe since de-conversion?

  3. Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting.

    This says a great deal. I think it's coming from the same place. Drama, military pageantry, competitiveness, territorialism, the dramatic and "religious" impulses - I think they're all coming from the same area(s) of the brain. It's all ritual and display. This fellow's just being honest about it.

    You know what struck me most about your post?

    Fortunately, in my case, someone approached me who was starting a new business, a recruiting business, and asked me if I would like to run the administrative part of it. I was delighted. I resigned the church and began my new career.

    You were in a quandary, didn't know what you were going to do, and this person appeared and offered you a way out. If it had happened in reverse - if you were in a secular job you hated, wanted to pastor a church and were "miraculously" given the opportunity - nearly all evangelicals would see this as a gift from God. However, an opportunity appearing spontaneously that takes you away from the Church - this can only come from the Devil!

    I say this all the time - they really ought to just change the name of the religion from "Christianity" to "Confirmation Biasism" (or "Projectionism") and get it over with.

  4. Paul,

    That's an excellent question. The fact is that I have not doubted the falsity of evangelical Christianity since I de-converted. Not even for a moment. As a matter of fact, my conclusion has been strengthened by 1) listening to debates such as Craig v. Ehrman; 2) going to church which I sometimes do with my mother (conservative SBC church); and 3) interacting with Christians like I did yesterday on Pyromaniacs.

  5. Cipher,

    You are exactly right and I have thought it about it. It was almost providential how the opportunity came together for me to change careers. A Christian would have definitely said: The Lord is opening the door or the Lord is showing you his will if the situation had been reversed. So maybe it was the devil opening the door? I am sure that is what some of the good folks over on Pyromaniacs would probably say. BTW, the name Pyromaniac does fit them pretty well: Maniacs breathing fire is pretty much what they are over there.

  6. Maniacs breathing fire is pretty much what they are over there.

    Yeah, that's scary place. These are the sort of folks who think John Piper is too soft (although they do, apparently, link to him). I haven't been there but three or four times, and each time, I take a quick look around and leave.

    I noticed that "Witness" has one of their cartoon-like emblems on his blog; the caption is: "Friend of Sinners". Friend of Sinners! They think God decided from the beginning of time to damn us all eternally! Why would they bother befriending us?

    Calvinists really are the worst people in the world. I'm convinced that people outside of the evangelical subculture don't understand what a pervasive influence Calvinism is, even upon those who wouldn't define themselves as Calvinists.

  7. Cipher,

    I think you are right but you know whats really scary? I believe Calvinistic theology is probably the most accurate theology biblically. I think Arminians as well modified Calvinists and of course liberal Christians are appalled by the logical implications of Calvinism and thus seek to tone it down or reject it altogether. In as sense, I have some respect for the Calvinist in that they don't try to soften how wrathful there God is. Of course, they can don't mind because after all they are part of the elect . This allows them to be very smug.

  8. I believe Calvinistic theology is probably the most accurate theology biblically.

    Do you really think so? My feeling for years has been that you can find passages to justify pretty much anything you want to believe, from Calvinism to Universalism.

    I don't know; perhaps you're right. Perhaps, as a whole package, the Bible does support Calvinism more completely than it does other ideologies. I find that very depressing, for some reason. Although I'm often vicious in my condemnation of Christians and Christianity, I guess I've entertained the hope that the liberal Christians weren't completely deluded, that it was at least partly redeemable.

    Of course, they can don't mind because after all they are part of the elect . This allows them to be very smug.

    Oh, absolutely! They're like Smug, Inc. You notice you never meet a Calvinist who thinks s/he isn't one of the elect? I suppose they'd just tell me that if someone is a Calvinist, it means God has opened his eyes, so of course, by definition, he's one of the elect.

    Miserable, selfish bastards, the lot of them.

  9. Cipher,

    I should have said that I think Calvinism is most consistent with the teachings of Paul and of course Paul is the real founder of Christian theology. I do maintain, though, that there are a number of different theologies in the Bible. This is of course what you would expect coming from men. If it were truly of divine origin, then the theology would be consistent all the way through.

  10. This is of course what you would expect coming from men. If it were truly of divine origin, then the theology would be consistent all the way through.


    Well, Ken, you got me in a moment of weakness. Now, as an atheist, I have to go out and eat a baby to strengthen my resolve!

  11. I find this fascinating, especially in light of your blog, the stuff written by Bruce Gerencser, and my own experiences.

    I grew up Evangelical. I was one of those kids who was never cool at school, but was granted a lot of respect at church youth group. As such, I took shelter in the church and some time around the tail end of my high school career I started to believe that god was calling me to the ministry.

    My plan was to get a Bachelors in history at a state school, because I love history and intended to go on to get a M.Div, anyway, and my undergrad was simply a means to an end. Unfortunately for my plans, it turns out that I'm a pretty good historian and quite good at doing research and following the evidence. I started to have my own doubts about the validity of Christianity, especially my own version that pretty much seemed to not line up with observable reality in any way. By the time I'd wrapped up my undergrad I had serious doubts, but I was still working on going to Seminary because a.) I wasn't sure what else to do and b.) I thought that going to Seminary would help me stop my doubts. But the idea of investing several years and tens of thousands of dollars in to Seminary also seemed like a really, really bad idea.

    Of all the things that gave pause, two pastors might have had the greatest influence. Not because they told me not to go, but because they were jerks. They were extremely authoritarian and would quash any notion they perceived as going against their wishes, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with their supposed god-given authority. One of the pastors was, quite frankly, a moron. The other, though, was intelligent, but fearful of anything that he perceived as being different from his insular interpretation of the Bible to a degree I found disturbing. He didn't like Muslims, but he hated the post-modernist church movement (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, etc.)...

    I realized at some point that the second pastor probably had a lot of doubt. But rather than entertain his doubts he doubled-down and basically became abusive. I also realized that if I continued down the path I was taking I would probably end up much like that pastor. I'm sure I don't have to explain it, but it's hard to just quit something that you've spent so much time and money on.

  12. Sorry for the double post...

    Paul D: Does the suggestion to “immediately stop trying to believe it” work both ways? religion > doubt > de-convert, OR no religion > doubt > convert? Or, more to the point, do you ever doubt what you believe since de-conversion?

    The initial stages, at least in my experience, are filled with doubt. You lose friends and family and if you've invested much of your social life in to the church you pretty much lose your world. So the question often comes up, "Wouldn't it be better to just go back?" I could have faked it. Hell, I'm still fluent in Christianese.

    Inevitably those people you left behind try to reel you back in. In my experience, and in the experience of a lot of people who went through it, those moments actually strengthen resolve and dissolve doubt. Those "air-tight" proofs of god suddenly seem extremely leaky. Those friendly, "Hey, just want you to know we still love you and would accept you if you come back," messages seem so transparent.

    Oddly, though, the biggest "doubts" that I had came recently, after I'd spent more than a year feeling pretty confident.

    I'd lived in Chicago all my life. One of the Seminaries I was considering was Dallas Theological. One of my best friends from college had family down in Texas and was considering moving back for reasons I don't recall. He got it in to his head that god wanted the two of us to go to Dallas and start a church (because if there's anything they need in Dallas, it's more churches...).

    I couple years ago he moved to Dallas. By then neither one of us wanted to have anything to do with Christianity. I stayed in Chicago and got a job with a company that had some operations down in Dallas. Last year they decided to send my job down and I decided to go with it, since, y'know, bad economy and all.

    I'd totally forgotten about the whole starting a church in Dallas thing until my buddy sent me a text jokingly asking if we should still start a church. All of the sudden I had the old "look for god's leading" instincts kick in. But then logic kicked in. Yeah, there are a series of crazy coincidences that brought me to Dallas. Yeah, I could attribute some sort of divine leading to it.

    But the evidence all points to there not being a god who is trying to make the world in a Christian image. As such, the coincidences, no matter how crazy, are just that: coincidence. If there is no divine, purposeful nature driving me around, then the fact that I'm in Dallas is just goofy.

    Of course my buddy and I are still kicking around the idea of starting some sort of gathering of non-believers deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. But I'm pretty sure that's not what Jesus would have had in mind...

  13. Ken - thanks.
    I don't doubt what I don't believe either. But occasionally I doubt, head check, or at least consider that what I DO believe could be wrong. Do you?

  14. Ged - thanks

    Geds: The initial stages, at least in my experience, are filled with doubt...the biggest "doubts" that I had came recently.

    would you say doubt is pretty universal among man and that the statement "you should immediately stop trying to believe it" might be a bit rash?

  15. Smug.Inc. Amen.

    I went to Evangelical bible studies with some friends, who believed. I didn’t believe, but my friends, who in every respect seemed so normal and well educated, wanted me to go. After 5 years of studying, I came to the conclusion that it was false. My friends were horrified. I laid out my reasons why and no one could answer me. But they said, well I’m sure my pastor has the answer. Each one took me to their pastors - who were from different denominations. I asked my questions (always respectfully) and they didn’t have answers. I even sent my questions ahead of time about specific bible passages so they wouldn’t be blind sided. My friends who went with me wound up in tears. The pastors were angry and often told me that I had scales over my eyes and that’s why I couldn’t understand. One even slammed his bible shut - it wasn’t very biblical. One assistant pastor got together a group of men from his church - probably to prove to them that I was wrong - and we had several meetings. I was called names, told I was arrogant, and the meetings got so heated I thought it would get violent. Still, I never got the answers.

    I haven’t been able to find a word that accurately portrayed the underlying attitude until now.

    Now I wonder - was it smugness used to cover up insecurity?

  16. Now I wonder - was it smugness used to cover up insecurity?

    Emet, that is precisely what it was. You frightened the crap out of them. If it failed to work for you, it could stop working for them. You forced them to confront the ever-present doubt that threatened constantly to overtake them.

    Fundamentalism is a form of addiction, and anyone who threatens the addict's world view has to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible - violently, if necessary.

  17. Paul,

    I am willing to consider the possibility that I might be wrong. I was wrong before, for nearly 20 years, so its possible I could be wrong again. If you note in my profile, the books that I read, you will see that I continue to read Christian philosophers and apologists. I know some of my atheist brethren probably think I am crazy to do so but that is what I do.

    But I was being honest with you when I said that I have never really doubted the falsity of evangelical Christianity since I de-converted.

  18. Emet,

    That is an interesting story. If you ever have the time, write it up and I will post it on this site. Yes, Christians get angry when you raise questions that they can't answer. I guess its unsettling to them not to be able to provide an answer. Could that be because they are really insecure? All you have to do is look at the comments on the Pryomaniacs site from yesterday to see this clearly illustrated.

  19. All right, I looked through that thread. Ialmost turned back numeorus times, but I persevered. I got as far as this -

    For example, you say you can't really know the truth value of the claim, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." Fair enough: the eschaton hasn't happened yet, and the time since Christ's resurrection seems like He might be a bit tardy so far, so maybe you "can't know" about something that hasn't happened yet.

    But how is this claim so much more far-fetched than the claim, for example, that any local restaurant is still clean since the last time it was inspected by the Health Department?

    - and that did it. I mean, what can you say to something like that? And one has to remind oneself that there are millions of people in this country - probably hundreds of millions worldwide - to whom this makes perfect sense.

    I see no way in which humanity can survive unless we breed this mindset out of the genome - and since that isn't going to happen, I think we're pretty well cooked. Millions of years to get to this point (and they don't even agree with that), only to be done in by these cretins. It really is too tragic for words.

  20. Paul: would you say doubt is pretty universal among man and that the statement "you should immediately stop trying to believe it" might be a bit rash?

    Absolutely. Doubt is a deeply ingrained part of the human experience and can no more be denied than the desire to eat, sleep, or have sex. Generally, though, the folks making statements like the one with which you take umbrage were never strongly religious. As such they see religion merely as a set of easily disproved superstitions and can't imagine why anyone would try it in the first place, let alone stick it out in the face of doubt.

    I'm not setting up a No True Scotsman situation here, either. It's just that generally the people who make up the anger-inducing strains of the atheist movement are the types who were/felt they were truly hurt by religion or the ones who were never involved in the first place and, as such, think that no one ever should.

    There's also a sort of new convert zealotry that's exactly analogous to the sort of things those newly born again do. Bitter words are said in anger, or arrogant statements made in the invincibility of a new-found belief. I'd often have would-be evangelists asking me why I was so angry and attempting to basically pick fights with me over my supposed anger. I would often check with others and they would tell me that it seemed many of my musings on my departure from faith were wistful, even grief-filled.

    I see leaving Christianity in much the same way I'd look at a bad break up (although I suppose it helps that one of the things I lost when I left was a relationship with a Baptist pastor's daughter...). You know things just aren't working out, but this is also someone you've built your life around. The love and the good memories intermingle with the pain and the fights and all those nights you get in your car and drive off thinking about never coming back again. One minute you want to stay and make it work, the next you want to stick both middle fingers in the air and back out of the room.

    Then, even when it's all over something comes up that reminds you and all you want is to hear their voice on the phone one more time. That can be the next week, the next month, or a decade down the line.

    But then you stop and think and realize that it ended for a reason. And even though you miss that former love you know you're better off. If you're wise and decent you'll hope they're better off without you, too.

    I am happier without Christianity. I'm much happier with the new car I just bought than I would be if I'd have taken that same amount of money and sunk it in to a Seminary degree. Christianity forced me to believe things I couldn't and avoid the personal and intellectual growth I strongly desired. It was a necessary break up. It has had good results. But that doesn't mean it was an easy or a quick break up.

  21. Interestingly enough, even the "great" apologist Bill Craig is worried that he may one day fall away from the Christian faith. He wrote: One of my greatest concerns as a Christian is that I might somehow fall away from the faith and so betray Christ. It would be the height of folly and presumption to think that this could not happen. Think of what happened to Judas. It's amazing that a man who was one of the original twelve disciples, who had been for years in such close proximity to Jesus, should in the end turn against him. Is it then any wonder that we can similarly fall away and betray Christ? Paul speaks of several whom he knew who had left the faith (1 Tim 1.20; 2 Tim 2.17; 4.10). He warns, "Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12). Paul included himself in that admonition, "lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9.27). If someone of Paul's spiritual stature and commitment took seriously this danger, how much more should we? Paul urges us, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith" (2 Cor 13.5).

    He says Paul was worried about it too. If these two "giants" of the faith are concerned, how much more should the average Christian be?

  22. In terms of Craig's post, though, don't some of the Gospels have Satan almost possessing Judas and making him betray Jesus? While others have Judas acting of his own accord?

    What's interesting is that despite the article mentioning that doubt is good and keeps one humble, the stories here and Craig's comment make it seem like doubt is in fact heavily discouraged, because doubt is dangerous, because that's the potential first step towards "betraying" Christ. You have to constantly assess yourself to make sure you're holding firm.

  23. Ken,

    I read through your interaction over on the Pyromaniacs--those are some seriously scary people over there. I like the way the administrator "closed" the commenting for that thread. I guess they figured they "won." Keep up the great work!

  24. Ken and All,

    This thread is a very interesting and important discussion... so much comes to mind I could share. For one aspect: "Doubt" has taken a quite different form at 3 relatively distinct phases for me. Having been raised a conservative Christian, my early doubts I thought of and treated as research projects thru which to dig for answers. For years, thru Bible College, Seminary and beyond, I thought the answers I found were quite adequate (and shared them as teacher and apologist). Then, at a liberal seminary (PhD work), I was exposed to deeper questions, issues and alternate ways to structure theology and spiritual dynamics.

    Because I then happened to be largely disconnected from ministry and any major involvement or key friends in Christian circles, I could take time to "revision" it all (a postmodern word that can be helpful). It then didn't take long to realize that Christian orthodoxy just didn't hold together, and why.

    Like Ken, once the realization dawned, and didn't need to be denied (probably as much an emotional/social decision as a rational one), I have never doubted my basic conclusion that both ancient Jewish and then Christian theology (in its various expressions) were of as human origin as any religion or philosophy.

    This is somewhat an oversimplification, but the main reason I believe this happened for me, and perhaps for Ken and many other "de-converted" Christians, often with years of detailed study, is a combination of analysis and moving to a "higher" developmental stage. Once moved up, one seldom reverts back (tho transitions are not sudden and "levels" ovelap some). This may be the psycological and psycho/social interpretation of that famous Hebrews passage about not being able to be renewed in repentence once fallen away (perhaps more social or about religious diversity and competition than about personal study or progress, when written).

    Like Ken, I have read quite a bit of Christian apologetics, trends, biblical studies and theology, etc. after leaving the fold. I have remained open to be reconvinced, but found nothing that moves me that direction at all. On the other hand, I never felt a move to atheism was either necessary or made the best sense of data from the range of disciplines I'd studied, and my own experiences. So my ongoing project has been to gradually build and refine a belief system that accounts for the most of all phenomena (including fascinating areas like NDE's) and our inner need for meaning and purpose. For me, that includes some "higher" intelligence(s) in spirit or spirit/physical form.... a "creator" who seems to have elements of both the "personal" and the universal (non-personal). This I see as not far from the immanence/transcendence of theism's God, and one of the issues from which to build bridges.

    Howard Pepper/Naturalspirituality

  25. Greetings. I was the one who made the comment in this article about "biologists don't worry that natural selection doesn't exist." Someone alerted me to this article. I am a programmer, not a scientist, but I have edited and translated dozens of scientific papers, and I know hundreds of scientists. So let me address what Paul D asked:

    "It seems that the examples given - computer programming, biology, farming - have made huge advances, or at least huge changes, based on doubt in once popularly accepted ideologies. So, I'm not sure that these fields are immune to doubt."

    You have probably taken part in the improvements to computers. You upgraded from Windows 95 to 98, XP and so on. At each stage you saw large improvements but also lingering problems and annoyances that someone should have fixed. At no point did you feel a crisis of confidence. You never felt that that the previous version of Windows did not actually work and you had been betrayed. You know that Windows is the work of man. It will always have limitations and problems, and we can always make a better version.

    Scientists know that our present theories and textbooks are a work in progress. They are better than the previous versions but they will surely be improved and supplanted in the future. Scientists are no more emotionally committed to today's textbooks than you are committed to Windows XP. You want a computer for what it does, not for a particular release number. Biologists want a method of sequencing and understanding DNA; they welcome a better method. Darwin's theory has been tweaked and modified to work better, and it will continue to be tweaked for as long as people study biology.

    By the same token, I know biologists who use 19th century textbooks. Obviously these books have errors and misunderstandings, but they are mostly right and still useful. I still use programming techniques from the era of the IBM 360 computer.

    An elderly farmer remembers going from one type of tractor to another, to better fertilizer, and better hybrid varieties of carrots. It would be absurd to say he "lost faith" in the old tractor. He didn't feel "doubt." He saw the new tractor was better, so he traded in. Natural selection is not an "ideology" (as you put it). It is a utilitarian tool, like Windows, or a hammer, or a tractor.

    Some people treat religion as a utilitarian tool. They pray and expect a reward. I suppose many of them have no doubt about the efficacy of prayer. I have no objection, and nothing to say about them. Nor am I talking about Christian ideology and how it relates to the health care debate, for example. What I am talking about is the crisis of confidence that must come to a modern, scientifically educated person who takes religion as a serious intellectual proposition, as a way to explain naturally occurring events such as the emergence of life on earth, or an actual report of a virgin giving birth and a dead man coming back to life. Such people know perfectly well that a virgin cannot give birth. You might as well try to convince yourself there are only four elements: earth, air, fire and water. You know perfectly well there are 94 naturally occurring elements on earth. It boggles my mind when such people make an effort to convince themselves of things that they know with absolute certainty cannot be true.

  26. Paul D said...

    "would you say doubt is pretty universal among man and that the statement 'you should immediately stop trying to believe it' might be a bit rash?"

    It wouldn't be rash in any other part of life. The doctor felt sure you would need an operation but now she feels doubts? Good! You can't decide if you want to marry? Wait. Do nothing. Believe nothing for now.

    Please note I said stop TRYING to believe in it. That's different from "stop believing in it." I mean you move the belief to the category of "not sure but probably true" or "maybe true" and later perhaps "unlikely." Suspend belief without disbelieving.

    It is a shame that some religious people feel a need for absolute assurance. They can't abide doubt or skepticism in their own minds. Other religious people feel it is okay to have doubts. They must feel less anxiety.

    By the way, I have no objection to people believing in religion. As long as the belief seems compelling to them and they are content. I would never try to de-convert them, or insult their beliefs. That's crass. It would make me miserable if I felt a compulsion to convince myself that a virgin gave birth. But if the idea of a virgin birth pleases you, and you do not feel conflicted about embracing it, good for you! I know some first-rate scientists who believe such things. Okay, so they are a little irrational on Sunday, but so what? I think they are mistaken, but people have mistaken ideas about all manner of things, and in most cases it causes no harm.

  27. Howard,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. I have no problem with someone who believes in some type of transcendent person/force. As an agnostic atheist, I don't believe in any deity but I don't know for certain. My main beef is with evangelical Christianity and their dogmatic insistence that they only have the truth.

  28. Jed,

    Thanks for your comments. I fully agree with you

  29. In the brand of Fundamentalism I grew up in doubt was considered a work of Satan. If you had ANY doubt at all you had to immediately battle Satan and get victory.

    So you insulated yourself from the things that caused doubt. No TV. Only read books by authors in your group. You attended meetings and conferences where all the speakers reinforced that our brand of truth was THE truth.

    Doubt came when I picked up that first book that was written by someone I didn't know, someone who wasn't a part of my Fundamentalist group.

    And the rest is history :) (see blog)

    I have been told reading books has cost me my faith (right) and that it will ultimately lead me to hell. (I doubt it) One former parishioner told me to stop reading ANYTHING but the King James Bible. (can't do it)

    Doubt forces us to look beyond where we are. It forces us to ask questions. Of course, for some of us, those questions led us out of the Christian faith.

    I have no desire for anyone to take the path I have taken. All I want them to do is "doubt." Question. Think. Investigate. If Christianity stands after all that.......fine.