Dr. Anthony Pinn: Humanism and Race

Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Race, Secular Community, Secular Grace
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities, the Professor of Religious Studies. the Founding Director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning Rice University, and the Director of Research of the Institute for Humanist Studies. Dr. Pinn has written a number of books on the intersection of humanism and race. In this episode, we discuss his book, When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer.

We spend so much of our time making fun of and belittling theists.
That’s not very productive.
You don’t transform the world that way.

I learned quite a lot from Dr. Pinn. Both about humanism and the experience of black humanists. Ultimately I was challenged to change my behavior, to “do my homework,” and to understand that it will take dismantling of white supremacy in humanist communities in order to gain the great benefits that diversity brings.

This sort of fundamental change this movement towards diversity and equity means giving up comfort.
You cannot request comfort and say you are interested in change.

Throughout his book(s) and in the interview Dr. Pinn calls on our humanist values to be less ignorant, to include black and other historically disparaged voices, and to develop our own vocabulary and ways of experiencing awe without calling on theistic traditions. “We can do better.”

[Our] goal should not be removing religion …
Religion is really simply a way of naming our effort to come to grips with who what when and why we are …
But it seems to me, the larger more compelling goal is decreasing the harm that we do in the world.

Links

Website
https://www.anthonypinn.com/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/anthony_pinn

Books
https://www.anthonypinn.com/books

Interact

Critique of Apologetics
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/critique-of-apologetics/

Deconversion
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/deconversion/

Secular Grace
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/secular-grace/

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Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Bart Campolo: Humanize Me

Authors, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Podcasters, Secular Community, Secular Grace
Bart Campolo
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Bart Campolo. Bart is the host of the Humanize Me Podcast. He is the author of “Why I Left, Why I Stayed.” Along with his famous Evangelical father, Tony Campolo, Bart is the subject of John Wright’s documentary: Leaving my Father’s Faith. If that is not enough, Bart is also the Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati.

Bart and I discuss graceful ways of talking with people with whom we disagree, having conversations that are difficult that touch on religion, race and politics and changing one’s mind. I point out that Bart has been particularly public with some of these conversations, including a book and documentary with his dad, Tony Campolo, a podcast episode with his son, Roman, where they disagree on the hope or lack thereof for our species and a recent podcast episode on race. In short, Bart wears his heart on his sleeve and lives his life out loud with humility, honesty and grace.

We discuss humanism and the burden of being hopeful. Bart pushes back on my assertion that everyone needs awe, belonging and community. According to Bart different people need different amounts of each of those things. At the same time, Bart is facilitating a healthy secular community in Cincinnati providing just those things for the lucky few who attend. They put it this way:

  • Commitment to loving relationships
  • Making things better for other people
  • Cultivating gratitude and wonder in life
  • Worldview humility

I normally have a few quotes from the episode, but as I was writing them down it became a transcript. Bart is eminently quotable. Listen to the show to find out. I will leave you with just one which you will need to listen to the show to understand:

Show your work!

Be sure to listen to the end for a funny story I tell that relates to Bart’s father, Tony Campolo, during my time at bible college.

Links

Website
https://bartcampolo.org/

Podcast
https://bartcampolo.org/humanizeme

Documentary
https://campolofilm.com/

Book

Humanize Me Podcast episodes that give context to this conversation:
With Roman: https://bartcampolo.org/2020/04/510
On BLM: https://bartcampolo.org/2020/06/515
With Leah: https://bartcampolo.org/2020/07/516

Documentary

Interact

Secular Grace
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/secular-grace/

Deconversion
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/deconversion-how-to/


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Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Richard Swan: London City Voices

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, YouTubers
Richard Swan: Director of London City Voices
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Richard Swan. Richard grew up Catholic, became an Anglican and then moved on to Pentecostalism. He was a worship leader and an active member of the Christian music scene including touring as Graham Kendrick‘s choir director.

He began to notice that regardless of his person life the people responded in worship under his leadership. This began his questioning which eventually led to his deconversion.

It seemed to be working and I didn’t like the fact that it was working because it didn’t make sense to me.

Post-deconversion, Richard is now the director of London City Voices, a non-religious community choir.

London City Voices is so much more than your average London choir… We are a community, a group of friends, an increasingly-large group of drinking buddies… and we are also a dynamic non-religious, non-audition community London choir.

Richard has figured out how to use his passion for music to build a secular community. In our conversation, we talk about the power of music to bring people together, how it can be manipulated and what it takes to be a community builder.

Church can give us a little window on [ the human response to music]. If it’s linked to your belief system it can have an even bigger impact. Or not because maybe your a humanist and you just bloody love music and that is no less of an experience.

Links

Website
https://www.londoncityvoices.co.uk/

YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCE7166Y1HBO7_lh7_yjE4g

Twitter
https://twitter.com/LondonCityVoice

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/412432238841455/

Interact

Deconversion How To
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/deconversion-how-to/

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Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Dr. Clint Heacock: Reconstruction after Deconstruction

Communities of Unbelief, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Podcasters, Religious Trauma, Secular Community
Clint Heacock
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Dr. Clint Heacock. Clint is the host of the Mindshift Podcast that focuses on reconstruction after deconstruction. Clint grew up in the Church of Christ with parents who followed the Bill Gothard method of child rearing. Clint now describes this as cultic practices.

What I need to do is discover the authentic Christianity
… and then I wasn’t able to do it.

After pursuing a PhD in Theology in the U.K. while teaching Clint began to recolonize the disparity between what he believed and what he was teaching. The problems with the bible became too much. At the time Clint was hosting a podcast called “Preacher’s Forum.” The content had become too radical for its audience. He then changed the podcast into Mindshift and as his listeners have told him, he began deconstructing in public.

Only when you physically remove yourself and
psychologically remove yourself,
that’s when you start to think critically.

Clint has has had a focus on cult studies, Christian Dominionism and Christian reconstruction where politics and religion meet. He has had various experts in these fields on his podcast.

Best advice: Get yourself educated

Most important Clint has a heart for people. Just because we no longer are religious does not mean we lose our sense of pastoral care.

Links

Mindshift Podcast
http://mindshiftpodcast.co.uk/

Blog
https://medium.com/@clintheacock
https://medium.com/@clintheacock/leaving-christianity-is-a-lot-harder-than-it-looks-8930f532e41e

Interact

Deconversion How To
https://gracefulatheist.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/deconversion-how-to/

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Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Captain Cassidy: Roll To Disbelieve

Atheism, Bloggers, Communities of Unbelief, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Captain Cassidy. Cassidy blogs at Roll To Disbelieve on patheos.com. Her focus is on deconversion, counter-apologetics and generally describing the mind-warping nature of religion. Cassidy has an array of metaphors and analogies in her writing that make a vivid picture of what it is like to believe and then not to.

Cassidy’s “Extimony”: She is a former Catholic, was briefly a baptist and then stayed a Pentecostal for a time. Until she realized the context of her faith mattered. While at a prayer group set in a normal university room “out of the context” of a church she realized it was all an act.

And as I look back at my past, I can see all these times when I [rolled to disbelieve] … I didn’t make the roll, I continued to believe.

She now describes herself as “a humanist, a skeptic, a freethinker and a passionate student of science, mythology and history.”

I am becoming more and more convinced that the only way for someone to remain, Christian, is to avoid caring what reality has to say about it.

Join her “Commentariat,” a thriving community of commentators on her blog at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/.

Links

Blog:
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/

The Handbook for the Recently Deconverted
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/the-handbook/

The Unequally Yoked Club
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/the-uyc/

Newbie Guide
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/series-list-and-newbie-guide/

Pool of Faith
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2018/02/18/why-i-rejected-christianity-then-and-now/

Conservation of worship
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2016/06/03/christians-and-the-law-of-conservation-of-worship/

Doctrinal Yardstick
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2019/03/04/the-doctrinal-yardstick-illustrates-a-serious-problem-with-christianity-lsp-81/

Atrocity Apologetics
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2013/12/09/the-christians-guide-to-ex-christians-atrocity-apologetics/

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/casmadeherroll

Cat Photos!
https://www.instagram.com/rolltodisbelieve/

Interact

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Support the podcast
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Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Dave Warnock: Dying Out Loud

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Dave Warnock. Dave was an Evangelical christian for almost 40 years. Many of those years were spent in ministry in one form or another. Dave decoverted around seven years ago. His deconstruction and deconversion cost him close family relationships. But he has found love, affection and support in the non-believing community.

In early 2019 Dave was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is terminal. Rather than be overcome with grief, Dave began to talk honestly about dying as an atheist and living your best moments while you can. This became what is now known as “Dying Out Loud”. Dave is on a “world” podcast tour spreading his message of secular strength and hope even in the face of dire circumstances.

Quotes:

“Dying out loud is really living out loud.”

In regards to the fear of punishment and hell:


“It ain’t real let it go.”
“Its gonna be OK, listener, it is gonna be OK.”

“We don’t remember days we remember moments”
“Life is a collection of moments”
“Wait, goddammit, wait. This is a moment. Don’t miss it.”

“Carpe the fucking diem!”

“I am more interested in the quality of my life than the quantity of my days.”

“The human connection is beautiful to me. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful that is”

Links:

Dave on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/DaveWarnock.DyingOutLoud/

Dave’s Patreon:
https://www.patreon.com/dyingoutloud

Dave’s Dying Out Loud at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYLQu5A4h5Q

Clergy Project
http://clergyproject.org/

Interact

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Support the podcast
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Via Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Attribution

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Leaning Into My Presuppostions

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Critique of Apologetics, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Secular Grace

Conversely inspired by presuppositional apologetics and continuing my Watershed Presuppositions series I thought it time to write down what my presuppositions are.

Presuppositions are truths you accept without justification. They are accepted a prori and may or may not have evidence to prove them. They are your starting point and the basis upon which everything you believe in is built.

It is important to note that everyone has presuppositions whether they are aware of them or not. Much of the difficulty in having a dialog with those you disagree with is the unstated incongruous presuppositions that you and your interlocutor hold.

My Presuppositions

Ontological and Epistemological

  • The universe exists and has patterns which are to varying degrees discoverable.
  • Conscious minds are a product of the patterns of the universe.
  • Logic and mathematics abstracted from the discoverable patterns of the universe by conscious minds are sound and reliable.
  • The scientific method which uses logic, mathematics and observation is a reliable method for discovering the patterns of the universe.
  • Truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality.

Moral

  • Human beings have value and inalienable rights.
  • Human beings are fallible.
  • Human beings are meaning makers.

These are the truths that I hold axiomatically. Some, even most, can be justified, meaning they have evidence. But, for our purposes here, what are the implications of these statements when held true?

You may find yourself saying, “but I don’t believe one or more of these.” No problem. These are my presuppositions not yours. The reason they are useful is for you to understand how I come to certain conclusions and not others. If you can accept them purely for the sake of argument you can begin to understand my worldview. If you cannot accept them even solely for the sake of argument then we have nothing further to discuss.

The universe exists

This one seems pretty obvious. If it seems as obvious to you as it does to me, you have probably never hung out with philosophers.

The purpose of this axiom is to do away with the interesting yet tiresome arguments of solipsism, that the only thing that can be proven to exist is our consciousness. Do we live in a hologram or a matrix? Are we just brains in a vat? So boldly and arrogantly I assert, the universe exists!

photo of galaxy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Even more boldly I assert that at least to some extent it has patterns which are discoverable. These patters are observable and ultimately knowable to varying degrees of certainty. The old trite saying, “as surely as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West,” is an example of observing a pattern of the universe and gaining certainty that it is true.

Conscious minds are a product of the patterns of the universe

This one is more of an assertion. Fewer people may agree with me here. But I take this as a given. Consciousness is not made of a mysterious non-natural substance. We may not understand consciousness in its entirety … yet. Therefore,  I assert consciousness is a product of the patterns of the universe we find ourselves conscious in.

This axiom is important to do away with the idea that consciousness is something other than natural. The idea of a soul dies hard.

Logic and mathematics are sound

Again, if you find this one obvious, you have not spent much time with either philosophers or presuppositional apologists.

Logic and mathematics are abstractions from the patterns of the universe by conscious minds. There are a few hidden assertions in here that I will point out.

Logic and mathematics do not exist in the platonic sense. We have discussed dualism in this series before it is a difficult one to escape. What I am saying here is logic and math do not have their own existence they are the product of human intellect based on observed patterns in the universe: abstractions. In philosophic language this is an epistemological claim not an ontological claim.

We as conscious human beings observe the patterns of the universe and we abstract “rules” that describe those patters. If I have two sheep and then I get two more I have four sheep. It does not matter if “sheep” are woolly mammals who chew the cud or blocks, or rocks, or anything. We have abstracted the rule 2 + 2 = 4 by observation and human intellect. From basic arithmetic to number theory we have abstracted rules from these patterns.

person holding a chalk in front of the chalk board

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

The most important assertion here is that logic and mathematics are sound and reliable. It is a feature of logical and mathematical proofs that each step taken relies on the proofs that came before it. If one of the foundational mathematics axioms were not true the proofs built upon it would not “work” as they do.

Don’t believe this one? Then throw out the magic device in your pocket that gives you access to the near sum total of human knowledge. That device, the network it uses and literally the information itself is all built on logic and mathematics.

Mathematics is the language of the universe.

— Neil Degrasse Tyson

The scientific method is a reliable method to gain knowledge

The scientific method is simply a process by which an idea is tested by gathering evidence. If there is strong evidence more credence is given to the idea, if there is little evidence credence goes down and if there is contradictory evidence the idea may be abandoned altogether.

My assertion here is that this is a reasonable and reliable epistemological method, a way to gain knowledge.

The scientific method leads toward truth in major part by discarding bad ideas. Finding true ideas is hard. Validating that an idea is true is just as hard. But by discarding false ideas the options are narrowed down toward true ones.

Science is self-correcting. If tomorrow credible evidence is discovered contracting any of the deeply held scientific theories credence in that theory would drop. Not only that the discoverer of the contradicting evidence would be lauded.

Science tends to assume naturalistic metaphysics. If that bothers you, then you need to account for science’s unreasonable, wild and fantastic success. The entirety of the modern age depends upon the successes of science from medicine to space exploration to binge watching your favorite TV series on demand.

Truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality

Adding to the common definition of truth as that which conforms to reality and adding a bit of the scientific method. I assert that truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality where reality is the product of the patterns of the universe. We should have more credence in something that has been tested and has evidence than something that has neither.

Evidence, testing and validation are important because these are the only tools to convince the skeptic. Einstein was famously not a fan of quantum theory in the early days. But he was won over by the evidence.

Critical thinking begins with the assumption that our beliefs could be in error, and if they are, that we will revise them accordingly.

— Peter Boghossian

If I make a claim, you can believe me or not. But if I make a claim and tell you how to test for yourself and that test validates my claim it is harder to ignore.

I expect the accusations of scientism, materialism and empiricism. Fine. It is certainly true that there are vast areas where science just doesn’t know. And in fact this is a feature: to humbly acknowledge all that we don’t know.

Focusing on the gaps in knowledge misses the point, keep in mind all that we do know. Evolutionary theory explains the vast complexity of life on planet Earth. Theories within cosmology can model the universe back to fractions of a second after the big bang. Gravity waves just recently verified were predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The baffling quantum field theory explains nature’s behavior at the microscopic level which turns out to be deeply counter intuitive.

Even for those things which we cannot measure directly we use inference. We have inferred dark matter and dark energy. These two account for 96% of the material in the universe and yet we cannot detect them directly.

Human beings have value and inalienable rights

This is the basis of my morality: human beings have value and inalienable rights. I assert it thus, and then try to live out the implications. As sentient beings we recognize each other’s great value in the otherwise empty vastness of the universe we find ourselves in. We are not alone. We have each other.

I am a humanist as I have written before. This simply means that people are more important than ideologies of any kind. We ought to treat each other with Secular Grace.

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I appreciate the need to expand this concept to conscious creatures. This has vast implications on how we treat animals and potential artificial intelligences. However, as recent political history has shown we are not very good at treating each other with respect and valuing each other’s rights. So human beings are my focus.

Human beings are fallible

Just as important as recognizing the value human beings pose we must also acknowledge human fallibility. Although, I reject the concept of sin it would be foolishness not to recognize people can be destructive to themselves and others.

Human beings are neither all good nor all bad. If those terms are too loaded, they are neither completely selfish nor completely altruistic. Our motivations are complex and varied and they very rarely reduce to simple identifiable sources.

We are very good at fooling ourselves. We are susceptible to a vast array of cognitive biases. In fact, much of the process of the scientific method is to avoid human fallibility and our ability to find what we want to be true.

However, just because human beings are fallible or imperfect does not mean we are not of great value. Sentience being an exceedingly rare commodity in the universe we find ourselves in, we need to love each other.

Human beings are meaning makers

We humans are the conscious observers who abstract the patterns of the universe. We experience awe and mystery and give them meaning. We define human morality  I assert there may not be inherent meaning in the universe but we humans make meaning.

We are the universe aware of itself.

— Carl Sagan, Julian Huxley, Neil Degrasse Tyson all have said some variation on this quote.

I tend to agree with Hume that you cannot get an aught from an is. Rather than exhausting ourselves looking for external objective truth, morality and meaning we should take it upon ourselves to work together toward greater understanding of human truth, morality and meaning. Though all human moral systems are incomplete, taken together they point toward respect for human value.

Why I Am Not An Anti-Theist

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Secular Grace

The original title for this post was “Why I Am Not a New Atheist,” but I found there is so much confusion about that term and what it means that this was more misleading than helpful. I settled on “Why I Am Not An Anti-Theist,” as this gets to the point more directly without the confusion.

No more sacred cows

In fact, I am starting this post defending new atheism. By new atheism, I mean the kind of outspoken atheism represented by the “Four Horsemen”: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. These four have written books which were notable for their unabashed critiques of religion. There are many others who are what I would call professional atheists making a living writing, speaking and podcasting. For their unvarnished candor they have been vilified by the religious and ironically deified by atheists.

The problem is for some time it has been considered impolite to critique religious beliefs. In many Western societies, religious views are considered private and unassailable. The old adage “never bring up politics or religion in polite company,” exists for a reason. People hear critiques about their religious beliefs as attacks against them as a person. Suddenly in the mid 2000s here were atheists who did not keep their irreligious thoughts to themselves. They had the audacity to publicly call out the flaws in religious beliefs and point out their detrimental effect on society. How dare they!

Atheists present a challenge to the faithful. The reason there are so many false stereotypes taught about atheists is that our existence is a threat. The existence of people who have in fact heard the gospel, understood it and still reject it cuts at a core understanding of the world for the believer. This is one of the reasons believers often quote their sacred text to atheists, because they cannot fathom someone could understand it and yet not believe it. It must be a lack of knowledge. “If only they understood the real gospel.

So, the reaction to new atheism was predictable. The apologists came out in droves to disprove their arguments. And by ad hominem attacks assure the faithful these angry apostates could be safely ignored. The term new atheist was originally derogatory (even from other atheists). Even though there is nothing particularly new about doubt, atheism or the critique of religion. What was new was the lack of deference to religion and a certain level of audacity.

Atheists have long been telling us that we can be good without God.
The new atheism says that we can be better without God.
— Victor Stenger

For being outspoken and giving cover for doubters everywhere to come out of the closet these new atheists are to be commended. The sacred cow of religious ideas being beyond reproach is dead.

Anti-theism

But (you knew there would be a but), if we are being honest sometimes they can be assholes. Sometimes they can attack the believer and not the belief and engage in their own ad hominem attacks. Sometimes they can come across as … well … religious in their fervor. In fact, these are the most often cited critiques against new atheism. Much ink has been spilt defending new atheists against these critiques and yet the critiques persist because of a kernel of truth in them.

Worse still, is the wave of followers who came after. To be clear, I consider myself one of these. Social media amplifies the most vocal obnoxious and angry voices amongst us. It is very easy to be hostile on social media and some have made a career of this. Negativity gets rewarded with shares, likes and retweets. I have certainly been guilty of this myself.

This is what I would term anti-theism, which implies an active attempt to convince believers to abandon their faith. There is a tendency on social media for anti-theism to come to prominence which can start to look like trollling the trolls. It can start to look like an anti-evangelism.

Who is trolling whom?

Let me be very clear, as the position I am trying to convey is nuanced. I whole heartedly believe in secularism. Secularism protects the freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I also believe that religion has had many detrimental effects on society particularly when it gains political power. Religion should rightly be criticized.

However, believers themselves do not deserve our scorn. Most believers were born into it. It takes a tremendous amount of self reflection and honesty to overturn ones deeply held beliefs. If you feel like taking on the professional apologists, go for it. But leave the believers who have not asked for a fight alone.

If the goal is a more secular society

Are there times when believers troll atheists? Of course. I am not suggesting we not defend ourselves. I am arguing that ridiculing believers and calling them stupid is not the most effective way of convincing them.

Even when we use very cool rational logic and reason the backfire effect can stop the believer from hearing the evidence. Let me give you an example. I read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith in 2007 years before my deconversion. My motivated reasoning at the time went something like this:

He sounds angry.
Atheists must all be angry.
But I have peace.

It wasn’t until years later, I read Greta Christina’s blog about why atheists have a right to be angry, and realized I agreed with most of what she was saying. I just happened to be open to rational argument at the time.

If you add to the backfire effect, defensiveness from being insulted, the task for the believer to overcome their indoctrination is insurmountable. If we atheists, either out of exasperation or contempt, come across as mocking we are defeating our own purposes.

I am acutely aware that anti-theist arguments would not have worked on me when I was a believer. I am even more acutely aware that my many family members who are still believers would not respond to this style of argumentation. It takes investment in time, patience and, in all likelihood, the relationship, to provide a safe and comfortable space for the believers in our lives to express their doubts.

Why I Am Not an Asshole

Do I really need to expound on this? People deserve respect regardless of their beliefs. People are more important than belief or non-belief.

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If you really want to change the world and change peoples’ minds, love people.  I think I heard that from somewhere.

This post is a part of the series Communities of Unbelief. I’ll be writing more about communities of unbelief, some I choose not to be a member of, some I identify with and others I have yet to explore.

Why I Am Not a Liberal Christian

Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion

I have a confession. I am still a fundamentalist.

I am still a fundamentalist on one issue: the resurrection. The resurrection was my last tenuous grasp on faith. I guarded it against attack as if it were … well, a pearl of great price.

I had long since let go of a literal interpretation of the bible. Genesis? Obviously allegorical. Most of the old testament? Historically unlikely at best. The gospels I thought might contain some of Jesus’ teaching and therefore had value. But Mathew’s description of the events during and after the crucifixion, the dead walking the streets? Nope, no zombies for me.

But somehow, I held on to the resurrection. If nothing else were true, but this one thing it would all be worth it.

You know what would be good evidence for god’s existence?
Resurrection.

I took a fundamentalist, literal, take the guy at his word interpretation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:15-19:

16 So if the dead won’t be raised to life, Christ wasn’t raised to life. 17 Unless Christ was raised to life, your faith is useless, and you are still living in your sins. 18 And those people who died after putting their faith in him are completely lost. 19 If our hope in Christ is good only for this life, we are worse off than anyone else.

I am still a fundamentalist about Paul’s statement. If there is one thing that must be true about Christianity for any of it to be true it is the resurrection as succinctly stated by Paul. If that is not literally true, then the whole of Christianity is not only untrue but a waste of time. Not my opinion, it is Paul’s.

But now I have succumbed to the crushing lack of evidence for the resurrection. I can no longer believe that it occurred. The very moment when I realized that I no longer believed in the resurrection I knew my faith in god was over. There was no going back.

Why I am not a liberal Christian

Here is the thing, there a lots of people who reject fundamentalism and its literal interpretation of the bible but keep some form of faith. The trappings of faith: tradition, ceremony, community and spirituality are useful and meaningful for these people. I just happen to not be one of those people.

Over the years leading up to my deconversion I flirted with various forms of liberal Christianity. I read Sojourners. My politics aligned well and I believed the gospel needed to be a practical love on the streets. I read Rob Bell and Donald Miller. I bandied about the term “emergent church” unironically. I read Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Was I a mystic? Once in a great while I would visit a church with more of an ecumenical bent and less of an evangelical one. But I never found these things satisfying. There was no power in them. There was no Truth with a capital T.

So when my moment of realization came, I no longer believed the resurrection happened, I knew I was an atheist. There was very little equivocation. It never occurred to me to become a liberal theologian and carry on with the trappings of faith. I walked away clean. Well, that is not entirely true, my family members are all still believers so I am sometimes the atheist in church but that is not by choice and may be the topic of a different post.

These days the new hotness is called deconstruction. That is breaking the connection between fundamentalism and faith, letting go of dogma but crucially keeping some parts of faith. But heavily implied  is that reconstruction follows the deconstruction process. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

A very famous example of this is Science Mike, Mike McHargue, who in his book Finding God in the Waves, talks about having faith, losing it and getting it back. Specifically, he comes to understand “God” as the forces of nature that created the universe. Here are his 10 Axioms About Faith.

I am not here to take pot shots at McHargue, I actually have a lot of respect for Mike, but his example is illustrative. I am here to say:

I don’t get it

In the days after my deconversion I was saying to myself, “why bother with a liberal theology?” To be clear I do not believe any gods exist in any way, but for the sake of argument:

  • If god is just the ground of being, should that be worshiped?
  • If god is just the deist clock maker, should that be loved?
  • If god is just the personification of human love and kindness, how is that useful?
  • If god is just the natural forces personified why is “God” necessary when nature is enough on its own?
  • If we all get to define god in our own image (and that is really the story of all of human history), then what benefit is that to humanity?

In short, if god is just these things, then god is not necessary. God is not necessary for meaning, goodness, love, joy, compassion, awe or mystery. We derive these things from each other and the cosmos.

From humanity and nature comes all of the things we hold most dear

So to me, hanging on to a more liberal interpretation of god is not only not necessary it is a detriment. For me, like Paul, it is pitiable. More than just god it is religion that is the baggage. Religion necessarily entails archaic morality, dogmatism and a destructive dualism. Those who are deconstructing I know have a sincere desire to redeem their traditions. I believe it is holding them back. They are unnecessarily starting in the hole. I believe we must let go of the past to move forward.

I recently re-read famously liberal theologian turned atheist, Bart Erhman’s Why Even Bother Being A Liberal Christian. He expresses both the reason it is difficult to let go and ultimately that it is necessary:

Yes, I could have left. But this is the key point: if I left I would have to go SOMEWHERE ELSE. And that somewhere else, in my view, was no better than the place I was leaving. You can’t go from something to nothing. You go from one thing to another thing. And why do that? Only because you can no longer stay where you are.
And so it made better sense to me to try to reinterpret the tradition I was standing within than to adopt an entirely new tradition. That’s why I never was (very) tempted to become Jewish. And not at all tempted to become Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu, or anything else.
But why be *anything*? The reality is that deciding to become *nothing* doesn’t work. We are all something or other. Someone may think that she or he is bold and brazen and a real pioneer to become an atheist. Really? That is bold, brazen, and pioneering??? As if no one else has done that? As if being an atheist doesn’t involve assumptions about the world, beliefs about where we came from, ideas about what it means to lead a good and fulfilling life? Really?

Until I could not do so any more. I eventually had to stop because the very basis of the entire tradition – the existence of a loving God – itself came under threat for me.

When Bart talks about having no where else to go, I get it. As I have mentioned in my discussion of Secular Grace, we in the communities of unbelief have a long way to go to catch up to the kind of community religion facilitates. “You can’t go from something to nothing.” But eventually, Bart felt compelled to let go.

I had a conversation on Facebook , where the question was asked if the term “liberal Christian” was confusing. To which I responded, “yes!” To me it is confusing to continue to use the term “god” when that has ceased to have objective meaning. Even for those naturalists who are liberal Christians they must deal with the implied supernaturalism.

There is more that needs to be removed from Christianity than needs to be retained. If one takes on the task that Thomas Jefferson took, to remove the supernatural parts of the bible, one is left with a very skinny book. If one removes the archaic morality, one is left with a leaflet that basically says: Be good to each other.

You can be good without god

Let go of that which is holding you back.

This post is a part of the series Communities of Unbelief. I’ll be writing more about communities of unbelief, some I choose not to be a member of, some I identify with and others I have yet to explore.

Communities of Unbelief

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism

Since my deconversion I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about why I no longer believe. Most of this expression has occurred online as this is the place where freedom of expression has few limits. A part of this process has been the search for a community to belong to. I have written before about the need to have secular replacements for community.

This search has turned out to be more difficult than I expected. The community of non-believers is a many splintered thing. In fact, the term community does not really apply and the word factions leaps to mind. There are many factions often competing and often hostile to one another:

  • Those who never believed
    • I know quite a few atheists and non-believers in real life but their experience is more like water to a fish. Belief and unbelief is not something they are interested in.
  • Those who are aggressively anti-theist and anti-religion
    • Think “new” atheists (fairly or unfairly). More so than the famous authors are the everyday twitter warriors that take it as their personal responsibility to disabuse believers of their faith.
  • Those who are focused on legal maters pertaining to secularism
    • These are the groups like CFI, FFRF, Secular Coalition that are doing work I agree with but have little to do with community building.
  • Those who reject the fundamentalism but not the faith
    • This is the new hotness, deconstruction, not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I have met many many new friends in this category.

I find I don’t quite fit into any of those categories. My experience and particular brand of unbelief will forever be informed by my former faith. I have no desire to convince believers to abandon their faith. I have mentioned I am still a bit angry at apologists but I am not interested in taking down the average theist. I believe in a secular society and I support those causes but they do not inspire me. I find no joy in them. And finally, though I have met new friends who are in the deconstructing crowd, if I am being honest, I don’t get it. When I let go of faith I felt no desire to hold onto the trappings of faith. In fact, it was freeing to abandon them.

I am starting a new series about communities of unbelief.  I’ll be tackling the following ideas:

I believe as humans we need community. It is a basic need. Those of us who have walked away from our faith have often also lost community we relied on. Hopefully, the series can help answer: What now?

Let me know what communities or factions I have missed, where I am being unfair and most importantly which communities you are a member of.

Check back often to read my explanations for these important questions.