grrrl meets Eve the deceived

Recently I got an email from a concerned believer, regarding the interview I gave last summer on the Unbelievable? UK Christian radio program.  Periodically I’ll get an email response from someone who’s heard the show — usually such emails consist of: “you were never a true Christian!” or “repent!” or “I feel sorry for you.”  This last email I received intrigued me enough to write a lengthy response — if you’re curious, I’ll include it below:

Thanks for your email. You certainly gave me a lot to think about, and I’m glad what I had to say on the podcast caused you to think/reflect so much.

I suppose more than anything, your email inspired a lot of questions – which probably isn’t all that surprising, is it?  I guess the best way to respond to your letter would be for me to quote parts of it that stood out, and then ask you some clarifying questions about what you’ve said or implied.   Let’s start:

In one of the first parts of your letter you wrote: I’ve been in through the same sort of intellectual and emotional affliction you described and I think the tears were a mix of empathy and tragedy.

My questions:

  • What is an ‘intellectual affliction?’  I understand when people talk about being emotionally afflicted, but I’ve never heard knowledge or intellect described in such a way. What does it mean to you?
  • I suppose I’m curious about what I revealed about myself that is tragic to you. If anything, I find myself much happier since rejecting the confines of faith – is the tragic element of my story more of a projection of how you think you would feel if you were no longer a Christian? I’m thinking back to the podcast, and the only regret or sadness I can remember talking about is the rejection I’ve felt from my family over my apostasy.

Later in the letter you spoke of the notion of being a prodigal – which is, admittedly, a powerful metaphor in the Gospels.  Here’s what stood out to me in that particular section: Sons aren’t the only ones tempted to prodigality, though. Daughters and all their sophisticated erudition can have such tendencies, too. And prodigality can also mean taking the spiritual and intellectual gifts and inheritance the Father has given you and squandering them for the “principles of this world”, it’s not just money we’re tempted to waste in foreign lands.

I’m curious about:

  • Your notion of “Daughters and all their sophisticated erudition”  — I’m wondering what you mean by this particular description. Part of me thinks there may be a bit of a pretentious edge to what you are meaning by education here. Am I misreading?
  • Not only that, but what is the correlation between education and ‘prodigality?’ Does one lead to the other? And if that’s the case, what is at fault – the education or the faith system that is unable to stand up to expanded knowledge?
  • I’m familiar with the parable of the prodigal son, and it seems like you’re drawing a parallel between that story and my own. What’s interesting is that I don’t see myself as a prodigal. I’m not suffering in a pigsty somewhere, longing to return “home.” If anything, I’m much more content since leaving the faith than I was when I was within its restraints.
  • When you talk about “squandering [your intellectual gifts] for the ‘principles of this world’”, what do you mean?  I’m always curious when these seemingly anti-intellectual statements creep up in discussions of faith (I’m not necessarily painting you as such, but that sentence looks to be leaning in that direction).

In your letter you shared the story of another woman in your church who looks to be facing many of the struggles I’ve had – you wrote:  I have some dear friends at my own church who have a daughter very much like you, although she’s not yet abandoned the Christian faith, I know she’s been tempted. Very thoughtful, very bright, a musical genius, but someone who has questions few Christians, aside from her mom, are willing to discuss.

My response:

  • This, to me, is a “tragedy.”  I have indeed ‘been there, done that,’ and I hold the silencing and dismissive believers accountable for any hurts this young woman may be receiving in her quest for truth and understanding.
  • There are many young women and men who are in similar situations in the church, which is one reason why organized religion is in such dire straits today.
  • There was a study released last year that predicted religion could potentially go extinct in the next 50 years in several Western countries – including Canada.  The fastest growing “religious group” in North America is the “nones” (no religious affiliation). The reason why? Religion is losing its relevance and its openness to encourage questioning – and that’s in addition to not being able to provide satisfactory answers to those asking the questions.
  • My response to this is again: who’s at fault here? The young woman with the questions, or the church’s inability to satisfactorily sate her inquiries?

My response to your letter wouldn’t be complete without me tackling some of what you wrote about Satan:  Permit me to get a bit medieval for a moment, but I do strongly discern the “voice” to whom you’ve ultimately been listening has not been your own, but that of the enemy of souls. He’s taken your faith, Rebekah, sifting you like wheat, positing the premise that Christianity as it stands is not intellectually satisfying.

Hmmm:

  • Do you think there is an actual being of Satan? Not as in ‘the Satan’ (as in the adversary), but a supernatural being who’s keen on tempting humans?
  • Are you saying that there’s a Satanic edge to my desire to have intellectually satisfying answers to my questions about Christianity?
  • Beyond the religious boogieman of a Satan character, part of me resents that you view my journey out of faith as me being a hapless victim who’s been deceived, like Eve.
  • Oh, but if we’re going to talk about Eve, what are the implications of having knowledge be forbidden? (on a fun side-note) Is God guilty of ‘contributory negligence’ for putting that tree in the garden in the first place?  If I put a dangerous item in the reach of my 5 year old, and strictly forbid her from touching it, but she does so any way, wouldn’t I be guilty of putting such a danger within her reach?

As you heard in the podcast, the problem of evil is a big factor in why I rejected Christianity. You made this analogy in your letter: And if you revisit [Satan’s] efforts to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, you’ll see a few other commonalities to what I thought I heard you allude in your story regarding evil. If God exists, then surely he would do X, wouldn’t he? But since he doesn’t do X, then it would seem that he does not exist.” Did the fact that Jesus did not turn stones into bread or throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple prove He was not the Son of God?

My questions:

  • Are you implying that my desire to have a decent theodicy is akin to Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness? I’m not sure how this works – can you explain? I’m always up for theodices.
  • Do you mean that for God to do any more good than what he already does, is serving Satan?
  • And this is again assuming that the story in the bible is legit.  Are you using the bible to prove that Jesus is God?

Almost done here – hopefully you’re still with me.

You ended your letter by writing these statements: But I do think Jesus still loves you very much, considers you His child and longs for your return, but you are not presently willing.  And Rebekah, your heart is not too heavy, you’re not too far to come home.

Well,:

  • Do you think I’m not ‘presently willing’ to accept Christianity?  I would like to think that I’m open to evidence – and I think I said as much in the podcast.
  • And, once again, my heart isn’t heavy. I am home. As someone who’s rejected the oppressive dogmas of Christianity, I’m now free to:
    • Freely question, without dismissal or rejection
    • Not settle for answers that aren’t satisfying
    • No  longer excuse discriminatory dogmas that hurt people (ie., resistance to same-sex marriage)
    • I no longer have to defend a (at times, contradictory) faith that isn’t relevant or necessary in our world today
    • Embrace my world today, and not a world to come – which adds an immediacy and preciousness that I didn’t have when I had an eternity to look forward to.
    • To name just a few!

My final thoughts – while I appreciated most of your letter to me, by the end I was dismayed by your earnestness to dismiss my quest for knowledge in light of the supposed ineffable and “incomprehensible” love of a Savior – who, presumably, has no obligation or desire to sate my ‘god-given’ (irony intended) drive to better understand the world around me.

I suppose I’m no longer willing to canonize what I regard as willful ignorance. It’s not enough for me to swallow these concerns and inquiries in light of a faith and a God that I’m not sure is even there.

You quoted Milton and Dickinson to me in your letter – and while I’ve never been a Milton fan, Dickinson is someone who has always spoke to me (as you can tell in this letter, I’m a fan of the dash – !).  You knew that she was an agnostic, right?

I’ll end my long response by quoting her back to you:

“Faith” is a fine invention, when gentlemen can see / But microscopes are prudent, in an emergency.

That’s where I’m at. I don’t mind faith, for others – but squashing the pursuit of knowledge is something that I find unique to religion. I think religion is the one part of human existence that resists expanding the world beyond what we currently know – because it’s deemed dangerous.

And I’m not willing to be part of such a system anymore.

Sincerely,

Rebekah Bennetch

content atheist, at home.

 

What’s interesting for me is that these kinds of responses are getting easier and easier to write. I have thought through why I am who I am, and I’m happy to share, should I be given the chance.  (thing is, I’m finding less people who are willing to give me such chances these days)

What did you think of my response?

8 comments on “grrrl meets Eve the deceived

  1. Very nice! Wonder if you’ll get a response?

  2. Natalie on said:

    Very nice! It was refreshing to read your article. I agree that the hardest part about not being affiliated with a religious group is dealing with your own family. Religious groups have so many social agendas that should be a non-issue, like same-sex marriage. Overall, well put.

  3. A kind and gentle response. Well done.

    I’m particularly saddened by the fact that questions are ignored or suppressed. If all truth is God’s truth, as someone (Augustine? Assissi? I don’t know) once said, then what do we have to fear?

    I do have a question about one thing you said, though:

    I don’t mind faith, for others – but squashing the pursuit of knowledge is something that I find unique to religion. I think religion is the one part of human existence that resists expanding the world beyond what we currently know – because it’s deemed dangerous.

    What do you mean by “squashing the pursuit of knowledge” and “resists expanding the world”?

    I ask because this doesn’t seem representative of “religion” in a general sense or Christianity specifically. Speaking historically, it is religion in one form or another which is largely responsible for scholarship, academia, and scientific advance. Of course, the academic world is no longer dominated by people of faith, but religion and, in the west, Christianity particularly was the driving force behind what is now the “academic world”. Religious folks are still faithfully plugging away in various knowledge-expanding fields precisely because they think their faith encourages and even demands the pursuit of truth and knowledge. Trying to understand the created world, Muslims, Christians and people from other religions have spent lifetimes expanding human knowledge precisely because they see the world as intelligible.

    I will grant you some individuals and some large groups–and they unfortunately happen to be the vocal and/or kooky ones who get all the media attention–are hostile to “expanding the world” and in favour of “squashing the pursuit of knowledge” (i.e., hostile to science and all things academic–is this what you mean?). But I don’t think this is in any way representative of the tenets or theology of Christianity specifically or of “religion” in general.

  4. Marc, when I wrote “religion is the one part of human existence that resists expanding the world beyond what we currently know ” it’s because I see religion as one part of humanity that seems the most opposed to learning and knowledge. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule — there are those believers who are content/secure enough to pursue knowledge — but so far in my experience, it seems like many believers are suspicious of intellect and knowledge, so much so that they indeed ‘canonize willful ignorance’ like I alluded to above. In fact, the gentleman who initially wrote me this email has admitted that he sees a ‘Satanic presence’ behind my desire to have intellectually satisfying answers to the questions I have when it comes to faith.

    [as a sidenote, I don't see Eve's desire to understand the knowledge of evil as a bad thing -- neither do I see Thomas as a traitor for wanting to have proof before he believed.]

    I don’t think you necessarily fit in this rejection-of-knowledge box, but I’m struggling to find another part of human existence that is so resistant to learning/knowledge — other than religion. Can you think of one?

  5. Well, that’s just it I guess. I see the “rule” as the exception. There are religious people and groups who fit the bill, but I don’t see this as a problem of religion in a general sense.

    By way of example, at the turn of the 20th century or so, many evangelicals were hostile to scientific enquiry particularly in relation to the theory of evolution and in some quarters that continues to this day, but I think the tide is turning there. And as I understand it, the Catholic church affirms evolution as a possible way God created.

    But maybe scientific knowledge is not what you have in mind.

    Again, I can’t think of a particular dogma or point of theology within Christianity that is opposed to expanding the horizons of knowledge.

    Granted, the theistic religions by nature has no room for the non-existence of God(s), but then the laws science by nature have no room for the supernatural. These are simply the boundaries within which various paradigms naturally function.

    (Incidentally, do you know people who think Thomas was a traitor? I’ve never heard of this!)

  6. Oops. “by nature HAVE no room”… rewording can sometimes make things worse…

  7. Marc, you’re still avoiding the larger issue here — “religion is the one part of human existence that resists expanding the world beyond what we currently know ”. We can debate whether it’s the majority or the minority, but the fact is religion (in whatever measure) does stunt the pursuit of knowledge. The question I want you to answer is what other ideology or human experience is also known to be anti-intellectual?

    (and note that I’m not just saying that Christianity is guilty of stunting intellectual pursuits, I’m sure we can point to several other examples of faith systems that resist the change that knowledge can inspire)

  8. I’m not avoiding the larger issue at all; I’m challenging it. I’m saying that it’s not the tenets of a particular religion (the major ones that I know about, anyway) that require or imply resistance to expansion of knowledge.

    Whether its the majority or the minority is quite important. The fact that there are both committed religious folk who are contribute, often in significant ways, to the expansion of human knowledge and committed religious folk who resist or even oppose expansion of knowledge (or at least certain kinds of knowledge) suggests to me that religion (that is, religious practice and belief) is not the problem.

    The problem could be the misuse or misunderstanding of various elements of their religion in individuals or groups. Or it may have nothing to do with their religion at all and simply be a matter of fear or suspicion or self-defense ultimately unrelated to their particular religious beliefs. It may well be that the people who resist expansion of knowledge tend to be religious (but I’m not aware of such statistics), but that need not mean that *religion* is the culprit. It could be any number of things.

    But I guess we’re speaking abstractly here, which can only get us so far. What do you mean by “expansion of knowledge”? Do you have specific ideas or areas in mind? If it’s a fact that religion stunts the pursuit of knowledge, then I assume you have some clear examples of “religion” in a general sense doing this.

    To answer your question, I can’t think of *any* ideology or human experience that is anti-intellectual (being “known as anti-intellectual” is quite different than actually being so). I can think of individuals or subgroups, but I cannot think of a broad ideology that is explicitly or implicitly anti-intellectual.

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