Tag Archives: evangelicalism

bonus post today!

As I was going through my archives looking for my response to the 2004 election, I came across this gem of a post where I responded to someone who said my blog worked as a “tool of Satan.”

I pretty much love how I ended the post:

So if you want to be critical of me — go ahead. But first make sure you’ve earned the right, in terms of our friendship, in order to say the things you’d like to say. If you’re only going to correct me because you’re feeling “burdened by God” or think I’m another soul to add to your “saved” list — you’re just wasting your time in your correspondence. Also make sure that you actually know about the claims you’re going to make about the condition of my soul and/or my relationship with God. Pet peeve #2.

Thank you and good night.

It’s not easy being an apostate

Go. Go now. Go now and read ‘From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader’ in this week’s NYTimes’ Magazine. The article is about Jerry DeWitt, a former minister who’s now working as the Executive Director of Recovering from Religion. (sidenote: hey look! Cafe Apostate is listed as one of the 3 groups in Canada!)

I loved reading this article, if only because I think it really illustrates how it’s a long and difficult process to reject your faith.  So many times people ask me ‘when did you lose your faith?’ and expect me to point to the one day when I found that I was no longer a Christian.  It’s a process, people!  Just like you can’t pinpoint an answer to  ‘when did you grow up?’ — it’s impossible to know the precise moments when you realized you were no longer a believer. (p.s. Thanks to Dan Barker and his book ‘Godless‘ for that analogy)

When it comes to my deconversion, I found it was a series of small steps, or a feeling of slowly letting go — until I finally realized (and accepted) that I wasn’t holding on to that faith system anymore. And, I was OKAY.  I was the same person, just with one less box to check on the census.

What I found to be the hardest part of being an apostate is the rejection you face from your religious family, friends, and connections.  I think the NYTimes article on DeWitt does a good job of illustrating just how much can be lost in admitting your nonbelief. From the article:

Almost at once [after his 'outing' as an atheist], DeWitt became a pariah in DeRidder [his hometown]. His wife found herself ostracized in turn, and the marriage suffered. She moved out in June. He received a constant stream of hate messages — some threatening — and still does, more than seven months later. He played me a recent one he had saved on his cellphone as we ate lunch at a diner in town. “It’s just sickening to hear you try to turn people atheist,” a guttural voice intoned. It went on and on, telling DeWitt to go to hell in various ways. “I’m not going to sit around while you turn people against God,” the voice said at one point.

Can you feel the Christian love?

Thankfully I haven’t had any kind of death threats or a broken marriage because of my atheism. I have had many friendships lost, family relationships broken, and I’ve been on the receiving end of countless patronizing ‘we will pray for you’ letters and emails that passive-aggressively condemn my nonbelief.  It’s not something that you want to have to go through, but when compared to having to live a lie (ie., pretending to be something you’re not), then it’s all part of the experience.

So that’s why I get so riled up when I find believers who either mock, deride, or dismiss the stories of apostates (and yes, I’m focusing mainly on Christianity here, since that’s where I’m coming from — unfortunately with other monotheistic religions, the response to apostates is to murder them).

In my experience, I find there are a couple different reactions that Christians have to apostates: First, there’s the ‘you were never a True Christian™ in the first place‘ response, where the validity of the apostate’s past experiences as a believer is questioned. Usually when someone accuses me of never being an authentic believer, it’s for one of three reasons: it’s either out of fear (I don’t want to lose my faith one day!), defensiveness (how dare you reject something I hold so dear!) or it’s a response bred from a sense of competition (Christianity is so much better than atheism, let me tell you why!). Let me tell you, it’s disheartening to be on the end of such immediate judgmental conclusions.

Which reminds me, a year ago today, I was on the UK Christian radio program Unbelievable?. One of the most interesting parts of that experience was to listen in to some of the (primarily Christian) audience’s reactions to my apostasy story. From what I remember, most of the listener feedback in the following weeks fell into those three categories above.

But what I’ve found to be the most frustrating Christian reaction to stories of apostates is the mockery and ridicule that some love to heap.  And while I understand the motivations behind it (again, it probably falls under the same three categories I listed earlier), it doesn’t make this religiously-fueled bullying any easier to take.  In fact, I recently left an online group that I helped start because of a couple people who loved to be nasty in their reactions to the authentic stories of what is lost when outing yourself as a nonbeliever.

I wonder how these same people would react to reading DeWitt’s apostate story of what he lost. (I’m not optimistic)

Anyway, while there is a lot of sad feelings and experiences to be found in these stories of rejected (read: not ‘lost’) faith, I think there’s also so much more freedom and authenticity to be found in finally accepting who you are as a nonbeliever.

And for those people who decide not to embrace the ‘real’ godless you? Well, from my experience, it’s not really that big of a loss to no longer have them as a part of your life. I find that I prefer to have a handful of people who love and know me for who I am, rather than be in a relationship where I’m only accepted for being who they think I should be.

Which is one reason why I loved this song from Wicked so much:

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same

I’m through with playing by the rules

Of someone else’s game

Too late for second-guessing

Too late to go back to sleep

It’s time to trust my instincts

Close my eyes: and leap!

[...]

I’m through accepting limits

’cause someone says they’re so

Some things I cannot change

But till I try, I’ll never know!

Too long I’ve been afraid of

Losing love I guess I’ve lost

Well, if that’s love

It comes at much too high a cost!

-from ‘Defying Gravity’

grrrl meets UK Christian radio program programme

The interview is online now at the Unbelievable? website.  Here’s the program’s description:

This week on Unbelievable : “Losing my religion – dialogue with an ex-Christian”

Rebekah Bennetch lives in Saskatoon, Canada. She grew up in a Christian family. Her dad is a pastor, and other family members are involved in Christian ministries. She professed faith from a young age, went to Bible college, atteneded church and went on mission trips. But in 2007 she “came out” as an atheist and now describes herself as the “black sheep” of her family. Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on contemporary spirituality. For many years he presented “Open House”, a nationally-syndicated Australian radio show on life, faith and culture. He now resides in the UK. They discuss what led Rebekah to abandon her faith, how Christians can best treat their “apostate” friends and family, and what lessons can be learnt for fruitful dialogue between believers and atheists.

Here’s the link for the interview — it’s a little over an hour long.  Right now I’m buried in end-of-term marking of student reports and finals, but later this week I’m planning to reflect on the exchange I had with Justin and Sheridan. In the meantime, check out the interview, and make sure to read the latest comments on the blog here (and here, and here), by my old youth group pal Alison — she’s always good for a laugh, and for a reminder of why I rejected the faith system she represents.

Megachurch hits the big screen

Pierce Brosnan as a megalomanical megachurch pastor? Yes, please!

Set in the world of mega-churches in which a former Deadhead-turned-born again-Christian finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega-church who will do anything to protect their larger-than-life pastor.

Funny, I could have given Salvation Boulevard’s writer/director some pretty good material re: larger-than-life pastors I’ve experienced in my religious past.

I can’t wait to see this film. Who’s coming with?

grrrl meets apologist

me & William Lane Craig

Earlier this week I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored debate, “Does God Exist?” — featuring rock-star apologist William Lane Craig and fellow Saskatoon atheist George Williamson.  It was a rematch of an earlier debate they did in 2007 (YouTube).

In case you didn’t know this about me, I *love* listening to debates. It’s not at all uncommon to find me listening to a debate while I’m doing my housework (here’s the best site to find debates — I probably have 80% of them on my iPod).  I love listening to debaters set up their arguments, and love even more the spur-of-the-moment interactions between both sides during cross-examinations and Q & A periods.

The one Christian debater I’ve heard the most is Dr. Craig — I’ve heard him so many times that I can even cite all 6 of his arguments.  It was quite the treat to not only see him in person, but on Friday morning I had an opportunity to share a cup of coffee with him and fellow apologist Michael Horner! (along with a few other of my atheisty friends)

What I learned from my Craig encounter (in no particular order):

  • It was so fun to be able to talk about anything and everything with an articulate believer.  There haven’t been many opportunities where my questioning was welcomed.  There weren’t any heated discussions, just exchange of ideas.
  • Despite how smart he is, I think Dr. Craig is out of touch with many contemporary issues and their implications in the world today.  For example, he’s very quick to be dismissive of the “new atheism”, and labels it as only a “pop-culture” phenomenon.  I’m never impressed by a snobby scholar attitude (and don’t get me started on people who brandish their PhD diplomas).
  • The best part of our discussion was when we started talking about morality. I love talking about real, concrete issues — which means talking about moral/ethical dilemmas are more up my alley than discussing the ins and outs of cosmology.  Cosmology doesn’t affect me in my day to day life.
  • What I found the most interesting in our conversation about morality was noticing how uncomfortable Dr. Craig got when we starting applying morality to situations — he complained that his area was “meta-ethics” and not “practical ethics.”  This really shocked me, as I find practical ethics *so important*, and waaaaaay more meaningful to discuss than vaguely pontificating about loosely-defined “objective morality” and supposedly “cosmic” implications.  I asked Dr. Craig to give me an example of an objective moral value — I didn’t get one.
  • At one point, Dr. Craig was dismissively (he’s very good at being dismissive) talking about the ethical theory of consequentialism.  He gave an example that was meant to be horrifying to us to hear — he said, according to this theory, if raping/torturing a little girl would bring more good to society, then you would be morally bound to do such an atrocious action.  He wanted us to be repulsed by such an idea — and it is repulsive!  But I interjected that if Craig’s God were to issue a divine command for him to rape/torture a little girl because God deemed it morally “right,” Craig would have no choice but to follow it — according to the ethical guidelines that he’s under (read: Abraham’s command to sacrifice Issac).  And I find that equally repulsive, if not moreso that a supposedly personal God could make such commands.  Craig conceded (as much as he could — which is to say not much) — but he also made the point that it would be “logically impossible” for God to command such a thing. (?)
  • Ultimately it comes to Craig’s system of morality, I don’t trust God as much as he does.  I also don’t buy into Craig’s forced dichotomy of objective morality vs. nihilism.
  • Another interesting part of the conversation came up when we started talking about the character of God, especially as portrayed in the Old Testament.  Here’s where the theological contorting really starting taking shape.  First Craig tried to diminish the genocidal acts by saying that God really commanded the Israelites to “drive out” the Canaanite residents — and then only killed those left behind.  Later Craig mentioned that there’s no evidence that women and children were killed, and that it was mainly soldiers who were brutalized (not sure where he’s getting that claim from). And there were several other excuses given, but his main premise — God can take life, because he has given life — I found terrifying enough on its own ground.  (and again, here’s another example where Craig seems very willing to hand over his own volition/judgement over to God, something that I don’t think I’m able to do)
  • At one point in the conversation (I think it was in the midst of the ethical dilemmas), Michael Horner just sighed and said he didn’t know an answer to our questions.  AND I LOVED THAT.  I didn’t love it because I felt like I “scored” a point by stumping the apologist, but rather because it showed a moment of vulnerability and honesty.  As much as I enjoyed Dr. Craig, I didn’t see that side of him in our conversation.  The most he would concede would be to say “Well, I’ve struggled with that …” and then continue to give a definitive (to him) answer.
  • Toward the end of our chat, the apologists asked if there were any remaining “burning questions” left for us to ask — I, of course, took that segue way into asking about hell.  And that was when Dr. Craig told me that I should “come back into the faith.”
  • Dr Craig thinks that if you have a “open mind and open heart , you will come to a belief in god” — which is a really interesting statement to unpack.  This statement implies that someone who is skeptical of Christianity’s claims has a closed mind and heart.  My mind/heart isn’t closed,  I’m just not willing to assume God is there and then go looking for him, essentially turning off my critical faculties.  It reminds me when some  Mormons once asked Jerry and I to pray, just to “try it” and see if we felt god.  Ummmm, no thanks.
  • As much as I want to be impressed by Dr. Craig, I left our discussion thinking his faith rationale is pretty simple.  In many ways, I think it just boils down to an elaborately-structured ‘God of the Gaps’ argument, which is an explanation I’m not content to settle for.

Looking back on the whole experience, I’m really glad I had this opportunity to sit and chat with 2 prominent apologists.  I want to think that I’m always open to hearing good arguments that could persuade me to change my mind — but that said, even if I could be persuaded into conceding a deistic or theistic god exists, I’m not sure if I would be so apt to fall into line to worship him/her/it.

My hesitancy isn’t because I’m angry with god, or that I’m too selfish to let god into my life.  I just honestly don’t see how I need a relationship with such a being.  Maybe one day my mind will change — until that time, I’ll keep a lookout for him/her/it — but I won’t stop asking hard questions and I won’t settle for cliched answers.

p.s. In case you want a taste of what Dr. Craig sounds like in conversation, here’s a clip from his trip up here to Saskatoon.

p.p.s.  If you want to hear my favorite debates featuring Dr. Craig, check out these:

  • My very favorite: Craig v. Shelly Kagan, Yale prof.  The debate was “Is God Necessary for Morality?” — which means Craig was off-script!  And he loses the debate, I think.
  • If you want to hear Craig’s 6 proverbial arguments in action, you should listen to his debates with atheist Austin Dacey.  These two debates (2004 & 2005) are the best tackling of the subject, and Dacey offers the best opposition to Craig.
  • Later this spring, Craig is slated to debate both Lawrence Krauss (the physicist) and Sam Harris.

Rationalizing Genocide

How did I spend my Sunday morning?  Writing out a long comment to a pastor who was attempting to defend the genocides of the Old Testament.  Here’s my response to his rationalizations:

Thanks for the time you took in writing out this response.  I can tell you put a lot of time and energy into it, and I would be open to reading a book you’d write on the topic!  I do have a few issues with some of your explanations.

But before I get too picky, can I just state the obvious?  Can you hear yourself defending (rationalizing!) acts of genocide?  I’m always dismayed when I hear someone mentally disconnect the argument they’re making from the act they’re defending.  To be honest, it was one of the primary motivating forces that helped me reject my faith.  I got tired of having to condone God’s go-ahead for genocide.

You say that applying our “cultural mores” onto the horrors of genocide is an “anachronism.”  I’m not sure what to make of that statement.  So genocide (ie., the systematic act of killing a racial/cultural group) is a value that is relative to the time one lives in?  I’m having a hard time imagining a period of time in human history when it would be excusable to slaughter an entire people group.

So proving to me that I’m being anachronistic is going to be a tough sell.  You’re going to have to show me that the moral precept we hold that genocide is wrong was somehow NOT wrong back then.  I have a feeling we’ll come back to the supposedly-moral framework of “God is moral, God told the Israelites to murder, Murder is moral.”  You may be content in such a framework, I am not.

I know that there are other examples of ancient literature where these acts of systematic murder are described, and I find those passages equally horrifying as well.  But the difference between reading the Illiad and reading the Bible is that people don’t put any spiritual credence in the former.

I’m disappointed that you describe genocide as simply “distasteful.”

To summarize your arguments rationalizing genocide:
1. Genocide was not as evil of an act back then as it is today, so applying our 21st-century standards to this act is “anachronistic”.
2. Other people groups back then were committing genocide, so the Israelites were just following warfare protocol.
3. The ends justify the means argument: wiping out Israel’s enemies may have been unfortunate, but necessary — akin to the violence necessary to resolve other human atrocities such as slavery, racism, and fascism.
4. God compromised morality on behalf of the Israelites, and allowed them to commit such acts.
5. Israel is God’s “covenant people”, so “to maintain their cultural and religious distinctiveness”, wiping out a few ancient near eastern cultures is completely excusable.
6. The Midianites were bad people in their day, so they had it coming to them.

I asked you specifically about  Numbers 31.  I find it telling that you completely avoided commenting on the another morally “distasteful” passage in that chapter. Not only does God condone genocide, but he also mandates rape.

The Israelites went and destroyed all the males of the Midianites, but brought back as captives the “women and the little ones” (verse 9).   Moses then specifically goes to the Israelite army and tells them to KILL all the “women who had known a man” along with all the male children — *BUT* they could keep all the young virgin girls for themselves (verses 17-18).  As the chapter closes, these (32,000!) young girls were counted — along with the livestock — in the list of Israel’s war “booty” (32-35).  I don’t think I’m being anachronistic in being horrified by such actions on the part of such a God, and such a “covenant” people.

As I close, I noticed you describe yourself as a “good historian” — have you watched the PBS documentary of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”?  This doc consults many historians, scholars, and archeologists who have the thesis that much of the OT as history is inaccurate.  The genocidal atrocities weren’t military coups, but more of a social/cultural revolution.

I’m curious how he’ll respond. I, for one, am feeling pretty sick inside after having to think about such atrocities. But, at the same time, I’m also glad I got out of the business of finding theological reasons to condone such cruelty.

In the meantime, it looks like Luke has posted a pretty comprehensive list of articles from theologians and non-believers who have responded to the OT genocides.  Check it out.

EDIT: I responded again, and here’s what I wrote: read more »

What she said:

Certainty is a confession of ignorance about our ability to be passionately mistaken.

Valerie Tarico

from “Christian Belief through the Lens of Cognitive Science”
in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails
online article here