Wandering the savage garden…

apologeticsTag Archives

Christians Who Leave the Faith

I recently read “I’m not a Christian anymore: a thread“, by a David Gass, on Twitter. I forget how I first saw it; maybe it was on my regular Twitter feed.

At any rate, as a person with books like “Losing Faith in Faith” on his bookshelf, it caught my eye.

This was an evangelical pastor, who declared publicly that he is abandoning Christianity. He was accepting his doubt, and dropping the sham of faithfulness – after 40 years of missing no more than twelve Sundays.

I don’t want to cherry-pick his thread; it’s not really fair to do so, as it’s not an apologetical missive. I think he’s writing honestly and emotionally, and a point-by-point rebuttal wouldn’t be kind to him…

And it would serve nothing.

I love apologetics; sophistry, the plays on words, the logic all appeals to me. But a good pastor of mine said that “nobody has ever been argued into Heaven,” and while “nobody” is a strong word to use there – surely in two thousand years of Christianity, someone has been argued into Heaven, right? – I still think the larger point is entirely valid.

Apologetics is fun. It’s not really useful as an evangelical tool.

But: looking at Mr. Gass’ thread… I feel like he’s been failed. Not by God, but by the Christian community around him.

He says he was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist environment, with the classic hallmarks of such surroundings. That implies strictness, an insistence on literal inerrancy of the Bible, an insistence that solutions exist for every problem… a sort of “prosperity Gospel” even if it manages to avoid material prosperity. The “prosperity” here isn’t money, or power; it’s that our side, God’s side, always wins. Everything gets fixed. We have it all.

And Mr. Gass saw through it: he saw no supernatural miracles in his life, his marriage struggled. When he read the books that purported to have the answers, he saw them as trite and dismissive.

I’ve read a lot of books like that. I can fully understand his viewpoint on that.

He watched people die of cancer. He buried people from “4 to 96” years old. He prayed for healing for people that didn’t come.

His parents were abusive; his kids rebelled; his marriage was painful to him. Where was God in all of this?

An inescapable reality that I came to was that the people who benefited the most from organized religion were the fringe attenders who didn’t take it too seriously. The people who were devout were the most miserable, but just kept trying harder.

https://twitter.com/DaveGass3/status/112327798932261274

He eventually found acceptance among people who didn’t believe – he said they were the most Christian people he knew, and they weren’t Christian. Given the abusive structure of the church, he just … couldn’t take it any more, and walked away.

I understand.

My heart breaks for him, because I think he missed it all.

At no point in his letter does he mention Christ. He mentions the religion, especially the structured aspect of it; he mentions the trappings, but nothing at the heart. At no point does he say anything about a God he felt was supposed to be out there.

He mentions the Magic Vending Machine, certainly; it was supposed to dispense health and happiness, after all! And it failed! How dare it!

… but nothing about God saying “I died for you, as you were, and for all those lost… no matter where they were or who they were or what they were.”

He points out that the church around him was abusive and caustic. I’ve been in church; it can be!

… but nothing about the Bible saying that that’s not how the Church is supposed to be.

I think Mr. Gass’ story is tragic, because it’s not a failure of God – it’s a failure of the church around him. It’s made of humans, it will fail, but it seems like his churches failed him consistently and in routine ways, all predicated on the belief that things can and should be perfect.

Yet the Bible never says that about our lives.

He wanted to see a miracle: the miracle was him! His life was exactly what the Bible said it would be.

His crisis seems to have been inspired by a lie, that his life wasn’t supposed to work out that way.

I pity Mr. Gass, and understand him, and pray for him and others like him: all of those people looking for magic beyond the magic around them, the people expecting answers to be written on Christian fortune cookies, the people depending on the people around them to be acceptable stand-ins for God.

I pray for the people who failed him, too, because they as well need God’s hand – instead of their own. His failure is theirs. What happens to his faith is possible for them, too, for the same reasons.

I pray for myself, as well, that God guides me in such a way that my own faith remains strong.

The Beginning as Proof of God

Recently, there’s been news about the theory that the universe is cyclic in nature, not existing from a point of a “big bang” and dying in a “big crunch.” Many theologians – apologists, really – including William Lane Craig – use the idea of a terminal universe as a beginning point for the existence of a higher power, God, who brought this universe into being and exists outside of it.

A cyclic universe strikes against this idea, according to some, because the Bible begins with “In the beginning.” With no beginning, the statement that God created what we know of existence in a beginning is moot; there goes another crutch for theists, who assume that something in progress (existence) had to have an earlier state (in this case, nonexistence) and therefore a prime mover (God) who changed its state from nonexistence to existence.

I don’t think theists are actually in trouble, given the suggestion of an eternal universe.

Maybe some are, but an eternal universe is a poorer attack on theism than it might seem.

Genesis may not have been one hundred percent literal. Some Christians certainly believe so, with varying implications. (Some of these might actually believe that Ha-Adam and Havvah spoke English, because that’s what the Bible says, after all!)

With a literal Genesis, any provable or firm theoretical divergence from it means devastation for theism, because the idea of an inerrant Bible can’t withstand error.

However, I don’t think Genesis is literal. I don’t think many do, honestly, because an honest investigation would yield contradictions within a few chapters, and many details are preserved in Genesis that simply make no sense to preserve.

It’s worth pointing out (and was pointed out, by a friend) that there’s a way to resolve the two stories of creation in Genesis, through a literary method called “Synopsis, Resumption, Expansion,” that actually itself focuses on an eastern mindset held by Hebrew authors. The narrative doesn’t have to have a singular flow from beginning to end to be one narrative, although it might seem like two separate stories. This makes sense to me – a lot of sense, really – but I still don’t think the story is more than a cohesive framework representative of a history, rather than a literal history.

Simply put, I don’t think Genesis was ever meant to be taken literally.

I don’t think that a literal Genesis is outside of God’s power, however.

Consider the Young Earth idea, which states that the universe is somewhere in the realm of six thousand years old. Carbon dating can show age of billions of years if it likes; clearly God created the universe with age, including the bones of dinosaurs, right?

Well… my stance is that He might have, I guess. I don’t know why, because Occam’s Razor suggests the that universe is as old as it might appear, including a cyclic nature if that’s what it turns out to have.

Yet the main point is that God is able to do whatever He desires – and if His desire was to create a universe that is six thousand years – or maybe only fifty years – or maybe even one year – old, such that I think it looks like it’s fifty trillion years old… then so be it. I think God can do that.

So back to Genesis – if it’s not meant to be taken literally, what is it? Why is it there?

It’s there to give its readers – us – a context. An image. A mythos – not purely in terms of myth, but a framework in which to seat ourselves. It’s a mythos in which we see a constant – a history in which God exposes who He is, in some small way. It’s a beginning, if not the beginning.

It gives us a working starting point. It’s even allegorical in nature – what with two creation myths in the first three chapters – and thus it’s self-aware, almost as if God were saying “This should tide you over until you see more of the mystery of what I have created.”

And thus, an eternal universe, never beginning, never ending? I don’t see where that changes anything. Maybe it changes things for people who are trying to stake a claim that “with no beginning, there is no God,” but that’s a silly argument and always has been, if the question becomes “Is there a God?”

Consider:

  • If the universe has no beginning, there is no God.
  • There is a God. Therefore, the universe has no beginning.

Nope. Let’s try again.

  • There is a God.
  • The universe therefore had a beginning.

Darn it, another non sequitur!

Try this one, which fails to trigger my “this is baloney!” sense:

  • There is a God.
  • There is a universe.

No therefores, no ties, no conclusions about beginnings that are unrelated. It’s a statement of faith, not science — and what it does is state what I believe.

What it doesn’t do is pit science against God, pit evidence against evidence. It accepts that what is, might actually be, on both sides.

Does that make an apologetic statement? Hmm, no, it really doesn’t. It’s a statement of faith, not apologetics. I’m not actually much of an apologist, as it turns out – I don’t think apologetics works well as a positive assertion.

For me, apologetics is a matter of accepting possibilities, not denying them.

I have no problem with the concept of arguing for the possibility of God.

I have no problem opening the door – I find myself unable to use apologetics to try to force someone to acknowledge God.

And that makes sense to me; nobody has ever been argued into Heaven. Nobody of whom I know has ever accepted Christ for real, in a living relationship, out of pure reason – maybe reason was the lever used by God to create a willingness to hear Him, but I don’t think anyone has ever or can decide to follow Him truly out of pure reason.

(If they could, they’d be saving themselves… and the Bible says that the work of salvation is His and not ours.)

So:

Apologetics is great, it’s fun to watch – but it’s also not more than one more tool for witnessing.

Science is not religion’s enemy, no matter what stance some scientists take against religion. The two are in different domains; math does not win the fight against history, english doesn’t totally trounce chemistry, social studies doesn’t beat up western literature.

They’re both ways to experience and study the world in which we live, in different ways and in different spheres altogether; I want science to advance as far as it can, and to me, every victory science claims is proof of and glory to God.