Monday, August 29, 2011

On the Other Side

I haven't really been on top of this blog lately, and the number of posts per week has dropped off sharply. At first, I thought this was due to my summer schedule, which had grown a bit fuller than it was when I started this blog. But something didn't feel right about that explanation. It seemed, rather, that my intense desire to chart my transition away from Christianity and belief in God had somehow subsided, and significantly so. Why was this?

Once I started following my thoughts down this trail, a couple of observations became clear rather quickly. First, I wasn't really thinking much about the "newness" of my worldview. I still did a lot of reading both of books and folks on the web, but much of that reading was, by now, reaffirming what I now believe rather than stretching or challenging my assumptions about the world. In short, being an atheist—even though it's still strange to write those words—has become my new normal. For that reason, I'm not constantly excited and provoked by new ideas, which ultimately served as one of the sources of inspiration for my blog posts.

Second, I remembered why I called this blog "ellipsis." My idea was to blog about life "in-between" Christianity and whatever now lay ahead of me. While I still want to understand myself as in the process of becoming, I realize that, practically speaking, I've come to the other side. I'm on the firm ground of cognitive harmony again, rather than the bridge of dissonance. I don't, of course, have it all figured out: I'm sure there are many, many things I haven't "figured out." Still, the framework within which I'll face those problems is provisionally fixed.

So, while I imagine that from time to time I'll throw up a new post, I think I'm going to let myself off the hook if I let the blog fall into disrepair. The blog has, I believe, served its purpose well, i.e., to help me document this major transition in my life. To those who have read, commented, and offered support: thank you. 

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Backward Glance

This morning I conducted an experiment: I went to a Christian religious service. At my seminary, once a week (during the summer) a chapel service is held, and I had a friend leading the service, so I decided—for the first time since I left the church—to go.

In short, it felt weird, and I felt repeatedly that I neither could nor wanted to participate in the many parts of the service: the singing, the prayers, the "passing of the peace." At every juncture, I kept thinking: "Yeah, but this god doesn't exist. We're not talking to, praising, confessing to, etc., anyone who actually exists. We're kidding ourselves." My emotions ranged from puzzlement to anger, toleration to irritation, sadness (for others) to relief (for myself). What I did enjoy was the music (apart from the lyrics) and the funnier parts of the sermon; otherwise, I was filling a seat in support of my friend. 

The experience taught me something I didn't really get until now. My wife, seven years my predecessor in leaving the faith, hated going to church when I asked her to. She despised meeting in Christian small groups, or listening to lectures on the Christian faith, and so on. At last I see why this was the case. It's not that she didn't "like" church (i.e., a particular church didn't suit her tastes) but that church didn't really have a place for her. This morning, having attending my first service since leaving the faith, made this abundantly clear to me. What's more, it's definitely made sure that the next service I attend either will be compulsory or will take place in the distant future.

Christianity, for all its attempts to be inclusive and welcoming, is inherently exclusive and closed to outsiders. Nothing that goes on inside a church is really designed with non-Christians in mind (not that I would suggest it needs to). At best, Christian services work for people who are seeking, but atheists and agnostics (to whatever extent they're committed to agnosticism) really can't take part in Christian worship service without feeling extremely outsider-y and othered (a feeling few people enjoy).

For now, at least, I'll have to continue to rely upon non-traditional sources (e.g,. individual relationships, books, the web) to foster my sense of 'spiritual' community, and to generate inspiration and hope. It still feels strange admitting that I don't want to participate in church life, but that strangeness doesn't make it any less true.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the Fence?

As part of my attempt to become more clear thinking regarding my new epistemic position (one in which I take an increasingly atheistic viewpoint), I decided to pick up Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion.

Those familiar with the book (or Dawkins in general) won't be surprised by this basic fact: Dawkins allows there to be no middle ground in the fundamentalism v. rationality debate. Moderate religionists and atheists/agnostics who tolerate religionists are, according to Dawkins, only giving fundamentalists more time, energy, and freedom to entrench themselves against the voices of rationality. Allowing people to maintain their illusory and fanciful beliefs in a deity does the least good for humanity as a whole. In no uncertain terms, Dawkins (speaking primarily to those sympathetic to his atheistic worldview) tells the reader that even allowing notions such as "the Bible is, generally, a good book" or "religion can help people be good," such notions only undermine widespread acceptance of thoroughgoing rationality and, conversely, unwittingly endorses the more destructive and irrational forms of religion. To be on the fence is to give the game away to religionists.

I appreciate Dawkins' passion and commitment to rationality. I think, on the whole, that he argues clearly and handles a wide range of topics with care (though not always the care a specialist might give them). Moreover, I agree with him that religion does, on balance, encourage a lack of clear thinking, self-reliance, and critical scientific inquiry. 

My problem comes, however, with the notion that anyone who endorses the same views as Dawkins must work to dissemble religion in our society, through doing such things as, e.g., dismantling the foundational beliefs of those religions (as Dawkins has attempted to do in the book). The reason I cannot affirm such an antagonistic position comes from my own experience:

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Parable

After a number of my friends and family expressed deep concerns over my leaving the faith, I have been thinking about how to communicate the need for all people to think critically, to investigate the evidence, and to accept the conclusions to which the evidence points. This, in a nutshell, is how I've not only become an atheist (practically, anyhow), but also how I've become more and more convinced of how wrongheaded Christianity's claims to exclusivism are. So, I thought this parable below might convey the point best:

One day, in a small town, someone murdered a well-known citizen (more after the jump...)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Still here.

Sorry I haven't posted anything in the last few weeks. Life can, as we all know, move by a bit too quickly. Still, I haven't forgotten about this blog, and have a couple of ideas in the ol' hopper I'd like to share with you when I get a bit of breathing room. Until then...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Wendell Berry on Agrarianism

As usual, Wendell Berry says it more concisely and effectively than I did (in my previous post), in his essay, "The Agrarian Standard":
"In any consideration of agrarianism, this issue of limitation is critical. Agrarian farmers see, accept, and live within their limits. They understand and agree to the proposition that there is 'this much and no more.' Everything that happens on an agrarian farm is determined or conditioned by the understanding that there is only so much land, so much water in the cistern, so much hay in the barn, so much corn in the crib, so much firewood in the shed, so much food in the cellar or freezer, so much strength in the back and arms—and no more. This is the understanding that induces thrift, family coherence, neighborliness, local economies. Within accepted limits, these virtues become necessities. The agrarian sense of abundance comes from the experienced possibility of frugality and renewal within limits.
"This is exactly opposite to the industrial idea that abundance comes from the violation of limits by personal mobility, extractive machinery, long-distance transport, and scientific or technological breakthroughs. If we use up the good possibilities in this place, we will import goods from some other place, or we will go to some other place. If nature releases her wealth too slowly, we will take it by force. If we make the world too toxic for honeybees, some compound brain, Monsanto perhaps, will invent tiny robots that will fly about, pollinating flowers and making honey."
As usual, Berry, with candor and rigor uncommonly found among many politicians or corporate spokespersons, helps us see the world not as we wish it would be or as powerful interests wish it to be seen, but as it is.