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

Nice.

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.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Global Down-turn

A few months ago, I attended a lecture from Miroslav Volf, a very well-known theologian from Yale. The title of the lecture was, "The Intersection of Faith and Globalization," a lecture he's given a number of times in many places (see here as one example). The basic assumption of the lecture was something like this: globalization is here to stay, so we have to adapt to it. Now, I like where he goes on the basis of this assumption, but that's not where my problem lies. 


My problem lies in the widespread belief that we should embrace a globalized world. 


Globalization, as it currently stands, doesn't exactly resemble the democratic, egalitarian utopia that many proponents of globalization want us to believe. More importantly, even should every country and culture in the world get on board with living in a global community, even then we wouldn't live in a world governed by mutual consent and characterized by mutual prosperity. The reason for this isn't an outright cynicism on my part regarding human nature; it has to do with my cynicism regarding the forces that are leading to our increasingly globalized world.


Let's reflect for a moment on these forces (after the jump...)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Bob Loblaw Law Blog

I just finished watching, for the second time through, the entire series of Arrested Development (watch it over at Hulu if you haven't ever had a chance or made the time—you'll thank me later). The title of this post is one of the hundreds of gems in the prematurely-cancelled show. 


In the last few weeks, a lot of these have suddenly exploded in my mind (while I'm doing dishes, writing my dissertation, watching another episode of Arrested Development). Some of the more frequent ones include: 


"Annyong." 
"Her?" 
"It's not a trick, Michael, it's an illusion. A trick is what a whore does for money."
"Hey, brother."
"That's what you do when life hands you a chance to be with someone special. You just grab that brownish area by its points and you don't let go no matter what your mom says."
"Take that back! If I wanted something your thumb touched, I'd eat the inside of your ear!"

"Who'd like a banger in the mouth?"
"NO TOUCHING!"


If you've seen it, do you have any favorite quotes or scenes?


Alas. I'll miss the show. Hopefully there's something to the rumors that a movie is still in the works.


*BTW: There actually is a Bob Loblaw Law Blog over at—get ready for it—http://thebobloblawlawblog.blogspot.com/ (though there aren't any actual posts. Points for creating the damn thing, though).

Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Spirituality?

Friday afternoon, I sat down with my spiritual director to talk about the future of our relationship. We had been meeting for over a year when I decided to walk away from the Christian faith, and I wanted to let him know about what had taken place. I knew things wouldn't really be the same, and had pretty much decided that participating in spiritual direction wasn't really a live option any more. But, at his request, I decided to see whether it was something I could still incorporate into my life.


Prior to the meeting, I understood "spirituality" as referring to one of two things: 1) dependence upon some variety of supernatural being(s) who give meaning and purpose to life, and the cultivating of that relationship; or 2) glorified navel-gazing and positive self-talk (à la Oprah). Since I'm not terribly interested in either of these—I no longer believe in the existence of a supernatural being, and I'm already battling enough self-interested thinking in my life—I assumed that spiritual direction would be out of the picture. After all, if I called the game of the spiritual journey a hoax, then why would I want someone to guide me on it?


The result of the conversation, however, surprised me. (More after the jump...)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Hard Part

The letter to friends, family, and professional contacts (who need to know, at least) has gone out; the awkward personal conversations have, for the most part, taken place. That was by no means an easy thing to do, but the hard part, I've just realized, lies ahead of me.


See, the hardest part of leaving Christianity wasn't telling my closest friends and my family. Truth be told, I'm coming to see how challenging it is to discovering a new normal. My relationships with friends and family members now has to find a new center of gravity. If it's not our shared faith and worldview, then what is it? I've only had a few chats with friends and family who know, and I could feel the strangeness of it all. The camaraderie of being co-religionists ran much deeper than I realized. No longer can we absent-mindedly maintain our common assumptions about what's important in life. It's only just becoming clear how often faith and church life came up in conversations, and now that this is gone, what then?


Sure, over the next few weeks and months, I'll probably still talk a good deal with folks about my deconversion. Eventually, though, it will become an issue with which both my friends and family grow weary of discussing—and, no doubt, I will too. And that's the rub: what then? How will we understand our relationship? What things will people choose to share or withhold from me? What will I decide to talk about?


Add on top of this all the fact that, major changes aside, I'm still working hard to figure myself out. I'm trying to process through a wide range of my own insecurities and dysfunctions, while trying to become more aware of those of others (so I can better understand people). Plus, there's the whole business of rearranging my metaphysics and a priori assumptions from the ground up, which, I gather, will take a bit of time.


I never imagined, though, that the long-term effects of coming out would require so much mental energy. The challenging part, it seems, is still to come.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rationalizing v. Rationality

Most people know, intuitively or explicitly, the difference between rationality and rationalizing: The first implies a careful consideration of as many likely possibilities as one can manage, and determining the best option for overall success and well-being. The second has to do more with justifying a pre-determined course of action, or (more simply put) giving reasons to do what we really want to do. There are a number of well-written posts on these two themes over at Less Wrong, so I won't add much more on the distinction between these two.


What I will note, however, is an observation regarding the presuppositions that are at work in our cultural conscientiousness (at least as I perceive it). By and large, we work with the assumption that the majority of people, especially people in power, are more or less rational. Sure, we recognize the ideologically-driven component of partisan politics (see, for example, the impasse on spending and debt at the national and state levels). When it comes to making decisions (even within a particular ideology), we assume that most people function day-to-day as rational beings. What's more, we take for granted that those whose job it is to think rationally and clearly—academics or judges, for example—actually do so.


Sooner or later, though, we're going to have to come to grips with this false assumption, this vestigial remainder of Enlightenment principles.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Pope Talking about Jesus


Every so often, I try to link you to things that make me laugh. (I'm not all that funny myself, so I do this to try to compensate.)


This time, I'm sharing two, yes, two links! What's more, they share a common theme: the Pope and Jesus. Take a look:


1. Over at The Onion, they've reported that the Pope will ease up on Jesus talk: "I'd like to think I can be an infallible ecclesiastical authority without ramming it down people's throats," the pope said. "I'm starting to realize what a huge turn-off that is."


2. In this YouTube clip, Jim Gaffigan (one of my favorite comedians) wants to talk to you about Jesus:

Words

My life is filled with words. When I was training to be a minister, a close friend and mentor told me that ministry is done almost entirely through words: preaching, writing, reading, studying, and talking with people—these are the main things a pastor/priest does. Now, as an aspiring academic, I find the situation really isn't too different. Teaching, research, and writing all have to do with putting thoughts into verbal form.


What's more, as a teacher and scholar (and to a lesser degree, when I was in ministry), I'm utterly responsible for my words. Being in the humanities, people will frequently challenge my use of a particular word or phrase, and entire scholarly arguments can be built upon what a single word means. So, not without reason have I become a little anxious about what I write and say. 


The result is that I am extremely self-conscious about any sort of verbal communication I allow to get out from my mind to anyone else. It causes me no small anxiety to publish an essay, or read a paper at a conference, or give a lecture. 


It might surprise you, then, that I have a blog at all. If I get worked up about other people hearing my thoughts, then why, dear reader, would I want to let you read them?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Understanding Evangelical Culture from the Inside

The greatest obstacle to a open, free-thinking society in the U.S. is Evangelical culture as it currently is. Perhaps I'm over-privileging my past by making such a claim (having formerly been an Evangelical myself), but no other significantly populated group within Christianity reflects the same degree of homogeneity as the Evangelicals. Sure, there are growing numbers of moderate and liberal Evangelicals (see here and here), but the vast majority of Evangelicals remain both socially and politically conservative (and even "liberals" tend to be socially conservative). This homogeneity actually builds confidence in their own assertions of truth and rightness, and leads many to ignore voices that deviate from what they are so certain is true.


(More after the jump...)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ellipsis Is Now on the Atheist Blogroll!

The Ellipsis Blog has been added to The Atheist Blogroll . You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.


It's a great list of fellow-minded bloggers, and I'm happy to be in such good company!

The Word Is Out

Some people are surprised that I felt the need to tell my friends and family about my deconversion from Christianity. A few of my wife's friends, who happen to be de-facto or weak atheists, said something to the effect of, "It's not their business what you or your husband believe." At any rate, the ol' cat is out of the bag and the beans are spilt. I sent off an email to about 40 friends, family members, and colleagues, and there's no going back.


So far, about a half dozen folks have responded already, each of them offering support, concern, and (for many) prayers. I really don't mind it when people say they're praying for me; it's a sign that they care about me enough to talk to what they think is the highest being in the universe on my behalf. Are many of them praying that I change my mind? Yeah, but if there's anyone on the other end, I hope those prayers are answered; if not, then it doesn't do any measurable harm.


Strangely enough, this feels like a bizarro version of Christian baptism, the rite of initiation into the church. In baptism, a confession is made in which one publicly renounces the former way of life, etc., and embraces the peace that comes with new life in Christ. Plus, baptism often takes place on Easter Sunday. Oddly enough, I openly admitted to my wife on Easter Day that I was no longer a Christian (tough words to say at the time), and now, with this letter sent out to my loved ones, I've made my anti-baptismal confession in public. The one thing that is the same is the peace, though it is of a very different sort, unmingled with the dependence on someone else to bring it.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monothetic and Synthetic Thinking

Recently, I read an essay by Wendell Berry entitled "The Two Minds" (in The Citizenship Papers, Counterpoint Publishers, 2004). In it, he describes two mindsets that exist in our world: the Rational Mind and the Sympathetic Mind. I won't rehearse the entirety of his argument here, but he essentially says two things:  First, the Rational Mind tries to break things down to simple problems and provides simple solutions that are widely applicable—and I think he means "simple" as "not many sided" more than "simplistic" or "facile." The Sympathetic Mind, on the other hand, recognizes complexity of systems in a particular place, and considers solutions that account for this complexity in that place, but which may not work elsewhere. The second thing he says is this: the Rational Mind is the dominant mind of politicians, businesspeople, and academics; the Sympathetic Mind is most fully realized in farmers and participants in local, regional economies.


The essay is, not unexpectedly, both jarring and encouraging. Berry characteristically points out many of the ways in which our culture continues hurtling toward its own demise, all for the sake of money or comfort or any other vice you can name. More importantly, he shows how the intellectual and social leaders of our society—and I, like Berry, am primarily talking about American society—continue to undermine the fabric and well-being of that society through their complicity in propagating the Rational Mind and its ill effects.


It should be clear that I have a great deal of respect for Berry. I take issue, however, with his choice of terms for the binary pair. While I certainly agree that rationality alone can't and won't adequately address problems either at a global or local scale, it is also true that sympathetic thinking can't tackle the issues, even at a local scale, without the aid of reason. In other words, we need a sympathetic rationality.


Let me step back a minute, though, and offer an alternative to Berry's terms (after the jump).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Heroes

No, not these Heroes (though the show had a fine first season). I'm referring to the universe(s) that inspired the show, i.e., the world(s) of superheroes created by Marvel, DC, Image, and a slew of other comic book publishers. I grew up on these books, was nurtured by their mythology, and found in the pages of comics stories about how individuals can be their best selves. 


Given the strong influence of such "graphic novels" on my childhood/early adolescence, it's no surprise that I'm a huge comic book movie fan. I haven't seen every comic book movie ever made—for example, the films Daredevil and The Watchmen haven't yet come up on my screen—but I've seen, and loved most of them. (Yes, some have been dreadful. I'm looking at you, Fantastic Four [they made a sequel?!] and the Hulk.) The reason they're so wonderful, in my estimation, is the same reason that I still love Greek and Roman mythology, as well as some portions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.


Comic books, like the best stories from ancient myths, help us see both the darkest and noblest edges of our humanity. In the best of comic book movies, I think this aspect becomes even more amplified.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Disaster

Is the term "disaster" a bit of a hyperbole? Maybe. But it captures what things feel like right now.


In two separate instances, I royally failed to communicate with anything approaching clarity. The first was a post (that I've since deleted), filled with what I felt were only loosely connected ramblings. The good news is that I could just delete it, and only the people who read that god-awful post would know how horrible it really was.


The second—and far more abysmal—took place when I spoke to a mentor (a former pastor and friend) over the phone, telling him I was leaving the church. I was so scared and anxious about speaking with him that I didn't really say anything that I thought, and most of the things I said were muddled half-truths that utterly failed to say what I now believe about the world.


It was nothing short of embarrassing.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Traction?

Visits for the blog have now topped 250! So thanks for stopping by and checking out the blog. With any luck, we can keep up this momentum—and if not, at least I'm staying committed to posting and writing down my thoughts, which is what the darn blog is about to begin with.


Again, if you have any thoughts about the blog—especially if you've dropped by more than once—please leave a comment. I'd really like to hear your thoughts!

Funny If It Weren't So Damn True

A friend directed me to this link over at the Onion: "Middle- Class Suburbanites Fail to See Irony in Their Lives." Believe me, having grown up in middle-class middle-America, this piece of biting humor more accurately describes life for millions of Americans than any textbook.


Here's a nice couple of paragraphs:

Most striking was the middle class’s predominant self-definition as “socially liberal,” with regard to equal civil rights and fair treatment for society’s impoverished. This stood in marked contrast to the middle class’s recent trend toward gated, exclusive communities as well as voting for lower property taxes in high-income areas and higher taxes for those living in low-income communities with racially exclusive public schools. Of those polled, 100 percent saw no irony in this.
Similarly, the suburbanites were asked if the frequently cited justification of “wanting to provide my children with a better life” stood in contrast to working seven days a week to accumulate money. Despite the ever-widening gap between parents and children, and the skyrocketing divorce rate resultant from a lifestyle focused not on family but on careers, all those polled responded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Though the piece is dated 1996, it's still pretty much true fifteen years later. Alas.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Melancholy

I realized something about myself yesterday afternoon: the mood that American culture tries so hard to suppress, the mood from which our endless sources entertainment distract us, that mood is what really puts a fire in my belly. For me, the best term for this mood is "melancholy." 


By "melancholy," I mean that sense that something isn't right, that something must change, and, what's more, that I can do something about it. It's the feeling I get when I hear a story that's waiting to be told, a song needing to be sung, a wrong needing to be made right, a woman needing to be loved, a child needing to be hugged, a difficult choice needing to be made. It's when I know that someone needs to speak up about injustice, and that I have such a voice for speaking!


Truth be told, it's not a "pleasant" feeling, at least not in the sense that it puts me at ease and puts a smile on my face. But it is a feeling of knowing that, to quote Albus Dumbledore, sometimes we have to choose between doing what is right and doing what is easy. Such an emotion—if that's even the best term—is ultimately what moves me to act, and to use whatever talents and resources I have to make this world better for as many people as I can.


In some ways, "melancholy" taps into my Messiah complex; but if I can realize that I can only do my best, come what may, then I think I become my best self. And, frankly, I'd rather be that than Messiah any day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Letter to my friends and family

Here's a copy of the letter I'm planning on sending to most of my friends and nearly all of my family—the exceptions are my nearly 90-year-old grandparents, both of whom are devoutly religious, and for whom the news would come as a severe blow. Ignorance is bliss, right?
To my friends and family: 
This email is being written to you because I love and respect you, and want to let you know about a difficult and significant change that has taken place in my life, one that will, no doubt, come as something rather unexpected. Various issues, thoughts, and circumstances in my life have led me to the realization that I can no longer call myself a Christian. I find myself unable to continue to affirm its core beliefs and doctrines. In fact, I’ve come to a place where I seriously question the existence of any divine being, and if one exists, I think it probably isn’t the God of Christianity. I’ve only recently recognized the many jumps of logic I have allowed myself in order to continue in my beliefs, and I cannot in good conscience continue to ignore them. 
What caused this seemingly sudden change? It certainly wasn’t the outcome of a single issue, question, doubt, life issue, etc. Rather, it was the result of a long process stretching over several years, and I’ve struggled with coming to this decision. The core of it arises from my dissatisfaction with and eventual lack of belief in the “answers” given by Christianity on a range of issues, issues that I’ve only recently begun to face with intellectual honesty and integrity. 
Let me stress that this decision has nothing to do with the my denomination, or any local church, or anything like that. I still respect and love the people of the churches I’ve attended for their loyalty, friendship, and encouragement. I know that I couldn’t be who I am today without their support. What are the immediate results of this change? I’m still going to finish my PhD and try to pursue a career as a biblical scholar and a teacher, though this will certainly take a different shape than I had imagined up to now. I’m still focused on becoming a better, more integrated, and more thoughtful person. I’m still committed to many of the values I hold dear, such as concern for the earth, for the wellbeing of others, and belief in love, honesty, and personal responsibility. In short, I’m still the same person.
This has led to a period of profound clarity, and I feel at peace in this new perspective. I also feel I have a great deal more integrity of thought, no longer forcing the world around me to “fit” into my earlier preconceived view. In no way do I think I’ve got it all “figured out,” but I expect to continue to grow and mature. I’m sure this news will come as a shock to many of you, and may offend some. I’m truly sorry for that. Others might not have an opinion one way or another. Some may be excited and see this as a positive change in my life. Whatever your reaction to this news, I want to take this chance to express my thanks to you for your friendship, love, support, and guidance throughout my life, and I deeply hope to depend on your continued love and encouragement.
Many of you will likely have questions or responses to this letter, and will want to talk about these issues further. For my part, I would be happy to hear from you! Just know, though, that I’m interested in discussion rather than debate. I would hope the conversation would be respectful and open (rather than combative and closed). So, if you would like to talk further, just reply to this email, or send me a letter (my address is below) and I would be happy to chat. 
Sincerely,
Evan 

Thoughts?

Hilarity ensues.

Check out this story over at the Onion. Not too far from how I see a lot of devoutly religious yet intelligent people.

Countless images and names fly through my head of people who maintain religiosity in spite of—and yes, I do mean "in spite of"—their high levels of education. Frankly, the further I get from Christianity, the more I see how many jumps in logic my faith required.

Purpose



Recently, I've found myself struggling a good deal with my "purpose" and identity. In some ways, I'm finally realizing why so many people throughout history have pursued the question of the meaning of life. After all, when you've spent the better part of three decades having this issue sorted out because of your religious system, things get pretty fuzzy once you leave that system behind.


What on earth am I doing here? What do I want my legacy to be? (Is that even a legitimate question?) What sort of work do I want to do? What is the "good life," and how will I live it? 


These questions have begun, slowly, to haunt me. I thought I had things figured out, and that it wouldn't be too hard to de-Christianize some of my earlier motivations and presuppositions, and simply carry on with life as usual. Unfortunately, those foundations are too eroded, I think, for me to continue to build my life upon them. So what, then, am I to do?


I obviously don't have many answers to this; not yet, at least. When I was speaking to a friend a few days ago, the best thing I could come up with was this: I want to live in a way that promotes the thriving of humanity and of the earth. This is a huge commitment, with a lot of nuances and competing concerns, and I don't think this notion of "thriving" can carry the whole load of discerning my own purpose in life.


I suppose, too, that my wife would appreciate it—and, of course, I would too—if I oriented at least part of my purpose to love. In a lot of ways, these notions of thriving and love, one rather objectively determined and the other radically subjective, might offer a bit of balance to my life that either one alone couldn't. At any rate, they offer at least good starting points (though there's also the bit about figuring out what "love" means outside of a Christian worldview...).



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On Post-Christian Biblical Scholarship

Many I've the posts I've written so far have been expressions of things I already think. This post is different, though, because I think I actually have to write it in order to understand better what in fact I do think. It's about the hard work of making hunches and intuitions into an articulation of coherent thought, a task easier said than done.


I'm struggling to figure out how exactly to continue to do biblical scholarship as an ex-, or rather, post-Christian. (I say "post" because, while I no longer remain a Christian, I'm very much aware of the ways in which I continue to be shaped by my Christian upbringing.) The struggle has to do primarily with a perceived (and possibly actual) lack of models. 


In my experience as a graduate student, I've seen basically three kinds of biblical scholars. The summaries of these three types, given after the jump, are not intended to be biting criticisms, but only to indicate some of my discomfort with each of them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Comments" Feature Now Available

As I mentioned in the previous post, the comments are now available. 


I'm really interested to hear what you, especially those who have come back more than once, have to say. Plus, I'm still tinkering with layout and design, and any feedback on that front would be gladly received.


And please tell me I'm not crazy about how I read my mom's email.

Seriously.

Right, so this post is just too fitting in light of the last one. I seriously received this email from my mom today, and I'm going to quote directly from it:
"As a Mom, I can't ignore your personal beliefs at this time. I will be careful not to send you too much 'preachy stuff' but I also will send an occasional statement that I feel is significant.  Your sister has reminded me that as hurt as Dad and I are, it is ultimately your decision, and we can't change what you say you believe.  However, as Mom, I will remind you that you are in my thoughts and prayers daily (please don't thank me for this...to me it seems sacrilegious on your part if you have no belief in my God).  [Note: I had thanked her for praying for me earlier, since I took it as a sign that she cared deeply about me.] I pray that my God will continue to use your Biblical studies to enlighten you.  I pray that God will use WHATEVER tools He needs to use to allow you and Jamie to see God again...even if that means extreme pain, suffering, hardships, to you, your wife, or even dad or I.  Up to now, you haven't had to experience too much suffering.  Are you willing for that to happen, if that is what it takes for you to remember God?  As great as our love is for you, it is small in comparison to God's love.  That's the sermonette for the day.  Many times I can express myself easier in writing than in talking.  And, not every e-mail and conversation will be a sermon, but I needed to let you know how we are handling things today.
I have been reading about David in both 2nd Samuel and in the Psalms and how he was 'a man committed to following God'...and how he frequently made poor choices.  However, God never gave up on him.  I know God will pursue you because He has a plan for the both of you, and you have been a man after God's heart."   
I had hoped to wait for a "views" milestone to open up comments, but this just seems too messed up not to allow people to comment.


I mean, at the end of the first paragraph here, she basically says: "I kind of hope God makes you suffer something horrible so you can remember how much he loves you. So come back to the church...or else." Yeah, that makes sense. So, would my wife getting cancer be a "sign" from God? Or would she have to die first? Even if that happened, how could I be sure it wasn't just a sign that this world was a place where shitty things like that happened all the time? Even to Christians!


Since leaving Christianity, I've seen more clearly what this kind of rhetoric is: an attempt, through shame or fear or threats, to make people conform. Never mind that this cuts against the Bible's central message of a god who would literally die for others rather than let them turn away. Somehow, I don't think, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," (Luke 23:35) matches well with "I hope you (or your loved ones) suffer so you'll be forced to run back to God."


Ugh.

How Do You Know?

One of the key problems that I now have with Christianity is what philosophers and theologians call "epistemology." Namely, I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with claims within Christianity (or any revealed religion) that certain people have come to possess knowledge of God and what God wants for humanity, while such knowledge remains inaccessible—in an immediate sense—to all others. A great example is the "conversion experience" of St. Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-19), where Paul (then Saul) had a vision and heard a voice, and suddenly believed in the Christian message. Because of this experience, Christianity became for him an irrefutable truth. Were anyone to ask, "Paul, how do you know it's true?" He would simply have said, "Because I had a vision of Jesus. You can't argue with that, can you?" Thus, Paul held a religious trump card that, at the end of any argument, he could lay down to demonstrate his authority, his "rightness," or the veracity of his religious claims.


And this is what happens all the time. For example, when I was a Christian and came up against serious intellectual challenges to my faith, I could always fall back on that one stronghold: "Ok, there are some problems that aren't easily explained, but I know it's true because I've experienced X, Y, and Z!" Other Christians do this more frequently than I did, especially Christian fundamentalists who have more fronts to defend. Yet, for many non-Christians, such claims to certainty seem absurd, if not downright delusional.


So, I've now come to see this is a major problem, but I had no idea how close to home it would hit. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eclectic Much?

Even though this blog is less than a month old, I already see that I don't have a clear focus for what it's "about," other than thoughts that cross my mind throughout the week. The labels for my post are all over the map, ranging from "civil rights" to "Grapes of Wrath" to "Harry Potter" to "Wendell Barry" to "leaving Christianity."


Frankly, I don't mind this. After all, it's a blog about my life and thoughts, and my thoughts tend toward the synthetic and eclectic. Think of my mind as a painter's palette (right), where there aren't clear demarcations between a lot of the colors. Sure, you can see where a green tint is and isn't, but the green and cream and red, etc., are all over the place, and they make new colors and interesting combinations. That, on my better days, is how I like to think of my mind: swirling around ideas and seeing what they do when they bump into each other. And sometimes, that yields a post where I can talk about leaving Christianity, Harry Potter, and death in a sorta-fluid way. Hopefully, such eclecticism is more interesting to readers than off-putting.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No TV

About six months ago, my wife and I gave away our television.


We came to the decision one night, while we were rearranging our apartment. We looked at the wall that was dominated by our TV—not that it was large; I'm still in school, after all—and realized that we were trying to organize our living space around this one thing neither of us thought was that important. Then, we realized that we were spending hours at a time just watching the damn thing, letting our impulsiveness and laziness get the better of us. So, we did the only reasonable thing and promptly sold it. (I admit I was ambivalent, though, about the person who bought it from us: a fellow student who could use the TV to entertain his two-year-old. Start 'em young, right?)


Life changed the next day. Suddenly, we had time to do a number of things we'd simply never made time for when we had the TV. My wife took up knitting, I read about twice as much, we both worked more effectively, and (of all things!) we began to talk a lot more. (Full disclosure: we still use Hulu and Netflix on demand, but we severely limit our time with these to under 4 hours/week.) What's more, I believe this rather insignificant change (in the grand scheme) made possible two key changes for us.

My Parents

This past weekend, I finally "came out" and told my parents I was no longer a Christian. Things unfolded like I thought they would: my parents acted as if they saw it coming (I don't think they did), they then tried to dissuade me by using apologetic tactics (none of which I hadn't heard, if not believed, before), then they gave up, said they loved me no matter what, and promised to keep praying for me. It wasn't easy, but at the same time it wasn't nearly as hard as I imagined. While my parents were visibly emotional, I had a zen-like calm (something I didn't expect), which I thought actually undermined one of their arguments that I didn't have "hope". Truth is, I have a lot more hope now than I used to!


Overall, it was a good experience, though I don't want to repeat it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Motivation

It's amazing to me. When I wake up in the morning and loll around, doing whatever I feel like at the time, I never have motivation to work when it's time to get started. For someone like me, who writes for a living as an aspiring scholar, motivation is everything.


So, this morning, when I wrote about "Tomorrow," after having put it off for some time, I suddenly found myself with all kinds of ideas for blog posts, with motivation to do writing and research, and with energy and focus to do a number of chores I had around the house. And all this because I finally got up the initiative to write a damned blog entry!


This reminds me of a quote from Wendell Berry, though I won't get it just right (nor do I remember the source): Every farmer knows that the motivation to do hard work comes only after the task is begun. I only wish I remembered this more often.


See also this fascinating link from Less Wrong on motivation and procrastination.

"Tomorrow"

I've been mulling over an old Scottish proverb lately: "Fools look to tomorrow; the wise use tonight." Ironically, it's been on my mind for some days, but I've put off actually writing about it for nearly a week. So what does that make me?


The notion of doing something "tomorrow," or postponing life for just a little while, isn't all bad. But what's struck me lately is the way that so many people—in religion, politics, advertising—utilize the idea of "tomorrow" to keep people from doing anything meaningful today. How many of the religious faithful have managed to avoid improving our world or tending to the poor, etc., because they were so confident that "tomorrow," that someday-paradise, a god would step in and make things right (or would remove the "righteous" from this wicked world). I think many religious leaders (though not all) intuit that if people realized they could do the work that they had assigned to God, then people would soon depend less on any god for their salvation, i.e., the health and welfare of our lives and planet.


Politicians use "tomorrow" very slyly, too, and usually to win political office. Look to Barack Obama. (Note: I'm in no way unappreciative of the things Obama has done in office; I'm more disenchanted with many of the promises on which he hasn't followed through. He's still the best option we've had in the U.S. for a while.) Obama's campaign, like so many other politicians at every level and from every party, was about getting voters to believe that with him in leadership, "tomorrow" would be a better place than today. Yet, for Americans at least, this has resulted in a dependency upon government to change the world that looks strikingly similar to that of religion. So now, many Americans sit and wait for government to improve their lives, to make a better "tomorrow," while the world around us begs for change today.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"

"Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Whenever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there... I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'—I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I'll be there."—Tom Joad

Today, I watched John Ford's adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Only a few minutes in, I could see why the film is frequently in the top fifteen of a wide number of "greatest films" lists. Yet the beauty of the film aside, what struck me was the degree to which I found myself resonating with many of the not-so-subtle political and social critiques leveled by both film and novel alike. It's probably my synthesizing mind—which finds things from disparate sources and weave them together into a more cogent whole—that makes me aware of some of the most important ones, critiques that are no less apropos today than they were in 1939/40.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coming Out & 'Creation'

About a week ago, I sat down with one of the couples my wife and I know and told them, rather bluntly, that I'm no longer a Christian. While I had anticipated a number of questions from them—since he's a minister and she is a fellow graduate student at the seminary—I didn't anticipate the silence. The problem was, I think, that I never really let either of them in on my journey. For all they knew, I was just as deeply committed to the Christian faith as they were.

A few days later, my fellow student emailed me a list of questions, trying to be more constructive than simple expressing shock. It was nice of her to make the attempt, and I felt like I was able to say more clearly what changed and why. Even more, I think she realized that any sadness I expressed in my "coming out" was due, on the one hand, to my recognition of their sadness, and on the other, to a real sense that God has "died." I've lived for almost 30 years thinking that God was there, helping me along, hearing my prayers, etc., and now I'm forcing myself to think about the world apart from the help of God—at least the God talked about within Christianity—and that transition carries with it a sense of grief.


(More on this and 'Creation' after the jump...)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Death and Dying

One of the most difficult things about living life without a religious framework is getting my head around not living. I've always been aware that death comes to all things, but when a person is deeply entrenched in the Christian faith, death is always a semicolon; something always comes after it (i.e., heaven). But now that "after" has fallen away along with the rest of my religious worldview, I wonder how to think about death.

On the one hand, I see death as a sort of liberation, a freedom from the pains, anxieties, and hardships of life. I think of so many who suffer their entire lives from innumerable wrongs, injustices, and suffering, and I see a hope in death for them. No longer will they be confined to this life and its evils. Even for folks who live a relatively comfortable life, like me, the end of life is a positive event, a point at which all worries and pains wash away.

Yet that doesn't entirely mute the sadness of death.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Trying...

I'll do my best to avoid the clichés about starting a new blog. This is my third run at it, so I've already trod that path. (Please don't ask to see the other two failures. They aren't worth seeing.)

The aim of this blog—whether or not anyone actually reads it—is to chronicle a major change taking place in my life. That is, I've been an Evangelical my entire life, and am even in training to become a minster; but I now find myself as something other than an Evangelical, and even something other than Christian.

To a lot of people, this isn't that big of a deal. A number of people I've talked to informally, who live outside the bubble of Christianity, have asked me frankly, "So, what's the problem? What's changed?" For them, the answer is, "Nothing": I'm still the same person, with the same convictions about love, justice, freedom, ethics, etc. I just don't go to church anymore. Yes, I won't be a minister, but there are other, more important jobs to be done.

Other people—including my family, as well as many of my friends, mentors, and teachers—these people would see my departure from the church as a tragedy of the highest order. For many of them, I've punched my ticket to hell. Some of them, I'm quite sure, will never talk to me again when they find out.

If you still don't get it, let me offer an analogy: for my family especially—people whose entire lives are bound up in Christianity and the church—my admission of leaving the church is like me coming out of the closet. When I tell them (and I hope to do so in the next few weeks), they'll be shocked, and they'll surely say things like, "We still love you," and "You're still our son." There will probably be a time where they rarely talk to me, and I'm prepared for that (I think). It won't be easy, but it has to be done.

So, that brings me to the title of the blog (and yes, this is a first-blog cliché). "Ellipsis" is primarily a writing term, an omission of words or time, something that implies more than is said. For example, "O say, can you see..."; the ellipsis at the end points forward to the rest of the "Star Spangled Banner," the US national anthem. But the notion of "ellipsis" helps me think about this place in my life. There is something more going on than I can really say, and it seems like an in-between time that can't quite be expressed. Then again, I am trying to blog about it, so the whole experiment is like trying to explain what ambivalence feels like.

As with every other blog I've started, I'm at least a little optimistic that I will do more than three blogs before I forget about it. Something tells me that the urge to express what I'm going through will help motivate me to write.