Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Gratitude of Apostasy: A Testimony

I never intended this blog to become another atheist report from the culture war front. And I never intended to piss anyone off. It has become a first-person report on belief and I've hurt the sensibilities of old friends and colleagues. I'm not disappointed with these consequences. I find them invigorating and I've taught myself that popularity is less sustainable than being skeptical when truth claims are asserted.

And I hoped to start writing as a way of showing my ability to think with expectation that future employers might consider me a good idea guy.

What has happened is that I've lost my faith and I think most employers would read this and be afraid that talking to me would resemble a journalistic interview with Bob Dylan from "Don't Look Back".

My original intention was to write as a way of reporting on my confusion. My hope was that if I expose my inner life on the 'net I would wrestle with it myself and become more conscious. I've discovered that much of my confusion has been driven by my willingness to compartmentalize my mind as a way of keeping popular truth commitments a "live option".

The most shocking thing I discovered is the evidence for my default arguments were thin yet my instinct would default to them. Inviting evidence has humbled me and made me change my mind.

I started writing as a professing Christian and free-market capitalist but challenging my preconceptions has led me to obtain with comfort a Christian Atheist theology in the Altzizer/Price tradition and Democratic Socialism in the European tradition.

Owning up to these ideas frightens me because I can hear the shouts of friends and family (and my instinctive former self) but the evidence I've examined thus far makes them more reasonable. I might change my mind again if new evidence is presented. What I experience with believers in god or free-markets however are not evidence based arguments but appeals to outrage or emotion. And I don't like those choices. They are manipulative and bullying.

I have been told I seem fickle, crazy or mean.

Many friends who wish to assert intimacy announce to me that, "I don't read your blog because it angers me," and I'm amazed that they don't comprehend the consequence of that statement. If you don't like what I write here then you don't like my honest ideas and if that is the case then it might be more honest to admit that we have little in common. While we might be friendly with one another we don't have the mutual respect to assert intimacy with anything other than nostalgia and good-will.

I find, now that popularity is not my ambition, basing my free time in nostalgia and good-will is unsatisfying.

The good news is that humans have evolved to be social animals where ideas are sustenance and many psychological ecosystems exist to feed the mind.

While old friends wrestle with their own ideas and battle with their own confusion relative to my desire to be expressive and have announced their disappointment with me or have drifted away, I've found new friendships.

Some smart men and women have read my comments here or on sites like Common Sense Atheism and Debunking Christianity and have introduced themselves.

They've shown kindness and empathy. It feels good just like kindness and empathy felt good when I would "go along to get along" in my MBA or Mega-church but now the good feeling is founded on a commitment to reason, not popularity.

Yesterday one of these folks extended his hand in friendship and since we live in the same metropolitan area we are hoping to meet up.

I'd like to share here what I wrote to him. It is not meant as argument but rather exposition in the tradition of Christian testimony. It seems honest and a necessary piece of information to provide context with my direct criticisms of religion and the American exceptional philosophy bound by Capitalism.

So as a Thanksgiving post I provide my apostate testimony as an act of gratitude that I've come to like myself by knowing my mind.


I was raised Roman Catholic but left the faith in my early twenties and started seeking a more satisfying spirituality. I experienced a bit of Buddhism, 12-step-recovery (both for my drinking and the abuse I suffered at the hands of my parents' drinking) finally drifting into the Mega-church movement in 2003. I was taken by the contemporary nature of the Willow Creek style service and loved the people. I also began using my creativity within the church, leading drama ministry and teaching acting techniques to lay-people so we could put on dramatic pieces as augmentation to the Gospel message.

I never investigated the truth claims made in Church and instead used Christianity as a more universal form of "self-help". I didn't care if the historical assertions, ontological arguments or biblical criticism were sound and true, my loneliness was lifted and people were nice so, I started to tip-toe towards an Evangelical apologetic disposition.

I met my wife on-line and our shared Christianity motivated our courtship. She's beautiful, smart, kind and courageous so, I thought this was more miraculous evidence that I was "saved" (because I am not all that handsome and can be kind of a jerk).

Once married, we attended her church, an Evangelical Free denomination that practices expository preaching.

I had never surrendered to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy until then and had never read the bible in context with a narrative exegesis.

The fundamental presentation made me start questioning if the the book was inspired or if it was just myth.

The inanity of the scripture and the inability to confront these oddities by the small group we attended frightened me that I had duped myself into believing that a good feeling equaled a verifiable truth.

I also went through a job crisis around this time and suffered a depressive break which landed me in the hospital and diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder/depressive disorder leading to medication.

As I started dealing with my mood disorder I started seeing the placebo effect religion had in helping me navigate it earlier.

I also saw how this was a choice to modulate my biology and therefore I questioned the spiritual presuppositions I took away from the experiences I had.

I was concerned that Christianity was no different than other cultural artifacts that can engender feeling but were not evidence of anything other than our ability to think about a material world (e.g. theater, music, sports).

This concern coincided with behavior I faced that left me confused.

I had a former bible-study leader assert to me after election day 2008 she knew Barack Obama was a Muslim terrorist because "Jesus, told her in her morning quiet time."

I had another leader from a church I once attended and the father of a good friend of mine send me a word document via email exposing Barack Obama as the anti-Christ with detailed descriptions how President Obama has broken each of the Ten Commandments.

I engaged in an intense conversation with an Elder from our E-Free Church and his wife regarding the Intelligent Design conspiracy (they both are ID supporters) and was encouraged to investigate the literature on ID and the arguments of William Lane Craig.

I did both.

I discovered that the Discovery Institute is a theocratic organization whose aim is not science but politics and I was disgusted by the self-serving nature Judeo-Christian belief could engender.

My bias towards religion as delusion was deepened when I read Craig's debates and found his culture insular and his scholarship arrogant.

His debate with Bart Ehrman led me to investigate Dr. Ehrman's writing which led me to Debunking Christianity, Common Sense Atheism, Robert Price, The New Atheists and now a desire for critical thought and honest discourse.

I empathize with what sounds like loneliness in your journey. I've felt it too. It has made me angry and my anger has been complicated by the frustration that who I thought were my friends may have only earned that title due to a shallow definition of friendship I embraced as a way of elevating the endorphins Christian worship produced.

Peace to you and thanks for reaching out. I don't feel so alone.

Be good to yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Agora: Skeptical Inquiry murdered by Religious Certainty

I watched Agora last night per the recommendation of Lukeprog at Common Sense Atheism and John Loftus at Debunking Christianity and loved it. It was cool that the film-maker showed Hypatia's failed attempts at a theory of celestial movement against the certainty of the religious. Her scholarship led to personal accountability and private inquiry while the religious assertions and need for power led to her murder. And yes Christian, this is a true story and was the way Christianity spread; by violence and anti-intellectual authority. There is no humility in the holy's assertions but their piety is a pretense to it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The steady honesty of Atheists

My blog roll features blogs I read on a daily basis. One of them, Why Evolution is True is written by University of Chicago Professor Jerry Coyne. His honesty in laying out the debate between faith and atheism relative to science and evidence has helped inform my atheism. A noted Christian who happens to be a scientist (Karl Giberson) has devoted most his time criticizing Dr. Coyne at BioLogos (the alternative to the Discovery Institute established to ameliorate the tension between Francis Collins' scientific and Evangelical Christian sides) and The Huffington Post.

Dr. Coyne does not shy away from the criticisms and I love his intelligence and spunk. His latest blog response to Dr. Giberson's work and what seems like the continued practice of accent fallacies is quite good.

The money quote from Dr. Coyne,
"But to many atheists, the middle ground is not a “reasonable” position. It enables superstition, thereby denigrating or watering down true science (example: the fine-tuning and humans-are-inevitable arguments, and the NCSE’s refusal to admit that evolution is “unguided”). And accommodationism provides tacit approval and support for all the bad stuff that’s done in the name of faith"

Why I am not a Republican: Stupidity

80% of Republicans view Sarah Palin as a viable Presidential candidate. This despite her inability to finish her term as Governor, ignorance on how the Fed works or the nature of economic data, or a personal sense of any Supreme Court decision.

I am a fiscal conservative and a social liberal but when a majority of a party has momentum in this direction I need to step aside and let them speed past. I fear they are heading towards a cliff. I hope they don't take the rest of our country with them.

A child molester I knew is dead

The Detroit Free Press has a story today on the Detroit Archdiocese's difficult in dealing with clerics convicted of sex abuse. The featured priest used as illustration of clerical alienation is a man I knew, Fr. Ron Williams.

Fr. Ron was an attending priest at my grade-school and was Chaplain of my High School. He also enabled the alcoholic drinking of me and my friends in our teens by throwing beer bashes in the rectory where he served and he sexually accosted a good friend of mine.

His crime against my friend was the trigger point for his demise.

My friend brought charges against Fr. Ron when the priest was going to be instituted as Chaplain of the Michigan State Police. My friend having been raised as an orphan by his Detroit Police Officer aunt and uncle chose to lean on his legal sense of right and wrong and protect future victims from a man who had a badge and was a sexual criminal. He wanted to protect potential future victims who might fall prey to Fr. Ron's authority. He did something the Roman Catholic Church still can't bring themselves to do. He admitted the truth and pursued legal protection to preserve a safer society for his fellow human beings.

Fr. Ron's first reaction was to call me at college and plead his case saying that he was a double victim to society's standards because he was both black and homosexual. He wanted me to denounce my friend's testimony. I didn't do that but, I didn't stand by my friend either. I chastised my friend for his action and tried to defend Fr. Ron as a person. I realize in hind-sight that I was not seeking a moral argument. I was defending the Catholic Church because it was how I was raised. I was raised to defend the institution. What my friend chose to do was moral and good and what I chose to do in seeking to shame him for his betrayal of the power I knew was wrong.

This story helps shape my belief that all religions are false and that they provide inferior ethics. My personal choice was to accommodate the authority of religion rather than the truth of action and I deepened the wounds my abused friend had suffered. I can no longer do this and it is one of the reasons why I am so outspoken against the pragmatic arguments for religion people make in denouncing crimes that religion enjoys while defending their personal enjoyment of practicing and defending the religion.

The cliche I most often hear when I assert my belief that religion is an institution that enables evil is that, "I shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water." I understand the position because I once held it and applied it to a young man who had to suffer the pain of alienation from a priest who abused his father-figure status. I feel shame when I remember my choice and recognize it as a defense of authority because I believed that authority would keep me safe regardless of the unjustifiable position that authority had proven as evidenced by the victim I was admonishing.

Fr. Ron is dead and his death has further illustrations to the crimes committed by church authority (his abandonment by the Archdiocese, the Vatican's unwillingness to involve civil law for their own self-protection keeping Fr. Ron from the mental health-care he needed) but my shame is still alive and I hope it never leaves me because I never want to ignore the pain of an individual for the sake of securing religion's authority.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The word God is the product of human weakness

As an addendum to my appreciation of the need for numinous feeling (e.g. "god"). I found this letter from Einstein illuminating. So many religious, especially Christians, want to ground their belief in truth citing Einstein's intelligence and his use of the word "god" in certain writing as evidence their belief is a product of critical thought. Not so, the money quote for me:

"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish . . . I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things."

Join me in proclaiming your Holy Evidentialist nature

I've really pissed people off with my willingness to "come out of the closet" as an atheist. I've confirmed this week the loss of a couple of friends due to what seems their Roman Catholic commitment and the discomfort my outspoken disbelief brings. One friend said that my criticisms of the current Pope's collusion to child rape seems like I am shouting in his face that his mother is a whore. I don't understand the accusation and an atheist I respect said, "Well if his mother is a whore, it isn't your fault." (I think it's reasonable to make that moral assignation with the Catholic institution based on the evidence we have).

It is a tough realization to see friendships driven by nostalgia rather than shared values but that isn't the most startling thing I've discovered in my new atheism. The most startling thing is the willingness of the religious to shape their belief with a subjectivism that seems to put them in very close proximity to atheism.

The most common response to the assertion that I am an atheist is that others could never be because they just have to believe.

When I say that my perspective is driven by a lack of real evidence to the character the religious claim in god, the response is that a person doesn't need evidence because they "feel" god is real.

I can respect the psychological draw to the numinous but doubt that these devoted "feelers" deny the power of evidence in the rest of their lives. In fact, the evidence of my worth to them in my actions keeps me as a respected and moral person despite the doctrinal commitments their faith demands to see me guilty of eternal sin or, at least, as Matthew 10:14 says, covered in the dust from their feet.

But that isn't the case. Most believers still like and respect me (except for the aforementioned Catholic friends who see my honesty about my disbelief as a source of persecution).

It seems that the rule of evidence the Enlightnement gave us as a gift IS a respected value of god believers but isn't applied with my level of incredulity or skepticism. And that little application seems the only difference between their religiosity and my atheism.

So, I would like to call a truce and invite all subjective believers who want to believe in their feelings of god yet still respect my moral ground (in opposition of their religion's doctrinal commitments) to join my church of St. Evidence of the Numinous where we can all be Holy Evidentialists. I allow you to believe your god is real because you "feel" the need to believe that belief and as long as your need to "feel" this belief doesn't lead you to conclude that those who don't share your "feeling" will be tortured for eternity or are enemies of the imagined person you believe to be true or claim your "feeling" should apply to everyone then, you can join me in proclaiming your Holy Evidentialist nature.

For everyone else, your mother is a whore.