Saturday, January 29, 2011

" . . . moving my perspective from religious de-bunker to religious skeptic"

I wrote in a recent post that I am moving my perspective from de-bunker to skeptic.

First when I was a de-bunker I thought I was practicing skepticism. I wasn't.

I was practicing angry resistance towards a former set of beliefs that once were my core truths which I came to see as contradictory to their claims because I came to see these core truths needed to operate in half-truth or lies to assert absolute truth.

I was pissed off at myself for my credulity and ashamed at what I saw as unintended arrogance wrapped in undeserved piety.

So I unofficially joined the skeptics community listening to podcasts like Point of Inquiry, Reasonable Doubts, The Bible Geek, and Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot. And joining blog communities at Debunking Christianity, Why Evolution is True, and Common Sense Atheism.

The problem that I've encountered is that my anger-fueld rhetoric is unsupported by an advanced understanding of nuanced theology or philosophy yet I tried to engage arguments that had a facility for these things and just fed my anger.

I became burnt out.

Last weekend I listened to the latest Point of Inquiry podcast where Joe Nickell was interviewed and he spoke of his work with Skeptical Inquirer magazine and made a distinction about being a skeptic of supernatural claims vs. a debunker of supernatural claims.

A skeptic accepts with neutrality the supernatural claim made by the believer and then designs tests to estimate the probable validity of that claim while the debunker comes to a supernatural claim with a bias that assumes all supernatural claims are derived from idiotic special privilege.

Nickell said that he once was the latter but has found the former more enjoyable and one need not risk epistemic contradiction to claim atheism or agnosticism towards supernaturalism while entertaining a real joy in investigating and learning the basis for the supernatural assertions.

The question is not if supernaturalism is real but what drives people to believe it is real.

Becoming a skeptic allows me to admit that biblical literalism, Reformed Christian theology, and Roman Catholicism fascinate me. I don't think the claims made by any of those entities are phenomenologically true but am open to vetting arguments from those that do and then investigate if the assertions made have the truth stated.

I find this position is less stressful without me abandoning the epistemic breakthroughs I've made as I've become a Calvinist Christian apostate while allowing me to enjoy being a student of the supernatural, theology and philosophy.

I might even avoid stepping in unintended arrogance or undeserved piety in atheism, unlike my experience as a believer.


Vinny said...

Have you checked out The New Oxonian blog? Start with Did Jesus Exist? Yes and No. It is a refreshing alternative to much of the shrill atheism you find on the internet.

Chuck said...

I haven't seen that but will blog roll it. if atheism is going to be sustainable for me I need to utilize my experience as a former believer and remember that I didn't consider myself an evil idiot when practicing religion.

atimetorend said...

Great post, my experience is very much an echo of your's. The anger thing, you do a good job of identifying its causes. I still struggle with that, a palpable sense of anger just below the surface, every time I read smug, strident, Reformed assertions I want to go through the angry resistance phase all over again, but I realize it isn't worth it. I think, and hope, I am coming to a point where you are.

Fellow Calvinist Christian apostate.

Chuck said...


May I suggest a reading of Marsden's excellent biography of Jonathan Edwards. You will be able to see that Calvinist consequential morality has a historic basis in an honest desire to understand the world and make peace with death. The problem is that the doctrine is based on premises that don't hold with what we've come to know about the world. I am out of the anger stage and into a pitying stage. I pity my former church-mates and current friends who adhere to a theology that makes morality dependent on authoritarian whimsy. It does not seem to provide a mature moral agency and continues to invite painful doubt. Be good to yourself.

atimetorend said...

Thanks for the advice Chuck, it sounds good. I read a Marsden book on fundamentalism and benefited a lot, so the Edwards book sounds good.

...a theology that makes morality dependent on authoritarian whimsy"

Very true, and pity is a better response than anger.

Chuck said...

I thought Marsden showed good writing chops.

I'm writing a play about Edwards and the awakening examining the theme of how religious rapture courts self-destruction.

I think it will further help me purge the Divine Command Theory from my liver.

atimetorend said...

Chuck, I have read a bit on J. Edwards, et al, and actually have a biography of his on my bookshelf (just not Marsden). Would be interested in reading your play if you were willing.

Chuck said...


Would love you to read my stuff. I'm only about 3 scenes in and I've allotted a year to complete the script but will send your way when I finish. My hunch is that Edwards doubted his own election throughout his life and that was what drove his writing and his endorsement of emotional rapture when it seemed to contradict his Puritanical ethic and his personality. The play entertains the conceit that Edwards doubts his salvation while dying from small-pox and remembers his encounter with Abigail Hutchinson who he encouraged to go beyond her physical strength in seeking God where she ultimately died. The play could be called "Edwards Ponders his Pride and Doubts his Salvation" but for now it is titled, "Swallowed by God".