On Being Nothing: Strong Belief, Strong Doubt, and the Skeptics Role

Strong Faith, Strong Doubt

 

Authors note:  This post will use a lot of Christian catch phrases and paraphrase a lot of Bible verses, so if I use the term “soul” I’m not stating that I believe in a soul, I’m putting myself in the position of a person who does and who uses their scriptures to justify the idea of one. The same goes for terms like holiness, luke-warm, or any other typical Christian colloquialism that may be used in those particular circles – as I’d have used while I was still in those circles. Please also note that I’m not attempting to address any specific theology, but the potential aftermath of any personal theology. This is not a counter-apologetic critique of any belief system and this can be applied equally to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, et al.

 

God created the world out of nothing; so as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us. ~Martin Luther

One of the foundational aspects of my former faith was the futility of my efforts toward being, doing, or realizing goodness.  The most important lesson my faith had to teach me, the thing that brought me to obedience and surrender to Christ was acknowledging that I am ultimately nothing.

Worthless, degenerate, corrupt: these are the terms that identify the Christian disciple before his god as he strives to meet his creator in the terms set by that creator.

The nominal Christian will never grasp this idea, he’ll reject it in lieu of scripture that affirms his importance in the eyes of god or that talks about how the hairs of his head are accounted for. The nominal Christian leads an easy, luke-warm life of faith where he actually feels worthy. The disciple, however,  is convinced only of the opposite. The average Christian life and the life of the few who believe Luke 14:33 and attempt to live by it are miles apart.

The latter was my faith, the scars from which I still struggle against as they sometimes feel freshly carved.

Read more

Book Review: Zealot by Reza Aslan

zealot

Reza Aslan has been burning up social media with his hilarious Fox News interview, which has helped his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. In his interview his interest, as a Muslim, in Jesus of Nazareth is questioned as opposed to his scholarly standing – it is truly worth a watch. The interviewer even quotes William Lane Craig, calling him a Philosopher.

As a lifelong “lay scholar” if you will with some familiarity with the scholarship behind Jesus of Nazareth and his historicity I was immediately interested in this book, and so shortly after seeing the interview I had to order it.

Read more

Book Review: Hope After Faith by Jerry DeWitt

Available on Amazon in Hardcover and on Kindle

I first became aware of Jerry DeWitt as he became the first person to “graduate” from The Clergy Project, a collaboration between many atheist and humanist organizations that provides a private forum for members of the clergy looking to quietly pursue a way out of their positions, or simply for moral support. I have friends in The Clergy Project and have applied myself, in fact the last post here on RagingRev was from one of it’s members that has since died.

Jerry’s story has brought a great deal of publicity to The Clergy Project; but I always felt that there was more commotion and rhetoric, one-liners, and hubbub than there should be – a common theme in the meme driven atheist community of today. I’m more interested in Jerry’s story though, which is why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to read his book:  Hope After Faith – An Ex Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism.

Hope After Faith

In his book, the formerly Reverend Jerry Dewitt walks us through his 25 year journey beginning as a 17 year old United Pentecostal (aka Oneness Pentecostalism) evangelist in and around the small town of DeRidder, LA. As his story progresses and various tragedies strike both Jerry’s family and his parishioners he reveals glimpses of his doubts as they slowly surface and as he tucks them away again and again.

Read more

Testimony of a Dying Man

Last night a friend of me sent something to me from a friend of his who is dying. I don’t know the man who wrote this personally and his name is intentionally being kept anonymous, though I did get permission through my friend to post this testimony of the last days of this man’s life.

I’m thankful to this anonymous man, a former minister himself,  for the opportunity to share this very short but very touching part of his life with my readers.

It is often said that we unbelievers will find ourselves quick to repentance at the end of our days, grasping fearfully at the prospect of eternity. Here, proof otherwise.

Testimony of a Dying Man.

15 years ago I missed a turn and drove off a 30 foot cliff knowing absolutely that I would not survive when it was over.  I had often wondered through the years what I would say or do when facing certain death and I found out at that time. My wife was riding with me and as we went airborne I heard myself say “oh, sweetheart”… In that short moment airborne… And utter complete mental silence.  8 feet of snow saved our lives a second later.

A week ago I was scheduled for a gallbladder x-ray to confirm the presence of a problem which could be surgically removed… Perhaps even that same day.  Unexpected phone silence ensued.  My spirit began to open to other unexpected possibilities and to ready itself for whatever it may be.  My Catholic upbringing had instilled the concepts of sin, salvation, resultant heaven hell and purgatory.  My 44 year search since leaving that world view had exposed me to alternatives of every age of mankind.  During that 44 year search I have often wondered if, when faced with an ultimate certainty of death in the near future, would I resort to the old paradigm or could I bring forward and live within what I had found in the meantime…. For within the last year of my life I have arrived at a silent and deep knowingness that taking evolutionary cosmology to the deepest emotional level gave me the foundation I never found in an anthropomorphic God structure…. But I always had a slight wonder, “is it only conceptually deep?”

Five days ago, I and my wife listened to the words on the speakerphone as she sat opposite me and she later said that when I heard the words she saw a huge transformation of calmness and clarity come over me….”You have inoperable metastasized liver cancer, and may expect two months at the outside”.  And in the five days since that news I have experienced a calmness and centeredness such as religious faith had never provided.  I have found a sense of place and process within the world view of evolutionary cosmology such as I have searched for relentlessly in my 77 years…. And it is increasingly feeding my spirit daily with a sense of readiness for every present moment in this process of dying.

I am finally really learning how to live in the moment.  Fear and hope have no place in this process. It is a readiness and willingness of an utterly deep knowingness.

Farewell. We truly all are in this together.

 

When Christian Ethics aren’t Christian Ethics

Note:  For the purposes of this discussion it should be understood that when I’m referring to that which is properly “Christian Ethics,” I’m referring to the idea that that which is Christian is also Biblical. So for the purposes of this post and any discussion about it, think of Christian Ethics as Biblical Ethics and, more specifically, the ethics demonstrated in the New Testament and by the early Christian Church as described in the New Testament.

Recently I’ve discovered a new and masochistic pastime of listening to a Christian talk-radio station called American Family Radio on my long trek home from work at night. I discovered this program on the night of the election, looking to confirm the news when NPR called the election for Pres. Obama, and heard a number of exclamations about the apparent lack of ethics and morality in our once Christian nation. Christian ethics, the lack thereof,  or the symptomatic persecution of Christians seems to be the rotational topic of this station, or at least the programs that are on while I’m in the car.

These programs have featured a number of guests  who all lay claim to the idea that Americans are moving away from their heritage of Biblical Christianity being intimately entangled in every facet of life, most especially government and politics. They claim that Biblically grounded Christian Ethics ought to be the guide for the way Christians vote and, as a result, should be the foundation of the laws of our nation.

Stopping abortion, refusing homosexual equality, guarding capitalism, and  protecting both monuments and prayer to their god in the public square are examples of these supposed Christian ethics I’ve heard lauded on this program and in my daily conversations with believers. But are they truly?  Are they even Biblical principles ?

Read more

Songs of the Deconverted by Jim Etchison- Review

Songs of the Deconverted by Jim Etchison It’s rare that I find stories that so precisely and eloquently put words to the way it felt for me as I lost my faith. It’s rare that I ever feel like someone actually gets it. Jim Etchison does such an incredible job describing these thoughts and feelings in his book Songs of the Deconverted, that I frequently found myself highlighting portions of the text and gasping for breath as I recalled feeling many of the same things described in the book.

Songs of the Deconverted is a collection of short stories, fiction, that reflect upon Jim’s own experiences. Each riddled with parts of his own life, they serve as the perfect allegory  for what it is like for the deeply devoted Christian to lose that which is most vital to him.

Jim says of his work:

I wrote this book of short stories for a rare group – those who dove in completely, let the current sweep them under, then realized their peril and swam for the shore. The people who climbed out, still dripping, and walk again on the dry land, are forever changed. The ocean won’t define them anymore.  Instead they will be defined by their singular decision to climb out of the roiling sea.

The stories introduce us to Andy, beginning with his climb up Tophat Ridge with an atheist friend who “baffles” him. By the time Andy and his friend reach the summit Andy too is without belief, no longer able to make God true after great revelations cause his religious infrastructure to implode on itself.

From:

Every action, every snapshot in time, was held up against the backdrop of God’s intention.

To:

…now I could see them [the clouds] for what they were: beautiful, gorgeous billows of white against a deep blue sky

Andy’s story is my story. Andy’s pain is my pain. Most importantly, Andy’s triumph is my triumph.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wrestling with deep and difficult doubts about their god, or for those just coming out of this transition period and waking up to a new life without.

Songs of the Deconverted is available on Amazon Kindle right now for only $2.99.

Tragedy sans God

Prior to last week I had never been to a funeral for a friend.

I’ve been to funerals of course;  when the parents of one of my friends died and they needed my support, or when an inlaw died in support of my wife.  This was the first time since I was probably 8 years old that someone that I called a friend, or someone I cared about directly died.

It feels different, emptier, and it makes me think about the brevity of my own life.

I’ve been mulling this over a great deal since it happened.

Then, today – December 14, 2012 – something like 20 elementary school kids get killed in a school shooting in Connecticut.

Read more

Live Debate: Matt Oxley vs. Chris Bolt – Does the Triune God of the Scriptures Exist

Join us today for a live debate covering the topic:

Does the Triune God of the Scriptures Exist?

The debate will begin at 10AM and last roughly 1.5 hours.  It will be livestreamed from a Google+ hangout and you can watch it below, or directly at the YouTube page here.

 

The format will be as follows:

Moderator: Ben Woodring

Affirmative – Chris Bolt
Negative – Matt Oxley
Chris Bolt Opening 15 min
Matt Oxley Opening 15 min
Cross Ex Matt Oxley (Questioning) 7 min
Cross Ex Chris Bolt (Questioning) 7 min
Matt Oxley Rebuttal 10 min
Chris Bolt Rebuttal 10 min
Matt Oxley Closing 8 min
Chris Bolt Closing 8 min

 

The Burdens of Doubt

Many times when discussing the path of doubt with those that have yet to experience or embrace it they come to the conclusion that it is easy, simple, or even that it was an escape from having to live with and face a life of faith. The burdens of doubt, however, cannot and should not be minimized.

Fear

Fear is the most immediate result of doubt. Even mentioning the word “doubt” can send the believer into a panic gripping his or her rational mind and wreaking havoc on their emotions and mental stability. This is because the believer who approaches doubt does so with great risks assuming that all that they believe to be true is indeed true.

Read more

Your Stories – Eric vs. Fundamentalism

Today in Your Stories we have Eric’s story of combating fundamentalism in his own belief system.

Eric is another friend of mine whom started his perpetual journey at around the same time that I did and we’ve talked at length about that journey over the years. Without Eric I’m not sure I would have made it through my own doubts, and he remains a friend that I both respect and admire. Many of the same questions that brought about his doubts were my questions, and I suspect they may be your questions too if you find yourself here.

Eric writes his thoughts at his blog over at SavageSoto and is currently stationed in Cuba with the US Navy.

If you are interested in having your own story published on RagingRev.com – please click the Contact link and submit through the submission form

– – – –

Growing up in a Christian family, my first associations with Christianity are as old as my first memories. I “accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior” when I was 7 or 8 but didn’t really become devout in my faith til the age of 12.

I would speculate that I was probably more hardcore about my faith than most the people I knew through my teen years, though I wasn’t that into the specifics of theology. I would share my faith frequently with my friends and countless people online and was actively involved in the church over the course of about 7 years. During this time I had some casual doubts, but they would fade whenever I’d have a powerful spiritual experience or talk with a pastor.

Towards the end of the 7th year, however, I began to encounter questions and thoughts that couldn’t be explained away so easily. Questions such as “if God knew even a single soul would be lost eternally, then why create them to begin with?” . I quickly found the traditional Christian interpretations of things like “Hell” to be unconvincing  and began to study and embrace Christian Universalism (which believes that all people will eventually be saved and reunited with God). It didn’t answer all my questions still, but it helped me deal with many of the bigger ones.

Read more