A Story of Turning the Other Cheek

A problem with moral standards, whether rooted in Christianity or otherwise, is how to express them in a cultural context. That is, are we doing something because we think it’s right to do or because it’s socially-normative behavior. (And I realize that the two need not be separate). As such, sometimes we understand the morality of behavior more clearly when it goes against cultural expectations.

Here’s a story from NPR several years ago that illustrates it. It tells of how a man responded to being mugged. The “proper” response to being mugged is to 1) be safe and 2) contribute to the mugger getting caught or hurt. Instead, this victim expressed love.

It starts: [Read more...]

A Favorite Conversion Story

I was talking with a good friend about deconversion, and we commiserated that it’s a depressing topic. He told me of one of his favorite conversion stories, which I had read years ago and loved for its power and authenticity. It’s from the autobiographical writing, in Traveling Mercies, of Anne Lamott.

She was going through a very tough time in her life, addicted to cocaine and alcohol and just having had an abortion of a child conceived in an affair with a married man. In the week after the abortion, she took to bed with alcohol and pain medication. She writes (p. 49-50):

“After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there–of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about [Read more...]

Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Problem of Responding Badly to Doubt

Part 3 in a series on deconversion

Does Christians’ bad behavior cause people to leave the faith? When we started this research project deconversion, I assumed that the most frequently-referenced cause would be Christians’ misbehavior—something along the lines of “I left the Church because Christians don’t act like Christians.” After all, this “Christians don’t act like Christians” narrative is extremely popular among Christian writers.

A majority (42 out of 50) of the deconverts that we studied did mention frustration with the Christians they knew, but it usually wasn’t misbehavior, per se, rather it was something that I never would have guessed: Frustration with how their fellow Christians reacted to their doubts.

The way that Christians react to the doubts of others can, inadvertently, amplify existing doubt. Many of the writers told of sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.

For example, a former Southern Baptist, rather harshly, identified this tendency among the Christians that he had known: [Read more...]

Are Atheists More Generous? QRS #1

For various reasons, public discussion of religion tends to attract (and create) a lot of inaccurate statistical information. This was a theme of my first book, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, but there’s plenty more to write about.  So, I thought that I would start a periodic feature where I examine some of the questionable information making the rounds on-line.  I call it Questionable Religious Statistics (QRS).  Examining these claims not only clarifies what’s happening in the world of religion, but it also gives us practice in evaluating such information.

I start with an article written last week by Hank Pellissier at ieet.org. In it he claims that atheists are more generous financially than are religious people. He summarizes: “Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe.”

Mr. Pellissier bases his claim on two pieces of evidence.  One, the magazine Business Week lists the billionaires who have donated or pledged the most money to charity, and this list is headed by Warren Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gate who have given 41 and 28 billion dollars respectively to worthy causes. Mr. Pellissier refers to both of them as “atheists.” (George Soros is a distant third, having given 7 billion).

The second piece of evidence comes from Mr. Pellissier’s own [Read more...]


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