Before I Deconverted: My Dad and My God

There are a number of theists out there that take it as a matter of plain fact that the real causes of atheism are psychological or social in nature. We are just averse to authority and hate being told what to do. And we want to sin. Oh, the sinning we want to do. Or we must have just had a bad experience with hypocrites in the church. Or we are mad at God for some silly reason.

Often these psycholigizations involve inferences that this all must have something do with our relationships with our fathers. Maybe the reason we don’t like being told what to do is because we resent our fathers. Maybe the reason we’re mad at God and hate authority figures is because we’re confusedly thinking of God as though he’s our remote or overbearing father who either abandoned us or hounded us cruelly. We just emotionally don’t know how to understand that God is a loving father. If only we could get that truth to melt our icy hearts we would return to Him and find true happiness. A hack Freudian has even written a book cherry picking famous historical atheist thinkers with either bad fathers or absent fathers and wildly unscientifically extrapolated that conclusion that atheism inherently stems from one’s problems with one’s father as its real psychological source.

So, treating all our arguments as merely cover for real personal issues, a lot of theists will shoo away devastating intellectual challenges and ask instead to learn our story. Who hurt you? Why are you mad at God? What was your relationship with your dad like? Do you ever dream of having sex with your mother?

And I really really resent this when it’s done to me, especially as an evasive tactic or, worse, as an indication that the Christian I am talking to is so extremely closed minded that he or she is not even going to try to consider, or even try to refute, my arguments but instead is just sitting there psychoanalyzing me, dismissing my thoughts as pathological, and never allowing the possibility that I am actually just being logical.

Nonetheless, putting aside for a moment the maddening prejudices and behaviors of self-satisfied, unreflective, hypocritical, intellectually incurious apologists, the question of how our views of our fathers affect our views of God is psychologically interesting in its own right. So are the panoply of interrelated questions about what social, familial, and emotional factors influence whether or how one winds up an atheist or a theist.

So, in the interest of psychological speculation about how theologies form or are undone, I want to explore the various kinds of relevance people’s psychologies related to their fathers and their gods have. And, in this context, I’ll do what intrusive, condescending apologists want, lay down on the couch myself, and talk about my own dad and how my perception of him related to my feelings on God.

First of all, since none of us see God and only have alleged stories of his words and deeds in history and the numerous theological speculations of others to use in fashioning our ideas of God, it makes sense that when we are believers and we start thinking that we know what God’s attitude towards us is, we inevitably start having to project some stuff from our own imaginations. And those imaginations are quite possibly going to draw on our experiences with authority figures who play some kind of approximate role as God would. And, even being referred to constantly as “Father”, it is most natural of all that we might model our idea of God to some significant extent on our own dads if we knew them and experienced them as authority figures, or even if we didn’t know them and felt them as missing authority figures.

This all makes sense. But none of it directly explains either belief or apostasy. People who love their fathers and have a positive view of authority can deconvert and those who hate their fathers and have a negative view of authority can convert. Sometimes you really can have an intellectual concept of God which you wish was true as (a little depressingly to me) many atheists actually report. I meet frustrated atheists who wish God was real. And there are certainly terrified believers convinced God is real and who are afraid He will be merciless with them. Having no faith that God will treat you well is not at all the same thing as having no faith that God exists.

In fact, as I read the Old Testament, no one in it ever seems to have crises of faith over whether God exists. All the tests of faith assume God exists and examine people’s willingness to rely on Him to come through in tangible ways when they stick their necks out. Faith rarely if ever is a matter of belief in the existence of God but rather a matter of trust that He is on one’s side.

What can happen is that emotionally scarring experience with an abusive father or other authoritarian authority figures can create a heightened realization that the God depicted in the Bible and much of Christian tradition would be horrific to deal with were He real. This is a moral realization that the God of Christianity, as typically conceived, is not at all substantively morally perfect and that it is perverse and dangerous when Christians define morality around that God’s implicit and explicit standards. This emotional sensitivity to the wickedness of what is going on in Christian stories and ideas is a rational basis to infer that it is impossible that God be both morally good and be as depicted by much of the Christian tradition.

Since the Christians are not just claiming any old god exists but that their God exists and that their God is morally perfect, showing that their God is not morally perfect rationally means showing that their God is either non-existent or not as they conceive Him. It may take emotional experiences with bad people who are like that God to impress upon someone the full moral unacceptability of what such a person would be like, but that does not make the inferences irrational any more than, say, getting shot might impress someone with the full horror of gun violence but their judgment that gun violence is bad is still legitimate.

Also there seems to be some evidence that if people have positive relationships to their parents they are more likely to adopt their beliefs and values, including religious or irreligious ones. This means that liking your dad may mean you stay his faith or adopt his lack of faith if he’s an atheist, and not liking him may mean rejecting either his faith or his lack of faith as part of rejecting what doesn’t seem to work about him more generally. None of this directly correlates with belief content.

Still others just generally are curious about the other side of the fence. Some people are so well adjusted and secure in themselves that they are emotionally stable enough to challenge themselves intellectually and emotionally. Some people raised lovingly and without faith seek out religion as an attempt to just add something they might be missing, no appreciably any different than taking a new interest in a skill or craft or hobby. Some emotionally grounded believers are so stable “spiritually” that they don’t find intellectual dalliance with philosophical challengers threatening to the core of who they are and they venture out of the safety zones of their faith, in ways that more clingy believers can’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if any number of the clingier believers were using their faith in an idealized Heavenly Father as a substitute for a bad or absent real world father. And on the flip side some of those secure emotionally precisely because their real world fathers and/or mothers were so supportive and loving are not at all afraid to go doubt their Heavenly Father. They may actually need Him less.

And some people who were never indoctrinated and pressured to believe can the most easily of anyone look at the existence of evil and religious claims about God’s goodness and make the simple connection–I know what a loving father is like firsthand (or what I missed in one) and can tell, no loving Father is on the side of the victims of atrocities and excruciating torments as these things destroy them. That’s an illogical, last ditch fantasy of the desperate and nothing more. Knowing in a clear-eyed way what a good father is like can just as well show you the ways the Christian God simply can’t be considered one.

And many a believer probably clings to their belief a good God guides the universe because their own father was indeed good to them and they transfer their certainty about his goodness straight over to God emotionally and are unshakeable in their convictions about an imaginary God’s love as they would be about their own dad’s love.

Also it is possible that some people who feel like their parents’ values make so much sense and guide their lives so very well that they find it easy to imagine that those values come from a heavenly father who made it so those values are simply the absolute best for everyone. It may be easy for them to hastily and illogically leap from their own parents being trustworthy authorities for them to thinking they conveyed a supremely trustworthy parent’s will for all. And it very well could be some others who felt bereft of parental guidance ,for one reason or another, emotionally felt like there were no absolute authorities one could rely on and emotionally resonated with the idea that we have to create our own values and moral codes without absolute guidance from some external source; an idea with a fair degree of truth to it in that it is up to us humans to work out values and morality for ourselves, though I would hasten to add this is a rational and not an arbitrary process.

There are just so very many ways that people’s psychologies might both lead them to shape an idea of God and emotionally attach to it or detach from it. Some of the emotions might help one resonate with actual good reasons to not believe or to believe, and some of the emotions might provide misleading enticements to believe or not to believe. The reasons of one’s positions and perceptions must always be the deciding factor in what to believe, irrespective of your emotional journeys to them biographically.

So what about my dad and my former faith and my eventual apostasy?

When I was little I, pardon the pun, idolized my dad and clung to my mom. Though I could tell not everyone else always liked my dad, I emulated him when I was little and thought he knew everything (and routinely irritated other adults, like my mom’s parents, by correcting them to tell them what my dad says and why that makes them wrong). They loved me enough that I have always felt emotionally secure and loved in the very core of my being even when weathering gut-wrenching rejections or mistreatments that might make others cynical. They gave me the greatest gift any parent (and often only a parent) could give–a reservoir of emotional security that very well could last a lifetime. And that’s my often fierce independence and emotional self-sufficiency possible. And it didn’t make me overweaningly attached to either of my parents. By eleven years old I was healthily drawing boundaries to keep my mom from smothering me and my whole life I have had a mind of my own independent from both of them. The sense that I am unconditionally loved has itself, as far as I can tell, always made me free to not be dependent on my parents.

My brothers were from my mom’s first marriage. I saw them as fully my brothers (not “half”) but nonetheless grew up with a consciousness of being the golden son. My brothers helped with this by resentfully complaining that I was favored and spoiled. My parents went easier on me than them. For one thing, they were around and, at 8 and 9 years older respectively, were more capable of doing the chores, no matter what they were. And my parents had mellowed as many parents do by the third child’s arrival. They had also tried very hard to have me. And being my dad’s flesh and blood probably gave me an advantage over my brothers in his heart. Or, at least, they and I assumed as much.

So, when I was brought to Sunday School and learned that we were all God’s children but Jesus was God’s only begotten Son, that made total sense to me. In my childish little brain I thought Jesus was God’s only begotten Son the way I’m my dad’s only begotten son and everyone else is God’s child the way my brothers are my dad’s children. A theological mystery (read: inanity) solved before it was ever puzzling by an elementary school theologian thinking of everything through his own family.

When my mom and one of my brothers converted to evangelical Christianity but my dad didn’t, I wound up being brought to church starting at 5 for indoctrination. And it took mightily and for the next fifteen years I thought of my dad’s always quiet, never argued for, deferent skepticism as a lamentable fact about him. He was frustrating. He would never ever explicitly contradict my faith or discourage my zeal for it. He would just get really quiet when I would prattle on about it and effectively wait me out until I would just shut up and move on to something else.

When I was 14 and my parents divorced and my dad moved to Florida, my mom wanted me to blame him but I was okay with it. I had felt well-raised and capable of living without a dad in the house already. I didn’t want him to stay for me and I loathed the prospect of moving to Florida. He would, I think guiltily, start telling me he loved me each phone call during this period. Which I really appreciated. We wound up talking on the phone for an hour or so every week. We had great visits together (at least until his new wife came into the picture and was jealous for his attention even when I had just a couple weeks of the year with him).

I was already very devoutly Christian when he moved. But my brother’s best friend became our new youth minister and he became the first of two ministers to become additional father figures, spiritual ones, who would meet with me and just a couple other teens from the youth group together. And through their enormous influence upon me a great deal of my Christian morality was solidified and my philosophical doubts burgeoning with adolescence were allayed. Also, the simultaneous timing of my parents’ divorce and my minister brother’s new perfect Christian marriage made me start seeing my brother far more as my explicit role model than my dad. His way was the way I wanted to go religiously, ethically, and for purposes of life satisfaction. You know, “God’s way”.

Through all this, I always projected God as loving me as unconditionally as my parents did. I never emotionally doubted God’s grace for a second. Like a good Protestant, deep in my guts I knew I never needed to do good works to earn salvation. I was motivated the right way to do as God wished and to beecc moral, purely by love of God and the good. All the hemming and hawing by Protestants about the balance between being saved by faith and having to do good works was an easy Gordion knot to cut. No one of faith would be looking for any loopholes to get out of serving God on account of it. If you really loved God, you would just want to do as He required and as was right and that was the end of the story. So, I never had a moment’s anxiety about my salvation. I was bought my the blood of Jesus thanks to God’s generous mercy. I never saw any reason not to be obedient to God and His will.

Thinking about God and intuiting God’s will psychologically was essentially just hearing my internal voice of conscience and misinterpreting it as my sense of what God wanted. And when I would assess myself, it was by the standards I presumed were Gods and emotionally I sort of felt like you would if you were to imaginatively think through what a friend or your loving father would think, based on what you know of his values. I would do that but, just assuming God saw it all, thought about it in terms of what God did think. And God’s opinions were generated as a cross between my dad’s emotional love that both wanted me to do and be my best but would never go away or be harsh when I failed, and my church’s theology that filled in God’s concrete values (which were not necessarily my dad’s).

When I deconverted my dad or my feelings about him played no role. I had no negative feelings about God. I had been raised by my dad deliberately to feel comfortable expressing myself honestly and to pursuing my heart’s desires in my career. He was very anxious not to ever dissuade me from a path I wanted but just to help me think as well as possible about how to take it shrewdly. He never interfered with my faith. He gently steered me to take philosophy classes right away for my theology major. He gave silent dissent in the form of a lack of enthusiasm when I would gush religiously. But even for that he was a good sport and accompanied me on a mission trip to Costa Rica when my heart was set on it and my mom wouldn’t let me leave the country without a parent when I was 15. He also made sincere attempts, despite being an ecclesiastical skeptic since his Catholic youth put off by the Church’s corruption, to adopt the faith for a while since it was so important to my mom. He even took classes from a Bible college and got baptized at one point (to bewilderment on my mom’s part and mine).

Finally, when I told him I no longer was a Christian but an agnostic. He asked what that was. When I explained, he said he must be an agnostic too.

Ever since we freely express our cynicism and incredulity about inane religious beliefs and politics. But he enjoys religions more and is put off by anti-theism, doesn’t take any interest in explicit atheism, enthusiastically participates in his wife’s Jewish rituals, and once badmouthed an atheist participant in an interfaith event.

So, that’s the story. Did my perception of my dad influence my positive disposition towards God and authority? I think most likely, yes. When you come from a good home it’s easy to be deceived the world is a good and just place ruled by a loving person whose only demands of you are genuinely for your own good. Did that have anything do with me becoming an atheist? No, I thought the good God just didn’t exist for other reasons. The problem of evil didn’t seriously come across my plate and I never had a bad view of God.

Did my dad’s disbelief make me an atheist? No, I differed with Dad all through high school and most of college and would have continued to had I made it work. My youth minister and brother played spiritual father roles. It was nice eventually agreeing with dad and my skeptical brother about religion but the cost of that was being partially alienated from my father-figure-minister-brother and my religious mother, so emotionally that was all a wash.

Did my dad’s leaving make me feel abandoned and fear God would abandon me? Not in the slightest. I stayed a-okay with dad and with God and judged dad on God’s behalf. Nary a hiccup in my faith there. If anything I doubled down on “God’s way” as role modeled by my brother for fear of ending up divorced like my dad one day.

No matter how I slice it, my dad is in no way the cause of my atheism. If anything, my rationally grounded belief in his love transferred into an irrational faith in God’s love and kept me blind to its refutation and the non-existence of God for way too long.

Your Thoughts?

Before becoming an atheist I was a devout Evangelical Christian. I am slowly telling the story of my former life as a believer, how I came to deconvert and become an atheist, what it all meant and where I went from there personally and intellectually. Below are links to all the pieces I have written so far. While they each contribute to an overall narrative, individual installments are self-contained and can valuably be read on its own without the others. So feel free to read starting anywhere, according to your interest.

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: My Parents Divorced

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: I Saw An Agnostic Speak At A Christian Conference

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: I Experienced Something Like A Spiritual Break Up

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

When I Deconverted: I Sure Could Have Used The Secular Student Alliance

When I Deconverted: I Came Out To My Family

After I Deconverted:

Liberal Theology and Me, Before and After I Deconverted

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After I Deconverted: I Chose To Study Philosophy At A Jesuit University

After I Deconverted: I Was Deeply Ambivalent; What Was I to Make of Sex, Love, Alcohol, Bisexuality, Abortion, 9/11, Religious Violence, Marxism, or the Yankees?

After I Deconverted: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After I Deconverted: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

After I Deconverted: I Started Blogging

After I Deconverted: I’ve Usually Felt Honored and Understood When Christians See Me As “Still Christian”

Since I Deconverted: I’ve Been in Denial About Christian Sincerity

Meta:

Why I Write About My Deconversion

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

"Getting out of religion and back into nature is incredibly difficult. Cult-ural Science, cult-ural religion, ..."

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Have I Considered Catholicism Sufficiently?

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  • JohnH2

    intuiting God’s will psychologically was essentially just hearing my internal voice of conscience

    I know there is disagreement within Christianity about this, but some take Romans 2 and Deuteronomy 30, among others, to suggest that this is a very good start, and accurate as far as it goes. Of course others disagree, what with total depravity dominating Protestant/Evangelical thought.

    My faith goes the opposite direction from Total Depravity and says that free will only fully started at the Fall, as a knowledge of Good and Evil are needed to actually make fully morally relevant choices and that as such all men do have some knowledge of what is good, and this knowledge is from God. Not that you care.

    As for the motivations, I think it is very wrong to say that they never motivate someone to be an atheist.

    “or not as they conceive Him”

    Or the record we have is flawed, which is equally problematic for most sects. Or it is accurate (both the record and the conception) and the Cathars (and/or Gnostics) were correct in their being a demiurge or two principles.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      If they had no free will before the fall, why were they held accountable for what they did. I’ve written a long analysis of the incoherence and falseness of the Fall narrative here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2010/06/true-and-false-in-adam-and-eve/

      As for the motivations, I think it is very wrong to say that they never motivate someone to be an atheist.

      That what never motivates someone to be an atheist?

    • JohnH2

      “That what never motivates someone to be an atheist?”

      This:

      he sinning we want to do. Or we must have just had a bad experience with hypocrites in the church. Or we are mad at God for some silly reason.

      “no free will”

      First thing to point out is that is not at all what I said, to quote myself: “free will only fully started at the Fall”, meaning they did have independence of action prior to the Fall (and even could have rebelled against God as Satan did). Rebelling is not at all what they did though.

      I think I need to back up and explain more, especially given what you say in your post. So my faiths view of the Fall is nothing like you are assuming (either in your comment or the post), which is entirely understandable as it is also nothing like the rest of Christianity (or Judaism or Islam).

      First, the Fall was not a punishment but a blessing, and something that is necessary for our progression. Second, Rather than knowledge being the source of our misery, it is misery which is part of the source of knowledge. They were not rebelling against God but making a choice which God had given them with (some of) the consequences explained (others they could not understand prior to the choice). The glory of God is intelligence and His work is bring us to the level that He is, the devil is the one that rebelled against God and tried to take His power, not Adam and Eve. God was not lying when He said “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil”. Our nature is fallen due to the Fall and that is something that we need to work to overcome, but is not something blameworthy, Original Sin is not something true or that we inherit.

      So to retell the story: We are children of our Heavenly Parents, co-eternal in someways with Them, but also progressing towards what They are. When we had progressed sufficiently our Father called us into council with Him and presented a plan by which we could progress further, gain a body, experience, and an actual knowledge of Good and Evil (which we clearly could not actually have or have comprehended at that point) and we shouted for joy, even though we knew and were told that some would not return due to their own choices, and that we would all err and need assistance, a Savior, to overcome our errors. Some rebelled at this and sought to seize the throne of God, and were cast out. The earth was organized, framed and shaped from pre-existing material, and Adam, and then Eve, were placed into the Garden as equal partners.

      Once in the Garden they were told that if they ate of fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil that they would have to leave the garden and would die, leaving the presence of God and suffer physical death, the choice was theirs. In the garden they could not have children and they could not progress, they needed to eat the fruit to move further but they also needed to do it for themselves. So Eve in an act for which she is honored for her courage and wisdom, chose to eat the fruit and Adam chose to fall with her so that we might be, and that we might have a fulness of Joy.

      The law of opposites was then in effect and we were blessed with the necessity for work, and Eve was blessed to be able to bear children, helping more of us to progress to the state that she had. We were given this life as a time to learn, to progress, and also to overcome (or repent) what we do that is wrong, so that, if we want to, we can return as joint-heirs to the presence of God and have eternal life, and that if we refuse that we are not forced to return.

      ———-

      I would provide references to my scriptures on the subject, but given some of your recent writings on that subject I won’t. Instead I will point to something much older The Hymn of the Pearl.

  • http://www.skeptimusprime.net/ Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

    I don’t know that she made up the anecdote, I just think she may have heard what she wanted to hear. I agree that there are some atheists who get too caught up in the “science disproves god” paradigm, but I don’t consider myself one of those and I have still been accused by non-fundamentalist Christians of trading one form of fundamentalism for another, so often I find that this is just their excuse for dismissing others criticism.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      Dylan, it doesn’t sound like you’re making much effort to engage with what Roberts was actually saying. I think it’s true that many of the message-board nonbelievers are only comfortable dealing with the God-concept that was popular among Bronze Age nomads, because that’s an easy concept to parody. Roberts wasn’t making “generalizations” about her fundie friend, she was just taking what he said at face value.

      And as long as we’re talking about unsophisticated glosses on complex matters, you said:

      First off the notion that there have been “developments” in theology in the past fifty years is questionable. Yes, there have been new ideas, but the great majority of them have been the same sorts of ad hoc justifications that theologians have been coming up with for thousands of years. With one notable difference, traditional theology confined it’s rationalizations to certain parameters like conformity with some attempt at a reasonable biblical hermeneutic or at least church tradition. Liberal theologians found these limitations stifling and so have just taken to making up any explanation so long as it allows themselves to have their theological cake and eat it too.

      “Criticism” like that dismisses itself.

    • http://www.skeptimusprime.net/ Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

      I don’t know where you are coming from in this, but I’ll say that I’m quite used to saying things and having it horribly misrepresented by theists after the fact. I agree that, as she presents them, his arguments sound ill formed. What I questioned was whether or not she fairly represented him. Of course there is no way to know for sure.

      I was simplifying my criticism for brevity, but exactly what is your problem when my statement? I’ve had numerous conversations with liberal theologians and to me this seems a rather fair estimation of what they are doing. It’s not the way they would put it of course, but even more so than fundamentalists I’ve seen them shift their arguments in mid conversation to avoid acknowledging a problem with their argument, and then claim that no such shift even happened. Ever read anything from process theologians?

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      Dylan, I think I made it pretty clear that, contrary to your objections, I’ve encountered plenty of nonbelievers online who behave exactly like the guy Roberts described. And I think I used plain enough English when I noted that these nonbelievers are only comfortable using a God-concept popular among ancient nomads and modern fundamentalists: the CEO God, sitting outside the creation He selectively micromanages, teasing and threatening His children with the prospect of a reward or punishment after they die.

      I admit I’m not well-read in theology. I’m not familiar with a lot of contemporary schools of thought, but I’ve enjoyed books by Barth, Tillich, Buber and Jaspers. Theirs is a blueprint for belief that stresses the uncertainty of the human condition, the limits of reason, and the existential core of belief. This isn’t about belief as smug certainty, or God as a hypothesis to be argued over. It’s about the way we each relate to the unknown, to loss, and to our own morality.

    • http://www.skeptimusprime.net/ Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

      Dylan, I think I made it pretty clear that, contrary to your objections,
      I’ve encountered plenty of nonbelievers online who behave exactly like
      the guy Roberts described

      Sure, and i didn’t disagree with you, I’ve run into them too.

      However, it’s a legitimate concern as to whether this particular person was behaving this way. I’m also skeptical of Christians estimations of atheists behavior and statements because I’ve seen them horribly misrepresent our statements and arguments.

      Theirs is a blueprint for belief that stresses the uncertainty of the human condition, the limits of reason, and the existential core of belief. This isn’t about belief as smug certainty, or God as a hypothesis to be argued over. It’s about the way we each relate to the unknown, to loss, and to our own morality.

      You are describing liberal theology in it’s most ideal state. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it avoids the reality that many of the people who actually preach liberal theology are, in fact, incredibly smug, and treat their interpretations with the same sort of certainty that fundamentalists do, complete with antagonistic and dismissive responses to those who criticize their ideas. I majored in religious studies so I’m not just guessing, I had teachers like this.

      Personally the article makes me conclude that Roberts falls into this category. I could be wrong but her statements in her article do little to convince me otherwise.

      I would note also that I have disagrements with liberal theology in it’s ideal state as well, but that’s another discussion.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      However, it’s a legitimate concern as to whether this particular person was behaving this way.

      And why is that? We both agreed that we’ve come across plenty of that type in the digital sandbox here. If she’s making it up (which I admitted is possible), it’s a fairly true-to-life portrayal to my way of thinking.

      You are describing liberal theology in it’s most ideal state.

      Well, it’s not like I’m talking about some small-fry scribes. The four writers I mentioned are very famous, influential writers. Is their stuff just ad-hoc justifications too? Who are the liberal theologians you’re talking about?

      I noticed that in your article, you took liberal theology to task for its useless fantasizing. Now it sounds like you just dislike it because liberal theologians are too smug. I’m sorry if I’m not detecting a real effort to engage with these thinkers.

    • http://www.skeptimusprime.net/ Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

      Both are legitimate criticisms in my estimation.

      Yeah I’ve read a bit of the people you mentioned and yes I tend to think they are doing quite a bit of fantasizing and ad-hoc thinking.

      I mean look at your own estimation of what liberal theology is all about.

      It’s about the way we each relate to the unknown, to loss, and to our own morality.

      What does any of this have to do with theology? Why is the word “god” actually needed to discuss any of these things? It seems to add nothing to the conversation. I say “the word god” because liberal theologians have striped the term of any of it’s traditional meaning.

      This is what I mean when I say they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They like the idea of believing in god, but don’t seem to actually like god himself so they try to rid themselves of any actual god and reduce god to a conceptual principal which they use to talk about things like ethics and personal meaning. However, we can talk about those things without adding a confusing misuse of a word like “god” to the mix. In fact if I were required to sum up my disagreement with liberal theology in a single criticism it would be that I think liberal theology is a giant semantic error.

      You can just dismiss me by saying I don’t want to engage with these thinkers but then it seems you are really just doing the same thing Roberts is doing. The smugness comes in when people like Roberts assume that the only way I could reject their ideas is if I just haven’t properly engaged with them rather than simply acknowledge that I might have read them and simply found their arguments wanting in serious ways. Which to my mind is exactly like a fundamentalist who declares I never really believed because no one who seriously engaged with their theology would reject it.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      What does any of this have to do with theology? Why is the word “god” actually needed to discuss any of these things? It seems to add nothing to the conversation. I say “the word god” because liberal theologians have striped the term of any of it’s traditional meaning.

      Same as words like “time” and “space,” our knowledge has changed the way we define it. Like I keep saying, you’re only comfortable with the God-concept humans had thousands of years ago. Whose problem is that?

      In fact if I were required to sum up my disagreement with liberal theology in a single criticism it would be that I think liberal theology is a giant semantic error.

      That’s not a criticism, that’s just immature shit-flinging. The liberal theologians won’t use the word “God” to mean what you want it to mean, so they’re the ones in error. That’s so facile it’s mind-boggling.

      You can just dismiss me by saying I don’t want to engage with these thinkers

      Well, you can’t blame me for doing so, when you offer nothing except a puerile opinion in lieu of anything substantial. All I’ve seen is evidence that you just can’t be bothered with theology, and that’s fine. But what exactly is supposed to demonstrate to me how engaged you are?

    • http://www.skeptimusprime.net/ Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

      God-concept humans had thousands of years ago. Whose problem is that?

      Not mine I assure you, see this is the problem two fold, one this isn’t a concept that some people believed 1,000 years ago its something a large number of people believe today.

      Second you seem to dismiss both those people living 1,000 years ago along with the modern believers who agree with them as stupid or claim that “can’t be bothered with theology,” even as an atheist I would not do that, because it’s insulting and dismissive, and quite frankly given your own statements so far I’d say that many of those fundamentalist have probably given their theology more thought than you seem to have.

      That’s not a criticism, that’s just immature shit-flinging.

      I’ve tried to have a reasonable discussion with you, and over what I certainly think are substantial criticisms.

      You accuse me of “shit-flinging” but you are the one lobbing personal attacks. See this is the exact problem I have with people who argue from the perspective of liberal theology. The notion of open-minded dialog is all pretense. Someone takes a position you don’t like cuss them out.

      All you’ve really managed to do here is convince me that my estimation of your arguments are pretty much right on, and if all you have to offer is personal insults I have better things to do with my time.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      Dylan, feel free to believe it’s your expert demolition of liberal theology, and your oh-so-manly skepticism, that have motivated me to my negative opinion of you, and not your comically inadequate grasp of theology and your immature sloganeering. Self-delusion is the worst kind of delusion.

    • http://www.skeptimusprime.net/ Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

      Yes, they guy with a degree in religious studies is the guy with the comically inadequate grasp of theology, and not the guy who admitted he hasn’t read that much of it.

      Yeah, tell yourself whatever you like.

    • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

      Part of the problem is the foundation of the whole conversation. The truly doubtful claim is not either whether liberal theology is well-grounded, self-consistent, and fruitful or just sloppy desperate ad hoc rationalization, it is rather whether liberal theology has much, if anything, to do with the God that is actually worshiped by more than a tiny sliver of those who claim the mantle of Christian theism, much less whether liberal theology can claim any weighty ideological provenance.

      Because the problem, roughly, is that liberal theology is as vehemently (if not more) eschewed, belittled, and thought of as unserious by Christian fellow-travelers as it is by non-believers, and so those few who believe in a liberal fashion justifiably have hard time seriously claiming their perspective speaks for or addresses any of the objections to Christianity as a whole ideological polity. I tend to think that most Christians would not find, for just one example, much of Tillich’s Ground of Being in common with the deity they name in their prayers, and that by their theological lights (lay or expert as they may be) he may just as well have been genuflecting to the principle of the Tao. Liberal theology is, by-and-large, as much of an historical aberration as its mirror counterpart, fundamentalism (both being mutations in direct reaction to the challenges of modernism).

      When atheists online or in person (and you’ve known me long enough in conversation to know I’m not big on scientism) are arguing against what a liberal believer would like to term a 3rd grader’s concept of God or what-have-you (and the epistemological nonsense that flows easily from a knowledge structure that affirms such a view of a deity), it is not usually because they are being bullheadedly ignorant about the finer points of liberal theology, but because those abstruse and erudite points are simply not relevant to the topic of what most believers believe and how they act upon those beliefs. The problem is, pointedly, that most believers‘ view of their own deity of choice isn’t more theologically sophisticated than the average third grader’s generic description of God, and that stripped down, functionalistic, philosophically messy, theologically problematic deity is what both sides of arguments like this have to work with; the contours of the conversation are not going to be set by the recondite abstractions of theology because most people to whom any of these arguments might apply are not theologians.

      The common belief in that sort of God brings all sorts of baggage with it that atheists and fellow-traveling humanists have every right to be furious about. I guess the most appropriate response to the accusation that atheists ignore and/or scoff at liberal Christian ripostes to complaints about Christianity would be to ask how it could possibly matter that there is a small minority who have resolved that baggage in a way utterly unacceptable to their own co-religionists.

  • JohnH2

    I think it is easier for those on the outside to see people that believe (or don’t believe) due to “beliefs that are tethered by wants” than for those on the inside to see it. On the inside you sort of assume that everyone is roughly the same as you in terms of believing (or not believing) for what you consider the right reasons, especially since they say the right things and agree with you.

    On the outside though you are more likely to get into a conversation with the person that deals with the disagreement, and that exposes more the reasoning behind why they hold the position they do, and how much they actually understand that position.

    Of course, because they are visible to one, whichever side one is on, it is easy to attribute everyone on the other side to having “beliefs that are tethered by wants”, especially when combined with the natural tendency to place them as being other.

    So there are atheists that are atheists for the most shallow of reasons, and there are theists that are theists for the most shallow of reasons, and plenty of both that don’t understand their position in anything but the most superficial of senses.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    > We are just averse to authority

    So was Jesus.

    • Call no man your patre/patron/pastor/boss on the Earth. ~Jesus

    • Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. ~Jesus

    Christianity is following the imposter Paul.

    “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)