Since My Deconversion: I Think I’ve Been in Denial About Christian Insincerity.

Yesterday Frank Schaeffer published a post that’s already going viral accusing the moneymakers atop the Evangelical Christian world of not really buying what they’re selling:

Let’s be honest. Sure some smart young people who “come to Christ” are deeply sincere. Then life happens to them and they come to see that nothing is quite as true as it was cracked up to be that night they got “saved.” Then they have a choice: stick with the program, because that’s how they earn their living and/or they now are known as “Christians” so backing down is hard since their identity is on the line– or bail.


What the self-doubting (and often self-loathing) smarter and older evangelicals can’t deal with are their own real questions: for instance how can anyone sane actually believe what the Bible says? Who really believes that gay men and women chose that “lifestyle” rather than being born that way? How can anyone honest look at the evangelical establishment, from the Billy Graham Association to the big publishing companies, to the media empires, to the big colleges and high schools, and really think any of the leaders of this incestuous highly-profitable club would be recognized by Jesus as on the path of the simple way, taking up a cross or following him as he reached out and touched the untouchables?

Let’s face it, there’s an army of evangelical leaders and followers out there that in their deepest inner selves know they have more or less wasted their lives while selling the Americanized “GOD” and “JESUS” as virtually trademarked products. They are about as open to questioning the basic facts of their pitch as the cigarette companies were to admitting that smoking is addictive. When they’re assailed by their inevitable doubts they ignore them and plow on because they cannot face losing face, friends, family and above all — for the legion of “professional Christians” — the money.

The last thing the evangelical establishment wants is an honest debate. So they’re into censorship on a huge scale. To questioner is to be written off–avoided. Just try sending a manuscript to an evangelical publisher that questions the very basis of the existence of the religion they earn their living selling one over-priced book at a time. If they believed their schtick was true they would welcome debate. Try submitting an opinion piece like this one to any evangelical magazine.

Read more. He goes on to lay out his case for their insincerity in more interesting detail and with more polemical flair. I’m curious about how he assesses the deep seated heart and motives of his father, who was a powerfully influential Evangelical Christian leader. I imagine he has addressed this. Does anyone know where he’s subjected his father to this particular brand of cynical suspicion?

I have always worn my true beliefs on my sleeve. Hypocrisy is deeply painful to me. I couldn’t live lying about what I really thought about things. I am almost pathologically forthcoming and confessional a good amount of the time. When I was a Christian I was a true believer and I told everyone who would listen (and some who wouldn’t). When I stopped believing, I started updating everyone that I was no longer a Christian right away, with no hesitation and possibly a bit of deconverting zeal, in keeping with my Evangelical upbringing. (Also, in keeping with my Evangelical enculturation, I also had a pair of deconversion moments.) And now when the topic comes up, even sometimes when it’s socially painful for me, I just can’t shut up about being an atheist.

Even when I was in the middle zone, dealing with severe doubts while still earnestly living a Christian life in Christian community and actively engaged in spreading the Gospel and trying to create a fire for Jesus in young Christians, I built my evangelism right on my doubts. From at least 14 years old I approached everything in counter-apologetic terms, constantly sensitized to the sources of resistance to my faith. And when my doubts accelerated in college, as I learned philosophy and theology in depth, and reached their zenith when I binge read the entire Portable Nietzsche in the week and a half between the end of my junior year and a summer spent as a Christian counselor, my conversations always orbited around dealing with the hardest objections to the faith that I knew and I doggedly made the most honest, philosophically careful, and valiant efforts I could to refute them.

I showed up at camp in the summer of 1999 terrified I might be turning into an atheist. I couldn’t believe that it was actually a live prospect to me. Never had I imagined my doubts could go that far. I hoped spending orientation for camp counselors with an incredibly talented and spiritually intense group of people would do the trick and restore my faith but I remember distinctly the first day campers were showing up feeling desperate. I still feared I might be an atheist.

Even in that place, contractually and religiously obligated to carry through with my duties and be a camp counselor, I didn’t hide my doubts. I made them front and center. A bit amusing in retrospect, the first night of camp, for my 13 and 14 year old campers, I took the “evening devotional” time to give them the most rigorous and sophisticated case for believing in God that I could. I risked shooting way over their heads. But I was driven by the need to demonstrate I understood the reasons to doubt and would always honor them; I would never just skip over them and just assume my faith was true and expect anyone to believe that way. And that night I imagine I needed to prove to myself that I had reasons to believe before I said another word.

And I carried on like that the whole summer. Piece by piece, from technical metaphysical philosophy all the way to the finer points of Calvinist theology, I worked out as sophisticated and defensible account of our faith for my campers as I could. I always worked cognizant that there were objections to be answered; doubts to be dispelled. And nothing short of the best formulated understanding of the meaning of our faith mattered. I wouldn’t even skimp on the details and simplify it all for my teenage campers.

There was still an element of dishonesty in all this anyway. In my 10 years between my baptism at 11 and my two deconversion moments at 21, I was always rationalizing trying to rationalize my faith. That’s how faith, i.e., a willful commitment to believe in things either under supported by evidence or refuted by evidence, corrupts reason so badly. It teaches you to accept a tradition’s beliefs as true no matter what, as a matter of identity and morality, and allows doubting and reasoning (even highly sophisticated forms) to only operate as part of an entire spiritual life ultimately only interested in defending and developing the initial commitments. While, people thinking within faiths can sometimes be creative in spite of this, the whole faith-based approach to reasoning is, in its basic structure, fundamentally antithetical to precisely those rigors of science and philosophy that make corrections of basic false beliefs possible. Faith is a deliberate commitment to rationalize rather than rationally criticize when it comes to your core beliefs. Religious faith is not just a matter even of ordinary susceptibility to confirmation bias, it goes much further and perversely makes willful rationalization a moral ideal.

So even as I was endlessly philosophically ambitious, creative, clever, and, even, cocky, and could make even the worst beliefs about as palatable and plausible as they could get, I was still ultimately working within a fundamentally dishonest paradigm. And that last summer, I distinctly felt duty-bound to restore and defend my now beleaguered faith, so I had a non-intellectual, social reason to continue advocating for the faith as my conviction was slipping.

And working out all those arguments actually restored my convictions—temporarily. I remember being amused when I got into a detailed argument defending some highly specific Calvinistic theological points against a camper. I was struck at how just two months earlier I was spending all my time with Nietzsche and becoming ready to light the pyre and burn my faith to ashes and just 9 weeks earlier I was desperate even to feel like I could in good conscience talk about God being real the first night of camp, and now here I was with the minutiae of partisan theology mattering viscerally enough to me that I would dig in, passionately defending it, against a recalcitrant 16 year old.

But that mixture of dishonestly rationalizing while at least being honest enough to never stop fixating on all the legitimate sources of doubt that elicited all the rationalization in the first place was ultimately unstable. And as soon as I no longer had campers of my own, and began working as a “rover” who filled in as a temporary counselor with other people’s tribes with mostly just babysitting responsibilities and few teaching ones, and also working with the 6 year olds now who even would never try to dump sophisticated philosophy and theology on, my faith almost evaporated.

I remember distinctly sitting on a bench, lost in contemplation on a hot and lazy afternoon one day that week, the last of the summer, when a middle schooler sat down next to me and in the course of our conversation asked what I studied in college. I told him I was a philosophy major. He asked if I believed in God and, for the first time I remember saying it aloud, I admitted I didn’t know.

Two and a half months later I would realize I really didn’t.

(For another account of that summer as a Christian camp counselor, read this post.)

And ever since deconverting, I have always been reflexively inclined to believe the best about Christians’ sincerity. I know intimately what it is like to believe wholeheartedly even as one’s mental processes are fundamentally in active denial and desperately trying to stave off a million reasonable doubts. And I knew carried through as faithfully as I could on my beliefs; committing my life course to the pursuit of theology out of a genuine belief that Christianity was vital to the salvation of souls, proselytizing my every non-Christian friend throughout high school, making sacrificial ethical choices like to wait for marriage to have sex as I believed God wanted, going off to live with fellow believers immersed in a Christian way of life for college, spending my summers and school weeknights trying to reach kids with the Gospel, worshipping, praying, and all around loving God with all my heart, strength, soul, and mind. And I could rattle off the names of dozens of Christians doing any variation of the above or other things to prove their true belief that their reward is not in this world but in the one to come. And none of them were motivated by rewards at all (as many trivializing cynics assume). They were just bananas for Jesus.

So, given all this, I have tended to balk when people accuse any Evangelical Christians of being insincere or having a successful ministry for the sake of the money. Even the most flagrant fleecers, I default to giving the benefit of the doubt to that they are deluding themselves too.

It is only recently dawning on me that this has long been a prejudice on my part.

I am doing two things that make me much too charitable towards believers.

First, I am projecting myself onto them and naively expecting everyone to be motivated by the kind of existential obsession with knowing the true and the good that I have. Second, and interestingly interconnected with the first, I have been taking attacks on the sincerity of Evangelical Christians as attacks on my own former sincerity.

And as I have explained before, I have, since leaving the faith, been more defensive of the sincerity of my former beliefs than almost anything else. Why? Because when I left a faith that had brainwashed me into believing it was the True and the Good, it was wrenchingly difficult psychologically to be perceived as abandoning the True and the Good. When you leave a cult, the programming can kick in in new ways and emotionally you feel yourself as a traitor. In the months after leaving the faith, I had multiple nightmares in which I murdered people and afterward suffered overwhelming guilt and a terror of having done something irrevocable.

And yet, I knew cognitively and would adamantly–sometimes even lividly–defend the fact that I had left as an act of intellectual and moral conscience. There I stood. I could do no other. And, most ironically, I knew it was precisely my Christian commitment to the True that led me to admit, against everything within me which had fought for a decade, that Christianity was at its core a rotten old lie. And like a good Protestant, I had a practically Luther-like obsession with justification. Knowing one is justified is everything. And if I could no longer be justified by my faith, I was now going to be justified by my truthfulness. I felt the urgent need to prove to Christians I was justified in leaving the faith, that I did so out of true loyalty to the values we shared rather than out of a flippant desire to abandon them. It was, my commitment to what Christianity ingrained in me that led me to overcome it.

Accusations I did not genuinely (or properly) believe are not only false and offensive (especially from the maddeningly dogmatic Calvinists, who diagnose that I never really believed simply because of a theological precept that no true believer ever leaves, which they let override the full evidence of my former life and psychology and that of millions of other apostates, erasing all our spiritual anguish from their contorted little minds) but they rob me of the most difficult act of intellectual conscience and personal liberation I ever managed. If my former beliefs were insincere, then my deconversion was no act of virtue at all.

And so it makes sense to me that I have been so tethered to believing in the sincerity of other believers. It’s part and parcel with affirming my own former sincerity as a believer, which is core to my sense of pride, my identity, and my case that I was really justified in leaving the faith (since I did so with no incentives and desperately wanting to stay).

But I should not be so naive as to think everyone is like me. In fact, I should have learned from the high profile Christian leader on my own campus who was one of my best friends and who revealed his hidden atheism to me after I apostasized–and chewed me out for daring to mess with the faiths of those he deemed needed it.

And I probably always should have made a connection I long avoided.

I have always assumed that had things gone a little differently, and had I not had the immersive exposure to enough philosophy, biblical history, and scathingly skeptical peers to create a strong enough deluge to actually drown and kill my faith, that I would have remained a believer. I would effectively look at my peers who stayed faithful and think some atheistic equivalent of “there but for the grace of God go I” (which, come to think of it, can be recast in non-Christian stoic terms easily enough–”there but for different provisions of nature and personal circumstances go I”). I have always thought I could have been them, I could have remained in the faith.

I have even thought that there is some possible scenario where I would have studied philosophy and theology so much and still hung in there and wound up a preacher or a theologian.

But I am starting to think that’s just not the case. Because I really don’t see how I could have continued to educate myself, continue to grow into adulthood, and still do the dishonest things intellectually necessary to say Christianity is true. I would inevitably have come across certain arguments I now know, only later, even if it took a longer time for the cumulative effect of them wearing me down to happen. But so long as I remained on the path of thinking about theology and philosophy, I cannot see it leading me to anywhere but atheism. There’s a conceivable world where I just never dove in with all my mind into the subjects in the first place. I could have gone the route of psychology instead. But even there, I think I would have seen through the smoke and mirrors of the faith. Only were I unable to go to school could I imagine not studying enough about how the world works to possibly avoid becoming an atheist.

But for so long as I was going to pursue the Christian God, I was going to come up empty.

It really is the only honest option.

I really can’t see my scrupulously earnest and honest self winding up with a different conclusion. I am having a harder and harder time seeing myself in adult believers. I am starting to realize it matters decisively, not just incidentally, that I did not grow up to become one of them. They are not my alternate universe selves. They are still believers precisely because they’re different than me. They have different values and make fundamentally different choices.

A good number of adequately informed and mentally matured Christians may really not be nearly as sincere as I have always wanted to credit them with being. There may really be more outright deception than just self-deception and delusion in their errors. Maybe some are knowing noble liars in ways I could never be.  Maybe some live whole careers perpetually stuck where I was as a 21 year old dutiful rationalizer, too far committed to be honest about what they really know. Maybe for some that summer of preaching to the kids while trying to convince themselves just never ends. And maybe many of those with the massive evangelistic platforms are not “me had I stayed” but just the morally questionable set that are left when all the more scrupulous believers have decided not to go that far.

And the true believers? Their active willfulness to engage in intellectually unscrupulous modes of belief formation, precisely when dealing with the most important questions, gives too much reason suspect their moral character. And their functional hypocrisies likely say more about what they really, effectively and truly, believe or disbelieve than their explicit confessions, even when they have convinced themselves they’re sincere.

I am not going to lie, I find this hard to believe emotionally, after so many years spent reflexively defensive of my former brethren on behalf of my former self.

Your Thoughts?

For much more about my years believing, how I left the faith and what’s happened since, read any of the episodic posts in my deconversion series. For a similar experience of disillusioning, in which I realized while blogging that Christians by no means necessarily have the same values did when was a believer read about my reaction to the Christian right’s piggish attitudes towards women that would have been anathema to me when I believed. That’s in the post, Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed In Equality Between The Sexes.

The current full table of links in my deconversion series:

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 all contribute to an overall narrative, each installment is 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

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

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

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 Insincerity

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • eamonknight

    Been there, done that — trying to patch up and pump out a waning faith that part of me knew deserved to founder.

    I assume the rank-and-file are mostly sincere. The Big Names, the ones who make their living off it? Harder to say, and I expect they’re a mixed bag. However, the question lacks urgency to me, as I do not regard truth-avoiding fanaticism as morally distinct from truth-hiding charlatanry. So when I watched Ken Ham last week, I was quite content to cry “Liar!”, without caviling over which kind of liar he is.

  • thompjs

    I grew up in Tulsa – Home of Oral Roberts. After dropping the Jesus goggles, I was stunned at the rip offs of all these preachers.

    The Richard Roberts scandal is pretty telling as well.

  • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

    I only remembered after writing the post, that my personal psychological investment in others’ sincerity of beliefs being taken seriously as a proxy for my own beliefs and deconversion being taken seriously was something I articulated once before. I’ll do something rare and quote another post in the comments here as something of a complement to the post above:

    I honestly can’t remember to what extent I faulted faith as a contributing cause of what they did at the time. I certainly was upset when people would give purely materialistic explanations of the causes of terrorism and act as though beliefs were never at all substantively relevant to motivation. I had been a devout believer. I knew beliefs mattered to action and that they were not merely a proxy for economic frustrations that had no other frameworks or institutions for adequately articulating themselves. (Just one reason, along with its empirical failures and anti-scientific, faith-like, dogmatism, that I was never much sympathetic to hardcore Marxism.)

    So, I was deeply suspicious of those who clearly didn’t understand (or didn’t want to understand or didn’t want to admit to understanding) that religious beliefs could actually be a primary and decisive sine qua non motivator in violence. In a way I also resented their implications that beliefs were not to be taken seriously in understanding why people did what they did since it was a dismissive denial of my whole experience.

    I had lived quite conscientiously according to beliefs and was undergoing a personally excruciating time trying to sift out how to live when my beliefs had been destroyed and were now in flux. Conscious beliefs could orient a life. And not knowing what one believed could disrupt it too! And new beliefs could lead to what felt like wildly new courses of feeling and behaving, as I was experiencing. And those changes of beliefs could come despite no other explanatory changes in the non-cognitive situation of one’s life. They could come, believe it or not, due primarily to thinking!

    So the idea that the terrorists were truly interested in something else and either using religious ideology as a rationalization to deceive either themselves or others was one I rejected with full feeling. Not that that settles the truth of the matter unambiguously, of course. But at the time, that part of understanding the issue was most vivid and determinative of my thinking about it.

    But for all that I don’t remember this intensifying or creating any generalized antipathy towards faith itself or religion itself. I was already in a somewhat combative stance towards Christianity and I fully believed that religious motives explained 9/11 in significant part. But I don’t remember incorporating 9/11 into my critique of religion. Unlike many other New Atheists I wasn’t radicalized against religion by 9/11. In fact, when I went to baseball games that September and for the next couple years I sang “God Bless America” full-throatedly, as became a 9/11 related tradition. The words and overt religious sentiments were irrelevant to me. It was the expression of civic solidarity with everyone else assembled that mattered. I had not yet raised to consciousness of just how much using religious rituals and songs as the vehicle of deep communal civic expression was Othering to atheists, reinforced undue religious privilege, and undermined the Separation of Church and State. I had not yet come to my staunch position that clergy rightfully have no place at a 9/11 memorial or at any other any civic ceremonies.

    From the post 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?

  • Joe

    I remember Pat Robertson hosting hysterical telethons back in 1999 because they needed money fast so that they could hurry up and get the Jesus word out to people so they could be saved before the rapture in 2000. He didn’t outright predict the rapture (that I know of) but he sure insinuated the hell out of it. Lots of earthquakes were happening yada yada signs of the end times gotta hurry up and save people yada yada. I wonder if he ever gave their money back. 2000 was probably one hell of a cash cow for evangelists.

    • JohnH2

      Major dates to look forward to in terms of books, predictions, death cults, other types of cults, hysteria, money making opportunities, and good times to plan parties (that I am aware of):

      2014-2015 is a sabbatical year with a lunar eclipse falling on the last day of that jewish year. 2017 is fifty years from the retaking of Jerusalem. 2018 is 70 years from the formation of the Jewish state 2023 is 100 years from creation of the British Mandate, and also the end of a sabbatical year. Obviously 2027 and 2028 are also anniversaries though not really important ones. 2030 is 2000 years from the generally accepted start of Christ’s active ministry , 2031–2035 is 2000 years from Christ’s death (obviously only one of those years is (probably) accurate. Then 2036-2038 is a Sabbatical year 70 years from the retaking of Jerusalem and 110 years from the British mandate and the Unix 32 bit Y2k.

    • Joe

      The Mayan 2012 and the Celine Dion and Elvis duet already passed so we’re safe on those two at least. (I hope.)

    • Agni Ashwin

      Ragnarok is just around the corner.

  • Shira Coffee

    Several interesting points above!

    Re: your question about Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer has been critical of him. I haven’t read his books, but I first started reading his blog in 2008 I think — it was certainly during Obama’s first Presidential campaign. I remember his comments on the “minister scandal” — Frank Schaeffer pointed out that presidents in the past had invited his father to the White House even though his father advocated actual treason (armed uprising in order to create theocratic rule). I have the impression that Frank S’s latest book has a fair amount of thinly disguised criticism of his father as well.

    My second thought is that, while you are inventing alternate realities, you might invent the one where you remain a believer long enough to marry a nice Christian girl, have a couple of great kids, and land a good job at a Christian college where you make a comfortable living and have lots of respect… and THEN realize you’re an atheist.

    My third thought is that one of the worst features of faith as Christians practice it is that it’s meant to be a singular experience from which there is no backtracking. This has long struck me as a recipe for cognitive dissonance AT BEST and despair at worst. I have been reading a sutta (MN 27) that reminded me of the Gospel story of Thomas, as it happens. In this sutta, faith in the Buddha as an enlightened teacher is compared to seeing a large, broad elephant’s footprint and deducing the presence of a large bull elephant. But the Buddha himself, when this simile is presented to him, insists that you cannot really say that the large bull elephant exists until you have seen him directly! This is just about diametrically opposed to the Christian view.

    Most of us are dealing with incomplete and sometimes contradictory evidence in the best way we know how. Unfortunately, having your reputation and your family’s livelihood depend on a particular, closely circumscribed view of the evidence tends to corrupt the process of investigating things with an open mind.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Yes, I tried to allude to that possible world by talking a little about those for whom that summer I had having to keep it together “for the kids” was their whole life.

      The problem you point out is the religious equivalent of the great Upton Sinclair quote: “”It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    • Shira Coffee

      And yet… as I write this, I am listening to the Methodist pastor who was defrocked for officiating at the wedding of his son. Oddly enough, his name is Frank Schaefer. (One f). So there are those who persist in understanding, even when it costs them.

  • LaughingAtheist

    There is one thing that is basic to the understanding of the Evangelical Christian, in order to understand their distorted view of the World… They are taught, from a very young age, that they are to deny everything that their 5 senses tell them, and instead, to only believe what is written in the King James Version of the BuyBull…. Whether their senses tell them that there might be differences between what they observe, and what the BuyBull says is true, they are to ignore what they observe, and only believe what the ‘Stone Age’ text tells them to believe. That is the crux of the problem…

  • Rod Fleming

    It’s quite simple: to say that the bible is literally true requires that one be either ignorant or lying. Really. I know that’s harsh, but that’s what it boils down to. I suspect a very great many evangelicals are lying, including to themselves, bolstering the underlying absurdity of their belief by trying to convert others, ‘good works’ and so on. But there are plenty, including many high-profile ones, who are obvious untruthers.

    It takes a truly spectacular degree of ignorance to actually believe that the universe was created in six days, 6000 years ago; and a level of duplicity that is almost incomprehensible to create a complete pseudo-science to support that; but of course we know why – all that lovely tax-free money.

    I do not consider it possible for a person of decent education and sound mind to believe such nonsense. One or the other must be failing.

  • John W. Loftus

    For the record Franky Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer, has railed against evangelicalism in the past. He’s denounced it to the point of switching to Greek Orthodoxy and has been ostracized from the evangelical community because of this. So he continues. It’s the same old thing for anyone who knows his history. One could no more trust what he says about evangelicalism as one could trust a person fired from a job to tell the truth about his or her boss. Cheers.

    • Dorfl

      One could no more trust what he says about evangelicalism as one could
      trust a person fired from a job to tell the truth about his or her boss

      That problem is hard to get around, isn’t it?

      You can’t trust someone to tell the truth about the boss who fired them. But you also can’t trust anything said about that boss by the people still working for them – not if they have to say it in public and want to keep their jobs.

    • John W. Loftus

      Dorfl, we must always consider the source, that’s all. Evangelicals have a vested interested in only publishing evangelical stuff, and they have a right to determine whether or not what they are asked to publish has any merit. So? They don’ think so. That’s it.

    • Sven2547

      One could no more trust what he says about evangelicalism as one could trust a person fired from a job to tell the truth about his or her boss.

      I can think of a major problem with your comparison: Evangalical Christianity didn’t fire him. He wasn’t kicked out. He left, of his own volition, because he had problems with it. How you’re saying it’s fair to distrust his word precisely because he has problems with it?

  • John Hodges

    A post I made on my own blog in November 2011: Atheism and Honesty.

    Tom Jacobs has an article on AlterNet: Why Are People Still Afraid of Atheism?

    The major point of the article is that atheists are less trusted because they don’t believe that they are constantly watched by supernatural enforcers of social norms.

    I suggest this reply: People do not become atheists for the sake of popularity or emotional comfort. Usually, they become atheists because honesty compels.

    That is, people become atheists because they value truth over comfort. They accept unpleasant conclusions, such as: there is no afterlife, no Heaven, and no guarantee of justice; there is no supernatural loving parent to help them in times of trouble. They accept the reality of death, and the absence of safety in this world.

    Therefore, we should expect that typically atheists will be honest people.

    Given that atheism is an unpopular position, one which inspires distrust and hostility from the majority, anyone who is OPENLY atheist, “out of the closet”, is even more likely to be an honest person.

  • dexeron

    Much like you, I went through a period where I still really did believe that religion makes people better, instead of understanding that good religious people are merely good people who would have been good regardless of faith. It’s very easy to extend that to all other members of ones group: so in my case, I’d give the benefit of the doubt to christians, or to conservatives (groups neither of which I am a member anymore) instead of realizing that it was really just my own attempts to justify my own “goodness.” It’s sloppy thinking, and allows one to gloss over bad behavior when it deserves to be called out, but I think it’s something everyone goes through if they are evolving from one set of beliefs to another. It’s hard to break free from previous in-groups and earlier modes of thought.

  • Pofarmer

    Dan, I don’t know if you have addressed this, or if you care, but how do you handle Catholics? They don’t necessarily care about Biblical innerancy, but they will testify that everything the Catholic Church teaches is true, even if that is Dogma that is built on a layer of the Bible that is known false, such as all the “natural law” that is based on the doctrine of the fall, and how we are all sinful and need saving because of that. Catholics seem almost unreachable, because their Doctrine basically says that they will believe what the Church teaches, and that is it. If the churches actions don’t match up to it’s teachings, then so what, the Church still teaches it. This is one of the things that makes me curious about how people like Leah Libresco get/got sucked in.

  • Brian Murtagh

    I work with various flavours of fundamentalist Christians, including hard-core Biblical literalists who not only say every word in the Bible is true, but insist it is true in every translation, not just the autographs, and that this is itself proof of the divine nature of the book. When I point out some of the undeniable internal contradictions (the two different accounts of Genesis, the two genealogies of Jesus) they will sometimes try to tap-dance around them, but eventually it comes down to “I don’t understand how it can be literally true in both places either, Brian… but it IS!!!”

    They seem sincere, too. If they are, they not only live in a different reality from me, they live in an entirely different *kind* of reality from me. Or, you know, they simply have a socially acceptable form of insanity.

    • Anton

      This is just a modern way of getting certainty-for-free. Dennett talked about this in Breaking the Spell: any old heathen can affirm something that’s reasonable, but the true test of faith is professing belief in something that can’t be true.

      Certain religious mysteries are supposed to subvert rational thinking and make the believer access an intuition that transcends human understanding. Zen ko-ans are supposed to illustrate paradoxes, and the mystery of the Trinity is meant to be contemplated without the urge to “solve” the apparent contradiction. But these exercises are intended to emphasize the non-rational aspect of belief and make the believer more comfortable with ambiguity, not to give him license to feel smug in his certainty.

      And as long as we’re talking about contradictions and reality, quantum mechanics and general relativity are scientific constructs with a high level of experimental validation even though they’re completely incompatible. That is, they’re both “literally true” and contradict one another. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t understand how they could both be true (or the arcane physics that have been proposed to reconcile them). Is this a socially acceptable form of insanity too?

    • Brian Murtagh

      I don’t agree that the cases are parallel. My literalist friends are saying that two sets of incompatible facts are both true, and waving away the need for conciling them. The scientists are agreed on the facts, even where they are counterintuitive, and (crucially) are also in agreement that the incompatible theories of relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be fully correct precisely because they are contradictory, even though they are both usefully predictive within different domains.

    • Anton

      Brian, I agree that the cases of Biblical literalism and advanced physics aren’t comparable. All I meant to point out is our level of comfort with the idea of paradox or ambiguity. The rigidity of the fundamentalist’s imagination makes him declare that the Bible is literally true no matter what the text actually says. He’s uncomfortable with the ambiguity of having to decide what’s literal and what’s not.

      But let’s be fair here. I don’t think religious concepts have to be as literally true as scientific constructs. The symbols of religious mythology are meant to help people conceptualize things that our rational, conscious mind can’t. Maybe the way we gain knowledge about natural phenomena isn’t applicable to all knowledge. Could it be that the fundies and the arch-atheists are both just as uncomfortable with the idea of not knowing?

    • Brian Murtagh

      I can certainly see that argument as applied to mysteries of faith like whether the nature of God is unitary or triune, but they are insisting in a literal interpretation that Joseph’s father was a man named Heli *and* a man named Jacob. I have discussed these matters at length and they are not saying these things are symbolic but that they are literal. When asked how two different men could both be the fathers of the same man they admit it’s nonsensical but insist that it still had to be literally (not symbolically) true in both cases.

  • Geena Safire

    “The most important personal quality in human relations is sincerity. Once you can fake that well, you’ve got it made.” –unknown