Dialogue with a Deconvert on Deconversion, Part II

Dialogue with a Deconvert on Deconversion, Part II October 9, 2019

See Part I for background. This is a continuation of that discussion, after Joe Omundson, who runs the website, Recovering from Religion: Ex-Communications, made a second lengthy counter-reply in the combox. His words will be in blue.

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Thanks for your additional reply. I’d like especially to clarify a few things where either you misunderstood or I did not express my view clearly enough, and make some other responses. Perhaps that may set us on a course of even more fruitful dialogue and mutual understanding.

I don’t think fundamentalism is equivalent to Christianity, but I don’t think it isn’t Christianity either. 

I never said it wasn’t Christianity. It’s highly flawed Christianity: so much so that it sets off so many thousands of people straight to atheism . . .

I still think it’s a valid choice to reject fundamentalism and the rest of Christianity / all religions at the same time.

I don’t see how. It’s as if you are equating the two, when you just said you didn’t. We may call fundamentalism FC and more mainstream orthodox Christianity OC. They both share the C but are different forms of the C, just as (not a perfect analogy, but . . .) water and carbon dioxide both share oxygen but are different. Thus, logically, to reject FC is not the same as rejecting OC.

Now, if you are merely saying that all can be rejected in one fell swoop, at one time, then to my mind you would have to have additional (solid) reasons to reject OC, where it differed from FC. If someone just says, “to hell with all religion,” then that is usually mostly an emotional rather than logical / intellectual decision.

In the case of fundamentalists, they are usually mainly rejecting what they know, and (by their own account; not my mere speculation) it’s usually misguided, false aspects of fundamentalism. Having replied to many of these deconversion stories (probably 75% from former fundamentalists), I have observed this pattern over and over.

I also don’t think anyone needs an “excuse” to dismiss Christianity. It’s not an imperative. Just like you don’t need an excuse to dismiss Islam or Buddhism.

In our relativist / postmodernist / subjective world, no. They don’t, anymore than they need an excuse to change preference from vanilla to chocolate ice cream. But in the world of reason and logic, they do need such reasons: or at least such sufficient and adequate reasons ought to exist somewhere (people being of widely varying levels of education and knowledge) in the world of academia and folks like me who provide reasons for why we believe what we believe, and why we reject other religious and philosophical viewpoints.

But you might be making assumptions about people’s thought processes.

Maybe. But as I see it, I’m simply responding to expressed opinions. That’s what socratics do, and I am one of those.

Just because someone presents the most significant personal reasons for leaving fundamentalist Christianity doesn’t mean they don’t also have nuanced reasons for rejecting liberal Christianity. It just wasn’t the focal point of their own experience.

Understood. As I said, I am responding (with these deconversions) to what is written, not what is not written (which is only common sense). There may be all the submitted reasons in the world for why they changed their view, but I can only respond to what I see. And in this case, and all others so far in such analyses, I have not seen sufficient reason to reject all of Christianity.

You guys are always demanding reasons from us. I’m simply doing the same thing back. And it’s universally disliked, believe me. You have expressed one of the milder reactions, but then again, we’re not dealing with your story, so you are one huge step removed from it.

Well, that’s convenient isn’t it? How did you conclude this is the “proper” view of biblical interpretation? . . . What gives you the power to decide which parts are literal and which ones aren’t? Do sections shift from literal to symbolic as science advances? 

It’s like anything else: the consensus of those (scholars and devoted amateurs like myself) who study the Bible in great depth is that it (like, in fact, all literature) has different genres, which must be understood in order to be properly interpreted. It would be like scientists talking about the nature of scientific evidence of hypotheses.

Someone comes along and asks, “well, that’s convenient isn’t it? How did you conclude this is the “proper” view of scientific evidences and hypotheses? . . . What gives you the power to decide that?” And the answer is the same: this is the consensus of scientists.

Lots of other Christians have a wide spectrum of opinions on how to interpret these things. And they’re all convinced they have the “proper view, of course.”

Absolutely. Again, like any other field of knowledge, it takes study to develop a consistent and plausible hermeneutics and exegesis. As in all fields, there are people who go down wrong paths and who reject the consensus. The problem in Christianity is that we have millions of folks who say they still believe in it but who have rejected key parts of it (liberal theology). They are being intellectually dishonest in a similar way as young earth creationists or geocentrists are not really doing science, even though they are convinced they are.

. . . To me this very much comes across as starting with the conclusion and then finding an interpretation that fits it. Cherry picking. You can do the same with any holy book.

That’s how you would see it, yes. You are wrong. What you describe is called eisegesis (reading into Scripture what we want, from our prior intellectual commitments and opinions). That’s the very worst way to approach the Bible or any piece of literature.

We might have a miscommunication about the semantics of this. My definition of fundamentalism might not be the same as yours — but when I say I oppose it, what I mean is that I oppose people pushing the idea that there’s a literal hell, and a literal heaven,

That’s true of virtually all Christians at all times, and is simply Christianity, not fundamentalism. Jesus talked more about hell than about heaven.

and the only way to get there is through the correct form of religion,

Fundamentalists and Calvinists think that, but not the vast majority of Christians now and throughout history. St. Paul in Romans 2 makes it pretty clear that those who haven’t heard or understood the gospel can possibly be saved. To sum up: we’re judged by what we know and how we act upon it.

and you must evangelize your friends and neighbors and children to accept this idea, and sacrifice your life on earth for that eternal end.

Christians are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ and salvation (evangelism). Sadly, most don’t. And many who do, do so in an obnoxious and ineffective way.

I think that’s a virus on humanity that harms people deeply. I don’t care much if it’s called evangelicalism or fundamentalism.

I disagree as to the false parts of that, but with regard to what I have expressed, I couldn’t disagree more strongly than I do.

Generally speaking, we support people who are already on the path of leaving any kind of religion, because we believe such belief systems are illogical and can be damaging, so that’s the kind of content I post . . . 

Exactly what I was saying: your site is opposed to religion, period, not just Christian fundamentalism. Thanks for making my point for me again. And that gets back to, again, why I would spend my time critiquing one of the articles on your site.

But I think when your content makes personal attacks about ex-believers’ faculty of reasoning

To critique another’s reasoning is not to make a personal attack. I could see how it might feel that way, but it is not, because a person is not the same as his or her beliefs. They are two different things. I’m disagreeing with you now, but I am not attacking you personally to the slightest degree.

it comes across as kind of desperate. Are you threatened by what we have to say?

No, not in the least bit. That’s how you see it. I see it as simply honest, passionate disagreement on the topic of whether Christianity is a good and true thing or a false and bad thing. You defend your positions; I defend mine. Apologetics is not “desperation”; it’s the thinking process applied to religion.

You guys so often make out that Christians are dummies and ignoramuses (check out just about any combox of atheist sites online; I’ve never found one that didn’t do this, and quite a bit at that: usually the leading theme by far), yet when you run across an apologist who is certainly seeking to be rational and reasonable in religious matters, you start making this sort of quack psychoanalysis (which — ironically — is actually ad hominem or personal attack). There is no call for that.

That’s interesting that you say that, because I’ve been told many times that any true Christian would experience God’s love in such a profound way that they could never dream of leaving him. At least, that’s how my story has been discredited — I must have never been a true believer, if I ended up leaving, because if I’d really believed I would have never changed my mind…

Exactly, because that’s the fundamentalist and Calvinist line, and it is false, because it’s unbiblical (as well as viciously logically circular), as I have argued many times. The Bible, in my opinion, and that of the vast majority of Christians now and all through history. teaches that someone can be a true believer and still fall from grace and salvation. If you want to see where it teaches that, I’ll be more than happy to show you.

So what do you think makes a person want to hang around atheists and agnostics rather than other Christians? What led them to seek these alternative perspectives?

There could be any number of reasons. How could I possibly answer such a question (i.e., broadly)? We would have to ask them to see why they wanted to do so. To take Don R’s case as an example, he told us what started the ball rolling: “I believed in a literal interpretation of the bible, and to hear that someone who was as fully devoted as I was could believe in evolution was really difficult.”

He was wrong in thinking that the Bible was always to be interpreted literally, and that no Christian could possibly believe in the Bible and evolution, too, so when he discovered someone did that, it rocked his world. It was the first domino to fall.

So sometimes, folks with that background will “ride” that shock emotion and move on to start rejecting Christianity altogether, because they were never taught proper biblical interpretation and in many cases, not taught true doctrine, either. That’s just one of hundreds of possible reasons. We decide who we will start listening to and who is gonna influence us the most.

We are what we eat. So we better get it right what we decide to eat, or else we should read both sides of big disputes and make up our mind in the most objective way possible.

Isn’t God captivating enough to hold a believer’s attention?

Absolutely. But the heart can’t rejoice in what the mind rejects as false. If we don’t know and study and live our faith, and don;t know why we believe it (apologetics), that same faith teaches that the world, the flesh, and the devil can come along and erode our faith and cause us to fall away. The Bible warns about it. Even the apostle Paul said that it could happen to him if he wasn’t vigilant.

I just think you could be more effective with a less reactionary approach. It feels like you’re threatened by what these stories are saying, . . .

Now you’re back to quack psychoanalysis again . . . you can do better than this. But if simple honest disagreement is being a “reactionary” then I am proud to be one, because all it is is thinking and using our noggin.

First you say: it can’t be expected to be scientifically accurate, as it was written by pre-science cultures. But then you say it is in fact scientifically accurate and so this proves its accuracy (implying that the anti-scientific parts should also be considered to detract from its accuracy). So which is it?

This misrepresents what I stated, which was this:

It’s not a scientific treatise. It came from a pre-scientific culture (which even the ancient Greeks still were) and speaks in phenomenological terms. Yet what it teaches is true, and it sometimes touches tangentially on scientific matters.

My point was not that it was scientifically inaccurate, but that it was not scientifically technical, and not a scientific treatise, since it came from a pre-scientific culture. If I say, “the sun rose at 6 AM” (as any meteorologist might also say), I am making an accurate statement (from a phenomenological, non-technical point of view). That’s exactly what the Bible does.

Then I gave the example of “the principles of hygiene and proper sewage and disease control” and challenged you to explain how the Bible cold get this right, where science didn’t have a clue till the 1800s. I was writing today in another article how the Bible doesn’t accept the existence of mythical animals, whereas even Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79), the Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, who wrote the 37-volume Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias, believed in legendary creatures such as the manticore, basilisk, werewolf,  catoblepas, and phoenix.

Likewise, HerodotusOvid, and Virgil all wrote seriously about werewolves. The Bible never does; nor does it accept any mythical animal as literally real.

As for that specific example, assuming it is true, why should it be surprising that some people discovered good hygiene standards before it was widespread? All kinds of different advancements are made by different cultures across history…

Oh, I agree. It doesn’t make sense only if one regards the Bible writers as ignorant iron age troglodytes (as a million atheists I have come across, do), while scientists are virtually infallible and the new gods. So given that background and baggage, I asked, “how could that be?”

In other words, how could this ancient people figure this out, whereas the “far superior” modern scientist did not till the 19th century. In any event, the Bible got that right, and it’s the perfect example of how it is scientifically accurate, while at the same time it expresses itself in pre-scientific modes of thought.

Or you could just observe that humans have the capacity for both of what we consider “good” and “bad”, regardless of what they believe, and leave out the mythological backstory that any religion uses as a metaphor.

The first clause is obvious and self-evident, but it is desirable to have a deeper understanding of why that is: why human beings are capable of such good and nobility, but also such wicked, heinous evil. I think original sin is a pretty plausible hypothesis. It’s certainly more plausible than the notion that all men are naturally good and only corrupted by their environments, or saying that all men are utterly wicked, with no good in them at all (Calvinist supralapsarianism).

If the truth is that Jesus dwells inside believers, that he washes them and breaks their bondage to sin (while the rest of the world are still slaves to sin), you’d generally expect see some decrease in “sinfulness”/strife/division/pride compared to the rest of the population, wouldn’t you?

Yes, if the Christian is truly following Him and doing what He commands them to do. I totally agree. But its a hard road, so most of us only show signs here and there of sanctity or holiness. What really reveals this are the saints.

Otherwise, what power does Jesus have? Believing in him has not seemed to reliably make people act better. I think if you explain the divisions in Christianity by saying that all humans are sinful, you’re admitting that being saved has little or no effect on a person.

There are signs that Christianity does indeed have a positive effect, as indicated even in secular sociological literature. For example, I have written about how committed Christian married couples (according to controlled sociological studies) are happier and have far less divorce, and even (surprise!) more sexual fulfillment.

There are other indications as well, that support traditional Christian family and sexual morality, such as studies showing that absence of a mother or father in the home is harmful, or that cohabitation is a strong predictor of increased chances for later divorce (if they ever marry). For example, a 2014 article in The Atlantic stated:

Since the 1970’s, study after study found that living together before marriage could undercut a couple’s future happiness and ultimately lead to divorce. On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married.

I would also note that it is established that political conservatives (who strongly tend to be more religious) give more to charity than liberals do, and Christians give more than atheists.

OK, then you can probably understand why many people, who were severely traumatized and depressed within various kinds of religion, and who find a great deal of relief, joy, and purpose in non-theistic worldviews, might be passionate about that transition as well.

Certainly.

. . . your bad experience with “practical atheism/occultism” does nothing to discredit agnosticism or atheism as a whole. I’m sorry you spent 6 months in serious clinical depression. I’m glad you’re feeling better now. But being an agnostic atheist, for me and many others, has been nothing but a massive relief and a source of freedom and meaning.

I’m just saying that they could find a much more fulfilling and rewarding way: one of inner peace and joy and the deepest purpose and meaning. My life was transformed, too. And many millions of Christians can give this same testimony.

We’re not perfect; we still sin (as Christianity teaches us to fully expect), but our lives are tangibly different. You can point to a thousand lousy, hypocritical Christians out there. I’d probably agree on most of ’em. But there are many positive examples, too.

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Photo credit: Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, by Jan van Eyck (bet. 1430 and 1432) [Wikipedia / public domain]

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