Trusting the Evidence, Following the Questions and Finding Your Own Way

Trusting the Evidence, Following the Questions and Finding Your Own Way March 7, 2019

Editor’s Note: I’m so glad to hear from this former Methodist Clergy Project member. He addresses the kinds of issues I’ve been thinking about since the worldwide United Methodist Church voted to exclude openly LGBTQ members. This post makes a case for why liberal Christianity won’t survive unless its proponents drastically change their thinking – and their expectations of “God.”  I hope they are paying attention. /Linda LaScola, Editor

=========================

By Paul Adams

I used to work for a number of United Methodist churches before making a total break from church life over five years ago.

While my religious identity and work are far behind me, I still quietly read the writings of some former colleagues online, as well as notable authors in the broader religious world that used to influence me. I do this primarily as a personal exercise in order to learn how my transition away from religion affects the way I take in and interpret information.

Therefore, I was in an interesting position to note the reactions to the United Methodist Church’s decision to reinforce its conservative position on sexuality. The church’s fight isn’t my fight anymore, and their decision one way or the other doesn’t matter that much to my current life.

But as I applied my new skeptical lens on life to the perspectives of those I used to work and serve with, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness. My sadness isn’t about the church’s decision per se, but by the tools (or lack of them) used to deal with the decision by those affected by it.

What I’m seeing over and over again among the religious liberals are people making passionate claims about what God is going to do very soon in order to:

  1. Bring about a new era of prosperity for liberal churches
  2. Bring about a new era of suffering for conservative churches
  3. Magically make everything better by somehow reversing the decision, or rendering it powerless
  4. Magically [insert liberal religion friendly wish here]

I’m also seeing endless complaining from the liberals on how the conservatives dared to use political tactics to outmaneuver them in the decision making process. Instead, the liberals imply the conservatives should have just (somehow) avoided politics altogether and dutifully listened to their liberal sermons about theology instead until enough of them converted and the liberals won. As if that wouldn’t be politics!

What I’m seeing is that every single claim these writers ultimately rest upon a claim about who God is and what  God does.

It seems to be the only tool in their box.

But let’s try a thought exercise here. What if God doesn’t exist? What if atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are right?

What are the consequences of that in this situation?

Here are some of my hypotheses:

  1. All the claims about who God is, and how that matters to the issue at hand, are a pointless waste of time and energy. No truth will be discerned from such claims.
  2. All the claims about what God is going to do are crap. None of those things will happen. This will frighten the few Christians that choose to pay attention and consider this evidence. Most will be too scared to think about it.
  3. This conflict is nothing more than what is appears to be from the outside. It is a proxy war using sexuality as the pretext for the true fight, which is about gaining power over people, having control over money and pensions and (particularly in the United Methodist system) having control over the ownership of buildings and property.
  4. Christians, whether conservative or liberal, won’t have a single religious justification for their beliefs about sexuality that most non-religious people will buy for a second. That means that it is unlikely that any Christians will find lasting allies outside of their own ranks on this topic. Non-religious people have nothing to gain by trying to add dubious religious claims to their arguments.
  5. Liberal Christians don’t seem to have any non-religious basis they are willing to draw upon to support their beliefs about sexuality. This means that it is very likely that as God continues to fail to act in restoring them to power in their church, the liberals will lose an increasing percentage of their membership to the ranks of atheists and agnostics, whose arguments are more likely to be based on actual evidence instead of fairytales.

One of the most prominent Methodist leaders of recent history lets on that he strongly suspects that God didn’t do anything throughout the process. In the Christian Century magazine on February 27th, 2019, retired Methodist bishop William H. Willimon writes:

“Before the United Methodist Special General Conference opened on Saturday, we prayed. Perhaps God would miraculously grant a fruitful discussion among 800 disputants who have very little in common except for our cross-and-flame nametags. We prayed for openness to different points of view, unity, communion, gracious listening, holy conferencing, empathetic feelings, and generosity of spirit. It didn’t work…The Lord, as far as I could tell, had business elsewhere.”

But instead of actually trusting his accurate read of the overwhelming evidence that God did nothing, and drawing the correct conclusion that his all-powerful God effectively didn’t exist at the most critical moment in the last 50 years of the United Methodist Church, he falls right back into the trap of magical thinking. He explains away the utterly neglectful behavior, callous inaction, and uncaring apathy of his God by claiming that God will just magically show up in a different way later. He doesn’t even try to offer any evidence for his bizarre conclusion that:

“… the Holy Spirit doesn’t work from the top down. The Spirit does good from the bottom up, through God’s hijinks in the local church…by God’s grace, this train wreck may give us the opportunity to rediscover the power of the local and congregational.”

If a congregation began to target gays and used Willimon’s justification that it was the Holy Spirit working through “hijinks in their local church”, Willimon almost certainly wouldn’t accept it. Assuming he did not accept it, this would reveal the desperate posturing at the heart of his argument, where he is looking for another way for God to truly “come out” and be revealed as a liberal. Willimon is waiting and hoping for some kind of action by that liberal God to justify this, and since (by his own admission) God hasn’t shown up in the larger church bodies, the local churches are all he has left. Alas, God has yet to do anything, as Willimon himself concedes. Could it simply be that God doesn’t exist? That would explain – well, everything.

What I want to tell my former colleagues is that there is no magical supernatural being in the sky that is going to save them from the mess they are in. They will have to find their own way forward and discover a sense of secular ethics grounded in actual reality, and not the blind wishful thinking that has brought them to this point.

For most of them, this will be too painful of an admission to make, and too difficult of a transition to consider. As a member of the Clergy Project who has made this transition myself, I know firsthand how admitting that religion is a fantasy – when you feel like your life depends upon it – utterly tears you apart. It destroys relationships, families, and entire social networks and means of support. For those of us in the professional ranks, it destroys careers and leaves us scrambling for options to feed our families and ourselves. It makes us feel ashamed about what we had decided to do with our lives and afraid to admit that to anyone – even those we are closest to.

And as someone who has come out the other side of that transition, I can tell you that no matter how painful it was, the sense of freedom and the ability to make my own path (without depending on a non-existent magical being who does absolutely nothing) has been completely worth it. It hurt like hell – and I would do it again in a second.

I hope that if the recent events in the United Methodist church have left you lost, confused, angry or questioning what is really true, then I want to tell you that following those questions to their logical conclusion could be the best decision you ever made.

If honestly following those questions means that you need support along the way, then help is there if you need it: www.clergyproject.org

=====================

Bio: Paul Adams converted to Christianity as an adult as a way to seek truth in the universe before finally coming to the conclusion that he was looking in the wrong place. He is a seminary graduate who worked in a number of church leadership roles for many years. Today, he happily works in non-profit leadership, and gratefully applies the lessons of his past to his current work.

>>>>>>>Photo Credits:  By The original uploader was Pollicitus at English Wikipedia. http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1563, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8675123 ; “Creation of the Sun and Moon face detail” by Michelangelo – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/media/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg; “Four Horsemen” by DIREKTOR, based on works by listed authors. – Richard Dawkins, File:Richard Dawkins Cooper Union Shankbone.jpg. Author: User:David Shankbone.Christopher Hitchens, File:Christopher Hitchens crop 2.jpg. Author: ensceptico.Daniel Dennett, File:Daniel dennett Oct2008.JPG. Author: User:Mathias Schindler.Sam Harris, File:Sam Harris 01.jpg. Author: unknown. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Four_Horsemen.jpg#/media/File:Four_Horsemen.jpg

"I guess some of us really rely on our beliefs as a coping tool. Losing ..."

Homosexuality in the Bible (and the ..."
"If that’s the only reason to believe then it explains why so many don’t!"

Non-Christian Sources for Jesus: An Interview ..."
"I perhaps put that badly. I am coming from the point of view that the ..."

Non-Christian Sources for Jesus: An Interview ..."
"I don't doubt that you are knowledgeable in biology, but its clear that you don't ..."

Non-Christian Sources for Jesus: An Interview ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • ThaneOfDrones

    … will lose an increasing percentage of their membership to the ranks of
    atheists and agnostics, whose arguments are more likely to be based on
    actual evidence instead of fairytales.

    What is the percentage of people who are interested in “actual evidence”? Religion has always been popular. Likewise with astrology and numerous other unevidenced belief systems.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I don’t know, but I’d say “Growing” simply because the trend is away from religion. It’s hard to think that so many people would drift away as adults if they thought the claims of religion were factual. In my case,

      I slowly drifted away as an adult because so much of what I’d learned didn’t make sense. I wasn’t angry about it. I just didn’t want to be involved any more and there was no outside pressure to be involved.

      I think a lot of people are raised, as I was, by parents who themselves are not very religious, but thought it was good for their kids to learn about religion — and perhaps the parents felt societal pressure as well, to belong to a church. All that is changing now, so fewer people will be exposed to religion as children.

      • Paul Adams

        My data reference point for this is the Pew Research study here: https://www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/

        In particular, the graph labeled “A Generational Shift in Religious Identity” pretty much tells the story for me. Events like the Methodist church fight will either have no effect, or will increase the numbers of the unaffiliated…I can’t see any justification why it would increase religiosity across the board. The numbers shown in the Pew study are going to crush conservative churches just as well as liberal ones, regardless of the “winner” of the recent dispute.

    • Milo C

      I don’t know that the percentage is important. You make a good point that progress over religion is not necessarily inevitable.

      • Linda_LaScola

        I think progress is inevitable — unless there is another dark ages where all the books are burned and technology is destroyed.

        However, I don’t think religion will ever be irradiated- or needs to be. It seems natural to some people to feel that there’s “something” out there.

        • Jim Jones

          This could be a cycle – unfortunately.

          • ThaneOfDrones

            Perhaps. If you read Ingersoll, he was talking as if religion was already on its way out in the latter 19th century.

          • Paul Adams

            It is so difficult to predict the future. The Christian Century magazine, which I quoted in the article, was so named because of the late 19th / early 20th century assumption (based on their current observations) that the entire world would effectively become Christian by the end of the 20th century – hence the name The Christian Century. It turns out that observation was wildly incorrect.

            Will our observations and predictions today still hold up 100 years from now?

          • Linda_LaScola

            Well, I think religion did start on its way out in the latter 19th century. That’s when scholars started studying the Bible academically and archeologists started looking (in vain) for evidence of biblical stories.

            These things take time – especially when the religious establishment is fighting against such efforts and the people like the idea of going to heaven and avoiding hell.

        • ElizabetB.

          Linda, I like your auto-correct — likely, religion does need to be irradiated : )

        • Paul Adams

          I strongly suspect that there is some kind of genetic component to religiosity, or at least factors that indirectly influence it. If so, religion in some form is likely always with us…

    • Paul Adams

      You make a fair comment. I do not believe for a second this will be a flood, but simply that the huge emotions (particularly anger and disappointment) will lead those Methodists whose connection to religion was already tenuous to make the final leap away from religion.

      My experience with the Clergy Project leads me to believe that most of these breaks from religion will not be public, but will happen quietly in the minds of frustrated church members and leaders. I am seeing a lot of public support for liberal Methodists who are declaring they are breaking away from the church, including some very public leaders I used to directly work with (that I won’t identify here since I don’t have their permission to do so).

      I doubt the same level of support would be manifested for people who declared they were breaking away from God. If this is true, it would explain why few people are choosing to do so publically at this time.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Very thoughtful article. Thanks.

    Metaphors be with you.

    • Paul Adams

      Glad you liked it. And your metaphor of choice be with you too!

  • Jim Jones

    > It didn’t work…The Lord, as far as I could tell, had business elsewhere.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9mhsW5aWJM

  • ElizabetB.

    I love your quest “to seek truth in the universe”!

    As a freethinker who’s still connected with the church, and who thinks more in terms of god as symbol for the good, I’ve been interested to read the process theologians who argue that the idea of an “almighty” god is not defendable — in the view of one, an unfortunate translation of “El Shaddai” that’s been perpetuated. A book just coming out — “God Can’t” by Oord — argues that the power of god is the power of non-coercive love that runs through all things. Seems like he would offer an alternative to the conclusion of “no god” — instead, god as a power of love that is with all those being hurt and with those continuing to relentlessly advocate for them. After reading your post, I listened to Oord on Homebrewed Christianity and noted that he did speak of god as “a being” at one point, which I don’t think is widely shared in process thought. (Many TCP members know more about this than I do!)

    I am heartbroken for the UMC decision’s effects, and, since it sounds like much of the traditional push came from Africa, I’m thinking maybe the UMC has been presented a particularly difficult challenge — to protect and esteem people not only here in the US, but also on the African continent. Takes longer. And the vote was close!

    • Paul Adams

      Thank you – I’ve always had a strong sense that I want to find out what is actually true (not what I assume to be true, or want to be true), and live my life in alignment with that. I also enjoy the role of being a “truth-teller” in organizations, not because I have some monopoly on this, but because I’ve seen the value to others when one person in the organization intentionally distances themselves from the concerns about what anyone wants, and simply focuses on what “is”. My goal with this article was simply to tell the truth as closely as I can see it, without regards to trying to declare my loyalty to either side – because I’m not the kind of person who can be loyal to any non-rational / non-skeptical ideology.

      I have family members who are well aligned with you, whose belief – if it can be called that – is strongly aligned with God as metaphor and community and not with any particular religious tenet as preached by the leaders. Had I grown up in a church that was very positive and supporting of me, I might be in the same position as them, and continue to attend and participate.

      However, my personal background means my only connection to religion has been as an adult, making it more intellectual and less emotional, and so I can’t bring myself to attend or participate in church anymore now that I have learned what I have. I respect people who are part of any type of community (conservative, liberal, whatever) who represent non-coercive love like yourself. I think it is the essence of humanism that we judge people based on their actions – not their beliefs or their tribes.

      Had the liberal Methodists played their politics differently, I believe they could have won…but it all would have been in long-term strategic decisions, not short-term tactical decisions. What I mean is that if they knew 10 years ago that what just happened was going to be the result, they could spent a decade quietly cutting deals and securing that last little bit of support they needed…but I feel like they were too naive and just thought they could have an open discussion and win. Sorry, but politics don’t work that way.

      On the other side, if 10 years ago they knew this would be the result, they could have instead turned inward and strongly brought their members into line, and told them to only wait for the right opportunity to have the fight. This might mean the public sexuality vote would have been delayed until 2030, but I think in 2030 the liberals would win the vote easily – even with the global conservative connections.

    • Paul Adams

      Thank you – I’ve always had a strong sense that I want to find out what is actually true (not what I assume to be true, or want to be true), and live my life in alignment with that. I also enjoy the role of being a “truth-teller” in organizations, not because I have some monopoly on this, but because I’ve seen the value to others when one person in the organization intentionally distances themselves from the concerns about what anyone wants, and simply focuses on what “is”. My goal with this article was simply to tell the truth as closely as I can see it, without regards to trying to declare my loyalty to either side – because I’m not the kind of person who can be loyal to any non-rational / non-skeptical ideology.

      I have family members who are well aligned with you, whose belief – if it can be called that – is strongly aligned with God as metaphor and community and not with any particular religious tenet as preached by the leaders. Had I grown up in a church that was very positive and supporting of me, I might be in the same position as them, and continue to attend and participate.

      However, my personal background means my only connection to religion has been as an adult, making it more intellectual and less emotional, and so I can’t bring myself to attend or participate in church anymore now that I have learned what I have. I respect people who are part of any type of community (conservative, liberal, whatever) who represent non-coercive love like yourself. I think it is the essence of humanism that we judge people based on their actions – not their beliefs or their tribes.

      Had the liberal Methodists played their politics differently, I believe they could have won…but it all would have been in long-term strategic decisions, not short-term tactical decisions. What I mean is that if they knew 10 years ago that what just happened was going to be the result, they could spent a decade quietly cutting deals and securing that last little bit of support they needed…but I feel like they were too naive and just thought they could have an open discussion and win. Sorry, but politics don’t work that way.

      On the other side, if 10 years ago they knew this would be the result, they could have instead turned inward and strongly brought their members into line, and told them to only wait for the right opportunity to have the fight. This might mean the public sexuality vote would have been delayed until 2030, but I think in 2030 the liberals would win the vote easily – even with the global conservative connections.

    • Paul Adams

      Thank you – I’ve always had a strong sense that I want to find out what is actually true (not what I assume to be true, or want to be true), and live my life in alignment with that. I also enjoy the role of being a “truth-teller” in organizations, not because I have some monopoly on this, but because I’ve seen the value to others when one person in the organization intentionally distances themselves from the concerns about what anyone wants, and simply focuses on what “is”. My goal with this article was simply to tell the truth as closely as I can see it, without regards to trying to declare my loyalty to either side – because I’m not the kind of person who can be loyal to any non-rational / non-skeptical ideology.

      I have family members who are well aligned with you, whose belief – if it can be called that – is strongly aligned with God as metaphor and community and not with any particular religious tenet as preached by the leaders. Had I grown up in a church that was very positive and supporting of me, I might be in the same position as them, and continue to attend and participate.

      However, my personal background means my only connection to religion has been as an adult, making it more intellectual and less emotional, and so I can’t bring myself to attend or participate in church anymore now that I have learned what I have. I respect people who are part of any type of community (conservative, liberal, whatever) who represent non-coercive love like yourself. I think it is the essence of humanism that we judge people based on their actions – not their beliefs or their tribes.

      Had the liberal Methodists played their politics differently, I believe they could have won…but it all would have been in long-term strategic decisions, not short-term tactical decisions. What I mean is that if they knew 10 years ago that what just happened was going to be the result, they could spent a decade quietly cutting deals and securing that last little bit of support they needed…but I feel like they were too naive and just thought they could have an open discussion and win. Sorry, but politics don’t work that way.

      On the other side, if 10 years ago they knew this would be the result, they could have instead turned inward and strongly brought their members into line, and told them to only wait for the right opportunity to have the fight. This might mean the public sexuality vote would have been delayed until 2030, but I think in 2030 the liberals would win the vote easily – even with the global conservative connections.

    • Linda_LaScola

      FROM PAUL ADAMS:

      Thank you – I’ve always had a strong sense that I want to find out what is actually true (not what I assume to be true, or want to be true), and live my life in alignment with that. I also enjoy the role of being a “truth-teller” in organizations, not because I have some monopoly on this, but because I’ve seen the value to others when one person in the organization intentionally distances themselves from the concerns about what anyone wants, and simply focuses on what “is”. My goal with this article was simply to tell the truth as closely as I can see it, without regards to trying to declare my loyalty to either side – because I’m not the kind of person who can be loyal to any non-rational / non-skeptical ideology.

      I have family members who are well aligned with you, whose belief – if it can be called that – is strongly aligned with God as metaphor and community and not with any particular religious tenet as preached by the leaders. Had I grown up in a church that was very positive and supporting of me, I might be in the same position as them, and continue to attend and participate.

      However, my personal background means my only connection to religion has been as an adult, making it more intellectual and less emotional, and so I can’t bring myself to attend or participate in church anymore now that I have learned what I have. I respect people who are part of any type of community (conservative, liberal, whatever) who represent non-coercive love like yourself. I think it is the essence of humanism that we judge people based on their actions – not their beliefs or their tribes.

      Had the liberal Methodists played their politics differently, I believe they could have won…but it all would have been in long-term strategic decisions, not short-term tactical decisions. What I mean is that if they knew 10 years ago that what just happened was going to be the result, they could spent a decade quietly cutting deals and securing that last little bit of support they needed…but I feel like they were too naive and just thought they could have an open discussion and win. Sorry, but politics don’t work that way.

      On the other side, if 10 years ago they knew this would be the result, they could have instead turned inward and strongly brought their members into line, and told them to only wait for the right opportunity to have the fight. This might mean the public sexuality vote would have been delayed until 2030, but I think in 2030 the liberals would win the vote easily – even with the global conservative connections.

      [Posted by Linda LaScola – on behalf of Paul Adams. This is a stopgap method of getting his thoughts expressed until I solve the mystery of why this comment keeps disappearing.]

      • mason lane

        The vote just speeds up the sinking of an already sinking ship

      • ElizabetB.

        Reply to Paul —
        [& thanks to Linda for relay!]

        I hope that someday you will post about your journey, and quest for truth. Would be immensely interesting!

        Your observation that if you’d grown up in a positive church community, you can conceive that you might have kept some connections even after your understandings grew — that makes me reflect…. I wonder if liberal Christianity includes many who did NOT grow up in a church? Do many people associate as adult truth-seekers? Or are most liberal Christians either 1) those who transferred from conservative groups or 2) those who grew up as liberal “symbolic” Christian? Anyone know the provenance of lib Christians? [I stay connected in this progressively led but culturally conservative congregation for biographical reasons (really can’t imagine what an ideal group for me would look like!!) and enjoy likeminded groups like Poor People’s Campaign, racial unity dialog, plus Rational Doubt and tai chi to explore philosophy with : ) ]

        Thank you so much for exploring differences in the decision-making process! So interesting! Hope you keep writing!

        • ElizabetB.

          p.s. — “(really can’t imagine what an ideal group for me would look like!!)”
          It occurs to me later that maybe some sort of inter-faith [Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Baha’i, Christian, etc)] group that included any non-theists who would be open to gathering would be appealing. Criterion would be something like non-violence. People could take turns holding forth, offering meditations, music, advocacy, etc, and all reflect on the offerings…. would be fun to try that out. Maybe some of you are in groups like that…. Seems like it should be free-standing, not an outgrowth of any particular tradition….Sort of like Oasis but maybe more inclusive of “religious” types? Fun to think about : )

        • Paul Adams

          Thank you for your encouragement to write again. Your suggestion might be an interesting topic for me to share.

          My experience is that liberal Christianity tends to have even less adult converts than conservative Christianity, simply because the impulse to evangelize is seriously weakened when much of the congregation doesn’t believe in a concept like hell. The motivation to “save” people just isn’t there…it’s more about encouraging people to join a social club that the congregation thinks will have some positive effects on the lives of those that join. Consequently, relatively few people outside of the congregation ever find out it exists in the first place, except for (as an example) a homeless population dependent on the liberal congregation’s food bank, and that population by definition isn’t going to join a community in any kind of stable, consistent way.

          There are a few people who move from conservative churches into liberal ones…but the opposite occurs pretty much just as often. I noticed just as many people coming in the door complaining about conservative theology, as those walking out it complaining about liberal theology. I also rarely saw these “movers” stick around for long…they proudly declared their allegiance to the new church, but usually within a year had drifted to another congregation in town. Despite their claims, I don’t think they were looking for theology as much as community, and their lifetime of changing allegiances meant they rarely seemed to find the deep roots that the multi-generational families had. They just weren’t trusted to stick around, and consequently had a hard time making friends.

          Liberal churches have the same strong historical family ties as conservative ones, and have also relied on the same passing of the faith to their children as their primary means of survival and reproduction. For a time (say, the mid 1980s to the early 2000s), the liberals had a harder time doing this successfully than the conservatives, leading conservatives to claim that God was punishing liberals for their incorrect theology. In more recent history (as tracked by research groups like Pew in their 2017 study at https://www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/), white churches are all declining at similar rates regardless of theology.

  • Jennny

    Excellent article. It’s very similar to what Captain Cassidy posts, the delusional belief church leaders have that their latest idea for reviving their churches will be The One to reverse the trend. Members only need to embrace their new magical thinking, jesus on and jesus harder and people will return in droves. Often this requires buying that leader’s materials to find out this hotline-from-god-message for their lives/their church lives/their country or even their favourite sports team! When this latest fantasy idea fails, few seem to notice…they just go on to the next super-jesusy idea for revival, as useless as all the rest have been.

    • Paul Adams

      Thank you – I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      It is a fascinating pattern. I worked in a variety of religious contexts, conservative and liberal, and one of the odd things I noticed was how liberals would suddenly become (as you put it) “super-jesusy” only at three times: fundraising time, when a conservative preacher or organization was present in the audience, and times when things suddenly went very bad for them.

      At all other times, they were pretty content to take the entire thing as metaphor and have calm, intellectual discussions about the historical-critical approach to biblical scholarship. But if they needed money, needed to impress the neighbors, or felt threatened, watch out! You suddenly felt like you were in an evangelical time warp for a Sunday or two, before things reverted back to normal.

  • See Noevo

    It is a proxy war using sexuality as the
    pretext for the true fight, which is about gaining power over people, having
    control over money and pensions and … having control over the ownership of
    buildings and property.

    Which at bottom is the agenda of Liberalism/Progressivism.
    Although, besides perverse sexuality, global warming and socialism are also
    used.

    … it is very likely that as God continues
    to fail to act in restoring them to power in their church, the liberals will
    lose an increasing percentage of their membership to the ranks of atheists and
    agnostics…

    … but also to those forming some new, more liberal, protestant denominations (which, yes, ultimately lead them toward agnosticism
    and atheism).

    • Paul Adams

      To be fair, I do not blame the fight that has been building up in the Methodist church for decades on either particular side. I rather note that the Methodist church has communal property ownership laws, which means the body as a whole owns all the property, and the individual congregations effectively own nothing. This means that any congregation that splits off from the denomination for any reason loses its property (which is the one asset that, in the absence of a wealthy patron, they will have a very hard time recovering).

      I instead state that with any issue in which such a massive amount of resources is on the line (literally every piece of property), each side has a massive motivation to press the fight if they think they can win and gain all of the resources at the expense of the other.

      If I have a critique here, it is that theological ethics utterly failed to prevent either side from playing this zero-sum game. It really closely resembles a version of the classic “prisoner’s dilemma”, in which both sides decided to distrust the other, to the detriment of both. I suspect that the fallout from simply having this fight in such a centralized way, in an “all or nothing fashion”, is doing to seriously damage the remnants of both sides for a very long time.

      • See Noevo

        I suspect that the fallout from simply having this fight in such a centralized way, in an “all or nothing fashion”, is doing to seriously damage the remnants of both sides for a very long time.

        But isn’t that a good thing, in your view?
        In other words, might not this damage provide further impetus to give up on Christianity?

        • Paul Adams

          My feelings are mixed. I believe that, yes, it will give motivation for some people to give up on religion (particularly some liberals who were barely holding on to their faith as it was), and that in a general sense that is probably a good direction for most people to go in.

          But I think this approach is a particularly painful way to accomplish it, and I know so many people who are suffering through this process that it’s hard for me to personally call it good. In other words, even if I wanted to abolish all religion, I would not want to try to encourage or bring about public fights on sexuality as a way to accomplish that. Using a third party (the LBGTQ community) as a weapon or a tool to bring about a religious schism – one that might indirectly lead to a decline in religious participation – seems to me to be ethically indefensible.

          • See Noevo

            But I think this approach is a particularly painful way to accomplish it, and I know so many people who are suffering through this process that it’s hard for me to personally call it good.

            I don’t see why you would say that.
            Because earlier you wrote that the pain/suffering was more than worth it for you:

            And as someone who has come out the other side of that transition, I can tell you that no matter how painful it was,
            the sense of freedom and the ability to make my own path (without depending on a non-existent magical being who does absolutely nothing) has been completely worth it. It hurt like hell – and I would do it again in a second.

          • Paul Adams

            It is simply because I do not assume that other people have the same life experience, emotions, and thought processes that I do. I made my choice based on logic in part for sure, but I would be deluding myself if I thought my own unique emotional qualities (ones I didn’t choose and can’t control) had no role in my decision.

            I have a fundamental respect for the “other”. Other people are very different than me and will choose what they want to do with their own lives based on their own conclusions.

            The Clergy Project is effectively like an Alcoholics Anonymous group in this way: we don’t try to convert others to our cause. AA doesn’t say drinking is bad – they say that if drinking is a problem for you, then they are there to help. The Clergy Project does the same thing for religious leaders – we’re not (as an organization) going to say religion is bad and you should stop – we say that if you have lost your belief and you need support with that, we are there to help.

            And as a last caveat, I do not speak for the Clergy Project in any official capacity, so all opinions are my own.

          • See Noevo

            The Clergy Project is effectively like an Alcoholics Anonymous group in this way: we don’t try to convert others to our cause.

            So, its goal is unlike that of this Rational Doubt website and of Patheos Nonreligious in general.

          • Linda_LaScola

            There is no effort here to convert people. Perhaps you confuse speaking your mind with trying to convert.

    • mason lane

      “… but also to those forming some new, more liberal, protestant denominations (which, yes, ultimately lead them toward agnosticism and atheism).” Yes … yes … yes … YES … that’s the good news for humanity, the death of these ancient blood atonement
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6085278f8cd932b30abb0b598b5679d20de1af7eaecfe2f96d722481b37460c8.jpg BS religions.

  • mason lane

    Well done Paul! You have written a beautiful lifeline for someone who is now in the shoes you once occupied, to now grab hold and escape from the sinking theistic ship called the Methodist church. Christianity is dying rapidly among those to dare the think and question their typically credulous childhood indoctrination. I think there will be some Methodists who read this who are clinging to their irrational belief in ancient blood atonement religion who will come to the second point in your hypotheses list; “All the claims about what God is going to do are crap.”

    I’ve had 47 years out of all the crap, and Sundays and lots of other days free to live and not piss away precious time attending theistic cult meetings.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/628cf9abc007438dc44bd0ee6ae454ebd7b5dfca39f58bada475b0263ca50644.jpg

    • Paul Adams

      Thanks Mason – I appreciate the support.