Am I Afraid of Atheism?

Am I Afraid of Atheism? November 14, 2014

Revolution Church — which was founded by Jay Bakker and has followed him from Phoenix to Atlanta to New York City to its present home in Minneapolis — is a unique faith community. Yes, it’s small (at least in person; its online footprint, via the podcast, is much larger). But the people who attend are there for something that very few churches offer, and that’s brutal, unadulterated honesty. That’s what Jay brings each week, and that’s what those who attend are hoping for.

I cannot claim to be as honest or humble as Jay, but when he asks me to guest preach, I try to get in touch with my Inner Jay. That’s what I did last Sunday, in a talk entitled, “Should We Be Afraid of Atheism.”

Jay talks openly about his doubts. Several times, I’ve heard him admit at Revolution that he doubts daily whether God exists. At many churches, this would be disconcerting (see, for example, where the Archbishop of Canterbury admits his own doubts), but at Revolution, that’s the very thing that people come to hear.

I, too, doubt God’s existence — though less today than I used to. But that’s not what I talked about last Sunday. Instead, I talked about the doubts of others, and whether atheism is part of the legacy of the emerging church movement.

I’ve blogged recently about new research that shows the emerging church movement is more robust than many have thought, which is great news. I am quite sure that’s true, and that many people and churches who identify with the ECM are robustly theistic.

But there’s also a notable contingent of people who were once deeply embedded in the ECM — planting churches, attending conferences, writing books, running Emergent Village cohorts — who are now atheists, and vocally so. Some are generous atheists, following the lead of Allain de Botton. Others, particularly some in the blogosphere, are angrier. Yes, there are angry Christians, and there are angry atheists. Why did these people leave Christianity, and was the emerging church to blame?

Maybe the ECM was the last stop for people who were leaving Christianity anyway. Or maybe communities of faith that are premised on doubt and deconstruction ultimately undermine belief. 

Critics of the ECM will surely jump on that last sentence. It’s not the case for me. I want to truck in communities that are open to — even embracing of — doubt. In fact, I cannot imagine joining a church that did not openly and constantly talk about doubt. But I do want to acknowledge the possibility that others do not have the same experience as me.

(Also noteworthy is the small subset of ECM participants who have gone the exact other way and joined the Orthodox Church, a communion based on an ancient epistemology of certainty.)

I know why evangelical churches are thriving, though less than they used to: In the face of pluralism and cultural change, they preach certainty, and they do so in confident tones of voice. All progressive Protestantism, be it mainline or emergent, is open to doubt as part and parcel of being post-Enlightenment, educated, and middle or upper-middle class. An aspect of the privileged class is doubt, but, as I say, maybe that is undermining belief for many. Surely doubt acts as a disincentive to participation.

One interesting aspect of last Sunday’s time at Revolution was the experience of Star Foster, who was making her first visit. Star used to edit the Pagan Channel here at Patheos, and she has recently been attending a United Methodist Church. In her comments during my talk and her follow-up blog post, she admitted something you might not expect: she is a theist. And she’s felt herself marginalized in the pagan community — and even at the Methodist church — for her belief in God(s).

Part of my journey right now is to look to thoughtful, doubting believers for inspiration. One example is a widely shared essay by James Carroll in the New York Times Sunday Review, “Jesus and the Modern Man“:

So what can a modern person believe about Jesus? There are intellectual obstacles to faith. The church has always shaped what it believes in terms drawn from the prevailing worldview, but history is the record of one worldview yielding to the next — from Ptolemy and Aquinas to Copernicus and Darwin to Einstein and Hubble.

More than a century ago, the church was thrown for a loop by the mind of modernity, and even now struggles to assimilate the established ideas that change is essential to the human condition; that truth is always seen from a particular point of view; that all language about God falls short of God.

Another is a book I’m reading now, the amazing spiritual biography of Richard Rodriguez, Darling. Put that book on your Wish List and hope that someone gives it to you for the holidays.

I don’t think I’ll doubt my way out of the Christian faith. And with my future books, including the one coming in March, I hope to add to an emerging theology that takes the idea of God seriously without falling into fideism. But I will admit that the atheism I see in some of my former compatriots gives me pause.


You can find all of Tony’s books HERE, and you can sign up to be the first to know about his next book, Did God Kill Jesus? HERE.

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  • davehuth

    Tony – I was moved by this post because it reflects my own intellectual struggles about things in which I have deep emotional investments. I am astonished, as a theist who for some reason is still in the game, how significantly doubt and atheism have come to shape and move my theology, practice, and relationships. I’ll have more to say after thinking this through some more. I’m typing this on my phone on a much needed walk through a snow buried forest. Thanks again for blogging about this.

  • I wonder what the role of unresolved conflict and woundedness has in this? I’ve been to several events where there were a ton of wounds expressed from the stage about evangelicalism or traditional mainline congregations that just left me hurting for those people.

    It could be that sharing the wounds from the platform is just a rhetorical device that you know will make an audience sympathetic to you, which all communicators do… in this post you talked about your “inner Jay.” But I’ve left these events hoping that those wounds don’t become a persons identity or a schtick that works with an audience they think is sympathetic to their pain, that they truly seek out help to heal, whether with a spiritual director or professional counselor, etc.

    I’m not saying that being wounded in ministry leads to an embrace of atheism in a cause and effect way. But I do think that left untreated, celebrated even, these wounds do fester and lead some towards atheism (or deism) as a logical conclusion.

  • Scott Paeth

    Good post. I might quibble with you just a bit on describing Orthodoxy as possessing an “epistemology of certainty,” given the role of apophatic theology in that tradition. But beyond that, very well said.

    • Yes, I know that’s an overstatement. But those I know who’ve converted to Orthodoxy aren’t into it for the apophaticism. They like it because everything’s settled, never to be questioned.

  • karlkroger

    Thanks for being vulnerable in your message and here. It sounds like you were the bearer of Good News for Star and for others.

    I think the ECM allows folks to venture to atheism with less shame, than people who may wind up there more directly from fundamentalist backgrounds. That said, I hope Atheists and Fundamentalists alike, will eventually find their way home, to a more healthy, progressive, holistic, and nurturing Christian faith community.

  • Scott Jones


    I think you’re onto a WHOLE LOT here. Really well said. It reminds me a lot of the Barth/Brunner exchange. I think there is a way in which faith seeking understanding can accommodate doubters and people not plagued with doubt at the same time. I think a kind of foundationalist/rationalist approach kind of has the opposite effect.

  • Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western, has done some interesting work on what she has called “emotional atheism,” the somewhat paradoxical experience of being angry at something that doesn’t exist (if you’re an atheist).

    Personally, I’ve also experienced with many friends who are atheists, agnostics or ignostics what might be called “emotional theodicy.” Specifically, they report an inner experience of metaphysical protest in the face of extreme human suffering. This isn’t empathy in the face of suffering–something everyone should have, theist and atheist–but a protest against “the order of things” being, in some sense, “wrong.” The feeling that suffering is a metaphysical problem.

    • We might even say that the problem of suffering is the greatest argument against God’s existence as well as being the greatest argument for God’s existence.

      1. (We feel that) suffering is a metaphysical problem.
      2. But it’s only a problem if God exists.
      3. Therefore, God exists.

      • That’s so good, Richard. I’ve been thinking a lot about metaphysics as I reconsider the arguments in Taylor’s *A Secular Age.* We live with unquestioned immanence, yet so many people still have moments of transcendence. Theodicy often provokes these.

      • This would be true if God were the only explanation for existentialist angst. It’s just as reasonable to assume that we feel that suffering is a problem for completely non-religious, non-metaphysical reasons.

        • R Vogel

          Can you give me an example of one of these reason?

          • Aristarchus

            Sure, my body experiences real suffering outside of a small range of temperatures. If I do not shelter my body from temperatures outside this range I experience very real suffering. No god or gods needed for this type of existential suffering.

            • R Vogel

              So you misunderstood the original comment, which may not be compelling for many reasons but I was intrigued by Ryan’s response. Your comment says nothing ‘about the nature of things.’ You are simply explaining cause and effect. Seeing a homeless person shivering in the cold hopefully elicits a response of empathy from everyone and a desire to alleviate that suffering. Many also, however, respond with a feeling that something is not right with a world where such things should exist. Now this create a double-edged sword where G*d is both the solution and the problem, but I didn’t think it was a problem for atheists so I was interested in how he thought about the problem of suffering. Like theists I suspect the answer will vary depending on to whom you speak.

              • Aristarchus

                I’m guessing you mean Richard Beck’s comment. I don’t think I misunderstood, I think I am in disagreement in a way. Suffering is a metaphysical problem if an all knowing, all loving god exists. Or I might add if many other supernatural designs or elements are believed to exist. However, the point I want to make is that suffering ceases to be a problem of the fundamental nature of the universe when it stems from the actual nuts and bolts of the way the physical world works. Is suffering no longer a problem in our day to day lives, of course not. You say, “Many also, however, respond with a feeling that something is not right with a world where such things should exist.” I think many an atheist and theist could rally round this. But as an atheist the feeling stems from my direct experience of suffering and my empathetic desire that no other being should have to experience suffering if it can be alleviated. But the problem stops being one of the nature of the universe if that nature is only so many motes of dust and energy whirling about.

                • R Vogel

                  Ahhh, the clears it up. I think challenging the base premise, as you seem to be doing, is really the best way to approach this. I didn’t take Ryan’s comment as such which was why I was curious what he meant. Perhaps I misread him.

                  My first thought, in agreement with what I think you are saying, is that atheism would reject metaphysics making the first premise moot. I’m still not sure how to think about the difference between empathy, which other animals show a capacity for, and our metaphysical feeling that the world is not as if should be, what I might call justice. The concern not just for alleviating suffering, but for putting the world right and eliminating it. But I am currently reading Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death (thanks to Richard’s book Slavery of Death) and learning a lot about Freudian psychology. In particular I am intrigued by the idea that we think about ourselves dualisitcally: as a physical body and as a symobolic ‘self’, which creates a variety of tensions. Perhaps this symbolic understanding of ourselves is also translated to society in general. This is just complete laymen’s conjecture so take that for what it’s worth (hint: not much) 🙂

                  • Aristarchus

                    Ahhhh… justice. That word kept bouncing around in my head. Perhaps that is as good a “reason” to insert in to Ryan Bell’s comment as any. Much respect to Ryan Bell as well, he always has intriguing things to say. And that idea of physical body and symbolic self is very interesting indeed. Always good ideas floating around on these blogs; thanks for the conversation.

                    • R Vogel

                      Thank you.

      • louismoreaugottschalk

        i think i can substitute ‘existential’ in place of ‘metaphysical.’ suffering is an existential prob. I have trouble existing when I am in pain, especially acute mental, physical, emotional pain. Metaphysical pain? Not sure what that is.

      • Guest

        You argument makes no sense. It is based on an obvious equivocation between “problem” and “metaphysical problem”. Suffering is a problem. Period. It only becomes a “metaphysical problem” for those who preach an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god. But if there is no such god then there is no “metaphysical problem”. Your joke falls flat.

    • I’ve only ever heard theists claim that atheists are angry at what they don’t believe in. Many atheists are angry at adherent of various faiths when they deeply injure people with their erroneous and manipulative teachings. They may be angry at their parents, teachers and pastors who led them down a painful path. But I’ve never met or spoken to an atheist who was angry at “god.”

      • Greg Gorham

        “People unaffiliated with organized religion, atheists and agnostics also report anger toward God either in the past, or anger focused on a hypothetical image – that is, what they imagined God might be like – said lead study author Julie Exline, Case Western Reserve University psychologist.

        In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals. This phenomenon is something Exline and colleagues will explore more in future research,which is open to more participants.”

        • In other news, people get scared while watching horror movies.

        • louismoreaugottschalk

          when i have suffered & am angry enuff at being inflicted w/ injustice i tend to call god out for a show down or dual. i am always surprised when he shows up!!

          • R Vogel

            Watch out for the pivot to the hip, one of his favorite go to moves, and it’s a killer!

            • louismoreaugottschalk

              w/respect what is ‘pivot to the hip’?

              • R Vogel

                When Jacob challenged G*d to a duel:

                When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Gen 32:25 =p

                • louismoreaugottschalk

                  oh thats very good! thx 4 that!

    • louismoreaugottschalk

      wow! i hear yuh! where does that ‘felt sense of knowing’ come from? likewise the sense of justice/injustice? nothing is what it should be but why can’t i just accept it?

  • Jesse

    Tony, your Carroll quote is pertinent in the Atheist/Theist discussion. Doubt is ok, but we can’t stop using our imaginations, which I feel a lot of atheism (and agnosticism) kind of does (I’m thinking of the rational, materialistic, empirical, scientistic type here).

    I like when Matt Segall talks about Etheric Imagination not being “in the business of fantasy or make believe, but is an organ of genuine conceptual and perceptual
    import in tune with natural processes that unfold below the level of
    ordinary rational waking consciousness.”

    To further quote Segall, and John Cobb, plus plug the 10th International Whitehead Conference at the same time:

    “The discoveries of deep time and biological evolution that emerged during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries dealt the death blow to substance dualism, forcing humanity to make a fateful ontological decision: either, as Cobb puts it, (1) re-imagine nature as in some way ensouled, or (2) re-think the human soul as somehow mechanical. In the 20th century, Western techno-science committed itself to the second project: human society and the earth itself were to be re-made in the image of the machine (if ancient cosmologies suffered from anthropomorphism, modern cosmologies suffer from mechanomorphism). Our early 21st century world, with its exploding economic inequality and ecological unraveling, is the near ruin lying in the wake of that decision.”

    Seems like most thinking atheists I know can definitely get on board with Cobb’s first choice there. Why wouldn’t one want to envision and believe in a world that is alive and indeed filled with the sacred?

    • James

      How is believing in strong assertions without evidence “stop(ing) using our imagination?” If there is any other way than of knowing reality but through empirical evidence, I’d love to know what could be. In my experience, atheist/agnostics in no way limit their imagination, they just hold all ideas to meeting their burden of proof before said ideas are believed as true.

      • Jesse

        Hi James, thanks for engaging. Didn’t mean to offend or anything. Again, I had a very specific type of fundamentalist atheist in mind when making my earlier comment.

        In regard to your question though, it’s not that atheists or agnostics are not using their imaginations, I confess I overstated that. We all use our imaginations but unfortunately, our operating systems/worldviews/metaphysics/ideologies tend to limit our creative vision sometimes. Here is another quote from Segall’s write-up that gets to this point:

        “The mechanical ontology underlying scientific materialism stems from misplaced concreteness, whereby abstract models of physical activity are made to fill in for the experienced reality of said activity. Such a scientific materialism, though it claims to be empirical, is really a confused idealism, in that it dismisses experiential reality as a mere dream, replacing it with an explanation based on the conjectured mechanical processes lying beneath experience that somehow cause it.”

        Incidentally, I also happened upon this awesome quote today: “It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover. To know how to criticize is good, to know how to create is better.” ~Henri Poincaré

        Peace ✌

        • Jesse

          James, btw, as far as understanding reality goes, you may be interested in Philosopher Catherine Elgin’s epistemological work. She is also a big fan of imagination and astutely points out that scientific experiments are “fictions,” or as she puts it “vehicles of exemplification. They do not purport to replicate what happens in the wild. Instead, they select, highlight, control and manipulate things so that features of interest are brought to the fore and their relevant characteristics and interactions made manifest…”

          For Elgin, when it comes to ways of understanding reality, thought experiments can be just as useful (if not more so) as physical, scientific experiments performed in a lab. Further, for Elgin, works of fiction are, in many cases, thought experiments. Elgin again:

          “Like literary fictions, thought experiments neither are nor purport to be physically realized. Nevertheless, they evidently enhance understanding of the phenomena they pertain to. If fictions are thought experiments, they advance understanding of the world in the same way that (other) thought experiments do.”

          Rock on.

          • heterodox

            And what is Elgin’s preferred epistemology? Just sitting there, visualizing what we wish were true? Sure, let’s try this. There’s a virus, a bacterium, a harmful chemical. Let us pretend that it is not harmful. Think happy thoughts. Surely this will do!

            “Oh no, she’s not saying that!”

            Yet another person who would not exist if science had not given antibiotics to the world. How ironic.

            Words. Nothing but bullshit.

            • Yet another person who would not exist if science had not given antibiotics to the world. How ironic.

              I suppose it’s of a piece with all those people who would have existed but for science enabling and enhancing the machinery of war, polluting the Earth, and introducing all new varieties of tools effective for self-destruction.

              Or, put another way, every dead Einstein argument comes pre-packaged with a dead Hitler corollary.

              But of course she doesn’t argue against the efficacy of the episteme of science for instrumentalist ends, so your quip about antibiotics makes no sense at all.

            • louismoreaugottschalk

              you seem very angry to me. i think you may have an interesting life that informs your pov. i’d like to hear your story.

          • James

            I don’t find it difficult to distinguish between concepts and objects (I.e. what my senses perceive to exist in reality vs. what I can model in my mind). And while I indulge in much imagination, I don’t confuse my imagination as established reality until or unless my imaginations are demonstrable in reality. Many of the most complex and difficult problems facing humanity have been solved or at least greatly improved by applying the scientific method – i.e. empirical epistemology – which requires much imagination. And a good deal of science contradicts “common sense” or intuition – again, requiring a good deal of imagination in order for one to make progress. Take quantum theory for instance – a good deal of technology works because we have a good understanding of quantum mechanics, yet it is hardly intuitive.

            Pretending an evidence-based epistemology somehow shuts down imagination doesn’t help the case for theology. Conversely, imagination unfettered from observed reality, i.e. a non-empirical means of epistemology, is demonstrably unable to solve problems in reality. If belief itself makes a person feel good, fair enough; but the problems with religion tend to begin when people don’t keep such beliefs to themselves. Nearly every belief system uses some sort of carrot-or-stick rhetoric or emotion-rich indoctrination to perpetuate itself, uses pure assertion to evade its burden of proof and claims to know things it does not know and cannot rationally know. Pointing out that a given belief system cannot know what it claims to know is not fundamentalism, as liberal theists often assert; it is mere skepticism, a worldview quite open to changing one’s position should such grandiose claims meet their due burden of proof.

            • Jesse

              James, you make great points. And no doubt, man, I’m with you, hooray for science! HA! The modern, scientific, rationalist worldview has indeed brought us a long way.

              You’re also right when you say scientists use their imaginations. My only issue is when folks who hold to a reductionistic mechanical type of imagined vision of reality/ontology (what Whitehead calls scientific materialism), think this in the only way (or even best way) to imagine reality.

              I want science to the best it can be. I also want religion to be the best it can be. In order to do this, both ways to explore reality need to be able to be able to practice what Keats called “Negative Capability,” which is the power or potency of the human imagination to think without acting, i.e., to contemplate the possibility of something without assuming its actuality.

              For instance, when fundamentalist atheists like PZ Myers ridicule the notion of “spiritual exercises” for atheists, it illustrates well the conceptual blockage preventing scientific materialists from considering anything other than deterministic mechanical laws in their explanations of the natural world.

              Likewise, when religious fundamentalists dismiss evolution, and fear science, it shows a stunning lack of theological imagination which prevents them from giving up the harmful and idolatrous image of god they’ve held onto for so long with such pathological certainty.

              Again, we’re on the same team here. Let’s imagine a better world ✌.

        • heterodox

          Oh wow, that quote… What a load of drivel. That idiot is yet another in a long line of idiots who will happily accept a medicine that science has conveniently provided, if it will save his life or make it more comfortable; happily accept a convenience or a safety measure, also provided by science; happily lap up a weather forecast, and a multitude of other things that the horrible “empirical” worldview has provided him. Keep imagining, keep pretending that phony stuff is real. What a life. Spend your time typing nonsense on a computer that wouldn’t exist without the very thing you rail against.

          • Jesse

            Whoa. Take it easy man. I’m not railing against anything, accept maybe a particular type of eliminative, reductionist, fundamentalist worldview.

            To put it simply: I’m criticizing an ideology here (we all have ’em, they can blind us or open our eyes), not necessarily a methodology (the scientific method is a great way to investigate reality). I criticize the same type fundamentalist ideologies in religion.

            Also, spend some time reading Elgin before you criticize her. Her colleagues at Harvard think she’s pretty great. Her epistemology can be summed up thusly: she considers the pursuit of understanding to be of higher value than the pursuit of knowledge. For Elgin, art, like science, embodies, conveys and advances understanding.

            We’re all on the same team here, man. We’re all just trying to understand.

        • louismoreaugottschalk

          great quote! creativity saved my imagination and emotional life when i was a teen. i was set to wonder where did all that inspiration come from?

        • “Didn’t mean to offend or anything. Again, I had a very specific type of fundamentalist atheist in mind when making my earlier comment.”

          Because there are so many “fundamentalist atheists” in the world, who just despise Star Wars due to a lack of imagination. Wow, I’ll bet there are so many you might even be able to count them on two hands.

          • Jesse

            Hi Steve,

            To copy and paste from a comment I made above:

            I want science to the best it can be. I also want religion to be the best it can be. In order to do this, both ways to explore reality need to be able to be able to practice what Keats called “Negative Capability,” which is the power or potency of the human imagination to think without acting, i.e., to contemplate the possibility of something without assuming its actuality.

            For instance, when fundamentalist atheists like PZ Myers (and his many many followers) ridicule the notion of “spiritual exercises” for atheists, it illustrates well the conceptual blockage preventing scientific materialists from considering anything other than deterministic mechanical laws in their explanations of the natural world.

            Likewise, when religious fundamentalists dismiss evolution, and fear science, it shows a stunning lack of theological imagination which prevents them from giving up the harmful and idolatrous image of god they’ve held onto for so long with such pathological certainty.

            Peace ✌

            • I think you miss my point. I do realize my sarcasm is an indirect manner of making it – but sometimes I find doing it that way a little more entertaining. My point was that you are relying on a popular caricature. And now that you have misrepresented PZ Myers on this point, I totally stand by my sarcasm. Myers has been very specific that his issue is with the use of the word “spiritual” in reference to the concept of a supernatural “spirit” as a holdover from religious woo-woo rhetoric. He’s right about the problem. Now, I happen to disagree with him on this particular point in regard to not being as much of a stickler against usage of the word – but this is neither here nor there in regard to justifying your caricature of the “fundamentalist atheist”.

              A previous respondent, James, wrote, “How is believing in strong assertions without evidence ‘stop(ing) using our imagination?’ If there is any other way than of knowing reality but through empirical evidence, I’d love to know what could be. In my experience, atheist/agnostics in no way limit their imagination, they just hold all ideas to meeting their burden of proof before said ideas are believed as true.” And then you cite PZ Myers as as example of a “fundamentalist atheist” somehow contrary to that – yet you fail to show how PZ Myers is somehow contrary to exactly what James described.

              • Jesse

                Yeah I guess I am missing your point because I’m simply not on board with anything that feels like eliminative-techno-scientific-reason-all-the-way-materialism or dualistic-fundamentalist-religiously-unthinking-idealism. That’s all.

                When I say we need to use our imaginations I’m talking about examining our world views and operating systems/metaphysics, and imaging that there may be better ones out there, and if not then we should imagine some new ones. Someone who makes the statement, “If there is any other way than of knowing reality but through empirical evidence, I’d love to know what could be” obviously has a worldview and a metaphysic, and it’s most likely closer to the eliminative-techno-scientific-reason-all-the-way-materialist option.

                The eliminative-techno-scientific-reason-all-the-way-materialist worldview collapses the subjective into the objective, i.e. for materialists, the subjective just happened to pop-out of the objective one day. That’s what monistic materialism is and there is one place where the blockage of imagination lies.

                Now if I were going to pick one side or the other, I’d pick the eliminative-techno-scientific-reason-all-the-way-materialist side over the dualistic-fundamentalist-religiously-unthinking-idealist side, but what keeps me from doing that is Kant’s transcendental position. To quote Segall again, “what so many scientific materialists seem to neglect is that a reduction of human consciousness to the deterministic playing out of neurophysiological mechanisms is also a reduction of the scientific enterprise to a talking primate’s delusion of grandeur. If consciousness (and with it, rigorous logic and honest empiricism) is just an empty word, just a culturally acquired illusion with no causal or physical role to play, then we have no reason to take science–one of human consciousness’ greatest achievements (right up there with art, religion, and morality)–seriously. Neuroscientific reductionism (usually unknowingly) undermines its own philosophical conditions of possibility. As Hegel argued, it treats spirit as though it were a bone.”

                You ask about other ways to investigate reality, Steve. There are many (see what I wrote about Catherine Elgin in my comments above), but from a process-relational prospective, which puts forth the proposal that the objective and subjective have existed as long as anything has existed (, then art, philosophy, science and religion are all fantastic ways to explore and gain understanding of reality.

                Thanks for engaging, man.

                Rock on

                • Hmmm…

                  Well, I guess I’m glad I continued posting, because I see we finally got to the core of your caricaturing and find that it was entirely bogus to begin with.

                  First, you pretend that, for example, scientists are not using their imaginations even in the very process of doing scientific work itself – which is completely wrong.

                  Second, you pretend that there is something somehow *inherently* wrong with the idea that “there is [no] other way than of knowing reality but through empirical evidence” – but, conveniently, you don’t even bother to attempt to explain what it might be.

                  Third, you pop out with another caricature with your statement that “The eliminative-techno-scientific-reason-all-the-way-materialist worldview” (I can see the pejoratives dripping from your nice big words there) “collapses the subjective into the objective, i.e. for materialists, the subjective just happened to pop-out of the objective one day.” I remember reading Nicolas Humphreys book *A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness* many years ago, and – I realize this was a while back – but I just don’t remember him ever saying one single word about “the subjective just happened to pop-out of the objective one day”. Indeed, I have never read *any* atheist or *any* scientists ever saying anything like that. And, by the way, even being a genuine “monistic materialist” does not make one a “fundamentalist atheist” in any way, shape, or form. Do you consider Humphreys a “monistic materialist”? Do you consider Daniel Dennett a “monistic materialist”? Do you consider Steven Novella a “monistic materialist”? Do you consider Steven Pinker a “monistic materialist”? Do we care? Even if they are, that doesn’t make them “fundamentalist atheists”?

                  So pardon me if I still don’t buy your “fundamentalist atheist” appellation. And this is my point.

                  • Jesse


                    You’re a smart guy, man, and I love these kind of dialogues because it forces me to think through what I think I know 🙂

                    First, you keep using the term “caricature” but I prefer “generalization.” We all make them all of the time, all statements of fact or truth require generalizations. To paraphrase Adam Kotsko, so you know two or three people in a particular group who don’t fit a generalization? Who cares? The point of a generalization is to say what is true most of the time — the usefulness of a generalization lies precisely in the fact that it allows us to ignore the exceptions for the purpose of discussion. When people forget that there are exceptions, yeah, that’s bad, but it’s worse when people make discussion impossible by accusing everyone who makes a generalization of thinking that the generalization is unconditionally true in every case. Of course I know that not all atheists are “fundamentalists” just like all religious people are not “fundamentalists.”

                    When I use the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” I’m referring to a particular group of folks who don’t like religion, who would want to see it eradicated from the Earth, and who also conflate atheism with skepticism and critical thinking (read more about this below). These same people also tend to hold to an eliminative, reductionistic view of the world and the human mind and who also hold up scientific empiricism as the end all be all of human understanding. I know people like this. Sometimes the label “New Atheist” is applied to these sorts of folks.

                    Second, the generalization I make by using the goofy term “eliminative-techno-scientific-reason-all-the-way-materialist worldview” I think is an accurate one as it really does describe how some people view the world. For a lot of the folks, like the ones I described above, consciousness/subjectivity is simply reduced to an epiphenomenon, completely dependent on physical functions. This is what I mean when I say the subjective is collapsed into the objective in a monist materialist ontology.

                    Third, you keep asking how we can know reality apart from empiricism. I’ll start by saying that I currently hold to a process ontology, not materialism, not idealism. Empiricism, as a theory of knowledge that emphasizes the role of experience, especially sensory perception, is great! But if one is intellectually honest, one must take the Radical Empiricist critique of Whitehead and Williams James seriously.

                    Whitehead (and James), to quote David Ray Griffen extensively, deconstructs “sensory perception showing it to be a hybrid of two pure modes of perception. Hume and most subsequent philosophy noticed only ‘perception in the mode of presentational immediacy,’ in which sense data are immediately present to the mind. If this were our only mode of perception, we would indeed be doomed to solipsism of the present moment. But this mode of perception…is derivative from a more fundamental mode, ‘perception in the mode of causal efficacy.’ In this more fundamental mode, we directly perceive other actualities as exerting causal efficacy upon us—which explains why we know that other actualities exist and that causation is more than Humean constant conjunction. One example of this mode of perception, or ‘prehension,’ is our awareness that our sensory organs are causing us to have certain experiences, as when we are aware that we are seeing a tree by means of our eyes. Such prehension, while presupposed in sensory perception, is itself non sensory. In seeing a tree, I do not see my brains cells or my eyes, but I do prehend them and hence the data they convey…Another example of this non sensory perception is our prehension of immediately prior moments of our own experience, through which we know the reality of the past and thereby of time.”

                    The concern here, to put it way too simply, is too much focus on analysis at the expense of the bigger picture: connections, causality, meaning. Both elements are equally present in experience and both need to be accounted for.

                    If you’re interested in learning more about this different and imaginative way of thinking, let me know man. I’m happy to chat with you privately.

                    Peace out ✌


      • louismoreaugottschalk

        art, music, poetry, nature, babies and children, dance, cats, dogs, architecture, literature, theatre; both comedy and drama are only a few of the ‘portals’ I have found to communicate w/ god.

      • Matthew Segall

        Empirical science doesn’t *prove* anything, James. Very few scientists today would be willing to say a theory is “true,” since they know it is just a working model. A reigning theory stands (even after contradictory evidence emerges) until a better (=more encompassing) theory is developed. This is how paradigms shift. A brief look at the history of science shows that new theories emerge in the mind of one or a few scientific geniuses because of creative leaps of imagination. Science itself, as actually practiced, is not strictly empirical, but makes use of other ways of knowing.

  • jeffstraka

    “The belief that belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism had led the devout to “save” their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves. The result is even the professors don’t really know what they are professing. This makes the goal of either proving or disproving God’s existence a quixotic quest – but also for that very reason not very important.” ~Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell

    • Brad

      Dennett doesn’t show much patience for understanding any particular description of God, which conveniences him with the service of not needing to comprehend what the other side is saying. It’s a quixotic quest if you brand all nonmaterial or metaphysical descriptions of reality as quixotic from the get-go. Dennett reaches a lot of souls, but lives in a little world. His brand of academia is not the rest of the world’s.

      • James

        By any definition of god that one wishes to use, the evidence of actual existance of it is sadly lacking. The definitions of god themselves are incoherrent, poorly defined and contradictory with any of the myriad other definitions of god, which in turn are equally incoherrent and poorly defined. Anytime a theological concept is articulated, it is either falsfiable and easily falsified by evidence (such as a literal 6 day creation), or (and this is far more common these days) it is unfalsifiable and inconsistent with known reality – and therefore it is irrational. The later is the point that liberal theists miss when they attempt to lump atheists in with theistic fundamentalists – making falsifiable beliefs unfalsifiable is illogical – what we ask for is consistency and evidence, not word games, to support any given possible supernatural belief. If religion has anything profound and useful to teach humanity, I wonder what that could be – and what would be the actual evidence for such utility?

        • Brad

          I like that you used the phrase “word games”. Ever heard of Wittgenstein’s “language games”? It’s when someone argues with a premise, while exclusively using the language within their discipline, and arguing that the premise is “false”, “illogical”, or “lacks evidence” based on their rules of their own exclusive language. So for instance, I hear materialists and physical reductionists (not coincidentally almost ALWAYS students of the physical sciences) demand I show them “evidence” for a divine being. But what they mean by evidence is evidence within a model of explanation that excludes the meaning of any term that doesn’t abide by the rules of the physical sciences, sciences which are nothing less than short of offering a comprehensive explanation of the reality we experience.

          So within Dennett’s world, for instance, who, by the wave of his wand and without any effort of justifying why the material world is the only world we can sensibly talk about, there will never be any evidence of a divine being. His world is so set up that any immaterial phenomena is “senseless” (which he also conflates with “meaningless”), and so there could never be evidence of a divine. So I would rather not play into the stupid demand of “show me evidence” when Dennett’s world doesn’t allow for phenomena that are immaterial to begin with. His materialistic language game is just as unfalsifiable.
          The physical sciences have brought us wondrous unforeseen advances in engines, robots and medicine, and condoms and pornography and guns and nuclear bombs. But they haven’t given an iota of advance in other fields of knowledge, e.g. moral knowledge (which Sam Harris is TRYING to do), or epistemic knowledge, or just the real basic and fundamental questions like “what is a good life?” “What is a happy life?” “What does it mean to suffer?”, and until the materialists can acknowledge their inability to relate to the rest of human experience in this way, I’m not going to talk “evidence” when we don’t even agree on what qualifies for evidence and what potential phenomena are allowed within your minimalist and piece-a-meal description of reality.

          • Brad

            And, by the way, if any of you get the opportunity to talk with Dan, tell him his books can be shortened to 20 pages. I don’t need hundreds of drawn out pages (and optional reading chapters) to explain to me that my brain plays tricks on me. I’ll have a more qualified neuroscientist tell me about that. Just deliver me the goods on why your explanation is comprehensive – not how my brain works or how it evolved – as if the ancients weren’t aware there was a brain inside my head that imagined things.

  • Brad

    I’m with another commenter in that the ECM gives itself a bit too much credit for leading people down the path of doubt. I see it as more of a retaliation to anti-intellectual suburban Midwestern Evangelicalism. But the Episcopalians, the ELCA, the PCUSA, United Methodists (so on and so on) have already been embracing these same critical ideals generations before the ECM ever made it sexy for those fed up with that sentimental brand of Evangelicalism. In a way, even Roman Catholicism, along with some of these liberal mainlines, have always had a place for this embrace of doubt. That’s because they purport that truth isn’t certainty, and so it’s okay to be uncertain about truth. So we can dialogue about it, and deconstruct it until the cows come home. There’s nothing devilish about that.

    As a Roman Catholic, who teaches other Roman Catholics, I am not met with this frantic anxiety about faith that I see in Bible College Christians. I think it is because of this general admittance that grants people a certain freedom to speculate and expound upon the meaning of the big metaphysical topics.

    • I’m not saying that the ECM is an exclusive purveyor of doubt. You’re right, the mainliners do this, too. The difference is that the ECM was *founded* on doubt, while those other denominations have evolved into it.

      Catholicism is a completely different animal. There are pockets of doubt therein, but the entire structure of it, as well as its size, mean that it cannot be compared to the silos of Protestantism.

      • Brad

        I think you’re right about Catholicism. It’s a different animal, but I think it’s an animal some Protestants may learn from (and vice versa). Charles Taylor’s one of those guys… Also, don’t know if you’ve checked it out, but there’s a published dialogue between Jurgen Habermas and Ratzinger called “Dialects of Secularization” – really brief, really relaxed, but really deep.

  • FYI, one thread of commentary under this post has been deleted because a commenter used profanity against me. I am committed to this being a civil forum, even in the face of disagreements.

  • R Vogel

    Afraid if it? I’ve been trying to be atheist for decades, I just can’t seem to make a go of it. It would just make things so much easier…..

    • Randy Wanat

      Try applying the same skepticism you have for gods of other religions to the god(S) of your religion. Try not resorting to special pleading and platitudes when contemplating difficult questions about your god(S) and religious beliefs.

      • R Vogel

        I don’t have skepticism for gods or other religions, so although it is a reasonable suggestion it doesn’t really apply.

        • Randy Wanat

          You accept them all as true and correct?

          • R Vogel

            I accept that they all attempt to express certain kinds of truth. I don’t know what correct would mean in this context. When contemplating G*d I tend to use the language of Christianity and Judaism as that is the culture in which I was raised so it comes most easily to me. I don’t assume that means Christianity or Judaism is ‘correct’ any more than I think that because I speak English it is the ‘correct’ language. I continue to try to expand my understanding of other religions, but I don’t think it is completely possible to understand another religion outside of its context and I have never had the opportunity to really immerse myself in another religious context.

            • Randy Wanat

              Skepticism merely means refusing to accept claims for which there is no evidence. If you don’t accept all their claims as true, you are skeptical. Don’t confuse skepticism with cynicism. They’re not the same thing.

              • James

                Well said!

              • R Vogel

                I never claimed to not be a skeptic, especially with regard to religion. I just don’t claim to be an atheist.

                • Randy Wanat

                  You said you have no skepticism for gods or other religions. Please, don’t try to pretend otherwise. You said it explicitly. Either you meant it but didn’t understand what “skepticism” means and are lying now to save face, or you didn’t mean it and you were lying then. I have little tolerance for dishonesty, but when people admit their errors it earns my respect. Now, did you err back then, or are you lying now? Admit error or admit dishonesty. One or the other.

                  • R Vogel

                    Don’t be an ass and play stupid word games. You implied I applied a degree of skepticism to beliefs of other religions relative to my own beliefs which I do not. I can give you some suggestions where you can stuff your ‘little tolerance’ and your name calling. Go troll someone else.

                    • Randy Wanat

                      If you don’t apply any skepticism, then you accept everything as true without requiring evidence, which leads to simultaneously accepting mutually exclusive things. Either you are skeptical or you are not. Do you require evidence to accept outlandish claims as true, or do you accept them as true prima facie? Your words say the latter, but when called on it, you deny it. Pick a lane.

                    • R Vogel

                      Yawn. Speaking of having a conversation that is coming to end….are you still talking?

                    • Randy Wanat

                      Your inability to craft intelligible arguments in the English language due to a refusal to adhere to recognized definitions of terms is not my shortcoming. Your internally contradictory statements are yours alone. Getting upset that I asked you to provide clarity despite your incapability or lack of desire to do so is your problem. Incoherent speech is a sign of incoherent thoughts. Not my fault.

                    • R Vogel

                      Still talking….

                    • R Vogel

                      I assume you must be writing for some fan base since I stopped reading your drivel after you decided to engage in childish name calling and hollow threats. Perhaps you should start your own blog where people who care about what you have to say might actually come and pay attention.

  • Brad

    It is not at all bewildering to me that most either jump ship to Orthodoxy and relinquish to atheism. Most of it is not because of a need for “certainty.” It’s just giving up on the very pretension of certainty about very old and bold religious claims. In my experience, the majority of Orthodox converts are jumping aboard because they are tired of racking their brains on an endless spiral of questions about the accuracy of an ancient text. Instead of giving up on religion, they shift the burden of authority on someone else (patriarch or bishop), while they are mentally free to tackle the deeper philosophical questions. I know for me that my Catholic convictions are simply contingent upon the idea that Christianity is true, and so I would rather not waste my time figuring out whether or not there is a heaven, hell, essence of God, justification (whatever). Religion is crazy enough as it is. So I would rather rest on the shoulders of the people who gave me the idea of Jesus Christ in the first place. My concern is whether or not religion (or faith) is at all legitimate. If anything it is Protestantism that is an “epistemology of certainty.” I am not burdened with pounding out any kind of certainty on exegetical issues. I’ll just stick with my tradition.

    • Brad

      Sorry, “Jump ship to Orthodoxy OR relinquish to atheism”

    • Brad

      And I suppose the point is that it’s not a threat at all to my beliefs if a Protestant tries to show me that Catholic teachings on Mary, purgatory, or whatever else is exegetically inaccurate. It’s all a tradition anyway (whether you’re reading through a Protestant paradigm, EOC, Eastern Catholic, or Latin Rite Catholic paradigm). The likelihood of anyone “proving” Catholics and EOCs indubitably wrong is 0%. That’s why I say pick a mainline, and join everyone else in trying to tackle the bigger questions. I gave up on these internal theological struggles a long time ago. I can personally testify to it being liberating. I read this blog because of the fascination I have with the Protestant community, but it mostly stops there.

  • Daniel Mann

    I can’t believe that I am writing this, but I really
    appreciate this latest post, and I am glad to see that you are grappling with
    the impact of ECM teaching.

    Let me suggest that there is another evangelical option. Simply put – this is
    to admit our struggle with doubts, while it is accompanied by the affirmation
    that God has the answer to my doubts, and He will eventually cause me to stand
    confidently in spite of them. This affirmation gives substance to our belief
    that God is all powerful and can do all things. If this is the case, then He
    has to remedy to our doubts.

    Coming from a Jewish background, I had hated everything
    Christian. I also wrestled with highly painful doubts for the first 15 years in
    Christ. I had despaired of ever finding any peace in Him. However, He has been
    faithful, and I wasn’t required to shut down my mind.

  • Brian K

    Tony, I can’t tell from the tone here: Do you see the ECM being a possible gateway to atheism as an inherently bad thing? I briefly considered myself a member of the ECM community. While I did ultimately end up an atheist, I am greateful I had acceptance in that community as a stepping stone.

  • Wayne Robert Smith Over 75% of prisoners are Christians. Around 22% Muslims. About 1% are Atheists. Religion doesn’t own morality and never has. They just claimed it to be theirs. Like most of their claims its a lie. Religion is dying and good riddance to bad rubbish.

    • Agni Ashwin

      Atheists just don’t get caught.

    • docMfan

      That’s a remarkably poor use of statistics, I’m afraid. Just for starters, it confuses correlation with causation. I’m not knocking your conclusion – just saying that this really isn’t evidence.

    • Guest

      If you do the calculations with those statistics correctly it turns out that half of atheists are convicts. In reality it’s damning evidence against atheism.

      • Matthew Alton

        If you do the calculations with those statistics correctly it turns out that half of atheists are convicts. In reality it’s damning evidence against atheism.

        Flatly incorrect arithmetic. It appears that you are using the data “~2% of the US population is atheist” and “~1% of the incarcerated population is atheist” to conclude that “half of the atheist population of the US is incarcerated.” This is completely incorrect. It could be correct only if the entire population of the US were incarcerated.

        The current (abysmally unjust) US incarceration rate is roughly 700 persons per 100,000. So your calculations are off by three orders of magnitude. We may validly conclude that the atheist population in the US is dramatically underrepresented in prisons. Given an equitable distribution of ethical behavior, we can expect the number of incarcerated atheists to be roughly 14 per 100,000. It is in fact only 7 per 100,000. Why is that, do you suppose? It may be because atheists are more ethical in their behavior. It may be that atheists, possibly owing to superior intelligence, are better at evading arrest and conviction for their crimes. It may a combination of these causal factors. It may be owing to an entirely different set of factors. It may be that there is no causal relation at all. We would have to do a series of complex studies to make any sort of determination on the matter.

        Science is hard. Why don’t I do the studies and you just pray for the answers. When I come up with the answers you can thank your god for them. Unless you don’t like what they imply. Then you should just ignore them.

        • Guest

          Nope, atheists are overrepresented in prisons. The actual figure is somewhere between 9 and 15%. I already calculated the accurate numbers the last time somebody tried to use this old chestnut, so don’t even.

          • Matthew Alton

            The actual figure is somewhere between 9 and 15%.


  • I appreciate this, Tony. Earlier this year I commented that for me, progressive Christianity was the slow death of God. With every new human development comes a new theology to make it all fit together, until finally God recedes into the distance so far as to be non-existent.

  • Muzi Cindi

    Have been wondering if this conversation goes beyond the god of Evangelical Theology. Is is open to those who conceptualise the Divine beyond Evangelical Theology?

    Here’s an input from Bishop John Shelby Spong:
    THEISM is not a name for God or even a name for one who believes
    in God. Theism is the name of a human definition of God that is no longer
    believable. ATHEISM does not mean that there is no God. Atheism means that the
    theistic understanding of God no longer translates into the world of our

    • D Smith

      That is an excellent quote! It eloquently expresses a truth that seems always to be missed in these conversations.

    • Christopher R Weiss

      It seems to me that this is playing word games. I have seen qualifications of atheism. I have even seen Buddhism classified as “atheistic” because many versions of Buddhism do not worship an actual god. However, I think classifying spiritual but not religious people as atheists is misleading. If someone believes in an unnamed higher power without a label, this is not atheism. This is just transferring belief from a well known god such as the trinity from Christianity to something else, which is still a “god.”

      Functionally, there is little difference from this group and atheists who assert god does not exist.

      • Muzi Cindi

        I fully agree with you on “something else, which is still a “god.””
        Won’t you say that something else should include Evolution?
        BTW: I have fully embraced evolution. My current take is on LOGOS. Anything that gives you meaning is your “god”.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          No… I couldn’t disagree more strongly.

          Evolutionary biology has been under continual revision, correction, and expansion since it was first proposed by Darwin. This includes the impact of new data. Religious dogma is rarely subject to change and it changes very rarely due to empirical evidence except when forced such as when Galileo proved that the earth goes around the sun.

          A “god” is a spiritual thing. Evolution is a theory subject to factual correction, and it is only a model of explanation and prediction.

  • Christopher R Weiss

    As a lifelong atheist raised in a Catholic home, I can say religion did not make me an atheist. I actually had a very positive experience. For me, I simply couldn’t buy into the story of religion.

    The greatest threat to religion is not atheism, but apathy. People are leaving religion because it feels vacuous, contrived, and irrelevant. The greatest number of people leaving religion are not atheists, but the spiritual and not religious or the “nones.” These are the people who can no longer abide by the stories they have been told since they were children. It is likely that by 2050, less than 50% of the US population will identify with an organized religion. The millennials represent the greatest departure from religion ever in US history. This is partially due to the lack of enthusiasm by their parents. The children of the millennials will be even less religious, and this is where our country is headed.

    Religion will fizzle in the US due to apathy rather than pop in some atheist epiphany.

    • louismoreaugottschalk

      only drowning men may see him ~Leonard cohen

      • Christopher R Weiss

        I would hope women would too, and why would you have to be drowning to see god? This is the contrivance portion of religion that so many struggle with.

        • louismoreaugottschalk

          Foghorn leghorn: it’s from a song boy! Now pay attention! The song ‘suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen. I say, uh drowning men ( women too if you gotta be so doggon picayunish!) Nothin a good kick inna head from a mule wuddunt cure ya of!

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Can I get dressing with that word salad?

            • louismoreaugottschalk

              You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant (exceptin’Alice!)~Argo guthrie

  • “Literalism is the lowest and least level of meaning [compared to metaphor].”

    Rohr, Richard (2012-01-02). Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (p. 70). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

    “Both atheists and fundamentalists appear to still be on this side of the shadow and the disguise. They both invariably link to a narrowed-down and literal view of reality and seldom understand metaphor. They think that symbols do not contain substance, and so they dismiss religious symbols as being wrong, superficial, untrue, unscientific, or “just a symbol.” Their literalism strips reality down to a thin floorboard on which they want to walk and feel secure, but it is no longer a shining dance floor, much less a floor on which there is room for everyone to join in the dance.”

    Rohr, Richard (2012-01-02). Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (pp. 71-72). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

    “Religion knew the truth of metaphor and symbol for almost all of history until the past few hundred years, and especially until the wrongly named Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Then we started confusing rational and provable with real. We actually regressed and went backward. In trying to defend its ground in the face of rationalism and scientism, religion tried to become “rational” itself and lost its alternative consciousness, which many of us call contemplation. It’s as though we tried to deal with Mystery with the entirely wrong “software.” We lost access to the higher levels of consciousness, the transrational, the transpersonal, the transcendent itself. Most tragic, we lost most inner experience of our own outer belief systems. That is the heart of religion’s problem today, and it is indeed a deep and serious problem for upcoming generations. My generation took the symbols too literally, and now the following generation is just throwing them all out as useless. We are both losing.

    “It might surprise you, but both religious fundamentalism and atheism are similar in that they are self-contained rational systems. Such a system works if you stay inside its chosen logic and territory.”

    Rohr, Richard (2012-01-02). Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (pp. 75-76). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

    • James

      Saying what you actually mean is English 101 (or Hebrew 101, for that matter).

    • Rohr sounds like a brilliant guy – for someone who apparently has a certain antipathy for people who understand how to distinguish between symbol, metaphor, and reality. Conflation is a vice, not a virtue.

  • Doubt is roundly derided and condemned in the Bible, e.g.:

    James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

    1 Timothy 2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

    Matthew 21:21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt…

    Matthew 28:17 …but some doubted.

    Mark 11:23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

    Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

  • R Vogel

    I finally had the opportunity to listen to the podcast in full. Pretty moving stuff. The sentence, ‘I wonder if I am having a conversation that is coming to an end…’ really hit me.

    There are quite a few ideas swirling around in my head – one related to your previous, much maligned post In Praise of Empire. It is interesting to watch as the 1700 year or so history of Christendom comes to an end, we perhaps are seeing just how dependent on it Christianity was. This is not to say the it will die out completely, but without being the religio franca so to speak (not sure i declined religio correctly, been quite few years since I took Latin), it now has to compete in the world of ideas. Can it produce a narrative that is really more broadly compelling than its competitors or will it simply be a choice among many with people free to choose which narrative best fits them emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? I doubt that religion will disappear. But it certainly won’t control the narrative any longer.

    On the other hand although the growth of atheism looks impressive, only time will see if it is really undermining religion or if it is simply benefitting from pent-up demand that 1700 years of Christendom created. Will there be some sort of future religious equilibrium? The recent pew numbers that showed atheism has about a 30% retention rate, albeit based on a small sample so the absolute numbers should be taken with a grain of Lot’s wife, may show that even in a sympathetic sample atheism is not universally compelling.

    • Sven2547

      The recent pew numbers that showed atheism has about a 30% retention rate

      As in, a mere 30% of atheists remain atheists? I would be very interested to see this poll.

  • Thursday1

    Appreciate the honesty of this.

    I wonder though at the implication, as I see it, correct me if I’m wrong, that people go to more conservative churches to get certainty as an antidote to doubt. What if mostly they just go to such places because they don’t really have any doubt and find the endless discussion distracting from what they really want to do with their faith?

  • Josh Magda

    (Originally posted on another blog)

    I am beginning to think that the trademark uncertainty that progressives feel is mostly due to the legacy of spiritual abuse nearly all of us have suffered, and continue to suffer. Most progressives care deeply about faith and so this abuse is amplified in our psyches. I think our Hearts already Know that God is, but DoomGod looms large on the horizon of our Living memory. All of it gets mixed together upstairs.

    We have to get to a place where DoomGod is not the constant invisible referent for our faith journey, individually and as a corporate movement. This will only happen if people have ongoing experience of the Real to dislodge the intensity of their past harmful faith experiences. I like what a friend wrote on another blog: we should organize around the experience of the Infinite, which we all have.

    Checkup for Progressives:

    1) Organize around the Infinite
    2) Continue to turn the Heart towards the G-d it already Knows and Loves unconditionally. This is so simple, but we still have to choose to do it.
    3) Go on an extended fast of cross-comparing our faith experience with fundamentalists, or even garden-variety theists that have problems with us.
    4) Spend more time enjoying God than we do trying to figure Her out. Spend as much time experiencing rejuvenation, stability, and delight from our faith as we do controversy and struggle and the drive for change, even desperately needed change
    5) Jesus=God has to be optional and entirely secondary to our being captured and utterly riveted by God and the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ passion, if there is any hope of our being united as a movement. If Jesus=God helps you do this, go for it. If not, let it go.

    I don’t think our faith can last if we don’t do these things. The clock has run out on DoomGod- he has to go, one way or the other. Continuing to have him hang around and haunt God’s future is not an option.

    Progressive Christianity will not survive if its people don’t Know that God is, in their bones. Not a conception of God. Not a belief system, but THAT GOD IS, we can have certainty of.. as much (and more) certainty as we can have about anything, such as the existence of our Mother or flowers or birthday cake. Certainty is not the exclusive province of the fundamentalists. We cannot reach spiritual depth if we are constantly asking “does God exist?” or “does God really Love me?” We need to reach a place spiritually where we Know that God is. More precisely, we need to let our left brain shut up long enough so that our Hearts can rest in the God we already Know and Love.

    Whatever we have to do to have this certainty, we should take the time NOW to find it. As one internet post that I rather like says: “God is a frequency: stay tuned.” Once we have found the channel we should do everything in our power to continue getting a clear reception.

    Or else the burden of carrying this movement forward will prove to much for us, as we will receive strength from almost anything, more than we do our own religion. Religion must bind us back to something Real. Or we should let it go.


  • How many Christians are afraid of not believing in Aphrodite? Does not believing in Quetzalcoatl bring you horrible anxiety? Do those who don’t believe in Odin offend you?

    This is why atheists typically find all the anti-atheist rhetoric that permeates the rhetoric of Christian apologetics to be either amusing or just ho-hum, who cares?, boring.

    I didn’t know I would doubt my way out of Christian beliefs – until it actually happened, and in realizing that is what had happened it took me by surprise. But it isn’t doubt, per se, that makes this happen. It’s staring unflinchingly into the face of the truth and refusing to back away regardless of personal wishes and desires. Without that, doubt will only make you doubtful.

    So while churches, including evangelical churches, will continue to evolve over time, as churches have always done, to try to keep themselves more socially palatable and relevant, catering to the psychological needs of people, such activity is by its nature utterly irrelevant to the ontological issue allegedly behind their very existence.

  • anselm13

    Hi Tony. I’ve been a reader for 9 years or so. I’m currently in the midst of a fairly deep exploration of Orthodoxy (for myself and for the small church where I’m an elder), so your little aside caught my attention in this post. I wonder if there were one or two people you know who have taken this path and who might be good sources for some of my questions and that you might be able to connect me with privately? Thanks for any consideration of my request!