According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Faith Regained: The Agony of Unbelief, Christian Atheism, and the Music that Stills Rings in the Soul of Despair



"When I think about [my] atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like
people who have no ear for music... who have never been in love. It is not that (as
they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion - prophets do that
in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on
something [only gained by faith]..." - A.N. Wilson


A Faith Regained: The Agony of Unbelief, Christian Atheism,
and Music that Stills Rings in the Soul of Despair

by R.E. Slater

For a believer God will sometimes be doubted. Perhaps strongly so. Or, perhaps the religious system one was raised within when specious arguments no longer enamour the soul but grind it to dust. One of the first things for me in my late twenties was realizing how critical my Baptist heritage had become of not only the "world" we lived in but of fellow Christians "different from us" in their doctrines and creeds, church styles, and behaviors. It took my usually happy spirit and made me cynical and I didn't like its affects upon my missional witness or Christian attitudes.

Another area that slowly came to stand out was regarding the Bible versus the "science of evolution." The entirety of my early Christian training in high school and college came from a creational understanding of Genesis. I had dutifully gone to the Henry M. Morris Creationist's conferences, read and studied the Institute for Creation Research books, and listened for years and years to Christian preaching against evolution. Finally, after much persuasion I had become convinced that there was still doubt in my heart concerning the whole affair and it wasn't until my late-40s when my young family and I visited Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum in the Badlands that I came to understand that my doubt needed educating and nurturing. Hence the many, many articles on this website here correcting my Christian misunderstanding of evolution beginning with the evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin himself who was also a Christian in search of God's truth in the rocks and anatomies of the earth. A naturalist who struggled to credibly interpret God's special creation by a remarkable (I would say, miraculous) process he came to name evolution. A science searching for neutrality but for myself as a Christian never a science without witness to God's miraculous creation of the cosmos we live in.

As you can tell I came from a very strong, conservative fundamental and later, evangelical (which I considered "heretical" at the time! haha) tradition. It took many decades of bible study, prayer, and finally a "fall from heaven" as it were, for my Christianized spirit to become open to the possibilities of the broader truths of God's revelation through the Bible, and His creation for me to understand that my last calling in life may be that of a prophet to my own countrymen. For, as we all know, a prophet comes to challenge the dark soul of not only its own faith, but the faith of others as well, when led astray of the veracites of God and the Bible. Who advocates as much for an "unbelief" and repentance to one's religious system in order to gain back "the God of belief" in truer perspective and form.

And this I have done to the dismay of my family and friends who would challenged my doubt and double-down in their own absurdities of the Christian faith. And yet, I have remained strong and compassionate in these visceral matters of deconstructing the God of my faith - even my very own soul by the power of the Holy Spirit - in order to finding a broader reconstruction of God and His truths which were meant to be told beyond the modernistic "devolution" of my own past Christian faith. It became a path as full of darkness and wind as any of the Old Testament prophets experienced as they rang the clarion bells for rebellion against the "people's faith" and the "temple's teaching" as the Day of the Lord grew in proportion to the sin growing in the lands of Israel and Judah. Which is no different from any age of the church since Jesus' resurrection as God's people have struggled to rightly interpret God's truths without losing sight of His love and missional outreach to the world of mankind.

And so, let's talk about the world of unbelief for a moment. A world where many a Christian soul has entered most willingly when become disillusioned with their own Christian faith. An a/theistic world for many which has become a place of sanctuary and repose against the roaring in their ears of the evil and absurdities they see being dispelled throughout the auspicies of the holy church. For myself, I can't say I have ever reached this point of total disbelief in God even when held in the deepest pits of despair and anguish. But it has also been in that place of darkness and agitation that I have come to strongly appreciate why people reject all testimonies of the church and its teachings to go and live in a foreign land of unbelief, agony, and despair. My sympathies go with you dear friends.

But it is my call to those who read this blog today that unbelief is a place where God can still be found, and a life rebuilt, in happiness and peace, without leaving the foundations of one's youth. That God may be found even in the hells we live through or the torments which wear out our spirit of faith and hope. A God whose love is strong and compassionate and full of grace especially to those who would love Him too well, too dearly, too highly. That God is no further away from us in our unbelief than He was in our belief... and perhaps more near to those of His children in agony over the rags of their former Christian belief and the harm they have seen within its need for repair from its addictions and blindness to truth and love.

Yeah, to those Christian atheists who are my brothers and sisters I call you back to faith. Back to the hard years of rebuilding, reconstruction, renewal, and reclamation leading to redemption's resurrection. And back to considering how the Christian faith is special in all its vernaculars. To reclaim it by broadening its vision of Christ's gospel beyond the dogmas and creeds of the church where it especially needs to be broadened and re-envisioned. At the last, it is left to the prophets of God's children amongst us to reclaim the Christian faith as it was meant to be lived. Not by strong argument and criticism but by its doubts, pains and sufferings, and disappointments as a fellowship in love with those both inside and outside its holy see (temple). This then is the task of the new Christian church. A task to rebuild from the ruins of a faith made ruinous by the dogs and heathen within its holy faith. Let us do this miraculous task together as special creations of the Lord.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
June 12, 2016
edited June 13, 2016




* * * * * * * * * *




A N Wilson: Why I believe again
http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2009/04/conversion-experience-atheism

by A.N. Wilson
April 2, 2009

A N Wilson writes on how his conversion to atheism may have been similar to a
"road to Damascus" experience but his return to faith has been slow and doubting.

y nature a doubting Thomas, I should have distrusted the symptoms when I underwent a "conversion experience" 20 years ago. Something was happening which was out of character - the inner glow of complete certainty, the heady sense of being at one with the great tide of fellow non-believers. For my conversion experience was to atheism. There were several moments of epiphany, actually, but one of the most dramatic occurred in the pulpit of a church.

At St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London, there are two pulpits, and for some decades they have been used for lunchtime dialogues. I had just published a biography of C S Lewis, and the rector of St Mary-le-Bow, Victor Stock, asked me to participate in one such exchange of views.

Memory edits, and perhaps distorts, the highlights of the discussion. Memory says that while Father Stock was asking me about Lewis, I began to "testify", denouncing Lewis's muscular defence of religious belief. Much more to my taste, I said, had been the approach of the late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, whose biography I had just read.

A young priest had been to see him in great distress, saying that he had lost his faith in God. Ramsey's reply was a long silence followed by a repetition of the mantra "It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter". He told the priest to continue to worship Jesus in the Sacraments and that faith would return. "But!" exclaimed Father Stock. "That priest was me!"

Like many things said by this amusing man, it brought the house down. But something had taken a grip of me, and I was thinking (did I say it out loud?): "It bloody well does matter. Just struggling on like Lord Tennyson ('and faintly trust the larger hope') is no good at all . . ."

I can remember almost yelling that reading C S Lewis's Mere Christianity made me a non-believer - not just in Lewis's version of Christianity, but in Christianity itself. On that occasion, I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me - the sense of God's presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world. As for Jesus having been the founder of Christianity, this idea seemed perfectly preposterous. In so far as we can discern anything about Jesus from the existing documents, he believed that the world was about to end, as did all the first Christians. So, how could he possibly have intended to start a new religion for Gentiles, let alone established a Church or instituted the Sacraments? It was a nonsense, together with the idea of a personal God, or a loving God in a suffering universe. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.

It was such a relief to discard it all that, for months, I walked on air. At about this time, the Independent on Sunday sent me to interview Dr Billy Graham, who was conducting a mission in Syracuse, New York State, prior to making one of his journeys to England. The pattern of these meetings was always the same. The old matinee idol spoke. The gospel choir sang some suitably affecting ditty, and then the converted made their way down the aisles to commit themselves to the new faith. Part of the glow was, surely, the knowledge that they were now part of a great fellowship of believers.

As a hesitant, doubting, religious man I'd never known how they felt. But, as a born-again atheist, I now knew exactly what satisfactions were on offer. For the first time in my 38 years I was at one with my own generation. I had become like one of the Billy Grahamites, only in reverse. If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens (as I did either on that trip to interview Billy Graham or another), I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. "So - absolutely no God?" "Nope," I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. "No future life, nothing 'out there'?" "No," I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world - that men and women are purely material beings (whatever that is supposed to mean), that "this is all there is" (ditto), that God, Jesus and religion are a load of baloney: and worse than that, the cause of much (no, come on, let yourself go), most (why stint yourself - go for it, man), all the trouble in the world, from Jerusalem to Belfast, from Washington to Islamabad.

My doubting temperament, however, made me a very unconvincing atheist. And unconvinced. My hilarious Camden Town neighbour Colin Haycraft, the boss of Duckworth and husband of Alice Thomas Ellis, used to say, "I do wish Freddie [Ayer] wouldn't go round calling himself an atheist. It implies he takes religion seriously."

This creed that religion can be despatched in a few brisk arguments (outlined in David Hume's masterly Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and then laughed off kept me going for some years. When I found myself wavering, I would return to Hume in order to pull myself together, rather as a Catholic having doubts might return to the shrine of a particular saint to sustain them while the springs of faith ran dry.

But religion, once the glow of conversion had worn off, was not a matter of argument alone. It involves the whole person. Therefore I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers. Reading Louis Fischer's Life of Mahatma Gandhi, and following it up with Gandhi's own autobiography, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, I found it impossible not to realise that all life, all being, derives from God, as Gandhi gave his life to demonstrate. Of course, there are arguments that might make you doubt the love of God. But a life like Gandhi's, which was focused on God so deeply, reminded me of all the human qualities that have to be denied if you embrace the bleak, muddled creed of a materialist atheist. It is a bit like trying to assert that music is an aberration, and that although Bach and Beethoven are very impressive, one is better off without a musical sense. Attractive and amusing as David Hume was, did he confront the complexities of human existence as deeply as his contemporary Samuel Johnson, and did I really find him as interesting?

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist "explanations" for our mysterious human existence simply won't do - on an intellectual level. The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: "It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names."

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah's Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just "evolved", like finches' beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where's the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena - of which love and music are the two strongest - which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

For a few years, I resisted the admission that my atheist-conversion experience had been a bit of middle-aged madness. I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off Thought for the Day when it comes on the radio. I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief "don't matter", that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.

When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion - prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.

I haven't mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler's neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer's book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer's serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

My departure from the Faith was like a conversion on the road to Damascus. My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again. Gilbert Ryle, with donnish absurdity, called God "a category mistake". Yet the real category mistake made by atheists is not about God, but about human beings. Turn to the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge - "Read the first chapter of Genesis without prejudice and you will be convinced at once . . . 'The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'." And then Coleridge adds: "'And man became a living soul.' Materialism will never explain those last words."

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