I come into this post from a fairly unique place. When I first read The Reason for God, I was an evangelical Christian yearning to find more solid arguments for defending my faith, and I wasn’t disappointed. After losing my faith, though, I returned to this book, wondering what holes I had missed. I assumed at this point that I had read the book the first time with my confirmation biases firmly in place, which wouldn’t allow me to recognize where the arguments actually fail.
To start, I think that Tim Keller has a much more honest perspective on faith and doubt than most evangelical Christians. He is under no illusion that he can simply sit and convince someone that God is real, so he leaves faith within the realm of what God can instill in a person rather than what he must accomplish through preaching and writing books. In The Reason for God, he proposes that we look at doubt in a “radically new way.” That is, believers should see it as a necessary part of coming to a true belief that wasn’t merely inherited. Overall, Tim Keller offers sound advice to those who already claim to be believers. As a pastor, I think his challenges to them show his desire for Christians to work toward an honest faith and not take anything for granted. This is a really refreshing message to hear from a pastor in a sea of “doubting=no faith” megachurch/cult ministries across our nation.
But just like every pastor I’ve ever heard, he also seems to have a pretty warped view of skeptics, believing them to have their own “unexamined blind faith.” Because those within the evangelical sphere believe that they have to be able to explain their objective purpose, they project this onto unbelievers as well. This makes them throw out this accusation that nonbelievers are clinging to their own faith (in humanism/science/themselves), when we don’t seem to be talking about the same thing when we talk about faith.
Christians who have faith that the Bible is the word of God have no actual means for testing this claim. They can build up strings of conjecture about how it is possible that God inspired Scripture, and they can make dubious scientific claims in an effort to prove events from the Bible true (because of course there was an Ark–it’s not like this follows the same archetype of other mythologies…). All of these claims would not be so alarming if they were proposed agnostically, but that is not the nature of evangelical Christianity. Christians know that these things are true, and when they are faced with a counterargument, they have their confirmation bias in place to reject that argument.
That is not at all how skeptics operate. We try to ground our beliefs in the things that can be shown, since that is the closest we can get to verifying what we’d call “Truth.” Skeptics don’t have hard-and-fast absolute beliefs pertaining to how we came into existence and why we’re here. A true skeptic leaves threads of doubts whenever necessary. We don’t “put faith in” things. We tentatively trust things. We default on the agnostic approach. More often than not, skeptics aren’t sure exactly what they believe. It’s all so fluid given our nature of limited certainty toward ideas within the branch of metaphysics, and it’s hard to purport certainty in anything without betraying your intellectual honesty.
Tim Keller has to view skeptics the way he does in order to keep his house of cards intact. To concede that skeptics actually take the intellectually honest approach with respect to every proposed idea would put him in a mighty conflicted place, as his confirmation biases have led him to believe that he is being intellectually honest as an evangelical Christian who believes that Adam and Eve were actual people. Christians believe that their healthy fear of God is what helps them maintain a humble faith, but from how I see it now on the outside, it appears that Christians really just have the same fear as anyone else. They fear uncertainty. They fear losing their anchor. It’s not really about God at all. It’s about not slipping off into the deep end.
The Reason for God is an interesting exercise in contemplating conjecture, but it is ultimately built upon the presupposition that we have to be able to explain the concepts that he’s built arguments around. Those who presuppose the same are apt to follow his lead. The rest of us can respect his integrity but are otherwise left unconvinced.
One year ago I moved into my first apartment all by myself. Family collected to help haul my belongings from my sister’s house, but once everything was efficiently dumped into respective locations throughout the apartment, I found myself standing there alone in a furnished but undecorated living room. Just a few weeks later, this room–my only territory–held the conversation that shifted me away from what I had been up to that time, a person defined essentially by my dependence: offspring, student, congregant…just a small, little someone molded by nature and nurture.
A few months prior, I’d experienced my a-ha moment sitting on a borrowed bed at my evangelical sister’s house. I sat up in the dim room and gazed outside when I heard the usual midnight train blowing by half a mile away like a made for TV moment when my old, crippled beliefs could hop on the train and leave me to progress in my coming of age tale. I felt washed but weary. The fight was over, and I had to pat myself down to make sure everything was still functioning right. I was no longer a Christian. So what was I?
Brief thoughts of Jekyll and Hyde, then the Monster and Frankenstein crossed my mind in realizing that who I was in that moment appeared antithetical to my former assumptions about myself. I felt like I was meeting a new person who seemed remarkably more at ease with herself than I had been for the past four years. The experience of losing my faith matched the effective symptoms of a Christian salvation. I couldn’t believe that what I had actually needed all along was to abandon the answers in order to gain freedom. Only 15 minutes after I felt this flood of relief, I called my two former roommates who were both Christians and told them what I had just experienced. I knew they’d be upset, but I had to explain to them what was really going on the last several months they were living with that depressed, lifeless lump that I was.
I haven’t talked to either of these friends since 2011.
That few months later, when my mind was a blur in anticipation of the dreaded “coming out” with my parents, I sent my mom up to my room to hang up curtains while I sat with my dad in my living room. We sat across from one another, and I gave him the more comfortable seat. Physical comfort wasn’t going to cushion the bomb I was about to drop on him, but it was all I could do to still feel like a good daughter.
“So, tell me what’s been going on?” My dad knew I’d been questioning things for a while. We share a thirst for knowledge, and I tip my hat to him for the natural height of my intellect. He was the easy parent to talk to. He gets me, and he would get what I was about to say.
“I just don’t think that I believe anymore. After several months of confusion, I don’t think I have answers. I’m skeptical.” Keep it short, simple.
As expected, he offered a calm response, “Well, what exactly are you skeptical of? What was your thought process through this?”
These were questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. I’d only just been through this and still didn’t know what happened to me.
“Well, a lot of it seems sketchy to me–the story about Jesus and how we have no way of actually testing or verifying anything in Scripture.”
Dad sat silent for a few moments and then feebly claimed that there are actually very good resources for understanding these things. I told him I just can’t believe it. There were no good answers for him at this point. None of it made sense to me, and I didn’t feel the need to force answers.
I decided to end the conversation quickly with, “I’m just skeptical. That’s all. I just don’t know what I believe, but I know I don’t believe in what is written in the Bible.”
Mom made her way downstairs at this point and sat down on the couch next to dad. She looked at me, braced herself, and asked what was going on. Immediately, I disintegrated into a mess of tears.
“I can’t tell you. You’ll just get angry at me, and I don’t want you to be mad at me. Dad can tell you.”
Dad carefully tried to convey the message I’d given him, and I filled in the holes when necessary. Mom watched him with a furrowed brow but refused to look in my direction the whole time. By the time he finished, she looked at me, her eyes loaded cannons.
“I hope that something really awful happens in your life that forces you on your knees before the Lord. He will cause you to submit, even if those means are necessary.”
To this day, there has never been a more poignant moment when I knew I had left a toxic system. Up until this point, I didn’t think Christianity was bad. I just didn’t think it was right. This was my introduction to the true face of evangelical Christianity and its twisted conceptions of love, truth and grace. From that moment on, I encountered the putrid stench of Christian apologetics from the “enemy’s” side. I heard the gay bashing. I saw the martyr complex. I wept at it all, and I hated that this culture bore me into the world. I hated that I could still be that person, and I hated that I have to tolerate those people because they are still my family and best friends.
And so my disdain for Christianity kicked off at the same time as the Christmas season. Christmas was on a Sunday, and I somewhat nervously agreed to go to church with my family. I sat there in the front row during the sermon, feeling all stares sinking into the back of my head from fellow congregants I’d known since I was in elementary school. Everyone knew. I was on the prayer list. The sermon preached that day was not in honor of Christ’s birth. The sermon was meant as a last ditch effort for my soul. However, I was and am too far gone. After the sermon, I received a lot of hugs from people who normally don’t talk to me. It was like attending my own funeral.
Later that evening, I sat alone up in the room where young Christian me grew up. I felt very much like I was still me in that room, and yet my beliefs were so different. I wondered how much, then, they truly defined me. After having listened to Christmas hymns incessantly for days, I got on my laptop and searched for “The Atheist Christmas Carol” on YouTube. I played it over and over and let it heal my morning and that conversation in the living room and those years I spent in doubting turmoil before losing my faith. I played it until I felt so comforted by my aloneness that I was sure I’d never find a greater joy than myself.
What I hold inside is not sacred, but some things need to stay in for a time before their measure toward public proclamation, be it subtle or abrupt, has reached simmering capacity. This keeps words few and signals mixed. I’ve never enjoyed keeping myself inside.
If there is an inkling of spirituality in me, it pertains to time and how occurrences hold their own particular allotments. I am in no rush.
I just found my typed up testimony saved to my computer. I’d written it to apply for a leadership position at the Baptist Collegiate Ministries for my senior year of college, so it’s roughly two years old at this point. I figure I’ll post it here to freak all of you out who only know me as atheist Kate. Enjoy!
I remember crawling under the pews of my church when I was a child as my dad stood behind the pulpit delivering God’s message to a much more patient and attentive congregation. I remember my cousin Morgan coming to visit when I was around 8-years-old on a Sunday when we took communion, and I recall her confused face when the plates simply passed me by without me partaking. She could hardly believe I was not a Christian, but I shrugged it off. I remember when I did learn to sit still and would stare at the engraving upon the altar: “Do This In Remembrance of Me.” I remember not knowing how to read the first time I noticed it, but over time I gradually gained knowledge of each word’s pronunciation along with its meaning. I came to the point of understanding each word’s meaning but still being confounded by the entire command itself, so I shrugged that one off, too.
I shrugged a little less when I got to a Christian camp during the summer I turned 11. The news got out that I was not a born-again Christian like apparently every single other girl in my cabin. Thus, my counselors’ mission to save my soul commenced. I was pulled aside during pool time to “chat,” only to be given a tract with a very simplistic illustration of a changed life in Christ’s salvation. It’s not like I didn’t know what it meant to be a Christian. I got the gist of it, seeing as I did go to church and my father was a pastor. However, this was the first time that anyone really invited me into the body of believers. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I still didn’t quite get the importance. We all left that tract session with my counselors under the impression that I had just been saved. I knew, though, that nothing had changed but my growing curiosity.
Upon arriving home from that experience, my parents actually talked to me more about what it means that Christ died and rose again for us, and they told me that I can come to experience Christ’s love at any time if I can recognize my sin and my need to have Christ as my Savior from my sin. After doing some serious 10-year-old thinking on this, there came a day when I was sitting on the toilet and decided that was the time to pray to God and confess my sins. I do remember *feeling* the change at that point. I remember bouncing out the bathroom to tell my mother that, “It happened!” I had just flushed my sin down the toilet, and I’d never felt so free.
Shortly thereafter, I was baptized in my church by my father, but eventually the newbie Christian euphoria faded. I spent my subsequent years straight through my graduation from high school not pursuing a relationship with Christ, let alone gaining more knowledge of who Christ really is. To do “this” in remembrance of me was to nibble on a piece of bread and suck down a shot of grape juice. I am so taken aback now whenever I see middle schoolers and high schoolers truly living in faith. I didn’t get it back then.
So let’s fast-forward to now. I still don’t feel like I get it, but I learned that’s part of the importance of faith. God reveals himself in different ways to different people, and I’m slowly learning to see God in every moment and through other believers’ eyes. Finally, I understand that doing “this” is to do all things in remembrance of Christ, and I experience just how bad I am at trying to do this on my own. God doesn’t guarantee that we will ever fully “get it.” In fact, he assures us that His thoughts and His ways are not our thoughts or our ways. Consequently, God is our endless pursuit. To get a better understanding of my walk with Christ now, at this very moment, here’s my latest blog post:
“What does it mean to be in the presence to God?
What does it mean to *feel* the presence of God?
I spent the majority of my thinking and praying time this past weekend at Eagle Eyrie caught up in these two questions. Asking them to God feels a little strange–to think, “God, where are you?” when that question can really only *feel* like it’s being projected into thin air. Recently a girl I attend Bible study with shared that she feels like her prayers are bouncing off the walls. She was yearning and praying for God to do something big and apparent and meaningful and purposeful and without-a-doubt Godful. That desperation has manifested itself in similar ways for me at somewhat frequent times this junior year of college, so I was totally feeling her when she was telling us all about this so freely. The funny part was when she was asked to close the study in prayer and she could really only give a bit of a smirk before she started praying, revealing that she *knows* she’s still gotta pray even when her prayers are boomeranging in her head.
That’s the cool thing about spiritual lows and feeling out of tune with God. You can’t ever really say something weird is up with God, like he suddenly decided he doesn’t like you today or that he really is just playing games with you for funzies. Even when you’re frustrated with God that he doesn’t feel accessible anymore, you still know his truths and his qualities that are forever fixed. Whenever God is up to something, it would be a lie to say he’s not doing it for your good. A blatant lie. It’s the truth of salvation that holds onto you, not vice versa, so as Jon Foreman sings, “It would be a lie to run away.”
I believe love encompasses a lot more than we can ever understand. I do praise God for that, even when I’m not feelin’ him.
For a little scriptural version of what’s been boomeranging up in my own head and in my prayers, here’s Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.”
Simply tired. I’ve adopted a child’s mentality that not going to bed affords me more time for fun. The reality being that another day of <doing life> lays in wait upon my awakening. It’s not like I want to drag through my day half-awake tomorrow, but really it is like that. I’d rather be most alert at this moment when I’m reflecting, mulling, dwelling, existing. “Real life” is spreadsheets and deadlines and business models and initiative. Real life without the quotation marks, for me, flutters beyond offices, laptops, and words. I write here in an effort to catch a fleeting, meaningful thought and tack it down for internet archiving. This doesn’t amount to much ultimately, just like my spreadsheets. I find it hard to justify anything these days. Perhaps this is how someone like me might eventually cave into the God scheme.
I’m very tired of God, no God, and possibilities.
I’m tired of caring.
I fear I’m tiring of existence.
I’m considering going to see a therapist soon. This is probably not a huge thing in our society anymore, but it’s still kind of a huge thing for me. The only time I’ve actually gone to a psychologist before, I didn’t get much out of it since it was only a few sessions over winter break in college. But I’ve got to be honest with myself–my mind was messed up in college. I’ve already blocked out a good portion of what I experienced going through the beginning stages of my deconversion, which I didn’t know was my deconversion at the time.
♪ I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. ♬
Currently, I’m at a weird, albeit good, juncture. I’m slowly figuring out what life actually means to me. I’m sorting through my ethics, morals, passions, convictions, truths, unknowns, but I have this sort of haunting of my past occasionally invading my thoughts. Oftentimes I push it down and tell myself I’m not there anymore, which is true. I’m no longer in obsessive friendships, and all of my relationships are very healthy. I no longer beat myself up for not being able to figure out God, life, or other unknowns. However, I still fear these things happening again, which means I’m not sure that I would know how to combat these symptoms showing up in my life again if they did. I like to think that finally being honest with what I believe will be the lasting fix for all of those problems, but there is nothing to fully merit that confidence. I’d like to go back and explore the pain I inflicted on myself and on others in college sooner rather than later, before it’s too late and causes residual damage on my future. This is why people go to therapists, right? I live a very happy, healthy lifestyle right now. Is it a good decision to take this time in my life to sort through the mess I was a year ago?