Friday, October 15, 2010

In Praise of Agnosticism (or Fallibilism) - Part III, The Youthful Exodus

The third (and last point) with this sense that there is good in lack of certainty, has to do with the mass exodus of our (usually younger) people from the ranks of not only evangelicalism, but Christianity in general.

The point is this:

If you preach to our kids that they must believe all that we teach about Christianity with all certainty and if they don't . . . it is a moral failure, then they have choice to fake it, or walk away. Many of them--out of integrity in my opinion--will choose to walk rather than fake it.

But what if you were more honest with the kids? Imagine that they held the option of "mostly believing" without it being interpreted as a moral failure or spiritual inferiority. Imagine, that you even held critical thinking as being a good thing. I think far more would see this third-rail option rather inviting. It would be more palpable to them than the all-or-none situation of either believing everything out of the pastor's mouth, with no doubt, or flushing the whole Christian think down the toilet.

Issac comes to mind. He is the son of a good friend of mine, who died from cancer a little over a year ago. Issac was a faithful "church goer" and was involved with the youth before he graduated from HS and . . . before his dad died. He disappeared from the ranks of my old church.

I saw him around town and attempted to talk to him. He was very presumptuous about my views (and wrong). As I would ask how he was doing, he would quickly add, "I'm sorry I haven't been to church . . . I've been busy. I hope to be back soon!"

I didn't say it then, but the next time I saw him I was going to say right up front, "Issac, I don't give a rat's ass if you are going to church or not." Hey, now I can say, "I haven't been to that church in months myself."

But I was talking to his mom about him. She said that Issac said he was fed up with being told what to believe and wanted to go out and find truth for itself. She then rolled her eyes in a profoundly disapproving way. I told her that I thought that was a great thing. If my kids say they are going out to find truth for themselves, I would be all for that. I would hope to give them some direction in the process.

That is why I taught a class on "Doubt" at my previous Minnesota church. I think that doubting can be a very healthy thing. It is too bad that few churches see it that way . . . and in the process, they drive off a lot of sincere kids . . . and older folks.


Sixwing said...

That? That I need to go find truth for myself? That is where I am right now.

That's an enormously powerful thing. I have the fear that, if I should really get out and start searching, I'll never be able to come home again - and I know that God forgives, and I strongly doubt that God wants people who want to question, but were afraid to do it, to follow just out of that fear.

On the other hand, it is a very dangerous thing for an organized religion, if all it can do is guide those who seek out more than it is currently giving.

PRS & ALS said...

I've been thinking about the third rail metaphor. I know you mentioned it being dangerous, but it's also what runs the train. It's where the power comes from, what gives it life. (Don't know if you mentioned this or not.) If there was no third rail the train would just sit there and go nowhere. As for me, even if there is danger if you fall on the third rail, when I get on the train I expect to go somewhere. I think sometimes in churches there is so much fear of falling on that third rail that everyone sits huddled in the building afraid to live their lives. I have lived with doubt for many years and am continuing to learn to just live with the questions. My relationship with God seems so much more alive now that I've accepted my skepticism and even embraced the questions.

NOTAL said...

I just had a rather long discussion with an atheist friend of mine on facebook about the possibility of knowing and the existence of objective truth. We didn't discus specifically the God/Christianity/Atheism issue, just epistemology in general.

I think that often people loose the distinction between there being no objective truth and our inability to know the objective truth with certainty. We agreed that we don't know (and can't know) objective truth, but she did not believe that there was any objective truth. As both a Christian and a (sort-of) scientist I think it's crucial to accept human fallibility--we can be wrong about anything--yet it is equally important to not give up the idea that there is a reality outside of minds to which our ideas can approximate.

MJ said...

Sixwing, I remember the first time I came to this choice, was after a failed missionary experience, I told my old boss, "I have to go back to the very beginning and try to figure out what is true."

He looked at me and said, "That is very dangerous. I knew a guy who did that and is now an atheist."

I did do it, and I am so glad I did. But it took a decade of sincere searching. I think that God rewards those to search with an open and sincere heart . . . and they can trust Him to lead them home.

MJ said...

prs, That is a great point. Can you imagine, in that illustration I gave a few posts ago about the Pastor wanting a raising of hands,that the pastor said, "who is absolutely confident that what I've preached here is true? Okay, I want to see a raising of hands? Keep them coming. Now, all of you with raised hands are fools. You should examine for yourselves to see if what you are told is true. That's what Paul thought was important."

MJ said...

Notal, don't you think that those who are so confident of their atheistism or agnosticism (with the traditional meaning that it is impossible to know so why bother)are no better off than those who believe blindly and pretend never to doubt their religious beliefs? Seems to be the same thing.

Becky said...

Have you ever read the article "Hindenburg Theology" by Lawrence Stone?

He's making similar points you are, but playing with the images of the Hindenburg versus the Good Year Blimp (and then, later, a particular type of WW2 plane that was known for being able to take a lot of damage and still get its crew home safely) as the structure for his article. That image ... "Hindenburg Theology" ... made something click in my mind when I first read it.

Some sample quotes from the article:

[speaking of the Hindenburg] One puncture, and down it came. So why did they take the risk of using such a volatile gas? Simple: the amazing amount of lift it afforded. They traded reliability for power.

I think a lot of us have a theology something like the Hindenburg. We love superlatives. We love maximums. So we not only speak of biblical inerrancy, we operate as though any problem in the biblical text invalidates its witness to the will of God, which in turn requires us to deny that any such contradictory evidence or valid contrary views even exist. We almost dare the world to prove us wrong on a single point. It's a high-wire act without a net. We believe the faith is reasonable, and then procede to invoke the "domino principle" that any deviation from any one point brings down the whole edifice.


I suspect by the time I get to heaven, my theology--and my life--won't look very much like the Goodyear Blimp placidly floating among the clouds. I suspect I'll look like one of those shot-up B17s. Dropping precipitously, wobbling, two engines smoking, one engine gone, pieces of wing and fuselage blown away by withering enemy fire, control surfaces flapping loose, wallowing and dipping through the air as the crew desperately hand-cranks the landing gear down--but when the tires scorch the pavement, it's home, and all things are made new in the victory won at such sacrifice.

But that sure beats looking like...the Hindenburg!

MJ said...

Becky, I've never read it. Where do you find such interesting things to read?

Becky said...

I'm pretty sure that is yet another article that Michael Spencer mentioned at some point.

(I sure do miss iMonk. I was just digging around in the internetmonk archives this week, looking for something I vaguely remembered. Didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find some other articles that really hit some of my current nails on their heads. From a post that Denise Spencer just put up on her blog, I guess it was 6 month anniversary of his death just recently.)

Eagle said...

Questioning is hard...the church treats questions and doubt as a sin at times. Oh I've been to churches that love questions, but you need to ask the right one's - the ones with answers can be given in certainity. In my period of doubt I lost my faith. I lost friends, I lost poeple I had known, and I dealt with a huge amount of anger. When I was struggling some of my closest Christian friends left. I guess they thought that doubt was infectous. When I was dealing with all this the response by the church only made the situation worse. For example I had people that evangelized me, said I lacked faith, and one by Facebook tell me that I chose to walk away from God. Why are Christians such arrogant assholes?!?

I just can't believe anymore...I see nothing to believe in. I'm actively looking at getting involved with a local Secular organization.

Like a Child said...

Eagle - I too have experienced some alienation from some friends, and it is very difficult to talk about doubt to some Christians, particularly those that don't know you very well. My closest friends, none of which I met through our old church, have remained friends with me in spite of my doubts. In contrast, when we left our old church due to issues over theology (not doubt), we ended up loosing all of our friends made through that church. Mentally, if I don't read much evidence for the historicity of Christianity and I don't see evidence of God in humanity, it is hard to fight the doubts!

MJ said...

I'm sorry about your experiences. Certainly rings true to what most of us have experienced.

While far from perfect, this was the thing that I found attractive by LAbri when I first met them. Their motto is "Honest Answers for Honest Questions." They encourage questions. I've set in many of their meetings too when the leader admitted that they had no confident answer.

But I trust you guys on your search. I wish the Church was different. But it's broken-ness, messed-up-ness confirms to me the truth of the Christian message that we are all screwed up big time . . . yet, not without hope.

Wanda said...

"....we are all screwed up big time . . . yet, not without hope."

That hope is the difference. Hope.
That Saviour, not those people, not that church, not that education, not that evangelist... that Saviour is the difference.

Great discussion. Thanks so much.

Knurd said...

A man must always test his own faith and it is aggravating on so many levels for another man to even suggest how dangerous that is. Life is dangerous. I myself have cheated death four times. To think it dangerous that a Christian question his own faith and potentially become Atheist is to make God out to be a liar. It is to say that God is NOT in control and has no reliable plan of redemption for every individual alive or dead. It is controlling. It is ignorance of the fact that each and every man must find his own way. He must choose upon his own accord to enter into communion with God.

It's pretty shameful to condemn seculars, agnostics and atheists for having a dumbed-down, luke-warm and inferior view of God. It's Western Christians who have sold out God fire, wind, earth and water for an impotent legalistic uncreative robot. Jesus is nothing more than a raving mad bearded philosopher. He is no longer an extension of the divine person who stretched forth the heavens like the canopy of a tent.

Jesus holds a stick over our heads and demands that we make Christian converts or else burn in hell. He is no longer Abba father, and for some backwards reason we don't allow ourselves to playfully bask in the garden of his endless love. When we sing in church there ought to be tears streaming from our eyes.

The Western Christian is weak, impotent, boring, uninteresting and powerless. This is because he has rejected communion with God. He keeps the Rock of Ages at arms-length conveniently tucked away in a literal bible and stubbornly insists on being separate from Him. Mud pies are sufficient for the Western Christian. He has made all-powerful sovereign God out to be a liar, contradictory and therefore only myth.

The unsaved have such a small view of God because Christians no longer filled with the Holy Spirit have a small view of God. Where have the Stephens all gone?