Archive for December, 2009
2009 was a tough year in a lot of ways. I was out of work in the beginning, but working again before the end of January. Plenty of changes for us, new job, new church, lots of new friends. And writing a blog. A unique and challenging year, that is for sure.
We are celebrating the evening with my extended family at my parents house in the big wintery woods of Pennsylvania (Penn’s woods). So just a little “Happy New Year!” to you all out there. Hope you are enjoying the time and are looking forward to the new year as much as I am. Thanks for stopping by!
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…a time to rend, and a time to sew… Ecclesiastes 3:7
I would like to introduce a new visitor to this site, she will go by atimetosew, at least for now. She is a lovely individual, a committed Christian, a mother of four beautiful children, and my long-suffering wife of over 13 years. I have been sending her individual posts for a while, but she has recently started reading here directly. Which has, to say the least, been an adventure for both of us!
If you have read anything of the angst of deconversion here, you can be assured she has suffered through as much or more than I have this past year. And we’re still in this thing together somehow. Now I get to see how much my own thoughts I write about here line up with reality… ;^)
Following is her first guest post.
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Guest post written by atimetosew (my wife).
To all of you who are faithful (or sporadic) readers of my husband’s blog, I write this post to thank you and to introduce myself. Thank you for your comments, your listening “ears”, and your support of my husband through what we would both consider a “messed up year.” ATTR was up and running some three or four months before I knew about it. Even then, my husband was reticent to share his posts with me. Ouch! That was hard for a wife to take. I remember saying, “I thought we were friends.” Yet, some things were too hard to work through at the time. Thanks for being there for him when I couldn’t.
As for blogging, Mr. ATTR has been after me for several months. I’ve been a journaler all my life, but exceedingly private about it. The thought of a worldwide community of anonymous readers is extremely intimidating. I’ll give this a try, but make no promises. I don’t think or write as well as Mr. ATTR. If you wish to follow our marital journey through this mess, my blog will be located at atimetosew.wordpress.com. I’ll warn you, though, that I’m much more of a “rambler” than Mr. ATTR. I imagine that my posts will be a bit more practical…but perhaps more whimsical as well. Time will tell.
As for me…who I am…where I belong…that is harder. Even with all we’ve been through, I still am, or would like to be, a follower of Christ. I’m on a journey to seek out what that means. It’s a journey I’ve been on for 23 years or so now. Sometimes the more I travel, the less I know. Nevertheless, I’m very seriously seeking.
“Go where the evidence leads” was a recent topic among several biblioblogs concerning academic freedom in seminaries, starting with a post by Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary. I am including a couple links in case anyone is interested in the somewhat esoteric discussion. Both provide good summaries of the discussion and are blogs well worth perusing.
Exploring our Matrix – The Bible, Christianity, and Scholarship
Biblia Hebraica – Go Where the Evidence Leads
On my own tangent, regarding going where evidence leads and relating to the Christmas narratives, Al Mohler wrote a post a few years ago making this statement:
“The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”
For the record, I do not agree with this statement. A person does not have to give up being a Christian if they do not believe in a historical and literal virgin birth. Nor do they have to give up the right to formulate their own opinions. Mohler’s definition of Christianity is not universal; a claim conveniently asserted, but not so easily supported.
Maybe it should read:
“The real question is this: Can a Fundamentalist Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth and remain a Fundamentalist Christian? The answer must be no.”
I would be fine with that, let him define his own sect. :^)
There are of course many Evangelicals who would agree with his statement. I am not trying to make a case here either for or against belief in the virgin birth. However the statement goes well beyond the belief itself. It is a statement requiring Christians to have this belief, which is a relatively modern understanding.
“The Fundamentals” was a series of articles published and widely distributed in the early 1900’s to defend conservative Christian faith against the influence of liberalism. The articles outlined a number of doctrines deemed essential, or fundamental, to the Christian faith. It is in that sense that belief in the virgin birth is relatively new as a fundamentalist tenet. Certain beliefs cannot be challenged. Certain conclusions are ruled out a priori, before considering evidence, with the “right” answer pre-determined. Orthodoxy, “right thinking,” takes precedent over thinking and forming opinions. If use of reason should lead one to consider something contrary to those established by the orthodox tradition, it could only be that the reasoning was prideful because “God’s reason is higher than man’s”. A less subtle version might be the famous bumper sticker, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”
Where does “I don’t know” belong in the equation though? There are a lot of unknowns about the gospel accounts. As ancient history published years after the fact and scarcely if at all documented in contemporary sources that will always be the case. Fundamentalists say that the bible is inerrant and seek to explain away any seeming problems by providing logical possibilities as solutions. That may be well and good as a position of faith, but it is not following where the evidence goes. Is belief in the virgin birth a strong candidate for a required belief? Where should the line be drawn? And who should draw it?
“Where does the evidence lead?” That question should be fair game for anyone, skeptic or believer. If it is reasonable for people to draw different conclusions about the evidence, or make a choice knowing evidence is lacking, why should it be unreasonable to try to follow the evidence, or to simply state, “I don’t know what happened?” How can faith require that others know with certainty what one takes on faith? I think I want my “I don’t know” back.
Again from the A Beka textbook, “Old World History and Geography: A Christian Perspective” (interesting reviews here and here), following up on a comment regarding South Africa in the related post (thanks Marty for the extra background information).
Interesting section of the textbook. Last time it was liberalism and modernity, now communism in South Africa. They certainly do not condone apartheid, but the beast of communism rears its ugly head in a strange way that seems to minimize their critique of the racist policies of the former government.
The new republic. To keep control of the country and prevent fighting among rival tribes, the Afrikaners divided South Africa’s population into several racial groups — while, black, Indian, and people of mixed ancestry — and established 10 “homelands” for the black African population. The white Afrikaners generally kept for themselves the lands with more fertile soil and mineral wealth. The program of racial divisions also kept black South Africans from political participation and permitted widespread discrimination in employment, education, and housing. Many black Africans obtained permits to work in the cities or in the mines, but they were required to live apart in black communities on the outskirts of the cities.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, opposition to the racial divisions grew within South Africa and around the world until the United Nations intervened. World media focused on the racial conflict, making the Afrikaners’ discrimination against black South Africans known. But newscasts did not mention the Afrikaners’ struggle against Communist terrorists who were trying to take control of the country. Hundreds of black Africans suffered and died at the hands of Communist guerrillas, but the world blamed the South African government.
Communism. In 1990, South Africa’s president began working to end the racial divisions. Black citizens received voting rights in 1992, and in 1994 South Africa held its first multiracial elections, which brought to power Nelson Mandela, a Communist leader and South Africa’s first black president.
Mandela’s political intentions soon became clear as he appointed Communists to key positions and extended government control over businesses and industries. The growing influence of Communism concerns South Africa’s citizens, especially Christians who make up a large part of the population.
So despite saying apartheid was wrong and finding the Afrikaners to be generally at fault, A Beka tries to partially redeem them as well. History is conveniently twisted to sound like they were fighting the good fight to save Africans in their own nation from communism. No mention that the guerrillas were South Africans themselves, or that the people fighting against the government were denied the right to vote. Or that people who were against the government at that time could be labeled “communist” and blacklisted and consequently persecuted (McCarthyism anyone?). Or that establishment of the “homelands” involved forced resettlement to move people to their designated “group areas”. Or mention of U.S. support for a proxy war in Angola where South African troops were supposedly fighting the forces of communism.
A Beka’s dominionist roots are showing, with a willingness and even desire to see Christian values even when human rights of others are trampled in the process. Children are taught that certain political positions, such as anti-communism, are de facto Christian values, as if there had to be a Christian consensus on this. No running the risk of teaching children that issues of right and wrong or “us” versus “them” are not always as clear cut as we might want them to be.
I was at a Christian gathering a few months ago where someone said that Obama’s policies are really socialist and practically communist. The person who said it seemed to assume everyone would be on the same page with that criticism, which I found presumptuous because I certainly was not. After the conversation went down that path for a moment, someone chipped in with, “A lot of what Jesus taught sounds a lot closer to communism than free market capitalism.” Quiet ensued.
Really, dominionism is not Christianity. So why focus on any of this? Are fundamentalists just an easy target for those who wish to criticize Christianity? Sure they are, but to repeat from the last post, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned. The tentacles of fundamentalism are deeply entwined in Evangelicalism. You cannot attend a conservative Evangelical church for long without being exposed to doctrines like this at some level. And too many moderate Evangelicals seem reluctant to speak out against it, perhaps out of a concern of causing disunity in the Church, or apathy, or intellectual laziness. Cases like this may seem extreme, but are probably not as far outside of the mainstream as many Christians would like to admit.
One of my kids came home from school last week with some complaints about his history curriculum, which uses the textbook “Old World History and Geography” from A Beka books. A Beka books is associated with Pensacola Christian College, a very fundamentalist Christian school. I have seen some of their school materials before and found them relatively innocuous, but this was different.
The lessons he said included a lot about people turning towards or away from God, but without a lot of details about the actual history itself. He also noted that evolution was described as a false teaching. I went through the chapter so we could spend some more time discussing it.
Here is a paragraph from a chapter on England:
During the twentieth century England lost its great empire, much of its wealth, and its position as a world leader. There were many causes for this decline.
Modernism. England’s problems began in the late ninetheenth century when many of her church ministers began to deny the truth of the Bible. The false ideas that the Bible does not mean what it says and that men must use their reason alone to find truth are called modernism or liberalism. Religious modernism was the result of a humanist movement in France during the 1700s called the Enlightenment. The wicked ideas of the Enlightenment and modernism spread throughout Europe during the nineteenth century. Modernism has caused great harm to every nation that has been affected by it.
Yes, you have entered the alternate reality of Fundamentalist Christianity, where a war against the use of reason is taking place. I guess at least they are not hiding it. I will go out on a limb here and say we have definitely benefited from the use of reason as championed by the Enlightenment, but hey, I’m just a liberal modernist, what do I know?
Here is another quote from the same page:
Evolution. Another false teaching that arose during the nineteenth century was Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many people who doubted the Bible began to accept Darwin’s false idea that man has descended from the animals. Such a belief took away man’s dignity as a creature made in the image of God, and it caused people to stop being concerned about their soul’s salvation. It also caused a decline in science, for scientists began to accept an untested idea as truth, an attitude that goes against the scientific method.
“…scientists began to accept an untested idea as truth…“? What a minute, who are these people to start lecturing us on the scientific method??? And I would like for them to describe to the children what this decline in science since the time of Darwin looks like.
I find it indicative of the way fundamentalism bleeds over into more mainstream Evangelicalism. The school is not what most would consider fundamentalist, yet material like this can still exist in the curriculum. Of course secular ideas creep into Evangelicalism at least as much as fundamentalist ones, so that in itself is not surprising. But I am still somewhat taken aback by the detachment from reality displayed by the authors, and that “decline in science” line is still bothering me. This book is not training children to think critically, it is training them to think the right things, the things they are told to believe, and to fear ideas which might challenge those beliefs.
Summarize the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two words long, the third three words long, the fourth four words long and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.
I’m sticking with her “bible haiku” label because it sounds that way to me too. I found it hard to write without being glib and it makes me realize how divided my perspectives on the bible are. But here’s mine:
secrets forever hidden in time
beautiful, cruel, and tedious
cleverly spun tales
Profound, huh? :P
I couldn’t figure who would want to be tagged, so consider yourself tagged if you want to be. Below are other participants Kay listed. There are a number of great blogs there, only a few of which I have read before, definitely worth checking out.
When I entered 7th grade our school guidance counselor gave an introductory talk to incoming students that in some way invoked the topic of the supernatural. I think he was making a general point that there are things out there in life which are bigger than we realize, but I do not remember the details, it did not make much of an impression on me at the time. I only remembered the talk several years later when other events brought it to mind.
For several years in high school I participated in a creative problem solving competition and the same guidance counselor was our coach. Through the time we spent together travelling to events we developed a nice friendship. When I was in eleventh grade we traveled to the University of Akron in Ohio for the national competition and roomed in a dormitory at Kent State University, just outside the city of Akron. While we were there he told an interesting story to our team of four guys.
His wife had attended Kent State University and was there in the May of 1970 at the time of the Kent State shootings when four students were killed by rifle fire from members of the Ohio State National Guard. My guidance counselor and his wife were friends of one of the victims. Returning to the campus was a traumatic experience for him. Earlier that evening he had met some other coaches who were close in age to him and they visited the site of the shootings. I remember him describing a sculpture there which has bullet holes from that day. When they were at the sculpture they started yelling into the night sky in an expression of anger and anguish as they remembered those events and that time in their lives.
Somehow that story transitioned to another college memory of his, I think because he was in an introspective mood following his experiences that evening. When he was in college his best friend had a roommate who would wake up in the night and say things in his sleep. Allegedly he would sit up in bed and say, “Mommy, Daddy, Joey’s on fire!” in a high pitched, child like voice. When awoken he would not remember any details at all. Further connecting the behavior with the supernatural, he described one night when a group of students was playing with a ouija board down the hall and the sleep talker sat up in bed and added more details to his usual mantra, including the name of a town.
The following summer my guidance counselor and his friend took a road trip after graduating college and stopped at that town. They somehow looked up records of fires in the town, or perhaps it was some other detail they used to connect the sleep talking with an actual event, I no longer remember the details. They were able to locate the name of a boy named Joseph who had been killed in a fire along with his family. The two guys found the address and stopped to take some pictures. When they returned home after the trip and had the film developed, all the pictures but those of the fire location turned out fine, only the pictures of the fire location turned out overexposed.
Pretty scary stuff to be hearing from an adult late at night, but for me it got worse. One of my friends on the trip was a Christian and had been sharing his testimony with me for years. The thing that always surprised me was the way he described Christianity in very manner of fact terms. It was never, “I believe this or that…” but rather, “This is why this happens…” kind of explanations based on the bible and his fundamentalist religion. He was someone I really looked up and to this day may be the most intelligent person I have ever met. I asked him what he made of the story and in his matter of fact way he explained that the boys’ mother was a witch who deliberately started the fire the boy died in. The sleep talker had been possessed by demons with knowledge of the event.
While somewhat incredulous that he could know with a degree of certainty what happened in the spiritual realm, I was none the less convinced that something very real was going on in this spiritual realm he described, which up to that point I had been rather skeptical of. I did not sleep very well alone in my concrete block dorm room I was so scared. That is likely the first time I ever prayed for help from God.
To this day I do not know what to make of the story. While I am not especially inclined to defer to the supernatural for explanations of events, I do not know what happened either. Clearly there are many possibilities. I do know my guidance counselor was haunted by those events and they have affected him to this day. I know my friend with the supernatural answers has crazier supernatural answers now than when I knew him in high school. And I know I still do not care to delve into ghost stories or the occult, even apart from Christian injunctions against involvement with spiritualism. It is still a scary story to me to be honest. Man’s decent into darkness and madness can be very real regardless of its source.