Posts filed under ‘leaving’
According to Wikipedia, cognitive dissonance is “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.” The more rigid a religion is in its creeds, the more cognitive dissonance can result from clashes with the real world. It is very hard for me to point to just one thing that created enough cognitive dissonance for me to start the questioning process. But perhaps the final straw came from a sermon on the book of Daniel, which for me called the doctrine of inerrancy into question.
The sermon itself was an exposition on the prophesies contained in the book of Daniel, the point being that if God was faithful to answer prophesies then, we ourselves should be able to trust him now. The pastor had waded through a lot of complex material in an attempt to explain what the the prophesies in Daniel were really about and how they had played out in history. While I admired his attempt to grapple with the material, as a history buff the solutions he presented seemed contrived, like they were trying to force the evidence to meet preconceived conclusions. Enough for me to venture onto the Internet in search for more information. A dangerous precedent!
In a nutshell, the book of Daniel is held up as including prophesies of the coming of the Messiah, along with predictions of various kings and kingdoms coming and going. According to this website, “the book itself claims to be the work of an exiled Jew in Babylon, during the period of about 586 to 536 BCE.” Since a number of the prophesies appear to deal with events which transpired around 165 BCE, an early dating of 586 BCE could indeed constitute fulfilled prophesies.
The general consensus of modern biblical scholars however places the writings to around the time period of 165 BCE. One reason for this, as fundamentalists are glad to point out, is that a later dating, after the events “foretold” already transpired, does not depend on a belief in supernaturally fulfilled prophesies . Unfortunately for the fundamentalists, there are other solid literary and historic clues which support this later dating.
Viewed as a later writing, the purposes of the book can be understood a different way:
Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.
It didn’t take much reading to realize this view of the book just made more sense to me. I was actually asked about a year later by this same pastor “what was in your heart that made you think this view of Daniel was true?” I replied that I did not think it was anything in my heart making me think that way, it is just where the evidence seemed to lead. I really think it is only a “heart issue” that causes someone to believe in the earlier dating of Daniel, because of a desire to maintain a certain view of the bible rather than more dispassionately considering what is really going on in the book. Of course this is all based on my own limited understanding of the textual issues and historical details at hand, but that is the best I can do. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.
For me faith pretty much fell apart at that point. I felt the advice I received to deal with those doubts and to try to hold on to faith all pointed to returning to a blind trust of the bible. Much of what I read seemed to exhort people to reject their own reason (as human, corrupt, and fallible) and accept the sweet and pure truth of God’s word the bible. Which to me still sounds like a clarion call to shut off your mind and just believe.
Maybe if I had been in a more progressive tradition I would have dealt with those doubts differently. Maybe if I had been surrounded by voices calling me to more flexible view of scripture I would have been able to see a different way. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and faith made more sense discarded than clung to at that point. On one hand it hurt and I responded with a lot of anger. On the other hand it has helped me to think for myself, to form my own opinions, and to read, read, read. And to be honest that has been a pretty good deal for me. I am grateful for a deconstructed faith.
I had changed in another way. I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded in logic and reason, requires a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. I used to think that you simply made a decision: to believe in Jesus or not. Collect the facts and then decide for yourself. But it’s not that simple. Faith is something that is triggered deep within your soul — influenced by upbringing, family, friends, experiences, and desires. It’s not like registering to vote.
Christians often talk to those who have fallen away from the faith as if they had made a choice to turn away from God. But as deeply as I missed my faith, as hard as I tried to keep it, my head could not command my gut. I know now that it was wishful thinking, not truth. I just didn’t believe in God anymore, despite my best attempts to hold on to my beliefs. Faith can’t be willed into existence. There’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.
– from William Lobdell’s book, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace.
A little while back I found out I had been used as a sermon illustration by a pastor I had recently become friends with (a pastor at a different church than the one I attended). Quite a surprise ! I was able to download the sermon to see what it was about.
His sermon generally spoke of being friends with someone who questions the bible, being gracious and understanding, really listening and respecting. It was a good message. I had previously met with this person while still in the process of leaving my old church and had spoken about some of the difficulties I had working through things there. The part where I came in was to illustrate how someone can be ostracized by Christians when they voice their questions.
The illustration needed a bit of clarification about how people treated me at the old church. I was afraid the pastor (at the new church) believed people had treated me badly at our old church (they had not). I tried to clear things up by sending the email below (minimally edited, and names have been changed):
I heard through the grapevine that I was an illustration in a recent sermon of yours, which I just downloaded. On one hand, it is a bit embarrassing to be a sermon illustration, but on the other hand I’m honored, and deeply appreciate the way you care about these issues. And to be sure I have no objection with what you said in the sermon, you did an excellent job of conveying the need for compassion and care.
But after listening to your sermon, I do want to clear up something which I believe I miscommunicated to you, because I don’t want to misrepresent the church I just am leaving (Conservative Evangelical Church) by making it seem I was ostracized by them. The members of Conservative Evangelical Church do respect believers who question the faith, just as you taught in your sermon, and showed me nothing but love and charity. Working through my understanding of the bible there was difficult for me because in general the people there lack a framework to deal with those who question the bible.
I recently had a conversation with my pastor [at my old church]. He didn’t seem to be able to engage the questions I had, though I think tried to. For whatever reason, he couldn’t answer a question I thought was straightforward with a “yes” or “no,” it seemed to me he was dancing around the issue.
So while *feeling* ostracized, it has been more of a functional separation than an unwillingness of people to want to care for me. I wasn’t kicked out, but there doesn’t seem to be room there theologically for questions about the inerrancy of the bible. I see it as something built in to the fundamentalist/inerrantist view of the bible that prevents people from engaging in those kinds of questions, other than to seek to reinforce their own perspective. On top of that, there were certain dynamics in my relationship with my wife, and her relationship with the church, which certainly compounded those problems. And on top of that, I am sure my own anxiety and discomfort working though this whole process has contributed significantly.
Again, I have no problem with the sermon illustration personally. I just want to clear up any misconception I may have caused about Conservative Evangelical Church. Thanks for taking the time to read all this.
Picked up new books at the library tonight;
Philosophers Without Gods, by Louise Antony,
Why Intelligent Design Fails, edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis,
The Year of Living Biblically, by AJ Jacobs.
I was feeling pretty good about myself thinking, I don’t have to feel like I’m hiding these books anymore. I can just bring them home and read them, yep, that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t need to walk with them hinden under my arm because I’m becoming comfortable with my beliefs. And if I see someone I know, I’ll just talk about the books with them. Yep, that’s what I’d do…
At that moment, walking over to get my kids, I saw they were talking with someone from the church, my pastor. Someone who I am meeting with next week to talk about where things are going for me. Now I’m not afraid of meeting him and talking through things, but…
These books under my arm won’t make a good introduction to the upcoming meeting, better to talk with him first. But on the other hand, I should just be honest and now is a good time to… Hmmm, how convenient there is bookshelf right here, I think I’ll just shove them there for a moment…
Really, discretion is the better part of valor, right?
Getting there slowly… (wimp…)
Here’s another piece of my jrnl.txt file last year. Again, things are not so hard now, October 2008 seems like a long time ago, mercifully. I am still unclear where my life is heading relationally, what moving on from relationships in the church means. I’m quite a social person, not too happy drifting through a solitary life. The solitary period has been helpful in allowing a needed measure of introspection and re-evaluation. But at the same time my thinking gets pretty convoluted and confused working through things on my own.
Loneliness has probably been my biggest struggle since deconverting. I am sure losing trust in a divine and omnipresent friend has something to do with that, but I really don’t think that is the case much. Because I haven’t really had that trust for a long time, I don’t know how much I ever did, and never felt lonely in the way I do now.
The sudden and recent loss has been in regard to human friendships. My friendships have turned from mutual care and respect to helping me. And not just helping me, but helping to *fix* me, to return me to someone who I am not. That has been a real loss to me.
Why does that affect me so much during the day, when I wouldn’t see or talk to friends anyway? Maybe in feelings about friendships, anticipating getting together, or remembering recent times together. That’s a surprise to me, that friends not present have such an impact on my emotional well being. Not their physical presence, but thoughts about them. I have a lot of work to do, either getting comfortable being alone (not my preference), or rebuilding friendships if possible. Making new ones of course too, but that prospect never heartens me, such a hard thing to do. I want to get a weblog going some time soon.