“Oh yes, God is real!”

A middle-class mother of three proclaims enthusiastically,

“I know that God is real, because he is at work in my life.  He has worked wonders in guiding me to find a great job, in helping me mother my children, and being a good wife.  He speaks to me constantly, through his Word and his Spirit.  I do not know how I could not believe, given how very real he is to me.”

Now, imagine a widower in the slums of Calcutta.  She has been forced into prostitution so that her starving children might have something to eat.  Her days are spent in miserable conditions, and she despises every minute of her ‘occupation’.  Could this woman express sentiments like that of the prior woman?

If God is real, why is he real only to this middle-class woman?


Pride goes before a fall

It seems that Ted Haggard was seriously humbled by the scandal which caused him to come down from his lofty heights to go through tremendous pain, which I would not wish on anyone.  This follows on nicely from my last post on authenticity, as Haggard suggests that he is completely owning his gay tendencies, which he had previously attributed to the devil.  While I would have wished that he might have ‘seen the light’ in regard to his beliefs, I marvel now at how the process has changed him.


I’m going to go out on a limb with this post and get rather personal.  I’m beginning to see where I try to present a facade that is not exactly congruent with reality.  I have always had problems with self-acceptance.  Throughout my teenage years and into my 20’s, I had great difficulty discussing my faith with others.  I immediately presumed that being a Christian put me in a class of scorn.  In hindsight, now that I am no longer a Christian, I have observed that one’s faith does not tend to lead to derision, unless it is forcefully imposed on others.  In retrospect, I had developed a cognitive strategy of defense against imagined attackers (who had previously not been imagined in the form of bullies) – to avoid the facts about my life situation as much as possible.

This strategy lead to creating a rather mundane life for me, for instead of being actively involved in social activities, I would hide behind my self-constructed defenses.  I never did learn how to do anything else.  Yet at many times I have attempted to move beyond my circumstances, since I just find them completely unsatisfying.  I get so far, and then compare the achievements and experiences of others to my own, and cringe.  Back with the defenses, with the facade, shrinking back to my hole.

The only way I can see to escape this behaviour is through authenticity.  That is, to see the facts of my situation clearly – I am a person with needs, like every other person.  I need to be wanted, to be loved, to be appreciated, to be respected, to be connected to others.  I need to take pleasure in life.  There is nothing good or bad about these needs, they are just how our minds are programmed to function.  Life achievements and experiences are merely individuating details, the things that make each of us different.  If people have these details and I do not, all that does is demarcate our differences.   I do have things that make me particularly unique, but at the end of the day the core needs bind me with humanity.  I can choose to take pride, or be disgusted with my own individual traits, yet either choice is unnecessary in the long run.  A rich life is made up in the fulfillment of the basic needs rather than the amassing of details.

The understanding that everyone has the same basic needs undermines my defensive strategy, for I can then appreciate that beyond the details are yearnings and desires similar to my own.  I can then accept my own personal details, knowing that I have these needs in common with others.  Our needs rather than our details come together for mutual benefit.  What about the details that I do not like but cannot change?  That is another thing I have in common with others, imperfection.  There are two great things to be celebrated in humanity, namely diversity and commonality.  Life would be so very boring without them.

Paradigm Shifting

I feel the need to chronicle some major shifts in thinking that have really only occurred in the last few weeks, resulting in recent blog posts, a return to contributing to the de-conversion.com blog, and a move away from spiritual seeking.

After deferring the first year of my psychology degree last year (a decision made largely from the perspective of depression), I decided to return this year.  Just in the first week of lectures my continued open-mindedness to the belief in God and supernatural phenomena came under serious question.  Only a week prior to this, I had attended a meditation course that taught a variety of New-Agey practices and theories.  I had anticipated attending this course for many months, and then afterwards I felt quite disillusioned.  The more I considered the course in light of my increasing scientific awareness, the more suspicious I became of its authenticity.

Even prior to the course, I had attended a counselling session that affected me profoundly, in that my attachment to self-help books was made clear to be a pathology rather than beneficial to wellbeing.  I rearranged my library, got rid of some of my self-help materials, and began to focus on things other than trying to fix my problems.  Spirituality was still under the radar, and still appeared to be something that I would hold of interest.  And then, the more lectures I attended, and the more sections of textbooks I read, the more reason prevailed over my interests.

Emotionally, having such sudden paradigm shifts is very challenging.  On the one hand, there is a relief that chasing one particular direction is no longer necessary.  On the other, there is a sense of loss, a sudden grief that something held dear has passed away.  Even today a book I’d read almost to the end was filed away in my library, not to be accessed again for a long time, due to its speculative psychoanalysis.

The one thing that is most important about my new-found scientific perspective is simplicity.  Instead of moving through a multitude of speculations regarding why I feel this way or that, why I experience particular emotions, or the revelance of spiritual experiences, I can rest simply and profoundly on experiences that are proven to be true.  Many bright sparks have gone before me to shine the way in just about every area of importance.  Even where the light is still dim, there is just enough light to see far enough ahead to forge new discoveries.  On my paradigm-shifting journey, I do not go alone; I stand in a great company of other courageous souls.

Critical Thinking applied to faith

I have just been reading a textbook explanation of critical thinking, which describes two primary skills:

  1. Looking for alternative explanations for findings and events
  2. Looking for contrary evidence

A great video for understanding how this applies to faith is this debate between Sam Harris, author of End of Faith, and Hugh Hewitt, a radio host.  Harris represents the rational view, and Hewitt the irrational view.  I say this because it is Harris who applies the above two skills consistently in his reasoning, whereas Hewitt consistently points back to the Bible as the source of truth that, he believes, cannot be denied.  Unfortunately this debate is too short for Harris to question this irrational belief, however in defending his views he appears as the one who has thought long and hard through the issues raised.

The faith position leaves no room for alternative explanations.  The Bible is the revealed Word of God.  There is no contrary evidence for anything it presents, as it carries the authority of the Creator of the universe.  What it says is absolutely final.  Such a position as this leaves no room for critical thinking, and Harris is quite right to consider this ideology to be dangerous.  One thing that really stands out to me in this debate, and which seems to be common in religious circles, is Hewitt’s comment about being a ‘law professor’.  In other words, because he is an academician of high standing, he can legitimize his irrational views.  The appeal to authority is all too common (and goes back to the ancient Greeks), and fortunately good scientists actually apply the rules of critical thinking to bring creditability to their theories, being quite willing to be wrong.

Again, we come back to the notion of Beyond Black and White, that complex issues can rarely be reduced to right and wrong polarities, and as such must be carefully weighted and argued.

It’s a stretch to think

I was having a conversation with a friend today, and one thing has struck me from it – that most Christians cannot see beyond the limited faith perspective enough to question what they read and hear.  Their belief in their particular view of God limits their vision so much that any challenge to the perspective is met with a sharp defense.  My friend mentioned that she has many Christian friends who she cannot share her own beliefs with for fear that it will destroy their faith.

That’s the challenge – do you share what you feel is liberating, or allow others to continue in delusion so that they may avoid the inevitable pain that can follow discovery of superstitious belief?  There has got to be a middle ground.  Unfortunately, I went through a very dark time to arrive at what I understand at this point in time, and I do not wish such an experience on anyone.  Pain is a normal experience, at least the grief of loss, but should not be any more uncomfortable as a child realizing that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fantasy.  In both cases, there is an expanded awareness and understanding of the world.  This could be well described as ‘growing pains’.

A middle ground which would have softened the blow for me would have been to have friends that either had gone through the journey themselves, or were at least open-minded enough to be able to guide my confused and troubled mind into clarity and peace.  If I were to try to bring someone to a more expanded awareness or shift in consciousness, I would do so gently rather than with any force.  Dawkins or Harris really will not do at this stage.  I think there is a big lack in quality resources to facilitate this process.  Brian Mclaren was responsible for my initial shift, but beyond him the only vestige of support was in liberal Christianity, which offered very little that I could confidently grasp.

Walking away from the security of a church where community, warmth, and joy are regularly experienced is unquestionable for most.  It was relatively easy for me given that I experienced none of these things.  What I long to see is community that is both open-minded and open-hearted.  Such is rare, and such is beautiful.

Convert by sleuth

I never cease to be amazed by the methods used by evangelical Christians to attempt to convert unsuspecting ‘heathens’ into belief.  At my local university, the Christian group posted a pamphlet with the large headline ‘FREE ACCOMMODATION’.  Obviously, that would catch the attention of anyone.  What followed the headline made me laugh (and say a couple choice words).  It was a quote from the book of John, where ‘Jesus’ proclaims that there are many rooms in his father’s house.  Below the verse were a number of tear-off tabs listing a phone number for follow-up and the website for the Christian student group.  I could not help but be the first to grab the details, thinking it would be good seed material for my blog 🙂

Really, I shouldn’t be surprised – I’ve been exposed to all manner of campaigns to lure people into the church, all in the name of evangelism.  ‘We’ve got to save them from hell’ was always the plea, and what with such dire consequences, who wouldn’t in their right mind want to do their utmost to ensure that people at least have the opportunity to make the decision to choose heaven?  I now wonder why God would have to use devious and false methods to ensure that people believe in him?  Surely if this God is the source of Truth, then he would easily promote belief in himself without resorting to marketing that is even below most political and commercial advertising.

These campaigns really seem to be driven more by desperation than genuine concern.  There may be a few gullible souls that fall prey to their calls, but in such an environment as a university which tends to carry the more intellectual and enlightened, the only common response I can imagine is a scoff.