Consider this report by a non-Christian who attended the recent “On Guard” conference in Dallas, Texas. (H/T Melissa of Hard-Core Christianity)
Back in high school, I was holy rollin’ like a 80-year-old on a Rascal. I knew for sure I was going into the ministry and was entirely prepared to spend the rest of my life in the service of God. Several things happened about which I would write a book (and might one day). The short version is, my church was populated with small-minded, bigots. The church split twice and once because of a situation I was involved in. A poor black woman living out of an old rusted mustang barely survived two lots down while the church sent money to missionaries in Honduras. By the time the church had sucked my soul from me and spit me out, I turned my back on it all.
Fast forward to now. I have two children and I live in Texas. They will be exposed to Christianity in some form. We visited many churches (and synagogues since they are technically Jewish) and nothing appealed to me. The primary problem I have is that traditional worship is a broken record, especially when handled by Southern Baptists. There is only so much of the same catch-phrases, slogans, and cliches I can take before I hit toxic cynicism. The other problem I have is with modern worship. There is only so much canned slides, unfamiliar songs, and slick (but only re-purposed traditional) sermons I stomach. Where others claim tradition, I claim “rut”. I was on the other side long enough to see all of these things as meaningless.
I kept myself at such a distance from religion for so long, that aplogetics is entirely new to me. Christian apologetics is a discipline (and I would argue a culture as well) within Christianity where Christians defend their faith through logic, reason, and even science. Yeah, I know, sounds crazy. But here’s the kicker:
In my entire life, not once have I ever seen or heard a Christian say these words: “I’m not afraid for anyone to question me about my faith. I have nothing to hide [intellectually].”
Keep in mind, growing up Southern Baptists means growing up knowing very little about your own faith and spending time around other people who are openly hostile to those who don’t believe the same way.
For me, I don’t know what I believe anymore. I feel burned by a long history of disappointments by my own faith. In a nutshell, God to me is very similar to my own father. He came around, did his business and is long gone. I don’t and probably will never believe God is much more than a designer who set up some sophisticated systems that still work today but has moved on to other interests. I frankly think it’s absurd to believe God takes the time to help somebody have the strength to make it through a job interview while somewhere else around the world a child is sold into a life of sex slavery. But I digress.
So my attendance at the conference is me intrigued by the kind of intellectual topics presented because that’s not the Christianity I know or see on TV.
He summarizes the conference and then ends with this:
So the conference was great. So great in fact it occurred to me if actual mainstream Christianity was like that instead of the feelings-based judgment frontal assault I grew up with, I might have never left the church. However, the conference seemed to be geared toward two types: believers (meaning Christians who want to defend their faith) and atheists, who comprise the main apologetics boogie man. “Atheist” was used constantly to refer to the kind of people they needed to stay prepared for.
As a guy who lost his faith long ago, I never doubted God’s existence. However, since I think he is a deadbeat dad, I have many questions and am looking for meaning without being convinced God is real. My struggle with faith has lasted me about 25 years. I would like to have seen a session on reconciling the Bible as a whole. For instance if Intelligent Design is really using science as I heard, how do they address the Adam and Eve question? I also would like someone like Dr. Moreland to discuss why he gets three angels and conversations with God directly when clearly God never bothered with me to begin with.
The premise on which they build many of their arguments is their belief. I don’t have that. So while I enjoyed the conference overall, I walked out of there with more questions. But isn’t that kind of the point? For the first time in over two decades, I felt mentally stimulated by a religious event. In that, I’m intrigued.
And what do we learn from this?
Well, I will try to be civil, but what I really want to do is rant against the postmodernism, irrationality, mysticism, pietism, relativism, inclusivism, universalism, hedonism, etc. that has got us to a point where something like 70% of young Christians who grow up in the church abandon it as soon as they go off to college. The church is a club that is run by people who want nothing to do with the honest questions of people who are less interested in feelings, intuitions, amusement and community and more interested in truth. And we are failing these honest questioners, because we are too busy having fun and feeling happy.
I have a very good idea of why the church is losing all of it’s young people. And we need a tea party revolution in the church to get people to come back.
So here’s my stand:
- The church believes that belief in God’s existence is divorced from logic and evidence, but I believe that God’s existence is knowable, rational and supported by publicly-accessible evidence
- The church thinks that people become Christians because they like Christianity, but I believe that people become Christians when they think Christianity is true
- The church believes you can seek happiness without caring about the moral law, and their job is to make you feel accepted no matter what you do, but I believe that we need to set out clear moral boundaries and explain to people using non-Biblical evidence what damage is caused if those boundaries are broken
- The church believes that reading the Bible and attending church as therapeutic, but I think that the Bible and church are for clarifying my obligations in my relationship with God and for setting out the broad goals that I will use when I develop my life plan to meet those goals by solving problems using my talents in the way that *I* think is most effective – and my plan doesn’t involve making you feel happy, by the way
- The church thinks that the Christian life consists of singing, praying and not disagreeing with anyone or thinking that we are right about anything, but I think we should get off our duffs and start studying to think about how our Christian convictions apply to the world around us in every area of life, from politics to economics to foreign policy to marriage and parenting and beyond
- The church believes that Christianity is true for them while other religions work for other people, but I believe that religions are assessed by whether they are true or not – and that other religions can be mistaken where they make false claims
- The church believes that evangelism is done without using apologetics or focusing on truth, but I think we should all be prepared by watching debates, holding open forums, hosting speakers and conferences, and generally training ourselves to engage with the outside world in the realm of ideas
- The church thinks Christianity is a faith tradition, but I think Christianity is a knowledge tradition
Anyway, check out these other posts for more snarky defiance.
- the importance of being able to argue both sides of a question
- why does talking about religion make people uncomfortable?
- how to talk to your co-workers about your faith