22 February 2012

I Got Interviewed This One Time

So, I may have sort of been interviewed this one time.

A while ago, I wrote a review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins" in which I point out that Bell's argument about Heaven and Hell is a bit condescending and doesn't really address the full theological conversation that's occurred throughout the history of Christianity.

ANYWAY, a super nice guy named Raymond, who works for ResonateNews.com, called me and we talked, and if you want to find out what about, you should go here.

21 February 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 4: The Absurd

You got some readin' to do! Part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I could easily title this post "Why I Never Became a Full-Blown New Atheist" and it'd make about as much sense. Lemme 'splain.

My experience with evangelicalism is that evangelicals always provide for meaning in the universe. You got the job you wanted? Praise God He does good things for those who love Him. You didn't get the job you wanted? It wasn't God's will for you. Grandma just died? It was God's time for her. Or, for the more sensitive, God works in mysterious ways.

It's not that any of these things are codified theology per se, or said by all evangelicals all the time. They are said by many evangelicals most of the time. They're part of evangelical culture, and even admitting that God works in mysterious ways that maybe we don't understand implies that an event has inherent meaning, albeit meaning inaccessible to human beings.

I think many New Atheists have a similar problem. Everything has a meaning that can be explained by science, and maybe our science isn't good enough yet to explain everything, but it could be eventually. Everything potentially has meaning. Just have faith.

Again, there's nothing codified or prescribed by either group; it's simply the cultural practice I've observed in both to assume that there is some kind of inherent meaning in the universe and that humans can know some of it. I think it's a tendency that's human. We desire meaning and value, there just isn't any.

I went through a series of personal changes and hundreds of questions and counter-questions before I eventually concluded there wasn't any inherent meaning in the universe. I wanted there to be, but I couldn't locate or identify any. Only later did I find out that the conflict between my desire for meaning and lack of meaning in the world was called Absurdism.

I don't think absurdism proves God doesn't exist or that Christianity is wrong, or that science is. But, it puts me at odds with the prevailing cultural sensibilities of both evangelicals and New Atheists. They both want to provide pre-packaged meaning for quiet consumption and easy digestion. So, I'm not really a Christian, but I'm not really an atheist either, culturally speaking.

This will be my last post in this series, at least for now. What I've written about isn't an exhaustive, comprehensive list of reasons I stopped being an evangelical, despite what the title and format might seem to imply. I'm not recommending that others stop being evangelicals. I'm not even telling a linear story.

This series describes a complex of reason, emotion, belief, logic, experience, questions, and growth that served to move me to a position where I felt and still feel that the most honest thing I can say is that I don't believe in a God, and technically, that makes me an atheist.

I haven't fully discounted the possibility of there being a God. I simply think the entire concept is an escape from the tension between the human desire for meaning and the lack of any, and I'd prefer not to be an escapist.

But I don't believe that, even if meaning is inherent to the world, there's any way for people to get it. So, I prefer being identified as an absurdist. I'm fully aware that that doesn't really mean anything in itself.

08 February 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 3: Morality

Need to catch up? Read part 1 and part 2.

This is the post in this series that will probably get me into the most trouble. Most people, even those in the so-called New Atheist movement (I'm not a member), aren't particularly comfortable with the thought of getting rid of morality. Silly secular humanists. Morality is for religions.

I'll start by clarifying how I think about morality. Morality is a value judgment by a group rather than an individual, promulgated as socio-normative by that group, and necessarily external in origin to the individual. I'm not satisfied with morality as such as a method for directing my life.

I don't consider myself an immoralist— that would mean I still subscribe to and reject some particular morality. Instead, I'd consider myself an amoralist. That doesn't mean I do whatever I please, regardless of the consequences, like some kind of radical, self-interested Randian chump. Rather, I try to do what's right according to my own internal sense of right and wrong. I don't call that sort of thing morality when it's specific to an individual, I call it integrity.

The reason I make this distinction is a direct result of my experiences as an evangelical. For most evangelicals, certain activities are irrefutably immoral. Murder's an easy example because it's one of the Big Ten (not in an NCAA sense, in a Commandment sense). But I still heard evangelicals approve of and in some cases demand the United States kill a person or a group of people, or go to war with some country, or nuke a city.

How could people who were unequivocally against murder call for the murder of innocents, or at least, civilians? Maybe they possessed a more situational understanding of murder. Maybe murder became acceptable under particular conditions. I could see either of those cases being reasoned out, just as we might consider a soldier falling on a grenade to save her comrades a noble sacrifice rather than suicide, which, I suppose, it technically is.

When I questioned one of the people who'd talked about going to war about why they wanted to, I was surprised by the answer: the people who'd be killed in the war or the nuclear attack were evil, so no big deal. They were complicit in the death of Americans, and had therefore forfeited their right to not be murdered in vengeance. It's the same logic that says, "Abortions are evil, therefore those who perform abortions are evil, therefore murdering an abortion doctor is a righteous act."

My point here is not to debate the morality of murder. If you do so in the comments, I'll just assume you didn't really bother reading. ANYWAY, I suspect some of you are thinking, "Well, maybe that particular individual was just a bloodthirsty dude." You're exactly right. That particular individual was a bloodthirsty dude. So was his wife.

Interestingly, at one point over a decade ago, I was also that bloodthirsty, which is to say I have some idea how this dude's worldview worked. Because morality applied not merely to actions but to states of being, whole categories of people could be labelled as evil and thereby dehumanized. No longer did the evil have the dignity of being human such that killing them was murder. Once classified as evil, they were sub-human until they became good, usually by converting to Christianity, even in a rudimentary form.

Again, what's important isn't the topic of murder specifically. I could have gone with anything— sexuality, science, family, etc.—; what's important is that morality in evangelical belief is frequently, if not always, coupled with a moral judgment of people in such a way that those people are no longer considered fully human.

This plays itself out on the individual level, too, not only applied to groups of people whom most American evangelicals will never meet. How many young evangelicals spend years confused and ashamed of their sexuality because they've only ever heard that sex is dirty and evil and ought to be kept for marriage? (And what's that say about marriage?)

Either morality is indeed socio-normative— thereby doing violence to individuals and groups deemed evil—, or morality is treated as subjective, situational, and particular, in which case it's not really morality any more. I think it's fine to have some external ideas inform one's sense of integrity— that's unavoidable—, but what I find in evangelical circles is that morality becomes a measure by which certain groups and individuals are dehumanized, denigrated and disparaged.

I suppose in some ideal, theoretical sense, morality is a net positive, but functionally, it serves to diminish the dignity of humankind and of specific humans, and deny life itself as a positive, creative force in the world. As Nietzsche puts it, "The Christian resolve to see the world as bad and ugly has made the world bad and ugly."