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.


Jamie Cassata said...

Well, thanks for the posts, Tyler. I did find them interesting. Honestly I don't blame you for rejecting evangelical "Christianity." I think any protestant who thinks really deeply about the epistemological and metaphysical bases for his protestant beliefs is going to become either an atheist or a Roman Catholic.

Ken Tryon said...

Quick question: How is absurdism different from nihilism? Is the difference akin to atheism vs. agnosticism? Or does absurdism hold that there is no inherent meaning in the universe (leaving one free to create their own) vs. nihilism claiming there is no possible meaning?

Unknown said...

Ken— Nihilism would assert that no meaning exists, period, and that a person couldn't even make any meaning, period. Absurdism would say that there may indeed be inherent meaning in the universe, but we wouldn't be able to tell what it is, so the best we can do is make our own, and that the pursuit of meaning or the creation of it could be meaningful in itself.