Tag Archives: atheism

Overgrown (or Life after Deconstruction)

We are all in a state of becoming. All changing, all growing, all dying, all decaying. Bending, breaking, repairing, rotting.

There is no other reality but change. Stagnation, though perhaps perceived, does not exist.

front-cover-of-love-wins

Over the last couple of years, my faith has been in various states of crisis. It started with something small (namely, reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins). Up to that point, I had done very little questioning of my understanding of Christianity. I believed Jesus was the only way to heaven, hell was eternal conscious torment, and the Bible was inerrant (among other things).

Rob Bell, however, changed many of my assumptions. Poor exegesis of some biblical passages aside, I began to think, to question, to doubt.

What if hell isn’t real? What if I’ve misunderstood all along? What if God isn’t who I think God is? Have I simply accepted the story I’ve been given without hesitation?

Love Wins was the gentle push I needed to look over the edge of the cliff of my own certainty, my own satisfaction that my story was the ‘right’ one, that I had the answers. (Let me just say, I recognize my story is hardly novel. This type of encounter seems to be a common occurrence among young conservative evangelicals right now.)

how-not-to-speak-of-god

It was sometime after this point that I encountered the philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins. If Rob Bell forced me to look over the edge of the cliff, Peter Rollins pushed me off. In fact, Peter Rollins’s theology – up through Insurrectionwas the focus of my senior thesis. I spent hours and hours of  my life consumed by his work. His first book, How (not) to Speak of God, helped move me past simply questioning some ‘secondary’ doctrines (at this point in my journey, I could still consider myself an evangelical) towards questioning my acceptance of orthodox Christianity completely. I became (in Rollins’s terms) an a/theist. In other words, the binary between atheism and theism broke for me. I gained a desire to lose any conception of ‘God’ which, according to Pete, functions as an idol – for ‘God’ is unable to be contained within any conception or idea (including that of the biblical writers).

The Fidelity of Betrayal and Insurrection were the next two books that deeply impacted my faith and understanding of ‘God.’ Fidelity helped me view the Word not as contained within the biblical text, but as an Event that the Bible (among other things) pointed to. While the text itself was cracked, its broken nature does not make it incapable of conveying the divine Word. This is not the only thing Fidelity speaks to, but was the theme that most affected me.

Finally, Insurrection helped me walk through utter darkness. By using the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as models for our own lives. Following Jesus’ cry – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – I underwent the experience of God-forsakenness. This kind of atheism (not an intellectual one, per se, but certainly one felt at the core of one’s being) was, and will always be an integral part of my faith journey. The way of the cross, in my own life, involved the loss of religious foundation. Just as Jesus loses all identity on the cross (e.g., social, economic, political, religious), so I gave up all of my assurance in ‘God’ and Christianity. ‘God’ was no longer the deus ex machina, the object that exists to make sense of the things that don’t. Though I don’t feel as though I’m in that place anymore, I agree with Pete that this is a fundamental part of the Christian experience. Resurrection then became for me a method of living post-Crucifixion. It was an acceptance of the inherent meaninglessness found in the Crucifixion. This Resurrection-life is not a rejection of the meaninglessness found in the Crucifixion experience, but its purpose is to allow humans to love in the midst of non-meaning.

What was I to do after this? After having existential crisis after existential crisis, I felt lost in a sea of non-meaning. Though Rollins’s call to create meaning via love in the midst of the utterly mundane is meant to help rob those things of their sting, something still felt missing. I tore down every bit of belief that I had – up to, and including, the belief in ‘God.’ Some days I felt like I could maybe affirm ‘God’s’ existence (What kind of existence, I wasn’t sure. Is God a person? An actual object? Love itself?), but other days, the notion of ‘God’ was ludicrous – like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

The problem, for me, was that this wasn’t enough. Not that love itself wasn’t enough, but that there was more. Something deep, something divine, that is a part of the very fabric of reality itself. No matter how hard I tried, I could never really shake the feeling, deep within me, that there is something beyond the physical. My doubts about their existence haven’t gone away (and probably won’t). But the fact is I cannot deny that ‘hum’ I feel deep within the core of my very existence. That feeling was not that everything is meaningless but that everything was full of meaning, and not simply because it has some kind of ‘personal meaning’ to me.

This is also not to mention that I don’t have any real desire to leave Christianity. In it, I find beauty, life, love, hope, justice, and mercy. And there seem to be deep truths within Christianity that resonate with my experience of Reality.

So, this is where I start. I have torn everything down. It is now time to rebuild. My desire is to rebuild a sustainable, hopeful, honest, broken, loving faith. One that is not based on guilt; one that is not simply a false creation-of-meaning in the midst of anti-supernaturalism. There is something to be said for the loss of the divine (Jesus did it!). But there is also something to be said for the existence of sacredness, the source of life as divine. In light of this, here are the five things that I affirm, on faith, about Christianity:

  1. The Crucifixion and the physical Resurrection of Jesus
  2. The Incarnation – that Jesus was and is the peasant-God
  3. The Trinity – that God exists as three separate, yet united, entities
  4. The Inspiration (but not inerrancy!) of Scripture
  5. The Atonement of humanity, by God, is at least our salvation from what would otherwise be a destructive system of violent sacrificial scapegoating

As far as the rest is concerned, I’m wide open or skeptical (or both). Some days, I will be plagued by doubt. Other days, I will be confident in the things I believe. In spite of this ebb and flow of doubt and ‘belief,’ my desire is to remain faithful to the teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

Friday Funday // 03.08.2013

As always, here’s my favorite stuff from the internets this week!

We do not have many vessels for truth-carrying in our age. While of course not being an organised body of thought, atheism might one day speak to all those things religion once answered. But at present its voice is faint. It is faint on human suffering and tragedy. And although it does not have nothing to say, it barely speaks about death. It has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation. These are not small ellipses.

  • Micah Murray at the Redemption Pictures blog wrote a post about the dangers of ‘thinking biblically.’

In the early days of the church, its enemies were not liberals, pagans, secularists, or atheists. The antagonists in the New Testament storyline are those who knew the Scriptures inside and out, who had studied and memorized and dedicated themselves to the applications of its teachings.

  • Rob Bell’s new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, is coming out on March 12, and I’M SO EXCITED. I might enjoy the more academic side of theology, but Rob Bell is the man:

  • This video, “Wealth Inequality in America,” went viral this week. Pretty crazy.

The Question of God and Meaning

I ran across a story about Nietzsche in John Caputo’s Philosophy and Theology this morning that made me think a little bit. I’m not even sure whether the story is directly related to what this blog post will (eventually) be about. Either way, here it is:

Once upon a time, on a little star in a distant corner of the universe, clever little animals invented for themselves proud words, like truth and goodness. But soon enough the little star cooled, and the little animals had to die and with them their proud words. But the universe, never missing a step, drew another breath and moved on, dancing its cosmic dance across endless skies.

It seems to me that Nietzsche was one of the most honest philosophers regarding his atheism. He seemed to make no attempt to attach meaning to a world that was God-less. All ethical or moral statements were simply value statements based on culture or experience. They meant absolutely nothing. Granted, I must admit I have read very little of Nietzsche’s work. This simply seems to be the case based on what I’ve read. Contrast this with the New Atheist movement, who seem no better than Christian Fundamentalists in their quest to (dis)prove God’s existence, and yet still find meaning or beauty in the world (yes, I recognize I’m making generalizations). Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism holds nothing but emptiness and and desperation.

This, to me, is why all philosophy and theology hinges on the question of God. The question itself is the beginning and the end. With God, we basically have something to work with. Human existence has meaning and can move forward, onto other questions.. Without God, existence is stripped of its meaning. Sure, we can discuss whether there are “higher moral standards,” or a “universal law.” We can discuss evolution, look back on the history of the world or the universe, and hope to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in. Eventually, however, the pursuit of these things is utterly futile. A God-less  universe means humans  are thrown into existence by some random (non)force, live for a few decades, and die. There is nothing other than that. Not only that, but our lives in comparison to the age of the world or universe are nothing but a vapor. Less than a vapor. They are nothing. Why even bother discussing philosophy? It makes absolutely no difference, except to give us something to do until we die. I don’t mean to be depressing here, but that’s the reality of accepting a truly atheistic worldview.

The question I ask myself, though, is this: Am I choosing to believe in God so that I have an ultimate Reality to lean on when faced with the question of meaning? Human beings are so desperate for a sense of purpose and meaning – somehow feeling like our lives are significant. But is that really a good motivator for choosing God? I can’t deny that, many times, that’s my reasoning. I choose God to give myself purpose. I’m not saying otherwise I should disbelieve in God. I’m just asking whether this is a good reason to believe. Is it even possible to separate belief in God from a desire for meaning?

To my religious friends/readers: When you truly think about it, why have you chosen God? Why do you continue to choose God?

To my atheist friends/readers:How do you deal with your acceptance of a God-less universe? Do you still find some way to attach meaning to existence, despite the absence of an ultimate Reality?

***As a footnote, I should say I could be completely wrong here. I’m just putting out my own thoughts and feelings towards these questions. My goal is not to offend anyone, but to truly understand why people have chosen what to believe, and how they (we) find meaning within that framework.