How I became a Christian Atheist

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Onyx
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How I became a Christian Atheist

Post by Onyx » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:40 pm

How can one label offend both Christians and atheists, and at the same time seem to be a self-contradicting nonsense to almost everyone? Forgive me the label, I know how bad it sounds!

My father was a Presbyterian minister. A wise, quiet and thoughtful man - his ministry uplifted and enriched both the mind and the heart of others. His legacy is the quiet repect of those who knew his kindness, generosity and largeness of heart. My mother's work as a doctor was an expression of her Christian faith. Colleagues and friends saw in her the essence of intelligent and loving Christianity, and if ever the term "salt of the Earth" found it's mark, it was with my mother. It would be hard to paint a more wholesome and happy picture of urban childhood than my own.

So how does such a teenager rebel? (It was in my bones that I must somehow reject my parents balanced values.) Too much common sense and consideration for others had been nurtured into me to turn to any overtly destructive path. So... I became even more Christian than they! I recognised that they were inclined to pick and choose their scriptures - embracing the texts of love and understanding, and shunning the more exclusive and extreme claims of the prophets. I paid heed to a new group in town which believed the whole Word of God. Their logic could not be denied, if it's God's Word any place, then it must be God's Word throughout.

I endeavoured to live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God for more than two decades. With a modicum of brains and a sound mind, I was soon pushed to the lectern where I was privileged to lead and serve others. Most of those years were spent in positions of middle leadership where I tried to marry the kindness and goodness of my upbringing with the new found hard edge of the gospel. Of course, people were either with us or against us (as Jesus taught) so at times needed to be marked and avoided (as Paul wrote). In the context of the scriptures, the tough love we leadership dished out was not only acceptable, but required. And for the faithful, our love was shown.

It took me a long time to recognise the corruption and abuse at the heart of our organisation. And my first response was to see this as the weakness and failure of men. Yet the more closely I looked at fundamentalism, the more I saw that exploitation was inevitable. I came to understand why my parents chose which scriptures to heed, and which to ignore.

If you teach that God speaks to men, then men will believe that their own will is spoken to them by God.
If you teach that men must have faith without seeing, men will be vulnerable to believe what they are told.
If you teach that scripture should not be privately interpreted, but rather read in context with guidance of the Holy Spirit, then men will believe that their interpretation is inspired of God.

So I looked again at the scripture and at the faith. Could I return to the helpful and sustainable faith of my parents? By now I was too deeply aware of the holes in their logic and the compartmentalisation of their approach. Good people they were, but "true believers" they were not.

Could I return to the Bible itself? The scriptures are not consistent with each other. I've spent more than 20 years teaching that they are (so please do not lightly suggest that this perspective is simply because I lack a particular explanation). But they are not inherently consistent. Neither are they all correct. There was not a flood at the time of Noah which destroyed all life outside of the ship. The lights in the firmament were not placed in the heavens on the same week as Adam walked in the garden. This was believed in a day when people did not know better. Had God authored this, I would expect better. The scriptures describe the Sun orbiting the Earth. Science has shown us that it works the other way around.

I am culturally a Christian. The teaching of Jesus inspires me because he taught:
Every person has value and can be loved.
Forgiveness, generosity, mercy and kindness are strengths.
Leadership is for service, not exploitation.
Authority may be challenged and not feared.
My understanding of virtue came to me through the filter of Christianity and crystalised in the life of Jesus. Some of Jesus' teachings are echoed in the words of Confucius and other thinkers, but they came to me and make the most sense to me from the ministry of Jesus.

I am an atheist because this philosophy does not require God. There may be a God, I do not know. This philosophy doesn't even require Jesus to have been a real man. He may be an idealised composite of wise and good men. I find it more reasonable to expect that there was such a man called Jesus, but that his legend grew over time, even before the gospels were penned.

I no longer find it a virtue to believe without evidence (to have faith). Why should it be? And if God requires this of us, then he has made us very vulnerable to error. I wouldn't appreciate that. I believe that religion can be both helpful and harmful. I have seen both. My wife remains a devout Christian - of the most beautiful kind. I am grateful for her faith, because it informs in her a loving world view, and a heart of goodness. But I can also aspire to, and approximate these qualities without a belief in God.

Thus, I have become a Christian atheist. I did not set out to be one. I didn't even know such a thing could exist! I don't claim that this is my final state of mind. On the contrary, I know that for every change of heart a person experiences, there is someone else who has changed in the other direction! However, I'm comfortable and at peace with it.

I don't fear God or hell. I don't especially respect the threat of hell or any other dogma intended to put me in fear. I'm free of that now. I don't seize on freedom as a licence to sin (usually). But I do claim the freedom to be honest with what I'm able to believe, and what I don't.

Some may not count me as a brother. For me, it was a "revelation" to discover that I was the same person after I do not believe as when I did. I am not less loving, and my Christian friends still seem as brothers to me. So this, my brothers, is how I became a Christian atheist.

Peace be on all who took the time to read my testimony.
Last edited by Onyx on Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:38 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by TNLawPiper » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:57 pm

In as much as we were brothers to begin with -- and I qualify this in such a way because we haven't ever really talked much -- we are still brothers. I just hope you will not hold it against me if I pray for you. :)

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Post by coco » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:21 pm

"The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
Leviticus 6:24-26
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Post by Kerdy » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:23 pm

I am staying out of this one. All I will say is search the Lord with all your heart.
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Post by Thoth » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:25 pm

I'll pray for you as well, that you may pass through this period, this dark night of the soul.
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Post by Del » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:36 pm

Make a simple prayer from the heart: and ask the Lord ("if You are real") to reveal Himself to you.

Pray for the gift of Faith.

God is Real.... and your head is convinced of it. Ask for the humility to believe it in your heart.

When you meet God, and really get to KNOW Him... it will be easy.

Thank you for sharing with us, Onyx.
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Post by broc_s » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:38 pm

Your story is very similar to a very good friend of mine, who after a year of struggling, has now chosen to have his name removed from the roles of the church and be excommunicated. I have wept for him and will continue to. Even now, i am brought to tears with your testimony as it reminds me of his.

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Post by Thunktank » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:52 pm

I too am crying. But at the same time I understand what your saying. You and I are not that much different. We are only at different stages. After the stage you're in now did I finally give myself to God. Today, I have no doubts whatsoever that God is there and loves us all.

You have no idea the number of times I've read your posts and thought to myself how much you sounded like me ten years ago. You did again here.

Sincerely,
Steve (Innocent)
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Post by Onyx » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:44 am

Thanks folks for the comments (and the private messages). It's a real interesting situation communicating this info on this forum.
broc_s wrote:Your story is very similar to a very good friend of mine, who after a year of struggling, has now chosen to have his name removed from the roles of the church and be excommunicated. I have wept for him and will continue to. Even now, i am brought to tears with your testimony as it reminds me of his.
And this really fascinates me broc. I wonder how it worked for your friend. It seems to me that an individual can choose not to communicate, or even ask not to be communicated with, but only the church authority can actually excommunicate. Is excommunication what he wanted, or did he just want to leave? Certainly if he actually wanted no further contact from members of the church, then perhaps he had some strong feeling of wrongdoing on the part of the church. I know people in that position with considerable justification.

It's also intriguing because I mourned for those who left my church years ago. And yet when I've contacted them again (sometimes years later) they were happy to be out. Others are happy to be in. I honour their decision either way.

I also want to make clear that I have no intention of changing anyone else's mind (even if that were possible) and no desire to shake anyone else's faith.
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Post by TNLawPiper » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:48 am

We hope you'll hang around, though!

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Post by Onyx » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:50 am

Thunktank wrote:I too am crying. But at the same time I understand what your saying. You and I are not that much different. We are only at different stages. After the stage you're in now did I finally give myself to God. Today, I have no doubts whatsoever that God is there and loves us all.

You have no idea the number of times I've read your posts and thought to myself how much you sounded like me ten years ago. You did again here.

Sincerely,
Steve (Innocent)
Yes, it's an interesting walk. Ten years ago I never would have guessed I'd be writing this. Maybe in another ten years I'll be Orthodox, you'll be a Real Baptist, and the Preacherman will be serving a communion to Del.
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Post by Onyx » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:51 am

TNLawPiper wrote:We hope you'll hang around, though!
Thanks. Maybe now I've got that off my chest I won't be so inflammatory on the Theology threads.
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Post by Onyx » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:00 am

Thoth wrote:I'll pray for you as well, that you may pass through this period, this dark night of the soul.
Thoth, I've gotta say that I tried to appreciate all the messages of prayer for the genuine concern that they communicate. (It is a tad patronising since I'm not exactly asking for prayerful support in all this - but I know it's not meant that way, and I appreciate the generous heart in your statement.)

But I will just speak up on the grounds that a "dark night of the soul" is mischaracterisation of what I'm going through. Fact is, I'm loving it. I'm reading more, thinking more, talking to more old friends, to family... I'm doing more things that I'd been putting off. I've had a dark night of the soul so I know what that means. It was in an abusive church. Today I may not agree with some Christian theology, but I'm not experiencing a dark night of the soul.
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Post by Onyx » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:08 am

Del wrote:Make a simple prayer from the heart: and ask the Lord ("if You are real") to reveal Himself to you.

Pray for the gift of Faith.

God is Real.... and your head is convinced of it. Ask for the humility to believe it in your heart.

When you meet God, and really get to KNOW Him... it will be easy.

Thank you for sharing with us, Onyx.
Del, I gotta hand it to you. You're as certain as ever.

What if I said to you...? .... pray for release from your faith, in your head you're convinced it's not true, ask for the honesty to see that in your heart. Once you accept atheism, it will be easy.
(I hope you're laughing at that as much as I'm laughing writing it!)
But don't worry, I won't say such a thing!

No, I'm not going to pray for the gift of faith or for God to show me if He's real. That only makes sense to a person who really wants to believe, in which case I'm sure they'll find something to convince themselves.

But don't stop posting Del, I love your contributions! I know, I know... you can't stop posting!
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Post by CaptainMathias » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:37 am

I also endured a time such as this for about three years but then one day it all melted away so good luck on your journey I am not going to lie and say that I won't pray for you even though you didn't ask for it. But we are all born with free will and it leads us all to many strange places so do what you must but you will always be a brother to us.
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Post by FoxHound » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:45 am

I am increasingly in agreement with you on the internal inconsistency and incoherence of the Scriptures (which I nevertheless love and revere). A cross-section of the most respected Biblical commentators from various church traditions should kill the oft-repeated evangelical notion that the Bible has a clear and consistent message. It is not clear; it is only consistent in direct proportion to the amount of 'stretch' I am willing to give to any set of logical propositions (i.e., 'doctrines'). So what's a fellah to do? Retreat into the RCC's 'Infallible Church' which hands down God's own authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures - an authority which I do not see given to her at any point in the Bible, which I do not see in the very early apostolic church, which is not claimed by the early bishops of Rome, and which shows its own inconsistency throughout RCC history? I certainly see the safety in such a position, even if my mind rebels against it and recognizes, as you put it, 'inevitable abuse.'

I agree with you, Onyx, that these are serious problems for Christianity. But I don't see an alternative with less problems, including the various secular, humanist worldviews. To me, a worldview that grants me nothing more than what I put into it and ceases to have any meaning after my death has little appeal. With regard to Christianity, I am still in the 'I believe; help my unbelief' stage. Do you remember being in such a position? Struggling to put away your unbelief only to find that it grows with the struggling?
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Post by Dug » Sat Jun 27, 2009 8:33 am

FoxHound wrote:So what's a fellah to do? Retreat into the RCC's 'Infallible Church' which hands down God's own authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures - an authority which I do not see given to her at any point in the Bible, which I do not see in the very early apostolic church, which is not claimed by the early bishops of Rome, and which shows its own inconsistency throughout RCC history?
Nope. You definitely shouldn't retreat there.

But there are plenty of reasons to walk clear-headedly into full communion, though the process may take years of prayer and study and balking at the conclusions toward which one finds oneself moving. For me, that process -- initially undertaken to disabuse Catholic friends of their errors -- took about six years, and certainly didn't end up where I expected. Of the countless times in my life that I've been wrong, that's one of the things that I'm most glad to have been wrong about. :)

The Tradition and Magisterium you describe wouldn't sound familiar to a Catholic. Especially with regard to interpretation of the Scriptures, the Magisterium acts more like an umpire than a choreographer -- preserving the deposit of the Faith by calling when things are out-of-bounds, rather than prescribing every jot and tittle. It also sounds kinda like you've been looking at history through the eyes of controversialists. Justin Martyr and Clement of Rome and Irenaeus and others were majorly eye-opening for me, and challenged my preconceptions about sacrament and ecclesiology. You may already have done so, but reading the early Fathers on their own terms is a very worthwhile investment.

Anyway, I'll be praying for all of us wayfaring brothers as we continue to ask, seek, and knock, and would be very glad for your prayers, also.

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Post by UncleBob » Sat Jun 27, 2009 8:49 am

Onyx,

I feel your pain. How can one truly look at Christianity without noticing some major inconsistencies and abuse? I have claimed to be a "Christian Agnostic" because I believe but I dont know. Still, I do have hope - not in the church per se - but rather in the mysterium tremendum and in that still, small voice that speaks so loudly to me at 3am.

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Post by FoxHound » Sat Jun 27, 2009 8:50 am

As always, thanks, Dug. The resources you have given me in the past were a good start, and did ultimately contribute to my abandonment of sola scriptura. But as I continue to find conflict with the doctrine of an infallible Church (as I understand it... or apparently misunderstand it) in the formulations I have read (modern Catholic writers, most prominently Dave Armstrong and Richard John Neuhaus), I don't know where my ecclesial ramblings are leading me. I did recently acquire Schaff's compilation of the ante-Nicene Fathers' writings, so your most recent suggestion will be implemented with enthusiasm.
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Post by wosbald » Sat Jun 27, 2009 9:01 am

+JMJ+
FoxHound wrote:But as I continue to find conflict with the doctrine of an infallible Church (as I understand it... or apparently misunderstand it) in the formulations I have read (modern Catholic writers, most prominently Dave Armstrong and Richard John Neuhaus), I don't know where my ecclesial ramblings are leading me.
No wonder you're confused. You are studying post-Vatican II Catholisticism instead of straight-up Catholicism.




"In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph." - Our Lady of Fatima

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