Crawling from the Wreckage

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I’m occasionally accused of criticising only evangelical Christianity. It’s an easy target, I’m told, and I should spend some time investigating the more sophisticated and respectable version of Faith: intellectual, liberal Christianity. In fact I already have, and have written about it before. This ‘respectable’ version of the Faith is every bit as dishonest and intellectually lazy as its more excitable counterpart.

It has always seemed to me that evangelicalism and fundamentalism do at least take the most indefensible parts of the bible seriously. They may ignore them when it comes to applying them (loving enemies and giving to all who ask, for example) but at least they accept them, if only metaphorically, as part of ‘God’s inerrant and infallible Word’. Intellectual Christians on the other hand sidestep what they find uncomfortable, selecting only that which fits with what they think the Faith should be:

A Loving Father? Then we’ll disregard the parts where God is clearly anything but.

A wise and compassionate Jesus? We’ll pretend the bits where he’s cruel, ignorant and just plain wrong aren’t really there (or are later additions to the gospels; the mistaken beliefs of the early church.)

Church as inclusive community? We’ll have some of that and ignore all the unhelpful nonsense about most of humankind being destined for eternal torture. (That, after all, is just Paul, or whoever, getting carried away.)

I know they do this, because when my own faith was in its death throes, I did too.

Back in the early ’90s. I’d given up on evangelicalism but desperately wanted to salvage something of the Faith that had once meant so much to me (even as it completely messed up my life.) I wanted a God of Love, so persuaded myself there was one – disregarding what I knew of the hateful, unsavoury aspects of the God of the bible. I also really wanted Jesus to have some meaning; if not as personal saviour then as one who exemplified a purposeful and compassionate life. To do this I had to overlook Paul’s theology of a vengeful God, hell bent on punishing everyone.

In the end, however, I had to be honest with myself and accept that the nice God I was trying to believe in was no more real than the nasty one. What I wanted had no bearing on the nature of God, nor on whether he existed. Similarly with the nice Jesus, who could be unpleasant and unreasonably demanding as well. I was being entirely selective, as most Christians are, about how I constructed my own personal Jesus.

Hanging on to fragments of faith was futile. I could no longer sustain the cognitive dissonance required to embrace the parts of Christianity that made me feel good, inspired me or made me kinder, while ignoring the downright nasty bits. If I was experiencing the good things (and I was) I had to accept they were coming from somewhere other than Christianity; if I was to go on experiencing them I had to acknowledge that and cultivate them by other means.

It seemed at first that this would be difficult outside of a church but in fact there are numerous groups committed to helping and inspiring others, without the superfluous and irrelevant presence of religion. It simply isn’t necessary to hang on to selected scraps from a discredited belief system; life lies, in abundance, elsewhere.

This is why I have no more respect for intellectualised, liberal Christianity than I have for evangelicalism. There is nothing intellectual about the cognitive dissonance needed to be an ‘intellectual’ Christian. It is, in the end, a largely content free version of Faith, the spiritual equivalent of a homeopathic remedy. I mean, really: why bother?

4 thoughts on “Crawling from the Wreckage

  1. I came from a liberal Protestant upbringing, and I do have some respect for it. Not on an intellectual level, but because they have found a way to maintain the socially acceptable label of “christian” while still keeping more focused on being decent human beings. I acknowledge that to do this requires a large amount of cherry-picking and not thinking about the intellectual side of religion too much. The church I grew up wasn’t interested in culture wars, and didn’t spend any time preaching hellfire and damnation. They focused more on “love thy neighbor” and helped out with the local food bank and volunteered at the soup kitchen and sponsored a family of refugees. “Those unpleasant judgey parts of the Bible? Oh those are just metaphorical, so let’s not worry about them and sing some more songs about how great Jesus is!”

    One of the good results of having grown up in a church like that is that I didn’t have to recover from any leftover trauma after deconverting. I don’t have any lingering fear of hell, or leftover prayer habits, or guilt about sex, as many ex-fundamentalists do. Some believers will say to me “Well, you just had a bad experience in church, that’s why you left” and they couldn’t be more wrong. My old church was nice, I was incredibly involved, was accepted there, and overall had a very positive experience. (And I left anyway, because the beliefs are still B.S., no matter how nice they were.)

    Even though those churches are not intellectually rigorous, I wish that more people would leave evangelicalism and switch to the liberal churches, if they aren’t ready to fully deconvert. The would would be a better place if they did.

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    • Agreed, Ubi. My experience of the church wasn’t too bad either, though I was tangled up with evangelicalism. So despite what ‘concerned’ Christians tell me, like you, I didn’t leave the church because I was ‘hurt’ by it (though I was on the receiving end of a fair amount of unpleasantness after I left). No, again like you, I left because of the B.S. beliefs.

      While you’re undoubtedly right that liberal churches are better than evangelical ones, I suppose I’m just puzzled how and why people are able to let most of the B.S. go while hanging on to the more palatable aspects of Christianity. Why not go the whole hog and ditch the lot?

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      • I can think of several reasons that someone wouldn’t ditch the lot. I was at a point in my life where I was able to leave easily enough, but a lot of people are in positions where they might lose family or friends, or even their job, if they admitted it was all B.S. Some stay because they really need the social support network, or are focused on working on worthwhile community projects, and some find the routine and ritual comforting. For some traditionalists, they go to church every Sunday because that’s what people are supposed to DO, so they do it. It’s a lot easier to just “go through the motions” at one of these churches. For me, the only reason to stay without believing would have been the music program, but I found a community chorus to sing with, so that didn’t hold me in.

        Since these church members aren’t trying to convert me, and they’re not terrorizing children, or voting for theocrats, I tend not to worry very much about deconverting them. Also, politically, we need their pushback against the abuses of the far right, so I don’t want their denominations to collapse until after the evangelical ones do.

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      • You’re right, of course. I have friends who remain in liberal churches but who privately admit they have no belief in the supernatural. They are aware they attend church for social reasons, or because it provides them with a way of ‘giving something back to the community’ or because they still harbour a suspicion that there might be something in all the B.S. (church as insurance policy).

        It’s these guys, the ones hedging their bets, that I don’t really understand. Personally, I can’t pay lip-service to something I know not to be true. But that’s me; I don’t cope well with cognitive dissonance. I can’t compartmentalise different (conflicting?) aspects of my life the way some of these friends do, with scepticism through the week and profession of faith on Sundays. I need a high degree of consistency across all the aspects of my life. Maybe that’s just me, maybe these guys are on their way to sorting things out (it took me long enough, after all) or maybe, in the end, it doesn’t really matter so long as they leave the rest of us in peace.

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