I Do Not Think Christianity Means What You Think It Means
by Phil Steiger
Ex-pastor Ryan Bell experimented lately with living without God, blogging about it at YearWithoutGod.com, and more recently he penned a column for CNN.com in which he details some of the reasons behind his de-conversion. Conversion and de-conversion are always fascinating to me. They give brief glimpses into not only ‘reasons for’ and ‘reasons against’ their beliefs, but glimpses into the conditions that led to a person’s decision. Bell writes straightforwardly and honestly about several of his conclusions, and it has given me reason to process what he said.
Having skimmed through some of his blog, I see that he writes with an irenic tone and I appreciate that. Additionally, I have no pretense of trying to answer his questions and attempt a re-conversion. But I am moved to reflect, for a few reasons, on what he said and I think a few thoughts are in order on this kind of disbelief.
First, if circles of Christians are as shallow and simplistic as he makes his upbringing out to be, they need to repent and reclaim the depths of their faith. Bell portrays a faith, either purposefully or tangentially, that simply was not able to deal with some very straightforward issues. The problem of evil is ever present in de-conversion stories and his is no different. He is attracted to current cultural morays and considers Christian doctrine to be out of step. He actually believes that the Christian faith degrades the value of this world and this life. All of these issues are easily dealt with by Christian doctrine and life, but he was not apparently around people who thought so. And if so, that is a crying shame. There are plenty of pockets of anti-intellectualism within the Christian world, and it need not be.
That being said, all of us are intellectually responsible for these kinds of decisions, and to caricature the faith in such simplistic terms, leave it there, and come to unreasonable conclusions as a result, partakes in a rising form of anti-intellectualism. It is the rational sloppiness at the very core of New Atheism that labels faith as irrational and simplistic, and thus dismisses it by definition and not by argumentation.
Secondly – and this is true of every atheist I have ever personally interacted with or watched online – I simply do not recognize the faith they left. When they describe what ‘Christians believe’ I have no idea where they got their ideas. When they ‘argue’ against Christian doctrine, I see straw-men made of flash paper. I am not moved by their reasons because they make no sense to me. I am not startled by their arguments because they were answered centuries ago. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think Christianity means what they think it means…
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