Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A brief update on faith, theism, God, and me

It's been far too long since I've posted here, I've been busy with all kinds of life things, and have been spending more time over on Tumblr as well. But I just posted over there something that would make just as much sense here, that kind of explains why I haven't been posting as much here. So here goes.

I have been reading a thus-far intriguing book called Cloud Atlas, but I left it in the library yesterday and it hasn't showed up in their lost and found yet.  So I resorted to reading the other book that has been langushing in my laptop bag for far too long, ever since my father read it and gave it to me.  Said book is There Is A God by Anthony Flew, supposedly "the world's most notorious atheist," who I had never heard of.  After reading, evidently he was a lot bigger among philosophers in the 60's, 70's, and 80's than he is these days, which would explain my ignorance of him, but I still think the claim is a bit reaching.  In 2004, he apparently came out as believing in God, and some atheists got pissed, and religious people all over got really excited.

Now I'm a little underwhelmed by all of this, because he's only a deist, and doesn't even believe in the afterlife, which makes it a rather Pyhrric victory for Christians, I would think.  And some of the endorsement quotes were less than heartening.  Francis Collins crows that "Flew's colleagues in the church of fundamentalist atheism will be scandalized," the Denver Post calls it an "Intellectual conversion of great significance," and I've been highly disappointed and extremely skeptical of "intellectual conversions."  But I've nonetheless made it through half of the preface and the introduction and two and a half chapters thus far.

I gave up halfway through the introduction, because I decided that its author, Roy Abraham Varghese, is, or at least comes across as, a pompous ass who gleefully delights in pointing out the apparently hilarious failures of atheism.  Of what I read, he spent about a third of it quoting the likes of Richard Dawkins and another promoting Flew to almost godlike status in his philosophical brilliance (without, of course, mentioning that he's a deist at best).  It's full of gleeful dismissal, and absolutely maddening to read.  And I've long held that if someone gets to hold out Dawkins as an example of reasoned, respectful atheism, I get to pull out people like the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson as examples of reasoned, respectful Christianity.  From what I know of him, Dawkins is as bitter and gleefully dismissive as Varghese, and I want nothing do do with him.

So I gave up on the preface, hoping that Flew himself, having been an atheist for fifty years, would have some semblance of respect for the position.  I haven't been disappointed - he hasn't made me want to throw the book across the bus yet, for instance, and has been very respectful of both sides thus far.  But he also has spent three chapters talking very dryly about the various philosophical papers and debates he's been involved in, how he chummed with C.S. Lewis, and his various schoolings and romantic endeavors.  I suppose this is kind of an autobiography, but it's been a dull, frustrating, mildly but not egregiously self-important one.  Certainly not raising himself nearly to the importance that Varghese did in the preface, or I would no longer be reading this book.

The first chapter was interesting, in that he discussed his upbringing, which was rather similar to mine - a preacher's kid who did all the right things mainly to fulfill expectations but never had any heart or real interest in it, faced questions that he was in no way equipped to handle, and gave up.  I haven't been quite as conclusive as he was, but the similar background will hopefully be beneficial.  But after that, as I said, a bunch of paper titles and summaries, and name dropping, and not much substance.  There was a brief dismissal of determinism that I found altogether dissatisfying (because I have thought about these things) and he called the basic "first cause" argument "formidable," (I don't think throwing God in as yet another proximate cause really helps anything, no matter how much you pretend God magically gets to be not proximate), but that's about it.

But he promises to actually get to the challenging and arguments for God in the next seven chapters, so hopefully there will be things of substance in there.  But I admit that I highly doubt Flew will be successful in doing anything but frustrating me with mischaracterizations or improper dismissals, because so-called "intellectual conversions" have always left me wholly wanting and completely unconvinced.  

In fact, I don't think anything is going to happen on the faith front until God decides to show up.  That might sound a little defeatist or apathetic, but I don't really have any good reasons to have faith, and I don't understand reasons for faith other than "God exists, so we should get to know him/her/it."  Trying to argue God into existence or threaten me with consequences if I don't believe isn't going to cut it.  And really, I'm jealous of those who have experienced God, and I don't think it's fair that I haven't.  I'm not opposed to the idea at all, and I'm not opposed to theism.  But I just don't have any good reasons - making my family comfortable is not sufficient reason to lie about my motivations for everything in life and basic beliefs.

Earlier, Kristen posted a section of her admissions essay, which contained this brief excerpt:

It was at this retreat that everything changed. While my friends raised their hands fervently in praise during worship and knelt piously in the aisles for the altar call, I sat in the back, scornful and skeptical. And God, with a gentle persistence I would learn to recognize and appreciate in coming years, showed up. It is difficult to describe this experience fully, as I suspect words could never do it justice; however, in that time, God was there. God was real. We sat together for the remainder of the service, at which point God obligingly moved on and I was left joyously pondering my newfound revelation.  I still lacked understanding, but this experience provided me with a basic foundation of faith from which I could begin to seek.

And I was jealous.  Because at this point, I'm not even that scornful or skeptical.  Just a little cynical, but that's mostly at Mars Hill and the like.  Why doesn't God bother to just show up?  If God exists, why does ze insist on sitting back on the sidelines, watching me flail around, being offered pathetic, circular, and in general unsatisfying arguments for zer existence, witnessing all kinds of miscarriage of Christianity and Jesus' stated goals?

And it's that, really, that has been why I haven't really posted here. I haven't really gone anywhere spiritually recently. I've cut out all of the parts of Christianity that I found unnecessary, hurtful, and problematic, I have a fairly coherent Christian theology, at least for all the peripheral stuff, that I would be willing to adopt. But I don't have any good reason to embrace theism, much less Christianity. And I don't think that's something that can be argued or reasoned, I think it's something that can be experienced. Because all of this God-talk, all of theology, doesn't really make sense if you don't have a relationship with God. And I don't, and I don't know how to. And as the omnipotent, invisible, imperceptible being, I think it's kind of God's job to reveal Godself to me, because I can't hop over into whatever ethereal realm God resides in, and all attempts to pray or read the Bible just end up with me talking to myself and getting mad at how the church has misused Scripture.

So until that revelation happens, I doubt I'll be convinced.  I'll read the book, I'll continue discussions with my father and others who care about me, I'll keep my options open, but I can't think of anything that would convince me.  It's not for lack of trying, it's not because I just haven't heard your awesome argument.  It's because arguments aren't what I'm looking for.

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