As often happens when I say things (especially since these cross-post to Facebook), people responded. My last post generated intriguing and particularly wide-ranging responses, so as often happens, I'm writing a response post, because any response comment would just be an endless, impossibly thin column, and it separates original responses from any responses to the response, so it's better for everyone.
So! First of all, a few specific responses, moving into some more general response, with specificity sprinkled liberally throughout.
Tyler surmised that I don't like Dawkins and Falwell because they are "confrontational." That isn't quite right. I don't dislike Dawkins and Falwell simply because they are confrontational. I dislike them because they are dismissive, angry, and publicly and shamelessly place people who don't think like them almost at some lower level of humanity. Both of them horribly distort and misuse their belief systems, or at least how I believe their belief systems should treat other people. Central to my belief, regardless of whether I believe in God, is the humanity of humanity - that we are all people, all worthy of equal respect and dignity, and should be treated as such, with respect and deference. It's moral humanism on one side, a more social justice Christianity on the other, and the Golden Rule no matter where you come from.
And I'm not really irritated by people trying to convert me - mostly just amused, actually. Because I've been there, done that, heard all the reasons and arguments, hell, advocated most of them. I highly doubt anyone trying to convert me is going to tell me anything new, and no one thus far has. That doesn't mean I know everything - I certainly don't. But anyone who is trying to convert me isn't likely to tell me anything I don't. And it is true that the people who have been most influential in me not just throwing the baby out with the (pretty damn brackish) bathwater are mainly those around me who are confident in their faith and make no attempt to convert me - only understand me better, if I ask them about things. These are people who have years of experience on me, people who I know think hard and critically about their faith, and admittedly many of whom share the same periphery that I do. Many of these are professors at SPU, and are a large reason I am thankful for my experience here.
And as for Danny's (intentional or not) pointing at the historic witness of Jesus. That is something I need to look at more, which is an interesting challenge. There is, of course, the Bible, and books like Case for Christ (which I read back in the day), but those are, for very good reasons, pretty one-sided. We did base our calendar around the guy and swear by him, but that's because we're Western culture, which is increasingly becoming Global culture. The Arab world had their own calendar and swears, before the world became standardized on Western culture. Christianity did spread, but much of that spread (Constantine, the Holy Roman Empire) were not reasons that I can exactly get behind. So there's that. But I do need to have a good idea of what to do with Jesus existing historically regardless of where I end up, which I don't really right now.
Which kind of brings me to the central issue - whether or not an "intellectual conversion" is at all possible, at least for me. Danny separated "faith" from "relationship with God", and I don't think that's a meaningful distinction for me. I spent the first twenty or so years of my life doing Christianity just fine, purportedly even believing in it, whatever that means absent a relationship. I certainly adhered to all the principles, argued for them, and was ready to tell others why what they thought was wrong if it didn't match my perspective. But that all fell apart when that faith's foundations crumbled. That faith was based on things like opposition to evolution, the evils of the world, fear and avoidance of Hell, conservatism, and a whole lot of really terrible analogies. My faith was defined by what it was not - it was not tainted by liberalism, it was not doing bad things, it was not going to Hell, and significantly, it was not really questionable, because it was not wrong. Obviously, things kind of fell apart when I realized that evolution was science, liberalism wasn't all hell and brimstone and really at the core is being more concerned about people, Christianity isn't primarily about getting a ticket to heaven, and the world isn't going to corrupt me if I don't shut it out. I suppose it did corrupt my conservative evangelical Christianity pretty thoroughly, but that's not nearly a bad thing.
So I've done a faith about knowing, about arguments, about being convinced. They ended up being really bad arguments. And maybe there are good arguments out there, but I still am repulsed by the idea of someone having to convince me that there is a God. Especially when so many have failed, and have presented pretty poor excuses for arguments. And Christians seems predisposed to arguments that include "Christianity is right" as an assumption somewhere, even though they don't realize it. But even if there were good arguments - if "faith" is separate from (or at least not a result of) "relationship with God" - I don't think it's a faith that I want. It feels like a very empty faith, a meaningless faith, and if this faith is going to have a significant effect in my life, be reason for doing things, that's not what I'm looking for.
I'm not sure what I am looking for. If anyone else is involved, I think it is more of someone introducing me to God than convincing me of God - but that's complicated because God isn't corporeal, and it sounds annoying to boot. I'm not trying to make God into anything specific, or put God in a box, or really require anything of God - except that God shows up in some recognizable fashion. Not in the fact that my life has been pretty good thus far, or that something unlikely (but still feasibly possible) thing happened. Nothing that proves to me that God is there. Matt, I agree that any experience used to prove God's existence is pretty questionable. And experience isn't reliable, but it's all we've got, really. If the only time I experience God is while I'm getting a root canal, it's unlikely that I'm going to do much with that. But even if I initially experience God while getting a root canal, but then continue to be able to communicate and experience going forward? That may be something different. I'm not sure. I think I agree with your and Danny's consensus though.
The point being, if I'm going to have faith, I want it to be based on knowing that God is there. That can only come through first-person experience, like Kristen's that I mentioned in my previous post. And whenever I talk to someone and we're past any proving or arguments or such, it always comes down to that. It was a similar situation whenever Becky and I really talked about it. They just know that God exists, and have some kind of relationship with God. They don't have any arguments or reasons that convinced them. They have supportive evidence, but none that makes any sense without the experience of God existing.
And I don't really have anything that I want God to be. I have a lot of ideas of what I don't want God to be that mostly boil down to "hypocritical". And I suppose, with that, some basic parameters - just and loving for starters. And pride is certainly a factor. It's always a factor. I'm human, perhaps more prideful than most. But I also don't want "pride" to be an excuse to dismiss my ability to know anything, or be confident in anything. Because I don't think it's prideful to think that modern science, for instance, knows a lot about how the world works. Not everything, not enough to rule out God (which is probably impossible anyway), but a lot. Certainly a lot more than 2000 years ago. "Pride" is too often used to just dismiss anything the dismisser doesn't like. I'm not in any way accusing you of doing so, Evan - I actually very much appreciated your thought. I just don't really know how to not be prideful, but at the same time have a faith that is rational and reasonable and has intellectual integrity. I suppose maybe I don't trust God enough to be that - I spent too long believing that God hates science and evolution and thinks reason is dangerous, primarily a tool of humanity to explain God away. I'll have to think about that one. Thanks.
And Nicki, you just posted, but your post lines up nicely with what I was going to wrap up with anyway, so here goes! One of the big problems with most reasons I'm given to believe is that I'm perfectly content, right now at least, to live without God. I don't need a God to explain how I got here, why the world works. I don't need a God to motivate me to be good to my fellow human beings, to follow the Golden Rule. To take the relationship analogy perhaps a bit far, I'm happily single as far as God goes. I wouldn't mind a relationship. It might well make my life better and fuller. But I don't need that for anything. Perhaps that's the wrong attitude to take - but if I were to pursue God as if I wanted God more than anything, I would have to do a lot of playacting, and I've done quite enough of that in my life already.
And for the record, I do go to church. Not really for any terribly spiritual reasons, and certainly because of a certain amount of momentum, and a touch of expectations. But primarily, at my home church, there are good people who care about me, and many of whom are some of those good examples above, who are confident and thoughtful in their faith, but don't try to push that on me. Sometimes I go to other churches, many of which remind me that not everyone is doing things horribly wrong. Some (Quest, for example) are doing very good things. Yet others remind me that, yes, some people still are using Christianity in ways that I find repulsive. I limit my visits to such places, but even at some places, there are kernels of right.
I'm not sure how to actively put myself out there without presuming things that I don't believe. I'm open, I'm even willing to do a little investigation, if from a noncommittal perspective - reading the Bible not as a book of my faith, but as the book of Christianity. But much beyond that - actively seeking - ends up requiring too much pretension and acting. Again with the likely inappropriate extension of the relationship analogy: actively seeking out a relationship, as if you desperately need one, is a bad idea. I'd much rather run into someone, at the Teacup, downtown, at a bookstore, on the bus, and have things go from there. That's a little harder with God, since God has no corporeal presence, but if I continue on through life, open to the idea of a relationship with God, and God is around and interested, I'm betting I'll run into God sometime along the way.
I get annoyed very quickly with Jesus-is-My-Boyfriend-type things, and painting God as a romantic relationship, but I think the analogy works okay here. It's true of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. If I'm not interested, closed off to new relationships, it's unlikely I'll start any. But if I'm open, but not actively looking, I'll probably run across some. Some friendships and/or relationships I run into will greatly interest me, and I'll pursue them. But looking for relationship for the sake of being in relationship isn't what I want to do - in personal relationships or God ones.
So, to exit the relationship analogy, which has been stretched quite enough. I'm quite content right now to be a moral humanist. I don't need God to fill any holes in my life, which I don't think should be God's function anyway. I have a basis for morality (common human dignity, basically), an explanation (enough, anyway) for how the world got here and how we work (science), and meaning in life (making the world a better place for those who surround and will follow me, and enjoying the time I have). I'm not opposed to God showing up, or having a relationship with God. But it's not really something I need to sustain me. If God exists and is a relational God, I'd be quite interested in getting to know him, her, or it. But I have no reason to assume that is the case, so I'm going to have to run into God somehow - in a way that I recognize - to get that started. Which, I suppose, is what I'm waiting around for.
Thanks, all, for your input - it's got me thinking, and I probably didn't address everyone's points in here, but rest assured I read them and will mull them over, because they are all great thoughts. And I would be glad to talk with any of you about such things - I always love fleshing things out in person.