Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

My first and final Facebook discussion on religion

Posted by Ann on September 5, 2010

A couple of days ago I had my first discussion on Facebook with “liberal Christians” about their religious beliefs. Somehow I had developed a belief that liberal Christians would actually be able to see through the irrationality of fundamentalism in a way fundamentalists can’t. On most levels, this is true, but I guess I made the mistake in assuming liberal Christians were similar to me with my way of thinking back in my own liberal Christian days. But when I look back and try to remember who I was I think maybe I always understood that belief itself not only was irrational, but didn’t have a lot of practical meaning or use either. Maybe I was more what is now labeled a New Age thinker as I entered adulthood instead of liberal Christian? Looking back at my thought progression as I matured, I was probably a fundamentalist as a child, liberal Christian as an adolescent, New Age agnostic as a college student, and atheist as an adult.

This discussion with a liberal Christian opened my eyes to the fact that adult liberal Christians are not only still Christians, but still have some fundamentalist ideas around Jesus and the world, with some New Age ideas about emotions, experience, and a void where God exists in the nothingness thrown in. Wayne Dryer kind of people (yes, I’ve watched his shows on PBS. He’s a good, meaning good person, self-help guru). It’s like liberal Christians have taken existentialism and made it Christian. Or rather, are unable to take existentialist thought all the way. Kierkegaard instead of Camus, so to speak. Because morality and goodness and love MUST come from somewhere. Morality and goodness and love can’t just be natural phenomenon resulting from a biological process (this is sarcasm).  It puts a kind of slant on everything they think and do, for God’s glory. Maybe sinfulness is defined a little differently, now profanity and sexuality are tolerated (or focused on excessively to make the point how liberal they really, really are), but the idea of sin is still there. Seems to me this makes the term “liberal Christian” a kind of oxymoron.

I understand liberal Christianity, I was once there as an adolescent/young adult. I’m tired of trying to explain how the word “know” when used by an atheist is not saying something is known absolutely but it is the best word to describe knowledge based on evidence. Why should I even speculate there is a God when there is no evidence for one? It’s like saying, “I don’t know why I feel so emotionally connected to nature and other humans so, hmmmm, God Jesus must be the explanation.” Emotions and the “void” can’t just be part of a natural, biological process (this is sarcasm). So the following is my first and last post about religion on Facebook. I now understand there is no point discussing religion with Christians, since I don’t get enjoyment from these discussions. They just get me all frustrated and hot around the collar, and I like liberal Christians as people, so it bugs me that I get hot and bothered. The following is my part of the discussion. I didn’t change anything in the comments I list below, except names, although I left one or two comments out that had no bearing on the discussion.

My FB discussion:

Me:

I’m not so sure about Christianity not claiming Jesus is the answer, what about He is the “way the truth, and the life. No man come to the Father but by me.” That sounds sorta answerish. And I think it would sound even better if Henry Rollins said it, in his kinda white, yelling rap way.~

I think that may be cometh not come.

Liberal Christian #1:

I can see how “the way, the truth and the life” sounds answer-ish. Christian culture definitely interprets it that way, but the more I read the rest what Jesus said he didn’t claim to give a pat answer to anything. But our human nature desperately wants a black-and-white answer, so Christian culture shapes God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit into one and sells it like that. That’s been all of our experiences with Christian culture. (I think I just used bad grammar but I’m not sure how to fix it.)

All good art speaks to the void, and literal art is bad art and ceases to really be art because it doesn’t leave room for mystery and it doesn’t acknowledge the void, the mysterious, the unexplained and the beautiful. That’s the gray, and safety and answers lie in the black-and-white, but all the beauty and all the pain are in the gray. I don’t see the Bible as claiming to have pat answers for us, though it’s definitely been sold to us that way. The Bible speaks to the void quite a bit and says that we’re in the middle of the story, and the story isn’t over yet, and we’ll have the answers one day but it’s not ours to worry about now. Faith is hard enough.

I’m not trying to convince you of anything, just trying to explain where I’m coming from a bit more…

Me:

That’s okay, nothing you say would ever convince me just as what I’m about to write won’t convince you. I’m not absolutist, or suffering from black and white thinking. It’s just that what you are saying has no basis in reality so to me is like reading an excerpt from a fantasy novel. I understand what you are saying completely. I’ve been exactly in your shoes, whether you choose to believe it or not, there it is. I think that’s the problem with liberal, anti Christian culture ideology. It doesn’t make any more sense than traditional Christian culture. All of it is made up. Even when you throw logic out the window, you are still left with the basic fact that you have made up (or developed if you will) an ideology based on an ancient text. All of this ideology stems originally from the Bible and feelings you experience living in the natural world as an evolved human being. If you don’t need any answers, why hold onto the Bible and Christian ideology itself? Not holding on to answers means that you don’t deny God exists completely, you just acknowledge that there is no natural evidence whatsoever for God, just human intuition and a book called the Bible written by ignorant tribesmen. That’s the real definition of not having answers. What you are writing, once you really start thinking about it and remove the void idea, at least for me, begins to sound like just a bunch of gibberish. For me it is BS that the beauty and pain of life are in the gray because that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a made up way of trying to describe something you experience only in your head (or rather in humans heads). There is no black and white, unless it comes to facts. For instance I am alive (but even then you could go into some weird Matrix like discussion here–lol, like I could possibly be dreaming my aliveness, etc.). Purely by extension of being alive I will experience beauty and pain, just as every human that has ever lived did/does. All of human experience is gray. There is no need for the term or idea of faith, another made up word (humans have created all language, so all language is in a sense made up!). Faith is just another word for the fact there is no real proof of God. Liberal Christian #1, I am not a believer not because of spiritual abuse or disillusionment with Christian culture. I am not a believer because at a young age, before my brain chemistry and perspective was firmly established, I was able to start seeing outside the box of mystical thinking and actually consider the probability based on evolution, the human brain had evolved to promote belief in superstition either for survival or power instincts or both without any basis in the actual natural world. And it’s bunk that there is safety in answers. No one lives in safety. That is an illusion we live within so we don’t become paranoid and kill ourselves prematurely.

Liberal Christian #1:

“Faith is just another word for the fact there is no real proof of God.” Agreed.

Me:

Ummm, not exactly in your shoes exactly. No one can fill your shoes exactly. A little hyperbole for effect there.

Liberal Christian #1:

I have to say I don’t see how Ann, or anyone, can ‘know’ all these things without being absolutist.

Me:

I guess I just differ from you there. I don’t think it’s absolutist to say there are no absolutes, and that there is no evidence for God, not that there is no God absolutely. My question to myself is why believe in something if there is no evidence or reason for believing in it to begin with? That’s where people get into the morality argument, but even there, there is no absolute knowledge that morals come from God. I suppose you could say I don’t even know that there are no absolutes absolutely. LOL! This is all semantics, in the end I have to go with my experience and that is that science is the most solid way to “know” about our world, but science as a discipline never claims absolute knowledge. It just provides us with the most truthful way to approach the world knowing that we don’t know anything absolutely. Science has yet to uncover ANY evidence that even remotely points in the direction of God’s existence. I guess you could say I value the moral of self-honesty.

Liberal Christian #2:

I think in the end we all go with our experience. And ultimately, that experience is constructed: by our feelings and experience living in the natural world as an evolved human being, by language and culture, brain chemistry, our experience of beauty and pain, our definitions of love, our tendencies (cultivated or not) to empathize with others, our decision to prefer human intuition (or not), our acceptance that science can describe the world fully and is as objective as we think it is. All of that culminates in an ideology, and all of it is faith: our best guess (or in the case of Liberal Christian #1 living-in-grayness, our best on-going-guessing). Self-honesty results in increased confidence in our faith, but does not itself imply one conclusion or other.

Me:

I don’t agree that relying on science to define the world produces an ideology the same as having faith in a deity. That’s why I use the word “know” when I describe a world based on evidence versus “belief” when I describe a world based on faith. Faith implies there is no evidence, and in my opinion is the same as saying I made it up, versus science which involves studying the world as objectively as possible to uncover evidence to explain things instead of making them up entirely in our own brains. Science has explained away all the evidence religion used to support faith as truth in the past. Now that religion has no evidence to support belief, it becomes increasingly clear that belief is a product of the human brain with no evidence in the natural world. I think it’s very telling that psychologists as a group are the most godless of all disciplines. Maybe because they understand how completely irrational the human brain can be?

Liberal Christian #1:

I don’t see how saying ‘absolutist’ is an attack. It certainly wasn’t intended to be one. When I say that I mean that atheists believe things based on scientific fact or things they considered to be absolutes. That’s all I mean when I say ‘absolutist.’ Feelings and experiences and love aren’t based on scientific fact.

Liberal Christian #2:

I think that any statement about the nature of reality is “absolutist” in the sense I think Liberal Christian #1 meant. “There are no absolutes” is a logical nonsequitor.

Ann, I think you and I are mostly disagreeing about the definition of “faith”. In contemporary thinking as I understand it, “knowing” and “fact” are a lot more fluid and fuzzy than the Enlightenment way many of us are used to thinking about them. The mathematical language Science uses to describe the world increasingly deals with probabilities, not fact. The more we learn about “knowing”, the more we know it is enmeshed in the irrationality of the human brain. When it gets down to brass tacks, it seems to me like it is an act of faith just to be alive and walk out your door every day all of our rollups and assumptions about reality are just that: rollups and assumptions. Thus, faith.

Robert:

No offense, but I don’t think you understand what absolutes are Liberal Christian #1. Christians are the ones who believe in absolutes: absolute truth, an absolute right and wrong, etc. I do not see the evidence for the existence of any absolutes, so you are flatly wrong to state that I do. I do not view the discoveries of science to be absolutes. There are laws that are unchanging (gravity, etc.) but you agree with those as well. I’m not sure what feelings, experiences and love have to do with this discussion of absolutes. Did someone claim that those three things (two really, since love is a feeling) are “based” on scientific fact? And what do you mean by “based”? Perhaps you intend for your “atheists think there are absolutes” accusation to be purposely vague, or maybe it’s just not too well thought out, or maybe you’re just repeating what you’ve heard other Christians accuse atheists of thinking. There is no need for any of that though, since I am right here and can speak for myself: I do not think there is an absolute truth or anything else like that, and I challenge you to name just one absolute I believe in. Until that time, simply repeating that claim is nothing more than an ad hominem attack.

Me:

Feelings and love are most likely chemical reactions in the brain as indicated by all the evidence we currently have from use of the scientific method. There is no evidence they come from any universal supernatural force or energy. If you give a person drugs, you can kill all emotion, even love for others. And scientists use experience to get closer to objective truth. A mother on enough opiates won’t even respond to a baby crying, even her own baby in peril. If those emotions were supernatural, why would something natural work so well in blocking those emotions. Atheists don’t “believe” things without evidence the way religious or mysticists believe. BTW, I don’t think either of us is attacking so to speak–it’s just I’ve had this discussion too many times with others (not you of course and its nothing personal!) Respect! Christians are pretty much everyone I know, excepting a handful of people. It can feel oppressive sometimes to not have many people I can talk with that agree with me on this subject.

Liberal Christian #1:

Sorry – I just mean that things like the existence of atoms and molecules and laws like gravity can be proven scientifically, so they absolutely exist. Feelings and experiences and love can’t be proven scientifically, so they don’t absolutely exist. That’s all I mean. I certainly don’t mean to attack you. I definitely accept that you say I don’t understand what absolutes are, please forgive my crude explanation for what I was calling absolutes. That’s all I mean when I say that atheists are absolutists, because they believe in things that can’t be argued to exist. We can drop the ‘absolutist’ label for sure, because you certainly don’t seem to like it, and it was never intended to be hurtful and it sounds like I was using in in the wrong way anyway. Like Ann said above, beliefs are based on things that can’t be scientifically proven.

Me:

We can see neurotransmitters under a microscope. BTW. lol. okay, I’m outta here. Peace and love! A

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10 Responses to “My first and final Facebook discussion on religion”

  1. Paulo said

    I’ve never really engaged anyone in a serious, drawn-out discussion on Facebook. Facebook just seems like a bad place for that. Especially the Facebook groups: just awfully stale and boring.

    I think of Facebook as a place for light and flighty comments, “lol”s, baby pictures, and other mundane crap. The most I’ll go for is a few rounds on a comment thread in reaction to someone’s occasional absurd religious status update.

    I remember how even MySpace groups were so much more raw and exciting–like on the days of the ICA Survivors MySpace group. It was directly out of those MySpace discussions that Robert and I got this site started.

  2. Ann said

    Well, you and Robert may have started the site, and I think officially Robert started it then pulled you in with him, but I’ve also been a contributor and supporter from the very beginning behind the scenes (where’s my credit man? lol).

    I’d say for me Facebook is a place to keep up with people in my life since most of them are pretty spread out around the US and the globe. It does get kinda annoying all the religious updates though. Wonder what would happen if I started putting up comments about religion being just so much bunk? Probably get my ass deleted.

    MySpace ICA Survivors group. Blast from the past! Would love to read some of those discussions again, some great characters there.

    • Paulo said

      Umm, for the record: Yes, Robert started the site, but I was involved in every step of the way in its creation (including the name). Where’s my credit? (lol)

      • Ann said

        Okay, I’ll give you that. But you needed a token female to help make it interesting and less macho. And I suggested Scott for our logo. And Robert asked me for plenty of suggestions in person every step of the way. I’m just not as technical and web savvy, so you get me there. (lol!)

  3. Ann said

    On the topic of liberal Christians, I find it’s pretty mainstream to be a hipster Christian now. I remember as a child my father preaching about being an “outside the box” Christian, living your faith, not buying into “legalistic Christianity.” It was all about being authentic and having a personal relationship and walk with Jesus. Being yourself, while being like Jesus, but not being a “Christian” since that term stands for the religion itself. Apparently no one wants to claim the title “Christian” nowadays, yet they still claim it when asked.

  4. Paulo said

    Ann, how did you engage these liberal Christians on Facebook? Was it in a group, or status update comments, or by messaging them directly? Just curious…

    • Ann said

      I’m friendly with “Liberal Christian #1” and have messaged her in the past on Facebook, and her me. She has a liberal Christian blog that I kinda follow, which has a corresponding Facebook page. I get status updates, so in this instance I thought I’d comment on an update. The thread took off from there.

      • Ann said

        Not sure what she thinks of me now after our little discussion and subsequent analysis here though. Think she’s swell but misguided.

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