By Brisancian ~
The internet and blogosphere are littered with so many voices, each claiming a supremacy over the attentions of their dear readers. Echo chambers are on offer for any view. As people, just trying to live our lives, we pilot toward these safe harbors and find the affirmation that our souls crave. Our aged tribal impulses are nourished on the village chants uttered from the pulpits, from Fox News, from the New York Times, and from the Academy. Most of our positions are inherited from friends or ancestry – the common property of our communities. We back our sports teams and we back the Bible with equally ardent and unthought loyalties.
But as the tribes sit round their village tables, lapping up communal pablum from silvered urns, the vessels are at intervals shaken to spillage by disquieting questions. These inquiries are voiced byseekers, dissidents, and apostates. Doubt is mustered – that lurking menace which stalks the confidence so painstakingly erected by our rousing battle cries and stadium chants. Communities are organisms in their own right, and inquiries that would atrophy group loyalty are a threat. Doubt shrinks the numbers. Questions disquiet the members. They put static on the loudspeakers of affirmation. They waken the dreamers from their harbor sleep. We must sing together, or not all.
Village of the Church
This all bodes poorly if the village in question is a church. It bodes poorly because religion ostensibly sells a product of truth, by which one may obtain a higher knowledge and a salvation. The definitions vary, of course, but religion in general exists to impart enlightenment and deliverance. Who am I? Why am I here? How can I find immortality? Deliverance and enlightenment and truth.
How often did my Christian friends and I speak of the primacy of Truth? Jesus himself claimed to be the embodiment of truth, if one believes the gospel purportedly written by St. John (14:6). The truth was to be sought, and the truth would set us free (John 8:32). Yet at this juncture we come to a curious dissonance. One would assume that the quest for truth and knowledge and enlightenment would best be served by inquiry. Seeking and finding, knocking and answering. All that.
Motion for Dismissal
Every deconvert well knows that such noble sentiments prove (under challenge) to be but the most superficial of bluffs. Believers unwittingly betray the true locus of their priorities, which turns out to be rather sideshifted from a strict overlap with the truth.
Some flatly refuse to engage in discussion at all.
Others defer to a proxy – handing apologetics books to the inquirer – whether they have read such books themselves or not.
Some bandy the words of a pet scholar who believes.
Many point to the seeker himself, and locate the blame on a heart condition.
Others simply shake their head and conclude that this is what the devil does to people foolish enough to read sources from over the fenceline.
Every deconvert knows the dance. We bring objective facts about the text, about history, & about science to the table. In return, we get to watch the stage show of myriad dance steps and dodges, as our good-faith attempts to find answers go unreciprocated. On occasion, one finds a serious interlocutor that genuinely wishes to engage. But the most oft-employed response remains the motion for dismissal.
Fish that Wriggle
To take but a recent example, I received a textbook email from a biblical inerrantist friend in response to my Easter Infographic. The motion for dismissal was rather transparent, attempting as he did to both change the subject and to find some rationale for dismissing the messenger. He asked whether we had been hurt by someone at our church. He questioned my motives and agenda. And finally, it alluded to the pressing non-crisis of how an agnostic expects to be reconciled to god… The discerning reader may note here a dislocation between such questions and the factual content of the Easter Infographic. But the questions, you see, have nothing whatever to do with truth.
This is how an ichthus of Faith wriggles against the net of Fact – by deploying a trifecta of questions concerning personal history, inner motive, and eternal jeopardy.
But the particulars matter little, because as I gently told him in my response, he was reciting the standard script by the numbers. At this point, I have seen so many different ways that people attempt to dismiss the facts. Despite the many creative variants, the key scenes of the time-worn play remain unaltered. And these gyrations prove the real priority: to dodge honest engagement and move for dismissal on some contrived grounds. Once the messenger can be dismissed, untroubled dreams may be resumed.
Never mind the facts: truth must be defended from questioners. Never mind that this particular inquirer cites scores of references. Never mind that he made his eventual decision against faith from reluctance and at great personal cost. Never mind that he came to his conclusion from integrity as a professional researcher.
Never you mind, say the faithful, because never we mind.
Sympathy and Reality
I am sympathetic with fish that want only the harbor; those who take a watery village shelter from the incessant cacophony. God, but there really is a lot of noise out there. I empathize with the fear that I see register in the eyes of my friends when the questions are spoken aloud. And I believe that we all want to do right. My friends are good people, though some may no longer share that view of me.
Yet my sympathy and empathy must come to a terminus where the conflict really lies. Christianity is not about truth. Christians defend quite a different mountaintop than this. Christianity is about our centrality in the cosmos, our eternal significance, and our hope for immortality. Christianity is about belief apart from evidence: blessed are they that have not seen, yet believe (John 20:29). It is a village viewpoint, and like the other tribalisms craving affirmation, it cannot tolerate tremors that spill the creedal pablum. Yet because it sounds more credible to do so, the village view is varnished from head to toe as truth: absolute and final.
Yes. Were it legitimately about truth, inquiry would be welcome. Study would include all relevant facts, not the incessant pursuit of apologists and one-sided “cases” to support our view. Reading from the other side of the fence line would be commendable. Evidence would be paramount. Attempts by scattered individuals to sidestep legitimate questions would meet group revulsion. And those that brought institutional rug-sweeping to light would be held as heroic.
Venture no Bluffs
Call your beliefs as beliefs, dear dreamers. Sing the village chants, imbibe the pablum & embrace the harbor calm. But do so recognizing that we deconverts have made a better study of all of this than most believers have, and that such study is often the proximate cause for our departure.
Disconfirmed tales of the supernatural are simply mythology.
Fears regarding ancient afterlife conjectures are simply superstition.
We deconverts have paid steeply to purchase a humbler self-image and an uncluttered conscience. So venture no bluffs about truth, for you cannot buy that name on the cheap. And you may expect stiff resistance from us if you try.