The Death of Faith (or more properly, its murder)

Recently I’ve been frequently faced with the fact that some people face a death in their own faith.

Before I start ranting about it, I should point out that everybody has some form of faith, whether it’s faith in the overall meaning of the universe, or the ability of their own intellect to accurately understand reality, or faith in God, or specifically in my case, faith in Jesus Christ.

So when I say a death in faith, I can’t mean a death in the faith that everybody has, but rather the faith that people used to hold to. Indeed, my once atheism was a faith in the regularity of the universe eliminating the necessity of God, and it died a cruel death which I happily celebrate.

Others have been moving the other direction, and as with most, it leaves me sometimes wondering if I’m nuts. After all, I believe that the ground of all reality, and the ultimate ruler of the universe was incarnated in a human being who died for my sins, allowing me to stand faultless before the glory of God. Seems a little nutty if I focus on the  rationality of the belief without looking at the underlying reasons to actually believe it, such as the historic reality of the resurrection.

But more commonly, I’ve found that people have turned away from faith in Jesus for the same experiential reasons that others have turned to the faith. Namely, something has happened in their own life that makes their former faith in God untenable. This is usually coupled with artistic expression that resonates with them and essentially causes an emotive conversion to the loss of faith. Don’t believe me? Try being an  evangelical Christian hanging around a few drunk atheists or agnostics, you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, the people involved somewhat choose the atheism, but more often than not, they were helped, most notably by the Church. No, I do not mean by the Church’s hypocrisy (were that the reason, nobody would believe anything; hypocrisy is based on lies, and as Dr. House says, “everybody lies”), nor by the evils of the Church (again, were that the case Marx, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler would have put paid to Atheism). More often it is by the church’s failures to act like a church in the realm of discipleship.

Discipleship is the means by which a convert to Christianity is brought to a mature faith in Christ. It is most importantly based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:6), but is also aided through the instrument of Church in teaching and discipline.

That the Church generally fails in these needs hardly be argued. While in academia, Mark Noll’s battle cry (in “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”) of a decade or more ago has been somewhat answered by a plethora of intelligent and erudite Christian thinkers, this has largely not moved to the general congregation. This is evidenced by the purile and illogical arguments levelled against Christianity by the present batch of popular Atheists. That some of this sounds intelligent (or even intelligible) as attacks on Christianity is based on the fact that most Christians have gotten no further in their faith than “Me and Jesus”. Few, if any, have reflected on Pascal’s wager, or on Anselm’s inaccurately named ontological proof for the existence of God, or even know what a presuppositional apologetic would look like, much less know how to use one.

Even deeper, few Christians know what it means to be being sanctified, where the basis of our justification lies, or even basically what the central fact of the good news is, instead believing that the ultimate reason for Christ’s incarnation was to save me from sin (because I’m such a lovable guy…… despite that original sin thing).

This is compounded by the failure in Church discipline. I hate to say it, and many former Christians would debate me on this one, but the other common cause of atheism, after a failure to grow in the faith, is the embracing of open sin in the Church.  Why does this cause atheism? Simple. People have the law of God written in their hearts, and as they act against it, they become less likely to look to God; out of sight, out of mind.

This is compounded when the Church spends its time pretending that the Bible is inaccurate as a reflection of God’s will, and thus eliminating parts of the scripture in practice (like pretending extramarital sex is okay, or that women clergy are accepted by scripture, or that homosexuality is a good and noble expression of God’s will).

On the other side of the divide, we have charismatics failing to test every spirit and pretending that the Spirit of God is some kind of vending machine, or that it gives fortunes, or worst of all, that it gives “new revelations” of God’s will in contradiction to the written word of God.

Thus I believe that in large measure, the present atheism we see is partially to be blamed on the Christian Church, we have done that which we ought not to have done, and have not done those things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.

Our only hope now is that it is always God’s property to have mercy. May He have mercy on us now.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

10 thoughts on “The Death of Faith (or more properly, its murder)”

  1. Interesting… I’ll point at this first:

    But more commonly, I’ve found that people have turned away from faith in Jesus for the same experiential reasons that others have turned to the faith. Namely, something has happened in their own life that makes their former faith in God untenable. This is usually coupled with artistic expression that resonates with them and essentially causes an emotive conversion to the loss of faith. Don’t believe me? Try being an evangelical Christian hanging around a few drunk atheists or agnostics, you’ll see what I mean.

    Well, here I am, stone cold sober (at the moment) and I can point to the exact reason why I have “A crisis of faith” as it were, and it has nothing to do with “feelings”, neither- in fact, if I were to be perfectly honest about it, I’d have to say that its entirely based around a rather large lack of “feelings” where you’d expect to find them.

    You very rightly point out that one of the christian failings of the past hundred years or so has been “discipleship”. You even identify that there’s a lack there, and you go so far as to admit the following:

    It is most importantly based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:6), but is also aided through the instrument of Church in teaching and discipline.

    Now, I’ll go out on a limb here, but if you ask me, the rest of your piece is trying to make the importance of the “Also aided through” instrument, the church, more clear, and leaves the work of the holy spirit as a given.

    You see, you insist that belief in god is a faith position, something that by necessity can’t be proved unless god will make a special compensation for you and submit himself to making a miracle in your defense, or for your benefit. But we should expect to be able to say, for ourselves, that yes indeed, we are (at least) comforted on a regular basis by the Comforter. It wouldn’t take much of an empirical investigation to find out just exactly what the Comforter does, and just what insight his presence imparts to people. Your problem, I trust, remains that given enough time (and a surprisingly little amount it would need) what’s being construed as “God’s Will” is anything but clear from the mouths of his own named and “Chosen”. The almighty and all powerful is apparently unable to keep his own stories straight, or simply no-one is listening.

    I knew I had made the right decision, w.r.t. faith, when I came upon this link: http://www.acts17-11.com/cows_helps.html

    Being so curious about the nature of such as honest discourse of what the bible actually says, I went to the root folder and found this:
    http://www.acts17-11.com/dialogs.html

    And so, I learned to look at the true nature of this particular proposition, and what it is I find so distasteful about the “good work” a church could do. When you read things like that, it becomes easy to understand how little “quirky things” in church history, like Spanish Inquisitions and Crusades, weren’t temporary craziness that was just latched upon, but rather, logical extensions of an uncompromising faith in the base and worthless nature of humankind.

    “These people that we kill are all damned to hell, anyway. Maybe we’ll save some of them, like this, in the LONG run.”

    And, christian churches are still doing this today, to bigger or lesser degrees, and with more and less fervent zeal about the authority of the bible in the process, and all the time feeling “good” about how they’re truly doing the lord’s work. Ain’t it just peachy when people pay you to do what you love, too???

    So, I ask you a “totally unrelated” question, Stephen- do you find scare tactics and fear-mongering worthy of scorn when you encounter them in the political arena?

  2. I am interested by your use of the word “proved”. Any given sets of evidence actually provide support for many different positions. That’s the reason we have many different opinions based on precisely the same evidence (science is full of that).

    I also would greatly differ from your opinion that the logical conclusion for a faith results in the crusades and the Inquisition, but for that I would have to know what your reasoning behind that is.

    There is a balance to the “base worthlessness” of the human being in Christian theology (which isn’t a Christian doctrine really either).

    On the fear mongering question… depends, previous to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, was Churchill using scare tactics and fear-mongering? It’s not fear mongering if what you are asked to fear is actually there.

  3. And therein you have your rub, Steve- Is there a Just Creator that I ought to worship, or else suffer eternal damnation? That smells like much of the other fear mongering I’ve encountered in my life. I could ask you a rhetorical question: Where’s your authority for this belief? But I already know the answer, and you continually tell me where it is.

    I maintain that there is no eternal damnation for me to respond to, unless it is eternal infamy. Nothing in my nature, revealed to me by my creators or by my own insight, has given me reason to believe that eternal damnation will result from choosing to believe in myself, and my abilities. All of the good things that have come to me throughout my life have been from acts of my own will, or those of my progenitors, and you cannot, should not, and will not be the judge of it, for you cannot entice me to concede to the authority of the book that says this isn’t so; nor will I swear fealty to the godhead you propose wrote the book.

    You claim to have some authority for your faith, something that trumps “experiential” anything. You offer doubt that man can be objective, and then say, you’re the worst offender, a terrible human being who ought not be loved by a God, and yet you are, so say you. I think that your faith is misplaced, and I care enough to tell you so, given my previous experiences, with and without you. To simply discard my reasoned experience is to devalue my offer of continued friendship, although you might choose to say, “I never was your friend, James, and it’s your fault.” and thereby hold yourself blameless from the damnation you offer my point of view.

    Are you a prophet, Steve?

  4. James, where is the authority for your belief? You speak of “smell” and of “fear mongering”, yet I see no reason here, only rhetoric. You are poisoning the well.

    You say:
    Nothing in my nature, revealed to me by my creators or by my own insight, has given me reason to believe that eternal damnation will result from choosing to believe in myself, and my abilities.

    To quote Shakespeare, methinks he dost protest too much. I would agree that nothing in your experience has been interpreted by you to cause the belief that eternal damnation will result in choosing to believe in yourself and your abilities. The problem is that you are interpreting those experiences and placing some experiences in greater value and others in lesser value, and even probably discounting some experiences (if you were not lying when you claimed to have felt something you once interpreted as God). I can accept your interpretations of experience, but that does not mean I agree with them, or that your interpretations are correct simply because you assert them to be.

    Spare me the pretense of objective rationality, you are not objective, and until we begin to discuss reason, I cannot comment on your rationality.

    You say:
    all of the good things that have come to me throughout my life have been from acts of my own will, or those of my progenitors, and you cannot, should not, and will not be the judge of it, for you cannot entice me to concede to the authority of the book that says this isn’t so; nor will I swear fealty to the godhead you propose wrote the book.

    Um, that’s a nice statement, one that I think I have good reason to doubt (as it is clear that not everything that happens to us, if we eliminate God from our ideological worldview, is the result of will of any sort), but again, as you are not giving me any reason to agree with you I cannot, and I may not if given reason, as I will grade it on reason, understanding, and my own personality, I can do no other.

    As to the book and authority, I find it disconcerting that you deny the authority ab initio, and seem to expect me to affirm the authority of your “reasoned experience” without any more than your assertions that it is so. To this point, there is nothing in what you say that I have not heard, thought, considered or even believed at some point in my history, and since I have considered and rejected the ideas in the past, I continue to await your reason.

    You say:
    You claim to have some authority for your faith, something that trumps “experiential” anything.

    No, I don’t. I am no fideist. That you think that is my position reaffirms my belief that you are attacking a chimera of your own making, and then transferring it to me. This is unfair, to say the least, and is experientially causing me to question whether you actually are offering your continued friendship. Your argumentation seems to be inconsistent with that offer of friendship, but the part of this friendship in my power has not changed.

    My position is that experientially the authority I have placed in Jesus Christ as revealed through scripture has not been effectively eliminated, and that it provides a better basis for life, joy and logical enquiry than does a simple fideism in the all surpassing greatness of my own mind. I do not expunge experience, but I do question the interpretation of that experience, you can have problems with that, but as you do you seem to place ultimate authority in your own interpretation, which to be honest scares me as much as any other form of religious fanaticism does.

    You say:
    To simply discard my reasoned experience is to devalue my offer of continued friendship, although you might choose to say, “I never was your friend, James, and it’s your fault.” and thereby hold yourself blameless from the damnation you offer my point of view.

    I searched YOU out, James, and I knew of your “crisis of faith” as you call it before I searched you out (which is honestly in my understanding a switch in faith, you do not seem to be in crisis of faith…. but then maybe I am right, and you do protest too much). I do not quit on friends due to a switch in faiths, even as I disagree with them. You should know that the book I claim as authoritative pointedly removes that from the table. I’m not going to put you forward as a new leader for the Church or anything, barring some radical changes of opinion in one of us or the other or both, but that should not surprise you.

    If you ask me to leave you alone, I will, but I am not going to grant you the out of making me into some kind of dysfunctional emotional blackmailer. As you should know, my faith keeps me from damning you (though I am strikingly handsome, I am not God… nor am I a prophet, to answer your question), I only express the damnation that is factual for your position from my standpoint. I do not write the rules of my religion. I may at some point ask that we agree to disagree and simply go for a drink, with religion off the table (it’s not a lot of fun to have your rationality questioned all the time, even if I have cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs)

    I may believe that you are in grievous error, misplacing your faith to the detriment of your eternal soul, but as far as it remains in my power, I will always love you as a friend, and if where I place my authority is right, love never ends.

  5. You say I am poisoning the well- I say that your well is already poisoned. You’re ready to question my authority on the matter, but obviously not the authority of the book you defend. What matters more? The book, or the man? Jesus didn’t die to protect the authority of the Scripture, if indeed Jesus died, at all. Isn’t it interesting that the troublesome matter for you isn’t whether Jesus lived, at all, but rather if he’s now dead?

    Since you see fit to tell me I am lying to myself, I’ll return you the honor: I think you’re willingly allowing yourself to be deceived, thereby lying to yourself, as well. I protest more than anyone else who cares to protest to you, AT ALL, Steve- at least, in the confines of this blog, hey?

    And, for that matter, I’d love to see how you can prove I am NOT objective? Your only strength is that you have an outside authority for that, yes, something you can prove that by? Care to use my life as a yardstick, on my behalf? You do not have the authority because I don’t give it to you- all I give is what I choose to write here, and all you can find out is what the good lord chooses to tell you, I guess. What does he say to you about me, this evening?

    No, I think you assert I am obviously not objective, simply because I disagree with you, and won’t go away. You have not proven this, at all- you do not even have the means to prove it. You ought to have been given these means… see Luke 12:10-12. You are only too correct to say that until we start talking reason, you’re not able to discuss it with me. Who’s the one not talking reason, Steve???

    You assert that there is obviously things outside of human will- and I cannot deny, there are moments of serendipity- but they do not amount to anything unless humans will to the opportunities those moments bring. If I buy a lottery ticket, and win- is this the will of god? Or is it random chance?

    And, an interesting twist:

    I searched YOU out, James, and I knew of your “crisis of faith” as you call it before I searched you out (which is honestly in my understanding a switch in faith, you do not seem to be in crisis of faith…. but then maybe I am right, and you do protest too much).

    I protest at what I find to be pretentious fear-mongering, insisting that there is ALL truth to be found in a “Consistent, inspired Holy Writ” when that book is clearly not consistent, and entirely worthy of skepticism. Do I affirm some of the values it espouses? Some, but definitely not all- if only, because it is so removed from our context so as to render it nearly meaningless to the rest of the world. You’d think it’d stand alone, on its own merits… that it’d have this power, being authored by a very god. It doesn’t… it requires people like you to defend it blindly, the same as the blood of free people is sometimes required to defend the tree of freedom.

    Luckily, I can still offer a wholehearted shrug- its not like I’m paying someone else’s way through a confusing life by pretending I believe in something, right? :P Its not like the duplicitous nature of the bible, or that of the body of christ, or the erstwhile and fickle nature of the holy spirit, really changes anything for anyone, hey?

    And guess what? Even your love is not enough, now, to prevent that most greivous of fates from happening to me, Steve- so, by all means, exercise your duties as a christian as you are commanded to do, by your god, and see what comfort it brings you, I suppose. I think you folk ought to pay more heed to what Jesus told you to do, like his command to the disciples in Mark 6:6-12, and learned to let go and let god, a llittle, maybe. :D

  6. James, are you even reading these things before you publish them? I dunno, maybe I am as blind as you claim I am, but you do not seem to be doing the atheist cause any favors. Indeed, I can almost point to this entire exchange as proof of my assertion that many atheists are every bit as dogmatic as they claim we Christians are. I do not doubt that some Christians are like that, but do not assume you understand a faith as varied as Christianity simply because you used to be one.

    When I say you are poisoning the well, I am referring to a logical fallacy you seem to be employing. You seem to be saying that Christians are silly, so I shouldn’t be a Christian. I would submit that you have no idea what I believe and are instead attacking the shadows of what you once believed. I am not you, and I have not had your experiences, but I have certainly had experiences. Do not make the brash and unfounded assumption that I have not reasoned through much of my experience, despite the fact that I have presently come to different conclusions. You may also note from a careful reading of my responses to you that I have never said that you cannot change my opinion. As with any debate, I enter this one with the full realization that you may actually be the first to provide reasons for me to change my opinion. I doubt it simply because you are not the first to level any of the arguments you’re giving me, but then, you may still come up with something new.

    I apologize if I accused you of lying to yourself, I was simply trying to point out how the beliefs you claim do not fit standard concepts of logic, which I confess I find surprising, as most Libertarian atheists seem to appeal to that a great deal (especially the ones who have read Ayn Rand….. am I corect in thinking that you are an objectivist?). That said, you have been calling my beliefs blind from the beginnning, and still have yet to give any positive evidence for the objective truth of much of what you say.

    Instead, you have given bombastic imperious references to your own reasoned experience, which is a little like a Charismatic saying to me, “I just know that Jesus healed me”. I’m sorry, but I can only afford you the same level of belief I give them (I should point out that if I have any charismatic leanings, they are GREATLY tempered…. I level the same amount of skepticism on their experiential claims as I’m levelling on yours).

    I also find it interesting that you accuse others of “pretentious fear-mongering” when the vast majority of your argument seems to come down to personal experience, and then you seem to accuse your opponents of being “blind” or unreasonable, or inconsistent, again with no evidence. This is surpising, as you may know that I have degrees in the many and varied supports for your claims, not to mention the rhetoric you’re undergirding this stuff with.

    What “you’d think” about holy writ is yet another example of your half logic. Why must it “stand alone” like some kind of magic item despite your clear antipathy to it? From my perspective, Romans 1: 18-20 actively posits that people are willfully blind as to the truth, and honestly that seems borne out by postmodern philosophy of science.

    And as I have pointed out in the other thread you’re on, I think your attacks on the veracity of scripture are at least somewhat blind, and are not nearly as logical as you seem to believe they are.

    How do I prove that you’re not objective? Honestly, I think most people would agree to place that point logically in the same realm as all other major claims, includng the claim for the existance of God. It is on you to give evidence of your own objectivity, I need not assume it. You are making an extraordinary claim, defend it. i’m not going to waste my time proving universal negatives. I took first year logic too, and know that such are fools errands.

    I assert that you are not objective because I believe absolute human objectivity to be impossible. We are subjects, and thus our opinions are subjective, and can only be tempered by debates and discussions, but they never transcend subjectivity. This is not based on the Bible at all, this is from my basis in secular epistemology (see Kant, and the majority of modern deconstructionalists, like Derrida, Fish and Rorty…… even they are sometimes right), and my long term association with law.

    Luke 10:10-12 is a strange verse to quote in this context, it speaks not of giving reason, but of simply not continuing to preach the word after none hear. As to that, I point out you are the one coming to me for this discussion. I just want to share a coffee or a beer with a person who used to be a lot of fun to be around.

    We will have quite different ideas as to the efficacy of the Holy Spirit in sanctification both based on the only form of authority you seem willing to accept, reasoned personal experience.

    and finally, my friendship is not in any way designed to create a quid pro quo of faith in Jesus. It may be designed to create a qud pro quo of you buying me a beer, but that’s because I’m hopelessly mercenary. God grants conversion, I’m only called to be faithful to the love within me. So I don’t particularly care if you become a Christian, that’s between you and God.

  7. You guys? Naw, I think I’d need to stay completely in a right mind with you northerners. I’m looking for a hot chocolate from you

  8. James, are you even reading these things before you publish them? I dunno, maybe I am as blind as you claim I am, but you do not seem to be doing the atheist cause any favors. Indeed, I can almost point to this entire exchange as proof of my assertion that many atheists are every bit as dogmatic as they claim we Christians are. I do not doubt that some Christians are like that, but do not assume you understand a faith as varied as Christianity simply because you used to be one.

    Or I might have read the book you claim is inspired- nay, authored- by a god, and found it wanting? I suspect I have done more than a good many of your nominal brethren in even trying to read and understand what’s in that bible. I figured, that might be a good idea, given that I swear to its authenticity every time I recite a creed.

    I’ll cut right to the chase with what I “seem” to be saying, if only to clear your confusion: I am asserting that the following is true:

    You see, you insist that belief in god is a faith position, something that by necessity can’t be proved unless god will make a special compensation for you and submit himself to making a miracle in your defense, or for your benefit. But we should expect to be able to say, for ourselves, that yes indeed, we are (at least) comforted on a regular basis by the Comforter. It wouldn’t take much of an empirical investigation to find out just exactly what the Comforter does, and just what insight his presence imparts to people. Your problem, I trust, remains that given enough time (and a surprisingly little amount it would need) what’s being construed as “God’s Will” is anything but clear from the mouths of his own named and “Chosen”. The almighty and all powerful is apparently unable to keep his own stories straight, or simply no-one is listening.

    Now- stop playing games with the word Proved, and deal with the second sentence. There’s no confusion in the bible about nature, the work and role of the comforter, is there?

    The rest of my skepticism with organized religion (in the christian context, the ones organized by the bible) comes from long-suffering and patient experience. I think it’s pretty clear, at least from my former anglican perspective, that there’s precious little to indicate the presence of any life-changing god. I could choose to be merely bitter, and spend the rest of my life blinded by anger; or, I could shrug my shoulders and walk away, comforted (perhaps) in the knowledge that a house divided against itself will not stand, so say they all; or, I can choose to salvage what I can from the experience, which, for the most part, involves long discussions with past friends. Many of whom, I might add, have changed their particular stances, over the years. Some of them have been truly unexpected turns- a metanoia, if you will- and I’m one of those, as far as I’m concerned, considering that I spent enough time banging on the bible and calling gay people sinful.

    In any case, don’t consider me unfriendly in a personal context, merely based on my sauciness online. You’ll find me a reasonable enough person, still, to drink a coffee or a beer with. Dare I say, still entertaining, enough. :P

  9. Or I might have read the book you claim is inspired- nay, authored- by a god, and found it wanting? I suspect I have done more than a good many of your nominal brethren in even trying to read and understand what’s in that bible. I figured, that might be a good idea, given that I swear to its authenticity every time I recite a creed.

    Authored in an ultimate sense, inspired in a penultimate sense?

    Indeed, I am quite approving if you have read the entirety of scripture. That said, as I understand that scripture (which I have also read) quite a bit differently which has resulted in a slightly less negative view of it, either your experience, or my experience, or both do not accord with reality. I’m glad that you agree that you affirm the validity of that Bible every time you say a creed, the Anglican Church synod voted that that was not the case (which you seem to reference oddly as proof to the questionability of the will of God in the other thread).

    Now- stop playing games with the word Proved, and deal with the second sentence. There’s no confusion in the bible about nature, the work and role of the comforter, is there?

    Nope, but there I honestly do think I have had experience of the comforter as listed in scripture. Not in the Anglican Church, but then I think looking at the Anglican Church as a biblically organized church is far more charitable than I am willing to be (considering the Anglicans have openly atheist priests, and bishops saying we should “find a god beyond theism”). To use the Anglican Church of Canada as the example to disprove the existence of the Holy Spirit is a little like using a vegetarian picnic to disprove the existence of hamburgers. Sure, one or two good examples might be there by mistake, and you’ll see some things that resemble it, but you shouldn’t be surprised when they aren’t there, and the things that look like hamburgers turn out to be tofu.

    There’s a reason I’m a Baptist. (and before some of my readers start talking about speaking in tongues and the like, I’m not pentecostal either, and for a reason).

    Perhaps if I knew what facets of the comforter you haven’t seen?

    As for the metanoia, well, that’s not surprising, I’m not the man I thought I’d become either. To be frank, I’m glad you’ve stopped thumping your Bible (you slammed me once or twice with that), and if your condemnation of homosexuality as sinful did not include spending time with gay people, loving them as you would love any other sinful person (everybody including me), I’m glad you’ve repented of that too.

    I’m definitely up for coffee at some point, but we’ll have to talk off the blog to set that up. I’m having a less than relaxing week so far, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

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