How I got so screwed up

As my 200th post, I’m going to give you a little insight into my background, how I think, and what led me to where I am right now. Of course I don’t think I’m really all that “screwed up”, but for those who do think I am, I thought I’d give you a bit of an explanation.

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While growing up in three different Southern Baptist churches, being involved mostly with other Christians living the Christian life, I saw little that made me think anything was missing about my own faith.

In high school I recognized the dangers of Fundamentalism (proper) through experiences with one of my school curricula, the Independent Baptist-based A Beka Book Publications. There writ large I saw a host of devout, well-meaning Christians who believed things that I found wholly incredible, despite the fact that by normal evangelical standards my church was quite conservative. I was amazed to think that this type of self-described Fundamentalists would think that I was teetering on the edge of damnation for believing the way I did. I knew that I, at least, was sincere and well considered in my beliefs, and that my relationship with God was as authentic as it could be and none the worse for rejecting what these sincere Christians believed.

As I got older and started jobs outside that tight-knit faith community, I began to see what “outsiders” thought about that community. Naturally, as someone genuinely sold on the faith as it had been presented me, I was defensive of what I thought was valid, yet I just couldn’t cook up enough hubris to simply chalk up everything the world thought about Christians to unregenerate, unenlightened, truth-despising nonsense. I stood firm on the general fabric of my faith; the enticements of the life of my unbelieving peers couldn’t sway someone who had so long enjoyed communion with God and seen His provision in the lives of his community. I remain a believer in the Christian God. But because of some intrinsic desire for intellectual honesty, possibly to distance myself from the dangers I was spooked by in Fundamentalism, I realized that those bedrock beliefs were not enough to sell me on everything else that my faith community had assumed to be true, particularly as I came across other sincere believers pointing out what they saw as errors in the stereotypical evangelical mindset. For instance, despite my highly entertaining Chick Publications’ magazines and tracts telling me otherwise, I personally came to the conclusion that Roman Catholics are not indirectly worshipping Satan with an entirely separate religion; Catholics do not even, as many Protestants believe, spit on Jesus’ sacrifice by worshipping Mary or deny the grace of God in favor of works. These sorts of things helped acclimate me to being at odds with many in my own community.

I went to a conservative Christian school for college. After a short stint in the music department, I was inspired by a teacher who brought out historical-grammatical aspects of the Old Testament. Looking back now, I see that these aspects were, as ever in the evangelical community, carefully selected so as to complement or bolster rather than refine or revise the typical conservative understanding. I switched my major to Bible and Theology. I learned the stuff they taught me, but I didn’t adopt much of it as my very own; nor, I should say, did I find overmuch at this time that I discarded outright. I put everything on the back shelf, and scrutinized it as I had the time.

As it would happen, a profound love for the Bible that I nurtured since early childhood continued to encourage me to understand it as well as I could. I certainly didn’t want to be wrong about what it actually is, and I had as yet been unconvinced, disappointed, and disgusted by some of the attempts at harmonization of niggling Bible conflicts that I had run across. But my encounters with Fundamentalism taught me that if you can find one flaw, you couldn’t trust that there weren’t more.

In a vital turning point for me, I ran across C. S. Lewis’s views on Scripture. Any longtime reader of this site will notice his influence, particularly in some cracking good quotes of his, all of which opened my eyes to how human the Scriptures were — were intended to be — and that they should be embraced warts and all; that to despise the Scriptures for being human is to reject God’s plan for those Scriptures.

This wasn’t the end of my journey, of course. I flirted with that realization for a few years, keeping it in the back of my mind as a back door I could use were I to run across any errors in Scripture that couldn’t be explained. But before I came to the point of admitting outright errors, I came to understand the vital importance of determining genre, which soon affected both my eschatology and my view of Genesis.

Please note: I’ve been accused of taking my stances on the nature of Scripture because of a desire to compromise for science. But It wasn’t until my view of Genesis changed somewhat late in the process that I really looked into evolution. Even though I had become skeptical and even critical of some creationists like Kent Hovind (of whom I must admit to being enamored when in high school), I was shocked in my Christian college that my biology professor taught the entire course without mentioning creationism once, explaining then-current scientific understandings of abiogenesis and evolution without so much as a disclaimer. It wasn’t until after I graduated from my undergrad college that I really settled down to look at the science/creationism debate with my new understanding of Scripture and Genesis in particular, under the influence of fellow believers who, like my biology professor, accepted evolution.

Anyway, that’s a start. And if I haven’t told you personally, I’d like to thank you warmly for reading this blog of mine.

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  • Matt

    I’d have to echo the same sentiment. It wasn’t my own Science background that forced the switch. It was a better understanding of Scripture.

  • Matt

    I’d have to echo the same sentiment. It wasn’t my own Science background that forced the switch. It was a better understanding of Scripture.

  • I stood firm on the general fabric of my faith; the enticements of the life of my unbelieving peers couldn’t sway someone who had so long enjoyed communion with God and seen His provision in the lives of his community.

    Do you think you would have stood firm if you hadn’t at that time enjoyed communion for “so long”? Is the very thought of admitting that you were (and are) wrong all those years enough to not let you entertain the thought at all?

  • I stood firm on the general fabric of my faith; the enticements of the life of my unbelieving peers couldn’t sway someone who had so long enjoyed communion with God and seen His provision in the lives of his community.

    Do you think you would have stood firm if you hadn’t at that time enjoyed communion for “so long”? Is the very thought of admitting that you were (and are) wrong all those years enough to not let you entertain the thought at all?

    • Hi Bjørn,

      I suppose you’re not particularly familiar with me. I certainly entertain the thought. I wonder all the time, and encourage others to do so as well. Doubt is a necessary concession to human limitations.

      But I wonder if you “entertain the thought at all” as well, or if you have come to a final conclusion. And I’m not asking if you entertain the prospect of changing your mind upon discovering proof or compelling evidence, but acknowledging that your current state of belief, the reasoning that got you here with the evidence you’ve surveyed, is but a fallible human interpretation of the evidence; that perhaps even the thought processes that tend toward atheism are explicable as evolutionary conditioning.

      Strangely (and perhaps not coincidentally?) James McGrath just posted this on his blog this morning:

      Skepticism that is only skeptical of the views of others, and is only directed at evidence that runs counter to one’s own beliefs and assumptions, isn’t skepticism at all.

      Faith that only involves believing the the things one already believes, and is only directed at the things that one already presupposes to be true, isn’t faith at all.

      I doubt I would have stood so firm apart from being grounded for so long.

  • Hey Steve,

    I like this quote (paraphrased) from Shane Claiborn. “Everyone told me that when you meet Jesus, he will help get your life together. I met Jesus and got completely screwed up”.

    I think this can speak for a lot of us that grew up in a cloistered evangelical ghetto. Really meeting Jesus (the Word made flesh), and really meeting scripture (The written Word) has to change your life & how you look at things. Jesus screwed up his own religious world big time and he’s screwing up ours as well. And that is a good thing.
    .-= steve martin´s last blog ..Is there an Evangelical Church Home for the Evolutionary Creationist? =-.

    • Steve,

      You’re right to note the irony that a group that calls itself Jesus’ closest followers is so resistant to the implications of Jesus’ iconoclasm, which included his opinion that the Hebrew Scriptures (ostensibly as inspired as our current Bible, right?) to contain outdated and superseded material, but particularly assaulted the majority, ecclesiastically approved interpretation of those scriptures.

  • Hey Steve,

    I like this quote (paraphrased) from Shane Claiborn. “Everyone told me that when you meet Jesus, he will help get your life together. I met Jesus and got completely screwed up”.

    I think this can speak for a lot of us that grew up in a cloistered evangelical ghetto. Really meeting Jesus (the Word made flesh), and really meeting scripture (The written Word) has to change your life & how you look at things. Jesus screwed up his own religious world big time and he’s screwing up ours as well. And that is a good thing.
    .-= steve martin´s last blog ..Is there an Evangelical Church Home for the Evolutionary Creationist? =-.

    • Steve,

      You’re right to note the irony that a group that calls itself Jesus’ closest followers is so resistant to the implications of Jesus’ iconoclasm, which included his opinion that the Hebrew Scriptures (ostensibly as inspired as our current Bible, right?) to contain outdated and superseded material, but particularly assaulted the majority, ecclesiastically approved interpretation of those scriptures.

  • A Beka! I went to a Christian school growing up so I am very familiar with A Beka haha. I also learned valuable gems like “If you are saved and go up to get saved again, you crucify Jesus all over again.” and “If you believe in evolution you should be careful that you are not being influenced by the devil.”

    • Generally I don’t use the term “indoctrination” for religious education. But many aspects of A Beka certainly tempt me to do so…

  • A Beka! I went to a Christian school growing up so I am very familiar with A Beka haha. I also learned valuable gems like “If you are saved and go up to get saved again, you crucify Jesus all over again.” and “If you believe in evolution you should be careful that you are not being influenced by the devil.”

    • Generally I don’t use the term “indoctrination” for religious education. But many aspects of A Beka certainly tempt me to do so…

  • I think sometimes we can be thankful for extremes like a beka curriculum, Jack Chick, etc, that force us to take a step back and realize that what we are being taught is just wrong. So much of that kind of fundamentalist teaching subtly seeps into conservative evangelicalism and it can take a slap in the face like a beka to make us realize what is going on.

    My 11 year old actually came home complaining about a beka from his school, that he would be more interested in learning history from his history book rather than repeated reminders about how the English were on God’s side, etc. I’m glad he’s got that figured out a bit already. :^)

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey. It helps to read stuff like that to understand people better, myself included. I am always trying to understand how I came to swallow, or at least quietly sweep under the carpet, a large amount of evangelical dogma which I don’t believe anymore.

    • Thanks, attr. It’s funny, even in my very conservative evangelical household, I early on realized how bizarre it was how supersaturated so much of it was with a disturbingly rigid version of Christian doctrine.

  • I think sometimes we can be thankful for extremes like a beka curriculum, Jack Chick, etc, that force us to take a step back and realize that what we are being taught is just wrong. So much of that kind of fundamentalist teaching subtly seeps into conservative evangelicalism and it can take a slap in the face like a beka to make us realize what is going on.

    My 11 year old actually came home complaining about a beka from his school, that he would be more interested in learning history from his history book rather than repeated reminders about how the English were on God’s side, etc. I’m glad he’s got that figured out a bit already. :^)

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey. It helps to read stuff like that to understand people better, myself included. I am always trying to understand how I came to swallow, or at least quietly sweep under the carpet, a large amount of evangelical dogma which I don’t believe anymore.

    • Thanks, attr. It’s funny, even in my very conservative evangelical household, I early on realized how bizarre it was how supersaturated so much of it was with a disturbingly rigid version of Christian doctrine.

  • The problem as I see it atimetorend is that the majority of the time folks that are brought up like that and start to question it end up losing faith in God all together. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to dig through the…poop…and find the golden nuggets…
    .-= Travis Jacobs´s last blog ..Know Your Philosopher Series 1: Thomas Aquinas =-.

    • Travis, I agree “the majority of the time folks that are brought up like that and start to question it end up losing faith in God all together.” But if that is the problem, what is the solution? Whether or not you are a person who can dig through all that without throwing the biblical baby out with the bathwater, you still have to dig through it, right? (Trying to get as many cliche metaphors in here as possible)

      Note: Please read that as a friendly question, not confrontational, I don’t mean it that way at all.

  • The problem as I see it atimetorend is that the majority of the time folks that are brought up like that and start to question it end up losing faith in God all together. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to dig through the…poop…and find the golden nuggets…
    .-= Travis Jacobs´s last blog ..Know Your Philosopher Series 1: Thomas Aquinas =-.

    • Travis, I agree “the majority of the time folks that are brought up like that and start to question it end up losing faith in God all together.” But if that is the problem, what is the solution? Whether or not you are a person who can dig through all that without throwing the biblical baby out with the bathwater, you still have to dig through it, right? (Trying to get as many cliche metaphors in here as possible)

      Note: Please read that as a friendly question, not confrontational, I don’t mean it that way at all.

  • Okay, so you entertain the thought. Let me rephrase.

    Is the very thought of admitting that you were (and are) wrong all those years not a big in component in your choice not to let your faith go? It is a well known behavior in human psychology, and it really should have no bearing at all on what you believe. Yet, per your own description, it precisely did.

    I am a scientist. I don’t come to final conclusions, only tentative ones. And then only based on evidence. I see no evidence of the dogma of Christianity being true (same for all all religions I know of), but lots of evidence for a model that suggest religion is invented by humans.
    .-= Bjørn Østman´s last blog ..Gays in the military? =-.

    • Ok, I understand your question. Given the number of things I’ve been willing to admit I was wrong about, including so many of the prized doctrines of the evangelicalism I grew up accepting, I have a hard time believing that a fear of admitting that I am wrong on still other beliefs such as God’s existence plays much of a role at all in my continuing belief system. If anything, instead of a fear of admitting being wrong, I nurse somewhat of a fear of being wrong itself, which impels me forward in my journey and preempts the fear of admitting I was wrong because of that fear’s potential to obstruct my path.

  • Okay, so you entertain the thought. Let me rephrase.

    Is the very thought of admitting that you were (and are) wrong all those years not a big in component in your choice not to let your faith go? It is a well known behavior in human psychology, and it really should have no bearing at all on what you believe. Yet, per your own description, it precisely did.

    I am a scientist. I don’t come to final conclusions, only tentative ones. And then only based on evidence. I see no evidence of the dogma of Christianity being true (same for all all religions I know of), but lots of evidence for a model that suggest religion is invented by humans.
    .-= Bjørn Østman´s last blog ..Gays in the military? =-.

    • Ok, I understand your question. Given the number of things I’ve been willing to admit I was wrong about, including so many of the prized doctrines of the evangelicalism I grew up accepting, I have a hard time believing that a fear of admitting that I am wrong on still other beliefs such as God’s existence plays much of a role at all in my continuing belief system. If anything, instead of a fear of admitting being wrong, I nurse somewhat of a fear of being wrong itself, which impels me forward in my journey and preempts the fear of admitting I was wrong because of that fear’s potential to obstruct my path.

  • Steve,

    I appreciate Bjørn’s line of questioning. No believer should hide from serious consideration of his concerns. I’m glad that you do not. For my part (and my story is very much the same as yours), I have often wished that I could, for a season, completely empty myself of those presumptions and belief-biases that were drummed into me in my childhood. Like you, I reject a high percentage of them. But why do I not reject them all? Fear? social and familial pressure? or have I chosen to hold to those truths that have played out in my personal experience of faith? I hope it is the latter. But I honestly do not know.

    So, the track I am on right now is to approach reality (and theology) from what nature shows us. Yes, I still presume a Creator, a God who is intrinsically good. It is a choice. But it is a choice that will be tested as I progress. From there, I am building first a Natural Theology, and anxious to see if it does lead me ultimately to Christian revelation. I think it does. But, frankly, I’m still in the lab. But in the end, I am convinced that only faith worth possessing is a reality-based faith. And, I’m sorry to say, most Christians I know do not possess such a faith at all.

    You closed you post with “… that’s a start ….” I do hope that implies there is more to come!
    .-= Cliff Martin´s last blog ..Nature’s Dark Side =-.

  • Steve,

    I appreciate Bjørn’s line of questioning. No believer should hide from serious consideration of his concerns. I’m glad that you do not. For my part (and my story is very much the same as yours), I have often wished that I could, for a season, completely empty myself of those presumptions and belief-biases that were drummed into me in my childhood. Like you, I reject a high percentage of them. But why do I not reject them all? Fear? social and familial pressure? or have I chosen to hold to those truths that have played out in my personal experience of faith? I hope it is the latter. But I honestly do not know.

    So, the track I am on right now is to approach reality (and theology) from what nature shows us. Yes, I still presume a Creator, a God who is intrinsically good. It is a choice. But it is a choice that will be tested as I progress. From there, I am building first a Natural Theology, and anxious to see if it does lead me ultimately to Christian revelation. I think it does. But, frankly, I’m still in the lab. But in the end, I am convinced that only faith worth possessing is a reality-based faith. And, I’m sorry to say, most Christians I know do not possess such a faith at all.

    You closed you post with “… that’s a start ….” I do hope that implies there is more to come!
    .-= Cliff Martin´s last blog ..Nature’s Dark Side =-.

  • atimetorend,

    I guess I just wish that we were more honest with our children in regards to what our religion is and isn’t. We try so hard for it to be easily acceptable but in the end they are going to turn out to either hate the lies they were told, or they will be completely brainwashed. I feel it’s far better for them in the long run if we are honest, they will still have to decide whether they believe it, which they may end up not, but in the end at least they won’t be resentful towards it.
    .-= Travis Jacobs´s last blog ..Know Your Philosopher Series 1: Thomas Aquinas =-.

    • Travis, not sure if we are communicating on the same page, maybe I just didn’t understand what you were saying. But what you said I totally agree with.
      .-= atimetorend´s last blog ..the ghost of bobby dunbar =-.

  • atimetorend,

    I guess I just wish that we were more honest with our children in regards to what our religion is and isn’t. We try so hard for it to be easily acceptable but in the end they are going to turn out to either hate the lies they were told, or they will be completely brainwashed. I feel it’s far better for them in the long run if we are honest, they will still have to decide whether they believe it, which they may end up not, but in the end at least they won’t be resentful towards it.
    .-= Travis Jacobs´s last blog ..Know Your Philosopher Series 1: Thomas Aquinas =-.

    • Travis, not sure if we are communicating on the same page, maybe I just didn’t understand what you were saying. But what you said I totally agree with.
      .-= atimetorend´s last blog ..the ghost of bobby dunbar =-.

  • Norm Voss

    Steve,

    I think what has held me so close to the faith even when it didn’t make sense was because of growing up under an atheist father who at one time accepted and then rejected and eventually despised Religion. I wanted nothing of the misery that his life exemplified and wasn’t about to turn back to that kind of life that embodied him. I eventually realized that not all atheists are as messed up as my father was but the emotionalism against it was firmly implanted in my consciousness.

    I was the first in my family to attend a Christian University and it helped reinforce my decision as the people were by and far much better adjusted than my background allowed. It is amazing though that I have come full circle back to my fathers acceptance of Darwin although it took me years as I was never satisfied with less than the truth either. Dad had a misunderstanding of Biblical origins that I set about to discover for myself. He gave up the quest and turned on it while I have like you tenaciously hung on for dear life in search of the answers. And I found out that there indeed were answers allowing one to keep the faith.

  • Norm Voss

    Steve,

    I think what has held me so close to the faith even when it didn’t make sense was because of growing up under an atheist father who at one time accepted and then rejected and eventually despised Religion. I wanted nothing of the misery that his life exemplified and wasn’t about to turn back to that kind of life that embodied him. I eventually realized that not all atheists are as messed up as my father was but the emotionalism against it was firmly implanted in my consciousness.

    I was the first in my family to attend a Christian University and it helped reinforce my decision as the people were by and far much better adjusted than my background allowed. It is amazing though that I have come full circle back to my fathers acceptance of Darwin although it took me years as I was never satisfied with less than the truth either. Dad had a misunderstanding of Biblical origins that I set about to discover for myself. He gave up the quest and turned on it while I have like you tenaciously hung on for dear life in search of the answers. And I found out that there indeed were answers allowing one to keep the faith.