It seems there is a certain trendiness about doubt -& deconstruction of faith. Certainly I have heard people crow about being an ex-vangelical as if this were an enlightened space that only an elite few of us get to inhabit. I wonder why that is so? I guess it’s easy to kick evangelicalism in the guts. It’s a large soft target that has both done good for the cause of Christ but has also become so murky as to be no longer tenable as an entity. When a Trump government is a product of the ‘evangelical vote’ what the heck does that even mean?…
But there is a difference between ditching faith and ditching an expression that no longer holds validity for you. What I found interesting in both the Campolo’s book and the McAlpine podcast was that those who did not hold faith chose that position based on a disbelief in anything supernatural. This physical, tangible world is all there is and once it’s over then its over. There is nothing more. It’s simple secularism.
At a party recently I was deep in conversation with one of our neighbours who told me she didn’t believe in God or any of that stuff, but later in the conversation stated that she believed in the supernatural – in a world that we can’t see. I suggested that maybe God existed in that world but she hadn’t encountered him yet. She agreed this had to be a possibility.
But a worldview that allows for no belief in anything spiritual would not be open to considering the possible existence of a God. That makes sense.
If we are to be honest then we have to agree that there is a possibility that the secularists are correct. Maybe there is no spiritual realm and the creation of one is simply a way to give hope in a world where we would otherwise struggle to find meaning.
It’s a possibility that we are collectively kidding ourselves.
The flip side is that the vast majority of humanity believes in some form of higher power /other realm / spiritual world that is connected to this one. And its not just Christians – the major world religions all call us to a belief in a world other than the physical.
Maybe all those who believe in a spiritual realm are wrong.
But if we’re not then the question that exists is more around who has the best read on what is going on outside of the physical. Is it the Muslims? Hindus? Confucians? or could it be that we Christians have have the most accurate read on spiritual things? If there is a spiritual world to be engaged with then surely someone has got it right – or at least more accurate than others.
I find it intriguing how many people believe in evil spirits, occult activity and the like, but who have given little thought to a belief in God. If like Bart Campolo and David McAlpine you have no belief in anything beyond the natural then you have no issue with ‘who’s on the money?’ We are all wrong.
As I read the Campolo’s book which alternates chapters between father and son I found myself alternately saying in my head ‘yeah – he’s got a point…’ as both Christian and secularist made a case for their worldview. Whose is the most far fetched and least believable? I guess that depends on where you start from and what your own biases are.
What I found intriguing was Campolo senior’s reason for still believing. Of all the things he could have chosen he referred to his personal experience of God’s presence in his life. I thought he might have gone Jesus as historical person, maybe even scriptures as reliable, but he chose his own personal encounters with God as his reason for continuing to believe. He wrote of his mornings with God and of his evenings envisioning Jesus on the cross and giving the dark moments of his day to him. He sounds like has a rich faith.
Interestingly Campolo junior writes that he ‘faked’ experience for many years, before coming to an ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’ realisation that he was in a community where maybe many others were also ‘faking it till they made it’. He writes of having no ‘intimate relationship with Jesus’ and even wondering how such a thing may be possible.
The Campolo’s push back hard on each other in consecutive chapters and they have obviously got to a place of agreeing to disagree. Bart no longer calls himself a Christian and that is that. More than that he has taken a role as a humanist chaplain in a California university. It’s a significant shift. He continues with his work among the marginalised because it is good to do good. He hasn’t become a cheating, lying adulterer since giving up on faith. He’s still a good bloke serving others as best he can.
Similarly David McAlpine has found himself not believing in the God he was introduced to as a child and is now a disbeliever in anything spiritual. I would certainly affirm a similar disbelief in the God we were introduced to as children and teenagers. As David said, he heard a lot about Hell at Sunday school, but not so much about heaven. Such was the culture of fundamentalist faith at the time.
Campolo senior makes the point that the people we surround ourselves with is all important in the formation of a belief system. We become like those we spend time with. Tony would argue that Bart’s dissociation with a church community and increased engagement with people outside of faith contributed to his atheism.
I guess there’s no surprise in that, but simply being a product of a community does not mean you have thought for yourself and grappled with tough questions.
Over the years I have often questioned and wondered ‘ what if I have got this all wrong?’ If I had to offer my own reasons for continuing to believe what would they be…
GIve me 24hrs and I will slot them into the next post 🙂
I’m watching this keenly as someone who was brought up in ‘black and fundamentalism’, transitioned to evangelicalism then further out into the un-orthodox emerging church then gave up faith altogether.
Bart and David’s points resonate completely with me, as do a lot of what Josh Harris and that guy from Hillsong have said.
For those, like yourself, who do still believe in a spiritual/supernatural realm of any sort (with or without a God/god) and hold that the existence of such a realm is a possibility, how do you hold that belief in the absence of any objective, replicable evidence? For me, the belief in a religious supernatural realm is akin to the belief in non-religious rastrology, psychic abilities, etc. Not only is there no evidence beyond mass subjective anecdote for astrology and psychic abilities, but the evidence very clearly and repeatedly shows such phenomenon don’t exist, and if they did, the world would be a much different place (psychics would regularly win lotteries, for example).
Even Campolo senior admitted that the most compelling reason for belief is his completely internal and subjective ‘personal experience’. That is literally the very lowest quality evidence available, and it is hardly compelling evidence for a supernatural realm and the existence of any type of god-like being.
Edit to fix an omission: ‘Black and white fundamentalism’
I’ll be writing about it in future posts Adam.
Facts are whatever you choose – its faith. You just have to decide which position has the best evidence.
I think there is more evidence for God than not.
Hamo, great scene-setting post. Good summary from some thoughtful guys. I think the toughest question we can have for God is “do you exist (initate independent action) or do we merely ascribe action to you?”
As an experiment, before you post the next installment, replace all occurrences of “God” with “my pet frog” and see if your statements still hold water.
Very thought provoking series, though. As usual.