Yet another Evangelical pseudo-celebrity publicly apostatized this week with this bit of deep thinking:
How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet — they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
Reading this I pictured in my head the writer as a skinny teenage boy in a backwards baseball cap and oversized jeans hanging halfway down his ass: Yeah, uh, bro. Like, dude. Keepin’ it real, yo!
Then I found out the guy was 40 years old. Oh well, some people are so stupid that they really can’t be held accountable for their actions. He is a singer after all.
You simply cannot grow up in an Evangelical church without discussing many of these topics incessantly.
Yes, you can pass in and out of church — attend casually without going to Sunday school — and sometimes hear only therapeutic messages from the pulpit, but if you live in the church, as he did, you have real trouble believing his words. You also have seen the same thing many times — adults fall away in the face of the pressures of the world, rationalizing their departure with words that ring true to everyone except Christians who know what the church is really like.
In other words, Evangelicals talk about these problems all the time and it is impossible for the apostate to not recognize this fact, so the apostate must be engaging in some form of self-deception. My first instinct was to disagree: plenty of Christians are woefully ignorant and can pass years of their lives simply not thinking. Upon reflection however I recognize what French is talking about. Two examples:
- A old friend of mine from a young men’s group lost his faith, and one day he was arguing with me that the existence of dinosaurs disproved God’s existence. I was worried about him, not that he had lost his faith (that’s between him and God and not my business), but that he had gotten stupid. He seemed to imagine retroactively that we had been biblical literalists when that was never the case.
- A Patheos atheism blogger converted to Catholicism and some months later mentioned how arrogant she had been as an atheist. Ah, no, said many of her long time readers: you always came across as perfectly reasonable and no more proud than the next person. Some atheist commenters even noted that the phenomena of converts exaggerating their previous wickedness was a common one. Her current beliefs were coloring her vision of the past.
This is a vast topic to get into and I’m not sure if I have it all straight in my head but here are some ideas:
It seems that conversion (either to or from belief in God) often entails following a script or series of tropes, and that script / trope necessarily distorts the converts’ account of his past belief and action.
I’ve often noticed something analogous with progressives who need to argue that the world of fifty, twenty, or two years ago was horribly backwards and evil and we are only now are entering the Age of Enlightenment, which is exactly what progressives have been saying for 300 years. The current belief demands the past be condemned, though I think the progressive is laboring under an intellectual necessity (new ideas must be superior to old because PROGRESS) while the convert is probably motivated by his new set of loyalties.
French goes on to argue that the problem is not a lack of catechesis for Christians but a lack of courage in their convictions in the face of a hostile culture, which is obviously wrong: as I said above most Christians are horribly catechized and have even worse critical thinking aparati, and the culture, while subtly hostile, is not in-your-face aggressive.
Conversion is (at least in part) about taking on a new cultural loyalty. The old culture now seems foreign, so the convert does what all of us do to foreigners, caricature their strange mores and beliefs.