I’ve recently discovered that there are quite a few Christian readers of this blog, that “we” (as in “we Skepchicks”) includes not just atheists and agnostics, but also a fair number of moderate or liberal Christians.Â
With that in light, I’d like to talk about my favorite Christian author.
Yes, you read that right. I have a favorite Christian author and it’s not because I like poking fun or tearing apart religious arguments. I actually enjoy reading his books, and I agree with a lot of what he has to say. No, it’s not John Shelby Spong, atheist in sheep’s clothing, but an evangelical Christian whose writing I did not discover until I was already an agnostic.
About a year ago, I bought a copy of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical’s Lament by Randall Balmer.
In this book, Balmer speaks out against the abuses of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. He has a platform that I, as an ex-Christian, can never have. My credibility is ruined with most conservative Christian readers because I have rejected the basis of their entire world view. Balmer, on the other hand, has managed to hold onto some remnants of his faith, and therefore has a platform to speak to people who would never listen to me. Of course, some will say he’s not a “real” Christian, so in the beginning of the book he flaunts his evangelical credentials just enough to let readers know where he’s coming from.
My born-again Democrat-voting mother took my copy of Thy Kingdom Come and has been passing it around her church. (You can bet there’s no way she would have given a second look at any of my atheist books!) Recently she asked me if I’d buy her a few more copies because she has too many people to share it with and she wants as many people as possible to read it before election day.
One of the most interesting things I’ve found in Balmer’s writings is his discussion of the birth of the religious right. Although they claim a moral high ground by saying that conservative Christians entered politics en masse to fight against abortion, this is a flat out lie. In reality, according to one of the founders of the political movement that eventually be came known as the religious right, “what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.” These people supported Bob Jones University. They joined together to fight against civil rights and equality. So much for the moral high ground. You can read more about this and listen to an interview with Balmer here.
I first stumbled onto Balmer’s writings several years ago when I saw the PBS series,Â Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, and purchased the accompanying book, which has since become one of my all-time favorite titles. This book is a tour of evangelical Christian churches in the United States. When I read the book in the late 90s, it was like I was going back in time and visiting the earlier parts of my life. For anyone who wants an unbiased (not Jesus Land) view of what it’s really like inside normal evangelical churches, this book is a must read.Â
Balmer’s newest book isÂ God in the White House:A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. You canÂ read an excerpt here.
As enlightened as he may seem, Balmer, is no fan of the Enlightenment. In an interview with World Magazine, he said:
As a person of faith, I decided years ago that I would refuse to allow the canons of Enlightenment Rationalism to be the final arbiter of truth. I elect to live in an enchanted universe where there are forces at work beyond my understanding and control — and where faith, not empiricism or complex apologetic proofs for the existence of God, serves ultimately as my guide …
This is where Balmer and I part company. I often wish I were still a Christian so I could have his type of influence, and because I would love to live in a magical world as well. Who knows, if more Christians were like Balmer, maybe I would still be one. But I doubt it.
Belief in the soul, God, and the supernatural flew away from me as I read about cognitive science, cosmology, and biology. But I never would have chosen a life without faith. I also would have chosen to live in a magical, spiritual world. I think most people would as shown by the popularity of all kinds of fantasy fiction in print as well as on film and TV. Magic is beautiful and, in a way, it is true that the Enlightenment robs us of that. A lot of people find this depressing and unsatisfactory, and I can understand their viewpoint.Â
The reason, I think, that many people can’t find awe and wonder in a universe without God is that they don’t understand science. “Science” doesn’t sound romantic to people. It sounds like a high-school course that they hated. Spirituality seems warm and comforting while science seems cold and clinical. This is far from the truth, as Sam recently mentioned in a post that is so beautiful I won’t even try to repeat anything he said. I would just note that one of my goals as a writer is to find a way to present the wonder and awe and beauty and comfort that can be found in a rational viewpoint and to help people understand that religion is not the only, or even the best, path to finding enlightenment and transcendence. So look for more on this topic from me in the future.
One cannot choose what one believes–regardless of popular opinion–and so I am stuck being an atheist because I just can’t convince my self that the supernatural exists, never mind that the specific deity described in the Bible is real and the only true God. It’s not what I would have chosen, but I’m happy with where I find myself today and I wouldn’t go back even if I had the chance.
The question is, must I be unhappy if other skeptics find themselves somewhere else? Does belief in one thing that I consider untrue void any other skepticism a person exhibits? When does belief become faith, “the evidence of things not seen,” and begin to counteract the ability to think skeptically? I don’t know.