Walking Away From Faith …And Toward Reason (1 of 3)

by jpserrano on December 10, 2012 · 0 comments

 

Today, I am starting a multi-part series with my friend Brandon Bravo–a self proclaimed Atheist. Christians, especially in the Evangelical world, are really good at telling and hearing stories of coming to faith.  

(Lutheran Side Note: Lutherans are usually not as good telling these stories, it’s not in Lutheran culture to do so.  They are equally bad at hearing these stories because they’re listening to make sure the person understands justification correctly.)

Christianity as a whole does a pretty poor job of hearing the whole story from those who have come to faith and then walked away.  I find that questions from Christians to people like Brandon are laced with a motive to see if they could one day find themselves in the same boat or they’re trying to find the hole in his thinking. My hope is that Christians will hear Brandon’s story and understand his journey to and away from faith in Jesus Christ. Brandon, I had originally wanted to title this only “Walking Away From Faith,” but I’m not sure that’s how you see it hence the “And Toward Reason.” Does that sound about right?

Yes, I think that sounds about right. Often times the position of the “rationalist” atheist is portrayed merely as rejection of the “virtue” of faith, but that’s an entirely negative framing. It is common in my discussions with theists for the conversation to turn toward the methods by which we evaluate claims and come to know the truth. We tend to spend a lot of (useful) time talking about “ways of knowing”. Atheists like myself wish to promote intellectual rigor, and scientific investigation as the most successful tool kit, the most successful “way of knowing” the human species has ever discovered. We wish to frame our position in a positive light which invites people to carefully and skeptically consider the evidence for God’s existence and then base one’s beliefs solely on what the evidence suggests. We ask for no leaps of faith. We do not ask people to extend themselves beyond what firm fact can support. Speculation and imagination are the raw material of creativity and innovation, without which advancement of the frontier of knowledge is impossible, and so never does our position seek to chain minds and restrain questions of “what if?” We recommend only that such questions become the beginning of real investigation into the facts, and that beliefs should be informed by the evidence such investigation reveals.

Invariably people will wonder if you were really a Christian in both belief and action.  So let’s start off with belief. What was/is your understanding of “The Gospel?”

My understanding of the Gospel message is informed by the myriad churches I attended, my theological investigations including auditing seminary classes, and my own reading of the Bible. There are quite a number of minor points that various denominations cling to which characterize their own school of thought, but I do not view any of their particular claims as being the “proper” or correct interpretation, nor do I hold one denomination responsible for the views of all others. That being said, the basic message of the Gospel as I understand it is this:

  • That the Christian version of Yahweh (by working through the Son; John 1) created human beings so that he might enjoy a unique relationship with them (details of what this relationship looks like, whether it is servile or based on friendship, differ amongst the denominations).
  • Somehow, at some point in the very early history of the human species (again views are all over the map as to whether this happened by eating magic fruit 6000 years ago or by some evolutionary-ish process) and specifically by human action, that relationship was harmed, damaged, severed in a manner which human action alone could never repair.
  • God the Son then enters human history in the form of a man named Yeshua in Iron-Age, Roman-controlled Palestine as a peasant preacher of moral homilies, recalling the minds of his people to the spirit of the law rather than their insane squabbles over the letter (Matthew 19:8-9). He calls on the people to repent of their sins, be virtuous, be kind to one another, and to keep the commandments in order that they might have eternal life (Matthew 19:16-26).
  • Jesus then dies and somehow this death acts as atonement for the sins of…the whole world…or only the elect…depending on who you ask.
  • He is then raised from the dead by the power of God and ascends to heaven, though the Bible isn’t clear on when this happens exactly.
  • Paul then goes on to “clarify” that it is faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that leads to salvation (Romans 10:9). Paul states that this faith is a gift from God rather than generated by humans and is an expression of his divine grace toward sinners (Ephesians 2:8).
  • Christians differ on whether anything can be done on the human side of things to effect this salvific process (forever trying to reconcile Romans with James), but all agree that they are charged to spread this message to the world (Matthew 28:19, John 20:21-23).
  •  At some future date, Jesus returns to Earth, restores the planet (or destroys it and makes a new one), judges humanity (Matthew 25:31-46) and forever onward lives in a restored relationship with his people (Revelation 21)

 I think that about covers it. General enough answer to encompass all of historically orthodox Christianity.

Tell me about your journey to the Christian Faith.

I was raised in the Church (big-tent Church since I participated in congregations of many denominations). My paternal grandfather was pastor of a Spanish-speaking, Pentecostal church. As a young man, my father was a typical, rebellious preacher’s kid. He had good reason to rebel, though his methods were less than constructive and involved a lot of substance abuse. Surprisingly, he did manage to be a loving and supportive father through all of his struggles; right up until he got clean years later. I know he wanted a better home-life for me and he did the best that his dysfunctional background and limited means could allow. He always encouraged my curiosity, and never squelched my questions on any topic. When my questions exhausted his knowledge on a topic he would refer me to books. Both he and my mother were equally encouraging in this manner and I owe them a huge debt for that gift.

My mother was the youngest daughter of a highly patriarchal, Roman Catholic family, and since my Dad didn’t want anything to do with church when I was young, my mother took me to the local mission on Sundays for Mass. I attended catechism after school on Wednesdays, and received my first communion in the Catholic Church. Forever after I looked at Pope John Paul II as an affectionate grandfather figure and fell deeply in love with the “bells and smells” of high-church liturgy (a love that I will admit I retain to this day). Upon the death of her youngest brother, suddenly and at the age of only 23, my mother had a moving conversion experience and became a born-again Christian. As an aside, I’m still haunted occasionally by mental glimpses of DC Talk and Carmen music videos {Shudders}.

I took Jesus VERY seriously. I was “Bible boy” to the other kids at school. My first experiences of public speaking were giving small homilies in the African American church (C.O.G.I.C. or Church of God in Christ) where I spent about 5 years during my adolescence. I voluntarily listened to “The Bible Answer-Man” radio show when I was 10 years old. I was fascinated by the Bible as “the word of God” and thought it was an amazing treasure to have an actual message from the creator of the Universe himself. Don’t know how to put a finer point on this: I was sold out for Jesus and from a very early age, ok? It really wasn’t until I met a wonderful boy in my dorm at the beginning of my freshman year of college, that my views were seriously challenged by a keen intellect and rigorous logic. It wasn’t comfortable, but I loved him for it. Indeed, I fell in love with him (though I kept it to myself), which caused me no end of turmoil. I prayed feverishly that God would not allow me to be gay, and I absolutely committed my feelings for men to the Lord. I sacrificed them on the altar of obedience to him, going on to hold firm to that commitment through a nine year marriage. I was willing to live out my faith and make real sacrifices for the God I worshiped.

As time went on, my views began to expand and soften a bit. I was introduced to legitimate Christian scholarship, fell in love with the Bible all over again, and abandoned what I came to view as small-minded conservative politics, believing the religious right movement to be a huge distraction from spreading the gospel. I audited seminary classes while I was in grad school for molecular biology. I read the writings of the early church fathers and decided that I should become a Catholic once again. It was while investigating the process necessary to be confirmed as a Catholic that I began to learn of the skeptical movement. This was the beginning of the end of my faith.

Thanks for answering these questions. Tomorrow we’ll post about the beginning stages of disillusionment and your “walking away.” ________________________________________________________________________

Readers:  Take a stab at one of the questions I asked Brandon. What is your understanding of the Gospel? What is your story of coming to faith?  Do you have any question for him about his life as a Christian?

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