Credit: Jonathan Billinger, via Wikimedia Creative Commons

It’s risky to start saying, “This person’s rejection of faith could have been avoided If Only …”

Still, if someone says her father was a relatively well-known apologetics group founder, and she memorized all the debate points but now rejects Christ, let’s take heed.

Faith rejections have many causes. One may be sincere appraisal of other religions. Another may be an opposition to Christian sexual ethics (as Tim Keller suggested). But in her Monday column for Friendly Atheist, Rachael Slick emphasized her apologetics-based upbringing — an upbringing that backfired.

Having a dad highly schooled in Christian apologetics meant that every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly. Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away.

But she wouldn’t trade what she says was her homeschool-based, fact-heavy education:

[W]ithout that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is — freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful.

Freedom is my God now, and I love this one a thousand times more than I ever loved the last one.

Novelist and screenwriter Brian Godawa’s story begins similarly. As a younger Christian, he likewise craved apologetics, evidence, facts, doctrines, and debate (and still enjoys these).

In his opening chapter of his nonfiction Word Pictures, he describes where this craving led.

Over the years, as I pursued an emphasis on rational discourse almost exclusively in my spiritual walk, I noticed in myself a tendency toward reducing everything to logical debate. I became argumentative. Encounters with unbelievers and even believers would seem to always end in cognitive dispute.

Yet so far, the path of Godawa’s life story has taken a different turn from Slick’s.

I began to discover just what was lopsiding my Christianity and my communication. It was my devaluation of imagination. I had become logocentric. I had privileged rational discourse as the ultimate means of discerning truth and neglected the legitimacy of emotion and imagination in understanding God. Reason had become a sort of idol to me. And it was not well with my soul. . . . Some Christians have tended to be so word-oriented that they border on rationalism and distrust the use of imagination, deeming it an idol tool of the devil’s workshop.

Now, being respectful of Slick’s stated motives, I have to ask: “Were you taught to enjoy the love, wonder, and imagination that Christ and His Gospel bring to the world, to human life, and to the art and stories we enjoy for God’s glory? Or were these joys taught as optional, lesser, and at best frivolous in the mechanical, law-and-debate-based Christian life?”

And for all who love apologetics arguments, I would ask: If we only enjoy fighting pagans in this world, how are we preparing for the next?

We will not argue with atheists on the New Heavens and New Earth. So let us not act as if apologetics is the “chief end of man.”


35 Comments

  1. What a biased article, starting with the false comparison of “dead logic” vs. “living joy” and ending with, essentially, a form of blaming the victim.

    You really ought to accept the fact that a lot of people, including ex-Christians, simply don’t believe gods are real.

    1. Confusing argument. A long time ago I accepted the belief that people disbelieve in God’s existence. Perhaps it’s atheists who should accept the fact that Biblical Christians know this and aren’t bothered by it? Biblical Christians are not uncomfortable with competition. Sometimes it sounds like atheists have this exact discomfort. Maybe this is where projection arises.

      Not sure where “blaming the victim” came from. I suggest you read the piece again. If anything I’m blaming an approach to Christian apologetics that emphasizes argument and verbal combat over imagination and wonder that are fueled by the Biblical Person of Christ. As you’ve seen, I’ve conceded here that Christians miss this joy in favor of fighting atheists. However, are you sure atheists aren’t also making religious combat their “chief end”?

    2. “Confusing argument”

      I didn’t offer an argument.

      “Perhaps it’s atheists who should accept the fact that Biblical Christians know this and aren’t bothered by it?”

      Then why describe her view as “dead logic” vs “living joy”?

      “Not sure where “blaming the victim” came from.”

      From how you appear to “blame” her leaving her religion on your imagined assumptions about how she was taught (“Were you taught to enjoy the love, wonder” etc), as if that would explain away her leaving Christianity.

      “If anything I’m blaming an approach to Christian apologetics that emphasizes argument and verbal combat over imagination and wonder that are fueled by the Biblical Person of Christ.”

      And there you go again. You appear to be implying that if Rachael had only been taught ‘correctly’, she would not have left Christianity. You have to explain away her defection rather than face the possibility that she merely decided Christianity was false.

    3. “I didn’t offer an argument.” True. Because you are unbiased, what you offer is not an “argument” but merely pure fact — that is, according to your own belief system.

      “Then why describe her view as ‘dead logic’ vs ‘living joy’?”

      The title to these two kinds of Christianity. I contrasted a more logical, didactic, joyless Christian approach with a Biblically robust faith that embraces joy and imagination. Whether joy and imagination have any place in modern atheism — which seems to promise the most “joy” from debating Christians on the internet — is another topic.

      As for this — “You appear to be implying that if Rachael had only been taught ‘correctly’, she would not have left Christianity” — my disclaimers were sufficient to recognize the fact that people reject Christianity for many different reasons. For Christians, it is worth asking if her father’s mode of Christianity was the best kind for Christians to practice (and this is a very intra-Christian topic). Based solely on her description, it seems it rejected love, joy, and imagination in favor of merely Beating the Bad Guys.

      But while I’m trying to take her criticisms seriously, and use them as a jumping-off point to challenge a “dead logic” Christianity, you seem to want to impute yet another “Christians are just mad that they lost one” motive. That poor reaction already occurs among enough professing Christians without also trying to read it into this piece.

    4. “Because you are unbiased, what you offer is not an “argument” but merely pure fact “

      Look, my original post was not in the form of an argument, and I’ve made no claims to infallibility. It was a criticism of your biased writing. It seems you can’t take criticism well and instead distort what I had written.

      “As for this — “You appear to be implying that if Rachael had only been taught ‘correctly’, she would not have left Christianity” — my disclaimers were sufficient to recognize the fact that people reject Christianity for many different reasons.”

      Yet you went on after the disclaimer with the implication I described.

    5. Not sure what you mean by “the form of an argument.” You claimed the piece is biased, as if that somehow discredits all of it — or as if this is a Breaking New Flash: that Biblical Christians are (stop the presses) not Biased.

      Dude. If I weren’t biased about anything — if I had no First Principles, no joy I hold worth pursuing, no beliefs I know worth persuading others to accept — I wouldn’t be writing here at all. Neither would you. So now that we’re both on even ground, why not move past the “bias” illusion?

      Yet you went on after the disclaimer with the implication I described.

      Just re-read the piece. I see no such implication, that If Only person X knew this part of Christianity, Then: Solution. Plenty of people raised with a joy-based, imagination-intensive faith have chosen otherwise later in life. But it’s worth asking here: does anyone know the full measure of the faith to be rejected? And should other Christians take heed? Like as one might to make this into yet another “oh noes! people are ‘de-converting’ in droves and Christians must panic!” piece, this is instead completely different: a challenge to Christians to stop such panicking and also stop making their faith all about apologetics and fighting atheists.

      Yes, we have beliefs (and bias, natch) that we believe worth persuading others about, and that requires some argument and even engagement with critics on the internet (or even in real life). But this is not our “chief end.” Christians believe in a coming utopia when Christ returns and resurrects the planet Earth to dwell there. At such a time, there’ll be no need for arguments, so why act as if arguments and fighting is our “chief end” here?

    6. I claimed it was biased and quoted the slanted terminology.

      ” If I weren’t biased about anything — if I had no First Principles, no joy I hold worth pursuing, no beliefs I know worth persuading others to accept — I wouldn’t be writing here at all. Neither would you. So now that we’re both on even ground, why not move past the “bias” illusion?”

      Now you’re just equivocating; if everyone’s biased, there’s no problem writing slanted columns.

    7. if everyone’s biased, there’s no problem writing slanted columns.

      Exactly.

      Perhaps I gave the impression that in response to your “this is a biased column” claim, I was rebutting with a “nuh-uh.” For clarity’s sake, can you point out where I may have given that impression? Thanks much.

    8. Like I say below, that’s like justifying dishonesty if everyone’s dishonest.

    9. How? “Bias” as you describe, and arguing in favor of a particular worldview, is not equivalent to dishonesty.

      But this is going round and round. I’m mainly happy to try to show that my piece aimed differently than you seem to have expected. Whether the material accomplished that goal for its intended audience (i.e., Christians) is another question.

    10. “”Bias” as you describe, and arguing in favor of a particular worldview, is not equivalent to dishonesty.”

      I’ve already pointed out e.g. your loaded terminology of “dead logic” vs “living joy”.

    11. This may be the first time I have been critical of evangelicals overemphasizing joyless, “dead logic” apologetics — which just may include all that annoying creationism that atheists can’t stand — and instead had an atheist/agnostic disagree.

  2. Brian, you won’t find any unbiased articles anywhere. If you think you have, you’d better take a closer look.

    1. No, it really isn’t an excuse. It’s like dismissing dishonesty if everyone is dishonest.

    2. Brian,

      What I’m saying is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to write without having a point of view from which you are writing. I would point to your own comment as displaying extraordinary bias against theism. That doesn’t mean that I complain that your comment is unbiased (or at least I don’t dismiss it on those grounds).

      If you are so confident that someone can write an article like the one above, but without bias, I’d LOVE for you to show me just one. Post a link or something and an apology will be forthcoming from me.

    3. What I’m saying is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to write without having a point of view from which you are writing.

      This doesn’t justify using deliberately slanted language.

    4. You can’t do it, and you can’t point to anybody who does.

      You can’t seem to read. I’ve never said it’s possible to be totally unbiased or write with no point of view.

    5. I’ve never said it’s possible to write without bias, or without having a point of view.

  3. The moment when I “lost” my faith was one of the most joyful of my life. It felt like escaping from being buried alive and standing watching a beautiful sunrise as you breath the fresh air.

  4. I remember reading Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” for the first time. It was like being freed from the shackles of religion!!

  5. I was a christian for more than ten years. I’ve been an atheist for the last five, and I can honestly say I’m much happier. But I’m not commenting to defend atheism; I have no quarrel with the faithful. :)

    I wanted to comment on what you said about apologetics. Of all the fond memories I have of (Christian) religion, I don’t think any involve Christian apologetics. In fact I think if I’d been exposed to apologetics I probably would have become an atheist a lot sooner. From experience, it seems that most Christians have the same experience; arguments for and against their religion have little or nothing to do with why they practice their faith.

    Please feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong. I’m also uncertain who the target market for apologetics is, because the arguments used are usually not valid unless you already start with the assumption that Christianity is true. That makes me think that apologetics is probably meant for the faithful, even when the claim is made that they are trying to convert atheists.

  6. Wow. I, too, reacted negatively to the “dead logic or living joy” aspect of this post. Then I read Rachel’s post. I’m sorry to go off topic perhaps; I was sadly reminded of SGM survivor stories, particularly one that described a child-rearing book very heavy on corporal punishment for every infraction. It recommended that parents keep in handy locations throughout the house implements of correction, such that the moment an infraction occurred, corrective measures could be administered, and demanded immediate cheerful reconciliation (or another correction, ad nauseum). Her previous life sounds hellish. Dead logic, indeed. Who wouldn’t want an alternative to that? It’s heart wrenching. The comment section is deadly.

    I am not certain as to what the “imagination that Christ and His Gospel bring(s) to the world” means, exactly, so it’s hard to comment on that or Brian’s story relative to that. But love, joy, cherishing, relationship… all good.

    I would suggest that there is a spectrum between the two. Our children were homeschooled in a fundamentalist Evangelical setting, same friends, etc. Unlike my friends, however, we mostly stayed away from Christian textbooks. One year I tried a Bob Jones history book. When my 10 year old read that God was saving up a special punishment for Milwaukee because of it’s breweries, he asked me if he could write a letter to the book’s editor. It’s all good in homeschool, so he wrote a polite (with an edge) letter asking for more Christian love to be shown in the book. After that, it stayed on the shelf.

    I have adult children now, intellectuals, and we love discussing theology from various viewpoints. We also love to discuss politics, science, art, science, philosophy, culture, science… we find joy in logic. We enjoy debate. They have their books, we share Tolkien, Lewis, others. While games, movies, and other entertainment is shared, we usually devolve into animated discussion. Is there joyful, living logic? It is here that I challenge this seemingly either-or post.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking piece.

    1. Thanks much for your encouragement and challenge, Susan.

      Is there joyful, living logic? It is here that I challenge this seemingly either-or post.

      I am sure there is, and it is just such a life that I want to pursue, based on the fantastic yet true Story of Scripture that bears such fruit in propositional statements and imaginative stories and art. My main point is that many Christians, including solid, Heaven-and-then-New-Earth-bound, Biblically faithful believers, seem to confuse the need for apologetics on our way to that fantastic journey’s destination as the destination itself. I don’t know if that was a factor in Ms. Slick’s background, but because she mentioned only fact-based, beat-the-atheists education growing up — and because I want to take her at her word — I can’t help but ask if this other vital side of Christianity, imagination and joy, was missing.

  7. “Now, being respectful of Slick’s stated motives, I have to ask: ‘Were you taught to enjoy the love, wonder, and imagination that Christ and His Gospel bring to the world, to human life, and to the art and stories we enjoy for God’s glory?’

    People of all philosophies and religions appreciate love, wonder and imagination. But all meteorologists don’t agree that Yahweh personally directs the clouds and sends the lightnings so that they strike their mark, and thunder is his voice (read the book of Job) just as all fantasy novelists do not agree that one particular form of sympathetic magic, shedding the blood of the one true god, should define the ultimate pinnacle of all truly imaginative stories.

    And it takes a bit more imagination than I am inclined to indulge in to make the idea of an infinite loving Being who tosses people into a lake of fire, appear wonderful. Even C. S. Lewis had difficulties with that because the person who “baptized the imagination” of Lewis was a universalist Christian. In later years Lewis said he held on to the doctrine of eternal punishment because it is spouted by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in particular. But Lewis never used his imagination and knowledge of intertestamental literature to consider that like Jesus’ failed predictions of the soon coming world judgment which Lewis said we’re accommodations due to Jesus’ limitations as a human, Jesus’ talk about eternal punishment could be accommodations to another apocalyptic belief prevalent in his day.

    1. The story of my own journey into Christianity ( I was heavily into the Inklings, GK, and GM) and out again, is online and in a book of such testimonies (the book includes testimonies of some moderate and liberal Christians who remained in the fold, but moved way from conservative less inclusive theological views). It is titled Leaving The Fold.

  8. I’m late to the party, but I feel that Burnett missed something big, and that it was that Rachel no longer felt intellectually satisfied with the answers the apologists provided. It’s not that she hadn’t heard one that would have saved everything, she knew them all, and it still wasn’t satisfying. What’s described in this article is an emotional satisfaction, and I question whether that would have been enough.

    1. Then I’m even later to the party, bad_cook.

      I don’t question that she no longer felt intellectually satisfied. At the same time, not even Vulcans can fully separate their emotions from their logic. Let us not pretend to be able to do this even better! Christians embrace their faith for emotional, not only logical reasons. So do atheists. So do all.

      My point is not “focus more on emotions in Christian faith, and that will prevent people leaving Christianity.” My point is that if Christians emphasize only logic/apologetics/beating bad guys, this misses the joy of Christ and His Story. And thus it is no surprise if people “de-convert,” or else believe that the chief end of man is to hold your own against an atheist on the web.

    2. I agree with the “not making emotions the enemy” thing, but I’m still doubting whether it would have been enough for Rachel.

    3. Agreed. Conversion from one religion to another is never purely based on emotion or logic or abusive backgrounds or even desire to use any excuse to enjoy sin. Human beings are complex. Only God can know our various reasons why.

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