When Doubt Wins Out: David Bazan Curses His Branches
When I first heard whispers that David Bazan was through with Christianity, I was not shocked at all. My reaction was, “that makes sense.” Shortly before, an old friend owned up to renouncing his faith in God, Christ, and objective truth. Another friend had made a similar move a year earlier. This second occurrence got my attention. The number of my faithful friends was shrinking. I wanted to know why.
Curse Your Branches, Bazan’s first full-length post-loss-of-faith album, finds the now agnostic singer at his most articulate. Song after song, traveling back from Eden, Bazan annotates for us the final rounds of his wrestling match with God. His most pointed question is, “Did you push us when we fell?” in response to which he boldly asserts, “all fallen leaves should curse their branches.” He picks apart the doctrine of original sin and accuses God of being defensive in his answer to Job. Bazan has been struggling with these issues for years. Only now does he place the blame squarely on God.
I understand Bazan’s journey away from Christianity in relation to those of my friends. In college, we rallied around the music of Pedro the Lion, David Bazan’s band, because he was like one of us which meant he asked questions that the church at large would rather he didn’t. I valued that about us, that we weighed everything carefully, that we wanted to understand things for ourselves. Our questions were badges of honor. But these new revelations gave me pause. Were questions ever of any value? I thought they were. I thought questions were part of the great biblical and spiritual traditions but I had also been under the impression that they served to strengthen faith not hinder it.
In an interview for eMusic, Bazan stated that beginning in 2002 that these questions became too much for him and that he took to heavy drinking as a means of pacifying the conflict. I saw him that year when he toured in promotion of Control. During the Q&A, an audience member asked him what a song was about. The song was one of Bazan’s more explicitly Christian ones so I was stunned to hear his explanation that it was just a story he made up, that it meant nothing. Had he been drinking that night or could he just not give a straight answer? Something had gone terribly wrong.
This brings to light an important distinction. It wasn’t that he asked the wrong questions. The problem was that somewhere along the way his questions became doubts and doubt puts the choke hold on his faith. Doubt assumes the burden of proof is on God. When a person adopts this position, it is only a matter of time before their faith is completely irrelevant. From there they will either be content with nominal Christianity or they will scrap the whole thing.
David Bazan could no longer bear the contradiction. So, he fessed up. There are those who celebrate this turn of events as his coming to accept things as they are and to move on from the grand delusion. It was the same when my friend gave up his faith. One of his new friends bragged on how open-minded he had become. Christians are said to believe in spite of evidence, in order to preserve their way of life, and out of fear of hell. On Curse Your Branches, Bazan says this was his story. My friend says the same but I don’t believe it. His faith was a reasoned faith. It’s tragic that he’s been convinced differently.
Another theme of the album is the destructive force of Bazan’s fresh perspective on his family. His mother, in particular, is unable to accept it. He doesn’t know what to tell his children. Some of his die hard fans feel betrayed. I relate. Unbelief is a force ready to tear through our faith, our families, and our churches.
For Christians, there are two appropriate responses:
- If faith comes more naturally to you, think of what it must feel like to be burdened with these types of questions. Consider how to thoughtfully engage them without oversimplifying.
- If faith is more of a struggle for you, keep a record of your questions so that you diligently pursue wisdom and understanding. Consider how your questions may benefit others.
Churches should enact a comprehensive program to identify and alleviate doubt. This may be the most important task which lay ahead of us. If we fail to do this, how much destruction can be wrought? How many people in our churches would nod their head in agreement to these words that David Bazan has written? How many of them will soon curse their branches? It’s only a matter of time before their faith is made irrelevant. Will we wait for them to scrap the whole thing before we act?
It won’t be pretty.
I’m less sympathetic to him. He’s using his wonderful God given talent to turn around and spit in Gods face. Also, he wants to make God in mans image. He assumes that God has those same limitations we do, and the same simple minded reasons for doing things that we do. I hope he’s a Jonah, but sometimes I wonder if he’s a Judas. I went to a house show of his this last summer and some friends and I talked with him for a good 2 hrs after the show. He puts on this pseudo-meekness but then essentially says that because he can’t make sense of some parts of the Bible, then the God of Scripture must not be true. He wants to believe in a universalist God, a God that has no character. That’s not meek at all. It’s extremely arrogant.
“The problem was that somewhere along the way his questions became doubts and doubt puts the choke hold on his faith. Doubt assumes the burden of proof is on God. When a person adopts this position, it is only a matter of time before their faith is completely irrelevant.”
I would argue that Bazans “faith” is more relevant now then ever before. I don’t think we should be so quick to judge someone wrestling with doubt. Perhaps they are not rejecting God but rather a god. It might be in this “darkness” that they discover who He really is. Doubt, for Thomas, meant he was not willing to settle for hearsay about the resurrected Christ…he wanted to see Him. The extravagant Grace of God is bigger then all our doubts, fears unfaithfulness and meets us face to face and invites us to experience Him.
I got Curse Your Branches when it first came out and the lyrics sound very familiar to me.
Good thoughts, and it is certainly fair to say that doubt doesn’t always equal faithlessness. Nonetheless Jesus is pretty clear with Thomas, “blessed are those who beleived and did not see.”
I am generally sympathetic of doubters as I tend to be one. I have enjoyed Bazan’s music since 2001 for that very reason. I was freaked out by how much I related to this album.
The whole experience of having my friends abandon their faith caused me to rethink a lot of things. Was I next? When would my doubt get the best of me? Was there anything I could do to stop it while remaining honest?
The environment of a bible college or church is not always open to questions. When in school I hoped for a day when this would change. By comparison, doubt is in vogue these days. Having only questions is as toxic to faith as having only answers. The distinction I had hoped to make was that there is a healthy approach to asking questions.
I’m not sure what you mean Dave? I think Jesus’ point was not about the doubt Thomas had…as if to say, “you got lucky Tom but the one’s really blessed are those who don’t doubt”. So He is not pronouncing a blessing on those who believed in His resurrection without any reason to do so, but those who believed without actually seeing Him alive in the flesh; He is not pronouncing a blessing on those who believe without any evidence for believing, but those who believe without empirical evidence like Thomas had. This is still not a mark against Thomas’ doubt. So…what’s your point?
Good thoughts on the man David Bazan and the new album he has created. I had hoped to read some of your thoughts on the music itself, but I am satisfied with the conclusions you drew. I’m almost certain that I will buy everything Bazan produces simply because I dig what he writes about, even if his conclusions about God do not match up to mine. For better or worse, I will always love music that deals with what the questions I have too.
Tom: Right on! To quote Philip Yancey, “Tell me about the god you don’t believe in. Chances are, I probably don’t believe in him either.” BTW, have you read Jim Palmer?
David H: I don’t know. I would like to point out, God would rather we be hot or cold. He doesn’t like lukewarm. There are believers who in their hearts curse their branches but would never say it. That is its own brand of blasphemy. Bazan’s faith has gone cold. That has to happen before anything else can.
I think we set our young up for disillusionment with the lie that there is such a thing as a “reasoned faith.” Bazan’s rejection of faith comes off as necessarily whiny because of this. He was led, at some point, to believe that his questions deserved answers. They don’t.
If the best of the best don’t deserve to have their questions answered, then some punk kid who thinks he can out-think that which stands above and beyond reason certainly doesn’t deserve it.
We believe in a God who defies our rationality at every turn. We serve a lord who is cloaked in mystery and dwells in unapproachable light. What we should reasonably expect is that, rather than things making sense and tying off with neat little bows, understanding God and making sense of his plan and motives should be an impossibility. And fortunately, this is the case.
God exists 100% in his completeness in a single locality, yet he exists in equal measure in every locality. Impossible. Christ is 100% God and 100% man, simultaneously. Improbable. A God who is the embodiment and source of grace and mercy can torture people for an eternity to satisfy his demand for justice. Irrational. I am already seated in the heavenly places, yet have no experience of that and only know viscerally the fact that I am standing in very earthly places. Unreasonable.
Our faith is senseless. Christians do believe in spite of evidence. That’s kind of the point. A point that Bazan misses every time he complains that Christianity doesn’t work because he can’t figure out how to understand it.
@Chase – Incidental note: that’s a misuse of the Revelation passage. When Christ states his preference for either hot or cold, he’s making reference to the geo-historical context of the city of Laodicea. Neighbouring cities were know either for their cool, refreshing water or their natural hot springs; Laodicea was known instead for their sucky, lukewarm water that had to be piped in (and would make people sick). In the passage, hot or cold doesn’t represent the level of zeal one has for one’s beliefs, but instead one’s usefulness. Both hot and cold are represented as good and useful. The contrast then is those in the church who were useful to the kingdom of God and those who were useless.
Oh hello there…Jeff.
Sorry to disappoint. Thanks for suggesting I write this. My main thoughts were: a) how does he sound so joyful covering such dark subject matter and b) by articulate I also meant that the production here is more tightly focused than anything he’s done to date. Other than that, I thought this felt quite a bit like every other PTL,etc.
As always, much to think about Dane. Re: Laodicean Water Supply: Really? I didn’t know. I had to read that comment in its entirety to gauge that you were serious.
What do you say the role of doubt and/or questions? If we believe in spite of evidence, how often is apologetics wrongheaded? Is the only object to proclaim-never to explain?
I don’t mean this in the same tone as the tired, “Why Evangelize?” question.
I find myself in complete agreement with The Dane on this one. I am dismayed at how many Christians are told that Christianity is the most brilliant, intuitive, logically necessary worldview philosophy out there. Incredible amounts of time and money are spent on trying to prove technical points of apologetics that ultimately serve more to comfort those who already believe than actually convince the lost.
When we derive the structure of our thinking from Scripture, we find that our faith is a faith of fools, entirely counterintuitive, and demanding of a faith that is beyond reason. As the Dane very correctly points out (in close agreement with Augustine), many of the truths we are absolutely dependent on as Christians completely defy the Greek style of logical analysis that is our heritage. (note: this is why I love reading Jewish authors like Abraham Heschel… they’re much more comfortable with that paradoxical logic).
I think doubt and questions are a great way to fuel our pursuit of God, because they push us in a very personal way to understand not merely the theology of God, but also the philosophy of God-his great and hidden mysteries, insights that take years of pursuit, hard questions answered by the faithfulness of his actions.
Part of the problem in the church is that rather than embrace this structure, we try to convince people that doubt and questions can be perfectly answered in a theological way- that is, in a way that merely points to a verse and gives the answer. As long as intelligent Christians see the inherent flaws in this way of thinking but don’t realize there is an alternative, I fear we will continue to see smart people like David Bazan turn and go their own way.
Oh, and incidentally… the Dane is likely correct about that Laodicean thing. I didn’t find out about that until I was 23. An excellent example of a passage that probably experiences widespread misquoting.
@Chase – If you’re interested in it, here’s a brief discussion of the Laodicean situation. If I had more on hand, I’d post it, but right now this is all I’ve got handy.
As to your other question, I’d say there is no role for apologetics beyond personal interest. I think we can seek to better understand God as he has revealed himself to us in Scripture, but only from the standpoint of belief and only so far as we can reasonably go with what Scripture provides. This is why Scripture demands we have teachers, so that we can grow in our understanding. But at base, we must realize that our faith is not founded upon reason and if we try to found our belief on such a thing, we’re setting ourselves up for a collapse. (Don’t build your house on sandy land…)
Here are two pieces from the wayback machine that deal with apologetics:
For my own part, doubt functions in a very particular way. It causes me to reevaluate not the things I know to be true, but my understanding of them. Do my doubts or any recalcitrant experiences shake my faith in God and Christ? No. However, they are happily welcome to shake my understanding of God and Christ. Plausibly, I don’t properly understand God and his plan and what he has revealed in Scripture, so doubt causes me to revisit his word and discover where and whether I got things wrong.
For me, doubt functions as a refinery rather than a wrecking ball. Because the thing I doubt is not God but myself. And really, who better to doubt.
@theDane thanks for the resources. Your thoughts on doubt reminded me of Kelly James Clark who said, “(and I paraphrase) It’s not objective truth I question, but rather my ability to understand it.”
Okay, poor interpretation aside. Is there any correlation between the many of Matthew 7:22 and the lukewarm of Revelation?
Isn’t it bearing false witness to confess with the mouth but believe differently with the heart? They are useless, they are lukewarm. This is what I meant by faith made irrelevant.
Is it better to own up to unbelief or to pretend it isn’t so? Or would that be the same as with adultery-with the heart a man commits the first offense, outwardly he commits the second?
I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube in which Christians assert that Christianity makes sense. Atheists have the most fun in reply to these. I had started to see that those efforts are a waste.
By owning up to unbelief do you mean owning up to apostasy or owning up to doubts?
In either case, I almost always feel that honesty is the best policy. This is certainly the case with the apostate. With the believer who is just having trouble with belief, the choice can be more difficult (as it sometimes means, depending on the doubt, being stripped of a particular role in church function). In most cases, being honest with those around you (especially those of mature and strong faith) about the details of one’s doubts can be a great boon as you may find comfort in their words of encouragement. Of course, presenting your doubts to the weak in faith usually won’t be too helpful as you’ll either be confronted with judgment or merely succeed in damaging the faith of someone who doesn’t know enough to help you anyway.
It might be worth acknowledging that while the wisdom of Christ is foolishness to the Greeks and all that, it’s still the case that Christ is the foundational wisdom through which the entire cosmos is held together – that is to say, Christ is the reason of God. So, you know, it’s not really like Christianity is irrational or unreasonable. It’s more like Christianity is a rival reason which flies in the face of the reason of the Old World.
Bazan’s difficulty isn’t that Christianity is ridiculous – it’s that Bazan doesn’t see the beauty of the wisdom of God.
That’s a good point, Scott. Unfortunately, it’s only accessible to we who believe (and sometimes even we who believe get duped into thinking Old World reason is Christological reason—that is, True Reason—when really at best it’s just a sometimes intersecting facsimile).
As we find ourselves in Christ, the immediacy of our problems with paradox (paradox from Old World reason’s standards) becomes increasingly remote. As we forget Christ and find ourselves distanced from him, we will find ourselves distanced from his wisdom and so the immediacy of seeming paradox becomes more pressing.
Your last line is a good summary of Bazan’s place.
Yes, well said Scott.
I meant apostasy but I would agree that honesty works in both cases, discretion applied of course.
Has anyone seen videos of the Blasphemy Challenge? Some believe that at the moment unbelief is confessed that the fate of the confessor is sealed. As if the words themselves held such power. The same would be true of praying to receive Christ. The words then are only a reflection of the heart.
This is why people fear confessing unbelief because they believe it can determine their fate.
If what Bazan was doing was simply asking questions, then I honestly wouldn’t have any problems with that. Heck, the Psalmist did that. “How long O Lord will you forget me?”. My problem is that Bazan has already answered his doubts. He’s not some refugee who is lost and asking questions. He is an apostle of doubt.
I’m going to use that for my forthcoming book. Dave Bazan and The Apostles of Doubt…
As postmodernism come into fashion more and more, you’ll find more and more of them. They don’t doubt the gospel so much as they advocate another gospel. A more philosophically palatable and socially acceptable gospel. When you ask questions, it’s reasonable to expect answers. Bazan doesn’t want answers, he’s already answered his questions another way. I really feel for the guy and I really hope he’s a Jonah case, but he’s gonna need a Damascus road wakeup to shake him out of his rebellion against God.
Ben: I think I largely agree with you (and therefore with The Dane by extension). However, the question of the rationality of Christian belief is multi-faceted. The Dane is right that many Christian doctrines are counter-intuitive (like the incarnation, to take just one of his examples). We would never reason them out and are completely dependent on the revelation of God in Scripture for our knowledge of them.
However, there is a certain rationality to the Christian faith and worldview–a rationality that makes it (among other reasons) superior to every other religion and worldview. That is to say: Christianity DOES make sense of the world the way it is. Could we adequately explain human behavior apart from the doctrine of sin? Or can secular sociologists reasonably explain mankind’s universal impulse apart from an understanding of the doctrine of creation? I could go on.
In addition to rationality, the Christian worldview offers the promise of verifiability. Verifiability is very different from proof, obviously. The claims of Scripture extend into the world as we know it and relate intimately with the pursuits of history and science. This is precisely where Christian apologetics can be so helpful. In one sense, Christian apologetics at its best should seek to do what Scripture does–and that is to demonstrate the faithfulness of God to fulfill his promises, and the truthfulness of God as he has revealed himself in his word.
If God had promised deliverance to Hezekiah from Sennacherib of Assyria, and Jerusalem had fallen, how could we have faith? (Cf. 2 Kings 18 & 19) If King Rezin of Aram (Syria) and King Pekah of Israel had overtaken Judah and God’s promise to Ahaz king of Judah had failed, would God be God? Scripture tells us of the fulfilled promises of God in part as the down-payment on the fulfillment of future promises, and throughout the Gospels and Acts, Jesus and the disciples repeatedly endeavor to show the inconsistencies by which their hearers were living.
In sum, the argument is both-and, not either-or. In one sense, then, the Christian faith and worldview is rational and brilliant. It makes sense of the world around us like nothing else. It comports with the best research of science and history. And in another sense, simultaneously, the cross is foolish to this world, and the wisdom of God is beyond searching out.
The thing is, people come from all sorts of backgrounds. For some unbelievers, apologetics can help remove the unnecessary stumbling blocks to faith. If I don’t believe the Bible gets history right, I won’t believe the Bible about my sin and need for forgiveness; and if I believe Christianity to be totally irrational I won’t embrace it. For some Christians, however, an understanding of God’s promises and the consistency of the biblical world-view is faith-building and reassuring. Who isn’t helped by discovering more and more how Scripture relates to the ‘real world’ of our everyday lives?
Really good thoughts, thank you.
I think the distinction I would draw in regard to the above conversation is that we are saying that, as Christians, we can’t simply encourage logical thinking and apologetics and expect everyone to become Christians (of course there are a few exceptions, people who came to faith through study of apologetics, but these tend to be rare by comparison). The faith is based on presuppositions that can’t be logically derived merely from observation of the world around us.
Think of the five solas of the Reformation. Faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, glory of God alone. None of these five makes obvious sense to the world… There is no reason for faith, grace is a violation of the natural eye-for-an-eye, scripture is just another book, Christ was a good teacher and nothing else, and what reason is there to place God’s honor above our own if he may not even exist?
Of course, you’re entirely right that there are plenty of reasons for the Christian to feel assurance of the validity of his worldview. Christianity, once certain presuppositions are accepted by faith, makes absolute sense and is in fact vastly superior to any other perspective. I love your point that a Christian can be fully assured by God’s perfect consistency in doing what he says he will do… that truth has held me up through many dark moments.
I do think, though, that apologetics have a healthier role as promoting assurance than convincing the skeptic. People have somehow gotten the idea that if they apply the scientific method and Greek philosophic methodology to the Christian faith, they ought to be able to come out with satisfactory answers or else Christianity isn’t true. This of course is silliness, but it tends to be the driving force among many “doubters.” I think their great need is to reject old categories of analysis and realize that doubt is not a simple math problem to be solved. As Augustine said, we believe so that we may understand. The doubters have this flipped around and it tends to result in a poor success ratio.
Hey Josh, thanks for commenting. Your point that, “apologetics can help remove the unnecessary stumbling blocks to faith” is a helpful one.
A great example of this came from Kirk Cameron of all places. He appeared with Ray Comfort in a debate against the Rational Responders. I felt that they lost but an interesting thing happened.
A skeptic said Cameron opened his eyes about something. Cameron had explained (micro evolution) that small changes occur in species over time but that there is no evidence that new species develop from existing ones. The man had never heard this before and that he had a lot to think about. He said he was no longer a Darwinist, but not yet a Christian either.
Ben: I agree. Our efforts to persuade are usually futile. Referring to the example above, Kirk Cameron expended much energy to little effect but one thing he said won a small battle. The man went home with reason to reconsider his worldview. We should set our aim at these type wins.
Chase asks, “Is there any correlation between the many of Matthew 7:22 and the lukewarm of Revelation?”
First of all, let me say that the Dane is on the side of the trend in current scholarship on Revelation 3:15-16. His link is to an excerpt from Greg Beale’s very thorough 1999 commentary. I think that there is not a better source available. Similar points that hot and cold are both seen as useful and effective(because they are firsthand, direct from the source, and can benefit the wellbeing of the one who partakes of them) can be found in commentaries by David Aune, Robert Mounce, Craig Keener, Grant Osborne, and Alan Johnson. Earlier commentators are more likely to take the traditional view that Jesus prefers hostility to complacent indifference. There may be some truth to that, but it does not seem to be the point of the text.
Beale wants to emphasize the practical outcome in effective witness, and that is valid, but I prefer to get to that conclusion only after noting that the important thing is to have a first-hand immediate connection to the living Christ. His authority should authorize our faith, mission, and witness.
Matthew 7:22 refers to people who claim Jesus as an authority (Lord), but their lives do not show connection to what he has actually authorized, thereby showing that their false or inadequate idea of Jesus has replaced our real, living Lord. So, yes, there is a connection.
It seems that the heart of our mission, witness, and apologetics should be authentic experience of our living Lord. There is a place for clearing away the philosophical debris that prevents others from experiencing Jesus as a living Lord, but there is finally no substitute for the real thing.
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