How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
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:
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.
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