No Surrender, No Retreat

It was the year of fire. The year of destruction. The year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth. The year of great sadness. The year of pain. And the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed.

The year was 2003. The place: Cambridge. Right, readers?

I started the Losing My Religion essay because I was angry. I finish it now because I am not (and because I happen to have a free Sunday, which also makes sense if you think about it). I’ve not really added much to the page itself: since so much discussion has gone on here, much of the new material is links to pages on LiveJournal. But in any case, the thing is done.

The talk continues, as always. livredor‘s posting about a Christunfriend’s blog leads us to a discussion of prayer in Christianity, and of whether Jews, Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Off to post some more.

19 thoughts on “No Surrender, No Retreat”

  1. I think you gain about a thousand geek points for using quotes from B5 in your blog :0)

    Thanks for the link to liveredors journal, although nothing ground breaking appears to be happening in the discussion there…

    I’ve become a lot less concerned about Christianity as time goes on, most of the time now I don’t even think about it. Thats probably because I’m no longer in contact with any Christians who would talk with me about it (even if I asked them)… Safi doesn’t like talking about it with me.

    I’d still like to be more sure of where I am, if only so that the background fear of hell can be put to rest. For this reason I’ve emailed York CU asking if I can come along to their next Christianity Explored course.

    1. I think you gain about a thousand geek points for using quotes from B5 in your blog

      That quote seems particular apposite for last year: there are other entries of mine where the words “last year” are link to a B5 page about that season, with the opener at the top.

      Have you scared Safi off, then?

      I wouldn’t say I never think about Christianity, because that’s clearly not true, but I rarely consider it as an option for myself any more. I’m still interested in talking about it, though, as the intellectual fascination is still there.

      1. Have you scared Safi off, then? Err no… Safi has never wanted to talk about Christianity with me since I decided I am no longer a Christian. I believe this is because she used to look up to me spiritually, and now its hard to see me no longer being a Christian. Also I often become to aggressive when talking about things I’m passionate about; Safi always felt backed into a corner about it. As such we don’t talk about it anymore.

        1. I should also add that its rather unfortunate that Safi and I cannot discuss Christianity as I am very close to her and I trust her implicitly – which otherwise makes her a fantastic person to discuss, and share my thoughts, dreams, and fears about it with.

    2. > I’ve become a lot less concerned about Christianity as time goes
      > on, most of the time now I don’t even think about it.

      To stretch an analogy, religion could be argued to be similar to a drug. It fulfills a psychological need inside you, in a way than non-believers can’t comprehend. Never having had a religion, I view the lack of a “warm, fuzzy feeling” as being perfectly normal. However, you’ve experienced the highly tuned “high” that Christianity gives you, and have had to become accustomed to its absence. To continue the analogy, you’re going “cold turkey” and have been experiencing “withdrawal symptoms”. These withdrawal symptoms would naturally decrease in time, as you become used to the empty pschological void where Christianity had once been.

      1. I think there is a lot of truth in what you’re saying, but in that sense you could say lots of things are ‘like drugs’. Relationships is a good example, in my experience it worked in much the same way although it was much stronger.

        What I missed the most about Christianity was the loss of relationships. The second biggest concern would be the fear of hell. Thirdly comes the feelings of peace, certainty, that God was with me etc..

        1. > The second biggest concern would be the fear of hell.

          I’ll have to admit that it had never occurred to me that “fear of hell” would be a motivational factor. But, that being said, if you believe that the Bible is literally true, then it must be a big incentive to “doing good” (or, more precisely, “not doing bad”).

          1. Sorry, I kind of screwed up what I was saying there.

            What I was trying (rather ineptly) to communicate was a list of things that I miss or are of concern to me now that I have left.

            First on that list is the loss of friendships.
            Second is the fear that I may no go to hell.

            Fear of hell never motivated me at all as a Christian as I was always sure I would never go there, so I never really thought about it. Its only afterwards that it has become something of a concern. I suppose its like hearing about all the atrocities at Camp X-Ray, while I don’t like that those things happen there I don’t think about it much because it doesn’t affect me, if I thought I was likely to be sent there it would be at tghe forefront of my thoughts.

  2. My apologies – I didn’t read that you had finished your article the first time I read your post!

    The evangelical attitude to sex is often harmful. At this point, all my evangelical readers nod sagely and decide that I left so I could sleep around.
    The very same thing happened to me. The first thing my old church leader Tim said when I told him I was no longer a Christian was “so this is because you want to commit a lot of sin then?” (or words to that effect). I don’t think my Christian friends really believe that I don’t know whether or not Christianity is true, which I suppose makes sense what with the whole Romans thing.

    we may, and in fact, must, tolerate logical inconsistencies and other problems with the things we believe
    !

    Why must we tolerate logical inconsistencies?! We might still be right but perceive there to be logical inconsistencies, but at the very least we must try to resolve them. Unless of course you’re taking a ‘don’t worry be happy’ kind of approach to life.

    I do miss aspects of Christianity, such as a some fine people and communities, the singing, and a feeling of belonging to something greater than myself.
    I know what you mean – I especially miss the community aspect even if it was often fairly limited

    That Free to be pure guy you mention in one of the posts linked to in your article ended up in the logical place of no longer using the internet it seems.

    1. At this point, all my evangelical readers nod sagely and decide that I left so I could sleep around.

      In fact, nobody has suggested that to my face (perhaps they’re scared ;-), I was just anticipating a possible reaction on the part of my readers.

      Why must we tolerate logical inconsistencies?! We might still be right but perceive there to be logical inconsistencies, but at the very least we must try to resolve them.

      The bottom of this article elaborates on that. What I mean is that we do not have a perfectly consistent explanation of how the world works. Looking at physics, say, we have models which work in some situations, but they have limitations which we must be aware of, and they are sometimes in disagreement with each other. If we try to extend them too far, they break and give wrong answers. We have to tolerate these inconsistencies because there is nothing better (although you’re right to say that we’re always looking for the resolution of the problem) and we must use what we have. Anyone who optimistically starts a physics course thinking they will be learning the Secrets of the Universe is in for a rude awakening.

      So it is with the rest of life, the universe and everything. We don’t know what’s going on. We may have some ideas, but we don’t know. My problem with evangelicalism is that it sets itself up as a Theory of Everything (or meta-narrative, to use the post-modern term), but on closer examination, it doesn’t work as one. I’m not saying that I expect the evangelicals to be able to answer every question, as they’d certainly not claim that, but rather that the scale of their explanation is too ambitious. I hope that makes some kind of sense.

      That Free to be pure guy you mention in one of the posts linked to in your article ended up in the logical place of no longer using the internet it seems.

      Poor chap. I do feel sorry for him.

      1. f we try to extend them too far, they break and give wrong answers. We have to tolerate these inconsistencies because there is nothing better (although you’re right to say that we’re always looking for the resolution of the problem) and we must use what we have. Anyone who optimistically starts a physics course thinking they will be learning the Secrets of the Universe is in for a rude awakening.
        Yeah I agree that probably we will never find the answer, but I still think there is something to be gained from the search. I believe “There are problems with this but I’m going to keep looking as I think I’m heading in the right direction” has more merit than “This doesn’t seem to make sense, but I’ll just accept it anyway”; I feel you often sound too defeatist, you have tried to persuade me to give up the search for instance.

        My problem with evangelicalism is that it sets itself up as a Theory of Everything (or meta-narrative, to use the post-modern term), but on closer examination, it doesn’t work as one.
        I think their ambition goes with what they believe is the strength of their argument. It may not even be possible to determine the answer because of our human limitations, but if one greater (e.g. God) were to come along and give us the cheat sheet we needn’t be able to do all the ‘working out’.

        This is what I like about Christianity (and I dare say other religions too), unlike philosophy which too often seems to be recursive they claim to have the answer, which sounds nice and solid, and something you can test too. You may be right that upon closer examination it turns out to be false gold – I hope you’re right (I don’t know yet).

  3. I think your link between Evangelicalism and modernism or modernity (I’ve never figured out quite which is the right term here, but I mean thought that stems directly from the “Englightenment”) is key. I slipped out of Evangelicalism quite gradually, but part of that movement came as a result of realising that I appeared to be more committed to a philosophical theory about the world than to discipleship. Pilate’s question “what is truth?” is important enough to ask often. It matters to me that faith rests on Christ, and not scientific naturalism or something else that seems to be known as philosophical “foundationalism” (http://www.iscid.org/encyclopedia/Foundationalism). Of course, one is bound to have some underlying philosophy if one believes anything, but quite the way it all holds together, I’m still exploring.

    I also find there to be a certain poignancy in the song “Hallelujah” (which I discovered on the Shrek soundtrack). However, I’m quite loopy enough to believe that there are some profoundly theological themes in Shrek 2 :).

    Obviously, I don’t agree with all that you say. I agree that Evangelical attitudes to sex can be harmful, but so too can the attitudes of the western world as they currently stand. I know many people who do not appear to be damaged by holding Christian attitudes. Further, the “Losing my religion” article on the topic made some generalisations about Christianity that I (and I suspect many conservatives) would find absurd. (For example, “Christians believe that your sexual preference is a choice…”. Rubbish!)

    It’s a long time since it has been implied that I’m a “liberal” Christian, although, to be fair, you did not say exactly that. I would say that Adrian Plass (who is not a liberal Christian either) attempts to incorporate doubts and questions into faith, and I suspect I have learned much from reading about his struggles with Evangelicalism. Thomas Aquinas seems to encompass more questions into faith than faith has ever known before. It strikes me that faith without questions is dead. Actually, I think a good and solid reception by the /entirety/ of Anglicanism allows a lot of space for growth, questions, doubts, fears and struggles. A faith that does not allow for mourning and weeping, as well as joy and celebration seems to suffer from corruption. Thus I don’t think doubt and questions really are the preserve of liberal Christians. They are part of our joint inheritance.

    I did not find myself struggling with too many of your objections. I already dislike CICCU, but they are not all of what it means to be Christian. I have had similar experiences to you in looking over meetings of Christians with a strong sense of detachment. I’ve discarded the idea of epistemological foundationalism as being necessary for faith. I read the Bible with a critical eye as to what the miracle stories teach us, rather than “whether they happened”. Further, I remain “open” to super-natural encounters with God, of the miraculous kind, but I do not live with the expectation that I have a divine right to a parking-space. I do not consider the “meme” theory to be a threat or a challenge to forms of life that are self-replicating. I suspect each of us is a mass of self-replicating memes :). I’m not a Calvinist. I don’t “do” total depravity. I figure that a little bit of prayer-book “guilt” is useful, but only when balanced by the love of God, so apparent in the Song of Songs. I hold the views of von-Balthasar on the hope of salvation for the world. I think Christians don’t say enough about the “good-ness” of sex, but then we’re about as confused about it as everybody else, so I see no point in lingering on the subject. Thus, I am not an Evangelical, but I truly doubt that many “liberals” would want to go anywhere near me. My desire is not to “prove” Christianity or to vacuously theorise or to tell you that you would be a better person if you were a Christian, or to heap guilt upon you. No. I think my strongest thought on the subject is that your departure is the Church’s loss, and so I offer a rather weak lament, designed not so much to manipulate you to return, but simply to say that some of us will miss you.

    1. part of that movement came as a result of realising that I appeared to be more committed to a philosophical theory about the world than to discipleship.

      That is a very useful observation. It might have been made in The Post Evangelical, but at the time I read that, I wasn’t really open to what it had to say.

      I agree that Evangelical attitudes to sex can be harmful, but so too can the attitudes of the western world as they currently stand.

      Oh, I don’t disagree with that, either. Will amend the essay to make that clear.

      There is an interesting bit in Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer where the heroine is told intelligence (rather than mere knowledge) is about being able to deal with subtlety. I think that is what was lacking from the evangelical approach to many things, but it is also lacking from the World’s attitude to sex (inasmuch as I know what that is).

      It’s a long time since it has been implied that I’m a “liberal” Christian, although, to be fair, you did not say exactly that.

      I should change “liberal” to “non-evangelical”, since I’d like to cover people who seem closer to Catholicism also (which is where a lot of what you say to robhu about the church seems to place you, in my mind, though labels are always tricky and perhaps not helpful).

      I did not find myself struggling with too many of your objections.

      I need to find some better ones 🙂 I’ve just added one about the hiddenness of God, since I realised I had not mentioned that very much (although the part about the lack of supernatural experiences goes into that a little).

      simply to say that some of us will miss you.

      That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said all day 🙂

        1. Possibly. It would perhaps have shown me that here was something worth investigating further. Having some sort of communication from God would make it more like the “relationship” which many Christians speak of. It’d have to be particular sorts of supernatural experience, though: I guess knowing stuff I couldn’t otherwise have known or guessed would be pretty convincing. As I’ve said about your experiences, the ones involving supernatural knowledge are more interesting than the ones which were just scary, since there are other explanations for things being scary.

          1. Yeah but you were equally dismissive of the supernatural knowledge based experiences as I remember… Not a criticism just an observation.

            Christians say to me that non Christians will come up with any explanation to show that God isnt there regardless of how obvious the facts might be. While I think this card is played way too early in the game there may be some truth to it.

            1. Christianity makes some pretty expansive claims, so it’d better have some pretty good evidence, I suppose. Supernatural knowledge which looks like “Alice was feeling bad, and Bob got a feeling her should phone her” doesn’t quite do that for me either, I’ll admit, especially compared to “This man told me everything I ever did” and suchlike.

              The closest I ever came to that was when I was at Soul Survivor and the preacher there said God had told him he wanted to heal some people and they should go to the people who were Authorised To Minister. He then listed a bunch of illnesses, including “an ulcerated bowel” (I have Crohn’s Disease, which meets that description). I was too shy to go and get prayed for, though. In retrospect, it’s easy to explain that by saying that the crowd at Soul Survivor’s evening worship thing was huge, and almost anything he’d said would have had someone there with it.

              The kind of specific individual knowledge of something you could not have known or guessed, which John tells us Jesus has when speaking to the Woman at the Well, is a bit more convincing than that.

              Christians will always come up with any explanation to show that God is there, regardless of how obvious the facts might be. Actually, I don’t think the facts are obvious, as we can see from how little agreement there is, even between people who are notionally of the same religion.

              1. The time when I met some prophets was fairly freaky (I may have written about this) – sadly I can’t remember the details in any great detail right now. At the time I thought it was incredibly accurate, it convinced me to believe in prophecy even though I was fairly against it at the time.

                re: Soul Survivor, yeah the crowd is massive so they could have talked about someone in a blue top who recently broke up with their boyfriend and has bruised their elbow and still likely pick up 2 or 3.

                One of the things I wonder about now though is what would constitute proof about a religion. If a prophet were able to for instance tell me what number I am thinking of 100 times in a row that would be pretty damn convincing, but all it really proves is that she has a means of determining these things. Whether such knowledge comes to her via Yahweh or some other diety isn’t really proven.

                Maybe if Christians could demonstrate something supernatural that no one else could, although I suspect they would be unable to do that. Maybe God hides himself away in such circumstances. hmmph…

                I don’t quite get why God would hide himself away so much, I would honestly like to know if God exists but he is not making it very obvious.

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