June 14, 2006

gjm11 is someone I’ve known for years, initially through the uk.religion.christian newsgroup, and then through LiveWires. He’s a very clever man. Since my own loss of faith, I’ve sometimes wondered about the very clever people I know who are Christians (gjm11 among them), and how they manage to sustain their faith in the face of (what I see as) the serious intellectual flaws in Christianity.

Unbeknown to me, gjm11 had been thinking hard about it for a while, and recently announced that he is no longer a Christian. He has an essay on the web where he outlines some of the main reasons for his deconversion. The enormous thread on uk.religion.christian which followed his announcement is, I think, interesting to anyone who wonders about how people get, keep and lose faith.

A common argument from the uk.religion.christians is that the religion is about a personal relationship rather than purely about the truth of Christian doctrine (note that when they say that Christianity is about a relationship, Christians are using a special meaning of the word “relationship” of which you’d not previously been aware). gjm11 points out that although Christianity certainly isn’t just doctrine, if the doctrine cannot hold, the rest collapses. It’s clear that not everyone follows the chain of reasoning to its end in that way, though: some people say, if not in so many words, that even though they know it doesn’t make sense logically, they’re going with it because it feels right.

Wild theorising: I know a number of people who read sciences or mathematics, who came into Christianity through evangelicalism and then left Christianity later. These are people you’d expect to see reason as important. It seems to me that they reasoned themselves in and reasoned themselves out, in some sense: Cambridge’s evangelicalism is modernist in the same way that science is, so it is appealing and satisfying to scientist types. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand up to logical analysis, so they later reject it for the same reason that they accepted it, and so evangelicalism is hoisted by its own petard.

And so to bed.