ciccu

This weekend we went to Walberswick and Southwold, walked along the beach and looked at stuff. As is traditional when soaking up the faded seaside grandeur(OMT), lunch was eaten in the car to avoid the inclement weather.

I’ve also had a spring clean and found my original notes, dated 6th June 1998, on a talk to graduates at StAG on how to avoid plummeting back into the outer darkness when you leave university. I’ve mentioned the talk before, but it was in one of those postings from last year, so, for people who can’t read it, <lj-cut text=”here’s what I said”>here’s what I said:

does this not cause said evangelical Christians to examine their methods as obviously ineffective

Hmm… You’d have thought they would have addressed this, if so many people were giving up on leaving university. I did some further research into this: the UCCF discussion forums contain this posting which confirms it “anecdotally”. However, the UCCF webmaster then says that they know of no survey giving a high percentage falling away and quotes another survey from the 1970s with a large proportion of leavers still carrying on in the faith. I’d a feeling I’d discussed this before, and it turns out I have. Google hasn’t indexed my own postings to the thread, annoyingly, but my own archive has me saying “I thought this was one of those urban legends, but my curate said something before I graduated about the percentage having gone up from the last time the UCCF did the survey.” So, my evangelical church certainly believed it, whethers it’s true or not, and people have a generally feeling that it happens, but there’s no survey known to the CU’s umbrella organisation. Odd.

I heard about the high fall away rate in a talk to leavers about the importance of getting into a good church and not going out with non-Christians (this sucks if you’re a girl anywhere but Oxbridge, I think). So it’s possibly a scare story. But assuming the curate wasn’t knowingly dishonest, which I find hard to believe, I’d say they think that people fall away because they do not look after their faith by establishing themselves in good churches and so on, ie it’s the fallers’ fault, not the CU’s. Christianity does expect some people to give up: take a look at the parable of the sower, for example.

My notes say that over half of CU leavers will no longer be committed within 5 years. It’d be interesting to know where that figure came from, given that the UCCF itself can’t reproduce it. Edited to add: Fall-away rates are discussed a bit more in a later post of mine. But there’s more:

Q1. Why do people give up?

  • World – not being in Χian community.
  • Flesh – sin, eg sexual, or whatever.
  • Devil – “was I ever a Χian?”

Q2. What mistakes did the Israelites make?

  • Idolatry – something takes God’s place.
  • Sexual immorality – 1 Thess 4 love vs lust. Χianity not about being morally perfect but about trusting God for forgiveness.
  • Testing God – pushing the boundaries, rejecting commands.
  • Grumbling.

There’s also the obligatory mention of Hebrews 10, although to my mind that’s about lax Christians (ex-Christians are still doomed of course, but not by that passage, ISTM).

I’m trying to work out where I fit into this little scheme. I never quite felt I fitted in at church, and in fact had a closer circle of friends among the CDC people. It’s interesting how the evangelical obssession with sexual sin comes out here: without breaking confidences, I think it’s fair to say rank-and-file evangelicals are assenting to one thing and doing another when it comes to sex, and that’s certainly a source of guilt and uncertainty. And of course, anyone going through the doubts which must lead up to leaving the church is going to wonder whether their experience was ever real in the first place. Can I have “all of the above”, please Bob?

Intelligence from my logs, and from CDC‘s Special Circumstances operatives behind the enemy lines, shows a fair few CICCU people are finding the losing my religion article while out looking for CICCU information. Apart from cackling, stroking my white cat and polishing my monocle, I thought I’d say how I feel about this. I’m also linking to this from the article itself.

I wrote that page partly for catharsis, and partly because I hoped to help anyone in the same position as I was in back then. I didn’t anticipate the amount of Googlejuice I seem to have. Even so, I’m not overly concerned that the page is getting a wider audience. I do wonder what the current CICCU members who read the page take from it, though.

I imagine some of you will take it as a cautionary tale. Some of my CICCU readers will have heard speakers warning them about life after university, telling dire tales of keen CU graduates who didn’t get into a church “where the Bible is taught”, or got into a relationship with a non-Christian, and shipwrecked their faith. Neither of these things applied to me. Rather, if you want my recommendation for Christians graduating from university and wishing to avoid the slide into atheism, I must advise you to avoid thinking too much.

CICCU produced a hard, brittle faith. For those happy few who have not read Part 1A Materials Science, something hard and brittle is strong, withstanding applied force without giving very much, up to the point where enough force is applied to break it, at which point it will snap.

With hindsight, there were the beginnings of this even while I was in CICCU. If you are already wondering about biblical inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, the wrongness of homosexuality, genocide in the OT, whether your non-Christian friends really deserve to go to Hell, whether God really will answer your prayers to evangelise China or heal your auntie’s cancer, and so on, then as you are now, so once was I. And possibly, as I am now, so you shall be (you may say it won’t happen to you, but you should probably bear in mind that I did too). Therefore, at the risk of patronising you, I will say what I would have liked someone to say to me when I was a student:

If you want to prepare yourself for the graduate afterlife, cultivate the things that will be valuable there. Among these are your friends, your education (not quite the same as your academic results), and a sense of your own self. That last one is the hardest: when you’re in search of your self, pre-packed selves look like a good deal. It is very easy to go along with a crowd, especially a crowd of nice, supportive people, but do use your (assuredly excellent) brain to examine what you’re told: the most important question to ask is “How would I know if this were wrong?”

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that you and everyone else deserves to go to hell, or anyone who implies that the most important thing about a person is what they do with their genitalia. These people have exactly as much power over you as you are willing to give them.

You are at a powerful, almost mythical, place for 3 or 4 short years. They won’t, I hope, be the best years of your life (what a horrible weight that idea puts on them), but still, we don’t call them formative for nothing. Don’t get stuck within circumscribed bounds of a society whose only purpose is to gain more members. Who knows, that way, your faith may even survive after graduation 🙂


If you’re wandering in from the link in the article, feel free to comment. There’s a “leave a comment” box kicking around at the bottom of this page somewhere.

So, I was at Homerton the other day and went along to a cafe type-o-thing run by the Christian Union. Ended up talking to someone we shall call Bob (disclaimer: Bob may not actually be called Bob), who asked me about my time at university. We chatted a bit. And then he threw in one of those good conversation starters: “So, was there a Christian Union at Churchill while you were there?” Zoiks.

FADE IN:

EXT. ENTERPRISE, RUSHING STARS

ENTERPRISE: [deep bass rumbling noise]

A shimmering patch of space appears behind ENTERPRISE. It resolves itself into a hideously beweaponed ship, shaped somewhere between a cross and a sword.

INT. BRIDGE

WORF: Evangelical Alliance Bird of Pray de-cloaking off the port bow.

TROI: Sir, I'm sensing... moral outrage.

WORF: They are charging weapons! Targetting overseas students and people with low self-esteem.

PICARD: Red Alert! Raise shields, arm photon torpedoes.

DIVERS ALARUMS

<lj-cut text=”OPENING CREDITS”> I’m exaggerating, it was all very civilised. Bob was friendly and terribly apologetic (ba-da-boom!) about asking personal questions, something which no longer bothers me since I stopped being embarrassed about what’s happened to me. I explained that I was in that very CU at Churchill but left church a few years after leaving university, as I felt there wasn’t much evidence for what I believed.

Bob asked what I thought of Romans 1, where the Apostle Paul says that people are without excuse for their disbelief, since God’s nature is clearly seen in creation. I’ve come across that argument before, and my response was the same as it was back then. Writing in the 1st century AD, St Paul has no better explanation for creation than that it was God what dunnit. As science provides progressively more powerful explanations, it is no longer self-evident that there’s a creator. It’s not clear what we can learn of the creator’s nature, either, other than that God is a mathematician with an inordinate fondness for beetles. Arguments from creation mean you end up with a God of the Gaps.

We then talked about the rest of the Romans 1 passage. I’m not sure I correctly understood Bob here. He seemed to be saying that because St Paul says that there will be unbelievers, the existence of these unbelievers shows that validity of Paul’s argument. That seems to boil down to “people disagree with Paul, he predicted this, therefore he’s right”. Putting on my (somewhat tattered) evangelical hermeneutics hat, it’s not what the passage is about, either. Paul’s not using all the moral outrage at the end of chapter 1 to demonstrate his own acute observational skills, which then also allow us to trust him when God-spotting, but rather, he writes to people who already believe in God but need convincing of their own sinfulness, as chapter 2 shows.

We went on to talk about what I thought about the historical claims made by Christianity, especially the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. I said I wasn’t really sure what I thought about that, but it was a bit hard to chose between the stories of how God intersected history which are found in most theistic religions. Since Judaism is a bit of a special case to Christians, I chose Islam as my example. Bob argued that early Muslims didn’t have to die for their faith, but rather, in line with soldiers everywhere, they were keen on the idea that the other fella should die for his. But again, having people willing to die for a religion is not something special to Christianity. Throughout history, some people have been willing to die for the strangest of things.

Bob was curious to know what I thought of Jesus. I said that the Jesus of the Gospels was still an attractive figure, although he does say some odd things which make me wonder about the church’s later decision to convert Gentiles (Peter and James seem to have had similar qualms, of course). However, the God of the Old Testament seems somewhat nasty at times, especially if one is taught to regard the OT as pretty much an accurate description of what happened. At this point, either Bob mentioned C.S. Lewis’s “Mad/Bad/God” trilemma or I pre-empted it. I talked about Andrew Rilstone’s taking to task of Christian evangelists like Josh McDowell, who want to use the trilemma as a proof of Christianity. Lewis’s own ambitions are smaller: he merely uses it to argue against the watered down version of Christianity (perhaps more popular when people in this country would claim to be “C of E” for the sake of respectability) which states that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not God. Bob owned that he was sometimes disturbed by the pat arguments of some Christian apologetics, especially those which seem intellectually dishonest.

This lead on to thinking about arguments in general. I made the not very original point that what you consider to be supporting evidence depends on where you stand to start with, and mentioned the phrase “paradigm shift” for good measure. Arguments won’t win someone to a religion (or away from it). I’m not sure what else is in the mix, but I know that despite the evangelical desire to maintain the notion of absolute truth and push messy emotions aside, eventually, feelings will have their say. As the discussion became more personal, I said that, as well as the lack of evidence, I also left because of how Christianity made me feel.

That’s why, even though Christianity seems logically inconsistent to me, I sometimes say that if I had started off somewhere less brittle, my faith might have flexed rather than broken. After all, we tolerate inconsistency elsewhere in life, building up the a selection of Swiss Army notions we find useful in certain places, a Heath Robinson mechanism where the edges don’t fit together and are joined with string and sealing wax. We might even share bits of it with friends. Though the actions of some Christians (not Bob, of course, who was unfailingly polite) draw me towards fire breathing atheism, I wouldn’t like to rule out going back to some sort of faith one day. Embarrassing U-turns are becoming my forte. But it’d have to be a form of faith which is conscious of where the edges don’t join up.

So, it’d better not hide the rough edges beneath a shiny surface of facts and faith and pat answers. It’d better not claim to be the only way to the truth. It’d better not be entirely dedicated to enlarging itself, to the power and the glory. It’d better not try to order every aspect of other people’s lives for them (however much some of them so want to be ordered), sending forth alternate waves of joy and guilt until they’re assimilated. I claim that the only moral response on encountering such a jumped up, runaway machine is to go straight to its major databanks with a very large axe and give it a reprogramming it will never forget.