Hello everyone. I haven’t posted here in several years, because of personal struggles in my faith.
I finished writing out my personal deconstruction story over Christmas. It is quite personal, but I thought it beneficial to share it here.
It centers around the subject of evolution which I thought would be of specific interest to this group.
Eventually I came full circle back to faith in Christ, but it did not happen easily or overnight, nor I would argue through personal effort.
My background is Charismatic / Pentecostal which I think adds a somewhat unique perspective.
I don’t get deeply into analytical arguments in my story. It is more of an overview and personal memoir.
I thought my story my be off interest to some here.
It is a little bit of a read (about 30k words), but if anyone happens to read it and has any comments, thoughts, or even criticisms, I welcome all feedback.
I want to thank everyone here at biologos for being part of my journey as well. Even though my interaction here in the group was limited, I read a good bit of what was posted here and put out by biologos and it made me feel less alone. It’s such an immensely important work being done here and this community is a water in a desert.
Welcome David. I confess I jumped right on into the Paradigm Shift chapter and found it a good read. I share your dismay at the events of 2016. I would like to see that the Christian tribes might be better prepared to confront such choices than the general public but there was and there still is failure all around. Hopefully our union won’t completely fail this test. Since we do still have a pulse there must be some hope.
For the record, in case you know I’m agnostic but if you push hard enough I’ll cop to not being a theist. But my reaction to this quote from that chapter of your piece wasn’t what you might expect.
“To put the issue more succinctly, to believe or conclude anything or come to any conclusions about anything at all, one must operate on faith. It might be faith in the reliability of science or faith in the reliability of one’s own thinking, knowledge, conclusions, experiences, or those of others, but at the end of the day, ultimately, it is still a matter of faith.
I agree that faith is needed but I don’t find I require any notion of first mover kind of creator to inspire my faith. I don’t have a problem with those who do but I have to tell you there is room to disagree here. Of course I never walked away from a community or a family or a faith practice so that might influence what I find I need. I do think there is more going on than just my own feeble deliberations but I don’t see what difference it makes if that is baked into us rather than originating in a separate being. But I do place primary importance in this life and don’t think much about extra innings. Frankly I think it shouldn’t matter, but whether or not that does may depend on upbringing and community.
Thanks for checking in, David. Glad to hear that despite the obstacles and rough patches, you seem to have come around to a place of wholeness and peace. It’s good that we remind people who are feeling very destabilized at the moment that the chaotic unmoored feeling doesn’t last forever.
Hi Mark. Thanks so much for taking the time out to read part of my story. One of the reasons I wrote out my whole story was to try and give a broad overview and highlights of my life that influenced and shaped me. It’s not comprehensive by any means but hopefully gives a fuller picture of what the journey was like for me.
With that in mind, you might enjoy reading the fuller story to see where I came from and how I got to that place. There are subtle details that combine with the fuller story. It’s not meant to try and convince anyone, but it does I think explain it more fully if you are inclined to read more.
Concerning your specific comments about us needing faith to accept anything, I worded that carefully to acknowledge your point. For me personally, teleology is the branch on which reason and science ultimately sit because reason and science operate on a modernistic framework that presumes a foundational and basic teleology.
That’s not to say atheists or agnostics cannot presume a stable universe and a reliability on reason without teleology, but that I find that the presuppositions behind the foundations of science and modernity to be logically and reasonably contradictory and ultimately unreconcilable with a dystelological universe.
This was the conclusion I made in my own intellectual journey concerning the matter. The deconstructing Jesus chapter further elaborates on this to some extent. I refer to how frustrating it ultimately becomes to have broader conversations about these subject because of the increasing difficulty of finding common foundational ground that people of different beliefs operate from.
For me I found there were deeper issues that were very personal for me that made it impossible for me to be completely objective and by extension is true of everyone else.
At the end of the day, I did not find any elaborate argument for God to take to the masses. Rather I found a teleological presence in my own life that I recognize as God’s love and grace that have brought reconciliation and peace to the deepest places within my heart without me being aware of it most of the time.
When I reflected on my journey and tried to apply wish fulfillment and other sociological and psychological models for explaining my life, it did explain a great deal of what I saw around me and deep aspects of my own motivations, but it didn’t explain the presence of grace that continually showed up in my life, virtually always unexpected and by surprise.
Jordan Peterson would say what I experience is like a deep premodern universal Jungian truth but not go so far as to say it originates outside the natural world.
When I look at the totality of it from my experience and what I see, I conclude that it does originate outside the natural world.
I do understand and empathize deeply with those who come to different conclusions though. I don’t think I came back to a place of faith through my own intellectual striving. Rather I find grace was with me all along and I finally got to the end of my own striving if that makes sense.
Thank you again for the comment and for taking time to read part of my story. I hope this helps elaborate a little further on what you mentioned.
I skimmed through most of your story. I share some of your pain. Losing the garden story and natural evil being “baked in” was and still is hard for me. I enjoyed the Yancey quote about grace!
Parts of chapter 10 are all I would be critical of. It was infused with some bad historical apologetics and showed a lack of awareness of even the basics of New Testament criticism.
The best solution to the synoptic problem, held by even the most conservative of New Testament scholars, states that the wording and order between Matthew, Mark and Luke is so common they must share literary dependence. Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke copied his text. John is an open issue but slightly more scholars now seem to think John is also dependent on synoptic material. The gospels cannot be used as corroborating eye-witness accounts with conflicting details. When reading Matthew and Luke, I am interested in seeing how they redact Mark’s material to fit their theological needs. This gives me insight into their theology and message which is important since its part of my sacred scripture.
Also, what evidence is there that Mark, the first gospel written, even intended to use the women as witnesses to defend the resurrection? If you aren’t aware, most scholars feel the account originally ends at Mark 16:8 with the women telling no one. That is an odd apologetic! Silence is a very prevalent literary (aka probably not historical) theme in Mark and claiming the witness of women could serve no value here at all is simply not true. And I don’t agree with all that Richard Carrier writes here but he talks about the women at the tomb argument that has been abused. He, an atheist, quotes the story of the women at the well showing just how reliable the testimony of woman was per that statement at least (many believed on account of her testimony). The presence of women at the tomb as an argument for historical reliability is an awful argument.
Not to mention that women were benefactors of the early church. They played very significant roles in financing and preaching the Gospel. Having women play an important role in the tomb story is perfectly understandable in that ancient context whether it happened or not. The historical reality is that Christian women were immensely important at the time. The first we see of the tomb story is probably not until ca. 70CE and all four references may very well be dependent on one source (Mark!). These type of apologetics just don’t work.
The author also isn’t arguing against modern skeptics trying to undermine the resurrection to believers. Mark is writing to Christians who already accept Jesus. Christians for whom the prominence of women was a reality.
What historical evidence, and I do not mean increasingly legendary material in the second century and beyond, is there most of Jesus’ original followers went willingly to their deaths? I know we peddle this story in the pews but I suspect if people looked at the actual evidence fairly they would be disappointed. I don’t doubt many Christians and early Jewish followers of Jesus suffered for their beliefs. But this claim seems to ask the surviving literature to do more than it is capable of. We don’t even know for certain if all the original followers of Jesus became Christians. Some may have drifted away despite what the casting of lots in Acts says. I do not doubt that some of Jesus’ followers were convinced he rose on historical grounds. That is a fact of history in my view. Them dying for that belief, or not, doesn’t change it, but we should still try to get things right and not just pass on stories we learned that are not really corroborated. There is a lot of legendary material about Christian martyrs and most, not all, of the stories about the apostles occurs long after their time and there are contradictory stories (think about the problem of Judas and how he died!). I think Clement may offer some temporally close comments about Peter and Paul being martyred for their faith but I am an evidence kind of guy. Why is later church tradition reliability? Where did it come from? Can I trace an actual line of tradition? Is it corroborated? Is it likely to have been invented? These are all the questions that need to be asked. Your thoughts also do not make a distinction, on historical grounds, between the synoptic and Johannine Jesus. Instead, he appears to be conflated into one. That is the fallacy of the trilemma (Liar, Lunatic or Lord) and sits at the heart of the Bono quote I believe (great band btw!). I agree that is legitimate to do theologically, but you seem to be doing it historically which only results in a fictional, chimeric Jesus.
I also don’t think this statement is demonstrable: “Evolution might be able to explain numerous behaviors of people before and after Jesus, but it does not provide any compelling way of explaining the origin of grace in Jesus of Nazareth.” I read it as a desire to make Jesus unexplainably unique. Evolution cannot explain the incarnation. Jesus having compassion and love? Those are human emotions. Evolution can certainly explain them and we can find a million people who have done great, brand, probable or very improbably things.
For me in the end it all boil down to how you ended:
“I cried out to God and He answered me. I am satisfied.”
That is Jesus and the incarnation. That is the cross and God’s Grace. Historical apologetics don’t work even if we need them at times to open our thinking to new ideas our former mindsets have closed off. God can accommodate our faulty reasoning and speak through it and move us where He wants us.
I have to say I don’t feel entitled to answers to some questions, teleology included. Is there a preconceived plan? I can’t tell but don’t find that too frustrating and it doesn’t prevent me from appreciating this wonderful life and all the answers I have been given.
Not one of my favorite thinkers but I agree with him there. What I think about the divine is entirely compatible with a natural basis. If God were a co-product of consciousness that held the wisdom of our species and specific knowledge of my struggles and hopes I find that entirely adequate to make sense of my experience. If there is actually a God central out there coordinating my experience every other being’s that would be fine too. But I don’t find I need more.
Thanks again for sharing your story. If I have time to get back to it, I won’t hesitate to respond knowing receptive you’ve been.
I skimmed different chapters of the book. We don’t have much in common. The only thing I had to deconstruct was the extreme liberalism without religion in which I was raised, realizing that the ultimate end of skepticism was to apply it to skepticism itself. The criticisms of the Christian establishment on which I was raised were not deconstructed because it was all accurate, and thus I can still criticize this better than most atheists. So I pretty much started with the scientific worldview including psychology since both of my parents were psychology majors in college. Nevertheless I was determined to figure out for myself what all this God stuff was about. And I found a key to this from an equivalence between an existentialist faith that life is worth living and the theist faith in God. That start eventually led to a surprisingly orthodox Christian faith (non-universalist Trinitarian anyway, reading most stories in the Bible as historical if not always strictly literal). But since I constructed this pretty much on my own I do have my own unique view of a number of theological issues.
One thing to keep in mind is that this not my attempt to write an apologetic paper, but rather tell my own story. While there are apologetic aspects that I give an overview of, but I included them to communicate what I wrestled with personally rather than arguing for a particular point of view if that make sense. I should perhaps write a disclaimer at the beginning to reiterate this so that it is not misunderstood.
The argument is not that they intended to use the women as witnesses to defend the resurrection, but that the fact that it is included is evidence that shows they were not trying to write make up the story to be more believable. I find that to be a reasonable argument at least in terms of the story not being purposefully manipulated to try and convince of something that did not happen. And in the story, the apostles did not first believe their witness.
Again I want to emphasize that this is not an apologetic writing, but simply my own story and my own reasoning through the issues based on the knowledge I have. I did not delve into textual criticism or the Q gospel or anything along those lines. My reasoning for this is expressed in other ways concerning what sources of knowledge I can rely on.
I wasn’t concerned with most of his followers, but rather those 11 that physically witnessed the resurrection. It is one thing for people to willingly go to their deaths because they believe something they did not see but accept on faith. It is quite another for disciples go to their deaths based on a claim that they physically witnessed the resurrected Jesus.
I operated on the preponderance of the evidence. I wasn’t attempting to come up with a level of evidence that was convincing enough that a criminal prosecutor in a murder case would use. Rather I wanted to know which is more likely.
The evidence (from my understanding) is that it is more reasonable to believe than disbelieve that virtually all of the apostles went to their deaths claiming Jesus rose from the dead.
I don’t entirely follow why you see this as a problem. I suspect it might be because you believe I am arguing apologetically which is not the case. This is more of me giving an overview of my own internal dialogue and struggle with my Christian faith.
I cannot deny there is a desire to find Jesus unexplainably unique. Of course there is. I was hoping it was / is true. I also wanted to follow the truth. I cannot say I mitigated my bias to a satisfactorily level. It is possible I have tricked myself into believing something due to wish fulfillment. All that being said, lookin closely at evolution and how direct and indirect reciprocation as well as cooperation work, I find the most reasonable position to be that the concept of grace that originates with Jesus to be just that, wholly unique and foreign to the natural world.
It is not something I think that can be proven, but I do believe the evidence for it compelling. At the end of the day anyone can explain anything they want to and bias cannot be eliminated in these types of issues. We trick ourselves into thinking we are more objective than we really are, whether we believe or not. This extends even to academia and peer review to a lesser, but still notable extent. That has been my conclusion in the matter.
I do find it more believable that Jesus was who he said he was based on the concept of grace that originates from his life, death and resurrection. I don’t find other explanations to be more compelling based on the totality of my limited knowledge and life experience. And at the end of the day that is what this is. It is my personal faith journey. In my imperfect knowledge and flawed character, I have repeatedly encountered a grace in my life that resolves the deepest issues my heart has faced.
And so it is that we agree.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and provide the critical feedback to me. I greatly appreciate it. If you would like to elaborate on particulars I am happy to do so and I am willing to revisit my writing and correct mistakes if I have made them, but I mainly just wanted to share my personal story, honestly and with all of its flaws.
I found the following statement in your comments most fascinating.
Physicists experience shock and cognitive dissonance when they first understand what quantum physics is saying for it seems to contradict the logical premises of physics and scientific inquiry itself. But there is one thing that makes sense of it to me at least. If the universe was the creation of a deity who wanted keep his fingers in events then these facts of quantum physics would provide a back door in the laws of nature through which He could do so without disturbing the laws of nature. I am not saying that any such conclusion is necessitated by the scientific facts; only that on this subjective level where quantum physics created such cognitive dissonance for so many physicists, that this idea would make sense of it – to me
This is an incredible thought that had never even crossed my mind. Very cool. thank you for sharing.
I too am impressed by the notion. John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist at Cambridge who became an Anglican priest, also put this idea into writing. I came across it in The Polkinghorne Reader, which I highly commend.
Your discussion on tribalism and politics was very interesting and enlightening. I have been trying to understand what is going on in conservative evangelical communities (i.e. why my mom is so weird now), and your insights were really helpful. I grew up in a conservative church in the Reagan era, so I understand some of what is going on. However, other parts are just unrecognizable to the 18 year old me that last went to that church. It was really great getting an insider’s persepctive.
It can be dismaying being on the inside (if I am really on the inside), but also liberating in a way. I also have to remain humble about it because I know if I were deeply engaged with a tribe I would become just as blind to the group’s short comings as everyone else.
We are relational creatures for sure.
(The only thing that matters is faith expressed in love.)
The first person I want to see is my Nan.
What I have found David, only recently, after decades of deconstruction finally leading to fierce rational atheism only in the past three years out of 67; that order does not require meaning, purpose; that fine tuning requires no intentional tuner, and although there have been long periods of empty, rational and felt unbelief after the first long fall down that elevator shaft, I am currently experiencing a faint signal of faith. It just won’t die : ) < that’s me as I write. And that signal is… tuned to rationality as well as desire.
Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read my story. Modernism and science never really panned out for me in the end. I came to realize there was never anyway to truly know anything. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy and appreciate the scientific endeavor, I do. At the end of the day though, it created more questions than answers.
I have come to accept that by the sheer grace of God, I am what I am. A believer in the love and grace of God revealed in Jesus.
I’m not haunted or tormented by the questions like I once was. I’m at peace, trusting God with the unknown. This has left me with wonder and fascination on what might be discovered while I am still alive without needing it to be anything else or answer anything else.
So I suppose I relate to a degree with what you are saying. It doesn’t have to line up. More than that though, I realize just how little anyone knows.
In the midst of all of this, transcendent love and grace has continually found its way to me and when I look back on my life, I find that all I can say is thank you God.
Regarding resurrection and God working all things together for good, I have one thing I almost shared in my story, but didn’t seem to quite fit.
Around the time I was having my revelation where I heard “what if it did?” and was experiencing a beautiful washing away of all the darkness I had experienced, I ran across the short clip below. I mentioned U2 and Bono several times in my story and it just so happened Bono spoke about this very subject in an interview about his Christian faith. It was quite beautiful in symmetry for me that he would speak about the same thing I was experiencing.