Sunday, February 24, 2013

First Word

Text of my First Word speech, given at West Hills Friends, 2/24/2013

The castle walls of Hinson Baptist Church stood tall amongst the humble SE Portland houses.  I first found God there.  Younger than ten, I confirmed to the pastor that yes, I believe in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, yes, I have asked Him to forgive me of my sins, and yes, He is my personal Lord and Savior.  The pastor lowered me into the warm water, symbolically washing me of my sins, and pulled me up again, symbolically thrusting me into a new life - a cleansed and forgiven life.  These were convictions, held strongly and intellectually.  The truth was packaged nicely into a box, placed in my hands, and I cherished it.

Middle school began, and with it came puberty and emotional development.  I again found God there.  What had been a sensical system of ideas and facts blossomed into an intense craving to be known and loved by the only force that had ever created something from nothing.  My thoughts were consumed with my salvation, and the miracle that substitionary atonement was to me.  For hours I would converse with my savior, and he would converse with me, and I knew to the core of my being that I was a cherished son of the almighty God.  The truth was now inside an even bigger box, held strongly, and now emotionally.  And I cherished it.

By high school, much of my effort was spent trying to share the truth with others.  Where I could find a listening ear, I would passionately proclaim the truth of Christ, the depravity of man, and the single source of salvation that was freely offered, should one only reach out and take it.  Memorizing the book of Phillipians, we took to the streets, looking for anyone who wanted to go to heaven.  I chalked up convert after convert, each one another soul saved from damnation by my God, who could be nothing but loving.  Where questions arose, someone was there to provide an answer.  And I had lots of question.  Questions about bushmen in Africa who had never heard of the Lord, questions about how so many smart people could fall for Democratic politics, and questions about hell.  I had so many questions that eventually the youth pastors ran out of answers, and I turned to books.  Books that didn’t assume the infallibility of the Bible.  Books that did not fit inside my box.

Beginning college, the emotion of my faith kept me going strong at first.  Though my questions were still present, I was meeting other Christians who weren’t as conservative, but still had the same fire.  Perhaps, I thought, the core of my truth was correct, but some of the details weren’t black and white.  I could live with that.  But when one holds a book to be infallible, and a belief system to be perfect and complete, it doesn’t matter if one factual error is found or a hundred.  The bow is off the box, and it’s just a matter of time until it all falls apart.

To agree with one of my favorite songwriters, I discovered hell to be the poison in the well.  The conviction that hell, even a temporary one, could not co-exist with any kind of loving God led to a series of, what I believe are logical conclusions.  Without a hell, the need for salvation disappears.  And without a need for salvation, Jesus becomes irrelevant.  Coupled with a thorough review of the arguments for the existence of God at all, my box of truths emptied slowly and entirely over a period of 4-5 years.  It is common for people to believe that faith or lack of faith is within a person’s control.  I don’t believe this to be true.  Whether I wanted to or not, I was forced to watch as my personal lord and savior climbed out of the box and walked away.

It’s been a matter of years since my faith left me, completely and most likely permanently.  I am convinced that the evidence does not support the existence of God, and without that issue resolved, discussions of complicated belief structures like Christianity are, to me, akin to debating what color a unicorn’s horn is.  But arriving at atheism is hardly a satisfying conclusion.  Atheism gives me intellectual satisfaction, but it doesn’t give me hope.  I don’t want my life as an Earthling to be the end of the story.  While the evidence suggests that it is, my daily struggle is to be content with the evidence.  I want to be wrong.  I want there to be something else.

If there is something else, it makes sense to me that I won’t find it behind an intolerant pulpit.  I won’t find it with people who treat others badly because of how they were born or believe violence is an acceptable method of problem solving.  I hold out hope that I might find it in silence.  And even if I never find it, I believe there is value in community.  I believe there is value in allowing my kids to follow their own path.  My daughter learned of God from her daycare provider, and believes very strongly.  She knows her dad doesn’t, and her mom isn’t sure.  But when she tells me, as she did very recently, “Daddy, I hope that when I’m older I still believe in Jesus,” I believe I owe it to her to be surrounded by those who do, and let the cards fall where they may.  These are the reasons I’m here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Evolution Sunday

I thought I had taken away religion’s ability to disappoint me, but I found out last night that I was quite mistaken.

For a variety of reasons, my family (now a family of 4!) has been attending a Quaker meeting fairly regularly.  Quakers are generally on the liberal end of the Christian spectrum, so last week when they announced that this week was billed Evolution Sunday, I was excited!  The theme was that faith and science need not be adversaries.  Fair enough, I thought.  After all, there are certainly aspects of cosmic history that science hasn’t yet discovered, including how the smallest of cells managed to self-replicate, allowing life to finally form from whatever was first around.  And of course, how those first cells came to be in the first place.  While inserting an answer of “We don’t know, therefore God” is lazy thinking, at least it’s an answer that science hasn’t already embarrassed the way it has good portions of Genesis, Noah’s ark, etc..

The speaker was a biology professor from my alma mater George Fox University.  I had heard great things about him from my friends who had science majors at Fox, and since he is a Quaker, figured we’d be in for some pretty good science talk, if not flavored with Christianese.  Instead, he treated science like a board game you only play when the power goes out.

His first mistake was admitting that he doesn’t really care about the evolution vs. Bible discussion, and only agreed to speak because the pastor “caught him in a weak moment.”  Ok…..  He confessed that his stance is that he is a creationist, but that the methods of creation are “unknowable.”  Therefore, it’s ok with him when new students have various forms of beliefs on creation, because as long they believe in God the Creator, what they believe about creation is just a “debatable detail.”  Of interest, the existence of God, with is neither testable or provable, is the only essential component.

Now, I’m far from a scientist.  I hated the subject when I was little, but have become much more interested in it since becoming convinced that nature is probably all we’ve got.  I know enough to know that science has curb stomped nonsense like young-earth creationism, and yet here’s someone who absolutely knows better letting young earthers off the hook because it’s a “debatable detail.”  Except that it’s not debatable, at least not scientifically.

Most of his talk was his own biography, the biography of Christian scientists before him, a brief mention of atheist Sam Harris (I suspect he forgot to delete that slide from a prior talk where he wasn’t being so polite), and finally a plug for a science association he’s a member of.  His one bit of red meat was recounting a phone call he received from a parent who thought that if one wasn’t a 7-day and young earth creationist, they were going to hell, because THE BIBLE SAYS SO!!!  His response was that the sun wasn’t created until day 4 according to Genesis, so the prior 3 24 hour days would have existed how?  He didn’t get into how plants, created on day 3, managed to live without the sun, but hey, how much can an atheist ask for in church?

I’m frustrated about this because education is supposed to cure ignorance, not pat it on the back and tell it it’s still a decent person.  And here, in a church of all places, a guy who knows better was coddling ignorance.  How is the church supposed to grow out of its generational love of anti-science if even the scientists won’t rid them of their bad information?  And how am I, as a seeker, supposed to take this place seriously if this is as close as it gets to smart religion?

A few points of personal responsibility: it’s not anyone’s job to fulfill me spiritually.  It’s not the church’s job to cater to non-believers.  My disappointment is because of my own incorrect assumptions about what would be said on “Evolution Sunday.”  That said, the most spiritual fulfillment I can find these days is watching Neil Tyson talk about the universe on the YouTube, which makes me think this journey might not be worth the effort I’m putting into it.