This is point of inquiry for Monday, July 25th, 2011. Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Robert Price point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grass roots. Yahoo! Gave Brika is on the Faculty of Humanities at Northwest University in South Africa. He holds the daughter of letters in Semitic languages and the P HD, an Old Testament with a specialization in philosophy of religion. He is the author of dozens of published papers and conference presentations. One of his essays. Can God Exist If Your Way Doesn’t? Appears in the new John Loftus Anthology. The End of Christianity from Prometheus Books. Welcome to Point of Inquiry Yaku. Erica, thank you both.
I’m glad to be here.
You know, I’ve got to ask you right off the bat, what is a dyed, again, Christian and where can I get a bumper sticker?
Well, I’d like to think I coined the term.
I’m not sure where you can get a bumper sticker. I suppose it would be something like a fish guillotine or something.
But as I understand it, I am sure there are many names out there for this condition.
But as I understood it when I couldn’t it I would say someone who has had something they would call a born again experience and that they were basically, without knowing it, fundamentalist in their theology, which means that they believed in biblical inerrancy and that there was that being fine with it. They didn’t find they fundamentalism constrictive. And they just wanted to know more about the Bible. And simply by reading, they lost their faith, by following the truth. And they probably went through hell and many struggle of. To retain faith, and eventually they just realized that it was not real after all. So these are people who are no longer believers. But in this day, faith, and they don’t really know what else to be. I used to be in that state for, I think eight years after I lost my faith. It took me two years. After losing faith before I could even think of myself as an atheist before then, I would say, what’s a start again, Christian, because you just wanted to be cool, a Christian. And I think it testified to the fact that one was genuinely a Christian and one can understand why the believers will think that one is a local thing, t.K or was never a Christian or has been misled. But I would say this is the total. Total reality, shock experience for somebody to have. I think that the concept of indicting Christians can make a really good title for a book or a movie.
How many of these people around? And I think they.
The experience can be a very lonely one, and one can really believe one is. Very close to feeling what it’s like to be an owl, because one feels totally isolated from reality. And these people are not okay with a few of them.
So fighting Christians need some literature that is not militantly atheistic, but sort of more pastoral that guides them and tells him how to cope because you really don’t know how to live.
It’s because you have been told in your face.
But life without God is meaningless. You actually experience life is meaningless. And as Mitchell said, that this is why Christianity is mere listing, because once you do spike your reasons for loving your morality, everything becomes in question. So I think the dark and Christian is simply the opposite of aborning and Christian name versus somebody who order positive feelings of being born again. All those life feelings are inverted and you feel literally like something you’re dying. And I would say that people who suffer from this should get to give in. But something like Christian Fundamentalists Anonymous or they should they should be books out there. More book specifically located for this market like that in Christianity for Idiots will begin with something.
There used to be Fundamentalists Anonymous and they, after a few years, went out of existence claiming that they had been harassed and persecuted by the Internal Revenue Service, which I don’t doubt. But then one of the leaders of it turned up with some kinda online thing where he was channeling the ghost of Princess Diana was some crazy thing, which, of course, does a lot for the credit of the movement, but it’s pretty much defunct.
We do need that again. Unquestionably, though, I think that would be great. As said and and as they did, anyone who started it and publicized it would immediately find a receptive public. Thank you. You got a great idea.
Why, knowing something you’ve written, you speak of how you had one amazing spiritual rebirth experience. I wonder if you could tell us a little about that.
Well, like most people in Western culture, I grew up in a Christian. So faith for me was part of growing up. And I’ve actually been in the reform tradition. We don’t have this thing about conversion experience or being Flynn spirits would only go. So what happened to me was something I filled in that cow to make sense of. But when I was 12 about and I think this is a very average age for conversion experience, this young teenager, when some reason I went in and I of the New Testament, I read Book of Revelation. Now for Taubira year old, it’s virtually impossible to really understand that. But I was just fascinated by the imagery. And I think somebody once called the Book of Revelation the Bible’s vision of LSD.
And I would agree because it really is a trip. And what really got to me was the I got I encountered the idea of the second coming and this just brought faith in life for me and made a real reality. The idea that users coming back in the clouds and idea as a child has a propensity for fantasy and like fiction. It’s this this was just amazing for me. Wow. Rubio was transformed. All the grownups believed in it. So it was a socially sanctified fantasy. And. This idea that there’s gonna be a great judgment and everything that has to do with it in the Book of Revelation, all these images of the angels and everything, that just it was a story that I pasted onto reality and the whole world just came alive. So what happened was the psychological transformation that whether it’s my parents or my teachers, everyone would have testified yet that there was just this change in my personality and which I could interpret it as the Holy Spirit. So it was very it was a real nice experience. I mean, this euphoria all the time and unlike many of the teenagers who don’t have this identity crisis, you know exactly where you all what you want, what you believe when you go in your life is plotted for you. And it changed my life. Secondly, that I just wanted to become a missionary to share the joy I found with other people. And the experience was a benchmark. I mean, maybe my life before that and after that, it was it was really, really changed me and faith became my primary identity marker in my life. So you go around both with love and joy and new interest in church grows. Well, it could be anything to do with Jesus is great. You just want to sing and pray all the time. So it was really a.
In my experience, I would say, well, of course, you didn’t remain there. And I in a minute, I’d like to get into what sort of difficulties led you out of it. But I just found it so impressive that you, after a completely transformative, positive experience like that, you would still be open to to what disconfirming that many people, if they had an experience like this and they would just love to if then they began to have people point out, well, you know, there’s problems with the Bible and this theology doesn’t make sense. They just just sloughed it off. And now I’ll find out. I’ll get the answer to that question when they get to heaven. Meanwhile, how do you like to get saved? And nothing could touch them. How did your spiritual experience finally yield to rational objections?
Well, Bob, first of all, I didn’t understand or encounter much, many objections at first.
As a teenager and for 12 years after that Born-Again experience, I was completely fundamentalist. Of course, I didn’t know fundamentalism or conservative evangelical spirituality. I was I just thought that with true Christianity. And I did because I knew a great Christian literature. Boney exposure I had against rational objections was in the form of apologetic literature that tells you that that the old the liberal theology is out there. There are these people who are not true Christians. And so I didn’t really have any exposure to critical arguments.
And even throughout high school, my spirituality was a really conservative. And the person I think that encrusting most of that time, the fight from local South African Christian authors, who was an American pastor, John MacArthur, who is from California. And he is basically a fundamentalist. And you ever listen to him or looked at his way of arguing? He’s pretty sure of himself. So I really enjoyed that. The sermon that he gave and. You spoke out against fallacies and errors of activism and so on, so my first exposure was only by apologetics to rational arguments. And so I had this typical idea or this misconception about what it was all about. And I wasn’t open to critical arguments at all. I mean, I would have shrugged it off as satanic deception or if I doubted the default would always be with me, not with the Bible or with God. So that a mosaic. The system has everything covered. So whatever your problem is, there’s an answer for that somewhere out there. And what happened was I wanted to become a missionary, so I had to go to university to study theology because you’re not Jewish. This is the way you go about to become a missionary. And for the first four years, because the faculty of divinity is pretty much mainstream. It was far too liberal for me. And I’m in biblical studies. You learn about the historical Jesus and the Old Testament documenter. I participate in all these things. And in systematic theology, you learn about the modern theologians. And at first, and also in philosophy, you are exposed to critical report, but you don’t to understand it. You are so sure of yourself that you already know the author is in Reno with all of that. So it doesn’t really bother you. And because most university curricula don’t really spell out how these critical conclusions were arrived at you, you actually just pretty much take notice of them. And so I went into the objections at all. And in fact, I just my mind was pretty closed. I didn’t already know why.
I shouldn’t take it seriously, and I think it was only eventually that them at them, the more I read it, the more I was exposed to the findings of theology. The more I wanted to disprove the critical and liberal things. So because if you want to engage with the enemy, you tried to get to know them.
And the more attempts are made to understand them, of course.
Then your eyes open to some of the things and you learn about the way other people think. And this just opens your mind a bit. But for the most part, I was so close.
Did you find that once you actually read biblical critics and liberal theologians that what your own.
Professors, the conservative Christian Science said about them was accurate or inaccurate. Did you think they were distorting them? Perhaps unintentionally, but caricaturing them so you would feel, well, I don’t need to read these people. That’s a waste of time.
Yeah, well, because I.
I already read so much apologetic literature. I already knew what liberal theology was all about. I knew about the sins of enlightenment and the evils of modernism and postmodernism. So I already thought I had a pretty good idea of what was wrong with modern theology.
And the thing is, if you are a fundamentalist and you you move around in that apologetic world, you have this idea of critical biblical criticism and fill in the stereotype. And you. You never read the primary sources. You never read Lauzon or start over. You just read the apologetic summaries of them. And what what what is wrong with him? So you don’t take seriously. And even at university, at university, they teach you critical theology and the things that you should think critically or that you should know that you are able to. Oh.
Do you think in a certain way at university they just expose you to the range of research perspectives so you can still decide for yourself. But for me, I was so conservative that I in fact first objected to being exposed to it at all. I felt that people who had been trying for the ministry shouldn’t have to have to be exposed to these kind of things because it was not conducive to to my state of mind and open.
And I thought we should focus more on on devotional types of readings and the Holy Spirit in Illinois teaching itself.
So eventually, as I understand it, you read every body and every thing omnivorous early. And so you finally did get your own look at the so-called enemy. When you did, what did you think?
To be quite honest, at first I wasn’t really intimidated because I didn’t understand it for a few years. I would. Well, forkful, for purposes of completing a course, you would have to read the critical stuff. But. It was for me just taking note of it. And I was I was still even in up to my fourth year at university, I was still reading apologetic literature even more than the prescribed literature, because I was constantly feeding my mind with conservative theology so as to maintain some internal balance and perspective. And it was getting to a point where I was seriously considered dropping out of theology course and to join the more conservative seminary or something, because I didn’t like the way it was going. I mean, I used to argue with all the professors and I objected. And so my thoughts was just that it was like month pollution and I didn’t. But even then, I didn’t understand good theology at all. I just I just didn’t like the unorthodox conclusions, but I didn’t understand these who are arriving at all.
Well, you said that even once you will. What would you say caused you to leave fundamentalism in evangelicalism?
Well, let me say, it’s not that I ever open myself up to liberal theology at all.
It’s more a case of I over time discovered the flaws in the fundamentalism itself.
And it was quite awful trick because it was actually a discovery that. In my quest to be pure and to be as public as possible. I read a lot. So I. I wanted to be the most Publico Christian I could possibly be, but in doing so, I had to find out who out there was the most biblical. And so I read not only apologetic literature, but a number of perspectives and especially books on fundamentalism, because I thought this was an to Christianity. All the others were were satanic deception. You’ve even moderate theology. So some eventually I. I came upon this book of China’s far called Beyond Fundamentalism. And I thought this was just a radical form of fundamentalism, little knowing that this book actually tells you in a very nice way what is wrong with fundamentalism. But it doesn’t do so by simply in the ordinary way, presenting you with arguments for evolution or philosophy of religion, arguments against the existence of God. What this book does is it actually takes you to the Bible and shows you are fundamentalism is not as biblical as he pretends to be, and that, in fact, it doesn’t take the Bible as seriously as it wants others to do. So this book just pull the carpet out from under you.
And it’s not like pages and pages by the arguments in the book, but could it engage in the text? And because it anticipates all the fundamentalist arguments and in fact, what it does is it it it shows you how fundamentalist misconceive critical theology. And Methow, you don’t need any liberalist assumptions or modernist or any other of those assumptions to do to steal the Bible if Bill Emetic for fundamentalist beliefs and that it teaches you that what fundamentalism is protecting or fighting for is not the Bible at all. But a hidden view of the Bible and what this book does, it takes you to the Bible. It shows you do not need critical assumptions or to rule out the supernatural by default to to understand why this is problematic. And it also takes you to the faith of people who have discovered these problems and showed you that they were not looking for mistakes. So the book is written in such a way that if you understand it, you realize that you are not there because you think an issue the more biblically you become and the more you complete your wife from fundamentalism. So it doesn’t just present to you the Orthodox on orthodox conclusions of critical theology. But actually what it does is it takes you on a journey of people got to there and you focus so much on the Bible and the text that in the end what happens is that your Christian atheist destroys your Christian dogma because you just follow the truth and you do introspection and you follow the truth.
And you want to be biblical. But in doing so, you realize you cannot be biblical because the Bible is not the book you thought it was. And fundamentalism is not the biblical Christianity it pretends to be. And once that eventually dawns on you, it’s such a major shock, because if you’re a fundamentalist, if the Bible comes in doubt for your view of the Bible is changed, everything is changed. So that’s what do it for me. But I. I didn’t immediately. Just accept both arguments, and neither did I accept these conclusions or suggestions for a liberal spirituality at all. So what the book did for me was it slowly began to make me aware of the problems with fundamentalism. But because I read so much fundamentalist literature, I already knew why I didn’t want to be liberal theology either. So I didn’t buy the liberal ideas, but I just recognized that the wisdom seriously, some things were seriously wrong with fundamentalism and its perspective on the Bible and that what it pretends to be the only true form of Christianity and which I really loved and which I didn’t want to get out, was in fact an ultimate form of deception. And I mean, what beautiful deception would you would you find in something that warns you of deception? And then it turns out to be the ultimate form of deception. So for me. This was a process that initiated a process where I started reading all the more and more because I didn’t want to lose my faith and I thought I was not. I didn’t jump from fundamentalism to atheist. So I continue to struggle and pray and read. And I just wanted to know the truth. And, um, but there was all these doubts, and you have used constantly. You read apologetic answers to the critical problems that so every problem Bob mentioned. I would go to the conservative literature like listen, Archer OMEs or other famous fundamentalist apologists.
And I would look for this, but eventually I at first I saw that they they were aware for the public.
But the more closely I looked at the office, the more I realized they were evading the issues and that they were, in fact, providing you with so much. They pretend to be academically respectable and they provide you with answers. But if you read carefully, you realize that the problem is never. We addressed great and that they always engaged in special pleading, saying that if this is the case, then we can’t get no longer believe it. So you realize that the problem has never been a great. And you realize that they don’t understand the problem. And that is why you because your faith tells you they don’t trust in human trusting God that you you your ethics, the month that you question everybody. And eventually this quest for truth eventually leads your way. And the freedom that is the truth will bring you eventually one you never suspected possible.
My quest and pilgrimage, whatever as been at so many points, exactly parallel to what you describe, even down to the importance of James Barr’s book. I remember I was at Gordon Cornwell’s seminary and I was having all kinds of questions and became very disenchanted with evangelicalism. And the New Testament professor there loaned me this book. And it I had exactly the same reaction only as soon as I finish that book. I knew this was it for me in evangelical Christianity. But exactly issues. I think this may have been a different book. He wrote several around the same time and made similar points. The thing was not, again, that he pointed out errors in the Bible. It was that he pointed out these rhetorical. And when sophistical arguments used by the people who were the top notch evangelical New Testament and Old Testament scholars and I felt like, well, now now I’ve been initiated. Now I know what the game is and I’m not going to be played with it anymore. And especially this thing where the biblical Christians. I remember when it dawned on me that the all important personal relationship with Jesus, VVS sole point of the Bible, according to most of these guys, never occurs in the Bible that nobody ever thought of that until the time between Martin Luther and John Wesley. It was a new coinage. But you really, in an essay that appears in this new John Loftus collection at the end of Christianity, I was reading your your article. If we lose it, if we don’t believe in your way, can we still believe in God or if I got that the other way around? Can we still believe in God if we don’t believe in your way? That is so brilliant that when you take it apart and say, let’s look at what it actually says about this deity, essentially no different from Zus. And in fact, this is not really a God. Christians believe in anymore anyway. They just vaguely say, well, that’s the God of the Bible. But really, it’s the God of the philosophers they’re interested in. And so, you know, what are they talking about? It has no entire historical integrity even. And it’s just a mishmash. You. I recommend your your essay there to anybody. It’s really great work.
Thanks, Bob. Yeah, well, just to get back to your first statement, James borrowed several books of fundamentalism. In fact, in 1977, he wrote a large volume fundamentalism, which is more formal and deals with all facets of fundamentalism from the philosophy beyond to history and psychology and so on. And the book in 1980 to 84, I think, is I think the American version was called Golden Fundamentalism, while the English one was escaping from fundamentalism. And I would recommend that to anybody because it just tells you just shows you that what you thought you believed you never did. And I would agree with you that that is that that is a deal breaker in your faith. But he does it in such a way that you if you understand it, you cannot not be shocked. So far from that. I would say reading political criticism, also reading philosophy of religion. That is for me. And that is where where my twin interests led up to this essay came from. And that is if you many people are so focused in one. Field either biblical criticism or philosophy or systematic theology that they are not aware of the findings of other fields or the implications for faith. And I think if you if you bring to fields, again, like biblical criticism and philosophy of religion and you you you tried on the one and despite the philosophical implications of political criticism, but not the other. And you in philosophy of religion, you always bring back the biblical problems in biblical criticism. And then you realize that you cannot do Christian philosophy of religion with integrity. If you understand the history of it’s like religion and any talk of Christianity, because these people talk about God in such a generic way and with this with so much formal jargon and entirely impressive to laypeople and most people, I have this idea of God that is to be God. He must be this and that. But if you understand political criticism and these two, Yohane, instruct religion and you realize that even those Christians who adamantly argue for the existence of God don’t really believe in many of the forms of FERPA as it was understood in ancient history, religion, and that those people who call for return to the Bible don’t actually believe it, even as they tried to cramming down other people’s throats. You just it’s such a you realize that reality. Doesn’t care about human illusions and that as Christians we have people who were Christians, we always thought that any other peoples were drenched in superstition, pagan, and they were children of a time and they lived in a mythical world view.
And then to discover that you are one of those people that we real life very. That is like that is the ultimate disillusionment. It’s it’s like like I said, it’s like The Matrix or The Truman Show. You joviality just goes boom.
I remember once after this, it happened to me. I wrote some little poem in a line and it was my firmament of certainty. Cracks open to reveal the sky is that’s what it seemed like. Like you said, we were all threatened and frightened with the spook story. And if we got out of fundamentalism, if we left Thailand, there would be nothing but a yawning void of nothing. And however, just trying to keep it down on the farm. But after you leave, you realize, gee, I’ve left the mental ghetto now. Now there’s no limits on anything. It’s no wonder they’re warning you away from it. Yeah.
I think the thing is that they, I think, get fundamentalism. They they sort of like you define out as life without God or being God forsaken. And I think that is the experience, because when when you believed you were taught that it’s that you don’t if you don’t have such objective grounds for your morality that everything will just be relative and you won’t you you will lose everything. Everything will turn into anarchy and chaos. And because you used to live with this fear of how even and you don’t understand the history of the concept of something like that, how. And and it’s evolution and you that you that you so wonder. But am I not at fault, is it not. I’m sending my life. Is this not that lost some form of deception in the last days? The ultimate argument. He just got a taste for my face. You keep coming back. You keep coming back and you think while you still in Bodek in Christianity, you miss your faith so much that part of the reason you read so much. Not to get out or to get arguments, but to find a way back. And for years I wasn’t really nostalgic for my faith. And I think Furi thought polygraphy. It was it was, though, somebody who was was very overly dramatic and really messed his faith and he just couldn’t cope. And the reason why I couldn’t eat, because for a long time, even though I’d ditched the dogma on the contents of my faith, that the assumptions that Mike’s belief in something necessary, I still hang onto and I didn’t. You one is not aware of it, because when you lose faith, you sort of drop the contents of your belief system. But the assumptions that make belief in a higher power seem necessary. Is he still like out of your system? And you used to looking for something else to believe in and you want to replace it. So instead of quitting your assumption that you have to believe in God or that your assumption that if there is a God that’s he ties or most, instead of desiring that you agreed exists. You looking for something else so that a road for fundamentalism to ITSM and I fear them by default, not because you want to be an atheist, because I mean, that’s we end up like you were born. But it is for many of us, it’s a trip through mainstream theology, into liberalism, into radicalism, then to agnosticism. And then you just you just want to stay Christian. But in the end, you you just realize that you may not know what is ultimately the case. You just know it is not the case. And so you’re an atheist and it’s not like I think you go through a militant phase. Most of us go through phases. We want to debate with believers and we just want to show them what’s wrong with Contis people. See, but so many of us then eventually you come to a point where you recognize the social value of argument and so on, because, I mean, if Christianity ever in the world is would be a tragic day for for sort of freedom of thought. But eventually, also, you you you you become comfortable in not believing. But at first and for many of us. I used to use some people who said it was liberating to be rid of fundamentalism. It was liberating not to believe anymore. But for many of us and for myself, it was absolutely terrifying. And for years, you search for a way back. But in the end, the more you read and the more you understand, the more you realize that you cannot go back. And then the challenge is to start living again in a world where you could told life is impossible. And then to start building a new life after all your plans and hopes and dreams, your career choices, your your whole world view has collapsed. That is not an easy thing. And that is why I can understand many people, the state and in liberal theology, we even they don’t believe anything of any more. They just keep the last domino from falling. And so they believed in this vague idea of God and spirituality. And this is a very fashionable thing to do, is to people who accept the poems of the Bible, but they still cling onto this idea of God because they just God, they go of this God concept because it is like a gold standard. Used to be the economy means one that goes everything becomes so primitive and it really takes some doing to become comfortable and completely accepting the implications and realize that the world will not fall apart. And I think the best way to come to terms with that is knowledge and to realize that Christianity is no more true than any other ancientness. And once you you understand that and you have the knowledge and you recognize that you don’t just become in war and that things like love and. Christianity doesn’t and doesn’t have a monopoly on that. And that’s the basic human desire to love and be loved. And you recognize how religion, how the system is controlled you and tell you stories about the way things work and you see the system for what it is. On the one hand, you recognize that life is possible, but you also understand why people remain trapped and they won’t understand, because when you a Christian, you couldn’t understand liberal arguments or critical arguments. It’s just impossible. And you also understand how the system with apologetics has everything covered. So to get out is really as close to America as you can get because there’s so many arguments vote in place to stop people from actually questioning the system in entirety, which is why doubt is the ultimate CNN belief is the ultimate virtue. And so to make it out is really something.
It’s not something that if you know what’s waiting for you, you’re willing to take, but once you’re out and a few years along the line, it does get easier.
I call this process practicing the absence of God. And what what you used to say was the leading of the Holy Spirit. This internal voice.
So don’t you want to come back? Aren’t you really just trying to escape the implications of the truth? You have to eventually regard that as you once did. Temptations to sin, because intellectually, that’s what’s going on. That’s what it is. You have to say, no, no, I’m sorry.
I know better than that. I’m not going to listen to that.
I’m going to go ahead and make a new start where, let’s see, I think this great autobiographical account of yours, which I read is on. John Loftus is debunking Christianity Web site. Is that right or am I right?
I think that that’s where you probably read it.
I’m think, John, that’s an early site and it’s also available on the Internet.
The dissertation is on the Internet available. The topic does exist. And it is also both a biography, just the appendix A of that dissertation, which is also available on the Internet and on John five, which is a link to it.
And I just want to make sure people. Well, I guess they. Yeah. We’ll we’ll have your your name spelled right on our promotion for the show so people will know it and be able to look you up because I highly recommend it.
It is endlessly fascinating, as has been this interview with you. I think we got to get going, but I would love to have you back to discuss Old Testament matters in the evolution of God and how that would be all right with you sometime.
That’s that. I would gladly enjoy if I could up some thought again, push it out there to just be OK.
It would be worth my while because, I mean, there is no greater argument against the Christian philosophy of religion than these two offers, like religion and usually philosophies of religion, brackets that they forget the origins. But. All you need is a historical consciousness to understand that. If he wants, you know, we ideas come from. And once you know why the things that bother you, bother you and win in your cultural history, did it start bothering people? You miss your fears for many things that that that held you down.
Yeah, that is so great. You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Stoic maxim quoted in the New Testament.
Well, thank you very much. And I’ll be in touch with you again soon to set up another interview. Thanks for being with us on a point of inquiry. Thanks, Bob. Thanks for having me.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved with an online conversation about today’s show. Join the online discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry. Dot org.
Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed for us by Emmy Award winner Michael Whalen. Today show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host. Robert Price.