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October 27, 2007 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Armchair atheists are a dime a dozen. For the real deal, meet these former Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians (many of whom used to be ministers or Bible college professors), who offer an (ex-)insider's take on the problems of religious belief.
posted by Rykey (58 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Believe it our not, /b/ is smarter than you.

Same guy.
posted by Mblue at 1:31 AM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Debunking Christianity"? Well, best of luck to them. However no one's had much luck in the last 2000 years, so...

Then again, this sort of thing used to get you arrested, jailed, tortured, and even burned at the stake. You know, because that's what Jesus would have wanted. Apparently.
posted by Davenhill at 1:40 AM on October 27, 2007


I deny the existence of an armchair god.
posted by Elmore at 1:42 AM on October 27, 2007


On the seventh day he rested. In an armchair.
posted by longsleeves at 2:20 AM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Davenhill writes "'Debunking Christianity'? Well, best of luck to them. However no one's had much luck in the last 2000 years, so... "

It's not that no one's had luck, it's just that every one who did died terribly.

I'm pretty sure Jesus was actually killed for denying his own divinity.
posted by mullingitover at 2:37 AM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


This AskMe question has some interesting stuff on recovering fundamentalists.
posted by paduasoy at 2:38 AM on October 27, 2007


I deny the existence of armchairs. Furniture is the opiate of the masses.
posted by spiderskull at 3:02 AM on October 27, 2007 [6 favorites]


The church I attended as a youth - and the despicable behaviour of its congregation - was what turned me away from religion in the first place.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:05 AM on October 27, 2007


I'm pretty sure Jesus was actually killed for denying his own divinity.

"Don't listen to me! You're all individuals!"

"Yes! We're all individuals!"
posted by brundlefly at 3:59 AM on October 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Update: If anyone online would like to debate me, then Hear Ye This! I have already made my opening statement in my book! The proposition is this one: "The Christian faith should be rejected by modern civilized scientifically literate people." Now it's your turn. You respond to it as you can on your blog or website. If you write it I will come. ;-)

Ooh, let me try!

"No, it shouldn't."

Debating is fun!
posted by EarBucket at 4:28 AM on October 27, 2007


I'm pretty sure Jesus was actually killed for denying his own divinity.

It was pretty much a non-denial denial as I recall it. If he had denied it, things probably would have been cool, but the J-man was obtuse about it. Are you the son of God, J-dawg? What you do you think, gov? If you think I am then I am.
posted by Hypnic jerk at 4:57 AM on October 27, 2007


If you think I am then I am.

My mom always told me to not be a smart-ass. She was right! Still not crucified.
posted by blacklite at 5:07 AM on October 27, 2007 [6 favorites]


Armchair atheists are a dime a dozen. For the real deal, meet these former Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians

These people are stupid. Anyone who's been a fundamentalist into adulthood is sub-average. I respect the armchair atheist whose attitude has been "no way this shit is real" since childhood a lot more than the loser who woke up one morning at 38, looked at his life built on fairy tales, and said "hey! maybe there is no Magical Jew and then it follows that his dad could not in fact beat up my dad."
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:30 AM on October 27, 2007 [9 favorites]


Displays (like this thread) of a complete lack of understanding of the experiences of other humans make me sad. We're not talking about a freak event here; this is pretty much built-in behavior.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:41 AM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Still not crucified.

2000 years of civilisation FTW

this is pretty much built-in behavior.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:41 PM on October 27


eponysterical.
posted by Sparx at 6:00 AM on October 27, 2007


Anyone who's been a fundamentalist into adulthood is sub-average. I respect the armchair atheist whose attitude has been "no way this shit is real" since childhood a lot more than the loser who woke up one morning at 38, looked at his life built on fairy tales...

That's certainly one way to look at it, but I don't think you appreciate the power of fundamentalist culture's indoctrination. It's not as simple as saying, "Oh, they should have known better from the beginning."

What I find interesting about this site is that "these people," despite their extensive study and immersion in evangelical fundamentalism, turned a corner that forced them to abandon their identity and worldview.

That, to me, is not a loser.
posted by Rykey at 6:17 AM on October 27, 2007 [13 favorites]


You can stray from the radicalism without losing your faith - see Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament.
posted by caddis at 6:47 AM on October 27, 2007


hmmm, The Fresh Air interview describes better how he fled his strict, radical, orthodox upbringing, yet can not flee his faith.
posted by caddis at 6:56 AM on October 27, 2007


exapologist is the only writer on that site that's worth a damn. But s/he's pretty good, so that's alright.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:20 AM on October 27, 2007


One of the former posters to debunking recently did a series of posts on his deconversion. It gives some insight of how a 30-something makes it that far in life as a fundamentalist and then has crisis of faith.

Link to the first chapter: Thoughtsfromasandwich
posted by Exad at 7:28 AM on October 27, 2007


"Debunking Christianity" is like debunking the Easter Bunny. There's nothing to really argue against.
posted by signal at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2007


This was way more interesting than the rest of the blog.
posted by recurve at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2007


If the intent of the blog is to debunk Christianity, the its owners ought to take down the link to the debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens--I watched a little over half of it, and I am now newly convinced of the existence of hell.
posted by Prospero at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Who's better to listen to? The guy who walked halfway into the pool of acid before deciding it was a bad idea, or the guy who realized it shouldn't be walked into in the first place?
posted by Legomancer at 7:40 AM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


"I respect the armchair atheist whose attitude has been "no way this shit is real" since childhood"

I most suspicious of the things I've believed since childhood.
posted by klarck at 7:53 AM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Displays (like this thread) of a complete lack of understanding of the experiences of other humans make me sad. We're not talking about a freak event here; this is pretty much built-in behavior.

So is hating gays and people of other races, and wife beating. I'm not saying that Christianity is a bad thing, but just because something is instinctual does not make it good.
posted by delmoi at 7:55 AM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


These links remind me of Wolfgang Pauli's comment after Paul Dirac had gone on a bit too long about the evils of religion: "There is no God, and Dirac is His prophet."
posted by Killick at 8:26 AM on October 27, 2007 [6 favorites]


The content of this blog seemed boring and unremarkable.
posted by jayder at 8:36 AM on October 27, 2007


Then again, this sort of thing used to get you arrested, jailed, tortured, and even burned at the stake. You know, because that's what Jesus would have wanted. Apparently.

Nowadays it gets you hefty book sales and a lucrative speaking tour.
posted by dw at 8:45 AM on October 27, 2007


The very first post on that link:
I'm not in the habit of recommending movies here, but for an absolutely amazing movie showing the Aztec's in action, I heartily recommend people rent Mel Gibson's Apocalypto.
I take this as a disclaimer as to the validity of the rest of the blog.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:45 AM on October 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


I am currently in between gods.
posted by Wonderwoman at 8:57 AM on October 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


First, the blog is boring as all get out. There's not much here beyond the gimmick of being ex-ministers (and, geez, I personally know three ex-minister atheists, and used to be one myself--they're a dime a dozen).

Second, from what read before I fell asleep, all these guys figured out that fundamentalist assertions about the Bible don't hold water, and since they didn't know any other way to read the Bible, they figured that Christianity must therefore be over. Here's an example:

If Christians really believed the Bible they wouldn’t let women speak in their churches (I Cor, 14:34), for the man would be the domineering patriarchal head of the house in which a wife is to “obey” her husband just like Sarah obeyed Abraham (I Peter 3: 6), even to the point of lying to save his life by having sex with another man (Genesis 12: 10-16), and by letting him sleep with another woman so he could have a child (Genesis 16). And yet in order to blunt the force of these passages, today’s Christians focus on Paul’s principle that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28).

To them, "really believing" the Bible means thinking that it's some sort of timeless collection of contextless rules to be kept. But what if I "really believe" that the Bible is an anthology of legitimate experiences with the divine that usually can't be mindlessly applied to my own situation with careful reflection? What if I think that maybe Paul thought it was important for women to in the church to be somewhat circumspect in his day, so as not to create an unnecessary obstacle to those coming to faith from the outside culture, and therefore he would be very annoyed with churches today who don't let women speak and lead, for the very same reason? What if I think that Abraham was not intended to a model in all things--that the point of the Abraham stories is that God can love, bless and work through even very, very flawed and messed up people?

The assumption--common among atheists--that debunking an incredibly shallow and flawed fundamentalist orientation to the Bible (a very recent approach to faith and one that I hope soon passes away) somehow debunks Christianity is itself shallow and flawed. It's like me pointing out the dangers, lies and bad assumptions of neo-conservativism, and thinking that I've now thoroughly debunked the idea of representative democracy.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:19 AM on October 27, 2007 [17 favorites]


There are two approaches to Christian debunking. One approach, about 90% of the time, operates from the assumption that Jesus was first a man, then became a popular god. This conforms to a religious belief, and is extremely naive about religion in general. Such critics will defend this main assumption as if proven, because everything else they have said on the subject depends on it.

Then there are those who know that Jesus came from an agricultural deity, widespread and even competing at times, beginning with Osiris, transformed through Dionysus, last absorbing the cult of Mithra after adopting the messiah concept. Most people will never let go of the Euhemerization they were trained in because it forces them to admit to pagan roots and it directly assaults the superstitions relating to bounty itself. Everyone curious should familiarize themselves with the myth of Demeter and Persephone, to see how easy the god of underworld souls is associated with sprouting rebirth.
posted by Brian B. at 9:22 AM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


What if I think that maybe Paul thought it was important for women to in the church to be somewhat circumspect in his day, so as not to create an unnecessary obstacle to those coming to faith from the outside culture, and therefore he would be very annoyed with churches today who don't let women speak and lead, for the very same reason?

There is very, very little more entertaining and deep-down, gut-feeling satisfying than seeing a Christian turn to moral relativism to defend one of the biggest forces for moral objectivism in Western history. I mean, come on. The early Christians were so adamant in their faith that they happily went to their deaths rather than compromise their beliefs, and now you want me to believe that THE early Christian, Paul of Tarsus, was preaching compromise and that that's okay?

Oh, mercy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:41 AM on October 27, 2007 [8 favorites]


Second, from what read before I fell asleep, all these guys figured out that fundamentalist assertions about the Bible don't hold water, and since they didn't know any other way to read the Bible, they figured that Christianity must therefore be over.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist had an excellent (as usual) post on this very subject the other day.
posted by EarBucket at 9:42 AM on October 27, 2007


What about hypocrisy and sanctimonious self-indulgence requires debunking or deconversion? Surely people can reject these things on their own demerits.
posted by wobh at 9:57 AM on October 27, 2007


The early Christians were so adamant in their faith that they happily went to their deaths rather than compromise their beliefs,

That's the power of a worshiping a human sacrifice. Martyrdom is easy salvation.
posted by Brian B. at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2007


I personally know three ex-minister atheists, and used to be one myself.

You were a minister, then an atheist ex-minister, and now you're an ex-atheist? Dude, pick a team already.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:30 AM on October 27, 2007


now you're an ex-atheist? Dude, pick a team already

And yet maybe sports and religion are different kinds of things?
posted by washburn at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2007


And yet maybe sports and religion are different kinds of things?

98% of Red Sox Nation consider them one and the same!
posted by ericb at 11:39 AM on October 27, 2007


I admire these preachers-turned-atheists. Imagine becoming an atheist after parents who so effectively imbued you with their delusions that you decided to make a career out of spreading them around. It takes a very strong will to stick to a stance that has been hammered into your head as taboo and wrong all your life. I would imagine that most religious people who begin to doubt the validity of their dogma simply stick with the life they know best and continue their rituals of prayer worship, empty and confused.
posted by tehloki at 11:49 AM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem with debunking Christianity is that you're dealing with a wide-ranging spectrum of beliefs that vary not only by denomination but from individual to individual.

Perhaps a better approach to debunking Christianity should be done in flowchart form - starting with such fundamental questions as whether the bible is meant to be taken literally or not. That way the individual believers could follow their own chain of beliefs to find whatever problems, scriptural contradictions, or logical fallacies those beliefs may present.

Still, I think that would only get you so far. The reality is that many Christians simply have a somewhat vague and very fluid "what seems reasonable to me" sense of what their religion is all about it. You're not going to make much progress with that group by debunking arguments to which they've never given much thought, yet alone pinned their faith.

For many people, religion functions as an emotional security blanket: it comforts the fearful, provides an outlet to stress, strength in times of weakness, a catch-all explanation for the unknown, provides rationalization for horrible events, and takes the sting out of death, and so on. (Given those positives, it's easy to turn a blind eye towards any negatives associated with the religion and/or its history)

Most people aren't going to give up that comfort and any circumstances, yet alone a boring compilation of logic and reason that destroys their world view but usually offers nothing to replace it, aside from the cold comfort of science and reason which most people could probably care less about in the abstract.

So even you construct the perfect counter-argument to religion, you aren't going to be able to tempt many believers (forgive the forced and cheesy metaphor) into taking a bite from that forbidden fruit of knowledge because they know it will cost them the imaginary paradise in their minds.
posted by Davenhill at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


So even you construct the perfect counter-argument to religion, you aren't going to be able to tempt many believers (forgive the forced and cheesy metaphor) into taking a bite from that forbidden fruit of knowledge because they know it will cost them the imaginary paradise in their minds.

I don't think there's any burden on atheists to debunk christianity; if christians want to assert their beliefs as truth, they hold the burden of proof. I don't care what someone chooses to believe, and thus I wouldn't attempt to sway them otherwise. What does need to be countered is the tendency of some believers to insist that the rest of us live within the parameters of those beliefs, including the insistence on offering the implications/conclusions of such belief as 'evidence' within the context of a rational argument.
posted by troybob at 12:09 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pater Aletheias: The assumption--common among atheists--that debunking an incredibly shallow and flawed fundamentalist orientation to the Bible (a very recent approach to faith and one that I hope soon passes away) somehow debunks Christianity is itself shallow and flawed...

I'd venture to say that for most atheists, that shallow and flawed fundamentalist orientation is the only one they find destructive enough to bother debunking. Most atheists are decent live-and-let-live folk who are perfectly fine with you believing whatever you want, as long as you're not lobbying to impose your arbitrary doctrines on society at large.

The assumption--common among theists--that the atheist "party line" involves tribalistically rooting out superstitious beliefs wherever they may hide and beating them into submission with the Flying Spaghetti Monster story is itself tribalistic.

Believe it or not (to use your analogy), arguing against neoconservatism isn't inherently a prelude to arguing against representative democracy. Some of us just don't like neoconservativism.
posted by Riki tiki at 12:12 PM on October 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


The early Christians were so adamant in their faith that they happily went to their deaths rather than compromise their beliefs, and now you want me to believe that THE early Christian, Paul of Tarsus, was preaching compromise and that that's okay?

There is no necessary contradiction between being willing to die rather than abandon or recant some core of beliefs, while being flexible on a broad range of others.

There are some fairly intuitive readings in the New Testament that seem to suggest flexibility on some points, or appear to be exhortations to avoid things not because they're wrong but because some people have a really hard time with them. So, yes, as a text, the NT suggests that what Pater Aletheias said is possible.

Finally, it's not clear to me that the Christians were actually killed because of any specific belief so much as because their growing influence was seen as a threat to existing religious and political institutions.
posted by weston at 1:08 PM on October 27, 2007


MetAtheist? I don't think so.
posted by Soup at 1:15 PM on October 27, 2007


I'd venture to say that for most atheists, that shallow and flawed fundamentalist orientation is the only one they find destructive enough to bother debunking. Most atheists are decent live-and-let-live folk who are perfectly fine with you believing whatever you want, as long as you're not lobbying to impose your arbitrary doctrines on society at large.

But the fact is that so many of these debunkings take the form of referring to all religious belief as tantamount to belief in the Easter Bunny, fairy tales, a Magic Bearded Sky Man, et al., which, while it may only emerge when attempting to debunk crazy wild-eyed fundies, does attack every other theist in the room.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:41 PM on October 27, 2007


I see your point, shakespeherian, but unfortunately that is the counterargument. There shouldn't be laws mandating church attendance or outlawing homosexuality or requiring women to cover their entire body except their eyes in accordance with "God's will." There shouldn't be such laws because there's no qualitative difference between the plausibility of Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, Odin, Zeus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Cthulhu, Xenu, or Spider-man. By extension, doctrine based on those entities' divine word must be matters of personal faith alone, and not held as self-sufficient bases for the force of law.

I'm sorry if the normal, tolerant religious folks take that as a personal challenge to their beliefs, but no one [here] is saying they're forbidden to believe it.

Personally, I'm not even saying they're wrong, as I'm an agnostic. However, religious discourse in our society finds me allied with the atheists more often than not.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:15 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


But the fact is that so many of these debunkings take the form of referring to all religious belief as tantamount to belief in the Easter Bunny...

It might not be the best form of debate, but it's understandable. It's an honest reflection of the perspective; to an atheist, religious belief is no different than belief in mythology and superstition. And it's not as if atheism is not ungraciously demeaned and ridiculed by theists in the same way--often by asserting that atheists are inherently immoral.

What you don't state is why 'every other theist in the room' should have some kind of special immunity against the routine debate or even ridicule that is directed at any other non-religious belief or position. This kind of claim for rational amnesty is part of what frustrates atheists into arguing this way.
posted by troybob at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


What I find interesting about this site is that "these people," despite their extensive study and immersion in evangelical fundamentalism, turned a corner that forced them to abandon their identity and worldview.

I'm with Mayor Curley. What's surprising to me isn't that they abandon their beliefs -- it's that so many of them manage to cling on to them for as long as they do, long after Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy have all bitten the dust.

For people with a spiritual bent who are seeking either a moral framework in their lives, or who seek a context for some sort of supernatural experience, why not go Buddhist? Or if it has to be Christian, then why not something at least half way rational, like the Quakers or Episcopalians? At least there are those among the latter who lack patients with Christianity's obsession with a 'conjuring trick with bones'.

2000 years of civilisation FTW

Tell it to Galileo Galilei
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:49 PM on October 27, 2007


Some Christians convert to atheism, and some atheists convert to Christianity. The conversion itself doesn't make their arguments any more credible.

Personally, I'm not a fan of extremists on either side. I don't like it when people tell me I'm going to burn burn burn, and I don't like it when people tell me my beliefs are stupid and childish. It's not fair to judge all Christians by Jerry Falwell, and it's not fair to judge all atheists by Ted Turner.

There are intelligent people on both sides of the issue. The vast majority of us just bumble along as best we can, base our beliefs on our own reasoning and experiences, and just want to be left alone to live our lives our own way.
posted by Jatayu das at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


What you don't state is why 'every other theist in the room' should have some kind of special immunity against the routine debate or even ridicule that is directed at any other non-religious belief or position. This kind of claim for rational amnesty is part of what frustrates atheists into arguing this way.

I'm not claiming rational amnesty. There are plenty of critiques that can be leveled at fundamentalists that don't turn into broad, sweeping strawmen. What I protest is that crazy idiots whose beliefs have any sort of passing resemblance to the beliefs of thoughtful, rational folk whose take on metaphysics differs from that of atheists tend to make some atheists reduce all theistic positions into one position that may as well believe in the Tooth Fairy. And while some theists' arguments can be given a reductio argument that includes the Tooth Fairy, that is not the sort of argument that all theists make, especially since many theists don't even try to argue their beliefs.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2007


It's not fair to judge all Christians by Jerry Falwell,

Personally, I find it easier to believe that Christians differ from Falwell when they themselves loudly, in numbers, criticize Falwell types instead of waiting for atheists to defend themselves and their civil rights.
posted by Brian B. at 3:24 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


The vast majority of us just bumble along as best we can, base our beliefs on our own reasoning and experiences, and just want to be left alone to live our lives our own way.

I agree in spirit with the Liberty Principle too, but mind you, even "mild" religious belief pretty much shoots a hole through the statement above. If you're a Christian, you believe that a minority of humanity is saved, and that the rest are condemned to hell since they haven't accepted Jesus as the son of God. Sure, maybe you had that hippie preacher or the cool younger priest or even (as I did) went to a Quaker school (although I've been informed by many Christians that Quakers are pretty much worse than atheists), but Christianity as doctrinally expressed sets up an irreconcilable chasm between the wheat and the chaff, the sheep and the goats, etc. It's morally reprehensible at its very core in ways that Judaism and Islam aren't, IMO.

Then again, in practice, it doesn't really affect me that lots and lots of my neighbors think I'm depraved and condemned to eternal suffering and damnation since I don't think their guy was all that special for being nailed to a stick. Some of them actually come over once in a while, knock on my door, and tell me this face-to-face. And I think they'd have to admit that I'm pretty polite about the whole thing, considering the unconscious hatefulness that fills their very beings. Oh well.
posted by bardic at 3:57 PM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


but Christianity as doctrinally expressed sets up an irreconcilable chasm between the wheat and the chaff

I agree completely. No amount of mystical, non-specific belief as a Christian can escape this basic, core tenet of the faith. If you do not believe that Jesus is the son of God, and that accepting that truth is the way to eternal reward after death, you can not by any reasonable definition call yourself a Christian.

The corollary, of course, is that you must believe that any who don't share your belief will suffer an eternity of suffering and torment. This is the inescapable core of Christian belief through the past 2000 years.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:44 PM on October 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Jesus was actually killed for denying his own divinity.
posted by mullingitover

Well, his brother James was killed for denying his brother's divinity (see bottom few paragraphs, or read the whole thing if you're interested).




"Don't listen to me! You're all individuals!"

"Yes! We're all individuals!"

one lone voice: "I'm not!"
posted by eye of newt at 4:59 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's the big deal about being an ex-minister? I've been an atheist and a minister for over 11 years now. Universal Life Church since '96. I've married people and stuff.
posted by mullingitover at 6:37 PM on October 27, 2007


They lost me at recommending Apocalypto.
posted by ztdavis at 8:39 AM on October 28, 2007


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