Over several months I’ve begun this entry at least half a dozen times, but failed to get past a few lines and embedded videos. That’s usually a pretty bad sign. In this case, however, it was more about the importance of these thoughts, compounded by my inability to successfully find the narrative. But, given my written record in this blog and its predecessors, I felt compelled to dig into this subject and try to make sense of things. Thus, I’ve decided to attempt to divide these thoughts into several parts and in each one confine myself to various books and influencers I’ve encountered over the last few years. Thus begins a series on my recent journey of Faith, that I call “In Bad Faith.”
In Bad Faith, Part 1: It’s the Accent, Isn’t It?
My brother warned me against reading this book unless I was serious about examining my faith. I can only imagine how confusing my circuitous route into and out of and then back into and later out of Faith must appear to my sibling(s). I mean, given that I went against my parents’ wishes and switched from Catholic Loyola Marymount University to Fundamentalist Protestant Biola University, and instead of getting something practical like a B.A. in Engineering I got one in Biblical Studies. This was definitely something more important going on here than a passing adolescent fad. But having gone from highly academic Loyola to wanting-to-be-more-academic Biola (in the early 80s) I learned to approach my Faith and the Bible from a more scientific/academic approach than just a devotional approach. Two of my favorite books from this era were Robert Alter’s The Art Of Biblical Narrative and Robert Mapes Anderson’s Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism. So there was always some danger that I was susceptible to things a little beyond the safe confines of devotional reading.
Fast forward twenty-eight years, divorced twenty-five years, failed MA in Theology from Fuller Seminary. second BA in communications/journalism, teaching credential, MA in Educational Technology, failed Ed.D in Educational Technology, re-located from Southern California to Central Florida, I decided against jumping back into the church thing. I needed to find some balance between my experiences of faith and the academic/scientific part of my personality. That’s when I decided to listen to Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion. Well, actually I watched the TED video first and came away with the sense that this quiet-spoken Englishman could probably get away with almost anything because of our American stereotype that causes us to assume that anyone with said accent is obviously more intelligent than we are. Damn.
The most memorable part of the beginning of the book is the idea/quote, “we didn’t know we had a choice,” and Dawkins wanting to make the case that not believing in God isn’t something to be endured in silence. What follows is a tour de force with side trips to Einstein’s God and whether Science can say anything about Religion. The big idea of the book is that Religion is a vestigial personal/cultural remnant that’s related to the childhood belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Whereas we gave up on the belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy when we grew up from childhood, we persist in our adult years in a belief in an “Old Man” in Heaven who knows our every thoughts and has a plan for our lives. This isn’t to equate Religion with belief in Santa, it’s just that they seem to serve the same purpose and come from the same part of the human psyche, according to Dawkins.
Dawkins also wrote about his wonderful relationship with his Anglican pastor/headmaster and how that helped him feel free to explore his belief in Science and not see a lack of faith in God as if he was missing something. I have to note that there is a real cultural divide between this educated Brit’s take on Religion and my experience with American Christianity. This fact was brought home to me in a recent conversation with a coworker who was raised in the UK when the coworker commented about how he felt like the reading of Genesis by the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968 was some kind of put on. He couldn’t see how these astronauts/scientists could seriously be reading from the Bible without a sneer on their faces or in their hearts. To which I have to say that one should not underestimate how deep the religious feelings are among Americans and, contrary to one of Dawkin’s claims, this phenomenon is no respecter of intelligence. There’s most definitely a political efficacy to the practice of Religion in the U.S. (note that there are no self-proclaimed Atheists in the U.S. Senate), but scratch under the surface and one is reminded that this continent was settled by religious refugees.
Thus, Dawkins’ solution, that we refrain from indoctrinating our children with Religion, is just plain silly to an American audience who may fully disregard their religious tenets eight-days a week, but will fully and sometimes violently defend their right to pass on their belief system to the next generation. In fact I’ve seen more than my fair share of marginal Christians reclaim their faith with the arrival of children. One might wonder if they’re not doing this because that’s how they were raised, but that’s kind of how humans do most things and is not limited to religious indoctrination.
So, Dawkins’ take is that given how out of step most religious foundations are with modern life, practitioners must be ignoring the obvious contradictions in order to maintain their belief in the wise old man in the sky. In a word, they are deluding themselves. Alas, to the faithful his words, should one bother to read all the way through this tome, won’t hit home. The skeptic/atheist will feel reaffirmed. But what about the fence-sitter, the person trying to balance a religious upbringing with life in our modern world?
I appreciate Dawkins’ experiences and thought processes. I don’t think that he has a real understanding on my particular journey. He might be right that it was my upbringing that influenced me to interpret the narrative of my life to include god. But given the enduring strength of this vestigial delusion, maybe this is more than a cultural hold-over, more than a relic mistake handed off from father to son. Maybe it’s something that we’re born with.
To Be Continued…