In Bad Faith 13: Maintaining the Faith in the Era of the Digital Echo Chamber
When I reopened my bible in 2003 after being “away” for 15-years, the world had changed significantly. I’ve written about this before, that the whole bible-study thing with computers really appealed to my geeky side. And at first, before I was ready to find a church, I naturally turned to the web to find podcasts to support my spiritual quest, just as I’d turned to Christian radio back in the 70s when I was a teenager.
I found a few independent podcasters, mostly verse-of-the-day type shows, that were a comfort but would generally drop “off the air” without warning and then I’d be left looking for another podcast. Given my historic connections to Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard, I looked around for those voices and eventually settled on the Anaheim Vineyard stream (from the church that was the original Vineyard). I was also surprised and delighted to find that Thru the Bible Radio was making the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s daily bible studies available via podcast. Like doing bible-studies using computers, podcasts were a plethora of inspiration, information and connection with what I’d experienced way back when in this new period of my life. I also decided that I needed to keep up with what the intellectual/skeptical/non-believer communities were saying and added Skepticality to my podcast list. Some might question the wisdom of keeping myself open to the non-believer voices, but I felt like my situation was un-conventional enough (having fallen deeply in love with a married friend) and I’d never been a “simple faith” kind of Christian, that I needed to learn from previous mistakes.
It was a weird middle-place to be in, where it felt so comfortable reading and writing notes as I studied the Gospel of Matthew, finding an intimacy with God that had become the substitute for the deep love I’d briefly experienced with my married friend, but knowing that I couldn’t just go back to the way things were when I was in my late twenties. The world had changed, I’d changed, I had virtually to no trust in pastors or congregations. But I knew that it was essential to be connected to other believers in a way that I knew about before but I guess never recognized the urgency in it.
So, for a long time I felt like I was in this middle-period, exploring my faith, making friends with believers, but never able to be with the person who I really wanted to be with. And friends either sided with the faith side or with the missing-lover side and the two sides, while always gentle with me (in part, because I was always upfront about my “situation”), were from two very different worlds and I don’t know that I was ever able to reconcile the gaps. I respected the skeptics’ intelligence and willingness to go against the grain to call BS on Christians and others, but I also felt that what they were missing was what I’d experienced as a 15-year-old and then around Valentine’s Day 2003. My Christian friends, well, it was interesting how real, authentic and supportive they were when we met in small groups to pray and talk about life. But at the same time, we were just human, caught up in all the small-mindedness and personal circumstances that had brought us to the realization that we needed to be save. We always seemed to come back to that moment in our lives and weren’t able to travel much beyond that spot. I’m reminded of the Arthur Legend, in the end when Lancelot comes in to his king’s aid but is easily cut down and laments that “it’s the old wounds that never properly healed.”
Perhaps it was silly for me to have any expectation that anyone would understand this middle-world I was living in and that eventually someone or some side would have to win out. There was a time when I was constantly listening to multiple bible studies on a daily basis and it was just as telling when I started to prune the bible study podcasts off of my playlists. Eventually the nostalgic aspect of listening to voices from my past wore off and I had to deal with the gaps in my worldview and those I was listening to. I was living in Long Beach, my best-friend was gay and I had no desire to see her any differently, I had fallen in love and acted on a love for a married friend; the world just didn’t want to fit into the neat little categories that I’d believed in as a teenager or that my Christian friends still held on to. And when it became clear that I’d never be with my former-love, it became difficult to appreciate that God already knew what I wanted and wanted to give it to me. After five very difficult years of holding on to this dream, I decided that I had made more than a few mistakes and needed to cut a different path for myself.
Of the podcasts I was listening to back around 2003 it’s probably telling that the only one still on my playlist is Skepticality. Then about two years ago I started looking for podcasts where Christians and Skeptics met together. I’d been reading karen armstrong and bart ehrman and felt a bit hopeful that there might something more insightful out there than traditional Christian TV or the like. Alas, the few debates that I listened to, by great speakers, reminded me of political debates where neither party is actually listening to the other, except to pounce on some inconsistency in their opponent’s position. Sigh.
Then I happened upon “A Christian and an Atheist” podcast and these guys seem to be actually engaged in a real dialogue… weird. Both of the main currents hosts, Emery and Scott, have admitted that they aren’t really looking to convince each other of the rightness of their own beliefs, but to foster conversation and understanding between them and those like them. Emery, the atheist, has said that he’s hoping to counteract the stereotypes or myths about atheists and as a former-Christian he can understand, perhaps sympathize with the Christians and understands the language. Scott, the Christian, is solidly a believer, but can be a bit liberal and willing to talk about the Church’s faults and inconsistencies. Some of the best episodes have been those when they’ve been working through some book, like Norman Geisler’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Intelligent, respectful, one of the few podcasts that I know of where both parties actually dialogue instead of spouting sound bites or argumentative zingers. One thing they’ve also done that I love, is decided to put their money where their mouth is and put together a Kiva project with the slogan: “We care, despite our differences.” Wonderful and highly recommended. Avoid the dangers of the Digital Echo Chamber and check them out at: http://www.achristianandanatheist.com/