GCU Dancer on the Midway
Paul Wright's blog
Fate Amenable to Change 
27th Jan 2004, 12:20 am
giles
Intelligence from my logs, and from CDC's Special Circumstances operatives behind the enemy lines, shows a fair few CICCU people are finding the losing my religion article while out looking for CICCU information. Apart from cackling, stroking my white cat and polishing my monocle, I thought I'd say how I feel about this. I'm also linking to this from the article itself.

I wrote that page partly for catharsis, and partly because I hoped to help anyone in the same position as I was in back then. I didn't anticipate the amount of Googlejuice I seem to have. Even so, I'm not overly concerned that the page is getting a wider audience. I do wonder what the current CICCU members who read the page take from it, though.

I imagine some of you will take it as a cautionary tale. Some of my CICCU readers will have heard speakers warning them about life after university, telling dire tales of keen CU graduates who didn't get into a church "where the Bible is taught", or got into a relationship with a non-Christian, and shipwrecked their faith. Neither of these things applied to me. Rather, if you want my recommendation for Christians graduating from university and wishing to avoid the slide into atheism, I must advise you to avoid thinking too much.

CICCU produced a hard, brittle faith. For those happy few who have not read Part 1A Materials Science, something hard and brittle is strong, withstanding applied force without giving very much, up to the point where enough force is applied to break it, at which point it will snap.

With hindsight, there were the beginnings of this even while I was in CICCU. If you are already wondering about biblical inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, the wrongness of homosexuality, genocide in the OT, whether your non-Christian friends really deserve to go to Hell, whether God really will answer your prayers to evangelise China or heal your auntie's cancer, and so on, then as you are now, so once was I. And possibly, as I am now, so you shall be (you may say it won't happen to you, but you should probably bear in mind that I did too). Therefore, at the risk of patronising you, I will say what I would have liked someone to say to me when I was a student:

If you want to prepare yourself for the graduate afterlife, cultivate the things that will be valuable there. Among these are your friends, your education (not quite the same as your academic results), and a sense of your own self. That last one is the hardest: when you're in search of your self, pre-packed selves look like a good deal. It is very easy to go along with a crowd, especially a crowd of nice, supportive people, but do use your (assuredly excellent) brain to examine what you're told: the most important question to ask is "How would I know if this were wrong?"

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that you and everyone else deserves to go to hell, or anyone who implies that the most important thing about a person is what they do with their genitalia. These people have exactly as much power over you as you are willing to give them.

You are at a powerful, almost mythical, place for 3 or 4 short years. They won't, I hope, be the best years of your life (what a horrible weight that idea puts on them), but still, we don't call them formative for nothing. Don't get stuck within circumscribed bounds of a society whose only purpose is to gain more members. Who knows, that way, your faith may even survive after graduation :-)


If you're wandering in from the link in the article, feel free to comment. There's a "leave a comment" link kicking around on this page somewhere. (You can also comment if you're not, of course, but if you're from LiveJournal, you know that anyway). Because I get so much spam, you'll need to sign in to LiveJournal using something like Facebook, Google or Twitter, and confirm your email address.
Comments 
4th Oct 2004, 02:08 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Hey, I'm in Cambridge at the moment, and I read your article with a lot of interest. I've been very disillusioned with Evangelical Christianity myself, and I think what you said about the brittleness it produces is very perceptive. Found myself wishing you'd been in some kind of cell group, because the questions you write about are the sort of thing me and my lot talk about, and hammer out all the time. I guess a lot of people read stuff like what you wrote and think they know how it could have been different.
Cheers!
28th Nov 2004, 04:27 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the late reply: I've only just noticed this comment.

I guess there is a sort of Christianity which allows you to hammer these things out, and in a way it is a pity I didn't find it before I felt so angry witht the whole thing that I just wanted out. But, as I say in the essay, it does seem a struggle to continue in that sort of faith, and from where I sit, the benefits are not enough to make me want to return to the fray (I'm speaking of the benefits here and now, rather than promised benefits after I die, since anyone can promise something).

I do still spend a lot of time talking and thinking about this stuff (compared to most of the population, anyway). I suppose if there really is any sort of God, it'll make itself known eventually, but I find it difficult to believe that the sort of God I learned about from Christianity can exist.
21st Jan 2005, 03:18 pm (UTC) - quick comment
Anonymous
Hi there. Just to let you know where I'm coming from, I am a current member of ciccu. Not here to judge you, just ask a quick question.

"...but I find it difficult to believe that the sort of God I learned about from Christianity can exist."

Surely the God of Christianity that you learned about: the one who offers a free gift of eternal life, who sacrificed his own son so that you could have this gift... is better than any God any one of us can come up with in our own imagination? (Although I appreciate that this may not apply to you as you have turned to atheism, not another God). I appreciate your site and many articles and I suppose (I may be very wrong) that they are an indication that you are still searching for something. I suppose that, from your point of view, having to rely on the hope of benefits in the hereafter with struggles, injustice and persecution in the now is not good salesmanship and you would be right. My own reason for continuing to believe is simple. A God who does everything he has done for me already has my utmost trust that he will be able to deliver on his promises in the hereafter. Thanks for your time.
25th Jan 2005, 11:03 pm (UTC) - Re: quick comment
I suppose that my difficulty with "the God I learned about from Christianity" is the contradictions and other difficulties within that belief. For example, in the Bible we're told that God intervenes personally (assuming we read the Bible the way evangelicals do), but there's very little theophany these days if you're a conservative evangelical, and it's common for Christians to duck the question of whether God is an intervener or not.

You're probably right to say that I'm still searching, in some ways, although as time goes by I find that my settled position is the one I am in now: there might be a God, but it's probably not the Christian one, and it doesn't seem to matter anyway. I still have an emotional attachment to Christianity but I cannot rationalise Christian belief, and being able to do so seems vital to me (an attitude taught me by evangelicalism, I think: never liked the "wooly liberals").

You believe that God has intervened in your life, which seems good evidence for him. Perhaps my problem is that I've never experienced that in a way which left no doubt it was God involved. Obviously, good things and bad things happen, yet some Christians seem to credit God with the good stuff even if it's not obvious how he was involved. I don't really understand this.
22nd Feb 2005, 08:08 am (UTC) - Re: quick comment
Anonymous
Although I have seen direct evidence of God's intervention in my life (miraculously healed as a baby), I don't need that experience in order to understand how God has intervened in my life. Jesus himself explained how the Bible is all we need to be convinced of who he is (John 5v46) and if we don't believe that, we won't believe anything, resurrections and miraculous notwithstanding.
When you realise how sinful you are, then you also realise how Jesus really is the only answer. The guilt for your sin hangs over your head (at least in my experience) and you know it will never go away but when you come and give it to Jesus it completely disappears (and I say this as someone to whom 1Tim1v15b applies completely). This is what I don't understand about your own experience as a Christian - the whole point is that guilt is vanquished along with death and sin. I'm sure you remember singing an old StAG favourite, "In Christ Alone", which says: 'No guilt in life, no fear in death; this is the power of Christ in me.' Obviously I cannot know how you are truly feeling about these two things but I know that if I ever were to leave the security of Jesus and the redemption he offers me, I would be hounded by those two feelings - guilt in life and fear of death - forever. I'm not trying to arouse those feelings in you of course (as they are the worst things ever and I could never 'wish' them on you) but I would like you to think perhaps whether they have completely vanished since you stopped believing. Don't confuse the guilt you are made to feel by other Christians (as I have felt this too and it is simply an unpleasant part of human nature to be judgement and hypocritical - I'm sure I've made others feel this way too) with the freedom from guilt now and forever that Jesus offers.
Hope that you understand everything - not sure how clear I was.
Regards and thanks.
23rd Feb 2005, 11:12 pm (UTC) - Re: quick comment
Although I have seen direct evidence of God's intervention in my life (miraculously healed as a baby), I don't need that experience in order to understand how God has intervened in my life.

I think the point of the newsgroup posting was more that sometimes we're told God's all intervening and helping us with 5th week blues and finding our car keys, and then when there's a huge tsunami or a baby is not miraculously healed, he's suddenly ineffable and moving in a mysterious way.

Jesus himself explained how the Bible is all we need to be convinced of who he is (John 5v46) and if we don't believe that, we won't believe anything, resurrections and miraculous notwithstanding.

I'm not sure that is what this passage does say, since v36 has Jesus saying that his work testifies to who he is. People today don't see that work in the same way, but have to rely on hearsay from thousands of years ago. I've been talking/arguing with nlj21 about whether God is just. My comment at the bottom of that thread says what I want to say about evidence: namely that God wants to force us to gamble everything on the basis of that hearsay, which seems folly to me.

When you realise how sinful you are, then you also realise how Jesus really is the only answer.

I think that only works on people with low self esteem. From my present vantage point, I don't really understand why it is apparently so easy to convince some people that they deserve to burn in Hell, nor why it was possible to convince me, but I suppose when I first came up I was a rather shy and vulnerable person. I also think that, as I've said about Hell before, for some Christians, while they'll sign up to a check-box saying they believe in it, it's just not something they think about much (which seems rather more healthy to me).

This is what I don't understand about your own experience as a Christian - the whole point is that guilt is vanquished along with death and sin.

I think that's what they say is the point, but in fact they like to throw in the odd sermon about how desperately sinful you are, and warnings that Jesus will say to some so-called Christians "I never knew you", just to keep you on your toes. As I say in the essay, I don't think evangelicals do know what they really think about salvation, because the Bible's various authors don't know either, so there's this roller coaster of feeling depending on who is preaching from what passage that week.

if I ever were to leave the security of Jesus and the redemption he offers me, I would be hounded by those two feelings - guilt in life and fear of death - forever.

The guilt melted away when I left. I now think I'm a more-or-less OK sort of person: better than some, worse than others. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about my guilt in the abstract. As for death, of course I fear it, but the fear is not paralyzing. Everything dies, and there's not much I can do about that.

I'm not trying to arouse those feelings in you of course (as they are the worst things ever and I could never 'wish' them on you) but I would like you to think perhaps whether they have completely vanished since you stopped believing.

See above. I don't deserve Hell, and, gentle reader, you don't either. To realise this is a vital revelation, I think. The moral judgement which lies at the centre of evangelical Christianity portrays God as a sadist: it's no wonder that both both non-Christians and non-evangelical Christians regard it with disbelief and horror.
16th Jan 2005, 04:56 am (UTC) - A few words
Anonymous
Greetings...
read your article on Christianity..very interesting...it sounds like you where putting your faith in the organization rather than Christ. You may be thinking that you have given up on Him, but be assured, He will never give up on you. chow...Rob
19th Jan 2005, 10:48 pm (UTC) - Re: A few words
How do Christians experience what Christ is like except through the organisations which introduce and promote him? Perhaps that's the conservative evangelical problem with lack of supernatural experiences coming out again, but aside from voices in your head, it mostly seems to be about prayer, the Bible and meeting with other Christians, all of which are taught you by the church.
22nd Jan 2005, 05:57 pm (UTC) - Re: A few words
Anonymous
Greetings again....

Christ is a spiritual, experiential reality of truth, love and life...the author of the Living Word which feeds the hunger soul. It is evident to me that His Holy Spirit is leading you, drawing you (a process) to this ultimate knowledge of Truth. Christ says, "Seek me and you will find me". chow Rob
25th Jan 2005, 11:10 pm (UTC) - Re: A few words
Christ is a spiritual, experiential reality of truth, love and life..

Yes, but what does that actually mean?

the author of the Living Word which feeds the hunger soul. It is evident to me that His Holy Spirit is leading you, drawing you (a process) to this ultimate knowledge of Truth.

Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to. >;-)
2nd Feb 2005, 11:11 pm (UTC) - Re: A few words
Anonymous
Greetings...

Before one is saved, one is spiritually dead to God.
Separated from God by sin. Upon accepting God's free gift of salvation through Christ, one becomes spiritually alive through Christ to God. This is a spiritual reality which transforms the essence of one's being. thus: "Christ is a spiritual, experiential reality of truth, love and life".

Christ said, that "HE will draw all man to Himself"..but few will find Him. Man's intellectual pride is a huge barrier to this event. I urge you to reach out in blind faith and know the Truth of which I speak.
23rd Mar 2005, 11:02 am (UTC) - God bless
Anonymous
Jude1: 10 Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them.

One thing I want to point out, is that it seems many of the things you have said come from misunderstanding of God's word

I am not saying I have 100% understanding but as a christian, i realise that there are many thihngs i dont understand from the bible but i still follow them!! For example when It says in James 1:19 (


19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

As a young girl, i never understood this but it is only in my adult life that i have practiced this and reaped the benefits.
SO when you don't understand something, instead of putting on the spirit of criticism, pray for truth from God. As we believe the word is from God, john 1, then only he can find a way to clarify. I dont know how you can do that knowing you now believe that God does not exist. When you blasphame against the holy spirit he may choose to leave you. It is natural to lose faith, that is when we must pray for God to reveal himself:

Mark 9:24
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

I have so many things to clarify with you, it cant be done in a single post. I don't understand why your old church did not answer your questions!!Or allow you to express yourself, that is terrible.

I am a struggling christian but

Philippians 4:13 (New International Version)

13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength

I ask him to renew my strength each day!!

I'll pray for you continually
1 Thessalonians 5:17

17 pray continually;

I'll pray that God reveals himself to you. It may not be today or tommorrow!! Our timing is not neccessarily God's timing!!
Either way, i ask he blesses you and showers you with love in all you do!!

Love fronm a christian unto you!








7th Nov 2005, 09:35 am (UTC) - fate amenable to change
Anonymous
Hi from Jonny Kingsman. It's tricky to tell if your're the same chap I remember from Hub etc because from your photo you seem to have 'duded up' a bit since you left StAG! Maybe the counter-cultural pressure made you appear less cool at the time! Came across your site while searching for a CICCU address. Interestingly I sufferred a severe psychological and faith- crisis around November-December 2001, round about the same time that you left StAG. I denied my faith for a while, and looking back on it with my philosophical hat on ask myself 'was I really a Christian?' before then or during that time. My only answer from my perspective now is that God in His grace allowed me to regain my faith (and my sanity) and so my life makes no sense from a human perspective, only from God's perspective. I realise that's a very conservative evangelical answer, but that's what I am, after all.
As an ex-philosophy student and teacher I fully appreciate just how brittle a faith founded on pyramidal extrapolations from the existence of absolute truth is. However, on the other side, my studies convinced me for sure that arguing from the other end, from the existence of no absolute truth, is even more self-defeating.
Cheers for now, my son wants to play! I've only posted as 'Anonymous' because I can't work out how this board works. I'll check in a week or so for a reply, if you feel like it.
Love,
Jonny Kingsman (still at StAG)
9th Nov 2005, 12:05 am (UTC) - Re: fate amenable to change
This reply is going to be full of links to other things I've written. That seems like the best way to save me from RSI :-)

It's tricky to tell if your're the same chap I remember from Hub

That's an interesting question.

But, less philosophically, yes, I am probably the person you remember from StAG. There's a photo of me here (I'm the one on the left) where I look less cool.

It's interesting that you've put a date to my leaving: I didn't realise that anyone had noticed I'd left, to be honest. That's not to denigrate StAG's pastoral care, though: it's a big church and it'd been withdrawing for quite some time before I finally decided I could bear it no longer.

I'm sorry to hear about what happened to you, and glad to hear that your sanity was restored. I had a hard couple of years, for various reasons, but I've bounced back to an amazing degree. I do miss some aspects of Christianity, but I've not found that I've fallen into the abyss (Greg Egan's quote at the end of my essay, which I assume you found, seems quite appropriate for me). I feel at peace with myself now in a way I never did within evangelicalism.

I think there are absolute truths about what is out there (so I still hold the somewhat unfashionable view that science is about producing successively better approximations to truth about the natural world, for example), but probably not about how I should behave. That's not to say I don't think some ways of being are better than others, but what makes them better ultimately comes down to what I consider good. All I can do is try to persuade others to join if our conceptions of good are in agreement. I'm no professional philosopher, though, but this way of understanding things makes sense to me.

I can't work out how this board works

Exposition: You're looking at one entry among a couple of hundred on my journal. You've just made a comment on that entry, which is something people can do if they want to discuss it. My journal is hosted by the much larger LiveJournal site. Not all of my entries are serious by any means: LiveJournal is also a means by which I keep up with friends and post funny links. LiveJournal has about 2.5 million active users, of whom maybe 30 regularly read what I have to say (the people on my so-called friends page largely also "friended" me, which means my stuff appears on their friends page). LiveJournal also hosts communities (like challenging_god , say), which are like a shared journal, sometimes with a moderator who oversees them.

I use this particular entry as a way of catching comments from the Losing My Religion essay. Over the past couple of years, I've made quite a few other entries about religion, and I've also bookmarked some other people's entries where I found them interesting (you'll probably find I've commented on some of those).

If you want to keep a consistent identity here, the easiest thing to do is create yourself an account. It's free (though people can pay to get more features, like more of these
pretty pictures), and there are plenty of people who just use their accounts to read rather than post their own journals (for example, the future Dr/Mrs Wright is scribb1e , but you'll not find anything in her journal). If you do that, you can also tell LiveJournal to email you when someone replies to your comments, which is useful.
29th Dec 2005, 12:16 am (UTC) - Christianity IS NOT the Church
Anonymous
I am always amused by people who confuse being Christian with being a "Church Member". They are not the same. Even funnier when this thought is extended to how they are a better person after leaving "the Church". The explicit implication being that not being Christian somehow makes you a "good person". Weak, very weak.
29th Dec 2005, 03:52 am (UTC) - Re: Christianity IS NOT the Church
I'm not sure quite what you're objecting to in my writings. I never use the phrase "church member" there, for example. Since I assume you're an American evangelical Christian (there's just something about your debating style which gives it away), I'd point out that the Bible doesn't really recognise solitary Christianity (q.v. 1 Cor 12:14ff, for example, or Heb 10:24-25), so there's a sense in which being a Christian means being a church member. I suppose Christians believe that if they were stranded on a desert island, God would provide, but it's clearly not what's expected. Evangelical Christian belief is that the church is Christ's body, so much so that Paul writes that expelling someone from the church is handing them over to Satan (1 Cor 5:5). That's not to say that I believed that going to church was what saved a person, of course.

You can't have an "explicit implication": an implication is something which is not explicit, but implied. I explictly state that I am a better person since I left Christianity. I don't claim that all non-Christians are better than all Christians, merely that I am better now than I was: I am happier with myself, and as a result I am more able to help those around me.

On your "weak" comment, if you want to debate with me, that's fine. However, you're in my front yard here, and further ad hominems (look it up) will result in your comments being deleted.
3rd Jan 2006, 09:00 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Hi,

I'm someone who could be described as a conservative evangelical (i.e. I'm a cessationist); with respect, having read your Losing My Religion article, it seems that you never really understood what conservative evangelicals believe.

You write:

"I went to a church school. I wasn't particularly religious initially, but had a friend in the school's Christian Union, so I'd tag along of a lunchtime. Being a shy teenager, I didn't go to church very often, but I continued to attend a CU on into Sixth Form. During my two years there, I methodically read through the whole of that Gideon New Testament following their 2 year reading plan (I did a lot of other reading besides, as I found A Levels easy and was too shy to socialise much), and began to seriously call myself a Christian."

The point is this, you were never a Christian. Jesus taught that we must be born again (John 3). This is a spiritual EXPERIENCE. Yes, it is brought about through a truth-faith-experience process, and this must be the order, but unless that experience is there, you are not a believer.

Sadly, I have come across some of the teaching which you speak of, which goes under the name evangelicalism - but it isn't evangelicalism. Anyone who teaches that the best way to ensure that you don't fall away is to stay within the church doesn't really underestand evangelicalism - the best way to ensure that you don't fall away is to ensure that you've really had the new birth.

I'm a conservative evangelical - I believe that miracles and tongues, etc. have ceased. But I had a true experience when I became a Christian - I changed, I was given supernatural desires to pray, I received a hatred of sin, I see many (often small, but sometimes remarkable) answers to prayer. If you never experienced these, I'm afraid it's 'cause you were never a believer - if you never saw suaw signs of God at work, then you never knew him. You say that you began to call yourself a Christian - I don't mean to cause offense, but you had no right to do that. Only when we have cast ourselves on the mercy of God, and know him to have saved and chnaged us, can be call ourelves Christians.

I don't know what you think of this. If you respond, I'd be delighted to respond to your response.

Take care,
Steve.
4th Jan 2006, 01:47 am (UTC)
Hello Steve. Have we met, by any chance? It's hard to tell online, but your "voice" sounds a little familiar. (You don't have to tell me, of course, but you slightly have the advantage of me at the moment :-)

You put me in a rather odd position, since I too agree that I did not in fact experience God, for obvious reasons :-) I do believe people have things which it's convenient to call "religious experiences", but the interpretations they put on them are so diverse that it's hard to see a single person behind it all (a subject I've discussed before when talking about the concept of a personal God).

I don't know what goes on inside other people who call themselves Christians, but when I was a Christian, I seemed pretty similar to those around me. Nevertheless, I sometimes find Christians eager to dismiss my particular experience of Christianity as counterfeit while maintaining that, in general, the real thing is out there. Usually, that's motivated by a belief in the perseverance of the saints (All Christians perserve, I did not perserver, therefore I was not a Christian).

When I was a Christian, I encountered similar criticisms motivated by a belief that all Christians will speak in tongues, for example (you might find the entire thread amusing, or possibly alarming). To me, the idea that "no true Christian falls away" is the conservative evangelical version of the No True Scotsman fallacy, just as "all true Christians speak in tongues" is the charismatic version. The desire to argue against this fallacy is what motivates me to argue that I was, in fact, a Christian.

Despite that fact that I don't now believe I experienced God, I was "doing the right things" as taught by the Bible. I believed that Jesus was the Christ and that he rose from the dead. As I point out to the speaking-in-tongues bloke, that's what 1 John says gives someone assurance that they are a Christian. I did have "quiet times", I did believe I had answers to prayer, I did have experiences which I attributed to God. I was part of an amazing Christian community on a holiday camp and felt a great sense of peace while there. I don't believe I was the world's greatest Christian, but inwardly and outwardly, I was at least a Christian so far as I or anyone else could tell.

However, I didn't stay a Christian because though a combination of intellectual doubts and emotional upsets, I gradually came to interpret my experiences in another way, and to realise that I'd seen and felt nothing which I couldn't explain even if there weren't a God behind it all. What keeps people Christian is, as far as I can tell, a choice about how they will interpret their experiences.

I'm interested in your ideas about whether someone has the right to call themselves a Christian, though. How does someone know whether they have that right? Is there a way another person can tell whether someone is a Christian, in your opinion?
4th Jan 2006, 08:57 am (UTC)
I also can't spell persevere, of course...
1st Aug 2009, 07:47 am (UTC) - EXPERIENCEs
Anonymous
Sounds a little like the Buddhist concept of Stream Entry

I suppose that's the point really. Every religion can produce these EXPERIENCEs. It's just what we conclude from them that counts.

FWIW, I've had EXPERIENCEs as both Hindu and Buddhist. The Buddhist one was stronger. I was exploring the concept, can't remember its name, of how we see reality.

I take them as interesting but not conclusive evidence of, for example, reincarnation. It means that when Christians start talking of having had their EXPERIENCEs there's a bit of "Been there, done that..."
16th Mar 2006, 12:57 am (UTC) - Thankyou
Anonymous
I just want to thank you for your honesty and everything in both this and your article.

I am a student at cambridge and have recently been so upset by all the things CICCU were telling me in their mission week and following it- what made it so hard is that they are such nice people but preach and believe such horrific, disturbing things. Their mission thing really upset and unbalanced me, and I am only just finding my feet again. It is so reassuring to read about your experiences and know that I am, in fact, not mental. I did the christianity explored course, starting off ready to convert and become a proper devoted christian, feeling like a shameful horrific person and in need of great forgiveness. However I gradually got more and more disturbed with what they were saying until I actually felt like I was going insane. I felt I had to believe them because they were so nice, and I had to try, so I squashed the voice in my mind which was telling me to run away very quickly. I felt like I was in a prison I couldn't get out of. Like a cult. And because they were so nice, I felt I owed it to them to try and be christian. But in the end I couldnt take it anymore, I was nearly sick after one of the meetings. My whole heart, body and mind were so totally and utterly against it. But I made myself see the course through. Then I sat in the final one feeling a mixture of utter disbelief and wanting to laugh out loud out of emabarrasment and sheer disbelief because what they were saying was just so abominable. So utterly ludicrous, I felt like I was in a mental institution. What they say makes you feel like the horrific, troubled and mental one but I now think perhaps I am not that crazy. I know I am not an amazing person, I have many flaws and do many bad things. But no one is perfect. I do lots of good things too. And it doesnt mean I am going to hell, if there is a hell. And it is so reassuring to know that I am not the only one to go through this sort of thing. I think you are very patient and kind responding to all the messages so calmly. I am still so worked up and angry about it, it has totally shaken up my life- but now I am getting back on my feet. I fell so far behind in my studies; when you are dealing with issues of life/death/hell/destiny, superivision essays and daily life things just become so insignificant. I know they think they are saving people, so it is understandable that they fight and feel so passionately about it. But it is just so horrific, how they can look their non-christian friends in the eye I just don't know, because they think we are all going to hell. It is horrific. I cannot begin to understand how they can devote their lives to this God that they believe is just?! A just God?! I just don't understand at all. And the extent to which they suggested we should change our lives on becoming a christian. Unbelievable, whilst telling you at the same time that its hardly anything, or not much for Jesus to ask or whatever. I felt like I was literally dying inside, being destroyed even, but by good people who I like and have respect for, so I was in such a state over it. Not anymore; I am free. I choose life!!!

Thankyou for your reassuring article/journal entries.
16th Mar 2006, 11:04 pm (UTC) - Re: Thankyou
Hello Anonymouse. I'm glad you liked the article. I occasionally get responses like yours, either as comments on this journal or as email, and I'm glad to think I might have helped someone a little.

I think you are very patient and kind responding to all the messages so calmly. I am still so worked up and angry about it

I've had years to calm down, whereas it sounds like this is quite recent for you. I originally started writing the article when I was still pretty angry about stuff, as a way of letting that out.

But it is just so horrific, how they can look their non-christian friends in the eye I just don't know, because they think we are all going to hell.

I don't know how many of my religion posts you've read, but in the one on Hell I recall what I thought about Hell as a Christian: while I gave the nod to the idea that my non-Christian friends were going to Hell, I rarely considered what that meant. I hope most CICCU-type Christians are like that: they are nice people as long as you do not expect them to do something moral which is against what they see as God's word. Some of my best friends, and all that...

I think there's probably a personality type for which CICCU is actively harmful. There are some people for whom it's about being nice to people and going along to umpteen prayer groups, and some like me for whom it was about thinking about it a lot and internalising it. I think if you believe what you're told too hard, you do end up doubting your self (spacing deliberate there).

Good luck with finding your own way: it is a painful but rewarding experience.
28th Apr 2006, 01:17 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Hi there - I found your article so interesting. I just moved to Cambridge and have found the evangelical Christian community to be so brittle, like you said. I also thought you might be interested in this blog http://johncampoxford.blogspot.com, which is by a Christian, but looking at Christianity from a totally different way (totally anti-legalism!). Some of what goes on in it (esp in the comments/discussions) explicitly discusses the failure of the church to share the Gospel (i.e. GOOD news) whilst continually piling guilt and more guilt (BAD news!) onto people. Ugh.
23rd Nov 2006, 05:16 pm (UTC)
Hi there - great article. I spotted whilst looking for information on the UCCF and the way that CUs are run, just getting some background regarding the Birmingham/Exeter/Edinburgh CU ban issue.

[aside: why do the CU's chose to affiliate to organisations that so obviously are almost entirely opposite in stance. Ah yes, money and power.]

As a student I ended up in Cathsoc after a year or so hacking away at the CU edifice - that pleasant feeling when you stop banging your head against a brick wall. Strangely, Cathsoc did not require that I signed anything and I eventually rose to the dizzy heights of music group leader and then president (!).

One of your other correspondents highlights the differences between faith and "church" - I'm pretty vehemently anti-church at the moment but faith impresses me - I think the point at which Christianity turned downhill is when they started organising themselves into groups and having leaders, then enforcing doctrines rather than encouraging exploration. A big messy religion requires a big messy kind of faith (in a big messy kind of world).

As to whether I am a Christian right now, I suspect not. But it really depends who is doing the measuring. Doesn't it?
15th Jan 2007, 04:49 am (UTC) - God and Reality
Anonymous
Hello Paul,

I came across your article/commentary inadvertantly. I can certainly understand the intellectual concerns, conclusions, and resulting decision described.

I'd like to humbly suggest that you not close the door on God and Christ completely.

My story was rather the other way around from your own, being an agnostic, arguing down "nutty evangelicals" as they attempted to "brochure" me on my way into bars and such. Like every human being, so I suppose, there were moments when I wondered if there was a God, viewed all the injustice, pain and suffering of this life and deduced there was not, read intellectually popular philosophical treatments denigrating the Holy Bible and depicting all of the fallacies, I looked down upon Christianity, and so forth. Periodically, there were nights that I asked for an answer only to encounter a terrible empty silence, and if silence expressed emotion it's only exhibition was cold disinterested apathy.

Paul, I am not brilliant, or wise, or particularly, wonderfully perfectly moral, I cannot answer all the big questions,...
But, I am being honest...

Years later I did find out there is a God. Not in a church. But because The Lord did respond years after the night described above on another cold starry night. That night, and for a time afterward, I experienced events skeptics have scornfully derided when attempting to provide information to what I mistakenly viewed as honest questions. Only to find out that those asking were insincerely merely interested in endless intellectual debate. What is an honest person to do, but tell the truth...I have witnessed bonifide supernatural miracles. I have been attacked by the preternatural diabolic.

I am not here to challenge your conclusion, and certainly agree with many of your observations.

But, I do want you to know that there is indeed a God, and that if you decide to make Him your perseverant heartfelt quest, He will, as promised, manifest Himself.

He did for me and I am no one saintly or pious.

Paul, I wish you all the best.









16th Jan 2007, 09:44 pm (UTC) - Re: God and Reality
I'm glad you're happy, but I'd like to know why God does not provide everyone with the experiences you describe (except perhaps for being attacked by the diabolic, which doesn't sound fun). If God wants everyone to know him as you apparently do, he'd have no trouble doing this.

I guess if I made anything my heartfelt quest, I could convince myself that it was real. But what I really want to see these days is evidence. Why does God not provide it?
30th Mar 2007, 03:49 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Hi Paul, I read your article quite a while ago when I was still going along to StAG. Even though I would still call myself a christian, I have to say that some/most of the points you make about StAG and Ciccu are - imho - right, and it helped me realise that I was not the only one who had problems with their brand of christianity.
30th Mar 2007, 04:18 pm (UTC)
Glad to be of service :-)
18th Jun 2007, 02:20 pm (UTC) - My Story
Anonymous
Hi I am a university student in Liverpool and have just found your article 'loosing my religion' on my parents computer at home.

I started going to church youth group because a friend invited me and like you have said I felt really welcome and the people I met (still very close friends) were lovely. I then started to attend Sunday church meetings in my home town which were great even though I didn’t pay too much attention to the sermon/talk. when I was 18 I went through I tricky time during my a levels and split up from my boyfriend God was evidently clear and very close in my life, I started to take my faith in Him seriously and read the Bible as if it was truly the word of God and talk to God like a father and friend in my prayers. one evening service at church I experienced God physically on my life and started to speak in tongues (heavenly language described in the Bible) I don’t want this to sound strange to people but this was the most intimate time I have ever experienced with the Lord and really put a seal on my faith that God was truly there and loved me and still works in the ways we read about in the Bible :) Just before university I got baptised, which for Christians is like a public declaration of their faith in Jesus.

At university I had a great time in first year, people were amazing, I had lots of fun and made great friends and even though I was doing things that I knew God wasn’t going to be happy with -drank way too much etc, He really used me and continued to love me so much. however, this year at uni I live with 4 other Christian girls who are from different backgrounds and believe different theology to what I thought I believed and I was continually challenged on what I actually thought so I started to read into issues of salvation (Calvinism etc) and what I actually thought about the work of the Holy Sprit and after a hard year I have come to a few conclusions but I just have a real sense that I cannot ever explain or predict or put limits on the workings of the Lord, after all He is creator of all things and the same God that people in the old testament stood in reverence and fear of yet. but I do believe that God wants each person on earth to know Him personally as in psalm 139 in the Bible which describes how God created each person and knows them intimately- its fab!!







18th Jun 2007, 02:30 pm (UTC) - Re: My Story
Anonymous
sorry i didnt finish- i just basically wanted to say that God wants everyone to know Him and that through Jesus we really can. I have experienced Gods love and really hope that when searching for God people dont just look for theological answers but search the Bible for Gods heart and His character.

I have experienced bad preaching and people who try to convert at every conversation but the only reason i share about God is because Jesus has changed my life and want other people to know the peace and love that can only come form God.

Your article was very interesting and pray that you find God and have a personal relationship with Him :)
1st Jul 2007, 05:40 pm (UTC) - Re: My Story
Hello there. I'm not sure whether you'll read this as I've been a bit late in replying, but so it goes.

I doubt we're going to convince each other of very much. I'm someone for whom what matters is what's true. That's what I'm trying to get to with theological discussion. When talking about how the world is, it's easy to decide it must be how we feel it is, but, as my former church liked to point out, feelings can be deceptive. An investigation of what the facts behind Christianity were lead me to where I am today.
9th Apr 2008, 04:22 pm (UTC) - hi
Anonymous
Hi, well you're right about being googlejuice - I was looking for a church to go to on holiday in East Anglia, and you were the third hit!

Thanks for your thoughtfulness and honesty, and rigourous approach. Christians can be pretty lazy in their acceptance of ideas. I think I have a lot to learn about that from your writing when I have time to follow threads through.
And we are sad about Terry Pratchett, too.

Barbara
9th Apr 2008, 05:37 pm (UTC) - Re: hi
Crikey, what did you search for? I looked up "church cambridge" and (rightly) got back a lot of Cambridge churches, not my site.

Thanks for the compliment, too. :-)
16th Apr 2008, 12:05 pm (UTC) - Re: hi
Anonymous
"Walberswick + evangelical church" !
16th Apr 2008, 11:42 pm (UTC) - Re: hi
Oh right, I see :-) How random.
18th Apr 2008, 02:14 am (UTC) - Passing Through
Anonymous
I honestly have no idea how I ended up on your blog. LOL. Forgive me for not reading all your back history and notes/explanations of your aguments... as I said; passing through. But I did notice a common theme that was missing throughout the line of questions and answers.
The Love of God.
It sounds like you have had enough Bible training to know John 3:16 mentions the love of God us-ward. But it doesn't sound like you've ever had the opportunity to experince it. You've mentioned the constant feeling of guilt when you failed to meet scriptual standards, also the pressures of religion and conformity.
The scripture says that Jesus was not sent to condemn the world but that through Him we may all be free. There is a huge difference between guilt and convicton. Conviction is God induced, from a Father who loves us. In Jeremiah He says He knows the plans He has for us, to give us a hope and a future. And the Bible says, All things work together for the good of those who love Him. He paints us the picture of a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to find the one lost, and in danger of perishing. As a loving Father, He sets up boundaries in our lives to keep us; and knowing that on our own we are unable to attiain to His standards He provided a better way. I love Romans 7:15 What I wil to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that I do. followed quickly by vs24/25 Who shall deiver me from this body of death? But I thank God- through Jesus Christ our Lord!
We don't have a high preist that is untouched with the feelings of our infirmaties, but in everyway was tempted; yet without sin. (Romans 8 is a great read...)
Religion tries to conform the flesh, Jesus transforms the spirit.
'Transformed by the renewing of our mind'...which comes through a spiritual change of heart. Spiritual things are descerned by the spirit.
Jesus accused the religious leaders of His day saying they were white washed tombs, full of dead mans bones. You're looking at the wrong thing. It seems to me that you're so consumed trying to reason out 'What is Christianity?' that you are missing, 'Who is Jesus?'
You're missing the One who walked with the dying and the hurting. Who fed the hungry, healed the sick, wept in compassion, and raised the dead. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He poured out His life for His friends. So we can trade. We trade our guilt for His forgiveness. Our failings for His victory. Our ways for His.
You can't look at other people and expect a clear picture of God. And you can't look at experiences and expect a clear picture of God. You have to ask, as Pilate did, 'What is Truth'.
If you seek HIM you will find HIM.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of All men, but especially of those who belive.
In love, He paid the price of sin: death. Instead He gives us the gift of life.
I dare you to seek Him for who He is, putting aside all preconceived notions of the religion and theologies. I know, it's almost impossible to do because it involves coming with an open heart, like a child. But I KNOW every good and perfect gift comes from the Father. And in order to have the Fathers blessing, we must first be a child.
He is living, powerful, and present. I love the saying,'you wan't proof that God is alive? Take a breath, now take another one...'.

There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but after the spirit.
There is only one way to be truly free, and that is through His freedom.
I know, because I am free. - In Christ...
19th Apr 2008, 11:05 pm (UTC) - Re: Passing Through
I think your sort of Christianity sounds healthier than the sort of Christianity I was involved in, but I'd need convincing that God actually exists before the rest of it made sense, and God's existence seems pretty unlikely. My ability to breathe isn't evidence of that unless you're already assuming that the universe requires a creator and sustainer.
20th Apr 2008, 10:30 pm (UTC) - Passing Through
Anonymous
Evidence that God exists: I would refer you to read Lee Strobels 'Case for Christ' because he has done extensive study on that level. There is a student edition that is short sweet and to the point if you don't have time to wade through facts... There is a chapter delving into the the Messianic predictions of Jesus Christ's coming. There are over 5 dozen qualifications Jesus had to fulfill (according to the Bible) in order to be 'The Christ'. Here Lee Stroble quotes a book by Dr. Peter Stoner who worked with around 600 university students to find the odds of even 8 of the Old Testaments predictions being fulfilled by one person. Those odds were one in one hundred million billion - according to Dr Peter Stoners study. These predictions include the place where Jesus would be born, something He would have no control over...as an unborn human being.
It's a very interesting read, from any standpoint.
There are also records by the historian Josephus who lived around the time of Christ, among other historical documents proving the existance of Jesus.
I like what Lee Stoble points out, when the scriptures were written (as you know they were originally letters)there would have still been plenty of people around who would have been present while Jesus lived and died. They would have witnessed first hand the miracles and even the death of Jesus. So for Christianity to spread among these people there had to be some pretty strong evidence for them to belive; especially when they started killing off Christians! People don't give their lives for something that think is a lie.
14th Nov 2008, 04:20 pm (UTC) - Resurrection
Anonymous
Hi, I am only a skim reader at this stage, but I fear I may be getting in to this over the weekend. Why can't I find any posts on the resurrection? Surely if you knock that block out, the whole house comes tumbling down? Alternatively, if you can't deal with that one, you have to accept the house that God builds.
14th Nov 2008, 07:52 pm (UTC) - Re: Resurrection
Hello anonymous,

You can't find any posts on the resurrection because I've never made myself an expert in the historicity of it, either before becoming a Christian or before becoming an atheist. When I was a Christian I just thought it was true, along with the rest of the Bible (more than that, I took it as historical, unlike, say, Genesis 1-3).

Now I'm an atheist I'm not that bothered about demonstrating the resurrection didn't happen, because demonstrating that says nothing about about whether there's a God (perhaps there is a God and he's not the Christian one, for example, or maybe very liberal Christians are right), and anyway, it's pretty hard to see how I would demonstrate anything much about something which happened 2000 years ago, without doing extensive research in a field in which I'm not an expert. If you want some good atheist arguments about the resurrection from a proper historian, Richard Carrier is your man (see Why I don't buy the resurrection story, for example).

There's a school of thought in evangelical apologetics which concentrates on showing that the resurrection must have happened, arguing that if you accept that, you have to become an evangelical Christian. Keller's The Reason for God (which I hope to review shortly) tries this when arguing that if Jesus was raised, we should have the same attitude to the Bible that Jesus did, for example, by which he means the evangelical one (he's trying to argue against arguments about the Bible being sexist or otherwise immoral). I'm uneasy about this argument: while rising from the dead would demonstrate that Jesus was uniquely amazing and powerful, you have to do a more work to reach the desired conclusion. All sorts of people have claimed Jesus would have taught their theology, after all.

This "prove the resurrection" school of apologetics also seems a bit odd to me: has God no better way of showing himself than requiring us to become experts in judging ancient historical evidence? As Carrier argues, God's silence is a powerful argument that God does not exist.

What I actually think of the resurrection is something along the lines of what Gareth posts here: the claim is massive, the evidence is too weak to prefer it to many other ancient and modern miracle claims from various religions. I've not done a post on it, but this comment of mine is still my position.

Edited at 2008-11-14 07:55 pm (UTC)
14th Jan 2009, 02:27 pm (UTC) - Re: Resurrection
I think we're all ignoring the most obvious explanation for the resurrection.

I speak, of course, of zombies.
14th Oct 2010, 08:09 am (UTC) - Losing Your Religion
Anonymous
Hi Paul

I came across your reflections as one of those people googling CICCU, and just wanted to say thanks for writing something so thoughtful, not just castigating everything but acknowledging things you appreciated as well. There is too much polemic in the world. I have no idea whether you are still reading comments on the post so long afterwards, but here are a few thoughts anyway.

I am an evangelical, spoke at CICCU last week, but agree with a lot that you say about us. Not everything, obviously! One of the things I notice about (usually younger) intellectual evangelicals is a deep desire to know the answers to everything. Which, if care isn't taken, can easily default to simplistic, formulaic reductions on the one hand (eg, facts, faith, feelings), or anti-supernaturalism on the other. After all, nobody at Cambridge likes the idea of receiving questions to which they don't know the answer, or the answer to which might sound like it is supernatural (= irrational in too many minds).

The result can be a received Christianity in which you only parrot the wisdom of older Christians, rather than examine and experience oneself. Which is, of course, brittle, with little room for inconsistencies, as you point out (of course Christians who are brave enough to admit they don't know answers can feel their ignorance is jumped on as evidence for the inadequacy of our worldview by those who disagree. It is not entirely fair for us to judge people simply for wanting their worldview to cohere and answer real-world questions).

Beyond doubt there are folk who are simply "evangelical rationalists" (my phrase). They believe that Christianity rests in giving mental assent to a set of facts they find incontrovertible, but not much more than that. Evangelicalism has never historically held that view, but I suspect you may have met an unrepresentative cross-section who do. All the issues you say disrupted your faith are hard ones. Often ones where intellectual categories and answers are painfully limited because they are ethical rather than intellectual issues. I wouldn't expect evangelical rationalism to explore some of these kind of issues in the depth that you hoped to find.

Reading you today hasn't shaken what I believe. I find Jesus Christ wonderful, thrilling and beautiful. I want to be like him. But you have reminded me to do my very best not to be shallow, not to jump to easy formulae on difficult matters, not to pretend I know everything and not to replace loving people well with trying to win intellectual arguments.

Thanks for the stimulating - if troubling - read. Best wishes and prayers as you continue to ponder these things

Marcus Honeysett

PS one thing you might like to know is that the STAG curate was wrong about that UCCF survey. The survey in question was done a long time ago (I don't have it to hand, but it was in the 70s or 80s), precisely because there was a pervasive rumour about the numbers falling away being as high as she mentioned. The survey, as I recall, returned the exact opposite conclusion.
27th Nov 2010, 05:39 am (UTC)
I will admit to mystification as to why anyone would even be attracted to a religion in which a deity claims to have made some kind of self-sacrifice but comes out none the worse for it, and says that on account of giving up nothing and coming out none the worse you can live forever, yet you come out just as badly, because you still have to go through the process of dying.

‘Spirituality’ really has nothing to do with religion. In religion you have aspiritual people, such as that functional moron who confronted Bart Ehrman with Bayes’ theorem to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, whereas there are supremely spiritual but non-religious people such as Carl Sagan. It probably has more to do with the individual’s activity in the temporal lobes than what fables one believes.

Being somewhat of spiritual tendency, about 15 years ago I took a contorted path that led, at one point, to my reading of Eugen Herrigel’s ‘Zen in the art of archery’. In this story, the Zen teacher demonstrates that he can shoot an arrow with perfect accuracy, despite not aiming. If I remember correctly, eventually Herrigel experiences this same condition, which he calls (in the English translation) ‘It’. I decided to look for ‘It’, and to my astonishment I found it. We had a staircase in our house; I would place a racquetball randomly on the landing at the top of the staircase, go down to the bottom of the staircase with another racquetball – so that the first ball was not visible – close my eyes, try to clear my mind of everything, and at some point throw the ball I was holding. Eventually what would happen much of the time is that my throwing hand would hardly seem to be moving, and the throwing seemed too effortless, but the thrown racquetball would smash, and thus powerfully displace, the ball I had left at the top of the stairs.

If my strong ‘spirituality’ could be satisfied by religion, I would have stopped there and become one of those New Agers who deplores analytic thinking. I had the urge to do so, but, like yours, my brain itches when it stops analyzing. With much meditation, and with the help of neuroscience texts, I came to realize that there was nothing mysterious going on; it only seems mysterious at first because we make the mistake of confusing the contents of our awareness with our entire inner life. Knowing that the world is round, one looks over the sea at the stunningly nearby horizon and wonders how anyone could have imagined the world wasn’t round; similarly it is plain as day, once truly understood, that very little of human inner life is part of that of which we are aware. To be able to aim a ball or an arrow, it is necessary that the organism be able to throw the ball or shoot the arrow accurately when not being closely supervised by awareness; this is just plain obvious. The existence of sleepwalking (which I have witnessed) ought to be proof enough.

The spirituality one feels in a church or synagogue is like the ‘It’ of the Zen teacher – it is a feeling that one is enlightened, which, taken too seriously, actually prevents further enlightenment.

Edited at 2010-11-27 05:42 am (UTC)
25th Feb 2011, 02:12 pm (UTC)
Just thought I'd drop a note to say how much I enjoyed your essay, and indeed the advice you give in this post.

I've had a rather different relationship with Christianity personally - I was brought up cheerfully Church of Scotland but did postal Bible studies and went to Bible Camp where I ran into Evangelicalism for the first time, which cemented my atheism for me at a very early age.

As such I sit in a strange place where almost everyone I run into knows either much, much more about the Bible/Christianity than me, or much, much less. The people who know more are often disinclined to engage with me on the topic because they're religious and find my staunch, cheerful atheism unsettling, and tent to offend me with their ingrained prejudices. The folk who know less aren't really that interested - and also tend to offend me with their prejudices. Bit of a rock and a hard place!

My point being that it was very refreshing to read eloquent, conversational, well-referenced communications on Christianity that aren't either impenetrably scholarly or woefully biased (or both).
25th Feb 2011, 04:13 pm (UTC)
My point being that it was very refreshing to read eloquent, conversational, well-referenced communications on Christianity that aren't either impenetrably scholarly or woefully biased (or both).

Thanks!
19th Sep 2012, 10:05 am (UTC) - Paul please could you give us an update?
Just wondered how your thinking had developed in recent years? Any changes/new nuances of thought/new directions/alternative spiritualities? Thanks
22nd Sep 2012, 12:23 pm (UTC) - Re: Paul please could you give us an update?
Just wondered how your thinking had developed in recent years?

Check out the rest of the blog. I'm still an atheist. I'm interested in philosophy and rationality (in the Less Wrong sense).
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