I saw that Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 tweeted a post from Right Reason by philosopher Glenn Peoples about Rachael Slick, the daughter of CARM president Matt Slick. Rachael recently announced her departure from Christianity for atheism.
Here is the passage where she explains why she left Christianity:
This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?
Now this is not necessarily basic apologetics, but it is fairly easy to respond to, and I posted something about it earlier in the week. I just want to point out that I don’t really view these sorts of objections as serious objections, since the core of Christianity is about the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Peripheral issues like Bible difficulties don’t really matter if the core is sound. The main focus in Christian apologetics isn’t on fine points of inerrancy or doctrine, it’s on God’s existence and the resurrection, which authenticates Jesus as the Messiah. More on that later.
I wanted to quote from the post that Brian found though, because I think this really explains some very important things that Christians need to understand in order to avoid these sorts of Bart Ehrman / Dan Barker de-conversion stories.
And here it is:
To a Christian who up until now has taken the faith seriously an an intellectual level, holding a view that this faith is robust enough to withstand a bit of light prodding such as this, the solution would have been a bit of light (yes, actually very light) reading on the subject – and there is plenty to be done. This is to say nothing about the rather idiosyncratic view of morality expressed here (comparing moral truths to mathematical truths does not bode well!). And yet this moment of dorm room theology banter lead headlong to this:
I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness.The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked. I was no longer a Christian. That thought was a punch to the gut, a wave of nausea and terror. Who was I, now, when all this had gone away? What did I know? What did I have to cling to? Where was my comfort? ??I didn’t know it, but I was free.
Dramatise much? You couldn’t answer a much discussed question in theological ethics. You could have added a bit of learning at this point, but instead you make out that you intellectual world has been nuked. The closing statement sums it up better, I think: “I was free.” And that was really the point of this. Here’s my pick for the real culprit, in the next breath:
For a long time I couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend (of over a year by this point) without crippling guilt. I had anxiety that I was going to Hell. I felt like I was standing upon glass, and, though I knew it was safe, every time I glanced down I saw death.
But over time – thanks to the deconversion, that changed. It’s telling that she chose to draw attention to this. Numerous times I have seen people turn away from the faith, not because they became aware of new intellectual reasons to reject it, but because the appeal of remaining in the faith became dulled by the drive to live a life that was not compatible with it (and that number includes “apologists” for atheism). You see something, you want it. But you have this belief that you shouldn’t do it. So, as is human nature, you rationalise. You re-create the world of truth around you and what you want. “Maybe this Christianity thing isn’t true after all…” What changed? The evidence? Nope. The arguments are as good as ever. Your will is what has changed. This is confirmed by the celebratory comment that “Freedom is my God now.” No doubt, and that is what you were pursuing. Christianity hindered you, so bye bye Christianity. As was shown in the study Losing my Religion, and as I commented in a recent podcast about why some reject Christianity, there is a correlation between having sex outside of marriage and giving up one’s religion (usually Christian, in the American context in which the study was carried out). Other factors that correlate with abandoning the faith include drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and get this – lacking a higher education. But that’s another matter, and of course does not answer questions about the truth or otherwise of atheistic or religious claims. It also makes sense that the time when a young person leaves their parents’ home and out into an environment where a smorgasbord of choices are now available to them is the most likely time that they will walk away. The comments thread at the blog where this story is told is full of the usual and can be paraphrased thus: “Oh, you taught her to THINK? Big mistake Dad, of course she was going to walk away!” Not even close to the mark. It was not critical thinking that sunk this faith. It was desire, as it so often is. The intellectual reason offered is absolutely flimsy, and certainly not offered an intellectually respectable presentation.
I think that’s very well said, and my experience with other decoverted fundamentalists has always been that they often had non-cognitive issues driving the deconversion:
- boyfriend and girlfriend issues
- popularity issues
- sexual activity / sexual orientation issues
- unrealistic expectations of a pain-free life
- unrealistic expectations of God providing financially
- unrealistic expectations of God making their foolish decisions “work out”
So here’s my advice to parents who want to avoid this sort of rebellion.
First, don’t concentrate on the inerrancy of the Bible as much as you emphasize the good philosophical and scientific arguments for a Creator/Designer. More effort should be put on the mainstream findings of science: cosmology, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, galactic habitability, stellar habitability. The resurrection is also key, but should be defended with a minimal facts approach using mainstream historical methods – not by assuming inerrancy. The existence of God and the resurrection are the strong core of Christianity, not inerrancy. I am saying this as someone who believes in inerrancy for the autographs. It’s better to lay a foundation rather than trying to defend too much.
Secondly, don’t try to force children to act beyond what their worldview can bear. It is OK for you to have children and to go about doing your Christian ministry based on your convictions, without trying to demand that your kids operate at that level. Instead of telling them what to think, always try to show them both sides. Once a person sees a couple of William Lane Craig debates or Mike Licona debates, they are probably going to want to be like Craig and Licona naturally. But the main thing is that the actions have to be supported by knowledge. When the young person has taken the time to study on their own and sorted out the evidence for themselves, then they will be able to operate more and more authentically as a Christian. The studying comes first, and then the acting like a Christian comes second – at least in a challenging society like ours where we really have to know our stuff cold to stand firm. But you can’t expect the actions before the studying.
Third, don’t just rest your support or opposition to various positions on the Bible. For example your views on theism and the resurrection should be rooted in secular arguments and secular evidence. Consider it a joy when you can go outside the Bible and confirm something the Bible says with secular evidence. Especially scientific and historical evidence. Connecting the Bible to real world evidence eliminates the painful anxiety of being “separate” and “other”. Always make the data the issue, not the position. The data can be debated more easily.
For example, if the issue is gay marriage, spend lots of time talking about the health effects of the gay lifestyle on gay men, the effects of same-sex parenting on children, the social costs of HIV/AIDS, the scientific evidence against the “gay gene”, the low levels of stability and exclusivity in gay relationships, etc. Look – young people don’t want to feel weird having to defend every moral conviction with the Bible in public. Teach them secular reasons for everything that the Bible says, and it will reduce their anxiety and make being a fully convinced Christian in public much easier.
I think that one of the biggest problems out there right now is that Christian men and women are under so much pressure to conform to the sexual standards of the day in order to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some people really want to have boyfriends and girlfriends who are first and foremost physically attractive, and their faith gets in the way of achieving that goal. They see superhot guys and superhot girls, and they think about how impressed their friends will be if they are “with” that person. Young Christians basically have a “God will provide the perfect person for me” view of relationships, and their method of figuring out who God wants is by having tingles, not by thinking about what marriage is and finding someone who can do the job. Very often, just being superhot is no guarantee of willingness to marry, though, and may actually be more of a guarantee that you are going to be pressured for sex. Did Rachael do a good job of choosing a marriage-minded boyfriend who values chasity and is ready to commit in order to get sex?
So what to do about that pressure for sex? Well, when I think about why I am totally convinced that premarital sex is stupid, it’s because I want my future marriage to last. And I have looked at evidence from peer-reviewed studies that shows that the number of premarital sex partners is a threat to relationship quality and stability. I want to make effective Christian children, and to impact the church and the university. I want my marriage to be an example to others. A divorce wrecks all of those plans. With the evidence in my hand from mainstream research, it is much easier to accept and act on what the Bible says about premarital sex. The Bible doesn’t have this data, we have to look outside the Bible to get the data to confirm it. Has Rachael looked outside the Bible to be persuasive about what the Bible says?
For a young person facing her non-Christian peers, parroting “the Bible says” is not as reasonable or defensible as saying “the Bible says, and mainstream scientific evidence confirms”. We need to make evidence the foundation. The problem with young people is that they are surrounded by other young people who are just as clueless as they are. A pretty easy question from a young friend cannot easily be answered by a person who has a very limited knowledge apologetics gleaned from Christian rock music and television shows. What we need to do is to get them looking outside of their peer group for answers, and that means connecting them to real scholars with real logical arguments supported by real mainstream science and history. We need to connect the Bible to the data in the real world.
Positive arguments for Christian theism
Related posts on chastity
Filed under: News, Apologetics, Belief, Christianity, Courting, Dating, Evidence, Evidentialism, Faith, Fideism, Knowledge, Matt Slick, Parenting, Pre-Suppositionalism, Presuppositionalism, Rachael Slick, Sex