Thursday, August 10, 2023

Leaving Christianity for All the Wrong Reasons

(Literati Bookstore, in Ann Arbor)

When I was a child, I thought like a child.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13

I have met people who say this: "I once was a Christian. But I have left Christianity because _____________." 

You can fill in the blank. The answers vary, on the surface. But mostly the core is the same. Correctly, it should read: "I left Christianity because my faith was childish."

This is what Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age, calls a classic "subtraction story." Taylor writes:

“The core of the subtraction story consists in this, that we only needed to get these perverse and illusory condemnations off our back, and the value of ordinary human desire shines out, in its true nature, as it has always been.” (Secular Age, 253)

Behind such deconversions often lies an intellectually restrictive fundamentalism. This makes the transformation more likely. As Taylor says, "the more childish one's faith, the easier the flip-over." (Ib., 307)

I met deconverted students in my philosophy classes. I saw that they had never seriously studied mere Christianity and its advocates. I talked with people who:

1. Had a childish version of Christianity.
2. Believed their childish version was real Christianity.
3. Knocked down their straw-man version of Christianity.
4. Declared "Christianity" false and became an atheist.

Their defense of 2 is often (usually) fundamentalist. This makes them impossible to reason with. 

Taylor asks us to look deeper into the dynamics of the "secular age" we inhabit. Commenting on Taylor, Collin Hanson writes:

"Faith is now more difficult than unbelief. We’re adrift in stormy seas of doubt—every man, woman, and child fighting for the lifeboat of belief. Something fundamental has shifted in Western culture that runs deeper than outward changes in technology. So what happened? That’s the question Taylor seeks to answer." (In 
Hansen, Collin. Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor, p. 4.)

Two of my books are: