A Christian in Atheist-Land

I am now six weeks into my year-long “God Project” – an attempt to intentionally and critically engage my questions about God.  My reading list is divided into four main sections: Tradition, Skepticism, Religious Experience, and Contemporary Theology.  Now that I’ve worked through Athanasius’ On The Incarnation and Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God, the Tradition phase is over, and I’m moving on to Skepticism.

Why Skepticism?

As far as I can remember, I’ve always believed in God.  Considering my history and social context, I think it’s unlikely (though far from impossible) that I’ll become an atheist anytime soon.  So why spend a month researching atheism?

You might suspect that I’m bravely entering hostile territory in order to “fight the good fight,” prove that atheists are wrong, and vindicate the beliefs that I happened to be born into.  If you thought that, you’d be wrong.  I am trying to learn from atheism, not argue with it.  Although unlikely, it is entirely possible that I may be an atheist by January.

So why entire atheist land if I’m not trying to burn it down and I don’t expect to find a home there?  The short answer: because I probably can’t be content in theist territory if I don’t take a tour of the alternatives.  Here’s the long answer, with a story:

I am not a person who can decide what I will believe, once and for all, and remain immune from thoughtful critiques.  I have a soft spot for reason.  For better or worse, I’m not very good at “overriding” the part of my brain that weighs truth.  The harder I try to believe something, the louder my inner skeptic insists (with a smirk, of course), “If your beliefs are so true, why do you have to try so hard to believe them?”

I learned that the hard way.  Up until four years ago, I was a happy, committed, active Evangelical Christian, and my Evangelical faith was the center of my life, my dreams about the future, and my social circles.  Yet even with so much at stake, I found that my best efforts couldn’t push my doubts out of my head.  They festered and festered, until I ended up believing none of it all.

Luckily, I eventually accepted my inconvenient truth and began wrestling with my doubts, reading whatever seemed relevant, and voicing my dilemmas to anyone who would listen.  My beliefs changed in big and small ways, but my faith proved far more resilient than I could’ve imagined.  God never let me go, and I never ultimately let go of God.

I’m not new to doubt, but this month will still be a change of pace for me.  In the past, I’ve struggled with scary questions about Jesus, Hell, other religions, and the Bible, but I always found comfort in God’s continued presence here and there throughout my life.  Atheism would not leave me this fallback option.  Atheist Tyler would have to learn to live without the prospect of a personal God who knows and loves him completely.  That would not be easy.

Now, like before, I can already see that ignoring my doubts about God only makes me believe in God less and less.  I cannot believe – really believe with my whole heart, soul, and mind – unless I give a fair hearing to the doubts that are currently hidden in the distant corners of my mind. The only road to honest theism must lead me through atheism.

I do not want to give the impression that potentially “saving theism” is the only potential payoff for a believer exploring atheism.  I hope that atheists will give me good criteria for sorting through different ways of thinking about God.  If “idolatry” is the worship of false or non-existent gods, then the fires of atheism, insofar as they melt away false images of God, will be a great friend to my faith.  I pray that my adventure in atheism will be like pruning a plant – cutting off dead ends to make room for new life.

Avenues Into Atheism

Over the next month, I’ll use several methods to learn about atheism.  I’ll read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, a best-selling book that argues against the existence of God from a scientific and political point of view.  Judging by the popularity of the book, this book should help me to understand why so many people today don’t believe in God.

Atheism wasn’t born yesterday, so I’ll also listen and re-listen to a six-part presentation by Peter Rollins and Tripp Fuller titled Atheism for Lent.  This series surveys the classic critiques of religion (especially belief in God) leveled by intellectual giants David Hume, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Mary Daly, and Thomas Altezier.  The lecture series is over nine hours long and intends to persuasively engage religious people like me.

Of course, believing or not believing in God is not a matter of pure rational deliberation; nothing ever is.  To get a feel for what atheism looks like “on the ground,” I will continue listening to Reasonable Doubts, a relatively recent and popular podcast series that calls itself “your skeptical guide to religion.” That podcast shares an atheist perspective on current events and the debates surrounding religion.

Perhaps most exciting of all, one of my good friends, Josh, will be writing a guest post about his recent transition from theism to atheism.  Josh is one of the most intelligent and articulate people I know, so I can’t wait to share his story with all of you.

The best way to keep track of my project is to find “Follow blog via email” at the bottom of this page.  If you enter your email address into that box, you will receive an email update with each blog post (roughly one or two per week).  Your feedback is greatly appreciated, so comments are always welcome.  I would love to hear what you think about my adventure into atheist territory.  I look forward to sharing my journey with you.

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