Saturday, August 14, 2010

How Do You Handle New Evidence?

Constantly evaluating my faith and belief system is a bit of an exhausting experience. Life is so much simpler the more things I can put on automatic pilot: get ready for work, drive son to school, what to order the family at McDonald's, transactions at the bank, and so on. If I had to reevaluate every decision and opinion before acting on them every single time, I would go crazy. We all would. So, it comes as no surprise that our religious life tends to be automatic, ritualized, and unevaluated.

Which brings me to my question. How do you handle new evidence in light of your religious belief system (or lack there of)? I'm always interested in the way both I and others respond. In the blogosphere, you find reflexive types who don't seem capable of introspecting about their own views; they are too busy defending, reacting, and attacking. Mercifully, you have others who really seem interested in finding answers and who willingly change their minds about things in light of new evidence.

I've gone through quite a journey in terms of my emotional reactions during this faith crisis. At first I experienced a fair amount of anxiety about challenging old beliefs. I wasn't looking to discard Christianity, I just wanted to finally address my doubts so I wouldn't be hounded by them. As I adjusted to this new openness to ideas, facts, and worldviews, I became much more detached from the final outcome of my exploration and more willing to go where the evidence led. It was quite freeing not to feel the need to rationalize or ignore information that didn't fit a particular belief system.

However, I admit, I am getting a bit tired. There are times when I just want answers and I don't want to continue to reevaluate. There are times when I want to just go with my preference, or emotional reaction, rather than continue to search. There are times when I really want the data to fit a certain belief system. Some days I'd rather remain a Christian. Some days I'd rather not. I've been thinking of individuals who change their worldviews more than once. Like Ann Rice, who went from atheism to Christianity. Recently, she has given up the religion of Christianity, but still considers herself a follower of Jesus. I would really prefer to not continually change my worldview. If I were to reject Christianity, it would probably be hard to be perpetually open to new evidence and to be as willing to change as I am now. I would like to believe that I am a lifelong seeker of the truth, but sometimes it just wears me out.

12 comments:

  1. Autp-pilot would be nice...i'm so tired, intellectually and emotionally. I posted some similar sentiments on the jesus creed blog...slippery slopes, and the o me of little faith blog. I think i''m starting to get depressed, loosing self worth....fun times

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  2. I just saw this post at a time to rend's blog. It was a thoughtful reflection on his experience with searching for the answers.

    Like A Child,
    I read your posts you referenced. I'm sorry this process is so emotionally oppressive for you. We'll just have to keekp encouraging each other. Hang in there!

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  3. I remember the feeling…not fondly. For me, it was the exhaustion of studying (while worrying) all day; never having quite enough time to read, afraid to even look at the list of books and articles I wanted to devour. Yet not being able to sleep, because of the thoughts jumbling around, and the snatched prayers hoping for respite.

    Not to mention the viscous cycle—the more I read, the harder to hold Christianity; the harder to hold Christianity, the more I read hoping to find the solution.

    So many times praying to…whatever it was out there…for an answer—ANY answer!—I didn’t care if it was the God of the Evangelical Christian, the Zeus of history, or some unforeseen God with tentacles for eyes, and a hankering for Moose Tracks Ice Cream.

    I didn’t care—just let me know!

    And no response.

    Eventually the “no response” became a response. Either there wasn’t anything there, OR whatever was there had no interest in providing the way for me to discover the necessary information about it. I was on my own.

    There came a moment where I switched from 51% sure Christianity was true, to 51% sure it was not. I’ve spoken of that moment before—even in acknowledging I half worried God would strike me with lightening bolts for daring to embrace the situation aloud.

    Suddenly the answers came easier. The Bible made a whole lot of sense if it was various human authors, making human claims with human perspectives. Including the same human tendencies toward selfish power, indulgence, and viewpoints.

    There were (are) countless areas I concede to “I don’t know” but now I can be satisfied with, “I don’t have to know.”

    You ask how some of us handle new evidence. I love the research. The other day, on Frank Turek’s blog, he made some comment about the founding father’s positions regarding government-supported religions. Hadn’t studied before—it gave me a chance to do so.

    I’m not worried about changing my mind. I enjoy the new discovery.

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  4. DagoodS,
    I think I've already reached the 51% tipping point in terms of my beliefs about Christianity. But, the fires of hell, which I don't really believe in, start to make me a little nervous about admitting that, much like your lightning bolt.

    Christianity demands that one arrive at an answer, make a confession of faith, declare a side. There's not alot of room for joyful discovery along the way and going where the evidence leads.

    I don't really feel confident that I'll arrive at THE ANSWER. But, I'd like to think that I can reach a point where I experience a more peaceful acceptance of where I am. It sounds like you have found that place for yourself. I appreciate your comment: "I’m not worried about changing my mind. I enjoy the new discovery."

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  5. DoOrDoNot: There's not alot of room for joyful discovery along the way and going where the evidence leads.
    .
    Yep. There is an enticing relief about not having to absolutely, positively support a certain position, or be damned.

    The Gospel of Mark written in 65 CE? O.K. What about arguments for 35 CE? Fine—let’s see what they say. Or arguments for 135 CE—great! I am not bound by some paradigm or myopic vision that earlier has to be better, and therefore give more weight to arguments for earlier dates, and less weight to opposing view.

    I can give equal weight to all arguments. And…as is more often the case the more I study, I find…if there is no set conclusion, but rather a set of parameters—I am fine with that. I can date Mark from 65 CE – 150 CE and feel the contentment in my soul.

    I find I have a suggestion. A book I recommend to everyone is Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. I discovered this book, when I realized it was recommend by Dr. Richard Carrier AND James P. Holding. If those two suggest it, it has to be good.

    I guarantee you will never read the Gospels in the same way. Because it puts the writings in the eyes of a first century Judean—how would they understand the parables Jesus said. How would they interpret the miracle stories, etc. Too often we treat the New Testament as a 21st Century document. (How many times have we seen 21st Century analogies—would they fit in that world?)

    The thing about reading this, is that we realize how much we have wrong about trying to fit those works in our world. How little we can understand it. And how much possibility there is to view the Bible in a whole different light.

    It is one (of three) books I will never, ever loan out.

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  6. DagoodS,
    Thanks for the book recommendation. I will follow up on it. I saw that the author also wrote "The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology," which looked very interesting. Have you read that as well? I was thinking of reading NT Wright's book on the resurrection next, but was a bit reluctant given its sheer volume and my current work demands. I may start with the commentary instead.

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  7. NT Wright’s book is…O.K. (I only skimmed through parts.) I have read so much on the Resurrection, both pro and con, the topic doesn’t really interest me very much. Frankly, if I hear one more debate with Habermas’ Minimal Facts, I could tackle a horse.

    I haven’t read The New Testament World although I have read enough Malina to suspect what he wrote.

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  8. Hi DoOrDoNot,

    I found you through DagoodS blog. I've also been reading yours Like A Child, as I found you through this blog. :-)

    My experience of looking for answers led me out of Christianity. I didn't expect to find my way out but I was studying the topic of spiritual abuse, something we experienced as both parishioners and leaders in the church. It was the prolonged study of that topic that sent me on my slippery-slope path, if you will.

    There is life after leaving but it's not always easy. Just wanted you to know I'm out here and reading.

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  9. DagoodS,
    You are so incredibly well read that I'd like to see a listing of your favorite books/articles/essays within the major areas of Christianity that you've studied. There are an overwhelming number of words in print out there and I can't read them all!

    Zoe,
    Thanks so much for stopping by. You never know who is out there reading. I just posted something on your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts; you have a personable and engaging style.

    I'm sorry you've endured spiritual abuse in your past religious life. That is a not-so-uncommon experience, sadly. While I don't identify as being spiritually abuse, I've realized that my years in a conservative church setting left me feeling as if my thoughts were less valuable than the men in my congregation. I am much less likely to speak up in Bible class where men are present. I finally realized that I don't behave that way anywhere but in that setting. Even though I don't believe I'm inferior, I find it hard to change that way of relating.

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  10. Thank you for your comment on my blog DoOrDoNot. We all have a way of finding our way around don't we. I am encouraged by your positive comments about my style.

    I use to think when we were in class, that is Sunday School, Prayer Meetings, Bible College, Fellowship with friends etc. that men cared what we women, even I, had to say.

    I remember one day saying to myself, that's it, it's not worth it to speak up. I'd speak up, share, ask a question (apparently unanswerable) and you could hear a pin drop. Everyone, men, women, leader would just drop their jaws. If it had been in the month of August you'd hear the crickets chirping. I got tired to being invisible and knowing people preferred I just blend into the background.

    'Boy that Zoe sure must have little faith. Why does she ask so many questions? Can't she just trust and obey, for there's no other way.' *sigh*

    :-)

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  11. For the last several months I have allowed myself to ask questions I wouldn't even consider before. This has at best lead to times of uncertainty and at worst to panic-attack filled times of feeling utterly and completely lost. I cannot help but believe that there is a God. But I am utterly lost on who He is and what, if anything, He wants from me. I have been trying to just avoid this by trying to focus on other things, but that has proven to be like ignoring an 800 pound gorilla on crack in a china shop.

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  12. NearlyWithoutHope,
    Thanks for stopping by. Hard to ignore a high, 800 pound gorilla for sure! I can't ignore the questions either. They are persistent, nagging little creatures.

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