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I'm Not On Your Side (Rebel Yell Repost!)

I'm Not On Your Side (Rebel Yell Repost!)

Here's a blog entry I wrote over two years ago. I wanted to share it again, considering recent happenings:

With a rebel yell, she cried more, more, more...

I'm Not On Your Side

April 10, 2010

You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

~ Pee-wee Herman (Pee-wee's Big Adventure)

When I first discovered the world of online Christian apologetics, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. By the time I turned 25 I had a website full of articles and essays featuring arguments for Christian theism. I kept revising many of those web pages, trying constantly to improve or refine the arguments therein.

I believed then, as I believe now, that a person should have a rational basis for one's beliefs, particularly beliefs that demand life-changing conviction. I could not believe a competent and loving god would make rejection of reason, presumptuousness and gullibility the only standards by which a person can be saved. In an attempt to defend Christianity, I argued fervently against Christians who promoted and adhered to a faith which was precisely that. "Faith is the evidence of things not seen," they would tell me. I would reply with, "So... you 'know' it's true because you believe it?" Can a person be more presumptuous?

In the beginning I spent a lot of time on message boards debating non-theists. As time went on I found myself debating other Christians more than non-Christians. I didn't notice this gradual shift in opponents at first; I had always been one who promoted critical thinking, and I felt called by god to be a "voice of one crying in the [intellectual] wilderness," preaching a pro-reason message to Christians in the hope that they would learn to "love god with all their mind."

I am not going to question your opinions. I am not going to meddle with your belief. I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I say is, examine, inquire. Look into the nature of things. Search out the grounds of your opinions, the for and the against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for the faith that is in you."

~ Frances Wright, Divisions of Knowledge, 1828

The disregard for critical thinking prevalent among Christians bothered me. As I applied the axe of skepticism to the arguments of my brothers and sisters in the faith, I also turned that same axe to the trees in my own forest of arguments, not only to attempt to alleviate the doubt with which I was plagued (notice how I saw doubt as comparable to an affliction), but to improve and refine my Christian apologetics. As trees started to fall with each swing of the axe, I was forced by my own desire for truth to reevaluate my beliefs.

I gave up Christian apologetics. I tried to embrace a more mystical Christianity, reading works by Thomas à Kempis, Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning, and even at one point incorporating a form of Buddhist meditation, in an attempt to connect with god via intuition, experience and non-discursive means, because reason had failed (notice how I felt inclined to distrust reason rather than religion, in spite of the emphasis I placed on the importance of critical thinking). Christian mysticism failed as well, mostly due to this pesky organ I have called a brain. I was then forced to admit to myself (and eventually the world) what I had feared all along: I was an agnostic.

One of my Christian friends said to me, "I hear you've changed teams." No. I've only changed my mind. Even when I was a Christian apologist, I only defended what I thought was true. That's why I was just as ready to debate Christians as I was to debate atheists. When I listened to Dinesh D'Souza talk during the debate with John Loftus, all I could think was, "wow, this guy could talk Stevie Wonder into buying a mirror." D'Souza was all about emotional appeals, witty repartee and fast talk - scoring points for his side. To hell with truth: just score the "W" for your team. Keep polishing that rhetoric, Dinesh. You have a debate with Christopher Hitchens in April.

While D'Souza catered to the audience, Loftus actually helped Dinesh (inadvertently) by calling Christians "brainwashed," which only served to alienate or anger at least half of the audience. "Brainwashed" is such a strong and polarizing label, and depending on what meaning of the word Loftus intended to convey, I'm not sure it's accurate. Certainly, everyone struggles with bias, and one can't help but be influenced (or conditioned) by one's context. Brainwashed? I wouldn't have used that word, but that's just me. I'd probably make a terrible debater because I follow a different set of rules.

Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny — and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do).

~ Stephen J. Gould, The Lying Stones of Marrakech

I didn't call myself an agnostic so I could join a different team. I had (and have) no desire to trade one prejudice for another, or try to score points for anyone's side. I desire simply to know the truth, or at least come as close as I can to knowing the truth. I don't say the arguments used by Christian apologists like D'Souza are weak because I'm an agnostic; rather, I'm an agnostic because, in my estimation, their arguments are weak.


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