Losing your Religion, and Why that is Bad

I have to admit I have a somewhat obsessive interest in those who early in their life rejected only to re-discover it again later on after period of skepticism, atheism, or agnosticism. Part of this might be because it reflects my own life story, partly it might be because I find that such people seem to have made much more of an intentional and well thought out choice than those who merely inherited their Christian faith, or passively accept it as true. Often such people have keener understanding of what our civilization is losing as it becomes more secular, and have much stronger voices in opposing this decay.

I recently posted a bit from Peter Hitchens, the brother of Christopher Hitchens, wherein he describes his journey from atheism to belief in Christ. Another such person whose life has gone through this transformative process is Roger Scruton, writer and visiting professor at the philosophy faculty at Oxford. In the last chapter of his books of essays, Gentle Regrets, Scruton writes eloquently about what is lost as secularism comes to dominate a life and a society:

For there are certain truths about the human condition that are hard to formulate and hard to live up to, and which we therefore have a motive to deny. It may require moral discipline if we are to accept these truths and also to live by them.

For instance, there is the truth that we are self-conscious beings, and that this distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. There is the truth that we are free, accountable and objects of judgement in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. There is the truth that we are motivated not only by desire and appetite, but by a conception of the good. There is the truth that we are not just objects in the world of objects, but also subjects who relate to each other reciprocally. … To the person with religious belief — whether Christian or Muslim, whether monotheist or polytheist, whether a believer in the afterlife or not — those truths are obvious, and their consequences immediately apparent. Religious people may not express the truths as I have done, since I am adopting a secular idiom. Nor will they normally be aware of the philosophical reasoning that would defend those truths against modernist and postmodernist doubt. Nevertheless that is how they see the world. For them the “human form divine,” as Blake described it, is set apart from the rest of nature. Our form bears, for them, the marks of its peculiar destiny; it is capable of sanctity and liable to desecration, and in everything it is judged from a perspective that is not of this world. That way of seeing people enshrines the fundamental truth of our condition, as creatures suspended between the empirical and the transcendental, between being and judgement. But it deploys concepts that are given to us through religion, and to be obtained only with the greatest effort without it.

If you see things in that way you will find it difficult to share the view of Enlightenment thinkers that religious decline is no more than the loss of false beliefs; still less will you be able to accept the postmodernist vision of a world now liberated from absolutes, in which each of us constructs guidelines of his own, and that the only agreement that counts is the agreement to differ. The decline of Christianity, I maintain, involves, for many people, not the freedom from religious need, but the loss of concepts that would enable them to assuage it and, by assuaging it, to open their knowledge and their will to the human reality. For them the loss of religion is an epistemological loss — a loss of knowledge. Losing that knowledge is not a liberation but a fall.

As with many good thinkers and writers, Roger Scruton says much here that many only suspect or guess at, but can’t put into words. The loss of faith is the loss of knowledge, the loss of confidence in certain critical human characteristics, the loss of pillars of our civilization – and that is an incomparably great loss.

Advertisements

5 Responses to Losing your Religion, and Why that is Bad

  1. Bettawrekonize says:

    “Losing your Religion”

    Reminds me of that song, “Losing my religion” by R.E.M

  2. jackhudson says:

    Actually, he mentions that song at the beginning of the chapter this excerpt is taken from.

  3. bZirk says:

    All of this gives credence to the old saw, “Faith untested is not sure.”

    It’s only through testing that we can really begin to understand why we believe what we believe. May every Christian experience this, and they will at some point — if they’ll run with it. LOL!

    I’m not sure I’m one who inherited Christianity since I grew up in a home that was only nominally Christian. My parents never went to church or talked much about God but rather had the pragmatic view of most Americans — principles of Christianity dictated many norms of conduct and that was about it. Of course only some principles were adhered to and dismissed when it wasn’t practical by their view. This was very confusing to a child. Thankfully, I sought the Lord early in life and started studying the Bible on my own at a fairly young age.

    However, all of that did not keep me from coming to a crisis of faith at the ripe old age of 18. This is when I became aware of my drive to find the truth to the point I was willing to chuck all of the church’s teachings if they didn’t line up with it — whatever I discovered that truth to be. This is a type of power and confidence I hope every person seeking the truth will come to, and if they are really seeking the truth, I believe they will. Eventually I did chuck quite a few things from the church, but obviously, I affirmed the Lord as truth. Pat as that might sound to the uninitiated, it’s still the most profound thing I’ve discovered.

    I’m so glad I went through this period. Praise the Lord I had this experience, and frankly, the Lord exhorts us to search for truth and fearlessly! The scriptures are replete with this encouragement. Hallelujah! That’s one reason I wasn’t too thrown when my oldest child came to us (my husband and me) after a year of college and informed us she wasn’t too sure about “this God stuff.” My response, “Search it out. The Lord can handle anything you’ve got, but don’t take my word for it. LOL! Just don’t make the mistake of accepting someone else’s conclusions or conclusions so tidy as to be suspect.” You could have knocked her over with a feather, but my confidence in the Lord was obvious, and certainly intriguing. Goodie! ‘Cause no man-made logic can withstand this. 😀 Of course none of that is to say that we haven’t had some great discussion with her about logic. But what I think sets us apart in her mind is that we relish these rather than fear them. I have never been motivated by desperation to make someone believe — as if I could make someone believe but rather I know the Lord is capable, and I love this!

  4. bZirk says:

    Oh, and thanks for the book reference, Jack. It’s now on my Shelfari. BTW, I’m having a blast with that program, and it’s been a good way to keep up with all my interests.

    Hope the weather is as good where you are as it is here. It’s a gorgeous day!

  5. jackhudson says:

    @bZirk:

    Thanks so much for filling me in on your experiences – I love hearing how other people’s faith in Christ has progressed.

    I know for myself I was pretty settled on what I believed by age 13, when I made it clear to my mom I had no interest in anything religious. She wanted me to get confirmed (into a church we hardly attended) to which I replied, “Only if you promise I never have to go to church again.” Oddly she agreed and I became a confirmed agnostic. By the time I hit college, I was not only a skeptic, but a very antagonistic and angry skeptic who delighted in grilling Christians, often bringing them to tears. In fact, I think the reason I end up so often engaging with atheists on matters of faith is that I owe some form of penance. 🙂

    Harassing God’s people was easy enough, but Christ Himself was not so easily put off – and I came to faith not as a matter intellectual ascent or emotional desire, but because God took a metaphysical bat to my heart and emptied me of all the illusions I had about myself and reality. He hasn’t stopped being good at knocking people off the high horses. I became a Christian literally overnight – so fast that it sort of blew everyone who knew me out of the water. One week I was partying and blaspheming and denigrating Christians, next week I’m getting baptized. It must have had some validity; I haven’t changed my mind or heart about what happened in 27+ years.

    Interesting what you shared about your daughter as well. I have had a different experience with my oldest of four, who is 22 this year. She made it through her teen years and college (a Christian college) with no discernable doubts or falling away in any respect, and is by all measures a lovely, faithful accomplished Christian woman. Ironically, this has often concerned me – it still does. It sort of plays on one of my biggest fears as a parent, that we would raise ‘nice Christian kids’ and nothing else. Part of the reason I fear that is because I see one of the problems Christians often have is ‘generational drift’. The parents have a sincere faith through conversion, the kids inherit that faith and keep the outward form of it without the inward transformation, and their children reject Christianity as empty and hypocritical.

    It is one of the great ironies of Christian parenthood that we devote so much time to raising them up in the faith, only to worry after we have appeared to succeed that what they might actually need is to have their faith challenged more. Then again I might change my mind once we get the boys through adolescence, and I will just be thankful that they survived. 🙂

    Anyway, good hearing from you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: