Why do Christians De-Convert?

In the comments section of a recent post Judge asked a number of questions regarding Christianity, which I found to be interesting enough to merit individual posts. I will combine a number of them, but a few deserve individual attention. So then following question, Judge’s first, is one of those. He asks:

  1. How do you account for people brought up in Christian families/education who then willingly and freely turn away from the religion (without being pushed by terrible personal tragedies or some such)? (Mike at the A-Unicornist is an example we both know, of course). In your opinion, what needs and desires did these people have which Christianity failed to fulfill?

I will say at the outset this has been very difficult to write on this, partly because it was not my desire to attack anyone in answering Judge’s question and also because it was easy for there to be so much here that the topic could easily become unwieldy. Since Judge specifically references Mike at the A-Unicornist, and because Mike has written himself about his de-conversion and his story is similar to many converts to atheism, I will start there. I don’t plan to speak for him because I can’t; indeed I don’t need to because he has been fairly clear about the cause of his de-conversion. So I will merely cite his own reasons for de-converting then respond to those. As far as I can tell, these are the reasons Mike gives for surrendering his faith:

1. He de-converted because he didn’t think Christian claims were substantiated:

“I deconverted because when I finally undertook that critical inquiry, I came to believe that the claims and tenets of Christianity are unsubstantiated.”

2.Because Christianity couldn’t answer certain questions like “why are there so many religions?” too his satisfaction:

“My deconversion was a gradual and emotionally trying process of disillusionment. It began with a simple question: why are there so many religions?”

3. Because the answers of Christian apologists are inadequate and easy to dismiss:

(Citing a chapter by C.S. Lewis he read) “Lewis failed to demonstrate why a “sinful soul” was a valid explanation for human behavior – he just assumes that it is. And since we cannot prove or disprove whether we have souls, I did not need to disprove his argument – merely find another plausible alternative. And if that plausible alternative is scientific, well, a scientific explanation is always more parsimonious than a supernatural one.”

He has lots of other bits and pieces where he levels criticisms of Christianity, but over all these seem to capture the essence of his reasoning. I think it could be summed up by saying he de-converted because he didn’t find Christianity to be intellectually satisfying – that appears to be the only “need or desire” it failed to fulfill in his estimation. And I think is a fairly typical description of converts (typically young men) to New Atheism. They had Christian childhood experiences of some sort, and then as young adults they chose to reject those childhood beliefs and adopt an atheistic worldview, often justifying it by their perception that Christianity is unable to meet the intellectual standards of science.

My own experience was almost the opposite of Mike’s. I was raised by a free-thinking father and a mildly religious mother. As I have detailed elsewhere I was immersed in a very secular upbringing – from the earliest age I was not only taught about the natural history of life and the earth (such as it was at the time) I was encouraged to read about it and learn it for myself. My father died when I was still a kid and so I was actually quite independent at a young age – I experienced significant povety and became increasingly street smart. By the time I was the age Mike became a Christian, I was a full blown skeptical agnostic – and I was encouraged to be so by my teachers and peers. I openly mocked the religious who I saw as backward and intellectually inferior. By the time I got to the university to study biology I wasn’t only an agnostic and skeptic I was a Marxist and anti-authoritarian. Again, this didn’t hurt my college career; it advanced it since I shared a worldview with most of my professors.

Because I was brutally honest in my materialism I didn’t pretend that I could simply ‘generate’ meaning and morals and purpose for myself. I was never a good pretender; if I believed something to be true I wanted to live like it was true – and I believed anyone who said life had meaning or purpose or claimed to have some corner on morality was pretending, even if they were an atheist. Such beliefs simply don’t comport with my wholly naturalistic viewpoint – yet even atheists desperately cling to them. And yet I still acknowledged my desire for such meaning and purpose. Though I denied the existence of morality, I had standards I wanted to maintain and yet found myself failing to do so repeatedly. Nonetheless I was a happy person, though too reflective and realistic to think happiness was all that important.

As I got older, I started turning a skeptical eye on my own beliefs. Many of the peers who shared my beliefs turned out on closer inspection to be just rich kids rebelling against their parents instead of people who had intellectual motivations for rejecting weak dogmas. I noticed knowledge didn’t stop people from being arrogant or selfish or indifferent to human suffering, including myself. Science didn’t stop wars or violence or poverty- in fact sometimes it made them much worse. As a biology major, I had many opportunities to question up close those professors who were actively researching the issues I was dealing with – and soon found that the public confidence they had in their beliefs was much less certain when examined. I was discovering that human intellect and empirical knowledge alone was never going to meet our greatest needs. I started to become skeptical of skepticism. In a sense I left materialistic skepticism for the same reason Mike left Christianity – because it was intellectually unsupportable. That is where my faith begins, not as a blind accession to certain truths but with epistemic humility, the realization that our knowledge is limited. This limitation is a product of human nature – not only our physical limitations but our temporal limitations as well as the acknowledgement that our ability to understand is effected by our own inclinations, desires and biases. No person and source of knowledge is free from human weakness though it can be checked to some extent.

Interestingly, Mike seems to have made peace with that. He admits that science is provisional, and our knowledge of reality is limited, and always will be, as I have pointed out elsewhere:

We simply cannot know anything of absolute truth – it’s beyond our capacity as human beings. I, for one, take that as a good thing. It’s not scary to admit you don’t have it all figured out – that’s how you start growing.

The difference is Mike is confident that what he knows now (primarily through popular science books) is sufficient to be confident of a materialist worldview, though he will not actually defend such a worldview. And he has faith that scientific progress will certainly continue to support such a worldview despite the acknowledgement that knowledge is constantly being revised.

So in a sense he ends up back where he he claims he left, with unanswered and possibly unanswerable questions and a faith in a something he cannot see.

So that leads us back to why he would need to reject Christianity for scientism given that those intellectual limitations haven’t been alleviated? Again, I can’t speak for Mike, but I share with Pascal the conviction that men reject God because of their passions rather than their intellect. From his own testimony, Mike seems to have gotten involved in church as an emotional experience as a young teen. It wasn’t until later he actually considered it intellectually and ‘counted the cost’ of following Christ as it were. Again this was quite different from my own experience as a young man; I had already experienced what atheism had to offer by way of intellectual satisfaction and lifestyle choices. So it does not suprise me that he found it lacking – but I don’t think that is the only reason he left. Interestingly the fact that many would walk away from their faith is anticipated by Jesus Himself. He gave three reasons why people walk away from their faith:

1. Spiritual opposition.

2. Persecution.

3. The desire for material pleasures.Mark 4:13-20

These reasons comport with observations I have made with many interactions I have had with atheist converts. They never merely reject Christianity but they always reject Christian morality as well. It’s never a case where they persist in the lifestyle Christian beliefs require (sexual purity, self-control, self-sacrificial relationships, etc) and only reject its truth claims. And it isn’t necessary for this to be so; they themselves often argue that they are equally moral to Christians. And yet they invariably adopt lifestyles that are morally antagonistic to Christianity. I think it is no coincidence that atheist converts are mostly young men whose lives are most driven by their selfish passions, and who are most willing to subvert belief to desire. If Mike were someone who had persisted in Christian morality I could say this wasn’t the case but he is no different in this regard. The ‘need and desire’ Christianity doesn’t fulfill, and can’t, is the freedom to sleep around guilt free or live a lifestyle that is gratuitously selfish. And as much as these desires drive the choices of young men they provide a strong motivation for rejecting Christianity. I also note that a lot of these guys when they get older and marry and have children are much less antagonistic. They may not return to Christianity, but they certainly don’t see it as the enemy they did of their youth. This isn’t universally true but is often the case for men I see in committed long term relationships with healthy families.

In the end I can only speak from what I observe – but as the intellectual case for materialistic atheism seems to have uncontestable weaknesses and Christianity is more than rational in it’s understanding both of the natural world and as a foundation for human flourishing, I am inclined to conclude that rejection of Christianity is more often a product fulfilling one’s passions than it is of intellectual satisfaction.

Hope this response is helpful. I am sure it will generate discussion.

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28 Responses to Why do Christians De-Convert?

  1. James says:

    Here’s a deconversion testimony from a Baptist pastor: http://byroniac.blogspot.com/2011/02/still-in-doubt.html

  2. Justin says:

    Not to step on too many toes, but those reasons would not convince me to deconvert.

    1) Science has a better explanation… of what? It doesn’t explain any of the very deep questions at all. Not even one deep question. Science can’t even generate a set of equations that would predict the water flowing from my kitchen faucet with any respectable degree of accuracy. Only in the past 20 years have we found out about the tiny machinery in living cells… machinery we’ve actually specifically replicated part for part as humans decades before.

    2) Truth cannot be known. It’s beyond the capacity of humans… Really? Is that absolutely true? We’ve been there and done that on this blog already.

    Two reasons given, both demonstrably incorrect. I wonder if Mike or any of the other hundreds of atheists I’ve met online actually believe these two claims. Mike isn’t unique in making these claims. And stating them forcefully does not add to their truth value.

    I would accept any evidence for science’s answer of ANY deep and burning question, but as far as I know, no scientific explanations exist. How the universe is here? Why the universe is here? Why it is intelligible as it is? Why it is ordered the way it is? Etc., etc. Science answers not a one of these, and most likely never will.

    Dawkins is now on record as stating that these questions simply don’t matter. Why? Because he cannot give an answer. So, just wave your hands and make them disappear.

    I can see why some find Christianity intellectually unfulfilling. I did for a time, until I found the right guides. Now, having explored the more mature arguments for both sides, I thank God daily that I never did quit believing.

  3. I think your criticism may be applicable to some atheists some of the time. But after reading through your reasons for why you *think why people deconvert and leave Christianity the more I find that either I am a grand exception or your generalization isn’t encompassing enough.

    I have been with my wife for 8 years. We have a beautiful daughter. And I don’t havethe time nor luxury to sleep around because of my devotion to my family. Not that would ever want to.

    My deconversion hinged on my love and passion for Jesus and then, equally, my love and compassion for my wife and who she was as both a Japanese and a free thinking secular Buddhist.

    First, in my Christian youth my passion burned for Jesus, I was filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit, I was a Campus Crusader for Christ, I was a Bible camp counsellor, was a youth leader in my local church, was part of numerous Christian charities, I helped organize and partook in various youth retreats with the aim of enhancing the bonds of Christian fellowship across the U.S., I wrote Christian apoplogetics on my blog called “The Chronicles of a Sympathetic Christian,” and so on.

    All this was because I burned with a passion to bring the love of Christ to others.

    My zealousy got the better of me though… because I wasn’t satisfied with the stained glass, pristine, Jesus wich was being preached from the pulpit any longer. Even then I knew that such a figure was dressed up and/or molded to fit the pastor’s sermon. I knew deep down that such a personage was largely artificial–a Jesus partly evolved from scripture and partly from the collective imagination (i.e., parochiality) of our own devising.

    I felt the Holy Spirit compelling me toward a more intimate relationship with Christ. Therefore I embarked upon a personal spiritual journey to enhance my understanding and grow in my relationship with Jesus. I began by pursuing my desire to have the most intimate relationship possible with my Lord and Savior by learning about the real historical Jesus, the authentic man behind the Gospels, not the watered down Sunday school version. I was bound and determined to learn everything there was to learn about the Gospel Jesus.

    Approximately 120 history books later the Jesus of history proved to be much more illusive and problematic than expected. In fact, the Jesus I knew and loved was not the same man as the real historical person. Not even close. The Jesus behind the Gospels proved a romantic ideal, meanwhile the historical Jesus became impossible to demarcate. Suddenly the Jesus behind the Gospels vanished and like a sand castle on the beach washing out to sea.

    Just as soon as I realized there was no tangible figure to base my faith on, along with the cognitive dissonance certain anlytical and historical concerns raised, it dwindled to practically nothing. Even so, my passion of getting to the truth outlived my faith.. As it turns out, my faith failed me, not I it.

  4. Nate says:

    I don’t know that you can say Jesus vanished like a sand castle. The man lived 2,000 years ago, 100 years ago there is little documentation of people’s existence, by this rationale my great-great-grandfather might not have existed. I have to assume he was a poor Irish peasant type (fits with the general theme of my plain old great grand parents) but we can find nothing so much as a record of baptism.

    You’re asking a lot for 2000 years of time. There is also little contemporary evidence of many kings and emperors. Even chronicles written about them can be dated to hundreds of years after death.

    Yes we do have some historical evidence of existence, although it isn’t much. The gospels are supposed to have been written within 100 or so years of his death as well. estimates vary from 30 years to 200, but the lower end is considered far more likely. That’s pretty good when compared to chronicles and such written about other historical figures.

  5. The second part involve me discovering that there was no genuine moral basis in my Christian belief system. The catalyst for this realization was me meeting my wife.. and her being of a different background… both culturally and with regard to religion as well. This of course raised other forms of cognitive dissonance, mostly dealing with the moral dynamics of a secular worldview vs. my Christian worldview. This raised new philosophical concerns I had never had to consider before, and it forced me into a very serious Outsider Test of Faith, of sorts.

    To make a long story short my Christian moral precepts did not stand up to exacting scrutiny either and yielded no answers to the sorts of questions I was asking. Yet since my OTF involved real world consequences, I had to find a better more evolved, philosophically sturdy, moral system (or systems).

    Interestingly enough, many of the Christian values I held were already inherently a part of other belief systems. It was only a matter of assembling the best moral theories and getting mainly the same moral results minus the limitations of Christianity.

  6. @Nate

    I talk about the historical concerns on my blog. But I stand by my analogy… it’s not so much what we don’t know… it’s what we do know which complicates things.

  7. Nate says:

    I’m not so sure about that either, we can assemble a reasonable picture of a person, but I know that a lot of the sources we have are those who would be prejudicial, one way or the other. I’ll have a look at your blog.

  8. @Nate

    Well, I personally have come to several conclusions about the historicity of Jesus.

    Mainly, as I stated, it’s relatively impossible to demarcate the historical Jesus. This means we can’t really define the Gospel Jesus as historical, since we don’t know what historical bits to delineate from the non-historical. That’s one of the biggest concerns I have as a historian.

    Don’t mistake me, however, I’m not saying there wasn’t a real historical figure called Jesus the Christ. In fact, I believe there is enough internal evidence in the Gospels to make the case that there was a real person–but again, the above problem comes into play.

    After that it is just a matter of familiarizing yourself with early Christian history. After which, I think all the clues point to a literary hypothesis based on a legendary figure. This mythologization is traceable, unlike the historicity of the real personage.

    However, I am well aware of what you are referring to in your examples, but I have addressed these concerns at various times on my blog. Feel free to visit it anytime!

    http://www.advocatusatheist.blogspot.com

  9. @Nate

    Well, I personally have come to several conclusions about the historicity of Jesus.

    Mainly, as I stated, it’s relatively impossible to demarcate the historical Jesus. This means we can’t really define the Gospel Jesus as historical, since we don’t know what historical bits to delineate from the non-historical. That’s one of the biggest concerns I have as a historian.

    Don’t mistake me, however, I’m not saying there wasn’t a real historical figure called Jesus the Christ. In fact, I believe there is enough internal evidence in the Gospels to make the case that there was a real person–but again, the above problem comes into play.

    After that it is just a matter of familiarizing yourself with early Christian history. After which, I think all the clues point to a literary hypothesis based on a legendary figure. This mythologization is traceable, unlike the historicity of the real personage.

    However, I am well aware of what you are referring to in your examples, but I have addressed these concerns at various times on my blog. Feel free to visit it anytime!

    You can click on the hyper link or visit:
    www(dot)advocatusatheist(dot)blogspot(dot)com

  10. Mike D says:

    Tristan brought this atrocity to my attention in his latest blog. I’ve long stopped considering you someone worthy or capable of rational discourse.

    Your obsession with me is becoming borderline disturbing. Not only do you persist in dishonest misrepresentations of my own positions (fortunately, I can speak for myself), but now you raise your dishonesty to new heights with the audacious presumption that you’re in a position to make personal judgments about my moral fortitude. But you don’t know anything about my personal life, Jack, and you never will.

  11. Mike D says:

    Justin,

    In your first paragraph, you just parrot the same tired God of the Gaps. Richard Dawkins said it right – theists and atheists both love mystery, but for different reasons. For the atheist, the question is the beginning of the conversation and inauguration of a fascinating and continual inquiry. For the theist, simply insert “A magic man done it!” and the inquiry’s come to an end. As Richard Dawkins said: “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

    In your second, you misunderstand a basic point about epistemology. The question is not necessarily whether absolute truth exists, but whether any truth can be known with absolute certainty. Science has a demonstrably reliable and valid methodology by which we can attain knowledge, and identify and discard erroneous information so that a consensus is built. What is the methodology for attaining supernatural truth, or for discerning true supernatural claims from false ones? There is none.

  12. jackhudson says:

    Tristan brought this atrocity to my attention in his latest blog. I’ve long stopped considering you someone worthy or capable of rational discourse.

    Your obsession with me is becoming borderline disturbing. Not only do you persist in dishonest misrepresentations of my own positions (fortunately, I can speak for myself), but now you raise your dishonesty to new heights with the audacious presumption that you’re in a position to make personal judgments about my moral fortitude. But you don’t know anything about my personal life, Jack, and you never will.

    Don’t let me stop you from flattering yourself; I am sure we are all obsessed with your latest utterings, how could we not be? The fact is the only reason I mentioned you at all is because Judge specifically asked about what you had written (maybe you didn’t actually read what I wrote). Quite frankly I haven’t even been reading your latest posts because they have become so trite and clichéd. And yes, you can speak for yourself – which you are free to do here though you run away whenever challenged.

    But you are right about one thing – I don’t know about your personal life, and that is why I said as much in my post. All I know is what you write, and I commented on that. I didn’t comment on anything you didn’t write about publicly – in fact you made a specific post arguing against the Christian moral standard of preserving sexual relationships for marriage, so it’s not as if your views on the subject are private.

    Nonetheless I am skeptical about anyone’s ‘testimony’ on the web, secular or Christian; we can say anything we want about ourselves or others, and it is virtually impossible to verify or deny those statements. You could be a closet serial killer for all I know, as could I. This is why I usually try to stick to ideas and logical rationales rather than personal experiences.

    But a piece of advice – if you are going to maintain a public blog and publicly express your views on various subjects, then you need to get a pair of cajones because people are going to comment on what you write. Whining about people’s comments is not only unmanly, but it’s annoying.

    Of course, it appears when I don’t comment on your blog no one else does either, so you probably have little to worry about.

  13. jackhudson says:

    I think your criticism may be applicable to some atheists some of the time. But after reading through your reasons for why you *think why people deconvert and leave Christianity the more I find that either I am a grand exception or your generalization isn’t encompassing enough.

    I have been with my wife for 8 years. We have a beautiful daughter. And I don’t have the time nor luxury to sleep around because of my devotion to my family. Not that would ever want to. My deconversion hinged on my love and passion for Jesus and then, equally, my love and compassion for my wife and who she was as both a Japanese and a free thinking secular Buddhist.

    Actually, Tristan, you are the sort of person I was thinking about when I wrote, “I also note that a lot of these guys when they get older and marry and have children are much less antagonistic. They may not return to Christianity, but they certainly don’t see it as the enemy they did of their youth. This isn’t universally true but is often the case for men I see in committed long term relationships with healthy families.” At least you come across in a much less strident manner than most of the New Atheists young folks do.

    A couple of questions just out of curiousity.

    What is your opinion of Christian morality regarding sexual fidelity both before and after marriage? What about it’s constraints concerning homosexuality? I am just curious how your views of those issues track with those of other atheists.

    Also, regarding your wife’s Buddhism, do you think Buddhism presents an accurate view of human nature and reality? Why?

  14. Nate says:

    @Justin

    You see I went the opposite route. I became a practicing catholic again after my first year of study in History. I ended up taking two degrees, one in History: western civilization and one in Anthropology.

    Originally we stopped going to church after the death of my grandmother. It wasn’t because we were angry at God or something like that, it was just something we did with her and it was hard to do without.

    I get to college and all of the sudden, not only does catholic church give me the fascinating opportunity to study an immensely old and complex religious rite but I find some evidence for The existence of a real Jesus in roman accounts.

    As far as the early Christians not worshiping him as the son of God, that’s perfectly true. In many cases one belief disseminated without the other, but I liken it more to the way the VCR spread widely without the knowledge to set the clock disseminating as well. It’s not accurate to say that it came much later though, in fact during the lives of the apostles.

  15. Justin says:

    In your first paragraph, you just parrot the same tired God of the Gaps.

    Okay, let’s back up. My comment was in response to your general claim that “science has better explanations”. Note that I did not invoke God to refute your point, and therefore neither did I invoke a “God-of-the-gaps” type argument. I’m simply refuting your point that science has better explanations. For the questions that interest us here, the fact is, no, science doesn’t have better explanations. It has no explanations at all. So, your claim that I’m using a “God-of-the-gaps” argument is a red herring, and is wrong. I’ll ask you again:

    1. Why is the universe orderly?
    2. What caused the universe to come into existence?
    3. How, exactly, do abstract and nonmaterial laws of physics govern matter and energy?

    These are the types of questions that science has no answers for, and since they have no answers, they cannot have “better answers”. No need to invoke God here, nor did I in my initial post.

    Richard Dawkins said it right – theists and atheists both love mystery, but for different reasons. For the atheist, the question is the beginning of the conversation and inauguration of a fascinating and continual inquiry. For the theist, simply insert “A magic man done it!” and the inquiry’s come to an end. As Richard Dawkins said: “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

    I’m pained to see yet another atheist quoting Dawkins as if he’s some form of atheist prophet, but you’ve committed a second fallacy here of the generalization variety. Sure, the God of the gaps explantion has been invoked in the past, and still gets used today. But from Copernicus to Sir Isaac Newton to John Polkinghorne, Christian scientists have consistently not stopped at saying “God did it”. They’ve probed the scientific questions as well. A long litany of scientists have done so, so once again, your argument here falls flat on its face. Further, there are most certainly atheists who are content to say “God didn’t do it” as they make their way unquestioningly through life. It cuts both ways, and since it does, you’ve added no insight here, either.

    In your second, you misunderstand a basic point about epistemology. The question is not necessarily whether absolute truth exists, but whether any truth can be known with absolute certainty. Science has a demonstrably reliable and valid methodology by which we can attain knowledge, and identify and discard erroneous information so that a consensus is built. What is the methodology for attaining supernatural truth, or for discerning true supernatural claims from false ones? There is none.

    I beg your pardon, but can you explain the difference between an absolute truth existing and “knowing an absolute truth”? I know the difference, but want your thoughts on it. Careful though. To even float an answer to this question will run you afoul of your own claim, which was my point above. To assert that we cannot know truth absolutely is self-refuting.

    As to the distinction between knowing supernatural truth vs. natural truth, I find the distinction between supernatural and natural to be arbitrary, subjective, and useless. A personal computer would have seemed supernatural to us, and I don’t presume the arrogance that scientists and others do in making the distinction. Technology 2,000 years from now might very well seem supernatural to us were we to experience it without the benefit of an explanation of how it works. To assume that our knowledge of the universe is complete enough to label things supernatural or natural is arrogant. Note that saying that our knowledge is incomplete is different than saying we cannot know absolute truth.

  16. Justin says:

    Yet since my OTF involved real world consequences, I had to find a better more evolved, philosophically sturdy, moral system (or systems).

    Hi Tristan,

    How did you come to find a more philosophically sturdy moral system? The reason I’m interested in the details is because this same search is what led me back into the fold, so to speak.

    The firm I work for does business with a handful of the largest banks on Wall Street. I’ve worked closely with a number of folks at these banks over the past decade. To the very last one of them, they conduct business in an amoral manner. They do whatever is legal, whether it is moral or not.

    Having seen a few bad deals where people were misled legally, due simply to the inadequacy of SEC law in keeping up with synthetic derivatives, I’ve had to really re-examine my moral basis as well. What I found was, that without God, basing things on a wholly materialistic philosophy, cannot really get me to an intellectually satisfying theory of morality.

    There are some noble attempts, I will say, but they all seem to make exceptions for those with sufficient power to simply override these rules for everyone but themselves. Certain forms of utilitarianism, for example, when examined honestly, actually support the notion of a brutal dictator, because they boil down to “might makes right”. In other words, the materialistic pressures in these forms of morality (i.e. the rest of society punishing you) often fail in practice. If they fail in practice with this much regularity, they certainly cannot be a sturdy philosophical basis for morality.

    So I’m curious to hear some more details of which theory of morality you have settled upon.

  17. @Jack

    I took a stab at answering your 3-ish questions.

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2011/03/appreciations-are-way-my-personal-tao.html

    @Justin

    The answer to your question is also contained in the piece.

  18. jackhudson says:

    Thanks for the response Tristan, though I do have to say it reads more like a screed against Judaism and Christianity then an answer per se. Another thought – you say:

    When it comes to relationship models, I personally do not see any moral distinction between one social construct and another, whether it polygamy, polyandry, polyamory, monogamy and so forth, they are merely variant relationship models based within the same ethical playing field. This is not a controversial statement, mind you. None-the-less those who are more conservative will be inclined to disagree—but that’s to be expected as that’s the very definition of conservatism—disagreeing to proposed changes and alternative lifestyles and or worldviews. Regardless of what model you practice, it has been my experience that most successful adult relationships are predicated on fidelity and loyalty, communication and negotiation, trust, honesty, dignity, gender equality, non-possessiveness, mutual support, sharing domestic burdens and so on (you may be surprised to learn that these are the values within polyamory, not monogamy, although some of the values are overlapping).

    With that in mind, if your wife said, “I love you Tristan, but I am attracted to someone else as well – would it be alright to have a physical relationship with them?”, how would you respond given the above description of sexual morality?

    Understand this is purely theoretical and has nothing to to with what I think about your marriage or your relationship with your wife – I am merely proposing a scenario to test your view of morality vis a vis sexual fidelity in marriage. That of course is the difficulty of these conversations – they concern our personal choices even if we are considering objective ideas of morality.

  19. Justin says:

    Hey Tristan!

    I saw toward the end of your blog entry that you seem to have settled on moral relativism. In an earlier comment, you said you were seeking a more sturdy philosophical basis for morality. These two seem to me to be mutually exclusive. To embrace moral relativism is to embrace no logical basis for morality whatsoever, sturdy or shaky.

    This isn’t to say that atheists have no morals or that they don’t live moral lives. It’s just to say that it seems that the method of building a personal, relativistic system of morality is often to thumb through various religions rules and pick and choose which ones you like personally. Atheists who spend more effort developing their system of morality actuall dive into the various moral theories of Kant or Mills, for example, and will say they are a utilitarian or some even admit – a hedonist.

    The problem comes from the smuggled in assumption that virtually all atheists make when doing this; morality is subjective. The problem then becomes, as Kant came close to arguing, is that actually following a subjective morality is irrational. Why be moral at all if morality is nothing more than personal preference? Moral relativism is simply not rational.

    Further trouble comes in when a moral relativist attempts to criticize other forms of morality, as you do in your blog post. If morality is truly relative and subjective, then you have no moral grounds upon which to criticize the morality of bronze-aged “goat herders” (I think is the term you used). Goat herders indeed. But these goat herders, while not technologically advanced, did at least know that moral relativism didn’t make much sense.

  20. Justin says:

    Oh, and P.S. – Congrats on the sharp tux and beautiful wife!

  21. Justin says:

    “…then you have no moral grounds…” in the last paragraph should be “logical grounds”….

    Typing responses on an iPhone is a new (and apparently distracting) experience for me – my apologies.

  22. @Justin

    Actually I havent settled for moral relatavism per se. I do believe the practice of morality is mainly relative whether or not absolute morality exists (see moral sense theory). Rather I view it as the methodology for testing various moral constructs (Jamesian pragmatic morality). My own personal form of morality is a form of reliablism (see Michael Bishop), appended to a utilitarian based constructivism, buttressed with Buddhist philosophical insights (many which denote a type of pluralism) and reinforced by mutual corrisponding theories (i.e., other appreciations).

    As I said, there is no single theory I subscribe to, but the combination of these as a networked modular moral model work just as well, if not better than Christianity. And as I pointed out in the piece, Christianity is limited by a dogmatic creed confined to one archaic book. Which, as a consequence, forces Christians to either become relativists themselves, or else strict legalists.

  23. @Jack

    I wrote a long reply to your hypothetical question, but it doesn’t seem to have posted? Yet it’s too late for me to re-write it now, so I’ll check again in the morning and see if it came through. If not, I’ll try to remember what I said.

  24. jackhudson says:

    I looked at the posts in pending (you had some there before because Worpress occasionally marks posts with links as spam) but I’m not seeing anything there Tristan.

  25. Justin says:

    Well, I don’t really find the fact that people behave badly at times to mean that they necessarily practice moral relativism. In fact, I find that it’s really difficult to put moral relativism into practice with any regularity. People behave badly and generally know they behave badly. It’s why we see excuses and attempts at justification when we get caught. If morality was relative, no excuses or justification would be needed.

    Even many deep moral issues often aren’t a debate about morality, they’re debates about matters of fact. Abortion is a fine example. Neither side argues that murder is okay. They argue over when life begins, a debate about a non-moral matter of fact. Even though the pro-life movement gets accused of being murderers, their response isn’t that murder is okay, it’s that a fetus isn’t human. If morality was truly relative, this debate would be unnecessary.

    If morality is really seated in emotions, then I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ argument. I’m not upset with someone for very long who takes the last seat on the bus because they got there first. A reasoning process tells me they took the seat because they got there first. I’m upset with someone who takes my stuff out of the seat, though I got there first, and takes my seat. Each person is equally inconvenient and my emotions tell me “unfair, unfair” – but reason tells me otherwise. When people attempt to justify bad behavior, they typically appeal to reason, not to pluralism.

  26. Justin says:

    Oh, and people who are on trial – and whose defense is based solely upon their emotional condition at the time of the act – invariably use the temporary insanity defense.

  27. jackhudson says:

    @Tristan

    As I said, there is no single theory I subscribe to, but the combination of these as a networked modular moral model work just as well, if not better than Christianity.

    How do you measure ‘better’ here?

  28. If you supposly de-convert, you were a false-convert. Once your sealed with the Holy Spirit, you know what no lost person would know if they were to try and just go to church and read the bible, because we can’t know spiritual things without the Spirit of God. I thought I was saved before, and then I tryed living a godly life and what not, I can tell you I see that is the reason why people who claim they were once christians, say they dont believe anymore. Satan has them believe they were actually a christian when indeed they thought they had some sort of experience and they start rationalizing things and try to understand the things of God with their blindness, and then boom! They fall away. Think about it. This is the truth.

    I have 2 testimonys on youtube type, newbornnickumz or
    “I was bi before Jesus”

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