The Reluctant Convert

February 14, 2013
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I saw a recent biographical article in Christianity Today regarding the conversion of a former left-wing lesbian professor to Christianity. Such a story is rife with implications about many of the issues concerning the gay rights debate today – whether sexuality can change, whether it is hateful or hurtful to question sexual identities, how Christians should view homosexuality and vice versa. But that is not what interested me as much as the fact that the author was a reluctant convert. Such people fascinate me in part because I was such a convert – I was a happy person, intellectually settled and spiritually uninterested – not at all what is now defined as a ‘seeker’. Though I had a passing familiarity with what church entailed I was not at all raised in a Christian home. Yet God gripped my life and I could not shake Him. I never felt like I pursued God so much as I was doggedly pursued. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield explains in a similar fashion how she fought against the power that compelled her:

I started reading the Bible. I read the way a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations. At a dinner gathering my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend J cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine. “This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria,” she warned.

With tremors, I whispered, “J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?”

J exhaled deeply. “Rosaria,” she said, “I was a Presbyterian minister for 15 years. I prayed that God would heal me, but he didn’t. If you want, I will pray for you.”

I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might. Then, one Sunday morning, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in. The image that came in like waves, of me and everyone I loved suffering in hell, vomited into my consciousness and gripped me in its teeth.

I fought with everything I had.

I did not want this.

I did not ask for this.

I counted the costs. And I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign.

Of course such an incident is not uncommon in Christianity; one of the earliest and most notable converts was the apostle Paul, who as Saul was literally knocked down blind and upbraided by the person of Christ whom he despised up until that point. C.S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton had similar experiences. It seems such folks are amongst the most insistent Christians with regard to the verifiable truth of their faiths – perhaps because they must wrestle with the inevitability of their own experiences.

Either way I think the very fact that such folks exist is contrary to the way believers are often portrayed by skeptics. Rather than hopeless and desperate people clinging to religion as the last chance for happiness, many believers were in fact convinced and content skeptics who were run to ground by a living and insistent God who would not give up on them.

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The Age of Skepticism

January 21, 2013

In light of certain events, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by the scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal. In it he describes the inevitable end of extreme skepticism:

What, then, shall man do in this state? Shall he doubt everything? Shall he doubt whether he is awake, whether he is being pinched, or whether he is being burned? Shall he doubt whether he doubts? Shall he doubt whether he exists? We cannot go so far as that; and I lay it down as a fact that there never has been a real complete sceptic. Nature sustains our feeble reason and prevents it raving to this extent.

Pensées, SECTION VII, 434

I thought of this warning about skepticism after reading Salon magazine’s article on the latest conspiracy theories about the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary. While the existence of those who doubt that the events in Newtown, Connecticut occurred is shocking, it isn’t surprising. After all we live in an age where conspiracies abound – the official and well documented descriptions of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the 9/11 attacks, even the moon landings have all been questioned by a segment of the population. The foundation of such conspiracies rests on a pernicious distrust of authorities and the media as well an overblown sense of skepticism that proffers if one wasn’t present for the events themselves one can’t trust the accounts of others.

I have found that in many ways skeptics of Christianity are similar. Their arguments against the New Testament accounts sound very similar to the claims of the Sandy Hook truthers – that the accounts are inconsistent, that those giving the accounts aren’t reliable, that there are unreported facts which undermine the ‘official’ story or show that the story we are getting isn’t complete. The fact that people can question the reality of widely witnessed events days after they occurred show our inherent tendency to doubt; and the tendency of some to doubt no matter what facts are presented.

Now this isn’t to say skepticism isn’t useful as a part of a complete intellectual toolkit. Gullibility can be just as dangerous as skepticism. But skepticism alone isn’t sufficient to weigh the truth of a matter. Complete understanding includes a range of processes, from considering evidence, to personal experience, to knowing history and having some understanding of human nature. It also includes common sense, humility and yes, faith, which is the acknowledgement that even though we can never know all there is to know about certain events, we still must decide what we will accept as true. All these are employed by Christians in their decision to believe in Christ. Just as any rational person has sufficient evidence to accept that Kennedy was killed by a single madman, and that a group of fanatics flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings, that men walked on the moon and that a young disturbed man killed twenty children at Sandy Hook elementary, one also has sufficient evidence to believe confidently that a man walked the earth 2000 years ago, healed the sick, was crucified, died and rose again.

Of course the skeptic will find room to doubt – especially in this age where skeptics reign. But the existence of numerous skeptics doesn’t change the reality of any of these events.

And while some healthy skepticism might help us avoid untruths, in the end skepticism alone doesn’t enable the intellect but untether it from any certain foundation.


Here there be Vampires

July 27, 2011

There have been over the years been number of attempts to explain why people become atheists. Some think it may be because they had a bad childhood experiences with the church, other have suggested links to certain personality disorders like Aspergers. Perhaps it is a genetic defect. Like the Grinch, many causes have been suggested for their inherent antipathy to all people religious, but few answers explain what would cause an individual to become a brooding, anti-social misanthrope who sees the vast majority of humanity as dumb, dangerous and deluded sheep. Of course, up until now no one has considered that they might be vampires.

Evidence of such a link comes in the form of the most recent lawsuit by the American Atheists organization to remove the World Trade Center Cross at the 9/11 memorial site. The text of the motion describes the effects the site of the cross has on those who view it:

The plaintiffs, and each of them, have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer damages, both physical and emotional, from the existence of the challenged cross. Named plaintiffs have suffered, inter alia, dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack and the lack of acknowledgement of the more than 1,000 non- Christian individuals who were killed at the World Trade Center.  

Now I have never seen the Twilight series, but I read ‘Salem’s Lot as a teen and as a child I spent many a late night watching Bela Lugosi mesmerize his victim’s via the weekly Acri Creature Feature, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert here.- and in my expert opinion only one creature reacts so viscerally to the site of a Cross;  vampires.

While this description is damning evidence (NPI) for the link between vampirism and atheism, it is not the only one. It explains why atheists often associate themselves with symbols of evil, why they stalk lonely women late at night, and why Sam Harris always wears black. The evidence here seems incontrovertible.

Of course, I’m not one to go in for such superstitions – there is likely to be a simpler, more logical reason why atheists suffer physical ills when they encounter a cross.

Of course if the American Atheists bring lawsuits to remove garlic from restaurants and mirrors from public places, I may have to reconsider.


Observations

February 4, 2011

“Does it never strike you that doubt can be a madness, as well as faith? That asking questions may be a disease, as well as proclaiming doctrines? You talk of religious mania! Is there no such thing as irreligious mania?”
 – G.K. Chesterton


Observations

September 8, 2010

I put faith in special revelation not because I lack skepticism, but because I am a complete skeptic – I am skeptical of human reason alone to apprehend truth.