A number of people are linking to and commenting about a recent story over at Hemant Mehta’s blog, Friendly Atheist, about “The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist.” The apologist is Matt Slick, and the atheist is his daughter Rachael. Essentially, the article is her relatively short life story about growing up with Matt as her Dad, how he taught her what theological terms means and all about the importance of critical thinking, and how she lost her faith after leaving her parents’ home and she no longer speaks to her Dad. This is either going to be an intellectually riveting insight, or it’s going to be an intellectually vapid, classless capitalisation on someone’s family tree and a broken relationship with one of the “bad guys.” Guess which it turned out to be. There are some nuggets of wisdom in the article, although perhaps not of the sort anticipated by the blog’s editor. For example:
Atheists frequently wonder how an otherwise rational Christian can live and die without seeing the light of science, and I believe the answer to this is usually environment. If every friend, authority figure, and informational source in your life constantly repeat the same ideas, it is difficult not to believe they’re onto something. My world was built of “reasonable” Christians — the ones who thought, who questioned, who knew that what they believed was true. In the face of this strength, my own doubts seemed petty.
There’s something to be learned here: But it’s not the idea that cutting young Christians off from sceptical voices is good for faith (and I hasten to add, I am not making the claim that Matt Slick did this, I am merely taking my cue from the claim made in this quote). Isolation, rather than being good for Christian faith as suggested here, is in fact bad for it. The picture Rachael paints is of a world where she (believes that she) was insulated from genuine (i.e. not role played) points of view that are not Christian, and that this is the only way any smart person could possibly remain a Christian. My own experience, however, and that of many others, is that exposure to and regular interaction with people who are hostile to one’s own point of view is healthy. Of course, this has nothing to do with people never “seeing the light of science,” these are two different issues. But there is certainly no hard evidence that attrition rates among Christians with a robust secular (i.e. not sectarian) education are higher than attrition rates among those without one, for example. Mr Mehta, your showpiece (and let’s be honest, that’s how you’re using her) waxes rhetorical about how she was a great theologian as a child – after all, her dad says that she was better than the people at churches where he spoke. And she was taught to think critically. All of this is proclaimed clearly. And yet when it comes to the actual argument that she alleges brought her highly intellectually reinforced faith crashing down, it turns out to be this:
This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?
Yes – That’s it! She says that she couldn’t reconcile the idea of objective morality with the idea that requirements in one scenario (Old Testament Israel) don’t apply in another (namely, the New Testament and by extension, her own life). This, we are told is what caused the shift from thinking that Christianity is true to thinking. This is truly remarkable. I should add that Rachael does quickly characterise the response to this faith-crushing intellectual bomb: “Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.” To say that this sells theology short is an understatement of epic proportions. To a Christian who up until now has taken the faith seriously on an intellectual level, holding a view that this faith is robust enough to withstand a bit of light prodding such as this, the solution would have been a bit of light (yes, actually very light) reading on the subject – and there is plenty to be done. This is to say nothing about the rather idiosyncratic view of morality expressed here (comparing moral truths to mathematical truths does not bode well). And yet this moment of dorm room theology banter lead headlong to this:
I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness.The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you. Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked. I was no longer a Christian. That thought was a punch to the gut, a wave of nausea and terror. Who was I, now, when all this had gone away? What did I know? What did I have to cling to? Where was my comfort? ??I didn’t know it, but I was free.
Dramatise much? You couldn’t answer a much discussed question in theological ethics. You could have added a bit of learning at this point, but instead you make out that your intellectual world has been nuked. The closing statement sums it up better, I think: “I was free.” And that was really the point of this. Here’s my pick for the real culprit, in the next breath:
For a long time I couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend (of over a year by this point) without crippling guilt. I had anxiety that I was going to Hell. I felt like I was standing upon glass, and, though I knew it was safe, every time I glanced down I saw death.
But over time – thanks to the deconversion, that changed. It’s telling that she chose to draw attention to this. This clearly matters to her as an explanation. Numerous times I have seen people turn away from the faith, not because they became aware of new intellectual reasons to reject it, but because the appeal of remaining in the faith became dulled by the drive to live a life that was not compatible with it (and that number includes “apologists” for atheism).
You see something, you want it. But you have this belief that you shouldn’t do it. So, as is human nature, you rationalise. You re-create the world of truth around you and what you want.