Book Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Interlude

I just started a new job and right now, I’m too preoccupied to give the question of evidence for Jesus sufficient attention. I was starting to write about chapter 9, but didn’t have the attention span for it. Lest anyone be thinking of the proper Christian reply – that it’s shortsighted and arrogant for an atheist to decide that she doesn’t have time to consider the evidence for Jesus; and that if I died today, the explanation that I had put it off would be insufficient, I will note that I have yet to see any new material and if there’s one thing that I can’t be accused of, it’s unfamiliarity with Christianity.
What I did want to start the new section with ended up being more of an interlude than a review or a response anyway:

Finally, we can start talking about Jesus. It occurs to me that I’ve gotten too bogged down in criticisms of the author’s writing style, and that I need to get back to talking about whether I find the arguments convincing for me, whether they’re explained well or not. My initial thoughts are about the knowledge of Jesus or any other member of the Trinity as a personal god. I’ve heard it preached many times that the members of the godhead are persons rather than impersonal forces, and that God can be known. Christians often say that they experience God’s presence in some way. My mother says that the Holy Spirit gives her peace about certain things, although she has claimed in the past to have had peace about things that did not work out in a positive way. As I stated before, I thought that I was a Christian for most of my childhood. I prayed to God with all sincerity. But I never had any personal experience of God in any form or manifestation. It seems to me that the experience of God should have been sufficient testimony.

When Jesus is asked to show the disciples the Father, he replies that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. Moreover, he says that the Spirit will live in them and will teach them all things (John 14:8-26). Later, Peter preaches at Pentecost that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all believers and their children and all who are far off (Acts 2: 38-39). I would say to anyone trying to convince me that we have testimony about Jesus that if the Holy Spirit truly lives in them, they should be able to give me living testimony and not just apologetics. It is as if you talked to me all the time about your friend Jesus, who you claimed was a living person; he even lived in your own house. Yet when I asked to meet Jesus, you gave me a ghost-written autobiography of his life, and told me that the book along with your enthusiasm for him should be proof to me that he is real. This is a poor sort of introduction to someone who lives with you. Maybe you tell me that if I read the autobiography and try to talk to Jesus, I will meet him, but when I have done all that with great supplication and he doesn’t appear, what else is there to do? Pray harder? Try harder? Obey better? You tell me that I cannot meet him through my own works, so what is there remaining? In place of the meeting, you give me some books that attempt to convince me that all the things Jesus claimed in his autobiography are true. But of what use to me are books when I want to meet him? Can you blame me for doubting that he lives here with you?

It’s the same thing, always.

In other review related news, I would like to recommend a response to I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist that is much shorter, much funnier, and much more clever than mine: I’m not associated with either the author or the website – I found it via the magic of Google. I’m not sure that I buy every one of his arguments – I feel that he throws around the term “other dimensions” too much without giving it a rigorous and static definition, but otherwise he brings up a lot of good points without going on and on the way that I do!

Have you, possibly non-existent reader, seen The Sunset Limited on HBO? It’s a play by Cormac McCarthy with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. That should be enough reason to watch it. I was nervous at the beginning. Nervous that it seemed to be shaping into religious truth vs. bitter nihilistic symbol of atheism with a little bit of magical Negro thrown in. There might be people who agree with that first assessment. What really stood out to me was the idea of experiential truth and the idea that a character needn’t be a symbol or a representation. It’s good that McCarthy doesn’t go into speech writing for televangelists. I don’t know his own beliefs, although I sincerely doubt that he’s a born again, but he and Samuel L. captured something in experiential Christianity that to me is missing in what I’ve seen of actual Christianity (although I was reminded a bit of Wayne, an ex-homeless man who now runs a soup kitchen in my hometown). It was convincing because I wanted to be convinced – but conversely, it was made-up and acted, maybe observed and idealized, and how could someone else’s experience be trusted when experience can be generated as art?

The other thing that I dealt with was not being sensitive toward having myself misrepresented, because every other atheist is not myself. Archetypes are different from representatives. There are bitter nihilistic atheists and I’m not one of them. I’m a happy nihilist. I’m happy that when I die, I’ll be part of the universe in the trees and earth and stars and other things, other people. Make no mistake, I don’t think there’s a larger purpose to it. It’s enough that it happens. I did hear echoes of other McCarthy when White started talking about the progression of time. The beginning made me think that I should reevaluate Blood Meridian. But I hope the movie never gets made. Because I can’t see it being anything but a disaster, no matter who directs and who acts.


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