The Unfundamental Conversion
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How Enlightenment Wore Me Out

February 28th, 2016 | Posted by Lana Hope in Philosophy

In the last post, I tried to make the point that original sin in Christianity is often mirrored in Enlightenment philosophy. In this post, I will explain how I experience Enlightenment in my own life. This post is practical, and less tedious than my last philosophical post.

First, for those who did not see the post, here is the short version. Enlightenment philosophy rejects this idea that we are born fundamentally flawed, but it creates an atmosphere nonetheless in which we must always purify ourselves in order to purify society so that history can progress and overcome the problem of evil. Consequently, when we fail to purify ourselves or society, we experience shame and conflict; moral progress is not possible as long as some people hold society back from its potential. So we turn to the other to compensate for what we lack. I need the other to correct me and purify me, because they are the only channel that I have to the good; my perspective is too narrow; I need the other to help me out. I am always on guard and aware of the gap between what ought to be and what actually is that exists within me.

Today I would like to tell you the story behind my last post, on how I experience the gap in my own life.

Over three years ago, I nearly lost my faith in God and in goodness. As a result, I left the mission field where I worked in SE Asia. My church in the states got word of my doubts, and I lost contact with them. Friends in my hometown said, negatively, “boy, you have changed.” I got a nasty email from a real life friend who found my blog. And my own mom said she was afraid I would reject God and go to hell, and said she could not accept the fact that I no longer believed in hell.

I did what every young adult in the situation should do: I attempted to find new communities and put my life together again. I blogged and raised awareness about spiritual abuse; I joined social justice circles on the internet. I went to graduate school and put my effort into secular philosophy. I stopped going to church, tried not to worry about whether God exists, and I started to live again.

I thought the problems I experienced – the shame, the conflict, the toxic teaching – were only related to conservative Christianity. Consequently, if I stopped believing in certain doctrine – hell, original sin, substitutionary atonement – then I could rid myself of the toxic doctrine in my life and begin to heal. I did not expect to be healed overnight, but I did expect that secular circles would be a safe place for me to doubt and express my own opinions.

However, three years has passed, and I still have not found secular culture safe, at least for me. Secular society has given me more opportunities than conservative, evangelicalism did (it’s given me grad school, my own career, my own decisions, my own body), but it has not necessarily given me a safe community.

When I read Kant the other days, I cried for two hours, because I finally understood why the secular world has not been safe for me. Kant describes a world in which I must make moral decisions from the rational and objective viewpoint; I do this by considering the other. How would a rational being react in this situation?

However, and Kant does not say this, this Enlightenment world in which the self and the other is the means by which we purify society is also a world in which the self experiences internal conflict and shame when she fails, either because she is too broken to know how to conform, or because she has different ideas about what it takes to heal society.

In my life, I probably experience a bit of both: I do not have my act completely together, so I do experience some of that shame: why don’t have have my act together? why do I say the wrong things? Why do I still use language that hurts minorities? etc. However, I also experience shame because I often have different ideas than most people about how to help society; for example, I do not fit into any political boxes.

If I state an opinion that is perceived as non-progressive, people will correct me and often even shame me. This, fortunately, rarely happens to me. But that is only because I do not speak. I remain silent.

I ended my last post by saying that Enlightenment means that I keep the anger inside. I meant that literally. I cannot slip up; I can’t say the wrong thing. If I do say the wrong word, I will be an outcast – not just online but also in the university. (The other day, I witnessed a situation in which a professor was called a misogynist because he did not support the democrats for the upcoming election.)

Here is the thing – I legitimately do want to be a graceful person who does not harm others and who accepts minorities and other voices. But sadly, I am often more fearful of being shamed for saying the wrong word than of actually hurting others.

And so, in a sense, I am back in my roots. I’ve returned to Christianity, though not the conservative version albeit, because I see something powerful in Christianity that I have found nowhere else. That is, in Christianity, I see Christ in the other; I experience a call towards the other, rather a try, try, try.

I’m worn out; I want rest.

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  • So sad. I understand your dilemma because I experienced it too.

    But, while I go out of my war to not antagonize people unnecessarily, I do say what I think important to be said. The difference for me now is that I recognize that no matter what I say people will try to shame me. I don’t argue with them or try to change their minds–that is fruitless; I just don’t take it personally anymore.

    • Some of what I am experience is both “social justice” culture and university culture. the university is extremely progressive, and are very protective of it. And the social justice culture is toxic. Here is just one thing that happened with the homeschool alumni group I used to hang out with:

      https://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/ha-nlq-what-are-we-after-we-leave/

    • your blog is good. technically it’s in the “okay” area because it’s progressive. I have a post in my draft where I basically argue that one is not necessarily a horrible person for believing in hell and that I think one can have a rational belief in eternal hell, even if I don’t share that belief; that is crossing into the “no no” area, and the only reason I might get a past is (1) I am a small blog, compared to blogs like yours, so few people encounter my posts, and (2) well, they can’t attack me because I am a universalist.

      • Lana, I agree with you that one is not a horrible person for believing in hell. It is a harmful doctrine in that it restricts those who believe it from benefiting fully from the good news of Jesus and causes them to badger other people about it.

        I have not made that statement regarding hell on my blog, but I often point out that people are not terrible because they believe harmful doctrines–they are just burdened by them unnecessarily.
        Sometimes I am heavily challenged by other progressives because I believe in the resurrection and that Jesus is the unique son of God, but I just let it pass. I am not a Borg-Spong type of progressive.

        I never thought of you blog as small–and it certainly is not insignificant. When I first started blogging, your is one of the first blogs I found that I really liked. You talked then about your work in SE Asia, the problems with Christian fundamentalism, and about Buddhism. I was enamored.

        Now that you talk more about philosophy and about your being out of fundamentalism, I still like your blog very much. I think we also have developed a good blogger relationship.

        • I should totally blog more about SE Asia. haha! I just don’t have any of my pictures with me; its a huge bummer that I left them at my parents.

          most atheists I know are fine with people believing in the resurrection.

          • I am curious about something in reference to ‘hell’. If hell does not exist what is the does a soul , who never repents, expect to find when they pass away? If it is a non existence why would Jesus command the disciples to preach the Gospel? You are either with God, for eternity, or you don’t exist because those who don’t repent cannot be with God. They would not be covered by the Blood of Jesus.

          • John, come back to my post next week for the full response.

            I don’t think I said hell does not exist. I do not believe that human are the only creatures there with higher intelligence. Fallen angels, for example, might be unredeemable, not because their sin is such that god can’t forgive, but because they could have the intelligence to reject god and all his glory with full knowledge of what they are doing. See, one reason I don’t think people will be in hell, at least long term, is I’m not convinced human are capable of damning themselves.

            but for what it’s worth, I could be wrong. but if there are people in hell, it’s because they *chose* it; not because God closed his heart to them, like most christians believe.

            Make sense?

          • Food for thought, Lana. How is your view of hell, in the end, any different from the fundamentalist? I wish progressives and liberals would at least admit that on the subject of hell their beliefs are not much different from Evangelicals. Unbelievers end up facing hell in both systems, albeit the liberal/progressive view has less torture involved.

            I do not choose hell. What I do choose is to not believe the Christian narrative about God, Jesus, life, death, and the afterlife. If I am going to punished for this, either by burning in hell or being annihilated, is there really any difference between the Fundamentalist and the liberal/progressive? In the end, one group of people get a divine payoff and a room in God’s Ramada Inn and another group either burns forever or is wiped out of existence.

            I can tell you that I, with full knowledge, reject the Christian God. Based on this, are you saying that hell awaits me? And if the answer is yes, then the same holds for all of your atheists friends who were once Christians, right?

            Of course, it is fair to ask what Christianity would be without heaven/hell and divine judgment/retribution. If there is no pay off, why bother?

          • I think your first mistake is to assume that the “Christian God” that you reject with “full knowledge” is God. I will tell you that the God of the bible I grew up with I don’t know or think he is real.

            Second, I don’t recall saying that you are going to burn in hell, or that you will be annihilated. I merely said IF there is hell, and IF people are there, then one must choose to go there with full knowledge that they are choosing hell rather than heaven, and right now neither one of us understand hell nor heaven. (I would add that even the bible says little about them)

            As for what I lean toward, I lean towards believing that there is no hell for humans; there could be – I am not sure – hell for other creatures, angels or who knows what else.

          • My response to your statement ” I could be wrong. but if there are people in hell, it’s because they
            *chose* it; not because God closed his heart to them, like most
            christians believe.”

          • right, exactly, if there is people in hell; i remain unconvinced that there are.

          • I will come back to visit. I can say this that a reason why I am not a progressive Christian is because to progress means to change and when that is applied to Christianity it means that society will have the cultural influence over you and the bible will have less of an influence in your life. The only way a Christian should be progressive is by the power of the Holy Spirit and that means being changed from your ways to the ways of God and being discerning. Romans 12:1-2.

  • Any time we join groups, movements, political parties, religions…there will always be pressure to conform. Leaving Christianity didn’t deliver me from taskmasters. Who the taskmasters are changed. The key difference is that I no longer feel the need to conform and obey. I am free to live life on my own terms.

    Sadly, the secular community has its own problems. That said, I would never return to organized religion. Organized, by definition, demands fidelity and conformity. I don’t know a Christian sect/church that allows complete autonomy. As with joining any club, the prospective member must be willing to play by its rule, be it a Fundamentalist Baptist or liberal Episcopalian.

    As your friend, I respect you regardless of your path. It is your life, and no one has a right to tell you or demand you abandon your journey. I wish you well wherever you wander. Destinations are important. To use a worn out, but apt, cliche, life is all about the journey.

    Bruce

    • thanks, bruce. your note means a lot to me. I completely understand what you mean by organized religion – I have been unable to get inside a church door for sometime. I share this in common with every ex-christian I know; organized religion wore u out.

  • Timothy Swanson

    In some ways, if one stops reading Saint Paul’s lament so much as part of a theological discussion (because we have some heavy baggage on the way that has been interpreted, right?) and instead view it as a lament, doesn’t Saint Paul get the human condition, the inevitable gap between what we aspire to be and what we are? We hunger to do right, yet we find ourselves failing. His frustration is palpable!

    I found it to be a change for me to view this and many other passages in scripture less as sources of specific truth (about atonement or whatever) and more as the real, heartfelt cry of a good man who feels the pain of the gap.

    On a related note, I find that Romans 7 seems to actually cut against a common Evangelical (and particularly Calvinist) belief, that non-believers don’t experience a desire to do good and frustration when they fail. I don’t think any decent, non-narcissistic person can avoid the feeling, even without religious baggage. The good we wish to do, we fail to do, and the things we aspire to stop doing we find ourselves doing over and over again. “Who shall deliver me?!!” Or perhaps more succinctly, “Gah!!”

    If one comes at this from a purely naturalistic point of view, perhaps the worst thing “ideas” evolution had was to create creatures who could imagine being better than they were. Or, perhaps in an alternate view of The Fall, we developed moral responsibility before we could handle it. Just musings.

    • oh, I completely agree. I made this point in my last post; modernity intensified the christian gap. I also believe that modernity grew out of Christianity, so none of this is a surprise.

      Christianity, though, has a love-hate relationship with the world; I see nothing but self-hatred left in the world today. We no longer are allowed to spill our hate to the guy next door (laws are good- murder is evil, after all); the law insures this, at least if you are not in America; for some reason America is more tolerant of murder and similar crimes. But that does not mean we aren’t angry; it just mean that we feel the weight of our responsibility. compare a recent event in france in which a man was sentenced to 22 months in jail for lighting a cat on fire; murdering a cat is cruel, wrong, inhumane, and evil. But this is the same country that premodernity lit cats on fire for a public holiday. This is testimony to the fact that the world has changed, so what I am asking is (1) what motivates the human soul today, and (2) what weight do we feel today? and (3) how are processing our emotions today?

      In christianity,

      (1) We are still taught to love this world. So it’s a love-hate relationship.

      (2) God makes us right when we cannot make ourselves right.

      (3) our motivation towards the other does not come out of our desire to bridge the gap, but out of an “event” or “call” towards the other; it is something I cannot resist. I see god in the other; God reconciled me to the other.

      Of course, I’m not suggesting that Christianity bridges the gap, nor do I think enlightenment does.

    • oh, I completely agree. I made this point in my last post; modernity intensified the christian gap. I also believe that modernity grew out of Christianity, so none of this is a surprise.

      Christianity, though, has a love-hate relationship with the world; I see nothing but self-hatred left in the world today. We no longer are allowed to spill our hate to the guy next door (laws are good- murder is evil, after all); the law insures this, at least if you are not in America; for some reason America is more tolerant of murder and similar crimes. compare a recent event in france in which a man was sentenced to 22 months in jail for lighting a cat on fire; murdering a cat is cruel, wrong, inhumane, and evil. But this is the same country that premodernity lit cats on fire for a public holiday. This is testimony to the fact that the world has changed, so what I am asking is (1) what motivates the human soul today, and (2) what weight do we feel today? and (3) how are processing our emotions today? I suggest that we are left with self-hatred, for starters.

      changing topics, here are some things that we see in christianity:

      (1) We are still taught to love this world. So it’s a love-hate relationship.

      (2) God makes us right when we cannot make ourselves right.

      (3) our motivation towards the other does not come out of our desire to bridge the gap, but out of an “event” or “call” towards the other; it is something I cannot resist. I see god in the other; God reconciled me to the other.

      Of course, I’m not suggesting that Christianity bridges the gap, nor do I think enlightenment does. The two are uncannily similar in so many ways; I’d just rather wager on a God who makes me right.

    • oh, I completely agree. I made this point in my last post; modernity intensified the christian gap. I also believe that modernity grew out of Christianity, so none of this is a surprise.

      Today we are not allowed to spill our hate to the guy next door (laws are good- murder is evil, after all); the law insures this, at least if you are not in America; for some reason America is more tolerant of murder and similar crimes. compare a recent event in france in which a man was sentenced to 22 months in jail for lighting a cat on fire; murdering a cat is cruel, wrong, inhumane, and evil. But this is the same country that premodernity lit cats on fire for a public holiday. This is testimony to the fact that the world has changed, so what I am asking is (1) what motivates the human soul today, and (2) what weight do we feel today? and (3) how are processing our emotions today? I suggest that we are left with self-hatred, for starters.

      changing topics, here are some things that we see in christianity:

      (1) We are still taught to love this world. So it’s a love-hate relationship.I am both to love myself and body and hate it; love the world and hate it, etc, etc.

      (2) God makes us right when we cannot make ourselves right.

      (3) our motivation towards the other does not come out of our desire to bridge the gap, but out of an “event” or “call” towards the other; it is something I cannot resist. I see god in the other; God reconciled me to the other.

      Of course, I’m not suggesting that Christianity bridges the gap, nor do I think enlightenment does. The two are uncannily similar in so many ways; I’d just rather wager on a God who makes me right.

      • Timothy Swanson

        I concur. If my faith does anything, I think it calls me to extend empathy toward the other.

        Personally,
        I find it puzzling, then, to see that at least in our modern America,
        it seems as if the non-Religious are having an easier time extending
        that empathy. I mean, I can see unvarnished “survival of the fittest”
        leading to tribalism on purely rational grounds. (Not that it *must*,
        but that it *could.*) I find it much harder to reconcile with the
        Christian ethic. And yet, the world we observe seems rather backwards
        from that expectation.

        I’m not an atheist, so I cannot really
        speak for the rooting of their sense of empathy, but it clearly exists
        for most. As a Christian, I believe I share your sense that God
        reconciles us to the other, and I too long for when all things will be
        set right.

        Interesting thought that we start with self-hatred. I’m going to think about that for a while.

        • absolutely – Atheism does not entail a lack of empathy; empathy is very rooted in our humanity, and we all share it in common.

          As far as the call towards the other, indeed, it is a call that we also all experience and its very religious language and weird to articulate.

    • “I find that Romans 7 seems to actually cut against a common Evangelical (and particularly Calvinist) belief, that non-believers don’t experience a desire to do good and frustration when they fail.”

      Good point. I don’t think any serious thinker could believe that an ethical call is unique to christians. we all feel ethical weight; religion just labels certain things as wrong that nonbelievers may or may not share. (However, I have met ex-Mormons who now identify as atheists but still follow the Mormon honor code, so we also need to be careful to stereotype atheists morals. and no, I don’t support the honor code.)

      • Timothy Swanson

        “[W]we also need to be careful to stereotype atheists morals.” Indeed. I find it frustrating to talk with Apologetics buffs who are determined to prove that their own ethical system is objective while atheists have purely subjective systems. Not realizing, of course, that “objectivity” the way they mean it doesn’t exist. (Sigh.)

        I will admit, I am having a difficult time understanding why anyone would retain the LDS honor code as an atheists. I mean, COFFEE!! 🙂

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