pendulum swings (was: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of Bethlehem presentation?)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Nov 27 2009 - 20:54:55 EST

Apparently Bernie doesn't like my use of the "pendulum swing" metaphor. I
guess, for him, "pendulum swing" means a direct, instantaneous leap from one
position to its opposite. I can understand that usage, so I won't contest
it. So let me rephrase: Bernie started as a fundamentalist and now is an
atheist, albeit stopping for relatively brief periods at some half-way
houses along the path. The key point I was making, regarding not only
Bernie and Bart Ehrman but many others, was not about the *instantaneous* or
*direct* nature of the shift from fundamentalism to atheism, but the fact
that the fundamentalism-to-atheism shift is so common in American culture.
And it's not just atheism that is produced by this shift, but often a sort
of militant atheism, which wants to "take on" the fundamentalism it used to
believe in, whether it does so as Bernie does, by arguing on the internet
with Christians, or whether it does so as Bart Ehrman does, by writing
scholarly books and teaching university classes to disprove the beliefs of
his youth.

If you look, on the other hand, at Catholics or Anglicans or Greek Orthodox
or mainstream Protestants who become atheists (with a few exceptions, such
as Catholics who have been badly burned by immoral priests or by the
hierarchy), they are rarely preoccupied with the religion in which they used
to believe. They just drift away from it, going to church less and less
often, until churchgoing stops altogether (except for weddings and
funerals). And they don't run to bookstores to snap up the latest tomes
which refute six-day literalism, and they don't join all kinds of internet
groups where they can denounce the teachers they used to respect, and trash
the beliefs they used to hold. They don't read books by Richard Dawkins or
Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett, either. They just live secular lives, not
thinking all that much about religion at all. It no longer has a hold on

This is actually a much healthier way to leave a religion, because it is
liberating. The religion is no longer present in one's life, even as
something which must be consciously repudiated. It's just forgotten, as
something outgrown, like one's teddy bear or one's first girlfriend or one's
first pair of sneakers. This type of non-believer carries on without a bad
conscience, not concerned to repeatedly justify his choice of abandoning his
faith, to others or to himself.

Bernie's recent posts, on the other hand, provide an example of the militant
sort of anti-religion I'm talking about. He's absolutely determined to get
as many people here as possible to affirm or deny as historical fact certain
narrative events related in the Bible, or to affirm or deny that the Bible
contradicts itself. Thus, in his latest post, he writes:

"So then, if no contradiction, did Joseph and Mary travel to Egypt after
Bethlehem, or did they instead go back to Nazareth?"

Since Bernie no longer believes that Jesus was divine, or that the Bible is
inspired, or that it is important to know anything about the parents of a
non-divine Jewish carpenter from the first century, why should he care so
much about the answer to this question? Why does he keep pushing to
convince others, or himself, or both, that there must be something *wrong*
or *incorrect* or *false* about the Biblical story, that the Biblical story
is not something that can be trusted or believed? Why doesn't he just say
that he doesn't believe the Bible any more, and get on with his life?
That's what all the former Catholic and Anglican atheists I know would do.
They wouldn't waste *two minutes* arguing on the internet about such
questions, let alone invest the time to write four posts every day to a list
like this (and who knows how many other lists).

The answer, I infer, is that Bernie still feels the need to convince either
himself or others that he is justified in regarding the Bible as false
and/or self/contradictory and/or unreliable. And this is typical of the
fundamentalist-to-atheist outcomes I've observed. It is never enough simply
to walk away from fundamentalism. One must constantly show oneself and
others that the Bible is not worthy of belief and that one's choice to walk
away is therefore vindicated.

I don't think I've falsely described Bernie's spiritual journey. I took the
biographical facts from his public posts to this list, so presumably they
are accurate. And my analysis, which is based on my experience of many
people who have made Bernie's move, is confirmed with every new post that
arrives from Bernie. And my prescription for better spiritual health
remains the same for Bernie as for all other people of the type I have
described: If you are no longer a Christian, stop trying to justify your
decision, to yourself or anyone else. Simply stop being a Christian, and
become whatever it is that you currently think is better than Christian, and
make no apologies and offer no explanations for doing so. If you still feel
the need to keep making such apologies and explanations, then you still
haven't really put that Christian dragon to rest, and if that's the case,
you need to ask why.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dehler, Bernie" <>
To: "asa" <>
Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 1:08 PM
Subject: RE: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of Bethlehem presentation?

> Cameron said:
> "I would add that the pendulum swing from fundamentalism to atheism is not
> restricted to Bart and Bernie."
> This fallacy keeps getting repeated over and over again. I was not a
> fundamentalist when I left Christianity. I was a well-informed
> evolutionary creationist. I see it repeated so much. I also doubt that
> Bart went from "fundamentalist to atheist." I see from Wikipedia that he
> got his Ph.D and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Ya, sure,
> what a fundamentalist seminary.
> Thinking that we go from one extreme to another is a convenient way to
> write us off. Why don't you instead engage in content?
> In the example from Pete, someone says to Bart "get over your
> fundamentalism." If it was me, I'd reply "I did long ago. Why don't you
> admit that what I'm saying is what non-fundamentalist evangelicals also
> believe, and they are wrong?" Instead, you want to make this impression
> "You are arguing a faulty position from fundamentalism, so you can be
> dismissed." Wrong. And if you think you are correct, you need to provide
> evidence and details (content), rather than just try a brush-off.
> ...Bernie
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
> Sent: Thursday, November 26, 2009 10:32 AM
> To: asa
> Subject: Re: [asa] Gospel in the Stars WAS Star of Bethlehem presentation?
> Pete:
> I agree with your point about the varied intentions of the Gospel writers,
> and also with your point about Ehrman. I would add that the pendulum
> swing
> from fundamentalism to atheism is not restricted to Bart and Bernie. I've
> noticed it over and over again. In secular Religious Studies departments,
> student after student, coming from a very conservative background (ranging
> from Pentecostal through Baptist and everywhere in between) comes in and
> after a few years of study "throws the baby out with the bathwater". It
> happens less often with traditions which place less emphasis on Biblical
> literalism (Anglican, Catholic, etc.). Ironically, then, fundamentalism
> is
> a great breeding-ground for future atheists.
> I always recommend to former fundamentalists who are losing their faith
> that
> they read more widely and deeply in the Christian tradition, so that they
> can see that there are more options than fundamentalism and atheism. But
> it
> rarely works. The fundamentalism has generally so shaped their souls that
> they cannot envision any other form of spirituality, and it seems they
> have
> to "bottom out" as atheists before they can begin a long climb upward to
> recover a warmer and more balanced form of spirituality. But
> unfortunately,
> many of them never make the climb.
> Thus, my biggest beef against fundamentalism is not its hostility to
> science
> or its terrible grasp of history. It is its stifling spirituality, which
> drives so many toward atheism, as the only escape route. Rigid
> intellectual
> assent to the bare words of a book, taken literally, is not what
> Christianity or any religion is about. Yet people like Bart Ehrman (and a
> good number of Ph.D.s in Biblical studies, especially New Testament
> studies)
> appear to have been permanently spiritually damaged by this conception of
> Christianity, and this conception of religion. And when people in
> Bernie's
> position look up to people like Ehrman, they just repeat the mistake,
> instead of learning from it. An atheism that is built upon railing
> against
> the religion one used to hold is not liberating, but imprisoning. It
> keeps
> one within the thrall of the religion that one is seeking to escape.
> Happy Thanksgiving to all.
> Cameron.

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Received on Fri Nov 27 20:55:46 2009

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