What the…?

That is what I have found myself saying all week long. What started out as a personal project has blown up into an international story. I am as surprised as anyone. I’ve taken the media requests because there has been such an outpouring of interest and support from so many sides of the question of god. If my journey provokes conversation, I believe that is a good thing.

I will post a media round up later today and more posts over the weekend. The media requests have been taking all my time but that should be dying down soon so I can get back to living, and blogging.

Thank you again for following along.

The Golden Rule still applies

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In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12, NIV

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary. Talmud, Shabbat 31a.

Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.” Baha’u’llah.

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18.

Tse-kung asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’
Confucius replied, ‘It is the word ‘shu’ – reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.’ Doctrine
of the Mean 13.3.

None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.

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In this spirit there are a few things I need to clarify this morning. Some of them are on the level of technicalities, perhaps, but there is much conjecture floating around the interwebs this morning and people can get hurt. I would not want to be hurt by a friend’s spiritual journey. Neither do I want to see my friends get hurt. Therefore, to clarify:

  1. I was not “fired” from my teaching jobs. I was a contract instructor. Each term (quarter or semester) that I teach is a separate contract. In that sense I was never an employee, per se, of Fuller Seminary or Azusa Pacific University. In both cases I had a very enjoyable and fruitful conversation with the administration and we came to an understanding that I could not do those contract jobs while on this my year-long journey. Both institutions are interested in my journey and want to discuss my teaching again depending on where I’m at at the end of the year.
  2. I was not fired from my church employment. I was asked to resign my position as a Seventh-day Adventist Pastor in March of 2013.
  3. As I said before, the church I was consulting with in Glendale, California undergoes a great deal of stress due to it’s progressive stance in the denomination and I would never want my journey to threaten their excellent work. They are an example of the best of Christianity.
  4. I was and continue to be good friends with the people I have worked with. Everyone so far has supported my journey.
  5. There are some basic incompatibilities with my self-proclaimed, public journey this year and their institutions. I understand this and do not think they are acting badly.
  6. That being said, I think it would be amazing, and preferable, if Christian institutions could at least tolerate, if not support, a journey like mine. That they cannot, at this time, is understandable and I respect them for the difficult I have put them in.
  7. I am shocked and overwhelmed a the outpouring of support that I have received after Hemant Mehta (aka Friendly Atheist) asked people to support me financially. I am grateful. But just as I am leaving behind the fear and sometimes hate-inspired religion of my past, I am deeply uncomfortable about raising support by casting my friends in the Christian community in a negative light–especially one which is not true.

I would like to treat all parties involved in this dialogue the way I would like to be treated. Perhaps if atheists and theists of various types practice the golden rule, which exists in every major religion and no-religion, we might assume the best of each other. Thank you to all who have contributed to my journey and I look forward to engaging with you in the coming days and weeks.

Nietzsche approves of my journey

Thank you to Erwin Morales for leaving this quote in the comments today. I have never read it before but was surprised how closely Nietzsche’s recommendation resembles my own experiment this year.

These serious, excellent, upright, deeply sensitive people who are still Christian from the very heart: they owe it to themselves to try for once the experiment of living for some length of time without Christianity; they owe it to their faith in this way for once to sojourn ‘in the wilderness’ — if only to win for themselves the right to a voice on the question whether Christianity is necessary.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 61.

The Cost of Atheism (or just asking questions)

We still love you!

So many of my closest friends and colleagues have said this to me in the past few days. My initial, unspoken reaction was, “Well, I certainly hope so.” Now I understand that this is not a forgone conclusion. I didn’t realize, even four days ago, how difficult it would be for some people to embrace me while I was embracing this journey of open inquiry into the question of God’s existence. I have to say that anyone who knows me personally, while they may not agree with what I’m doing or fully understand it, has expressed their support for me personally. I deeply appreciate that because the organizations that I have been affiliated with have not been able to do the same.

It began on the evening of January 1—the very first day of my year without god. First text messages, then email saying, “We need to talk.” By noon on Friday I had been let go from all the jobs that I had. Since leaving my position with the Seventh-day Adventist Church—and even before—I was an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University (APU) teaching Intercultural Communication to undergrads, and Fuller Theological Seminary, coaching doctoral candidates in the writing of their dissertation proposals. Both are Christian institutions of higher learning that have a requirement that their instructors and staff be committed followers of Jesus and, obviously, believers in God. They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I’m am in this year long process. Both APU and Fuller welcomed a conversation with me at the end of the year to see about my future work with their institutions. The Deans of both schools encouraged me and said they felt my project was bold and even important and necessary.

The other work I do is consulting with congregations. One congregation in particular—the Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California, had recently asked me to start a non-profit organization that would network the faith communities in Glendale and Northeast Los Angeles to build social fabric and work for the common good of the city. We were just in the infancy stages of that project when I embarked publicly on this journey. I have long admired the Glendale City Church, partnering with them on many projects through the years when I was a pastor in Hollywood. They are strong advocates for the full inclusion of the LBGT community in the church. While shouldering that important justice burden against much opposition from around the Adventist Church, the fact that I was embarking on a year without god was just too much for them.

So, while I understand and appreciate where these three organizations are coming from, I have a few observations about what has transpired in the last day.

1. Religions institutions (Christian, in my case) are not able to endure these probing questions from their public leaders. My process for the next year does not square with official faith statements and creates untenable discomfort among members. Donors, it is feared, will pull back their donations. My inquiry is the beginning of a slippery slope and they simply can’t risk it.

2. Christian educational institutions are not serving their students by eliminating professors that are on an honest intellectual and spiritual journey, just because it doesn’t line up with the official statement of faith. My guess is that many professors at APU, Fuller Seminary and other Christian universities, have a wide range of opinions about the official faith statement. The difference with me is that I publicly declared my disagreement, or at least uncertainty.

3. Those who “come out” as atheist face serious consequences in our society. They are among the marginalized groups that get the least attention. I know this now from personal experience. Many people who have commented here or sent me private messages have told me heartbreaking stories of the suffering and estragement they have endured. Others have said they are still closeted because their family, friends and employers could not bear the news.

So I find myself, on Day 4, without any employment. My savings will run out in about two weeks and I’m scrambling to find immediate work doing, well…anything—manual labor, waiting tables, other teaching and consulting, or whatever I can find.

I understand so much better now why dozens of people spoke to me and about me as though I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Some aspects of my life did receive a terminal diagnose because of this journey. My hope is that I will find work to support myself and my family as I continue down this road, and my heart goes out to those who have suffered similar consequences as a result of following their conscience.

We had hoped you were the one

Woke up and thought of this prayer I wrote for our Good Friday Service at the Hollywood  Adventist Church in 2009.

God,
We have such fond memories of you.
The way you used to comfort us when we were sad.
The way you gave us such confidence in the face of uncertainty.
We miss you!

We had hoped that you were the one
to fulfill our dreams and give us the desires of our hearts.
We are deeply disappointed and broken this morning by the realization that
our hopes were misplaced.
We have dreamed for the wrong things.
We have prayed the wrong prayers.

Where shall we go from here?

We are lonely and in pieces.

Amen.

Am I doing it wrong?

Today there were two interesting pieces posted about my Huffington Post piece. Many of you have probably already seen these. They are written by two atheists of serious intellect and experience, who are gently critiquing the methodology of my year long journey. I am grateful for their engagement with me and I look forward to incorporating their comments into my thinking about this journey. Many others have said very similar things in the comment here on the blog (I read every comment, by the way) so I understand that many atheists feel I’m not sincerely or genuine in what I am doing. All I can say is, thank you for your insights and critique and time will tell.

Here they are. What do you think?

Synapses | A year without god
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Happy Atheist | To the Pastor Giving Atheism a Shot for a Year: You’re Doing It Wrong
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Julia Sweeney on Letting Go of God

Let’s start the new year with a little levity after that serious conversation starter yesterday. Some have undoubtedly seen this already but even so, it’s worth a watch. This is Julia Sweeney (Saturday Night Live, etc) performing the first 15 minutes of her 2 hour long solo show, Letting Go of God (2006). Then, listen to the NPR interview she recently did. Below is a funny quote from that interview that I have thought about (and even preached about) many times myself.

Why would God care if people believed in him or not? That was one of the many things I found so shocking reading the Bible. First of all, how insecure God is. God is so insecure he needs everyone to say, ‘You’re the #1 over all the other gods!’… It’s the most insecure character.

—Julia Sweeney on NPR.

A Year Without God: A Former Pastor’s Journey Into Atheism

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

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What difference does God make?

About a year ago a friend and Episcopal priest, told me her atheist friend asked her this question. She found it harder to answer than she expected. He had batted away her first few attempts and she was now running it by me. We didn’t end up discussing it for very long but the question has stayed with me. Recently I decided I would find out, by living for a year without God.

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I was more or less raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. My parents were United Methodists when I was born in 1971 in Parma, Ohio — a suburb on the west side of Cleveland. When I was six years old my parents’ marriage started to come apart and in an effort to save it, we all ended up with my mom’s parents in Southern California. Part of the effort to save their marriage must have been a renewed commitment to their Christian faith, this time in the Seventh-day Adventist dialect of my grandparents.

From that time until early 2013, I lived within the family of the church. My relationship with God and the church has taken many turns — a story for another time — but I always managed to maintain the tension between the relatively unchanging demands of the church, my growing understanding of God, and my own personal experience of the world. I realize now that this tension was always there. These relationships were never easy for me. Whether during my fundamentalist phase, during college, or my growing progressive convictions in recent years, I always had a nagging sense that I didn’t fit. So, naturally, I became a pastor. Since 1991 I have either been a pastor or in school developing my skills to be a better pastor. When I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore I was convinced, by myself and others, that I could make my best contribution from inside rather than outside the church. So I stayed. Continue reading