1) You describe yourself as a former fundamentalist Baptist. Can you tell us a little about your former faith?First, let me say I am delighted to have this opportunity to be interviewed by you. I hope your readers will find this interview informative and helpful.
I started attending a Fundamentalist Baptist in the early 1960's. I was five years old. I continued to attend and later pastor Fundamentalist Baptist churches until the late 1980's. During the late 1980's my theology shifted from what I call 1 point Calvinism, the 1 point being once-saved-always-saved, to 5 point Calvinism. This change of theology fundamentally changed how I looked at the Bible and how I preached and taught the Bible.
The shift in my theology did not stop after I adopted a Calvinistic worldview. Over time, I progressively became more liberal in my beliefs, having become disenchanted with right-wing Christianity and politics. By the time I left the ministry in 2003,my belief system was decidedly liberal. I came to see Christianity as a way of life rather than a set of theological beliefs.
When I left the ministry I considered myself a red-letter Christian and I was, for a time, drawn to the emergent/emerging church movement. Ultimately, this did not satisfy me. I came to see the emergent/emerging church as the new face of liberal Christianity.
2) You left your last ministry in 2003 and began the search for a new church, a search that eventually led to atheism. Here in Ireland we frequently hear complaints that atheists are only attacking the straw men of the fundamentalist faiths; that atheists do not address the 'sophisticated' faith of the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches. Did you consider these faiths during your search for a new church?My wife and I attended over one hundred churches as we searched for a church to call home. I knew I didn't want to pastor any longer, so we looked for a church where we could use our talents and skills. We visited churches from most every American sect. In the end, despite their ecclesiological and theological differences, we came to the conclusion that churches were all the same. We concluded that whatever Christianity might have been 2,000 years ago no longer existed. In its place was a monstrosity more concerned with power, money, and control than ministering and caring for the poor and disenfranchised. If Jesus were alive today I doubt he would be a Christian.
3) On a related note, this (for the lack of a better word) sophisticated faith considers large sections of the bible allegorical, pointing toward something mystical which cannot be put into words because of the limitations of human language. As an atheist how do you respond to such claims?Every Christian becomes a literalist at some point. If there are tenets that must be believed for one to be a Christian, then such beliefs require taking the Bible as it is written. Modern Christians are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the Bible and its teachings, so they find novel and intellectually bankrupt ways to reinterpret the Bible to do away with any teaching they don't like. In many ways, I have a lot more respect for the Fundamentalist who says, God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me, than I do the liberal whose beliefs are often like nailing jell-o to the wall. They seem to have no belief they are willing to die for.
Certainly there are many passages in the Bible that are meant to be taken allegorically. Good luck trying to get any two Christians to agree on just what those passages are. The lack of theological unity in the Christian church is a reminder of how bankrupt Christianity actually is. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, and Ten Thousand interpretations.
4) On your blog you also describe yourself as a secular humanist. One very persistent accusation against humanism is that it relies upon faith based concepts such a free will, belief in ethical progress and a belief in the inherent dignity of the human being. Do you think humanism is strongly influenced by Christianity?Yes, I think humanism has been influenced by religion in general. We live in a world dominated by religious thought and belief. To deny this is to deny reality. It is easy to take a stand against religion, but humanists, like the Christian, should be ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within them. (to quote the Bible) We need to do a better job at articulating the humanist ideal. What does a humanist influenced world look like? Why should people trade-in their religious beliefs for humanist beliefs? We have done a poor job at marketing why humanism is better for the world.
5) The Humanist Association of Ireland have moved from political lobbying to offering services such as secular marriages and funerals for people who do not wish a religious ceremony. Is this the way forward for atheism in general?
In general, yes. I do wedding and funerals for non-believers and I think it is important for non believers to have access to people who are willing to perform weddings and funerals without all the religious baggage. Many times the non believer must endure religiously-oriented counseling and being evangelized just so they can get married or bury their loved one.
6) You received a lot of internet abuse over the years from both theist and atheist groups because of your views. Do you think the internet should be better regulated to prevent such abuse? Or is such abuse the consequences and the price of the medium itself?
I am a big proponent of freedom and I would not support any regulation that keeps people from saying what is on their mind. (even if what they say is nasty, hurtful, and offensive) That said, my blog is not a free speech zone and I do regulate what people say in the comment section. As a blogger, my objective is to help those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I refuse to allow Evangelical Christians to evangelize or attack the good people who read my blog.
What is difficult to regulate is the hateful emails. Since I have a Contact Form, this provides Evangelical Christians with an opportunity to abuse me. Their abuse is a reminder to me that my critique of Evangelical Christianity is spot-on. I have never received a hateful email from a non-Evangelical Christian.
7) Do you have any other strong political viewpoints or philosophical interests that you would like to share?
Politically, I am a liberal. I voted for Barack Obama twice but if I had to vote again for him I would not do so. He has proved to be a centrist Democrat who is way too friendly with big-business and Wall Street. My political views tend to be on the far left of the scale and I am not ashamed to say I have socialistic tendencies. (with some Libertarianism thrown in for good measure)
I am pro-choice, a pacifist, and a big supporter of same sex marriage. I do not support the American war effort.
8) You are keen reader. What, if any, books especially influenced you?
Bart Ehrman's books certainly had a huge influence on me as I deconverted. I routinely recommend Ehrman's books to anyone who wants to take a close look at the Bible and the history of Christianity.
Usually, at this point in an interview, it is expected that since I am an atheist in good standing I should mention the godhead of atheism, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. While I now find their books somewhat profitable, when I first deconverted I found their books bombastic, a reminder of the caustic Fundamentalism I left behind. I never recommend their books to people who are having doubts about Christianity.
My favorite author is Wendell Berry, the American philosopher and essayist. His books were instrumental in fundamentally changing my view of the world. Berry was quite helpful during the time I was what I would call a searching Christian. (as was Thomas Merton)
9) We all have different concepts of the good life. Some dream of rural farmhouses and tranquillity; others want a city apartment and a vibrant social life. What is your concept of the good life?
I want to live my life in such a way that I leave a lasting imprint on the lives of those who are close to me. I want to be remembered as a man who had passion about those things that mattered to him. Most of all, I want to be remembered as a man who was compassionate and had a great capacity to love others.
I will have failed if those close to me don't feel loved, if they don't know that family is what mattered the most to me. I have no thoughts of greatness. I know I will pass from the life just like every other human being and generations from now be but a line entry in a genealogical table. I hope the memory of who and what I was will live on in the lives of my children and their children.
I long for a serene moment on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, watching the sun set. Most of all, I want my wife to be there with me enjoying the moment. Yes, even atheists can be sappy sentimentalists.
***Thanks Bruce. You can find Bruce blogging over at: The Way Forward