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Story of Deconversion: Confession from the Snake Pit

Aug 31, 1995 10:10 PM
by Arthur Paul Patterson

I read and re-read you post and found a lot of wisdom there, Jerry. I have
a few comments (after completing the post,I realize quite a few comments,
sorry for those who are not interested just delete me if you will :),that I
would like to add from my unique position of being a former Evangelical
Polemicist who has been "deconverted". By that I am not denying the many
truths that I think are contained within a Christian framework but I am
denying a certain tonality that unfortunately has become associated with
such a belief.

I was a Daniel in the Lions Den twenty years ago. My Bible college used to
send us into the university to do exactly what Daniel is trying to do on
this list. Bring people who are under the blinding influence of secular
humanism (and beneath that Satan) into a living relationship with the Lord
Jesus Christ. In arrogance I attempted to trash one of the greatest minds
of the twentieth century Bertrand Russell in a first year apologetics book
review. My professors were impressed and reinforced that inflation. A whole
social cultural situation feeds and nurtures the virulent attitude of
exclusivity and moral superiority.

It is paradoxical that humility is one of the greatest virtues in this
system and yet epistemological humility is completely lacking. What an
evanglical does is interesting psychologically. One the one hand, they have
a veiw of themselves and others as totally depraved but when regeneration
or salvation takes place they place themselves "in Christ" and away from
any critique due to a transformed nature and a Bible. Paul the Apostle
wrote something that allows them to justify this stance: "Those who are
spiritual discern all things, and they are subject to no one else's
scrutiny. For who has known the mind of the (Lord) so as to instruct him?
But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians

 Jung speaks of this as the inflation of the mana personality. Your own ego
is so underdeveloped that you get merged with an archetype and feel its
power and wisdom and identify that with your ego. I would even go as far as
to say that many people do link up with the Spirit (Self Archetype) but
when they translate that back to historic reality, they use the power and
insights gained there to bolster a low self esteem. They appear arrogant
but in reality are very insecure and need the strong positions to keep from
disolving. I say this not in superiority for I lived like that for years. I
was a wreck like Daniel (he mentioned being a 31 year old failure before
his "transformation" ) before I converted to evangelicalism, I lived in a
commune and practised chemical Marxism in the sixties - the gospel that
evangelicals taught got me out of that completely defeating life-style.

I enjoyed a bit of a chuckle when I read you introduction about the snake
pit. But then I remembered how I would have viewed that when I was an
evangelical. What you said was true from that point of veiw and deadly
serious. Salvation temporal and eternal rest on the maintaining of the
strictest orthodoxy an evangelical can muster. It is really a personal
security issue. You were perceptive in your description of the path to
destruction when you said, "their evil wisdom may start creeping into your
soul through hidden cracks in your mind."

There is a theory in evangelical circles, I call it the domino effect, that
once you let one of the fundamentals loose, you will eventually have your
whole faith castle collape. The question you asked later in your post
reflect what some of those fundamentals are: 1. Belief in a personal
transcendent Holy (and therefore wrathful) and Loving (and therefore
forgiving) Being. 2. A correspondence view of absolute truth and
objectivity based on logical rationality 3. The full plenary verbal
inspiration of an infallible and inerrant revelation in the Holy Scriptures
(no extra canonical revelation) 4. the ontological (not merely functional
oneness but oneness of essence) divinity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
There are probably at least fifty more principles that need holding onto
like Virgin Birth, miracles, etc but what I mentioned are I believe

The deconvertion took place like this. First I realized that other
positions where held by people of deep sincerity, love, and intelligence.
The word heretic began to stick in my throat when I thought of Gandhi, or
Mohammed or Buddha. But it really was problematic when I studied Origen an
early church father who live in Alexandria who attempted to share his faith
and deepest beliefs by translating them into Platonic thought. My professor
at graduate school said that all heresey came from the platonic cesspool of
"divinization". That is where the distinction between human and divine
broke down and we corresponded with the nature of God. Anyway, while
studying this man and his beliefs a strange feeling came over me and I
prayed that God, the God beyond God, would protect me if I were to be open
minded. I decided that if I were to give my heart to God and my will to
God, why not give also my intellect. It was the scariest step I have ever
taken. I determined to study seriously and as much as possible without
ideological lens what I encountered. That is chapter one abbreviated.

Chapter of my deconversion came when I encountered the contents of
collective unconsciousness in a dream. It was synchronistic in that it was
a month before I was going to work on a tutorial on the Analytical
Psychology of C.G. Jung. I decided that I would not just academically study
Jung but see what the living tradition was like in the Jungians in
Vancouver. So I attended the society and met people who were wise,
decidedly non christian, and didn't reject me because I was. Well most
didn't - there are some narrow minded liberals out there, aren't there? I
wrote a paper on Jung and Evangelical Christianity and shared it with the
Jungian Society. They challenged and deepened my perspective. The principle
that set my evangelical house tumbling in this setting was the need for a
symbolic view instead of a literal one. I began to interpret the Scriptures
from a symbolic viewpoint which brings me to the third aspect of my fall
from certainty.

The idea that revelation is found exclusively in Holy Scripture is the
bulwark of the evangelical faith position. There is a claim that Jesus is
Lord and that it supposed to be the creedo. But in reality the Scripture
literally interpreted is the creedo. What do the Scriptures say about Jesus
of Nazareth? Well in my classes I learned a critical method that suggested
that the Scriptures are, as you correctly pointed out, a diversity of books
but more than that they are a diversity of faith traditions. So when the
question is asked who is Jesus as Master? The answered depends on which
section of the writings you are focussing on. If you are in Mark Jesus is
the Son of Man barely divine at all and if you take the best text critical
evaluation of the book Jesus doesn't get resurrected. If you look in John
you see a eternal logos figure who has existed before the foundation of the
world. If in Matthew you have new lawgiver. Etc. ... So the question became
which Christ do I know or have inner resonnance with. This historial Jesus
is very deeply buried in the layers of tradition and is almost impossible
to get an accurate picture of although many have made excellent attempts at
reconstruction. I came to the conclusion that Jesus the human one of
history and the Christ of faith are significantly while not entirely
different from each other. I can hear the floor boards of faith rumbling at
that point.

This entire process took twenty years of authentic searching to arrive at,
so I don't expect any road to Damascus to occure for our Daniel but he is
sincere and I respect that sincerity. If he follows that sincerity he will
change and alter if not his beliefs at least his tone. I believe in the
intensity of his experience and that it is truly remarkable and
invigorating to experience self transcendence. My newly found creedo is
from Emerson. It will last for at least this week :) and it is:

When we have broken our God of tradition and ceased from our God of
rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence. Ralph Waldo

And for Daniel,

Character teaches over our head. The infallible index of true progress is
found in the tone the man takes. Neither his age, nor his breeding, nor
company, nor books, nor actions, nor talents, nor all together can hinder
him from being deferential to a higher spirit than his own. if he have not
found his home in Oversoul, his manners, his forms of speech, the turn of
his sentences, the build, shall I say, of all his opinions will
involuntarily confess it, let him brave it out as he will. If he has
found his center, the Diety will shine through him, through all the
disguises of ignorance, of uncongenial temperament, of unfavorable
circumstance. The tone of seeking is one and the tone of having is another.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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