[This is a letter I just sent to the New York Times magazine editor. They won’t print it, so I am posting it here.]
I was not surprised to read about Bart Campolo’s move to secular humanism, nor that the evangelical community “has barely noticed.” American evangelicalism has always been less about what you believe and more about how you believe. Evangelical theology functions more as a shibboleth than an orthodoxy.
Bart’s father knew this. I will always remember hearing Tony preach 25 years ago in my midwestern college chapel service. In the heat of his sermon he would say the word “shit” and observe immediately that we were more disturbed by hearing that word than by the poverty and hopelessness he was describing. Words signify which camp we belong to as much as anything.
Those of us who leave the religious traditions of our childhoods don’t so easily leave the psychological patterns those traditions imprint. The toilet paper sticks to your shoe even after the bathroom door swings shut. Noticing that about yourself, and freeing yourself from the endless repetition, is a lifetime’s work. I’m glad if Bart has found a certain relief in his new belief system. He still smells like an evangelical to me.
I’ve realized this many years ago, about my attraction to computer programming:
The world, which consists of analog phenomena infinite and unknowable, is reduced to the repeatable and the discrete.
Problem is, the world cannot be mapped entirely to a technical model, nor should it be. My career-long ambivalence about digital technology hinges on that core belief.
“Throughout the long period of religious doubt, I had been rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief, but when the process was completed, I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject.”
Via his autobiography.
I’ve read nothing else by him, but today is his birthday, and he once wrote:
The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.
This is a really good op-ed. Mayhill Fowler gets just the right amount of “philosophical and epistemological” in her reflections on the recent McChrystal blow-up.
The storyteller changes reality, because the story changes our memory, personal and collective. It’s always that way. It’s the great lesson of the Deconstructionist school. All narrators are untrustworthy — or rather, trust is not the same as fact. And faith is an act of trust, not fact.