Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Some notes occasioned by some "contemporary Christian rocker" named George Perdikis announcing he's left the faith and embraced atheism ("I Co-Founded One of the Most Popular Christian Rock Bands Ever… and I’m Now An Atheist" Friendly Atheist 01/21/15):
I always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity. All I wanted to do was create and play rock and roll… and yet most of the attention I received was focused on how well I maintained the impossible standards of religion. I wanted my life to be measured by my music, not by my ability to resist temptation. ...

As I carved out a life for myself away from the church, I began my own voyage of inquiry into what I believed. My perceptions started to transform when I became interested in cosmology in 1992. I soon found myself fascinated by the works of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Brian Cox, and Richard Dawkins. I learned so much and was blown away by all the amazing scientific discoveries and facts. When my marriage dissolved in 2003, I turned my attention to human psychology.

By 2007, I renounced Christianity once and for all and declared myself an atheist.

I find it interesting how Perdikis, like most "contemporary Christian" rock stars, have backgrounds in American evangelical Christianity or something they would describe as stereotypically "fundamentalist", which is to say heavy on rules, heavy on the dogma, notoriously lacking in intellectual foundation ("The scandal of the evangelical mind ... is that there is not much of an evangelical mind" - Mark Knoll, 1995).

Also a kind of religious environment where one's faith is expected to be perpetually worn on one's sleeve - where doubt in and questioning of religious convictions is never admitted, and when experienced is understood as a sign of intolerable weakness, "backsliding". Also, where curiosity and intellectual investigation into the broader tradition of Christianity (never mind other religious traditions outside of Christianity) is generally frowned upon, especially where they might challenge or conflict.

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Because of said standard of moral perfection, of unbreakable faith, etc. the perception of deviation from such in a parent or authority figure can be an impetus for questioning and a loss of faith.

This can range from the familial -- parents who 'say one thing, but do another'; a discovery of infidelity, divorce … to the more egregious and perverse (ex. a pastor who admits to marital infidelities before his congregation; sexual abuse amongst teachers and/or priests). If you grow up regarding somebody as an exemplar of moral perfection and purveyor of spiritual truth, such displays of human frailty and outright sin can be disillusioning, even life-shattering.

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Or, if you happen to be in a particular type of industry in which you are materially invested in being "a good Christian" and your livelihood essentially depends on such -- say, "contemporary Christian music" -- maintaining that outward standard of perfection becomes all the more imperative, especially with thousands of adoring fans looking up to YOU as an exemplar of Christian discipleship.

In such a context, to experience questioning or signs of doubt (either in yourself, or witnessing fellow bandmates straying from the path) -- and with the outward admission to such doubts potentially fatal to your brand -- the disjuncture between ideal and reality can be too much to bear. It only becomes a matter of time before something gives: the ability to maintain the illusion of faith on stage OR "coming clean" to one's doubts, at which point the erstwhile fans might well accuse you of never being a Christian in the first place.

In this manner, George Perdikis of the Newsboys is simply one of a long line of "contemporary Christian" performers who have left the faith, joining the ranks of Tim Lambesis ("As I Lay Dying"); David Bazan (Pedro the Lion); Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay); Clay Scott (Circle of Dust; Celldweller); Roger Martinez (Vengeance Rising, the first ever "Christian thrash" band). I'm not necessarily familiar with all of these musicians (really the latter two) but I'm interested by the similarities in their confessions of how they've left the faith.

Tangential note -- the repudiation of CCM by former participants in CCM is rather common, with new bands, whose members perhaps "personally subscribing to" Christian beliefs, vehemently disavowing any relationship to CCM. The exact phrase "we are not a christian band" has 15,100 results in Google at this time.

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It's one thing to simply proclaim one's agnosticism or ambivalence toward the greater metaphysical questions, quite another to pronounce judgement on them.

Certain types of lapsed believers, at one time "evangelistic" about Christianity, readily embrace and can even get quite "evangelical" about atheism -- which if you think about it, carries its own set of concrete metaphysical-philosophical convictions (scientific materialism), and whose advocates get downright "fundamentalist" themselves -- Ed Feser chronicles this in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism with respect to the religion of Hawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.

Such converts from Christian fundamentalism rarely just lapse into quiet agnosticism, but often move to the other extreme in rebellion: they become "outspoken atheists", trading in one belief-system for another.

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To be sure, Latin or Orthodox Christianity has its own scandals, and isn't necessarily a reliable antidote to the curious phenomenon of "militant evangelicals leaving the faith to embrace a (sometimes even more militant and evangelical) atheism".

But still, you have to wonder if things might have been different.

For example, those growing up with a fideistic mindset (believing that faith and reason are independent of and hostile to each other), assuming that religious belief can only be maintained by the suppression of rational inquiry might have concluded differently were they exposed to the riches of Christian scholastic philosophy?

Or those assuming that science is inimical to Christianity -- would they be surprised at the number of Catholic scientists in history who would find such a view ludicrous?

Or those who by their background were led to assume the admission and experience of religious doubt as inherently detrimental to faith and indicative of a renunciation of faith ... would they have considered otherwise, if they were exposed to a tradition where even those who are proclaimed saints by the Church and held up for emulation experienced what is called the "the dark knight of the soul" (St. Therese of Lisieux or even, more recently and in our own time: Mother Theresa):

Where existential doubt and belief in a Christian's life go hand in hand (see: "Joseph Ratzinger on Uncertainty and Doubt", an excerpt and one of my favorite passages from his Introduction to Christianity).

Where even the current Pope himself can confess to having "doubts along the way" without his flock being overtly scandalized?

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Musings from one who experienced his own loss of faith while young (and finding his way back).

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