“Why Didn’t They Teach Us That In Church?”

Tony Sig

I must admit to being distraught today.  At some point I would like to offer a full reflection on the things I am learning in my Philosophy course which have shown me how Christian thought is percieved in the public square.

But today something happened in class which I was not really ready for and which really stirred me.  Especially since it brought to mind a similar situation which had happened in another class I had been in.

Today we were just finishing up our lectures on David Hume.  Most of the class (including me) dug his good Scotish Empirical skepticism on the ability of pure Reason to deliver the goods.  But we also went through his “History of Religions” scheme, which I found completely pathetic ala Lyotard, but it obviously had had an effect on a young 17 year old girl in the back.  Keep in mind that we are also finishing up the section on Theistic proofs and Free Will vs Determinism.

For the last 10 minutes of class the professor asked various people in the room what they thought of Hume’s proposals. (My professor is an interesting story as well, son of an E Free pastor who went to Wheaton for Philosophy, then Belgium for grad work in Phenomenology, who now is an agnostic)  It came around to a sweet looking girl in the back who when asked seemed reticent to respond.  She found it difficult to say, but almost spontaneously she told the class that the entire Course so far, and this in particular, had really been making her question her faith.  She said: 

“You know, you just go through life for 17 years believing something, like the Bible or whatever, and this is all so very confusing.  I’ve been asking my Pastor about all this…”

Here before my very eyes was a young girl struggling to hold on to a faith that she had had for her whole life.  A few things happened for me at once.  I recalled my own transition from Fundamentalism to Whatever-I-am-now.  There were times when I would walk to the park on fall down weeping fearing that my faith was gone, that I couldn’t muster up one ounce enough to keep me going.  I recalled the sheer terror of that time (not that I don’t still struggle with things) and I know that I am a lucky one.  I was able to come out the other side with a tiny piece of stronger faith; but for every one like me there are countless who can’t make it – they are never able to recover from the sense of assurity that they once had; most leave completely, some migrate to the Mainline and hope that the Liturgy can hold their shreds together. (Which is why you should never judge a liberal.  If you were to scratch just below the surface you will inevitably find a disolussioned Evangelical who would love to “go back,” but they can’t.  And they probably have a faith baptized in fire that a conservative could never have)

It also made me recall my advanced Textual Criticism class.  For bible-centric folk, to learn about the thousands of manuscripts and their variations and histories, it can be a struggle as well.  I remember one girl in that class, a Pastor’s kid (and now my 2nd cousin-in-law), who said:

“Why didn’t they teach us this in Church?”

I wanted to reach out to this girl in my Philosophy class.  I wanted to tell her what I had been through, that it was all gonna be ok.  But I don’t know that it will all be ok for her.  And to be frank, if one never goes through these crisis’ of faith, I don’t know that we will ever grow at all.

I had always heard that people go off to the scary public universities and fall away from faith.  The blame was always left at the feet of the Universities.  I wonder if maybe we should be looking closer to home.  Our catechism classes and Bible study’s need to be able to account for the advances in Scholarship and we need to openly discuss critiques of the Christian faith so that our kids can have a bit of preparation for life beyond the quaint Pizza and Soda parties of Youth Group.

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14 Comments

  1. To the last paragraph I can only add my heart amen. By the way, who is your philosophy professor? I knew at least a couple of Wheaties who decamped for Belgium for their graduate degrees.

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  2. “I had always heard that people go off to the scary public universities and fall away from faith. The blame was always left at the feet of the Universities. I wonder if maybe we should be looking closer to home. ”

    I completely resonate with this statement.

    I went to a state school for two years, studying art, of all things (well, things most consider God-less, drawing naked people and what-not); but I didn’t lose my faith.

    Then I transferred to North Central and, I dunno, maybe I’d never been so immersed in the church culture deeply enough before. That was when I started asking questions again. (I’d learned to stop asking questions in Sunday school around age 12 or 13, so I wouldn’t get kicked out and have to sit with my parents in big church.)

    Sadly, a lot of the answers I got were, “Well, the AG’s official position on this subject is such-and-such.” Which amounts to a hill of beans when one feels that the AG may suddenly not be the end-all, perfect, exclusive religion (note, I didn’t say denomination) like one had been raised to believe.

    Yeah… I was in that same position years ago.

    These past few years, I’m right there with you, man, in the Whatever-I-am-now category.

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  3. Good article Tony. I, and many I know, can relate quite well to your position. I think that I would only add that churches need to not only be more diligent in presenting scholarship, but they should also be less dogmatic about the approach they have chosen to take. Much of the disallusionment on my part was due to the “our way or the highway” dogmatism that I had been taught growing up. Its easy to convince someone that your position is superior when you are the only voice they hear. However, when the opposing sides get their crack at presenting their own case, they often sound equally if not more convincing than the dogmatisms of ones past. If churches would eat a little more humble pie when it comes to these divisive issues, then you would have less kids feeling as though they had been lied to by vested interests growing up. Churches should encourage youth to explore for themselves and find answers that they can live with.

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  4. Yes, what you said, Tony.
    And, what you said, Anthony.
    And, what you said, Jeremy.

    You can add me to the list of someone who has had the exact same experience.

    As a Bible teacher at a Christian high school I try to prepare my students for what awaits them by easing them into doubt, if you will. I tell them constantly that Truth can stand up to honest questions (or its not truth), and that we should not be afraid of a little healthy doubt now and then.

    We (members of the Christian religion) are crazy to try and insulate our children from things like the history of the transmission of the Bible, church history, and philosophy. It seems that that strategy backfires a lot.

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  5. That was tough to read. Having a daughter who is 16 and going to college herself in two years doesn’t sit well with me either.

    I find that people have a understanding that their salvation is critical, but many church’s seem to preach that its a completed moment in time and nothing effects it later. Even while I realize that many protestant communions based their whole justification view on that very concept, IMO it works against them in the long run. Which is why I’ve observed individuals church hop and really get saved with the next church down the road.

    From the hardest,scariest nun I ever had the terrifying pleasure of instructing me –

    “One must always maintain custody of their eyes”

    &

    “Prayer and fasting aren’t seasonal,and fasting isn’t restricted to food”.

    As a Christian if you can maintain those two principles you’ll get through the teens & 20’s and beyond.

    Reply

  6. quickbeam,

    I think we would say that justification is a sort of “one time” thing where the judgment of the future is brought into the present – so to speak. Sanctification is the process

    Reply

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