Does Faith in Jesus Produce Guilt?
I recently got invited onto a radio show to chat with John W. Loftus about his book Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.
My guess is that my book's subtitle—Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist—is what got me on the show. Two stories from people who went different directions! It looks like we tape in a couple of weeks; I'll keep you posted.
But that did motivate me to pick up Mr. Loftus' book. It's a long one, 428 pages with chapter titles like "Do Miracles Take Place?" and "The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible" and "The Problem of Unanswered Prayer." I'm just at the start, but he starts with a bang, filling out his own story of pastoring, picking up advanced theological degrees (with big name advisers like William Lane Craig), then experiencing a series of disillusioning events—having an affair with a woman who then went on a vendetta against him, going through a series of ugly church episodes where his motives were misunderstood, finally remarrying a wonderful woman who, among other virtues, shares an atheism with him which has contributed to the life-giving freedom he's now experiencing, post-faith.
And his story is central to his first major objection to faith, one that I have a lot of sympathy with and would love your thoughts on.
Namely does faith in Jesus by definition produce one of two equally unappealing states of being: constant, low-level guilt or an unexamined, denial-driven life?
How could we not live in constant guilt, Loftus asks. The demands of the Bible are that we pretty much never screw up. (Yes, forgiveness is a major feature of New Testament faith, but there is a constant moral code present as well. If you "get forgiven" but don't do so well at changing your ways…well, that's bad.) It also has high standards towards things very few of us feel regularly good at: constant fruitful evangelism, persistent care for the poor, tithing and free-flowing financial generosity, and an immaculate inner life (no lust, no unresolved anger). Far from removing burdens from our life, sincere faith by definition adds burdens.
The only way past these burdens is to be shallow and unreflective. A bumper-sticker faith (along the lines, say, of "I'm not perfect—just forgiven!") can superficially remove this tension by ignoring it. So pick your poison: constant unresolved burden or a lobotomy.
What do you think? (Since I'll soon be chatting about such things on air, I'm serious—what do you think?!)
But I think Mr. Loftus is onto something. Either this can be spun on its head (i.e., far from adding burdens, faith in Jesus is our only hope of removing intrinsic burdens) or this is a major problem for faith. I'm guessing that some distinctions we often chat about here—a living experience of God versus experiencing God as a compelling concept) would have to play in.
But, that said, what do you think? Is he onto something? How do you work with his objection?