– My Journey from Religion to Rationalism
In my Christian life, I was often a teacher, but never a preacher in the traditional sense. I did write and publish (in 1994) a book about the New Testament that was influential in the beginnings of an ongoing interpretational movement in Christianity called Preterism. My book has been utilized as a teaching tool in a number of churches, has been distributed to several foreign countries, and has been quoted and referenced by other writers and teachers. My religious position has been established fairly strongly in that regard and that book demonstrates just how far a journey I have taken to bring me, finally, to a rational, nontheistic view. I will tell something of my Christian upbringing that led to that book, and the story of how it came to be, in order to establish the context for the important shifts in understanding that came later.
I am not certain if I can adequately explain all the details of my “deconversion”, but I can at least show the pathway I followed and give some taste of the emotional reactions I had along the way. It is my good fortune that I did not have to battle or lose friends or family because of it. This, then, is the story of one serious believer’s journey into disbelief and how that came as such a surprise. It is the story of how that shift has jolted, then changed me for ever. It tells of my consternation and bemusement at my own mental process. Finally, it is the story of a transcendent life and how that has meaning now for myself and, perhaps, for others who may also have travelled this way, or may sense the need to.
“In what a strange place I find myself, staring at alien light - listening for the howling to emerge from my lips. I should howl. Most men would, given this jolt. How strange, again, that I do not. I have only just now come through the paradigm shift.”
Paradigm shift. A faddish phrase. A term used loosely by people who are wont to misuse their words. Like the boy who cried wolf, these careless ones use up important and powerful words like “literally” and “awesome” in trivial and casual chatter, devaluing them for their true uses. Yet, some things are literally true, some things are truly engendering of awe, and there really are paradigm shifts that honestly deserve that specially defining term. I know.
In the end, it did not take much to pop the bubble of belief, but that is itself remarkable considering my background in a fundamentalist style church that some outside of it have even labelled cultist. This was the Church of Christ, in which I was raised from my birth.
1971 - The Lord is my Shepherd
“Without a shepherd, the sheep cannot find their way home; and without a shepherd, we cannot find our way to our final home.”
- David Crews, age 16, from a sermon given at the Church of Christ.
Unlike other more strictly fundamentalist groups, the Church of Christ does not insist that everything in the Bible be taken literally, but much of the accepted interpretation of the church is a literal view, especially of prophetic things such as the bodily resurrection of believers. I was fortunate enough to have been brought up in a “thinking” family that encouraged me to research all that I heard and ascertain for myself if it made sense and if it correlated with the scriptures. In part, this attitude comes from the stance of the Church of Christ itself, as it claims membership in the “Restoration Movement” begun in the mid-1800’s by men like Alexander Campbell.
This movement was a response to all the denominational fractures that had manifested throughout the centuries of the Reformation Movement (the intent to “reform” the Catholic church). The purpose of Campbell and his followers was to cease trying to reform the old churches and simply return to the Bible version of the original (single) church and to “restore” to that image - no more or less than what is taught and or exampled in the New Testament (thus the appellation, “the Church of Christ,” and the strong insistence on not referring to itself as a denomination).
This premise and purpose is logical, commendable, and even noble - if the basic underlying assumption is accepted: that the Bible (as we have it now) is the true and inspired word of God, and therefore reliable for modeling the church. All of the Church of Christ’s doctrine and logic is based on that foundational assumption. It is obvious that if that assumption is ever proven false, then the entire structure of the Church of Christ falls down completely, no matter how elaborate or noble or large the structure is.
As a child, I naturally accepted the Church’s doctrines at face value, as I assumed my siblings, parents, and grandparents did, too. In fact, my Grandfather, Marvin Bateman, was constantly “preaching” and teaching us about the Bible at any opportunity. Although not formally educated, this longtime oilfield engineer had schooled himself in the scriptures far beyond the level of most seminarians. We children loved him dearly, but grew wary of “getting caught” by him and not being able to remove ourselves from his rather lengthy and involved studies in order to go play.
By the time I was in high school, I had begun to be impatient with the Church’s foibles and uncomfortable with some of its hypocrisies, but I never doubted the basic view of the Bible I was given. Then, one day, I almost got “caught” by Granddad and was trying to politely retreat when he said something that shocked me. He said that those who believed that Christ was coming a second time were mistaken! I could not fathom such a seemingly outrageous statement coming from my conservative Granddad, but it was certainly interesting! I was hooked. For the first time in my life, I really listened to him.
I listened as he told me about his view of prophecy in the Bible - a view now called the “preterist” interpretation, which Granddad had been developing on his own for over 30 years. He had taken the Restoration Movement charge to heart and had done the exceedingly difficult exercise of going back to square one and seeing just what the Bible really said without re-introducing one’s own preconceptions. The view of the New Testament he developed was logical, consistent, and inclusive of all the scriptures, including the “difficult” ones like Revelation. Finally, the Bible made sense to me without rationalization.
The Church of Christ’s interpretation of the Bible was still fundamentally inadequate to me. What Granddad had done was to take some early writer’s understandings that most of the prophecies of the New Testament belonged only to the time of the people involved (“preterist” comes from the Latin meaning “before” or “in the past”), and extend or apply that concept across the board to show that all of the prophecies were fulfilled and that God’s involvement with us today is spiritual in nature rather than physical.
I knew that this was an epiphany for me. I spent the next 10 years or so learning from Granddad and from my own studies, trying to solidify the new interpretation in my mind and overcoming my own trained-in preconceptions. I felt that if I could organize and refine this amazing view, surely the rest of the church would find this so compelling that they would adopt it as true. I decided to write a book. This was my mission, but I knew I needed to mature some more, finalize my research, and gain the credibility of age and seminary-level research before I could expect to write the book or have it accepted by those critical of any new view.
I took lessons in Koine Greek, in order to better translate and understand the “original” texts of the New Testament. Also, I did some original research at the Library of Congress to see to what extent, if any, this interpretation had been seen or spoken of before, finding quite a few intriguing books going back over 100 years. Many of these writers knew that the bulk of the Bible prophecies referred to the early times of the original church, but all of them still held to a futurist interpretation of the “second coming” and other “end time” prophecies.
I began writing the text of the book in 1990, and decided the only way this book would actually become published was if I produced it myself. In order to control the production of my book completely, I formed my own publishing company, New Light Publishing, in 1994. “Prophecy Fulfilled–God’s Perfect Church” was published in that year.
All during this time, I assumed that I and a few family members were the only ones who knew and held to the preterist view. Interestingly, however, just prior to publication, I found out I was not alone! There were many others who had come to essentially the same conclusions independently of one another, and had formed an ongoing community with journals, seminars, and other connections. Kingdom Counsel (now the International Preterist Association) held a preterism seminar in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1994 and I attended it to introduce my book.
1994 - God is Spirit
“Spritualizing the scriptures is the true key to understanding them and making them consistent and logical, for they are spiritual in essence.”
“...why may we not believe that when Jesus, who is the creator of all worlds, asks the Father that his beloved ones may behold his glory, he means that the blazing constellations with their attendant planets may be the field for eternal exploration,... on the part of the saints, who, with bodies incapable of weariness and entirely at the dictation of the spirit, shall with the rapidity of thought, pass through and examine all parts of God’s universe?”
- William Urmy, 1900
In order to follow what comes next, the reader should understand a fundamental aspect of the preterist interpretation of the Bible. The central problem of religion in presuming a God is the simple lack of empirical evidence for one. If we were to be presented with obvious, scientifically valid proof of God’s existence, we would not need evangelists or the Bible. We would believe what we see and know, just like we believe in the air we breathe and the food we eat. Without experiencing for ourselves the kind of physical presence of God that the Bible stories report, it becomes necessary to explain why God no longer appears to us, speaks to us, or interacts with us directly or physically. The only way to do that consistently is to presume that God is a “spirit being” (as in some dimension untouchable by us) and that all his dealings with us are in and of that “spiritual realm.” In short, we have to completely spiritualize the scriptures in order to make God square up with the lack of facts for his direct presence and interactions with us.
This approach actually ties in very well with the scriptures. It is only the long traditions and desires of men that make physical concepts of God, Heaven, and our bodily Resurrection attractive and doctrinally orthodox. This spiritualizing interpretation is the only way I could understand God and make the New Testament work for me. The careful observer will also note that such a viewpoint presumes that we, too, are actually spirit beings, with the necessary implication that our physical lives and pursuits are very small and meaningless things in the face of a spiritual eternity and the assumption of our undying spiritual “bodies” which may inhabit our poor fleshly bodies for a mere blink of time.
If this were true, of course, it would seem a great comfort to know that we were to experience such a metamorphosis. This world might, indeed, seem small and unimportant. So it seemed to me, once.
In a strange, self referent journey
During my honest pursuit of truth and through my development of this spiritualized view of mankind, I did not realize that I had walked right up to the very edge of my world. The bubble of belief in God and the Bible had been stretched to the point that nothing of it was real in a physical worldly sense. God was spirit, we were spirit, the prophecies were spiritual, the end time events, heaven, time–everything of religious value was spiritual in nature and not provable or apprehendible in this physical realm.
It only took one small step to walk through the wall of the bubble of belief and cause it to burst.
(continued on next page)
The present moment is not mundane. It is, in essence, extraordinary. -DC
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