I have a bit of a dilemma. I am entering into my third year of theology school, and I have recently “deconverted” from Christianity, self-identifying as an agnostic atheist. Although I have been given the advice to quit school based upon me posing as a hypocrite, and carrying on under a false guise, I want to finish my degree, continuing my learning of Christian truth. If theology school has taught me anything, it is that truth is recognized – not defined. Truth is much different than fact, just as religion is very different from science. In other words, religion claims truth, but not necessarily fact. Is it a fact that Jesus Christ, with the help of God, was raised from the dead? Factually, no; but truthfully: yes. What do I mean by this? It is a scientific fact that once someone has been dead for three days, they cannot reanimate and become living again. This is a fact. But what is the truth of this story? One of the truths is that we all die to old selves, but become like new when our minds are enlightened by a transforming idea, a new piece of evidence, or simply have an ‘ah-ha’ moment.
Although I enjoy your books, the parts in them referring to fact over fiction really did not concern me; because to me, the Bible is made up of myths, fables, poems, letters, and many forms of fiction. It would be silly or absurd to take them as literal. I dismiss them as factual in the same way I dismiss Alice in Wonderland, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as fact. But, like the Bible, these two works, contain truth – and that is my point. Perhaps, Nietzsche said it best when he mused, “Out of ‘belief’…they go about seeking their ‘knowledge’, which they end by ceremoniously dubbing ‘the truth.’” Religion’s arrogance is exactly this. If one starts out believing – knowledge is gained about this belief; thus evolving into truth – then, the truth points back to the basic belief itself, but is not necessarily THE TRUTH, but A TRUTH. Get rid of God as a belief and God’s truth disintegrates. One sees past it as being a simulacrum, or simulation.
But my challenge to you, as well as my fellow atheists, is to see truths in religion (just like there are truths in paintings, film, dance, literature, music, ect). Upon this observation and potential conclusion, we see something our devout religious friends cannot. For, we see truths in many variations of life; however, we are proud not to claim a recognized truth as THE ULTIMATE and ABSOLUTE TRUTH. Someone once said that if they had the choice between choosing God over truth, they would pick truth. I agree with them, but would caution them not to dismiss smaller truths held in certain simulations like religion, but see them as pointers to truth.
Seeing this separation between fact and fiction is very important for atheism to gain any credibility. Because we can’t go on assuming that every Christian takes the Bible literally. What we can do, and with an ecumenical stance, is to work hard to acknowledge that religious persons hold truths about life, the world, and universe that are very beautiful and compelling; however, we, as atheists, have the ability to pick out the truths in just about everything, without being tied down by belief to any type of religious dogma. And that is where the difference is, and where the conversations should begin.
Thank you for your books, and I am ready for your next one.