I function at maximum capacity when I have clear choices presented to me. When Cindy sends me to the store and generically says to “get beans” and I go to the store and find seven different brands and types of beans, my brain locks up. Without her specificity, I guarantee I will grab the wrong can!
When I look inward, I recognize that my brain seems to only work in two states: ON/OFF, TRUE/FALSE, GOOD/BAD, GOD/DEVIL. I don’t deal well with nuance and vagueness.
As I look back on my spiritual journey, I can see that most of my trouble came from a TRUE/FALSE understanding of Christianity. Evolution proved Genesis FALSE therefore the entire Bible could not be TRUE. The birth narratives of Matthew and Luke tell completely different stories; only one can be correct or both are untrue.
It was easy for me to frame the debate as EITHER Science OR Christianity. One would certainly debunk the other. To break it down a little bit further, it was EITHER Skepticism OR Belief, but not both at the same time. How could they both BE at the same time?
As a new atheist, I read many blog posts and books and watched various youtube videos. I quickly found that there were just as many Fundamentalist Atheists as there were Fundamentalist Christians. Just as Christians painted atheists as angry, immoral people who hated God, Atheists were quick to paint people of faith as unintellectual rubes who wanted the Crusades to continue. It was very difficult to find balanced people on both sides of the debate.
Enter Philip Clayton. Closer To Truth was one of my all time favorite podcasts and I had heard Dr. Clayton on an episode and was impressed with what he said. The same week Nic sent me the “For The Doubters” blog post by Michael Gungor, I also found the Closer To Truth Youtube page. It was there that I found the following video:
Dr. Clayton’s enthusiasm in speaking of his theism and saying it was acceptable to describe it in minimalist terms intrigued me. He didn’t even blink as he talked about Evolutionary Psychology. In fact, he states, “That’s my starting point, that I would expect that the word ‘God’ would be explained by evolutionary psychology.” (marked at 2:43)
My mind was officially blown. I spent hours researching Dr. Clayton and what he taught. I’ll share one more video in which he describes the theory of Strong Emergence.
[S3_embed_video file=’Philip Clayton on Emergence.mp4′]
I finally caught a glimpse of the divine in the world, while at the same time keeping my intellectual and scientific integrity intact.
Emergence was the alternative to the EITHER/OR tension I found with Christianity and Science. It was a third way, a middle way to explain the natural world while still leaving room for a metaphysic.
Simply put, Emergence is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Peggy Holman defines it like this:
I defined emergence as simply as possible: order arising out of chaos. A more nuanced definition is higher-order complexity arising out of chaos in which novel, coherent structures coalesce through interactions among the diverse entities of a system. Emergence occurs when these interactions disrupt, causing the system to differentiate and ultimately coalesce into something novel. (find the article here)
Michael Gungor’s blog gave me a flexible philosophical system for theism, and Philip Clayton in these videos gave me a scientific real world system for theism. That tiny flame of faith burned just a little bit hotter.
(If I’m completely honest, I started this entire journal just so I can write about my thoughts after reading Philip Clayton’s masterpiece “The Predicament of Belief“)
The Internet is such an amazing technological advancement! After finding Dr. Clayton, I discovered The Claremont School of Theology, and the Homebrewed Christianity podcast. From there I learned about process theology and panentheism. Most importantly, I observed I wasn’t alone in asking these questions. Minds greater than mine have been thinking about these things longer than I have been alive!
So where am I today? What label am I wearing? Which team am I on?
I can very happily call myself a skeptic, while at the same time calling myself a spiritual seeker who believes in God. Personally, I have no problem with even calling myself a “Christian”. But as you will see in future posts, I know that word is loaded with a very specific definition, and I don’t think I meet the criteria for that definition.
I also like the idea of Ignosticism. Those three letters, G O D, have so many preconceived ideas built into them. Label me a Skeptical Spiritual Ignostic? Truthfully, I don’t care what I’m called anymore. If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it is that The Ultimate Reality is so much more than any of us can imagine.
This binary personality has had to get used to heaping, huge doses of ambiguity. But my head AND heart are finally at peace. When I first started down the road of skepticism, I had no idea how much fuller my life would be, and how it would ultimately lead me to a deeper idea of who God might be. I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything in the world.