I continue to plug away in the late evenings by reading stories of those who have abandoned orthodox Christian theology as I try to map what losing faith looks like. In the last week I read two books. Howard Teeple’s I Started to be a Minister and Christian Rosen’s My Fundamentalist Education. Hard to know where to go now that I’ve brought these two wildly different books up.
If anything connects these two books it is that each left orthodoxy for what might be called intellectual coherence — that is, the biblical world they were taught did not match the world they discovered and the abandoned the former. If Teeple needed historical demonstration, Rosen’s departure from her childhood faith seems more connected to a college and graduate education that simply left her fundamentalist beliefs in the dust. (Rosen’s book is more about her fundamentalist education, which she no longer believes, and much less about why she left that faith.)
What I came away with from both is the same point: we need to do better at a younger age at educating, at exposing to methods, at explaining alternative viewpoints, and at giving kids a chance to think outside the box. Forcing answers, squeezing evidence into a mold, shaping minds to think that it is “all or nothing” will lead to a bigger crash and burn of the faith than a more reasonable approach. Forceful education is a form of violence, and some respond with potent anger while others seem to leave the faith more gently — and both Teeple and Rosen are examples of the latter.
What are your suggestions for the education of Christian youth?
Teeple in many ways represents what “Christianity” looks like when it is stripped of the supernatural, of atonement, and of anything other than an early manifestation of a sound ethical life. Teeple’s life changed when his college professors introduced him to a Gospel Synopsis — a tool that prints side-by-side the Gospel texts in parallel columns for ease of comparison — and taught him the historical critical method. In essence, from that time on Teeple was interested only in what could be proved by historical, scientific methods and anything could not be was simply discarded as pious belief. The book was needlessly breezy but the basic story line was clear.
Rosen’s book is a chapter-by-chapter exposition of a theme of her fundamentalist education at a school in Florida called Keswick, flanked as that was by a mother who was strongly Pentecostal and a father who supported her education but was hardly a committed fundamentalist himself. Her dry humor is all over this: “I had learned who God was. I had learned how the world began and how it would end. I knew what I had to do to get to heaven and what might send me to hell. I knew all of this by the time I was six years old.”
In what I take to be the most significant chapter in the book, mostly because it intimates what will later undo her faith, Christine discovers the teaching of evolution at a local museum. She was bothered by her teacher’s response to what she had learned and so she went to her father: “… he gave me a brief but sympathetic description of Darwin and said that when I got older I’d have to read something called The Origin of Species. ‘But listen to your teacher for now, kid.'” The “for now” struck me. What struck even more was the next page: “Another part, just hinted at, was that there were things [I was learning at the school] I shouldn’t even ask.” Therein lies the seed of a crisis of faith. Let the kids ask, and give them tools to figure out how to answer their questions, and point out how you see things.
Her last chp begins: “I am no longer a fundamentalist. I no longer even consider myself religious, and live an entirely secular life.” This is her confession. She, however, has not given us a typical rant against fundamentalism — the book drips with subtle ridicule, but so subtle one never feels like she is using others to prove intellectual superiority. But, one clearly feels a distance from what she is describing.