O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Carlene Bauer’s Not That Kind of Girl

ntkog.jpgRight now I’m reading Not That Kind of Girl, a memoir by Carlene Bauer that released in hardback last year from HarperCollins (it just came out in paperback this summer). It tells Carlene’s story of a childhood in evangelical churches, only to slowly grow out of that faith in college, then to convert to Catholicism in her twenties in New York, and then to lose her faith altogether. Carlene’s a fantastic and literate storyteller, and it’s shaping up to be an excellent book about doubt and faith and books and religion and music.


A sample from chapter 2, “The Age of Reason”:

The Israelites had their Pillar of Cloud that led them during the night as they wandered through the desert, and I saw that I would have a little cloud of skepticism, made of radio static, that would keep me from straying onto the fanatic’s path. I would not mention this cloud, or the questions and objections it consisted of, to other Christians. Christianity, I could see, demanded more of you than God might really want, and I had a feeling that if I did say any of this aloud to other Christians, they would call my skepticism sin. I had never heard anything in church to make me think otherwise.

[p. 19, Not That Kind of Girl]


Look for Carlene to make a few more appearances here over the next few months — including an interview and guest post. In the meantime, I’ll be finishing the book and wondering why such a well-written and evocative memoir about faith didn’t get much publicity in the Christian subculture.

(One obvious answer, of course, is that we don’t like losing-faith memoirs, and much prefer tales of conversion rather than de-conversion.)

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Philip Wiebe

posted August 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

Jason, is it really unusual that we’d prefer conversion stories than de-conversion? I’m not saying we shouldn’t respect both, or that we shouldn’t read stories of people losing faith as a means of sharpening our [Christians’] understanding of what many struggle with.
But at the same time, I wonder about the point. Is reading a “losing faith” story a means unto itself? Are we, the current generation (of which I am very much a part) guilty of making honesty in sharing one’s individual perspective of greater importance than the discovery of the Truth?
I’m not against doubt. Without doubt we cannot have faith. And I acknowledge that, even today, the church struggles to effectively embrace doubt. But to Jason and my fellow readers of this blog, I ask: are we celebrating the shadow so much we are losing sight of the sunshine?

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Lyra Torres

posted August 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I think it should be talked about in Christian circles because it gives an inside look as to why someone would give up their faith. I know when I was going through some personal issues and asked for help I got a brush off answer of “Well, I’ll pray for you.” I didn’t need prayer I needed someone to teach me how to drive.
If people are too afraid to ask or just know that they will get brushed off or just called a sinner something along the lines of you just don’t have enough faith of course they will leave. What reason do they have to stick around.

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Dave Wilson

posted August 19, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Is “losing faith” a biblical perspective?
I’m not sure that someone who is a new creation in Christ Jesus can revert back to the old.
Seems like Carlene’s memoir is graffiti that is spray-painted on the walls of every church that has ever existed. Jason, I’d love to hear what insights you’re getting from the book, and how those insights might help us in a practical way.

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Kenny Johnson

posted August 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm

One thing I find interesting among many doubters is the claim that the church and other Christians are not only not supportive, but often hostile to questions and doubts. I have to say this hasn’t been my experience — at least not as it’s often claimed.
I’ve never been in a Christian community that would call doubt sin. I’ve certainly seen doubt treated as something that needs to be remedied and fixed — something I’ve been guilty of myself (and maybe still am guilty of). But I’ve not really seen a hostility to it.
Is this attitude more common in some geographic areas? Certain denominations? Age-groups?

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Jason Boyett

posted August 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

> Is it unusual that we’d prefer conversion stories to de-conversion? (Philip Wiebe)
No, of course not, and I totally recognize this. People would much rather read uplifting stuff than bad news. But I look at it in terms of resistance training: You don’t get stronger unless you subject the muscle to resistance. Too often we read only the happy stuff and end up with an unrealistic perspective not only of the world around us, but of our faith. I think it’s almost always educational and beneficial to view one’s faith from an outsider’s perspective.
> Are we celebrating the shadow so much we are losing sight of the sunshine? (Philip Wiebe)
I’ve pondered this question, too. In writing about doubt, could I possibly be introducing doubt to my reader when it wasn’t there before? And I don’t know a good answer to that, other than to say I am compelled to tell the truth, even if the truth isn’t always pretty. But couldn’t we ask the same question of the author of Ecclesiastes? I’m not equating my writing with the Bible — (he said defensively) — but there are biblical passages that also seem to celebrate “the shadow.” What do we do with them?
> “I’m not sure that someone who is a new creation in Christ Jesus can revert back to the old.” (Dave Wilson)
I disagree with this reformed perspective. I think in a lot of ways it makes us feel better to say, “Well, they weren’t really followers of Jesus to begin with” when someone gives up the faith. But could we be lying to ourselves? If I were to some day lose the tenuous faith I have, then does that negate my last 30 years as a follower of Christ? Would you really say that whole thing was a sham? For someone like Carlene Bauer, I’d describe it less as “reverting back to the old” as “concluding that God doesn’t exist.” Not a desire to return to some kind of sinful past but admitting something intellectually.
> What insights are you getting from the book? How can those help us in a practical way? (Dave Wilson)
Here I would disagree again — this question seems to be asking me to justify reading something only in terms of practical application. Is it not enough to read just because Carlene writes beautifully and has a fascinating story to tell? So far, I’m getting insights into her personality, the evangelical culture of New Jersey, the dynamics of her family, and the music of the 1980s & 1990s. Is it practical? I don’t know. But I’m enjoying it. I also enjoyed watching “The Karate Kid” with my 7 year-old son, but on the way home I didn’t feel compelled to say, “Now, what can we learn from this story?” It was a good story and a shared experience and that was enough.
> I’ve never been in a Christian community that would call doubt sin. I’ve not seen a hostility to it. (Kenny Johnson)
I think this might be tied to geography and more conservative evangelical denominations. Here in the Bible Belt, I’ve heard (anecdotally) stories of people who’ve been made to feel lesser because of their doubt. Sometimes it’s up front, other times it’s more subtle. But, yes, that perspective exists.
Great questions, everyone.

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Anna Broadway

posted August 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Responses to doubt can range widely, in my experience, and a lot of it depends on what the person’s own relationship to God is. It seems that those most threatened by doubts of a certain kind, or questions about who God is, almost feel as if these questions threaten to dismantle not just the questioner’s faith but their own.
If you’ve subconsciously tended to conflate your perception or paradigm of God with who He actually is, that’s really scary. It also makes you very protective of certain ideas, because your faith becomes like a spiritual jenga game, in which any piece dislodged or removed could bring the whole thing down.
But those who’ve had a paradigm crumble, and survived to discover that God was still in relationship with them, can take doubts more in stride because they realize even what they currently believe will probably tend to change somewhat over time, as certain lies and distortions are exposed. Which is not to say I think major truths like the reality of the resurrection change for someone, but I think you gradually realize that the picture you thought to be very clear of God is actually pretty blurry and distorted, although, over time, certain portions of the picture hopefully sharpen a little bit, even though the whole thing will remain slightly out of focus until heaven — recognizable, but incomplete and fuzzy.

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like a child

posted August 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I’ve never been in a Christian community that would call doubt sin. I’ve not seen a hostility to it. (Kenny Johnson)
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, where doubt was definitely looked down upon. Over the last 4 years I spent my time at a Presbytarian PCA Church that was heavy into reformed/calvinist theology. Doubt was not looked down upon per se, but looked upon as an anomaly of sorts. Check out these posts for proof that Christians look down upon doubt:
I think it is important for some Christians to read de-conversion stories. It would be a wake-up call…and maybe, just maybe, Christians could start actually modeling Christ’s love.

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Philip Wiebe

posted August 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Thanks for your thoughtful response.
In response to your thoughts on Ecclesiastes and other Scripture “celebrating the shadow,” I’d suggest the difference is contextual; within the entirety of the Biblical narrative, there is a place for doubt because doubts raise valuable questions that are, if not answered, validated or addressed throughout the rest of the story. We can see Saul and Solomon drift from God because our perspective enables us to understand their struggles.
If nothing else, thank you Jason for working to remove the stigma attached to those who have doubts. I believe in a God who can handle my feeble attempts to slap around my perceptions about his reality. And while I may wonder why he doesn’t just lift the veil of doubt from those who may fall away, his goodness as made evident in the Word and in my life suggests that the Good Shepherd will not stop searching for and calling after his sheep, whether they believe He exists or not.

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Dave Wilson

posted August 20, 2010 at 11:51 am

Hey Jason,
Gosh you’re disagreeable! 😉
Your depiction of folks who hold to a reformed perspective was pretty unflattering. I don’t think the belief “makes me feel better” at all.
Your other disagreement has me a bit baffled. I’ve never offended anyone before by welcoming their insights about something.
Any way, thanks for inviting us along as you explore issues of faith. While we don’t always see eye-to-eye, I do benefit from hearing your perspective.

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posted August 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

I’ve never been in a Christian community that would call doubt sin. I’ve not seen a hostility to it.
Count yourself blessed! I am pretty sure it is tied directly to conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism, which of course is more prevalent but not limited to the US South.
I never experienced hostility in any way when expressing doubt (at a conservative evangelical church). I was encouraged to ask questions and told that it was normal to experience doubt. *But* at the same time, doubt was certainly considered a sin that should be repented of. How a person can honestly work through issues of doubt intellectually, while repenting of doubt as a sin is beyond me.

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