The Story of My Life

I'm not much into self-adulation, so this is not what you might guess from the title. The line more often gets used ironically to suggest that a particular distasteful event has happened numerous times, and that's mostly what I have in mind today. But maybe some introductory remarks are in order.

My parents were (what we call) "in the ministry" so I went to church three times a week. I cannot remember ever not believing what was preached back then, but it didn't take long for me to figure out that I'm different from everybody else in church. But I'm not different from the guys in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) -- except I go to church and they do not. I only understood why some twenty years ago. There are a lot of ways to divide people into two groups, and one of them separates the techies (the people who like doing STEM) from the people who feel comfortable in American churches. I'm a techie.

For most of my life, the most important thing in my life is being where God wants me to be and doing what God wants me to do. I guess a part of that is being what God wants me to be, but I don't know how to make that happen, nor even if it is true at any particular point in time. So when people greet me with the (usually vacuous) "How are you?" I try to answer a slightly different question like "I'm here," or with a more accurate answer like "I try not to notice," which they always take totally wrong, so I explain that "I figure if God knows (how I am), that's good enough." I might in fact notice that things are going the way I prefer -- or not -- but nobody really cares, the question is not a request for imformation, but merely an affirmational greeting, the pretense that they actually care about me, which mostly they don't (see frex, my blog posting "Zero" earlier this year). But truth is a techie thing, it's less important to American church members than affirmation.

Being and doing what God wants is very important to me, and since Sunday morning is such a wasteland -- less so here than most churches, but still more often than not -- I tend to look elsewhere for Spiritual nourishment. ChristianityToday (CT) is one of those elsewheres that has not gotten too preachy or dishonest for me to swallow. A half year ago, more or less, CT ran an article titled "Core Exercises, How Focusing on Our Theological Center Helps Us Remember Who We Are." The facing page of the opening spread illustrated three numbered Core Exercises, of which the first two were pretty close to what I call "1+2C" (the First and Second Great Commandments), and the third appeared to be indistinguishable from what I call "Relationshipism." That would probably be a show-stopper back in the days when I had useful things to do with my time, but his introductory remarks seemed to suggest that "exercises" like these could make us better able to cope with the aging process, so I wanted to see how (he didn't exactly say), and more importantly, I wanted to see if there was any Scriptural support for #3 as I already know there to be for the other two. If there is, I need to do and be that; if not -- indeed, I cannot find any Biblical support on my own, see "(For and) Against Relationshipism" -- then it's either not my problem, or else it becomes "another gospel" that I should both avoid and actively warn people against.

CT did not give any contact information for the author, but they did mention that he is on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I spent a couple years there and know the address, so I wrote him a "dead-tree" letter expressing my interest in becoming what God wants me to be. I know how to make a query like that inticing, and he replied. Unfortunately, either he's a hard-core Relationshipist looking for (and found!) a 3-point sermon, or perhaps he has not really looked that closely at Scripture to see if he's carrying his preferences into the text instead of reading out what God actually said, or else he did not take seriously my claim to have looked at the problem very hard, and brushed me off as no more serious about my faith than the average church member. He led off with

my three core exercises more or less correspond to the three aspects
of what is involved in educating persons: knowing, doing, and being.
That's another reason why #3 is the hardest: it pertains not simply
to what we know or do, but to the kind of persons we are.
My suggestion in my CT essay was that we must not forget that
to be a human person is to be a person in relation, ...

There's nothing inherently wrong with a 3-point sermon, but it helps if the three points each carry their own weight. As with his three core "exercises," the first two make a lot of sense and correspond to clear Scriptural teachings. I have been, and continue to be (in a more abstract sense) both an educator and a student (the recipient of education), and I know how to teach "knowing" and "doing," but I cannot ever recall either teaching or being taught "being" apart from a direct consequence of knowing and/or doing. Inanimate objects can "be" something or some place, but they cannot be "taught" how to do that, it is something done to them. As near as I can tell, people are like inanimate objects in the matter of "being" (it is the result of something done to them), except they can intentionally do or learn something that affects their own "being."

For example, when a mother tells her child to "be good," she is requiring of him only and exactly that he do good things and not evil things. Some people sometimes tell me I'm "being smart" (or maybe just a "smart aleck"), but that's nothing more nor less than an attribution of knowledge (or lack thereof). The great Apostle referred to "being in Christ," but in another place insisted that it's not something we ourselves do at all. As far as I can tell, it is like the inanimate objects, something that God does for us, not that we can be taught to do or know (and therefore "be") which the evangelicals largely insist is "works righteousness" (A Very Bad Thing). I said that in my reply to this professor. He didn't answer. I guess that's better than the last guy I asked that kind of question of: He was on staff of a large church with a job title "Director of Apologetics" and he not only had no answer but also no self-control (he drove me out of his church and another guy to suicide). I agreed with him on not wanting me in his church.

I'm smarter now -- not smart enough to refrain from asking hard questions, but at least to walk away more quickly when it turns out the other guy's Religion (defined as the non-negotiable set of propositions known to be True despite their inconsistency with the claimed bases for them = "Believing what you know ain't so") disagrees with the facts of the Real World. In church contexts, The Real World includes revealed Scripture, which (other than a few nits easily attributed to my ignorance) does not disagree with real-world facts I pick up from other sources. The atheist religion is no different (it's just a different deviation from Truth) but at least they pretend that Truth is their top priority. Their gatekeepers work really hard to keep the discrepancies away from public view (see my "Biological Evolution" essay), so it's harder to see the difference between their Religion and the Real World facts.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why the STEM guys don't go to church. We care about Truth, and the folks in church have a different priority. Telling the Truth is not welcome. We (STEM guys) are not welcome, unless we check our brains at the door. The atheists welcome anybody who claims to give top priority to The Real World (facts = Truth), so much so that they don't feel the need to verify their own (Darwinist) deviations, so they can say -- and really believe -- they are the ones who put Truth first. The Christians openly admit to being hypocrites (liars). It's a different value system. Too bad (for them) the Bible doesn't support it. Jesus warned that on Judgment Day there will be people (including church members) who show up and discover they are not admitted.

I keep hoping to find a Relationshipist willing to show me how his theology of affirmation ("God loves you unconditionally") is as clearly taught in Scripture as the 1+2C I find there, so that I can join the vast majority of American Evangelicals who believe it. I keep hoping to find a Darwinist willing to show me how his own peer-reviewed research supports the hypothesis of universal descent from a common ancestor better than the fiat creation model, so that I can join the vast majority of American technologists who believe it. I keep being disappointed on both counts. That's not a bad thing, it just tells me that both majorities are probably wrong. The Evangelicals and the Darwinists both seem to have their own Religion ("Believing what you know ain't so") that they will not (or cannot, often with anger) defend. That's sad.

So my duty as a Christian is to ask the hard questions. And then (again as Jesus taught) walk away when people are uninterested. I do that a lot. It's the story of my life.

Tom Pittman
2019 April 22

PostScript, May 2. I nudged the guy with a link to this page and the supposition that he was declining dialog. He responded with the supposition that I am "someone ... with fairly fixed positions." Given that I explicitly was seeking a mutual understanding directed at finding the truth wherever it may lie, if I wanted to take that comment at face value, it might be he assumed I was misrepresenting my search for truth (either being ignorant of my own thoughts and intentions = stupid, or else intentionally = lying), either of which seems to me rather insulting. In my reply I told him I prefer a third option, that he was only assuming I am a mirror of his own soul, and I should take this as a confession (see my blog post "It Takes One to Know One") that he is the one "with fairly fixed positions" not open to learning through dialog. My opinion is that people like that tend to pass up better ideas to cling to what they have, so they are less likely to have anything of value to me either, (see "How to Win" a few years ago).

The guy is a hard-core Relationshipist and unwilling to consider anything contrary to his Religion. So the rest of his reply he went on about how God's love fills our "hearts" with several proof-texts where it said no such thing. He's getting his theology of "love" from the English translation he reads, because the modern translators all confuse "heart" (the ancient organ responsible for a stong will, like the modern "backbone", see my "Mistranslated Words in the Bible") with the seat of the emotions (which in the Bible is consistently the gut, not the heart). He clearly understands that the Biblical use of the "heart" is about will power, but he cannot escape the modern notion that the "heart" is primarily about "love" so he mushes it all together into a porridge too rancid for my taste.

I carefully responded to his comments and invited him to restate his "clarification" using single-sense words so I would not be confused by his evident switching off between definitions, but I also invited him to walk away. He seems to have taken the walk-way advice, not the clarification. It's OK, I understood what he's saying, it's just not in my Bible. James in the Bible tells us that teachers will be held to a much stricter judgment than ordinary people, but this guy seems oblivious. When I was coming out of college, I wanted to volunteer to be a preacher, and God graciously said no. I'm not complaining. It's this guy's problem, but not mine.


The Story of My Life, failing to engage a Relationshipist (you are here)
The Counterfeit Religion of Relationships
The arguments (For and) Against Relationshipism
Relationships, concluding that people mean "affirmation" by that word
Why the word "relationship" is not in the Bible (in "Mistranslated Words")
It's Not About Love, Handel's Messiah got it right
A Case Study in Moral Ambiguity
Why Relationshipism is so popular among conservative Christians
Relationshipism, defining the term (2008 October 31 blog post)
"Love" in Fiction, how men understand "love" and "relationship"
God of Truth, a draft of what might eventually become a book
The bottom of my home page, a challenge to do something about it

Biological Evolution: Did It Happen? (asking Darwinists The Question)
The Blind Watcher, putting Richard Dawkins' theory to the test (he failed)
Falsifiability and the Meaning of Genesis One, a paper presented to ETS in 1996

What's Really Important, finding faith without "Religion"