January 23, 2021

Dr. Valerie Tarico- Non-theists and Evangelicals: The IM Interview

valerie_publicity_photo_4x5_rgb__1__fall_06_ht8q_52s7I have been wanting to do an interview with an articulate and perceptive non-theist, and I have found one in Dr. Valerie Tarico, author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth.

What’s the point?

1. Evangelicals are constantly mischaracterizing non-theists. We need to listen and not preach.
2. There is some common ground of concern here for many of us, especially in the area of the ethical practices of religions that seek to convert.
3. We need to measure our responses against reality. Some of our typical talking points aren’t very impressive, so we might consider retiring or reworking them.
4. I want to build a bridge. Dr. Tarico is very open to that kind of dialog.

Dr. Valerie Tarico is a former evangelical who now describes herself as a spiritual nontheist. Her book The Dark Side distills her moral and rational critique of Evangelical teachings. Tarico is a graduate of Wheaton College. She obtained a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa before completing postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post and hosts a monthly series on SCAN TV Seattle: Moral Politics – Christianity in the Public Square. Last year Tarico founded www.WisdomCommons.org, an interactive website with quotes, stories and poems from around the world all promoting shared ethical values. Her essays about society, faith, and family life can be found at www.spaces.msn.com/awaypoint.

Dr. Tarico, welcome to the Internet Monk.com interview.

1. Tell the Internet Monk.com audience the basic story of how and why you left evangelicalism. I’m particularly interested in any significant books or authors that were part of that journey.

Hmm. Books and authors. I think I ended up falling from faith mostly in spite of the books I was reading to shore up my faith! I grew up in a non-denominational Bible church, and my relationship with Jesus was at the very center of who I was. In high school I was proud to stump my biology teacher with ideas from the Creation Research Society, and when I arrived at Wheaton College I think I was more devout and conservative than the school was. (I mean, they let post-millennialists and Lutherans in the door.) Even so, I would say that from adolescence on I struggled to fend off moral and rational contradictions in my faith, evolving more and more idiosyncratic ways of holding the pieces together. In particular, I couldn’t understand how I was going to be blissfully, perfectly happy – indifferent to the fact that other people were experiencing eternal anguish.

The final straw came while I was completing a doctoral internship at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. My job was to provide psychological consultation to kids and families on the medical units. I was working with kids who were dying of cancer or enduring horrible, frightening treatments in order to survive it. As I listened to the explanations offered by people who believed in an all powerful, loving, perfectly good interventionist God, it seemed to me these “justifications” were comforting, but they didn’t make things just. I re-read The Problem of Pain, and the resident rabbi offered Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Both rang hollow. Finally I said to God, “I’m not making excuses for you anymore.” And suddenly it felt like I had been holding my God together for so long with duct tape and bailing wire that all I had left was tape and wire. So I walked away. I didn’t really re-engage with Christianity in any systematic way until it became clear about five years ago that Biblical ideas were dictating social policy—and killing people.

2. Anti-theists (or non-theists) of various kinds are now making their numbers and voice heard in the public square. What are two or three of the primary myths/truths about non-theism that people of traditional religious faiths are going to have to get rid of and/or adjust to in the future?

Well, first of all let me say that not all nontheists are anti-theists. Most nonbelievers are simply not interested in religion. Many see it as a benign force that contributes to stable moral communities. Those who are vocally outspoken against supernaturalism are a minority. I think this is important to emphasize because the silent majority is—well–silent and so not noticed. Humanists who join inter-spiritual dialogue or nonbelieving parents who are busy reading bedtime stories and making cookies for school bake sales don’t tend to make their voices heard on these issues. Mostly they just want to be left in peace – to not have Christians witnessing to their kids or interfering with their medical decisions.

The myth I am confronted with most frequently is that non-Christians (especially those who have left the faith) are indifferent to morality or they reject the gift of salvation because they don’t want to be morally accountable. Because Christians self-perceive as a city on a hill, a light shining in the darkness, they assume they have the moral high ground. Some think that there is no basis for morality apart from the Bible and a redemptive relationship with Jesus. So what they fail to recognize is that much of the critique of Christianity is a moral critique, and much of the outrage is moral outrage.

Another myth is that non-theists broadly and anti-theists particularly have little interest in spirituality. In my experience many are profoundly concerned with issues not only of morality but also of meaning and unity and wonder: the small humble delights that that makes life a joy to live, the willingness to give yourself to something bigger than yourself, the beauties of love.

3. How do you feel about the high profile of atheists like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens who consistently oppose religion of any kind as an unquestionable evil? Is there any feeling in the non-theist community that they are being portrayed as “fundamentalists” as well?

Those guys definitely are anti-theists and taboo breakers to boot, which makes people love to hate them. (“The Missionary Position”?) But I think they change the dialogue in important ways. To cite a provocative example, Dawkins has said that religious indoctrination of children is child abuse. In reality, all education of children is indoctrination at some level. Every parent or teacher has to wrestle with the balance of top-down mind control vs open inquiry. But if we push past knee-jerk reactions to Dawkins’ assertion, he raises a serious moral question for believers: Is Christian indoctrination abusive more often than people like to think? Psychologist Marlene Winell, who specializes in recovery from fundamentalism, would say yes with three exclamation points.

I personally find the “fundamentalist” label a bit of an eye roller when applied to Dawkins or Harris. It’s childish. “You stink.” “No, you stink.” The word fundamentalism has a specific history and meaning. It is about having a core set of dogma-based assertions that are nonnegotiable, and historically these fundamentals are the central tenets of Christian orthodoxy. It’s not a synonym for strident or uncompromising. A quick glance around any department store will give you an idea of how easily we humans confuse the quality of packaging with quality of contents. The same is true for communications. In my experience, Dawkins et al are more nuanced and thoughtful in their actual analysis than what the public reaction would suggest, and I wonder how many of their critics have actually read them vs reacting to their posture. Other atheist and agnostic writers love to define themselves by saying, “I’m not like those guys.” It’s a way of positioning as a moderate and gaining access to an audience that feels conflicted about the role of religion in society. Tangentially, I think that within Christianity, people often fail to recognize theological fundamentalism if it is wrapped in rock music and skateboard art or in warm, loving community.

4. Setting aside the obvious issue of breaking the law, at what point does an evangelical parent, in the religious training of their own children, cross the line into what you consider the abuse of that child?

Imagine you work in a mental health center and a woman says to you, “My husband says he loves me unconditionally and if I don’t love him back he is going to torture me to death as slowly as he can.” Some theologies are inherently abusive.

When I was a teenager my youth group showed a movie called “A Thief in the Night” about the rapture, and a few years back, churches were creating “hell houses” for Halloween. In both cases, the blood and gore and implied violence were meant to be shocking and emotionally traumatic – all justified morally because shock and trauma right now are better than having people tortured forever. But a therapist like Marlene Winell, who I mentioned before, routinely sees people who developed panic disorder or chronic depression and anxiety in reaction to hell and rapture threats. Because of my writing I sometimes receive stories that make me as a mom want to cry. One child became hysterical whenever he called out and his parents didn’t answer because he thought they’d been taken. Another repeatedly prayed the prayer of salvation — never sure that it had “taken,” until she ultimately became distraught and suicidal. I wonder how many children in the coming up generation were traumatized by being exposed to Mel Gibson’s blood orgy, The Passion. My mom’s old church took a busload including pre-adolescents – kids who largely had been sheltered from Hollywood violence and had no way to have hardened themselves against it. If it wasn’t a religious theme, the parents themselves would have thought it abusive.

Here’s the challenge, though: Causing trauma isn’t necessarily abusive. I had my appendix removed when I was five, and it was absolutely terrifying because I was in pain and tied to a hospital bed and left alone. But I don’t think of it as abusive because it was necessary. Is scaring people into salvation necessary or abusive? When you intentionally cause harm or trauma in order to prevent a greater harm, it’s not enough to be well intentioned. You also have to be right. And if you’re not, the rest of society has a responsibility to weigh whether you are causing trauma unnecessarily—especially when those being harmed are children.

5. When you see a church spending large amounts of money on children’s ministries and activities, do you believe this is ethical or unethical? Why?

If you heard that Scientologists were spending large amounts of money on outreach to kids would you believe this was ethical or unethical? What if they offered a subsidized summer camp to inner city kids like Child Evangelism Fellowship does? What if they had a storefront alcohol-free bar for underage skateboarders like City Church does in Ballard, Washington? What if they had teenage tutors slipping colorful invitation cards to kids in public middle schools like Foursquare Church does in Seattle?

Children are hard wired to be credulous, to believe what they are told by adults who have authority over them and who nurture them. It’s the only efficient way for them to pick up all the information they need. They can’t afford to question and test when we tell them stoves burn you or cars squish you, so they’re built to trust us. Because they are vulnerable in this way, we have a particular responsibility not to exploit or abuse that trust. If you believe the exclusive salvific claims of Christian orthodoxy, then the end justifies the means. That, I think is at the heart of children’s ministries. But it’s only fair to admit that children are being offered metaphorical candy – and the ultimate goal of conversion isn’t always up front. One Jewish neighbor sent her daughter to a playful, wholesome youth group at a local mega church because she thought “nondenominational” meant interfaith.

6. I’m sure that you’ve got a good response to the frequent evangelical contention that non-theists have no morals. What do you say? (And what is the mistake evangelicals are making with that objection?)

I’m kind of embarrassed for people who say this, because it means they know so little about morality and about child development. Morality doesn’t come from religion. Healthy human children come into the world primed to become moral members of society, just like they come into the world primed to acquire language. Moral emotions like empathy, shame, guilt and disgust begin to emerge during the toddler years regardless of a child’s cultural or religious context. A toddler may pat an injured peer or offer a grubby toy to an adult who is distressed. A preschooler may hide behind a couch to cover a transgression. As a child’s brain develops, moral emotions are joined by moral reasoning. By age five or six, kids can argue long and loud about fairness.

Research is just starting to show how our moral emotions and reasoning are guided by powerful moral instincts. I think these instincts are the reason that across secular and moral traditions we humans share some basic agreements about goodness. The golden rule appears in some form or another in every ethical system. Sometimes it emphasizes proactively doing good. Sometimes it is only about avoiding harm. Sometimes it applies to even the smallest sentient creature, sometimes only to males of a single religion, but it’s there. For the last year and a half I’ve been working on a project called the Wisdom Commons, an interactive website that gathers quotes and stories and poetry from many traditions as a way to “elevate and celebrate our shared moral core.”

7. Why would any evangelical want to read your book, The Dark Side?

Well, I have at least two siblings who would tell you that I’m a pawn of Satan, and you shouldn’t read it! On the other hand, several Christian friends read and provided feedback on the manuscript. Their perspective is that God doesn’t need us to cover for him or to hide from complicated realities.

I am a non-theist and my conclusions follow my thinking, but The Dark Side is less a challenge to Christianity than to bibliolatry. I was taught, and still believe, that to worship human decisions and creations is idolatry. So in terms of whether someone would want to read this text, I would ask: Do you really worship God or are you getting caught by the worship of traditions and texts? Which do you twist to fit the other? When your deepest best understandings of Love and Truth bump up against creeds and canons, which win out? Given that there are human handprints all over evangelical practices and teachings, how much time have you spent learning to spot them?

In reality, this kind of analysis and critique is very much in keeping with the Christian tradition. The writers of the Old Testament took the Akkadian and Sumerian traditions and asked themselves, Which pieces are merely human? What is our best guess about the divine realities that lie beyond? They gleaned and wrestled and kept some fragments of the earlier stories and said, “This is our best understanding of what is Real and what is Good and how to live in moral community with each other.” The writers of the New Testament look at what the Torah had become and saw idolatry. Again, they gleaned and culled in light of how they understood Jesus and then offered their best understanding of God and goodness. Same with the Protestant Reformation. The reformers scraped away at obviously human encrustations like indulgences and cult of saints until they came to what they thought was the heart of the revelation. I think that the deepest challenge of the spiritual quest is not to defend the answers of our spiritual ancestors but to do as they did—to dig and scrape and take ourselves into that uncomfortable space where growth happens.

8. How would you handle it if your child became a Bible toting member of Campus Crusade for Christ? In the same vein, how should evangelicals respond if their child takes the anti-theist road?

It would be hard. My daughters are both passionate about making the world a kinder place—primarily for weird animals like sharks and manatees and kakapos and factory chickens. But more recently they got wonderfully caught up in microcredit (through Kiva.org) and started directing their birthday money toward humans. I’d be grieved to see their passion and compassion channeled by an ideology. My biggest grief would be if one joined a religious organization that discouraged deep loving relationships with outsiders, including family. An elderly couple I met at a humanist gathering are not allowed to see their evangelical grandchildren because they are retired scientists with a secular world view.

When my younger brother came out as gay, it pitted my mom’s theological fundamentalism against her love for her son. Love won out. That is what I aspire to, and it is what is would hope for any parent in a similar situation.

9. Christian apologetics and cultural communication today have taken several major turns since your days citing creationists to Wheaton profs. For example, Tim Keller, a PCA pastor in Manhattan, has earned a broad hearing from the culture in his book “The Reason for God.” Keller is not Josh McDowell, it’s safe to say. Younger evangelicals are anti-culture war and many were pro-Obama. Many evangelicals accept evolution, although quietly, and many more distrust “Creation science.” Do any of the changes in apologetic methods and approaches since your loss of faith interest you when you are portraying evangelicals in print or speech?

You are right. Many of the conditions that pushed me to join the public dialogue have shifted, and when I engage secular audience I quite often bring up these changes. I love it that evangelicals like Jim Wallis are complicating that dialogue from a social standpoint, and a new generation of evangelical ministers like Rob Bell are complicating the dialogue theologically.

I see the theological dialogue as most important. Unless we understand that our theological agreements are provisional and open to growth, social change is just a matter of Christianity fluctuating in response to social conditions. There have been many times in history when the balance shifted between personal /doctrinal purity and compassion/love. Then conditions change and the pendulum swings back, in part because bibliolatry and what I call ancestor worship keeps people from growing beyond the understanding of the Bible’s authors and the councils that decided the creeds and canon. My hope is that we will come to understand our spiritual heritage and our own minds well enough that the cruelties perpetrated in the name of God become a part of history.

I’d like to thank Dr. Tarico for her time and effort in helping all of us understand this new relationship between evangelicals and non-theists. I know the vast majority of my audience is appreciative as well. Hopefully, we will hear from Dr. Tarico again as some of these issues emerge in other contexts.

NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION: I will ban- not moderate- but ban immediately anyone who is disrespectful in language or content in their comments. (IM commenting guidelines are under the FAQ tab, #10.) Angry evangelicals and angry non-theists be warned. I will not allow anyone to remain in the discussion who seeks to psychologically explain away another person’s experience, demean or insult a belief system, nor will we be evangelizing or ridiculing, etc. Further, I am not looking to sponsor the kind of debate that goes on with the Triabloggers, etc. This interview is about non-theists and their perceptions of evangelicals. Obviously, we don’t agree, but obviously as well, Dr. Tarico has brought up many points that concern many of us in this readership. Keep the focus on the interview and be respectful to the person and we will be fine.


  1. Todd Erickson says

    Just awesome, some excellent thought here.

    There’s a temptation to list a string of books from the question of how that fits into the discussion, but really, that’s a dishonest communication on my part, isn’t it?

    Still, I wonder how the activities of folks like Shane Claiborne fit into the above discussion. Also, would she consider any Christian who wants other people to also meet Christ to be Evangelical? (the word seems to take on different meanings in different contexts, so I thought I’d ask.)

  2. Todd: Well, we aren’t exactly helping that, are we? 🙂 What is an evangelical according to the Pyro boys or Rob Bell or Joel O or Ken Ham. Ahem.

    • Todd Erickson says

      A lot of people don’t really use the term Evangelical anymore, since it’s become so claimed and diluted at the same time.

      I’m a big fan of missional (which will probably half a half-life of 6 months at the rate we go through terms these days)

      • Todd Erickson says

        If we have convinced ourselves that the only possible way to live a “normal” live is that 80% of our time is taken up with work and necessities, with 10% left over for family and church, and of that church activity, perhaps 2% takes place outside of the building (yes, over-generalization) what does this say in context of what we are shown in the bible?

        Or rather, could it be said of anybody in the initial new Testament church that there was a time in which they were not “missional”? When the lifstyle of Christ had permission to not be present in them?

        I struggle often with the idea that the very job-culture that I am part of defeats my ability to be a disciple.

        • I think this statement about 80% shows a total lack of understanding of what was involved to live prior to the last 50 years. Growing up on a working farm through out most of recorded history required 99% of your waking time. Now some of it was done with your family but getting up a 5 AM every day of the year every year of your life to milk the cows and doing it again at about 5 PM was way more commitment to work than most of us working 60 hours a week would ever contemplate.

  3. Dennis Laing says

    Dr. Valerie Tarico, thank you for your vulnerability and for helping me see these issues through your perspective. I have the utmost respect for you!

  4. The idea that we’re born with moral instincts and can discern very early right from wrong is very threatening to many Christians simply because of the myth that there is no basis for morality apart from the Bible.

    The foundation of Christianity rests on the idea that we are totally depraved and sinful, and yet every child is born with an inherent sense of compassion, of justice, of empathy — a Jesus-shaped morality developed in the absence of any knowledge of Jesus.

    When Jesus told us we need to be like children, he didn’t say Christian children, He said Children.

    How many children have been emotionally abused by other children because they were not “saved?” Many. My kid doesn’t attend the local mega-bible-church, and she gets told she’s not a good Christian, not saved, and reads from a Bible that’s been changed. (I suspect some of it comes because she attended one meeting of this church’s youth group and didn’t come back because “they even had a capacchino machine, dad!”) Yet this bullying is OK with the parents because it’s bullying for Christ.

    Dr. Tarico is right on target when she says that many Christian fail to see that the outrage against them does in fact have a moral basis. It’s a logical conundrum for them that is unresolvable except by closing their eyes even tighter.

    • I feel as if there is a misrepresentation going on here regarding the “moral compass.” Romans 1 makes it clear that there is some sense of right and wrong in everyone’s heart. I think the point is that apart from some standard it is impossible to declare any act as being absolutely good or evil. I would submit that the Bible is the appropriate standard to use. I’m not sure that anyone says that there can be no morality apart from the Bible as if all non-theists were running around in a depraved frenzy. Well, I’m sure that someone says that…

      I don’t know about your kids, but mine have definitely been more sinner than saint as they’ve come into the world. Yes, they show flashes of compassion, but their overall focus is on themselves.

      • I’d like to suggest that we see our children as “more sinner than saint” because that is what evangelicalism has conditioned us to see. If we have on the glasses of total depravity, sin nature from the womb, naturally rebellious infants, etc., then that is what we will see. I really liked Dr. Tarico’s mention of child development. It is a basic and foundational source of knowledge in child rearing that has been largely eschewed by evangelicals because it is associated in their minds with what some consider the devil’s very own field of study: psychology.

        • I guess I’m guilty as charged then. That’s how I read Ephesians 2 and that has been my experience with my children. I guess I’m the token Calvinist that reads and responds here. I’m also a proponent of the nouthetic counseling model, but I certainly understand and respect those who differ.

    • JJoe, I have noticed the: “When Jesus told us we need to be like children, he didn’t say Christian children, He said Children” as well and I agree with you.

  5. Cass Midgley says

    brilliant. another breath of fresh air. a forerunner in the impending mass exodus from the modern christianity that deralied centuries ago. this invigorates my hope that “we” (Jesus people) are truly repenting, restoring sound doctrine, returning to Jesus and love and humanity. the “church” will soon join the human race and in so doing join God. Of the two greatest commandments, I believe God would that we embrace the second one (love people) EVEN at the expense of foresaking the first one (love God), because it is impossible to fulfill the second one and NOT (indirectly even) fulfill the first one; whereas it IS possible to fulfill the first one (albeit delusionally) and forsake the second one–Christians are atypically experts at this. Thus, if the entire human race rejected God but turned to each other in love, compassion, peace, etc. I think God would be THRILLED! Because we would (unknowingly) be turning to to Him and fulfilling His vision for the earth. Because when we “do it” to each other, we “do it” to Him. And, in the parable of the two sons, the one who said “no” to the father but actually did what the father asked, was honored by the father, and the one who only lip service to him, was dishonored. Christians talk love and actually think their loving, but this is the great delusion of this era of Christianity. It’s sad that people have to abandon God to actually fulfill His will for them, but this is the false-Christianity that we’ve created and many are abandoning it, and right they should.

  6. in following the “religious indoctrination is child abuse” theme, i think dr tarico implicitly undermines her argument that there is a type of fundamentalism among non-theists and anti-theists.

    as an orthodox christian, i can find agreement with her crticisim of bibliolatry and what amounts to ancestor worship, both of which seem to pervade evangelical and traditional/liturgical traditions in christianity. nevertheless, i get the impression that her idea of a good religion is something akin to Unitarian Universalism, where everything is scrutinized and doubted to the point where nothing is fundamental and everything is allowable. religion, by its very definition, requires at least some absolutes to which everyone subscribes. without it, what is the point?

    i’m also fascinated that non-theists and anti-theists have no problem pointing out excesses of christianity, et al. (and why does she only hit Christianity in this interview?) without pointing out the supreme inhumanity of nazism and soviet communism, which have killed more people than any religion i can think of. many of her fellow travelers have the same blind spot…[Mod edit]

    • Todd Erickson says

      I think that you’re going off on a bit of a rabbit trail here, unfortunately. Neither Nazism or Communism were religions. One was a philosophy that became a political system, and one was a method for German revenge over the excesses of the justice delivered by Europe due to WWI.

      She’s pointing out the excesses of Christianity because she’s BEING ASKED about Christianity.

      I don’t see her being asked about other political systems, or philosophies, or religions, do you?

      She answered the questions she was asked. She didn’t go off on tangents, she spoke very directly to what she was asked. Assuming iMonk didn’t edit the interview. *wink wink, nudge nudge*

      I don’t think that this is a woman who would agree that there is such a thing as good religion.

      I would also venture that Jesus would agree.

      • i think many philosophical systems approach being religions.

        the rest of your points are well taken.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I think that you’re going off on a bit of a rabbit trail here, unfortunately. Neither Nazism or Communism were religions. One was a philosophy that became a political system, and one was a method for German revenge over the excesses of the justice delivered by Europe due to WWI.

        Yet both functioned as State Religions in their societies, complete with holy books, civic rituals, hagiographies, and Millenial Perfect Futures (always on the other side of the present’s atrocities, just as in their predecessor’s Republique of Perfect Virtue). And provided cosmic-level justification for what the “Men of Sin” running them were probably going to do anyway. (And Communism, probably because of its greater age, even had schisms (Stalin/Trotsky, Russian/China/Albania), heresies (Trotskyism), fundamentalism (Khmer Rouge), and Inquisitions (NKVS/OGPU/KGB) to enforce Orthodoxy; Naziism was more like a one-off Cult centered around the Cult Founder that didn’t get the time to evolve that far.) Sort of the idea of “civic religion” but much more formalized and heirarchical and Total Theocratic in all but name.

    • Joseph: Your use of the word “feeble” got you edited. This interview is about Christianity. She didn’t mention the Nazis because they advertised themselves as Christians, and she didn’t mention communists for the same reason you don’t mention the Conquistadors.

      • sorry for the word you didn’t like. i’ll try to be more careful next time. i meant it as a criticism of what she said, not as an ad hominem. forgive me.

        • Unfortunately, Joseph, your post is highly illustrative of one of the most common and off-putting habits of many Christians in the eyes of non-theists. Here you have someone who is explaining her view thoughtfully and respectfully, and your response comes off as a knee-jerk attack against her for having the temerity to believe differently from you. I’m prepared to assume it was not your intent, however It advertises poorly for Christianity.

    • Have you seen those videos of swastikas on the altars of churches of Nazi Germany?

      Although Hitler wasn’t that religious and there were strong dissenters who gave their lives in opposition, many Christians and theologians thought that God had singled out Germany to be the favored nation among them all.

      It is something to think about when looking at the root causes of the holocaust. Would the persecution of the Jews have happened without it being seen as God’s will as backed by the Bible?

      • Whoa, nellie. Hitler was virulently anti-Christian. He found it soft and too pacific, precisely unsuited for his agenda. And he thought the Bible was claptrap. There were no Christians in the upper echelons of Nazism, and in any event Christianity in Germany was already in decline, especially Protestantism. God’s will was not in the picture.
        Now, intriguingly, Hitler did express admiration of Islam, and met with the intensely Jew-hating mufti of Jerusalem.

        • The Nazis, generally, were mystics, with a strong interest in the occult. My take is that while both anti-Christian and anti-Jewish, they were delighted to glom onto anything spiritual in which they found any self-justification. Many fundamentalists like to say the Nazis were atheists (as a tool to attack atheism), but that is very inaccurate if you take as the definition of atheism to be, “no faith in the supernatural at all”.

        • One of Hitler’s propaganda slogans was “Church, Kitchen and Cooking”. Those were his recommendations for women. He was also strongly opposed to secular schools because he thought that God was required in order for students to form proper moral standards. Hitler was also known to publically quote a work by Martin Luther known as “The Jews and Their Lies”.

          Here are some quotations in case you don’t believe me:

          It’s all very well claiming that Hitler was lying, but many of these claims to religious fervour are contained in his personal memoirs (“Mein Kampf”) which he wrote in prison. It does not seem like the sort of place where Hitler would feel compelled to appeal to the religious.

    • Cass Midgley says

      After walking away confused from evangelical christianity 5 years ago (former pastor), I have recently indentified most with the Unitarian Universalist denom. My local UU is small and mostly made up of “liberal” Christians or post-Christian agnostics. Your question, “what’s the point” is a good one. I would ask the same of the modern evangelical agenda. I do see God love and Christ’s death as “universal” and have conceded that if there must be sheep and goats, it pleases me that the goats would be identified by their lack of love (practiced, not lip serviced) for their fellow humans or perhaps those who “shut the kingdom of God in men’s faces”. What if Jesus’ severe reference to those that cause people to “stumble”–fall into animosity toward God–was because our potential to do damage to God’s agenda far exceeds are propensity to help. I’m convince that a person whose primary allegiance is to mankind, over God and country, is most apt to please God. This, to me, is the point.

      • “I’m convince that a person whose primary allegiance is to mankind, over God and country, is most apt to please God. This, to me, is the point.”

        I like this. Evangelicals say one needs to ‘put God first’ but and “seek first the kingdom of God” but these terms are too poetic to be useful, for me anyways

    • i’m also fascinated that non-theists and anti-theists have no problem pointing out excesses of christianity, et al. (and why does she only hit Christianity in this interview?) without pointing out the supreme inhumanity of nazism and soviet communism, which have killed more people than any religion i can think of.

      It’s simple. Neither governments were built on or driven by atheist ideals. If or when the governments were anti-religious, it was in the interest of obedience to the state, not in the interest of promoting atheism.

  7. Dan Allison says

    I don’t know how such a thing could be accomplished, but only an intentional and aggressive effort to correct widespread misperceptions will help us here. The general public — at least in the US — equates Christianity with Young Earth Creationism, Lindsey/LaHaye-style dispensationalism, Hagee-style Christian Zionism, Fred Phelps, Alan Keyes, and Randall Terry.

    The fact is that the general public has never heard of Tim Keller, NT Wright, Brennan Manning, or Rob Bell. How we could go about replacing the former with the latter in the public consciousness, I do not know, but I pray for the day when historic, orthodox Christianity is the equivalent of “Christianity” in the public consciousness. If non-theists are going to reject Christianity, they should at least know what it actually is.

    • cermak_rd says

      I think that depends on your area. Here in Chicago, Christianity is equated with Catholicism and historical Black Protestant churches. Evangelicism is what is equated with that list.

      • Dan Allison says

        I’m in central Florida so things may be a bit distorted, but I monitor the internet and the TV pretty closely.

    • “The fact is that the general public has never heard of Tim Keller, NT Wright, Brennan Manning, or Rob Bell. How we could go about replacing the former with the latter in the public consciousness, I do not know, but I pray for the day when historic, orthodox Christianity is the equivalent of “Christianity” in the public consciousness.”

      Amen to that.
      Whenever I read testimony like Valerie’s, I reminded of how important it is to avoid all of the distortions of our faith, however seemingly insignificant, that can make Christianity seem like an awful or immoral thing, instead of a beautiful and hope-filled thing.

  8. It is interesting to note that her “de-conversion” story almost mirrors the conversion experience of Dr. Francis Collins, who came out of Med school a convinced Atheist, but became a Christian due directly to his encounters with human suffering.

    • Todd Erickson says

      I think that this is a breaking point for a long of younger Christians. If you’ve been told all of your life “suffering is just part of God’s plan for glorification” or variations thereof, it leaves you without answers for why children suffer.

      Or anybody.

      Or why we’re not more effective at being a positive comforting agent in the face of that.

      Whereas, I think that a lot of non-Christians, in the face of suffering, are free to see God as actually trying to fix the situation through and with us, rather than in spite of us. Or using us all as constant object lessons for his grand sunday school lesson.

      • Yes, as a pastor I get asked all the time about suffering. I tell people to read Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Gospel of Matthew (in that order).

        Sometimes, life sucks – and kidding ourselves into knowing why is sucks isn’t helpful one bit. It’s nice to know, however, that Jesus took on our suffering and pointed to something beyond it.

        I can’t explain, and justifying the suffering of children is (in my mind) stupid – but I can be present and cry out, “How long?” with people.

        I know middle-class people tend to expect more than that, because for us suffering is the aberration, but given that Jesus emerged in a world where you were lucky to reach age 40 I think, perhaps, it’s enough.

        And, Dr. Tarico, my wife is all about saving the manatees – she loves those chubby things.

        • I believe that suffering was one of the larger reasons that Oriana Fallaci considered herself a Christian agnostic.

  9. aaron arledge says

    Thanks for posting this. It helps to see how we are perceived by others. When I was in college a cult that was known for destroying lives and families was trying to gain a foothold on our campus. Some ex members came to educate our BSU leadership on the tactics they used. I found myself thinking we do a lot of the same things to get people to come to what we do.

  10. Thank you to Dr. Tarico for the thoughtful answers and avoiding the cheap shots.

    I suspect many IM readers share your negative views of Christian fundamentalism, and have made major shifts away from the Christianity of their youth, as I have. In my case, I shifted, eventually, into a different understanding and view of Christianity, but I definitely understand why you shifted into non-theism.

  11. @imonk, kudos to you for engaging in this civil dialogue

    regarding children’s ministries, even as evangelical Christian, I wonder about “indoctrination” — so much pounded in way before somebody is mentally mature enough to make a proper consideration. does it “poison” the well, so to speak?

    there’s a huge push and focus on children’s ministry (perhaps it’s just my church, where it’s bandied about how “85% of those who give their lives to Christ do so as a child”…

    • Todd Erickson says

      Yeah, or rather “after kids hit X age, as adults, only Y% are actually likely to make a decision for Christ, so we have to get them early.”

      But we never see Christ preaching to kids. Or trying to convert people to a religion.

      Which seems to ask, should we be specifically targeting adults, and, is the way that we do church precisely wrong because it asks the wrong things of adults, without asking those of the practitioners of our religion?

      And, thus, how much of the religion that we practice is, in itself, anti-Christ?

  12. I want to thank Dr. Tarico and especially Imonk for allowing her to speak. As a non-theist I have read and heard much on the internet that is negative about people like me and i know many non-theists who say negative things about Christians. Yet, I follow this blog as a method to counteract the extremists on both sides. I am very impressed that you are willing to engage with those who think differently and I wish more people on all sides of the religious issue were willing to engage in calm dialogue. Thank-you.

  13. iMonk, thank you for facilitating this. I appreciate that there is finally a good example of mature interaction and dialogue on opposing issues that didn’t disintegrate into a fighting/cursing/insult match.

  14. Smokin’ awesome interview Michael. Thanks for doing this. And thanks to Dr. Tarico as well. You both took a pretty good-sized risk to participate. What a pleasure to see that it is people of good will engaging these issues rather than the normal bomb-throwers.

  15. So I walked away. I didn’t really re-engage with Christianity in any systematic way until it became clear about five years ago that Biblical ideas were dictating social policy—and killing people.

    I really think there are a number of issues with that statement that should be addressed, [Mod edit]

    First – what ideas are acceptable to “dictate” social policy? Are any religious ideas reasonable? Clearly biblical ideas formed the basis for parts of western culture – are all biblical ideas suspect and therefore should be shunned?

    Related, in a democratic society, just what ideas should be prevented from being discussed/legislated? Which ideas must be banned from discourse and legislation?

    And the biggest softball tossed – what biblical ideas are killing people? That begs for more detail.

    • Did I or did I not say something about a Triablog style debate? If there’s not enough of that going on on the internet to keep a person occupied, maybe I can furnish some forum addresses. I was here to listen, learn and adjust my approach and thinking, not correct Ms. Torico’s.

      • Thank you for this.

      • My comment (the part you deleted) was directed at you, not Dr. T.

        If I, for example, made the statement So I walked away. I didn’t really re-engage with Atheism in any systematic way until it became clear about five years ago that Atheistic ideas were dictating social policy—and killing people., what would your response to that be?

        I think that if your interviewing someone and they toss out statements like that, it is more than reasonable to ask clarifying questions, as part of the inteview

    • I think some people would argue that the high rate of suicide among gay teens can be traced back to Biblical ideas — or at least the application of them.

      Although it doesn’t spring from the Bible, and is really in opposition to it as I read it, the conservative Christian opposition to public health care is my hot button. I equate it with abortion, because in both cases children die because it’s cheaper and more convenient. I understand that we should trust God to take care of us, not the government, but think about applying that philosophy to public education, national defense, or interstate highways.

      • Ironically, I find conservatism much more in tune with a Christian mindset. We oppose public health care, not health care which we provide with charity plus the patient’s funds as available(e.g. Shriners’ Hospitals, St. Jude). One could oppose public schools, yet champion private schools with scholarships for the poor (Catholic schools used to be precisely this). We can oppose government highways, yet have highways such as private toll roads. Even national defense could be militia-driven.
        Why, Jjoe, does righteousness require mass coercive measures? I think it’s very easy for one (not implying it’s you) to consider one’s Christian obligation to the poor fulfilled after voting for a liberal politician in the voting booth, having personally expended neither time nor coin.
        BTW, I’m a physician.

  16. ..stand-by…..i will have a very relevant comment as soon as i can get wikipedia to load up..(server is down)..

  17. I think much of this discussion on both sides focuses on questions of morality. I also think this largely misses the point of what Christianity is really about.

    Dr. G.E. Veith expressed a great idea (that I need to read more about) that discussions of morality belong in the left-hand kingdom (society and government, in Lutheran parlance) and not in the right-hand kingdom (the church, broadly speaking).

    I agree with Dr. Tarico that children are born with an innate sense of fairness and morality, but every child begins to violate this “natural law” almost from day one. Christians are in this dilemma every bit as much as any other human. I’m not about to get into the comparative morality of various religions and non-religions because I think that sin (in the Christian language) is universal among humans.

    Where we may have common ground is in restoring a common sense of “public virtue” that is largely free of God-talk. There are certain basic public morals that allow us to live together peaceably in a diverse society, and I truly believe that people of all belief systems can live together in harmony by upholding these common values. In my upbringing, the Boy Scouts did a very good job of discussing civic virtues (citizenship, tolerance, care for the environment) in a way that did not depend on religious doctrine or exclude people over religion.

    • I agree, and would put the blame for shifting the discussion to morality firmly at the feet of Christians, who have spent centuries saying that no one but themselves could be truly moral. Of course, the Gospel refutes that completely. As a Christian, it is completely a non-issue whether Dr. Tarico is more or less moral than I am. In fact, should it be the case that I am proven to be immoral, it affects absolutely nothing about the Gospel. The issue for the Christian is 1) Is there a God and 2) What do we know about such a God and 3) What is our human connection to/relation to this God? Non-Theists see these questions as anthropology. We see these questions as presuppositional and beyond essential. The issue of morality meets both of us later in our conversation, and if the Christian knows the Gospel, he/she will never engage in a “Who is more moral?” debate. We must, however, talk about the comparative origin and implications of morality. As Ravi says, some people love their neighbor, and some people eat their neighbor. Do you have a preference? 🙂

      • …would put the blame for shifting the discussion to morality firmly at the feet of Christians, who have spent centuries saying that no one but themselves could be truly moral. Of course, the Gospel refutes that completely.

        I find that statement fascinating. Can you cite passages that approach this issue, or at least point me in their direction? I am neither an evangelical nor a Christian but I pursue Biblical studies (I read Greek, Hebrew, & Aramaic and often do my own translations in articles on the subject), and often find myself defending Christianity to those whose idea of it is well described by Dan Allison above. I would really like to dig a little deeper into the Biblical refutation of moral exclusivity, but you’re the first person I’ve ever run across who’s ever said there is such a thing. Thanks!

      • Todd Erickson says

        For those of us on the analytical/methodological side, is there a way to give things an innate or ongoing accountability where we continually bring all activity back to “and this is Christ” rather than “and this is Christianity”?

    • A few comments here have implied that Dr. Tarico was claiming that children are perfect moral actors. Her actual point was that morals, or at least the building blocks of morals, are innate and manifest in children regardless of religious instruction. The ultimate source of morals, in other words, is bio-psychological, not biblical. But of course the cultural environment a child grows within adds to and shapes the moral compass, making our mature moral worldview a bio-psycho-social construct. This is again true regardless of whether or not religion is present.

      To reiterate, the assertion Dr. Tarico was refuting is the idea that a lack of faith in God is equitable with a lack of moral conviction. But look at many dedicated Buddhists, most of whom believe in no gods…it would be difficult, even for many evangelicals, to observe their general behavior and call them immoral (the Christian in question might not agree with every moral structure they see, but that is not the same thing as seeing a *lack* of morals).

      The long and the short of this issue is that non-theists are as capable of moral conviction as theists are of lacking them.

  18. If the paradigm for science you associate with Christianity is Creationism, then you’re doomed if you walk the road Valerie walked. You won’t be able to live with it and you’ll give it all up and declare that Christianity hates and opposes science.

    Very ironic in that the largest Christian communion, the RCC, explicitly and confessionally accepts evolution as a theory of human origins compatible with the faith. But who knows that in the circles that told Valerie the Creationists had the answer?

    • Very true. Trying to reconcile what my fundamentalist upbringing taught me with reality nearly broke me, before I encountered Dr. Collins “The Language of God”. Probably one of the most important books I ever read in my life.

  19. I will need to read this a few times; there is much to chew on here.

    Michael, I appreciate you doing this. I don’t believe we need to hide from the truth, however complicated it may be. Thank you for providing this to us, so that we can better know our non-theist friends.

  20. My thanks and appreciation to Dr. Tarico. I think my only observation would be linked to this statement in her answer to question #1…
    “Finally I said to God, “I’m not making excuses for you anymore.” And suddenly it felt like I had been holding my God together for so long with duct tape and bailing wire that all I had left was tape and wire. So I walked away.”
    It seems that mindsets similar to this are at the crux of why many walk away from Christianity. We feel that we have to defend, explain, or somehow justify who God is and what he does, and in trying to do so eventually conclude that we can’t or even shouldn’t. Even her friends, referenced in her answer to question #7, alludes to this when she says that, “Their perspective is that God doesn’t need us to cover for him or to hide from complicated realities.”
    I agree with this. I wonder if Dr. Tarico agrees as well. Their answer seems to satisfy her in question 7 but not question 1??
    Nonetheless, good stuff to ponder.

  21. Scott Eaton says

    Great interview, Michael. There is much to be learned here. Thank you, Dr. Tarico, for your willingness to participate.

    I have always thought that debating morality or thinking that Christians have the moral upper hand is a dead end street. Morality is never the issue between non-theists (I like that term) and Christians. I think Christians (and the rest of the world for that matter) will be better off when we realize this and get doing what only we can do – preach the Gospel.

  22. “I think I ended up falling from faith mostly in spite of the books I was reading to shore up my faith!”

    She should have read more Osteen and Lucado.

    “In reality, all education of children is indoctrination at some level. Every parent or teacher has to wrestle with the balance of top-down mind control vs open inquiry.”

    Not many people would admit this. Do churches even want their congregations to raise their children to have a spirit of inquiry? The Apostle Paul did. Most sunday school classes would say no.

    “… a serious moral question for believers: Is Christian indoctrination abusive more often than people like to think?”

    Is it? What if you teach your children that it’s a sin to go to the doctor?

    “My mom’s old church took a busload including pre-adolescents – kids who largely had been sheltered from Hollywood violence and had no way to have hardened themselves against it. If it wasn’t a religious theme, the parents themselves would have thought it abusive.”

    It’s comments like this that are precisely why you need to keep having more interviews with nontheists/athiests/etc. They see how things look for the outside.

    How many Christians even thought of the irony of saying”now that I’ve sheltered my children from ever being able to walk inside a movie theater, or watch anything rated above PG, let’s go take the whole family to see The Passion!”

    • I won’t watch that film myself, and I’ve taken my kids (all under 13) to see at least one R-rated movie. I’ll defend my choice of Slumdog Millionaire, but I really want to know why churches bought tickets to The Passion in bulk. Seems crazy to me.

      • John Swindle says

        Seems crazy to me, too. I recall reading at the time that movie came out, that it was marketed directly to churches of a particular outlook and with large congregations. Marketing works. I think the answer to your question is just that simple.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And that a lot of Christians are clueless. As in “If It’s Marketed as CHRISTIAN, It Must Be OK!”

          According to the guy over at Totem to Temple (now Onward, Forward, Toward), so many churches in his area bought out entire screenings of The Passion that the theater chains showing it had to ban advance ticket sales or group sales in order to let their regular customers see it. Too often, regular moviegoers would find all screenings “Sold Out” and a steady parade of church buses pulling up to the theater. Just one of those bits of weirdness you get IRL.

  23. Thanks to Imonk for introducing me to Dr. Tarico’s work! Just reading this interview has been very helpful and inspiring. I plan to read through the links you provided, also.

  24. Without minimizing the reality of Dr. Tarico’s struggles with faith (and then faith being the loser), her story is not unique among those who reject the faith: “I was taught that, with God, the world is a happy, clappy place. Then I came face to face with a situation that could not possibly be squared with the world being a happy, clappy place. So I rejected God.”

    I have a difficult time understanding why obviously intelligent people believe that the caricature of Christianity extant in so much of American evangelicalism is the faith. How about using some of those critical reasoning skills, give the Scriptures an honest reading, and then ask yourself whether what you observe in church is what Christ actually taught (let alone what the Psalmists taught). I’d suggest that coming to grips with sin, sickness, and death invites us as much to reject the world in favor of Christ as it invites us to reject Christ in favor of the world.

    Luther called it the “theology of the cross.” How we need it today.

    • dude, it was all the stuff going on in the Bible at the behest of God that caused me to lose my faith….

      The “satan’s doing it” was working as far as bad stuff going on in the world was concerned… but after the fourth time through the Bible I just couldn’t believe that any sort of powerful and good being could manage to have a textbook that messed up.

    • Anticontrame says

      Confusing whatever event or reasoning led one to or from faith with the whole of ones position seems to be a common mistake on both sides. Life changing moments like these can often be triggered by something as small as a college class on evolutionary biology or the realization that everything you knew about Santa was wrong. The thing to keep in mind is that these changes are just the embryonic stages of a new worldview, not a comprehensive refutation of the old.

      Equating Dr. Tarico’s confrontation with the problem of evil and the entirety of her reasoning for being a non-theist would be just as big a mistake as writing off Dr. Collins’s Christianity on the sole basis of his experience with the frozen waterfall.

      P.S. Thanks for the great entry and discussion, iMonk. I’m going to have to check out the rest of your site.

    • Did Dr Tarico think the world was a happy clappy place? “The Problem of Pain” or “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” don’t strike me as coming from the caricature of Christianity extant in American evangelicalism. Lewis is, well, Lewis, and whatever his faults, is not usually criticised for teaching an uncritical belief. Kushner is Jewish and would probably be called an Open Theist by Christian lights.

      Our cognitive biases mean we tend to weigh our experiences more heavily even than reliable reports. I imagine there’s nothing like working with dying children for throwing the evidential argument from evil into sharp relief.

  25. Rats. I posted my earlier comment before I read down to IMonk’s earlier post on “Looking for Luther.” After “Looking for Luther” my post reads like an eager student trying to say exactly what the teacher wants to hear.

  26. I just want to say that the part where Dr. Tarico talks about how Christians (and, implicitely, anyone with any kind of articulated world view) are faced with the uncomfortable choice- the comfortable, familiar texts, rites, traditions, etc that bind a faith- or openness to loving, which (I think is implied) is the path of being open to God- I love that part.

    That makes so much sense to me, and I hope that I can live that out. I think this pertains to the law/Gospel tension you have been exploring, lately, Michael. Or maps on to it, anyway.

  27. Very refreshing to hear someone from the “other side” (I am obviously at a loss to describe her position), who has been in the Christian world, and speaks rationally about her experience then, and now. It is a point of view I never hear – thanks Dr. Tarico and imonk.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice and point out the blind spots.

      They’re called blind spots for a reason.

  28. So, is the issue one of “non-theists” rejecting the testimony of Christ, or the failures of Christianity to live up to “non-theists” expectations?

    • Perhaps neither? Many other issues could easily apply. The big issue I am seeing is Christians behaving in ways that belie the name.

  29. I hope this is just the start of many good conversations to come. It has been frustrating to me to see so much heat and so little light in internet dialogue between theists and non-theists.

  30. OKLibrarian says

    Other people have added essentially what I would have said, and as a reluctant agnostic I’ve gotten good food for thought on both sides of the question. Thanks again for being the only Christian Blog I’ve found worth reading.

  31. Thanks for being willing to open the lines of communication, imonk. And thanks to Dr. Tarico for engaging in honest, stimulating conversation and being willing to dispel some myths about non-theists.

  32. I too would like to thank Dr Tarico and imonk for opening this door.

    I must admit, my head continues to spin the more time I spend reading this stuff, but I believe when it finally rests, I’ll be in a better place spiritually. I believe the Church can learn much from these dialogues and intend to share (especially the idea of the Church taking the moral high ground thus ultimately requiring hypocrisy).

    I so appreciate Dr Tarico’s challenges to fundamentalist ideas about love and truth. Much to think about, indeed.

  33. iMonk, thank you for modeling how to listen and have a thoughtful, loving conversation with a neighbor who has a differing faith commitment.

    I am so impressed that I would like to suggest that you publish a regular, perhaps weekly “conversation” with someone outside the Christian faith. If there is one thing I have learned since leaving the pastorate and becoming a chaplain is that most evangelical believers I know spend way too much time talking to themselves, and really have no idea how to really listen and talk to their neighbors one on one.

  34. Thank you, Dr. Tarico, for your time and thoughts contributed here. I checked out your website and clicked on one of the many words crossing the screen….”Mercy”….and liked what I read on the page that popped up. http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtues/86-mercy

    And I just went to your blog http://awaypoint.spaces.live.com/ and read your interview with Rev. RIch Lang about the Book of Revelation. I knew a lot of what he said there, but I wonder if most New Testament scholars say NONE of the original 12 apostles actually wrote anything we read in the New Testament. I have always felt when I read the letters attributed to the apostle Peter that they didn’t sound at all like the Peter I read about in the Gospels. I know that his encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost could have changed him in a mighty way, but still. I did just check out http://www.biblestudyinfo.com/peter/peter.shtml and I see it says his first letter may have been basically his, but “fixed up” by Sylvanus, a man well-trained in rhetoric. The page goes on to say that the second letter by Peter is more problematic because things are mentioned there that didn’t happen until after Peter’s death. But I know it is not so important as to who wrote it as to what they are saying. (Sorry for going off-track.)

    Anyway, I see a lot of other interesting things at your blog so I will spend more time over there reading.

    Thanks for letting us know about Dr. Tarico, Michael!

  35. Thank you Michael and Dr. Tarico, for the the interview and for modeling open communication. I was struck not so much by the differences, but by how much I agreed with Dr. Tarico’s observations about evangelicalism, though in my case it has led to becoming a post-evangelical rather than a non-theist.

    There is much to listen to here, and much to learn.

  36. I just want to say thanks for hosting this interview Michael. Real dialogue and discussion is so difficult to find on such important topics.

    Also, thank you to Dr. Tarico for doing the interview.

    And thank you to the commenters. The entire thing has been a refreshing change of pace from the normal type of “discussion” this type of thing usually instigates.

    • Thanks especially to Michael who set the ground rules in no uncertain terms at the beginning and enforced them.

  37. Bob Myers says

    I would like to hear her at length talk about her view of Jesus. It sounds like she was surrounded by all the evangelical culture and ideology, but attachment to Jesus never really happened.

    In other words, I think a lot of us empathize with her reasons for leaving, but it sounds clinical, like an intellectual calculation that just stopped adding up. For myself, Jesus’ person is what keeps me believing, not the conundrums I face in life, faith communities, ideology, etc.

    I would be interested in an interview with her two siblings who think she is a pawn of Satan.

  38. An excellent interview! Dr. Tarico is refreshing compared to Dawkins, Hitchins, and Harris. More intellectually honest, too. The issues are certainly challenging and provocative. However, at the close of the day, all talk of “morality” and goodness lapse into naked subjectivism. Go past the text, the revelation, the Incarnation, and all you have is the self and the original lie – you can be as gods.

  39. Personally I find this interview fascinating since I went through much the same thing that Dr. Tarico did, except the other way around. I was raised in a very secular household and taught that evil didn’t exist and most people deep down inside are good. I then became a teacher and started teaching in a violent, inner-city school. The non-stop misery, violence, hatred, and emptiness that I saw on a daily basis in the lives of my students didn’t go along with my previous philosophy of life. The lack of hope and emptiness in the lives of my students was almost too much to bear at times. It was at this point I began to grow interested in Christianity and was pointed toward the cross and the gospel. Christianity explained suffering, and the Gospel gave a cure for that suffering.

    I guess because I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and didn’t know much about Christian culture I wasn’t aware of the whole “happy clappy” aspect of modern Christian American culture. If I had been aware of it then I probably would have been turned off it like Dr. Tarico was. When I became interested in Christianity I tended to read older works that fully acknowledged suffering and didn’t try to whitewash it. The church I eventually started attending also had a more ‘old-school’ vibe to it, without any happy-shiny mega-church stuff.

    I think Americans as a whole-both theists and non-theists-have diffculty when confronted by suffering. We tend to have shallow explanations for it, and like to pretend that it doesn’t really exist. It’s more of a cultural problem than a purely Christian problem.

    • I think the point Dr. Tarico was making is the classic problem of evil, which does only affect religions that believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, good deity. Evil, on the face of it, is incompatible with the existence of such a deity (and to date there is no intellectually satisfactory theodicy). Secularists have no problem at all explaining evil. (Darwin was partially inspired by Malthus’ essay on catastrophic population collapse – that life is a struggle, and we’re not all on the same side, is basic to evolution. Humanists point out that as thinking people we can try to overcome such base impulses, however. “Survival of the fittest” is a description, not a prescription.)

      So I’m utterly bemused at the idea that your parents said there was no such thing as evil. I’ve never heard that from anyone (even Quakers only say “there is that of God in everyone”, which means that no one is _all_ bad).

    • I wanted to add one more thing about the “cultural” aspect of this. The problem of explaining evil, as I said, is solely a religious problem, but I absolutely agree about the fact that most people try to ignore the suffering of others. At some level, this is necessary. If I cared about every person on Earth as much as I cared about my girlfriend or parents, I would go insane within the hour (imagine your entire family getting murdered – and then imagine that happening every second). I think our attempts to avoid suffering are in part necessary. With TV and the internet, we can now witness videos of suffering that we never would have even heard of in the past.

      That said, I do wish people could face up to it a _little_ more. I’m not great at this myself, but I do try to contribute to food banks, Doctors Without Borders, etc.

  40. Gary Foster says

    Brilliant posting Michael. Dr. Tarico presents well what so many of us have come to. I commend you for listening. It has been interesting but not surprising how some also listen and others not.
    I share her specific comments on bibliolitry and ancestor worship. I am glad I cut loose to think for myself. I still believe in God. But the crazy corrosive harmful unhealthy stuff had to be left behind.
    She is really trying to be a healer by pointing out how unhealthy some of the commonly accepted lines of thinking in “Evangelical/Fundementalist” really are.
    Good on you Monk

  41. I can’t help but notice the similarities between Dr. Tarico’s move away from theism and similar moves by others such as Ehrman or Templeton. It’s a shame that much of what happens in conservative evangelical upbringings actually seems to end up distancing people from God.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Might be a dynamic similar to vaccination, where a weakened version of a pathogen is used to set up an immune reaction against the full-strength kind. (And sometimes triggers an allergy — a destructive over-the-top immune reaction to only vaguely-related non-pathogens.) Another commenter on this thread mentioned Dawkins as coming out of “the default Anglicanism of British schools”.

      And if you’re raised in a “conservative evangelical upbringing”, you’re probably close enough to see the dark and seamy side of Evangelical culture. (You have imperfect people in the mix, you’re going to have a dark and seamy side. Because “People are people, and the world is full of tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”) I believe IMonk has an essay about “how Christian Parents screw up their children” somewhere on this site.

      • The vicar at my former, conservative evangelical, Anglican church lamented the way that school religion inoculated people against the real thing (Americans who are keen on school prayer: take note). The flip side to that is that people who work out they don’t believe in the Anglicanism of state school assemblies and private school Monty Python style chapel services aren’t usually bothered about Christianity: they just think it’s silly. Dawkins expresses some admiration for his school “padre” in The God Delusion, so I doubt it is school Anglicanism which is responsible for his attitude to religion. Indeed, over in Lynchburg, Dawkins seemed surprised that de-converts might be angry. Yes, really. He’d considered they might be afraid of Hell, but that was about it.

        If you want to meet people who’re really angry, you need to talk to ex-evangelicals and ex-Catholics.

      • https://internetmonk.com/articles/M/messup.html

        Here’s the article.

        iMonk, in your introduction to the article, you wrote “Consider, instead, an approach that values “normal” more than being the most religious second grader in town.”

        I see that you put ‘normal’ in quotes. What was the purpose of that? Were you implying that there’s no such thing as normal, were you implying that it wasn’t a good goal to aim for? I’m curious–I don’t believe there’s necessarily such a thing as ‘normal,’ or that it’s a very Christian value to aim for, especially in light of the fact that we’re all the ‘broken sheep’ you talked about in another post, and we have different normals and different broken places, so that God can come through in a variety of ways even as he and we try to heal ourselves.

        Dr. Tarico and iMonk, thanks for the interesting interview. It’s helped clarify for me some problems I’d been having when I’d tried to force myself to join a church again; maybe now that I can see those problem a little better I can attack them.

  42. The fact that this thread is readable and not totally enraging to one side or the other is indeed great…

    My personal observation is that while life-long atheists like myself can get upset with Christians sometimes (personally, as a scientist and mathematician I get hung up on evidence and logic, and upset when people start ignoring them), the only people who get truly incandescently mad at the religious are people who used to be religious themselves, and feel they were injured by it in some way. (Certainly not all, or even most, ex-religious people feel this way. But I think some do.)

    But murder threats, even in the abstract… that’s nuts.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My personal observation is that while life-long atheists like myself can get upset with Christians sometimes (…), the only people who get truly incandescently mad at the religious are people who used to be religious themselves, and feel they were injured by it in some way. (Certainly not all, or even most, ex-religious people feel this way. But I think some do.)

      Because they have been betrayed and hurt by someone/something they trusted. Like being dumped hard by a girlfriend or getting divorced and taken for all you’ve got by a gold digger you married. After something like that, Nobody Is Going To Ever Hurt Me That Bad Again, and you get pre-emptive and paranoid, reading anything similar as The Enemy and striking first.

      But murder threats, even in the abstract… that’s nuts.

      No matter what the context, there’s always going to be some fanboy who’s over-the-top. And when you factor in somebody being hurt to the core of their being, things can go nuclear FAST.

  43. Other atheist and agnostic writers love to define themselves by saying, “I’m not like those guys.”

    I think that this is an important point, properly directed at non-theists. I find it patronizing to both atheists and non-atheists alike. They are basically saying, “Hey, I promise not to challenge you intellectually just so we can be friends, okay?”

    I do find that Dawkins and PZ Myers are collegial, it is their words and not their delivery that discomfort people.

  44. I am truly thrilled to find a blog where the emphasis is on constructive dialogue. Engaging others fairly is a very difficult standard to meet in a society that seems to glorify hostile debate. I’m not suggesting that there are no problems on this blog. But it comes considerably closer to a true standard of healthy, constructive dialogue than most blogs I have read.

    The conclusions that Dr. Tarico reached in her evaluation of Evangelicalism’s teachings are familiar territory for me, and I concur with some of her insights.

    I firmly believe that one can never be truly enlightened until you can articulate exactly what is wrong with your OWN viewpoints. I have discovered that much of what I have been raised to believe in my Evangelical upbringing is biblically, theologically, and rationally dubious. However, I must emphatically state that my response was not to reject Evangelicalism but to reject what Evangelicalism had become.

    I have watched many friends and acquaintances follow a similar path as Dr. Tarico. I rejected that path just as I rejected the path of what Evangelicalism had become. My commitment to epistemic virtue demanded that I level just as much critique (if not more in some cases) to alternative worldviews. When I shined the spotlight of illumination upon alternative worldviews, I found them far more wanting than the tortured worldview of my youth. Of course, this in no way should be construed to imply that alternative worldviews had nothing valuable to say to me. I’m merely trying to point out that once I acquired the requisite philosophical, exegetical, and hermeneutical tools, I was able to lay to rest much of what had become objectionable to me in Evangelicalism, and many of those objectionable aspects are precisely what Dr. Tarico critiques. Same objections, different response.

    But then, this is just my story. Blessings to all

  45. Came here via the happy atheist, and the remarks on christian outreach (camps etc) reflect my views on Catholic schools…

    Thank you

  46. Also here via Friendly Atheist, although that’s only because his blog is before yours in my reader 🙂

    I’d like to think that those of us who were Christians as adults and then left have some more understanding of what Christianity is about than Dawkins does (he left as a child having thrown off the default Anglicanism taught in British state schools at the time, if I remember rightly). I’m not so much talking about the propositional content of Christianity (although I remember a few places in “The God Delusion” where he got that wrong) as some sort of understanding of why someone would believe, the dynamics of communities of believers, and what it feels like to believe. Ex-Christians can perhaps come up with a more sympathetic critique than someone who was never a Christian. At least we can if we ever stop being angry and can resist the temptation to mock our former beliefs (a temptation I’m not immune to :-).

    Along those lines, I wonder whether you’ve encountered John W. Loftus. He is a former evangelical Christian, now atheist, who seems to have a reasonable reputation among Christians for being an honest opponent.

    • MaryLynne says

      Yes! This is what I have found, too. I am no longer a person of faith. I grew up Catholic with an uncle who was a priest and an aunt who was a nun, I was part of a charismatic Catholic youth group that was the center of my world, and I felt I had a personal relationship with Jesus. I started asking questions in young adulthood, and by the time I was 35 I had reached the conclusion that there is not sufficient evidence that any higher being with a personality and opinions exists, much less that the specific claims of any religion make any sense.

      I remember, though. It was comforting to know that there was some reason for things, even if I didn’t know it. Someone was listening all the time and cared about me and my teenage hair crisis or fights with my sisters. There was a peacefulness about it. When I am in conversations with people of faith they often just can’t comprehend how I can be happy without God or belief; they imagine themselves if God went away and it is scary. I am happier now, but I understand.

      My brother never did believe in supernatural/gods, and he doesn’t get it. Our sister left the Catholic Church and joined a Bible-based fundamentalist church, and he is totally baffled. I don’t agree with her choice, but I see how comforting the strict doctrine and strong community is to her and I remember how that was.

      • Paul & MaryLynne,

        You are both right. As exChristians, you do have a better/more sympathetic understanding of both Christianity and the church. What’s interesting though, is that both of you left your churches AND denied the propositional truths of Christianity.

        I would guess that a large quantity of IMonk’s readership also left the churches they were brought up in, or are at least trying to distance themselves from the regular evangelical landscape that seemed to play a part in why both of you left Christianity. (Some of IMonks readers don’t even want to call themselves “Christians” anymore while still believing the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity).

        So, in other words, we have a lot in common – the only, not so minor, difference being that we still believe that Christianity is true while you no longer do. Having this common ground and these differences is why honest discussion between the two groups has so much potential. Which is why IMonk’s decision to interview Tarico was such a good idea.

  47. Thanks for this interview, Michael.

  48. This discussion gets at the heart of an issue never addressed in the Baptist church I attended as a teen: what if non-Christians can also be as good as Christians? What if they can be as content and happy? I always felt that the argument was that non-Christians couldn’t be as happy, and if they were, then there was always eternal damnation afterward. A relationship with God was presented as a relationship with a friend — you could guarantee that you’d always have this one very good friend who’d be good to you. That was appealing to me as a teen, but ultimately, well, I have other friends. What’s one more?

    I can see why many evangelicals turn to the Orthodox church. I sometimes think that God and Christ as parent and friend are such reductions, that they create the problem Dr. Tarico describes. The Christian has to defend Christ, because he has been made too small to survive on his own. We have made God into our personal friend, and then we find ourselves evaluating God on a human scale. Where is the awe of God? Where is the smallness of ourselves abiding in the infinite? I think a certain presentation of Christianity serves as a mask for individual pride (my God is better, so I’m better), rather than a place to submit the self, to bury the self (I don’t brag about God, I submit myself to Him). What if Christianity weren’t about being better, or even feeling better, but about seeking God always and in all things?

    My $.02

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The Christian has to defend Christ, because he has been made too small to survive on his own. We have made God into our personal friend, and then we find ourselves evaluating God on a human scale.

      In other words, a puny god for a Punyverse that fits snugly (and smugly) within the Christian’s mind and the four walls of his church/womb — Earth and some lights in the sky, 6013 years old, ending twenty minutes into the future. And cannot stand up to the actual grand Universe that’s out there. So the only way to retain this safe little god is to Culture War against anything that might threaten the safe little Punyverse.

      It’s like the words either Bertholt Brecht or G.B.Shaw put in Pope Urban’s mouth regarding the Galileo affair — boiled down to “But if the Universe is so big, and Earth is not the center, then I the Pope am insignificant! And that cannot be!”

      Where is the awe of God? Where is the smallness of ourselves abiding in the infinite?

      Stifled by the MAO Inhibitors. I remember the sensation of being introduced to Christian (TM) genre fiction after 10+ years of Golden Age SF, where I toured vast tracts of imaginary/creative landscape under tour guides such as Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, and Cordwainer Smith. After that, all the approved Christian examples of genre creativity were a stifling small box without Mystery, Awe, or Otherness, only Scripture and party-line dogma dictated to the reader upon pain of Hell.

  49. OK. I’ve had to delete several posts. Comments are all now going to moderation.

    The phrase “you don’t comprehend my point” doesn’t go over well here.

    Commenters unfamiliar with my approach to moderation should read the FAQ #10.

    • charlotte says

      Seriously? You didn’t comprehend my point. But, ok. It’s your site, you do what you want.
      Unfortunately, your credibility is tainted in a few atheist sites I subscribe to.
      Maybe a simple, I see where you are coming, I apologize if you felt offended would have done wonders for your cause.
      Good luck to you, though.

    • Well I’m just getting started in this blogging thing, and my goal is for everyone to like me. Thanks for the heads up. I need all the helpful assistance I can get from my commenters.

      • Mr. Monk,
        May I congratulate you on your entrance into the world of blogging. I find it all rather complicated and challenging. But. Perhaps. If I hang around here for a bit, I might be able to learn a thing or two. From your future successes, of course. Though I really am concerned that if I ever had credibility, what would I ever do if it were to become tainted.
        Your humble servant,

  50. From the posts I’ve had to moderate today, it looks like I’ve run into a problem that Jesus himself may have experienced.


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