On Sunday, October , I will be giving my first sermon in years. It’s entitled, “Goodbye God, Hello Life.”
Okay, technically it’s a keynote address, not a sermon. And the venue is a hotel, not a church. But it will be delivered on a Sunday morning to those attending the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity’s third conference, entitled, Exploring the Elements. Organizers are anticipating about attendees.
The Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity (CCPC) is a network of individuals and churches who focus more on values-based living than on particular beliefs. It is theologically as far from fundamentalism as you can get and still in any way call yourself Christian. (In fact, I often wonder why they continue to use the name “Christian” at all.) It was founded by Gretta Vosper, the minister at West Hill United Church and author of the best-selling, With or Without God. Gretta is a visionary woman who is intent on transforming Christianity from a source of dogma to a well-spring of free-thinking, compassionate-living, justice-seeking communities. CCPC currently draws most of its constituents from the United Church of Canada, although participants are increasingly coming from other denominations. It is a testament to the truly progressive nature of this group that they are including three atheists on their program (other speakers from the Canadian freethought community include Justin Trottier and Christopher DiCarlo). How many other religious groups would do that?
The upcoming conference is now being advertised in a variety of sources, including the United Church Observer, the monthly magazine of the United Church of Canada. I have not yet seen it, but apparently the ad appears in the September issue.
Last night, I received an email from Gerry, one of the conference organizers going over some of the logistics of the event. Gerry also included a copy of the following letter which had been sent to the conference website, but was addressed to me. It reads:
Dear Scott, I have seen you “advertised” in The United Church Observer as a speaker at this conference. It was a great shock and it is with genuine sorrow that I write this. Obviously you went through some traumatic experience in the ‘‘s that caused you to abandon your belief in God.
I went through a traumatic experience as a teenager when I also questioned the existence of God. It, and a number of subsequent experiences led me to a firm belief in Him.
I see your mom’s sweet face in your smiling face. How sad she must /would be for you. Maybe, Scott, it’s time to leave the lure of the city for a bit and go home and walk the paths of the cows in the cow pasture and renew your acquaintance with God Who still loves you and would love for you to “come home”. Can’t do that? Why not go and see Dr. Ravi Zacharias on Sept. th at Convocation Hall, U of T. Tickets $. Tickets call: ––
I’ll be praying for you.
A fellow student at Mrs. McKelvy’s DVBS
(Rev.) Alice (Fraser) McAlpine
(For those of you not up on evangelical-speak, DVBS = Daily Vacation Bible School, a standard method for trying to convert neighbourhood children during the summer months.)
Alice is a few years older than I, so I remember her by name, but not by face. She is currently the minister at a (conservative) United church in Montreal.
When I read her letter, I experienced a mix of emotions. The first was surprise; the second, bemusement; the third, nostalgia; and the fourth, irritation.
The surprise was simply a matter of hearing from someone out of the blue from the area where I grew up.
Bemusement emerged from the apparent assumption that big, bad city life has seduced my thinking and blocked my channel to God and that somehow, the cow paths on our former family farm (as far I can remember, we had no such paths), would be a natural place for recommitment to the divine. As far as I can recall, the Bible does not suggest that God has a particular affinity for cow paths.
The nostalgia came with the mention of Mrs. McKelvy. She truly was an amazing woman. She was the wife of the minister at the Brodie Reformed Presbyterian Church. She was full of love for kids and strict as all get out in how she ran her Daily Vacation Bible School. I remembered the rides home we would get with Mr. McNaughton and the roller coaster-stomach-lurch we would get as he sped over the hills on the gravel roads back home. I have fond memories of “Sword Drills,” competitions to see who could find a Bible verse the fastest. Yes, Vacation Bible School had its appeal.
But the primary emotion I experienced last night was irritation. I know that Alice was well intentioned. Her letter was written out of concern for me and my supposedly eternal soul (now threatened with eternal punishment). Nonetheless, I was irritated by her letter.
I was irritated by the implicit arrogance of evangelicals who think they can prescribe exactly what I need and who think they have a corner on the truth (an arrogance I once shared and of which I am now ashamed).
I was irritated by Alice’s use of the memory of my mom as an attempt to guilt me back into the faith.
I was irritated at the assumption that somehow I was just mad at God, I hadn’t really reasoned my way into disbelief.
I was irritated at the idea that Ravi Zacharias (a Christian evangelist/apologist) would provide the answers that I – either in willful disobedience, woeful ignorance, or devilish delusion – could not see myself.
What Alice doesn’t know is that the very faith that was supposed to bring my mom comfort in her last days on earth, caused her immense grief as she pleaded with me to believe in Jesus, ravaged by the fearful belief that I was facing an eternity of torture in Hell (you can read more of this event with my mom in a previous blog post here).
What Alice doesn’t know is that I bent over backwards for God for years, giving him chance after chance after chance to prove himself real, to show me that the promises of the Bible were true and trustworthy, to provide answers to the questions my heart and mind were seeking — all to no avail.
What Alice doesn’t know is that I have spent hours, days and weeks, reading and researching answers to my great philosophical and theological questions and that they have led me to the considered conclusion that, almost certainly, there is no God.
What Alice doesn’t know is that my life is infinitely more satisfying, happy, and contented without God in it than when he was. Life with God was miserable. Life without God is immensely more pleasurable.
So, should I write back to Alice? Should I invite her to come hear me speak and consider what I have to say?
What do you think?