Republicans are supposed to be the fear-mongers, but look at the reaction from Liberals right now. Crying, literally crying, in fear. There is abject terror on the Liberal side, this morning. So who has played the politics of fear on whom? What I want to do, and have tried to do, is to comfort my Liberal friends and assure them that everything is going to be ok, that maybe it’s ok to re-think some of our catastrophizing beliefs when forced to confront them. Alas, while Clinton’s electoral firewall crumbled last night, the firewall of the politics of fear endures.
Polling averages are usually right. On rare occasions, they’re wrong. When that happens, this means there is some data set out there that, while it’s usually consistent with polling averages, diverges from them in these rare cases. Where is that data?
If we were going to find the missing data, we would watch for patterns that diverge from polling averages. A single outlier poll could have a place in the bell curve of averages, so that won’t help us differentiate. Better to find a different kind of data altogether that has predictive success in the past, but that also diverges from the polling averages.
Among the several peculiar things about Election 2016 is that we are seeing these disparities in different data sets.
Social media is relatively new in political forecasting, but it’s already proved useful in predicting the outcomes of the past few election cycles. This year, there is an enormous social engagement gap between the two candidates, and models accounting for social engagement are calling it for Trump (https://goo.gl/FKwrAK). I wonder, if we’d had this kind of social data in 1980, would there have been a similar disparity? Was anybody tracking this for Brexit?
There are many other non-polling models, and nearly all of them call it for Trump. I’ve only found one that doesn’t, and it points to economic factors that ostensibly favor Clinton. But, if Rush Limbaugh is right that healthcare is the new economy, then it would be little surprise if this non-polling model gets it wrong because it’s not accounting for skyrocketing insurance premiums.
So what’s the difference between polling and non-polling models?
Polling models basically have to mind-read the electorate. I don’t mean to downplay the science behind it, but only about 60% of those polled are actually going to vote. So, polling models are an exercise in how best to discard 40% of your data. If you mess that up, that can have a huge impact on the accuracy of your model. It is these polling models that consistently show Clinton winning.
Non-polling models have the benefit of not having to mind-read anyone. The data is the data, and you simply identify which data points align with election results. It is these models which consistently show Trump winning.
There is another kind of data that consistently shows Trump winning: non-traditional polling. The difference between traditional polling and non-traditional polling is the way they measure likely voters. One such poll is the LA Times poll, which has consistently shown Trump ahead, and now has him up by 5 points. This is a poll that beat traditional polling in predicting Obama’s margin of victory in 2012. In 2016, there is a significantly greater disparity between LA Times and traditional polls.
To summarize: Traditional polls, with traditional assumptions, all show Clinton winning. Non-polling data, with far fewer assumptions, shows Trump winning. Then you have polling data with different assumptions showing Trump winning. So, when operating under traditional assumptions, Clinton wins, but when operating under fewer or different assumptions, Trump wins.
If I had to guess, I would say that the confluence between newer kinds of data, newer assumptions, and newer technologies (A.I.) is likely to be more predictive – but this would be a very precarious guess. One thing we will learn from this election: Which models are the future of election forecasting? Will traditional remain the best, or will newer kinds of analysis win the day? This is the first time I know of that they’ve been in such stark contrast, so this election is going to have big implications for analysts.
All I can say is that this is exactly how we would expect the data to look if we’d discovered the missing data that could have predicted 1980, Brexit, etc: consistent disparity. We will learn in about 24 hours what, exactly, we’re looking at.
In the weighing of complex, competing ideas, it takes a long time to construct an informed opinion, and then even longer to work out how to articulate that opinion. Along the way, though, there are clues as to where the conversation among the community of experts is heading. A few signals that somebody holds a strong position are: an ability to describe unambiguous evidence that would change one’s mind; a charitable description of competing arguments (where arguments are engaged in their strongest form); an apparent lack of emotional involvement with the subject matter; etc. By contrast, a few signals that somebody holds a weak position are: equivocation, used as a means to categorically dismiss an argument rather than engage it; an uncharitable description of competing arguments (where arguments are engaged in their weakest form); emotional involvement with the subject matter; etc.
Of all these signals, there is one that has stood out to me lately: settling for, and parading around, superficial, rather than substantive, victories. I suspect that the rise in frequency of this particular “signal” has something to do with marking the ten-year anniversary of the “victory” being paraded about: the 2005 Dover trial. At this trial, colloquially described as a sequel to the infamous Scopes trial of 1925, a Pennsylvania school board attempted to insert Biblical Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) into public classrooms. Judge Jones ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and ever since, the trial has been lauded by the Darwinian camp as a “crushing defeat” for ID (which by the way, opposed the school board’s policy from the beginning). Fortunately for all of us, judges do not decide what is and is not scientific – the scientific community does.
Before getting to what the scientific community is saying, it is worth considering what, exactly, those celebrating Dover are saying (let’s call them “Doverists”). To that end, there are a few pertinent facts. First, Judge Jones told a reporter prior to the trial that he planned to watch the mythical portrayal of the Scopes trial, Inherit the Wind, for “historical context”. It’s difficult to take an opinion seriously when fiction was an unabashed reference point for rendering that opinion. Second, Judge Jones not only ruled that public schools (in the mere third of Pennsylvania under his jurisdiction) can’t teach Creationism or ID, but also that school boards may not implement education policies that “disparage” evolutionary theory. Blasphemy laws, anyone? Third, it is peculiar that anyone championing “science” would get so excited about the exercise of judicial, rather than scientific, authority. This is especially odd, given that it is often the first recourse of the Darwinian camp to dismiss opponents on grounds that they lack scientific authority, yet these are the same people celebrating the opinion of a non-scientist on scientific questions. Surely, no scientist would consent to having a single non-scientist serve as a peer-reviewer of scientific research, but in the case of Judge Jones, Doverists do so enthusiastically. So as we mark the 10th anniversary of this superficial victory for Darwin, let us keep in mind exactly what it is that the exultant Doverists are also committing their affections to: the exercise of law to settle scientific disputes; blasphemy law; that a non-scientist is an adequate peer to authoritatively review the subject matter.
Nevertheless, Doverists incessantly claim that ID was delivered a “huge blow” in 2005. What they seem to forget is that, at the original Scopes trial, Darwinism lost – and look how that turned out. Now, the tables have turned. ID lost a legal battle in 2005 (and not one of its own making), just as Darwinism lost in 1925. And just as Darwinism continued its advance anyway, so ID has been marching ahead for the past decade. It is now undeniable that ID publishes in mainstream scientific journals, and one of the most unambiguous examples is an article about biology’s “Wow!” signal, published in the journal Icarus (the “Wow!” signal is an allusion to cosmic signals captured by SETI that seemed to indicate an intelligent cause). Highly-successful books have come from the ID camp as well, including Stephen Meyer’s 2013 work, “Darwin’s Doubt,” which held the number one spot in several science categories on Amazon for many months, and Michael Denton’s 2016 book, which is also earning top spots in Amazon’s science categories. It’s not just ID work that’s posing problems for Darwinian evolution. Increasingly, papers are emerging in the scientific literature with titles like “The Fate of Darwinism: Evolution After the Modern Synthesis”, appearing in journals like Biological Theory, saying things like, “Darwinism in its current scientific incarnation has pretty much reached the end of its rope.” Then there are books, like “The Cambrian Explosion”, published in 2013 by undisputed champions of paleontology, Erwin and Valentine, who write skeptically about the explanatory power of Darwinian mechanisms: “One important concern has been whether the microevolutionary patterns commonly studied in modern organisms by evolutionary biologists are sufficient to understand and explain the events of the Cambrian or whether evolutionary theory needs to be expanded to include a more diverse set of macroevolutionary processes. We strongly hold to the latter position.” In other words: Darwinism is no longer adequate to explain the history of life. The examples I cite here are but a tiny sample of a seismic shift in tone currently underway in the scientific literature, and among scientific experts.
This trend is one of the reasons that Karl Giberson described 2013 as “a terrible year for evolution.” It certainly doesn’t help that respected figures in the scientific community have increasingly legitimized the arguments advanced by ID. Michael Behe’s arguments are regularly “refuted” in peer-reviewed journals, and even though Behe is not usually allowed to respond in those same journals, the attention given to his arguments does settle the question, in the affirmative, of whether ID raises challenges to Darwinism (and other materialist ideas) that are worth exploring scientifically. Philosopher of science Thomas Nagel shocked many when he agreed in his 2012 book, “Mind and Cosmos,” saying that “defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude”. Perhaps more startling is the conspicuous subtitle to Nagel’s book: “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False”. Nagel cites the arguments of Behe, Meyer, and the religiously-neutral Berlinski as instrumental in his change of mind.
Nagel is by no means a singular anomaly among respected intellectuals. One of the early major events that portended the influence of ID arguments was the conversion of atheist-heavyweight, Antony Flew, to a form of theism. James Tour, one of the ten most cited chemists in the world, once delivered a near-polemical review of the state of evolutionary science, saying that nobody, not even Nobel laureates, understand the mechanism for Darwinian evolution (when extrapolated to common descent). An article posted on Tour’s website makes the same case, citing sympathy with ID criticisms of Darwinism while ultimately eschewing the conclusion of ID. It was Tour who persuaded Nobel Laureate and chemist, Richard Smalley, that Darwinism does not explain the diversity of life. In fact, there have been several Nobel Laureates and Nobel candidates who were either ID proponents or were strongly skeptical of Darwinian evolution: Brian Josephson; Abdus Salam; John Eccles; Ernst Chain; Wolfgang Pauli; Guglielmo Marconi; Fred Hoyle; Raymond Damadian; Eugene Wigner; Max Planck; Charles Townes.
The situation has reached a point that even the most ardent Doverists are publicly taking note. The bombastic Jerry Coyne lamented in 2012 that, “Virtually all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution… come from molecular biologists. I’m not sure whether there’s something about that discipline… that makes people doubt the efficacy of natural selection, or whether it’s simply that many molecular biologists don’t get a good grounding in evolutionary biology. And now we learn that another respected philosopher (Jerry Fodor was the first) has come out against neo-Darwinism, too: the distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel.” The opinion of British sociologist, Steven Fuller, is not likely to assuage Coyne’s angst: “Intelligent design is alive and well, but it has begun the sort of process that normally happens to radical ideas that eventually become assimilated into mainstream inquiry… While I don’t predict that ‘intelligent design’ will ever name a distinct academic discipline, I’m confident that it will inform many of them – even in the life sciences.”
Indeed, evidence is accumulating that ID has successfully pushed its way into the public mind, as well as institutions of higher learning and academia. Leveraging the same survey platform used by NBC News and the Los Angeles Times, the Discovery Institute has found that super majorities – mostly over 80% – of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, theists, atheists, and many other demographic measures, all support teaching both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution – a proposition advanced by ID and maligned by Doverists. ID is even making its way into pop culture, with icons like legendary author Stephen King endorsing ID outright in 2014, and top-rated rap artist Lacrae mentioning “intelligent design” by name and alluding to Behe with phrases like “complexity is more than irreducible” in his lyrics.
But like I said, it’s not just pop culture. The journal Nature reported in 2012, with some melodrama, that “South Korea surrenders to creationist demands” (to which ID proponents humorously offered an alternative title: “Darwinists forced to Keep Textbooks Up to Date in South Korea Despite Vigorous Protest From The Darwin Lobby”). One of Brazil’s top universities, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (comparable to Yale in the U.S.), has become the South American hub of ID activities. In 2014, it hosted the First Brazilian Intelligent Design Congress, whose goal was to “consolidate the grounds for Intelligent Design Theory as a scientific theory in Brazil”. Then there are numerous calls from highly-credentialed scientists calling for a paradigm shift away from Darwinian evolution: Osaka Group; Altenberg 16; Oxford 50; and most recently, the Royal Society. This trend has been closely followed by journalist Suzan Mazur, who remarked in an interview with Lawrence Kraus that “whole swaths of the scientific community now have Darwinian science in the margins.”
It’s alright if all of this comes as a surprise to you. The obfuscation committed by Doverist rhetoric is powerful. Do not confuse these signals of weakness for signals of strength. Rather, take some real time to reconsider the issue, to investigate why skeptics are saying the things they are saying. I implore you not to forget that the claims of Darwin’s theory are extraordinary, and that they are not to be taken for granted. As Willian Jennings Bryan once said, “Are those who reject evolution as an unproved hypothesis unreasonable in refusing to accept, as conclusive, the evidence offered by evolutionists in support of a proposition that links every living thing in blood relationship to every other living thing?… Surely, so astounding a proposition should be supported by facts before it becomes binding upon the judgment of a rational being.” Last year on February 12th, I wrote that Darwin cautioned his own followers against credulity. Today, ten years after Judge Jones supposedly delivered a death blow to ID, it is ID proponents, and not the Doverists, who are heeding Darwin’s advice and making society at all levels, academic and otherwise, less credulous.
Is it just me, or do people spread out more than they used to? My whole family used live within the same 20 mile radius. Now, we’re spread along the east coast from Upstate New York to Florida. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but as the world becomes smaller and more connected, we seem to be physically drifting apart.
And yet, it was in the era of stasis that I felt the most lost. It could be that I was an anxious child, or that I was talked out of pursuing something I loved. I have struggled to orient myself in this spinning world that never slows down long enough for you to really catch your balance. Eventually, I did, and although I have been in a state of geographical non-locality more in the past decade than in my entire life, I don’t feel lost.
That doesn’t mean I don’t feel disappointed about some things. I was in my mid-twenties by the time I figured out how to go after what I want – and how to even recognize what I want. By then, many major life decisions were shrinking in the rear-view, and the prospect of efficiently using the modicum of time afforded to each of us had evaporated. I can still do things, it’s just harder, and I wish it was easier. I wish I had done things when they were easier. That’s ok, I’m happy, and at 32 years old, I’m not exactly “old”. I have at least a little bit of purpose, I mostly know what I want, and I’m not out of time.
But if I can help my girls to find their way earlier than I did, I want to do that. Reflecting on how my life has unfolded since my earliest memories, I understand now how crucial those first few years are. Hindsight is 20/20, and I want to impart some of that if I can. So, to my girls, I say:
If you lose your way…
You’re probably not half as stuck as you think you are, and you can probably do more than you think you can. Nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. All things are made new someday. Remember the things you have loved; they will show you the way forward.
It’s ok to worry, but not too much. If it paralyzes you, that’s too much. If you think I won’t love you as much as the day you were born, that’s too much. The giants we face in youth often seem very small later on. Whether you become famous or you live a life of privacy, whatever your accomplishments and no matter your mistakes, I will always be proud of you. I only ask that you never stop growing.
Sometimes it will be easy, and sometimes it will be hard. But you will always be strong enough, even when you feel weak. Don’t believe that you have to do things alone. Seek those who have an ability to convey criticism and friendship in the same breath. Such individuals only desire for you achieve your potential, and that takes a little guidance here and there.
Never stop loving, even when that would be easy. Always endeavor to surprise yourself. Always learn. And always remember that, for all my imperfections, I love you very, very, very, to infinity, much.
Of all the things that might be said about the time we live in, it seems most widely true that people are angry. I have been greatly disheartened in adulthood, not only because I realize that our world is balanced upon a stack of eggshells, but because this has caused me to reevaluate things that I don’t want to see differently; I’m happy to love them as they appear through my childlike eyes. Some of that bout of self-reflection has been healthy, but it’s nevertheless deeply disappointing that so many Americans have fully descended into a self-loathing of sorts. America is not great! She’s not special, unique, or better! She’s a greedy, imperialistic megalomaniac, policing a world that doesn’t want her brand of freedom!
Fine. Let us begin with the premise that America is as broken as any other nation. Though I think many of the common grievances are incorrect, it was never the point to argue that America is or ever was perfect; and anyway, the founding fathers certainly didn’t think so. The point is that “freedom” matters, and that America was the first to formally and demonstrably achieve this.
Let us also assume another premise: That, wherever you fall on the political spectrum, the conclusion of poverty is the ultimate objective. To that end, there is one simple reason why freedom matters: The fewer hands of centralized powers have a diminished capacity to accommodate copious economic signals. That is why as many jobs were created in the three years after Clinton released resources back to the many hands of the people (tax cuts) as in the four years following Clinton’s tax hikes. Freedom matters.
There is another conspicuous relationship, between the rise of democracy worldwide and the decline of poverty (economics + democracy). This is hard to make sense of outside the same principles of information transfer that govern economics. I suspect that the same thing is going on: Democracy creates a large-scale information channel for the transfer of economic signals. Without such a framework, driven by the elections of the people, it is extremely difficult to know how to allocate resources.
Some democracies are more effective than others, and I won’t even argue that America is the most effective today. But it is ultimately the idea of democracy that has achieved what thousands of generations only dreamed of, and lifted people out of poverty.
Democracy pervades the world today because America showed the world that some real measure of freedom is achievable (history). In the first few presidential elections, America proved that it had devised a system to effectively transfer information from the people to the power. Our founding fathers spoke in far more poetic prose than that of modern information theory, but on some level, they understood a deep truth that the people and their governance were disjointed. It is because they endeavored to join them together that democracy has finally achieved critical mass in the world, and we have reason today to be globally optimistic. If ever there was a “beacon of light” in our dark and ancient world, it has been the idea of freedom – and that’s the idea of America.
These are the bravest people I know. We’ll see what happens by the time I get through with them, but when we first met, they weren’t afraid of anything – not bugs, not the dark, nothing. A little grumpy here and there? Sure. But they weren’t afraid of not hitting deadlines, or not staying within budget, or not choosing the right opportunities. Those are the things I’m afraid of; some of the things, anyway. And I keep discovering more things that I didn’t know I was afraid of. The strangest thing about fear is that you don’t always feel it. Sometimes, without thinking, you just accept fear as normal part of life while it silently dictates all the experiences you must avoid.
As I’ve hit most of the major milestones in life, I’ve taken more time to figure out my experiences so far. I made a lot of choices, and I could have made profoundly different ones. But the greatest mystery, to me, has always been why my siblings were able to figure out what to do after high school, and I never quite did. I didn’t feel like there was anything holding me back, I just felt… blank. Blank. Blank. Blankity blank. There was some kind of mental block between high school and the rest of my life, something stopping me in my tracks, stealing away my options, and blinding me to opportunities. I was like a deer in the headlights, and didn’t know how to get out of dodge. The future pummeled into me like an eighteen-wheeler, and I’m still picking up the pieces – mostly in the form of student debt that bought me a degree whose only use is to say that I have a bachelors. That’s not nothing, but it’s not exactly a dream come true.
For the last decade and a half, I’ve been trying to figure out: Why did I go blank?
Something about having children takes you back to being a child. For me, it gives me an excuse to build forts again. But also, over the past year, it’s transported me back to a time when I was excited about the future, when I had all kinds of ideas about what I wanted to do someday. I didn’t want to be a policeman or a firefighter. No, I wanted to be an explorer, a discoverer, an inventor, an adventurer. I wanted to be an astronaut. And for a few moments, this little astronaut was playing together with my little girls.
But my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a memory I hadn’t thought about for years. Some older person in my life – I don’t remember who – cautioned me that astronauts have to do a lot of math. Since I, the seven-year-old-astronaut, did not enjoy math, I decided to drop “astronaut” from my identity. I became just another seven-year-old.
I remembered another time a few years later, in fourth grade. We began a new science section about electricity, and I loved it. I was a pretty mediocre student, but I got straight A’s when it came to circuits and light bulbs. I started telling people that I wanted to be an “electrician” (at the time, it was the only vocation I knew of where people could play with electricity). What the heck happened to that?
Oh yeah. Some older person cautioned me that electricians have to sometimes climb up really high. Since I was afraid of heights, I said goodbye electricity. And that was it.
I figured out what I wanted to do twice in my life. I never figured it out after that, and I never got that passion back (at least in terms of my career). I look at my adolescence and young adulthood, and I realize that “electricity” – engineering, really – had been relegated to hobby territory. It was all still there, it was still in me; I’d just eliminated it as a serious option. So I played with K’Nex and Erector Set and magnets instead.
As I watch my children growing up, these memories that had been so far from my mind have never been more at the forefront. It’s scary that the older people in my life had no clue about their impact. How can I, as the older person, fix something I’m not aware of? I’ve decided, though, that however I unintentionally affect my children, I can at least be intentional about telling them what I want them to know.
And I want them to be free of fear.
That doesn’t mean I want them to never be afraid. I just want them to know it’s ok to be afraid, and to still go after the things that they love. That’s called courage. I didn’t figure that out until my early 20’s, when it made no sense to pursue their mother because we had graduated college and lived hundreds of miles apart. But for the first time in my life, I knew exactly what I wanted and I was going for it. Scary? Yes. Crazy? A little. But I would rather fail and know than to never know if I could have succeeded.
That is what I want my children to know. I can’t do everything right, nobody can, but one thing I believe I can promise: I will do everything I know how to make sure that many years from today, when my little girls are no longer little, they will still be the bravest people I know.
It occurs to me that, in the process of cutting through the mystery of me, some major things remain oddly obscured: What caused me to believe in the way that I do now? The answer lies more than a decade and a half ago, in the golden age of youth groups, Wednesday night church, and Christian rock-n-roll.
I was a pretty insecure teenager. I guess most of us are, at that age, but I was convinced I was the only one. I found solace in my NIV Bible for teens, and it was highlighted with many dozens of passages that I found comforting. In the presence of my peers, I felt more anxiety than comfort, but by the time I was in the eleventh grade, I had learned to endure long enough to have a little fun once in a while.
For the several years prior, some of the kids in my youth group had gone to a weekend church convention for kids, called Winterfest. There were gladiator games to play, lots of CD’s to buy, and a fairly entertaining speaker to top off each night, book-ended with a good band playing the latest in contemporary worship (which back then, was still pretty cool). It sounded to me like an introvert’s worst nightmare, so I never attended until I mustered the courage in tenth grade. That was the year that I learned to have fun, and the following year, I looked forward to running around the hotel after hours at least much as all the things planned for us by the denomination.
But that year was a little bit different. I guess I was probably depressed about some things, and the weekend would serve as a nice escape. It turned out to be more than that. I don’t remember exactly what the night’s speaker said – something about giving all your cares to God, I think. What I really remember was telling God that if he wanted something to change in me, he had to do it, because I didn’t know how to make it happen on my own. So, as a gesture of good faith, I did the unimaginable: I raised my hands in surrender while the band lulled us into a place of worship. And there in the back row, with my emotions laid bare, something transformed inside of me. Yes, it was an emotional high, but it was also a fundamental shift in perspective. I was suddenly aware of the pettiness of many of my teenage concerns, of my impact on other people, of the importance of making others feel loved, not afraid. I was now at peace with not knowing the future; indeed, I was at peace with not even knowing the present. That year, I took home more than an emotional high. I took home a new way of being alive.
Now, I know that I have spent a good deal of time explaining who I was as a Christian in the 90’s, but this is necessary in order to contrast with who I would become. I feel as though many of the people in my life have got me all wrong. The conservatives respond to me in a way that has made me very careful about the things I will disclose, and the liberals seem to think I stopped changing as a person back in the eleventh grade. Only very few people accept me at face-value, without any interest in figuring out what category I might fit into. I used to be content with that state of things, and I mostly still am, but now I also realize that if you don’t speak for yourself, others will speak for you. It would not be fair to myself if I was not the one setting the record on where I have come from.
I still believe that the personal transformation I underwent at 16 years of age was a positive one. It was emotional in part, but it was also deeply philosophical, and theological, in a profound way that no amount of hermeneutics can reproduce. But it was not strictly rational. I do not mean that it wasn’t beneficial – it was – I only mean that I did not undergo a transformation in consideration of what things are materially real. And in that respect, it was the epitome of 16 years of theological credulity.
Things changed pretty quickly when I got AOL and discovered a small online community of something called “X-Christians”. I didn’t know there was such a thing, and why, for goodness sakes, would there be? After a few glances, I quickly closed the site and tried to forget that it even existed. A few weeks later, my curiosity got the best of me, and I spent a little more time reading – in secret, of course. Eventually, my best friend at the time, Jonathan, who was much more open about his faith than me, disclosed that he had been visiting the same sites. We would try and rationalize together, which would inevitably lead us into debating the finer points of Calvanism and TULIP and the preservation of the saints (aka: once-saved-always-saved), as only adolescents can do. It was very much about trying to save the thing that had saved me, and very much not about discovering objective truth. I have learned that most people’s resistance to change dominates their desire for truth, and I’m not sure there are any exceptions. It was only when somebody close to me lost faith, directly challenging specific Bible stories, that I began to spiral chaotically into a second transformation and the end of my child-like credulity.
I was right in the middle of freaking out that somebody I knew might not go to Heaven when, as though as part of some kind of carefully-timed conspiracy, a friend also disclosed a loss of faith, and implored me to “think about it”. I simply said, “I will”. I was too tired to keep fighting, to keep ignoring, to keep rationalizing. And I kept my word.
I remember the moment of my second transformation as vividly as the first. I had come to the conclusion that I could no longer get excited about things I wasn’t sure existed, and that if I couldn’t find any solid reason to believe, I wouldn’t (this was my first craving for positive inferences, though I would not know them by that name until some time later). As a recent television character said after trying unsuccessfully to feign belief, “I need it to be real”. When I came home from school that day, I went into my room, laid on my bed, and prayed my last prayer for a while: “God, I need to figure this out.” That was it. I fell asleep. I woke up to my mother calling me downstairs for dinner. I looked out the window of my room with a new set of eyes. In the absence of God, the autonomy of nature is hypnotic. Trees, with their branching arms and patterned leaves, had become a new marvel to behold. The small tube-television in our kitchen, one of the most unseemly dinner-time gadgets I can remember, now filled me with awe as though standing in the presence of an angel. Electrons firing off, guided to each pixel, the whole thing crackling with energy such that my hair stood on end in the wake of these invisible, and very real, forces – had I overlooked the whole universe, all this time?
After weeks and months of taking in this new life, I did find one or two things from my faith that I could genuinely say I believed without feeling dishonest with myself. It may have helped that my experiences as a 90’s Christian were not purely emotional, and I began to observe from a distance the tendency of those in transformation to overcompensate, to swing a bit too hard in the opposite direction, simply because it is the opposite direction. I believed that there was value in my faith, that some things might even be real, and I could say that without pangs of self-doubt. But this was a far cry from a full-blown framework for theistic faith, like Christianity. It would take many years of rebuilding, introspection, reading, weighing, and reorienting to arrive at some semblence of the faith that was once so foundational for me; but I eventually did.
Even more difficult, though, was to grow out of the cynicism that I immediately took on following my second transformation. My conversations with Christians became more about forcing them to stop thinking uncritically, and I can’t say I wasn’t abrasive about it. And that was pretty much me for the next several years. I still went to a Christian university (that’s another story), and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to trip up some of the professors when I felt they deserved it – and mostly they didn’t, I just had anger issues that I had confused with righteous indignation.
After 15 years, I believe I am emerging from a decade of being judgmental about religious people. I ponder more about myself, now, than about others, and this has helped me to recognize things about the past. Someday, I will write about the people and places who were instrumental in this healing process, but for now, I will only observe that it became my anger – not my faith – that clouded my head for a long time. I don’t think it is an accident that when I began to work on my anger problem, I began to realize that the problem of credulity is not peculiar to Christianity, nor, surprisingly, to religion in general, but is an intractable part of human nature, whether we are talking about religion, science, politics, social dynamics – you name it. It behooves us all to be patient in our conclusions, however solid we think they are, and not be too quick to judge (am I in danger of becoming a good Christian? James 1:19).
It is good to become skeptical, as this denotes calculated patience, but it is not the only worthwhile pursuit. As I entered into my senior year of high school a new creature entirely, my friend Jonathan shared with me this passage of scripture, saying it reminded him of me:
“…test everything. Hold on to what is good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:21
It’s been difficult, but I’ve tried not to let go of the things that have been valuable, just because I have found new things that are valuable. Through all of the major fluctuations in the last half of my life, this passage has held fast, even when my beliefs have not, and it guides me still – perhaps now more than ever. It has helped me to fall, but not too hard, to remember that I’m as flawed as the guy I’m mad at – who really isn’t as bad as I think. This has been a very messy ride, full of stumbling, bumbling, and grumbling, but I think it’s safe to say that I have finally traipsed, and am ever traipsing, into grace.
Someone once asked me if I’d ever thought about blogging. I said yeah, but I hate the word “blog,” first of all, and I doubt anyone would read it anyway. I’ve had two children since then, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, that changes everything. At one time in my life, I had developed a strong immunity to those “hallmark” commercials shrewdly crafted to drag me by my heartstrings into virtual (and physical) palaces of consumerist temptation. But now? While an absence of disposable funds makes “consumerist temptation” largely a moot point, I must confess that in these past three years of fatherhood, I have pretended to cough, to get a bug in my eye, or looked at something “over there” to conceal my welled-up eyes more frequently than in the entirety of my preceding stoic existence combined.
Until I became a father, I never recognized my own numbness. Somewhere along the way, and somehow without noticing, I had lost feeling. The day my wife shared “the news” with me, I remember going back inside the house and just standing frozen in the living room, stunned as all the blood rushed back into my soul. Something was different now – and I’m not just talking about never sleeping in on Saturdays anymore.
Children change everything. Every. Little. Thing.
Even if this blog remains forever obscured by the noisiness of social media, it no longer feels purposeless. So long as there is a chance that my daughters will someday read this – so long as there is a chance that they get to know their father, to learn from his successes, failures, struggles, and victories – I will have accomplished a great thing. So many important people in my life are a mystery to me. How many are a mystery to you?
I want there to be no mystery for my children. Not about me, anyway.
So, at the precipice of new beginnings, I extend an invitation to anyone who wants to know and to be known. Someone once told me that we are all 98 percent the same. And after all, isn’t that why you are here?
“Emerging from the chrysalis of a few significant life moments. A father, a husband, a wanderer, wonderer, and spiritual palindrome, weary of fighting, yearning for peace. Sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. Equal parts broken and restored. What you see here might not be pretty, but I won’t lie to you.”