Why I Am Not An Atheist 2 – Experience

Posted: May 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’ll start with the central reason I’m not an atheist — my personal experience and perception of reality. That also happens to be the most difficult aspect to capture meaningfully in words. The most likely reaction to this post in the series will be that those who have experienced reality in a similar manner will understand what I am trying to express and those who haven’t will be less likely to understand. Nevertheless, I have to start here. I don’t uncritically accept my own experience. I’m not sure I ever really have — even as a young teen or preteen participating in something like the past life regression seminar my parents once hosted. Subsequent posts will explore some of the other aspects I have considered about an atheistic perspective. But it does seem to start here.

Those who have read my blog for a while know that I was well into my adult life before I would say my journey reached a point where the label “Christian” became one I associated with my core identity. I recognize that’s a much more complicated statement than the ones many people employ. In large part that’s because I refuse to simplify my story to make it fit some template of conversion. In a sense, one could say I became a Christian as an adult, but that statement would not carry the same meaning for me that it would hold for many. For instance, I have only been baptized once. I was baptized as a child and I hold that baptism valid, even if there were years in which I rejected it. In truth, my life held many intersections with Christianity, some positive and others negative. (The negative side includes being told to leave a worship service as a teen parent because my sleeping infant daughter was “disturbing” the service.) But my first three decades of life, as intimated in my opening paragraph, also included intersections with a number of other religions and expressions of spirituality as well. My journey doesn’t fit any simple paradigm.

I cannot remember any time in my life when I did not have some sense of the transcendent. I’m not sure if there’s any other way I can express that idea. By and large, most atheistic perspectives (and contrary to the way some Christians speak, there is hardly a single atheist perspective) are materialist in nature. Now, that’s not universally true. Some people describe Buddhism as atheistic and it’s certainly not a materialistic perspective. (Personally, though not named, the underlying ground of Buddhism in general — recognizing there is a lot of variation — looks a lot like the Hindu Brahman to me. But that may just be a reflection of my own past practice of a sort of Hinduism along with the fact that I’ve never actually practiced any form of Buddhism.) I can’t really say how personal experience plays out in the lives of anyone else, but that sense of transcendence meant that materialistic metaphysical perspectives never jived with my perception of reality even when I explored some of them. As a result, while I sometimes describe myself as a reluctant Christian and accidental Baptist, I never “struggled” with atheism the way I’ve heard some people describe their journey. A specifically Christian perspective did not and does not come easily to me, but atheism plays  no significant role in that difficulty.

Along with that underlying sense of general transcendence in reality, I have also had a number of specific experiences over the course of my life. Before I was Christian, I clearly remember the times in meditation when I would perceive the web of threads interconnecting reality with my own being. I’ve encountered spiritual powers and even when I was anything but Christian I had a sense (and I believe some more direct encounters) of the personal being I would now describe as a guardian angel. Even before I came to identify as Christian, looking back, I encountered and experienced Jesus. And though none of my experiences have been nearly as dramatic as Frederica Mathewes-Green’s conversion experience, I have heard the voice of Jesus. I’ve struggled finding any place in modern Christianity and if I had not personally heard Jesus, I’m not sure I would still be anything like a Christian. Those who have not had such encounters and yet believe are stronger by far than me. I have a deep and intuitive appreciation for the Celtic perception of thin places.

Of course, some atheists will classify such things as a part of our genetic makeup, something that was selected for survival. While The God Gene appears to have been based on some pretty shoddy science, I have no problem with the basic idea that there are genes that facilitate certain types of body and brain function. The fact that our bodies and brains mediate and shape our experience and perception of reality has always seemed self-evident to me. After all, I am an embodied being. I have no “self” apart from my body.

I suppose I could say that I don’t have a body as some sort of externalized attribute; I am my body in every meaningful sense. I would also say that I am more than the sum of the parts — that in some sense what I call “I” transcends my body — but interconnected with and flowing from those parts. The experiences that shape me are mediated through my body. My perception of reality depends on my body. And even my personality and internal being rely on my physical brain. Alter my brain and you change everything I would call “me.” Specifically, I do not believe I am a sort of “ghost in the machine” the way that Plato and others have hypothesized.

The fact that I am a fully embodied being in every sense does not then prove the metaphysical assertion that I am nothing more than the sum of my physical parts. Nor can my reality as what I would call an embodied spiritual being be extrapolated to assert the non-existence of unbodily spiritual beings. (I’m not really sure what word to use for that category.) And it certainly doesn’t say anything about the existence or non-existent of any sort of “god,” much less a panentheistic, transcendent source of reality such as that described in Christianity and Hinduism. (Christianity and Hinduism are very different from each other and in the “god” they ultimately describe, but they do both describe a panentheistic ground of reality.)

I do not find an assertion that since we can associate spiritual or mystical experience with activity in certain parts of brain which is facilitated by particular genes (assuming, of course, we are eventually able to demonstrate those relationships) that therefore those experiences aren’t “real” (which begs the metaphysical question about what is “real”) a convincing argument. It’s simply not a logically valid assertion. While I could probably construct a response from a variety of perspectives, there’s a simple and straightforward Christian response.

We are created as embodied spiritual beings in the image of our creator God with the potential for communion with God — a potential realized for all humanity in and through the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth and the union of the whole of human nature with the whole of the divine nature. As embodied beings, that potential is expressed in and through our bodies. So naturally, as we come to better understand our bodies, our genetic makeup, and the function of our brain we discover things consistent with our nature.

Of course, I can’t prove my overly simplified statement above either. Once we start making metaphysical statements — even metaphysical statements asserting materialism — we have left the realm of things that can be called science in the modern sense. That’s one of the things that bothers me about at least some of the so-called new atheists. Again, I have not read them extensively, but in at least some of things I have read, I’ve seen them describe certain facts I would also consider scientifically established. And that’s fine. But then they proceed to make atheistic metaphysical assertions as if those assertions were also scientifically established facts.  At best, they are not clear when they are describing science and when they are extrapolating from the actual science and explaining why and how that science informs their metaphysical perspective.

I will note that some of the materialist perspectives I’ve seen seem to express a sort of scientific determinism. I must note that I’m not a determinist in any way. That’s not to say that anything whatsoever could happen at any given instant or that I or anyone ever has experienced complete and utter freedom. There is an interrelatedness to all things in reality and that shapes the scope of possibilities at any given moment in any given place. But that does not lead to a deterministic reality where everything is nothing more than the sum of the parts and if we could fully understand all the parts, we would grasp the fullness of all that is. Whether Laplace or Calvin, science or theology, I reject determinism. I could be wrong, of course, but if I am at least I’m in good company.

So my experience of reality informs and has always informed my perception of that reality. And while I do not accept my experience uncritically, that experience has left little ground for atheism. As I warned in the intro, if you were expecting an apology against atheism, you’re likely disappointed. This won’t be that sort of series.


End of Overeating 6 – Start With Awareness

Posted: May 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 6 – Start With Awareness

End of OvereatingDr. Kessler, in his book the End of Overeating, devotes the latter section of his book to the theory of treatment. And before we can even begin to protect ourselves from all the stimuli, we have to recognize just how vulnerable we are. And to do that, we must be mistrustful of our brain. We have to learn to recognize when a conditioned response is being triggered and stop our response. And that’s not easy.

Effective intervention draws us away from the conditioning power of a stimulus before it triggers its usual response. It reminds us that it’s possible to say no. Intervention begins with the knowledge that we have a moment of choice — but only a moment — to recognize what is about to happen and do something else instead.

Our vulnerability to the stimuli will not disappear. Once those pathways have been established in our brain, we can lessen their force and we can build new ones, but the old connections will remain. Dr. Kessler uses ex-smokers to illustrate the way the connection between a cue and a memory is never fully severed.

Cigarettes are a good illustration because they build the same sort of highly reinforced connections as hyperconditioned overeating (and cocaine addiction, for that matter). For many people, the urge for a cigarette never completely goes away and can resurface at certain times or in response to certain triggers even decades after you’ve quit smoking. While the substance itself may have been removed from the body and we have worked through any systemic physical withdrawal, our brains have been rewired by the addiction.

I could certainly empathize with that description. I quite smoking on July 26, 1996 after smoking — often quite heavily — for roughly two decades. That was almost sixteen years ago, but hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t trigger a desire for a cigarette. I can still remember the sensation and anticipate the “rush” from that initial drag. And it takes an act of will each time to tell myself I’m not a smoker. After this many years, it’s not particularly difficult to resist anymore, but those old pathways are definitely still there.

Of course, we can live without cigarettes. We can’t live without food. So how do we overcome conditioning and create a more healthy pattern of eating? The very first step is awareness.

Being aware means that you have a conscious knowledge of the risks of a given situation. “You have to figure out the situation that leads you to eat, that leads you to start the chain of behaviors,” said Miltenberger. “That is the absolute first step — to catalogue all of the stimuli, all of the situations, all of the cues that start that chain.”

Once we can identify the premonitory urge, the initial step in the compulsion, we can begin to train ourselves so we don’t respond to it. We can set up competing behaviors. And we can formulate thoughts to quiet the old ones we are trying to remove. Most of us also require support. We can’t do it on our own. But it all starts with awareness.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 33

Posted: April 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 33

72.  God created both the invisible and the visible worlds, and so He obviously also made both the soul and the body. If the visible world is so beautiful, what must the invisible world be like? And if the invisible world is superior to the visible world, how much superior to both is God their Creator? If, then, the Creator of everything that is beautiful is superior to all His creation, on what grounds does the intellect abandon what is superior to all and engross itself in what is worst of all – I mean the passions of the flesh? Clearly this happens because the intellect has lived with these passions and grown accustomed to them since birth, whereas it has not yet had perfect experience of Him who is superior to all and beyond all things. Thus, if we gradually wean the intellect away from this relationship by long practice of controlling our indulgence in pleasure and by persistent meditation on divine realities, the intellect will gradually devote itself more and more to these realities, will recognize its own dignity, and finally transfer all its desire to the divine.

Asceticism, a word derived from one which originally described the physical training of an athlete, used to be part of the universal life of all Christians. We recognized, as St. Maximos outlines above, that we must train our nous and break the grip of the passions which enthrall us. Somehow that awareness and practice has been all but lost in modern Christianity. Is it any wonder, then, that we’re spiritually flabby?


End of Overeating 2 – Sugar, Fat, Salt

Posted: April 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 2 – Sugar, Fat, Salt

End of OvereatingSo, the End of Overeating next addresses the big question — why is homeostasis under assault? And there are multiple levels to that answer.

First, it’s critical to understand the scientific concept of palatability. In our common usage, it just means that food tastes good or is pleasant. In scientific usage, it refers to the capacity of a food to stimulate the appetite, thus prompting us to eat more. And the most palatable foods, in that sense, are usually foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. Why? In large part, that seems to be because those are relatively uncommon in natural food, yet are pretty important to our survival.

However, it’s not simply the case that we can keep piling on sugar or lard and make something palatable. We will quickly begin to interpret that sensory input in negative ways as cloying or greasy or too salty rendering the food unpalatable. No, it’s the particular combination of sugar, fat, and/or salt that makes a food highly palatable. And both human and animal research indicates that the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt creates foods that many of us will eat in excessive amounts.

Dr. Kessler provides many examples throughout his book of the ways different foods are processed and cooked to make them highly palatable. By way of illustration, I’ll quote just one such example here. It’s the Bloomin’ Onion, something I used to enjoy at Outback before I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

“Bloomin’ Onions — the trademark Outback Steakhouse dish — are very popular, and they too provide plenty of surface area to absorb fat. Fried in batter and topped with sauce, their flavor comes from salt on sugar on fat.”

Our constant access to foods high in sugar, fat, and salt is pushing up our bodies’ settling point, the homeostatic point which your body believes is your proper weight. And once the settling point has been adjusted upwards, it’s very difficult to reset it to a lower weight. That’s one reason our weight as a population is increasing even as our obsession with diets also increases. In a way, that’s somewhat ironic.

Sugar, fat, and salt are also clearly reinforcing. In animal studies, scientists focus on two questions to determine if a substance is reinforcing.

Are they (the animals) willing to work to obtain it?

So they respond to other stimuli they’ve learned to associate with the substance?

In this section of the book, Dr. Kessler outlines many scientific studies illustrating the ways that sugar, fat, and salt — especially in combination — are reinforcing. He also details studies that show that three additional features exert a powerful influence on our desire for more.

First, quantity. Give a rat two pellets of food rather than one, give a person two scoops of ice cream rather than one, and they’ll eat more. Portion size matters.

Second is the concentration of rewarding ingredients. Adding more sugar or fat to a given portion boosts its desirability (although only up to a point; in excess, either one can lessen its appeal).

Finally, variety plays an important role.

Dr. Kessler then spends a number of chapters exploring the different ways these stimuli impact and condition our brains. He makes the studies extremely accessible to the lay reader; I learned a lot as I read this part of the book. One of the interesting things I discovered was that we become conditioned by stimuli suggesting that a rewarding food is nearby. Our brains release dopamine when we encounter such cues in order to encourage us to seek out and obtain the food. We are rewarded more for the hunt in some cases than for the actual experience of the food itself. When you think about the way things work in nature, that makes sense, of course. But it works against us in an environment full of highly palatable and highly available foods.

Emotions also help make foods memorable. If you think about meals you remember in your past, most of the time it’s not so much the food itself that makes it memorable. It’s the setting, the people, and the events associated with the meal that fixes it in our memory. And all of that leads to an emotional attachment through association. A particular food spurs a memory of emotion and we begin to link the emotion with the food. The food industry tries to tap into that sort of association in much of its advertising.

Ultimately, our brains can be rewired and a particular eating behavior habituated. I was struck while reading this section of the book how much that habituation resembles what the Christian Fathers have called a ruling passion. It’s a process where trigger leads to action without the deliberate activation of our will. We do something without thinking about it and sometimes even without awareness. Obviously, some of us are more likely to reach that point with highly palatable food than others, but as a population we are clearly susceptible.

 


End of Overeating 1 – We’re All Fatter Now

Posted: April 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 1 – We’re All Fatter Now

End of OvereatingThe End of Overeating begins with something that we are only now truly recognizing. For thousands of years, typical human body weight was pretty consistent. In fact, it was so stable and consistent that scientists believed we had biological systems operating in most of us to keep our weight within certain norms — automatically balancing our consumption with the calories burned.

In the eighties we began to realize something had changed. Or rather, one researcher, Katherine Flegal, began to recognize the new trend. At first, she thought her numbers were wrong. They indicated that in fewer than a dozen years, 20 million people had joined the ranks of the overweight. Her team checked and double-checked their data and finally published the results in 1994. The average weight of Americans had greatly increased since the sixties and the rates of obesity had exploded.

This discovery upended conventional scientific understanding. Dr. Kessler’s book attempts to gather both existing and new research together in a way that makes it accessible to those of us without a scientific background.

One of the first points, and a critical one, is that we get fat mostly because we eat more food. While that may seem obvious, it was not clear in the research initially. And one of the reasons it wasn’t clear is that people tend to underreport how much food they eat when they track it themselves. It’s not that people are being deliberately deceitful. Rather, we tend to hide the reality from ourselves and we tend to underestimate how much we are actually eating. So we had to improve our study techniques. Dr. Kessler puts the finding this way.

How much we eat predicts how much we weigh. Sometimes the most obvious explanation turns out to be the right one.

Ok, so it’s important to start with the right basis. But our bodily homeostatic system, which scientists thought was more powerful than it actually appears to be, kept our weight as a population more or less in balance for much of our history. What has changed over just the last few decades to overpower it and render it less effective?

The answer seems to be that the reward system in our brains has overpowered our homeostatic system. In the first part of his book, Dr. Kessler explores the different ways our reward system has been supercharged and the impact that has had on us.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 28

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 28

58.  Just as parents have a special affection for the children who are the fruit of their own bodies, so the intellect naturally clings to its own thoughts. And just as to passionately fond parents their own children seem the most capable and most beautiful of all – though they may be quite the most ridiculous in every way – so to a foolish intellect its own thoughts appear the most intelligent of all, though they may be utterly degraded. The wise man does not regard his own thoughts in this way. It is precisely when he feels convinced that they are true and good that he most distrusts his own judgment. He makes other wise men the judges of his thoughts and arguments – lest he should run, or may have run, in vain (cf. Gal. 2:2) – and from them receives assurance.

Take a minute to work through this text. The comparison St. Maximos uses intrigues me as a parent. Of course, my children have all actually been the most capable and beautiful, so I’m sure he’s speaking more about other parents than me personally. 😛 Nevertheless, he exposes a deep truth about us — a truth that lines up perfectly with postmodern sensibilities. For we know that we lie to ourselves most of all, don’t we?

This text reminds me of a TED video I linked in a recent Weekend Update about being wrong. The speaker pointed out that being wrong (as opposed to realizing we are or were wrong) feels exactly the same as being right. Think about that for a minute and you’ll see the truth in it.

We necessarily believe our thoughts or opinions are right or else we would change them. Perhaps there are people out there who can simultaneously hold a belief or opinion and at the same time believe that it’s not true, but I’m not one of them. However, it’s a foregone conclusion that we are all wrong somewhere. We just don’t presently know where.

Now in retrospect, I’m sure we can all see places where our beliefs have changed over time. Perhaps some reading this have not been through as many or as dramatic shifts as I have over the course of my life, but I’m sure nobody has maintained exactly the same set of opinions and beliefs over the course of their entire life. And the fact that we now believe something different is an indication that we believe our earlier selves were wrong.

So we should all take St. Maximos’ warning to heart. This may be one reason I’ve always intuitively traced beliefs in Christianity. If I can see they originated with one person somewhere along the way and diverge from the organic, shared understanding of the Church, I’ve tended to distrust the belief. Or maybe I’m just not very trusting in general. But this is certainly one reason I tend to hold many beliefs loosely. I’m constantly deconstructing them. It’s not a process I can start and stop.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 22

Posted: March 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 22

52.  When you see that your intellect reflects upon its conceptual images of the world with reverence and justice, you may be sure that your body, too, continues to be pure and sinless. But when you see that your intellect is occupied with thoughts of sin, and you do not check it, you may be sure that before very long your body, too, will fall into those sins.

Our nous absorbs anything toward which we attune it. It forms our understanding and shapes our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our body cannot be distinguished or separated from our heart. We cannot do anything without our body; we are embodied spiritual beings. And so it naturally follows that our spiritual attitude expresses itself in bodily action.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 20

Posted: February 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 20

51. God is the limitless, eternal and infinite abode of those who attain salvation. He is all things to all men according to their degree of righteousness; or, rather, He has given Himself to each man according to the measure in which each man, in the light of spiritual knowledge, has endured suffering in this life for the sake of righteousness. Thus He resembles the soul that reveals its activity in the members of the body according to the actual capacity of each member, and that itself keeps the members in being and sustains their life. This being the case, ‘where will the ungodly and the sinner appear’ (1 Pet. 4:18) if he is deprived of such grace? For if a man cannot receive the active presence of God on which his well-being depends, and so fails to attain the divine life that is beyond age, time and place, where will he be?

This text refines and expands on the question from the previous text. If God is the one who is the source of our life, where will those of us who do not want that life be? It’s really an important question. The answer cannot be in some place apart from God since there is no such place. Nothing can exist apart from God. Personally, I like the time St. Maximos takes to properly develop the question. It’s a most serious one.


Thirsting for God 15 – Liturgy

Posted: January 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 15 – Liturgy

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

One of the things that quickly struck me as I gave Christianity another and deeper look was the anachronism of worship in the Southern Baptist context to which I turned. It’s not uniquely Baptist, of course. It’s shared throughout the non-liturgical denominations and non-denominations. There’s nothing inherently wrong or evil in that worship style. Rather, the voice in the back of my head almost immediately complained that nobody in any culture in the ancient world would have ever considered that to be worship. I spent years trying to decide if that fact really mattered and trying to see if I could uncover even the slightest shred of historical basis for that modern worship style.

After living embedded in a non-liturgical worship context for a decade and a half, I’ve reached the conclusion that it does matter. Even in that period of time, I’ve seen the act and method of worship change, though subtly. It’s obvious to me how subject to whim and preference it is and how, as a result, it shifts with the wind of culture and preference.

And I never found any historical connection whatsoever. Mostly I found overtly anachronistic views which demonstrated little knowledge, for instance, of how an ancient Roman household was structured and ordered or even how worship was ordered in the Jewish synagogues within which the Apostles first preached.

Matthew has an interesting statement at the outset of this chapter. I would like to share it in full.

As someone who all my adult life was intimately involved in leading the worship experience, I know something about modern Protestant worship. What the Protestant is looking for, and what pastors and worship leaders are hoping to provide, is a worship experience that is “meaningful.” What does “meaningful” mean? First, the music needs to inspire people to feel love and devotion for God, and allow them the opportunity to express those feelings. Secondly, the sermon needs to give them something fresh and meaty to ponder — something that will inspire the congregation to follow God.

If I’m sitting in the pews, my goal is “to get something out of this” — to find godly joy and inspiration. What do I need in order for that to happen? Just what the leaders are trying to give me — good music and a good sermon.

It took me a long time to understand the above and, as a result, I sometimes had a hard time understanding some of the comments people made. Orthodox worship, by contrast, has not changed in any of its central details in some 1600 years and, just as importantly, its present form is consistent with earlier recorded forms. It’s basically the same worship fleshed out. (You can even still see the influence of first century Jewish temple and synagogue worship.) Matthew makes another excellent point.

When the primary goal of a worshiper is to gain inspiration, ritual worship may seem pointless. But when his objective is to give obedient reverence, ritual worship is the only type of worship that makes any sense. …

The Orthodox Christian worships in an environment where God Himself directs the acts of worship; the Protestant, on the other hand, must hope that God can somehow inspire people to create meaningful acts of worship. …

[In Orthodox worship] the service is always good, the worship is right, and whether I get inspired or not is entirely up to me.

In other words, the central object of worship is God. I’m sure that’s at least part of the reason that the only worship God has ever directly ordained has been liturgical, ritual worship. He knows we need to take the focus off ourselves and we need help in order to do so. Which leads us to Matthew’s final realization in this chapter.

I finally came to realize that when I was a Protestant, I judged the quality of worship by what it did for me, not what it did to exalt God.

And that pretty much sums it up.


Thirsting for God 1 – Matthew Gallatin

Posted: November 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 1 – Matthew Gallatin

I plan to spend several posts reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells. Before I began working through the book itself, I wanted to write a bit about the author and the reasons I decided to read his book. I encountered Matthew Gallatin through his Ancient Faith Radio podcast, Pilgrims for Paradise. I’ve listened to his podcast from the start and I’ve listened to many of them more than once. I did not, however, immediately buy his book. I recognized that it was primarily aimed at a different sort of audience than me.

Thirsting for God captures Matthew Gallatin’s personal journey through different Christian traditions and eventually into Orthodoxy, however it is framed as something of an apologetic for Orthodoxy aimed at Protestants, and the particular objections that most modern Protestants would raise. While I ended up Protestant, that’s mostly accidental rather than deliberate and I’ve never really embraced everything it means to be Protestant. I’ve sometimes jokingly referred to myself as the Accidental Christian and Reluctant Baptist (or vice versa).

The fundamental story of Protestantism (and this is true across all the tens of thousands of strands) is that at some point in its history the Church wandered from its true course as established by the apostles and lost its way. Each of the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations and non-denominations thus believe they are living and acting as the Church ought. Now, that particular description is most often used for those strands that are labeled Restorationist. However, the Restorationists simply push the time of apostasy all the way back to at or near the first century. They are the most extreme. However, every Protestant strand has begun because somebody at some point said the Church is off-track. Here’s how it “ought” to be done.

I never found that story compelling. Yes, the Church is composed of broken and sinful people, but it is not merely those people or we have nothing to say to the world around us. Moreover, if you really look at the historical settings and claims most of them aren’t very credible. Even the ones that arose in response to some real problems, like Luther, didn’t actually reconnect to anything historical in the Church. In a number of fundamental ways, he essentially reinvented a Christianity that did not exist before him. In fact, the origin of just about every distinctly Protestant belief can be traced to a particular person at a particular time over the last five hundred years or so. And I have too much of a historical bent not to notice that fact.

Matthew Gallatin became aware of Christ’s presence from a young age as a dirt-poor Appalachian farm boy. As he grew older, he began a love affair with theology and at the age of thirteen he and his parents became convinced that Seventh-Day Adventism held the truth of Christian doctrine and practice. He eventually went to an Adventist college where in depth study began to deconstruct his belief in Adventism. His turning point, in some ways like that of Frederica Mathewes-Green, came from a voice welling up inside him. Frederica Mathewes-Green was told that Jesus was her life and that those other things — they were not her life. (I can strongly empathize with her story.) Matthew Gallatin’s question was different. Do you know what you believe? Is what you believe the truth? I can empathize with that as well.

His first move over the course of five years was from Seventh-Day Adventism to Protestant “fundamentalism” and their commitment to the Bible “as it reads.” But, as we know, those strands of Protestantism are filled with their own divisions and thousands of different “simple” readings of the Bible. And in the midst of that he wondered where to find love, a question which led him to the charismatics — among whom he eventually became a pastor. Matthew has an interesting line at this point I want to share. “Sometimes I think I might still be a charismatic, were it not for the fact that I was also a pastor.”

It was at that point that the journey that would eventually end up in Orthodoxy began.