For perhaps a year when I was around 20 I considered myself a five-point Calvinist. This are summarized in TULIP, which stands for:
Total Depravity – The corruption of sin extends to every aspect of each person’s life. Reason, compassion and every other capacity of a human being is damaged and thus unreliable.
Unconditional Election – God has chosen who to save, and there is nothing an individual can do to add to or otherwise change that. A clear implication of this, not accepted by all, is that if God has chosen who to save, he has therefore also chosen who to damn.
Limited Atonement – The death of Jesus on the cross was as a substitute, atoning for the sins of God’s elect. Christ did not die for all people in any sense, but rather only for those predestined for salvation.
Irresistible Grace – There is no doubt that those who God elected for salvation will both be called and will respond to his grace.
Perseverance of the Saints – The called of God, redeemed by his grace through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross, will never fall completely away. It is impossible.
While there is a strong internal logic in this theology, and there are passages of the canon that can be taken to justify it, it is far from the theology of the early church. Until Augustine of Hippo such a theology would have seemed alien, and moreso the further back in time you go. Further, it seems to me that these five points hang together of necessity, and each one is necessary to the others. It makes no sense to me that there are so many Southern Baptists in the United States who have adopted ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ but not the other points.
Rather than provide a point-by-point response from the Bible to the above, I’d rather address this to former Christians and those on the edge of leaving. There are other options for your mental flower garden than the dark TULIP of Calvinism. If you are ready to leave behind faith in the unseen and pursue a life of meaning and value that embraces reason, why not consider Humanism. As the American Humanist Association describes it:
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Now, I offered you a specific flower in the title of this post. The
Four petals make up our pansy, representing the different facets of our organization. From the left (clockwise) we begin with Freethought. Atheist, Skeptic, Agnostic, Humanist, non-theist, Bright, or yet uncategorized non-believer, we all have the desire to live a life free of dogma. At the top of our flower is what we think has been missing from many secular organizations and meet-ups to date – Fellowship. It goes beyond socialization. It encompasses outreach, volunteerism, advancing shared goals and enriching the lives of our communities.
Although we don’t always agree, as freethinkers tend to be opinionated, we think Friendship and respecting each other as individuals, is important. We hope our gatherings allow for the fostering of meaningful relationships between people of like (and sometimes “not so like”) minds. Our last petal is the representation of Family – defined by your own situation. We do not judge. We come together as a family, a family of families, with diverse cultures and unique backgrounds. In the center lies a unifying childlike representation of our future. It is owned by all and serves as a reminder that what we do has an impact on those that come after us. Together this union of ideas creates our unique brand of fellowship.
If you are a clergyperson who no longer believes, consider connecting with The Clergy Project. It’s completely anonymous, in that no one outside of the project will know you’re involved unless you tell them (I’m openly a member).
Whether or not you’ve ever been in formal ministry, you don’t have to go it alone as a former believer. There are options out there, some of which I listed in this post from a year ago: ‘Church’ Options for Non-Theists. Have a look as well at my Secular Resources page.
In a beautiful short video entitled ‘Down the Stream,’ we get a glimpse into life for children in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. They live their lives on boats, yet dream of land.
It has been well-argued by many that it is deeply ethnocentric for Westerners to judge lifestyles elsewhere in the world by their own cultural standards. What works in one society may not be for all. And yet, there are some rights that humanity has formally agreed upon as being for all people everywhere. Hearing these children talk about what they want for themselves, it’s clear that their hopes are for what is most fundamental to human dignity: education, health and professions.
One of the key aims of Humanism that has attracted me since first I came out of theism is to promote human flourishing. Many people struggle to survive. Others merely live. As a Humanist, I want to help people flourish.
Videos like this one call for two responses from those who care:
Promotion of human rights through international organizations.
The first of those involves communicating with elected officials and encouraging active participation by one’s nation in the United Nations, as well as advocating for immigration and refugee policies that are more favorable to those who need them.
The second is the sort of thing Christians have been doing for years, and which many Humanists and religious liberals have avoided in favor of seeking government action. With groups like Foundation Beyond Belief we are seeing a rise of interest among secular people in taking direct action to alleviate poverty, promote human rights and eradicate oppression.
Down the Stream shows us only a brief moment in the lives of a handful of children in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. There are many more like them there and around the world. Kids whose dreams are like those of any others, if only they could establish themselves on solid land.
Mike Aus and Helen Stringer were guests recently on Mormon Stories, a podcast focused on the ex-Mormon community. Mike is with Houston Oasis, and Helen with Kansas City Oasis. These are secular communities similar to Ethical Culture or Sunday Assembly. Being interviewed by John Dehlin was almost ideal, because as a former Mormon he shows very little familiarity with other Christian denominations, and his knowledge of the history of Humanism seems about as foggy. What this means is that he asked great, fundamental questions that make this interview accessible and worthwhile for a wider audience. Not much in the way of prior familiarity with the subject is needed to get a lot out of the discussion.
The first point that I drew from the interview is that Oasis is weekly, and this is a requirement for their communities. Helen and Mike explained it as necessary for people to see each other on a regular basis for connections to be made and community to form. From my experience organizing for Sunday Assembly NYC, I can definitely see how this is the case. We only meet once a month, and attempts to use other events through the month to maintain connections were not terribly fruitful. It turns out that a lot of people will show up for a gathering with a talk and singalong, but not much else.
Second, that brings me to ‘singalongs.’ Personally, I never cared for singing in church. I only started joining in on congregational songs after I left the Catholic Church and joined a Protestant congregation. I only sang then because I felt obligated to God somehow. Now I’m good with it, and actually get irrated most about visiting Christian churches because I can’t sing along to their hymns (it would imply agreement with the lyrics). That said, there are actually a lot of people who want congregational singing, even in secular gatherings. At every assembly in New York City for the past few months, different people have eitehr asked if there would be ‘singalongs’ or said they wanted more singing than we have. One man actually stormed out with his daughters when he realized our special assembly with a guest singer wasn’t a singalong. Just this month a man came in late, asked me whether we would have ‘a singalong,’ and left almost immediately because he apparently thought he’d missed it. He hadn’t.
All that said, Oasis doesn’t plan congregational singing into their gatherings. While this is supposed to be a key activity in Sunday Assembly, it’s nearly absent in Oasis. They say it only happens if the band playing on a particular Sunday happens to play a familiar song that people know, and they join in. This makes me wonder if Oasis could ever be established in NYC, given that we have an abundance of song-free Humanist gatherings.
Third, this question of competing events is a major issue for New York City. This is a Meetup town, with every topic under the sun available to be discussed or celebrated. From tech to religion and everything in between and beyond, you can find your niche in NYC. The trouble is that this abundance of activities puts constraints on the time and attention of potential attendees.
However, within the atheist/Humanist/Freethought/Skeptic community of NYC, nothing else like Sunday Assembly exists. There are plenty of Humanist and Skeptic groups and events, but none that do what Sunday Assembly or Oasis do. This is important, because as Helen commented in the interview above, when she and her husband started looking for a secular social group for their family, all they found were ‘old white men’ and ‘activists.’ This is very true of what’s around in New York.
Fourth and finally, though some atheists complain about the idea of a secular community that resembles church, it’s incredibly important to note that if they don’t like it, THEY DON’T HAVE TO ATTEND. No one, so far as I know, is arguing that Sunday Assembly, Ethical Culture, Oasis, or any similar group is for everyone, or a necessity. For some of us, it’s deeply meaninful and worthwhile to get together with like-minded people for support, encouragment and service opportunities.