My readers may be acquainted with one of these three calls for me to desist in the followup discussion to Mr. Rob Robinson’s critical review of my book.
Another of these calls came from a good longtime friend, responding to my post entitled, “Do all things work together for our good?” He expressed concern that I was being overly critical of Christians and wondered why I should continue to oppose Christianity, given all the good that Christians do.
The third challenge came in an e-mail today from a friend of my father’s. This individual very gently wondered how I could continue to publicize my views without jeopardizing my relationship with my wife and family.
This spate of challenges has led me to do a little introspection. Am I out of line? Should I, as Mr. Robinson enjoined me to do, just slip away gently and avoid slandering the name of Jesus any further? Should I refrain from criticizing Christianity as my longtime friend advised me, knowing that Christians engage in many constructive acts of compassion throughout the world? Should I silence myself in the interest of preserving greater harmony with my wife and family?
I did tell my longtime friend I would aim to balance my blog posts to include less criticism of Christianity and more topics of interest to those who are struggling to live out their post-deconversion lives, which in any case is the primary reason I decided to maintain a blog. But I told him that I would not refrain from criticism of Christianity and Christians when I feel criticism is especially warranted, just as Christian leaders like Falwell, Dobson, and Colson have not refrained from criticism of secularism. Though I disagree with many of their positions, I fully recognize their prerogative to express their views, and I would hope that those who disagree with me will recognize the right of us unbelievers to express ours. Is it more honorable for Colson to critique humanism than for me to critique Christianity? What if his worldview, as sincerely as he might hold it, is fundamentally mistaken, as I believe it to be? Should all of us muzzle ourselves out of deference to the sensibilities of believers (who think themselves to be in the right), even if we think ourselves instead to be in the right? Without invoking some form of exceptionalism, I fail to see any grounds for asking unbelievers to be less vocal than believers in disseminating their views.
As for Mr. Robinson’s call for me to slip away quietly to avoid slandering Jesus any more than I’ve already done, I have responded to him as much as (or more than) I feel is productive. It is not my intent to slander anyone, but recognizing that Jesus did not return when he (or New Testament writers) said he would is not slander; it’s a simple recognition of what happened. That publicizing such a recognition should disturb anyone is regrettable, and I would prefer not to offend anyone, but this consideration should not be a reason to suppress the truth. If there are Christians who disagree with my conclusions, I’m glad to discuss these matters in a civil manner, but there’s no need to accuse me of slander until it can be demonstrated that I’m in fact guilty of it.
Of the three recent challenges I’ve received, my father’s friend’s gentle prodding about how my writing affects my family hit closest to home. I am extremely fortunate that my wife has been so accommodating to me. But not wanting to take anything for granted, I spoke with her this afternoon, assuring her that I would quit writing in a heartbeat if she felt that my activities were driving a wedge between us. I have not done anything in secret; she has read many of my posts and responses to those posts, and though she disagrees with much of what I say, she appreciates the general tone and clarity of my writing. She allows for the possibility that I’m helping some individuals to be less jaded about their experience than they might otherwise might be, so she wants me to feel free to continue. Did I mention I have a wonderful wife? However, if I had a crystal ball, and if I could see that my activities were going to drive us apart in the end, this would be my final post. Absent such a revelation, I will continue to write to support those who are passing through or have passed through the tumultuous process of deconversion. Why? Because I know how hard the process is, compounded by the well-meaning but hurtful reactions of believers who don’t understand what it’s like to want to believe but are nonetheless unable to believe. Believers, until you’re surrounded by people who think you’re worthy of hell, you cannot understand what motivates us unbelievers to speak out and oppose without flinching the doctrine of eternal damnation (which, like other religious doctrines, we consider to be man-made).
In the interest of lightening up my blog posts (which I feel have been overly heavy recently), I’ve decided to dig up some of our experiences as missionaries and to share them with my readers as a glimpse into our past lives. In this installment, I’ll include excerpts from an e-mail update we sent out to friends and family from France in the summer of 1996. We had recently completed our year of French study in Belgium in June and would have moved on to Africa immediately from there if it hadn’t been for our (well, Charlene’s) pregnancy with our second son, due in August 1996. To bridge the time over the summer, I accepted a position teaching linguistics at a Wycliffe Bible Translator-affiliated linguistic institute housed in a Bible school north of Paris. Here’s part of the e-mail update from July 8, shortly after our arrival at the Bible school, including the adventures of making a train connection from Brussels to Paris to Senlis (25 miles north of Paris) with me carrying our 18-month old son David in a pouch on my belly while Charlene was seven months pregnant with our second son:
DATE: 7/8/96 11:06 PM
Re: Daniels' Monthly Update - July 1996
THE ADVENTURESOME TRIP (Written by Charlene) I'll try to make the long story of our trip short. A friend from church drove us to the train station [in Brussels], but because we were a little late and there was a traffic jam right near the station, we only made it on the train with less than one minute to spare!!!! That was WAY too close for comfort, but we sure are thankful that someone was obviously praying for us at that time since otherwise I'm sure we would have missed it.
In Paris we had to catch another local train but had problems getting our stuff through a narrow ticketed entry-way (the elevator was out of order) and when we finally got the help of three employees, that train was about to leave as well. Ken jumped on the train with David and a few bags, but the train doors automatically closed behind him, leaving me behind with 2/3rds of the baggage!! With the help of several "angels" along the way, I was able to make it finally to our destination on another train without losing too much time [maybe 40 minutes]. I thank God that I could feel His presence and wasn't really upset by the enforced "adventure". I was, though, very glad to see Ken's face and soon after to arrive at our castle [yes, the Bible school was housed in an actual castle!] here in Lamorlaye, 20 miles north of Paris. It turned out that Ken didn’t have his ticket on the leg when he was alone with David, so he had to convince the conductors that he had actually bought one and that it had been left behind. Thankfully they eventually believed him and he didn’t have to pay a penalty!
PHONETICS CLASS (Written by Ken) With God’s help I’ve made it through my first week of teaching! It’s been three years since I’ve studied phonetics, so I have to work with another teacher to relearn each day what I’ve forgotten. With three hours of teaching daily and the rest of the working day filled with preparation, I was next to exhaustion this past week, but I’ve been able to get a lot of good rest this weekend. All the students in my class are Scandinavians--3 Norwegians, a Finn, and a Dane. Since they’re all non-native speakers of French headed for missionary work in Africa, I feel less self-conscious about my French than if they were native speakers. So far classes have gone reasonably well, apart from my first hour when I was disorganized with papers scattered everywhere!
THE PEOPLE HERE (Written by Charlene) There are some 50 students and staff and though a good number of them know English, we do speak in French almost all the time we are out of our room and it's been great! There are about 10 Francophone students, 10 other Europeans, 5 Africans, and 2 Asians. We're making friends and even found another couple who are going to Emmaus Bible Institute in Switzerland in the fall like us! God is good. We plan to be here until September 6, then we’ll spend 5 days in Belgium before heading to Switzerland September 11.
Thanks to those of you who are continuing to pray for us. If you have questions or just want to drop us a line, we’re no more than a few keyclicks away.
Ken & Char Daniels