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Freethought Association of West Michigan
Meeting Minutes for October 24, 2001, #102


The balance of our 2001 calendar is as follows:
Ø NOVEMBER 14: "Keep Your Hands Off of My Genitalia; The Biology and
Socio-political Controversy Surrounding Genital Modification (Mutilation) and
Intersex (Hermaphroditic) Individuals," presented by Dr. Gregory Forbes,
director, Science Education Center, Grand Rapids Community College.
Ø NOVEMBER 28: "The Jewish Approach to Living," presented by Rabbi David
Krishef, Ahavas Israel.
Ø DECEMBER 12: WINTER SOLSTICE PARTY. Location to be announced.
Ø No meeting scheduled for Dec. 26.
The above meetings and events are all scheduled for 7PM.

***PLEASE NOTE and plan on attending the FAOWM Halloween Party on OCTOBER 27
at 7:30PM at Don Hansen's condo: 2713 Cedar Grove N., in Jenison, MI. Parking
is available on 28th avenue, halfway between Rosewood and Port Sheldon
streets at the recreation center, across from the cemetery. Transportation to
the condo from there will be provided. If your last initial falls between A
and L, bring a small snack to pass. If it falls between M and Z, bring a
small dessert to pass. Coffee and tea will be available; otherwise bring
your own beverage. Halloween costumes are welcome. If attending or for
further info and directions, leave Don a msg. @ #662-9326, or e-mail
@Dhansen649@aol.com.

Note that an upcoming presentation by Karen Armstrong has been cancelled.

G.R.A.C.E. is hosting an interfaith Thanksgiving gathering this month. Due in
large part to Rabbi Krishef's (see Nov. 28 topic) suggestion to the
ecumenical group, FAOWM was invited to attend along with the various faith
traditions. A representative from each religious organization or group will
speak on their practices regarding Thanksgiving. Jeff S. will present the
non-belief perspective, giving us a voice and alternative viewpoint to be
shared.

An article in the "Religion" section of the Grand Rapids Press appeared
recently, regarding the Robert Pennock presentation on October 10 at the
Calkins Science Center lecture hall. His lecture was based on his book "The
Tower of Babel" which refuted the claims of the new creationists, highlighted
their diversity of beliefs, and exposed their strategies to circumvent Church
- State separation issues in public education.

The Michigan Atheists State Convention will be held November 3, '01 at the
Holiday Inn, Levonia, West, in Levonia, MI. FAX #: 734-464-1596; TEL. #:
734-464-1300.

It was announced that the GRCC will soon begin charging us a $75 per meeting
rental fee for our meeting space there in the Calkins Science Center. This
would severely limit our budget for attracting and securing special guest
speakers and other projects as well as basic operating budget. Jeff asked for
suggestions of where we might relocate. Among the ideas offered were the Kent
Community Hospital, the Wyoming Public Library, Schuler Books and the Masonic
Library. Pros and cons were weighed. We are primarily looking for an
affordable place offering stability and reliability for two meetings per
month at consistent times of each month.

GRTV has begun broadcasting the Dan Barker ("Losing Faith in Faith")
presentation the former evangelical pastor and now atheist member of the
Freedom From Religion Foundation gave locally. A tape will be available for
distribution among FAOWM members, for those who cannot get this cable access
broadcast.

Jeff mentioned that he visited the other individual (elderly and in poor
health now) besides he and Don H., who 1st met at the nascent freethinkers
gathering that would evolve into our group.

Our topic for this meeting was "A Calvinist Contemplates Walking Away From
Faith" and was presented by Dr. Ruth Tucker, professor at Calvin Seminary,
and author of 14 books. Dr. (Ruth) Tucker, noting the good attendance for
this meeting (approx.55 ppl.), quipped that she hoped people had not confused
her with the famous speaker on sex topics, Dr. Ruth W. One of Dr. Tucker's
books, "Walking Away From Faith," regards those who, like Dan Barker (
included in this publication), were once devoutly religious believers but who
broke from this perspective to one of non-theism. The content of this book
and her personal anecdotes and observations formed the basis of this
presentation.

Tucker, who is the Associate Professor of Missiology, first felt her call to
mission at age 13. The middle child of 5, she was the only one who became
immersed in the faith that her siblings had all walked away from. She began
to harbor festering doubts about certain doctrinal content, however, with the
Canons being the biggest instigator of skepticism. What ultimately was
included in this body of ecclesiastical laws, she knew, had been decided on
by fallible men. There was room for error and what if the "wrong books" had
been inserted, she wondered.

Professor Tucker disclosed that she had had no other doctrinal doubts or
peripheral problems with biblically revealed truths. Rather, her main
uncertainty zeroed in directly on the heart of the matter: the existence of
God Itself. Findings by science seemed to continually push back this Being
from a personal, proximal one-to a less and less involved entity far off
somewhere on the outskirts of the deep vastness of space. Its heavenly home
tucked away somewhere among the billions of galaxies. These "Night
Sky" ponderings made her wish to live in the old, pre-scientific times, with
the attendant beliefs of geocentrism and a small, personal system of an Earth
lit by the greater and lesser lights of Sun and Moon, all for the benefit of
Man. She had begun to teach religious tenets, but it wasn't until she stopped
and really critically investigated the subject matter that she discovered
sharp challenges to her religious beliefs and practices.

The next big blow to test her faith was the death of her mother in an auto
accident. Her mother, while a believer, never prayed aloud or made any formal
testimony to her faith. Had she gone to heaven? Had Ruth failed her, by not
saving her soul before her untimely demise? This single, acutely painful
event jelled her more nebulous doubts, powerfully challenging her belief in
an All-Powerful God. She had witnessed a portrayal of a court trial of God
for the events of the Holocaust. Tucker conducted her own trial of the Deity
before her students, charging God with "manslaughter." To her at this time,
the heavenly Father who sees every sparrow that falls had essentially
"killed" her blameless mother.

It was the "silence of God" that was most disturbing to Dr. Tucker. She had a
friend who heard God's voice routinely but Ruth, herself, found only a mute
deity that she could not closely connect with. Along these lines, Dr. Tucker
mentioned that about half of the Psalms deal with the apparent indifference
and apathy of a God hidden from humanity. After quoting some examples, she
said that very few Christian writers have dealt with the negative side of
doubt. Instead, they generally designate it as a "gift" along with belief.
This forms the basis of her book; the progression from faith to unbelief,
with many accounts of those who have left the fold feeling liberated and
joyful in their departure. Professor Tucker said that she understands this,
but that she, herself, will not leave her faith. In an interesting phrase,
she said: "I would be doomed if my faith depended upon my belief."

For Dr. Tucker, this "concoction of men" and "belief in something you know
ain't true" to quote others regarding faith, is not based on reason and
critical examination of doctrines but more upon tradition and more numinous,
anagogical associations. She readily admits to the emotional aspects of her
faith, feeling that reason can take one only so far. She summed this state up
by another quote: "(I am a) heathen in my reason and a Christian with my
whole heart." Dr. Tucker also gave us a few quotes and examples of the now
buoyed, now sinking quality of faith and its analogy to a "life preserver of
the heart" that one clings to all the harder as the stormy seas of reason
buffet it. "God does not depend on (her) faith or (her) doubt," she asserted.

Professor Tucker listed five myths about people who have abandoned their
faith. 1) "They are angry and rebellious." She found virtually no evidence
for this. Rather, people felt sorrow, initially. They experienced pain, not
anger. 2) "They can be argued back into faith." Because the person leaving
his/her faith has carefully and painstakingly dissected the reasons behind
this major worldview change, the Christian who proffers apologetics is more
likely to convert into non-belief in such an exchange. 3) "Doubters can find
help at Christian colleges and seminaries." This is not seen to be the case.
4) "They abandon their faith so that they can go out and sin freely." Our
presenter pointed out that too many people who profess faith sin more often
than non-believers and that this argument was not a motivational issue in
de-converting from faith. 5) "They were never sincere Christians to begin
with." She has come across example after example of the most earnest and
devout of evangelical, fundamentalist believers who became non-theists. Dan
Barker was mentioned as just one of these erstwhile believers.

She then listed some actual reasons given for "losing faith in faith."
Science & philosophy has eroded the faith of many former believers. The sense
of absence of any caring God was another. Another reason was the
myth-shattering experience of the critical examination of the scriptures.
Disappointment in God (Its apparent apathy or antipathy to Its creation) and
the hypocrisy of Christians were two other reasons listed. And finally, the
perception of a dogmatic anti-feminist and anti-homosexual stance of
fundamentalist Christianity was given for why some relinquish their faith.

A Calvinist, Dr. Tucker believes in a "sovereign God" that assumes doubt and
faith equally. Her faith is more a matter of "God's grace" than "personal
will." The meaning, purpose, comfort and fulfillment she derives from the
story of Jesus, his death and resurrection is a key part of her life and who
she is, going directly to her emotional/affective state of being.

Codifying once again. Dr. Tucker gave examples of responses to the issue of
belief and non-belief: Christian faith is not proven by rational proofs and
apologetics. The faithful base their beliefs on a celebration of the "mystery
of the Christian faith." It is the poetic, not the noetic sensibilities that
are called up. Faith is a response to the tensions and challenges in life,
not a means to solve them. Tucker, borrowing from Flannery O'Connor, spoke of
the naturalness of unbelief and how the assault on a young mind from advanced
education can displace the faith instilled in childhood, but that they are
too young to decide on unbelief. She offered thoughts on the "winteriness" of
faith that stands alongside the atheist in finding a silent God but with this
cooler search uncovering a faith nonetheless, opposed to the "summery
plaudits" of those whose faith runs warmer. Professor Tucker talked cogently
about the sense of community and familiar traditions-the hymns, stories and
rituals that ensconce faith and the connection with ancestors and future
bridges built with younger relatives as being important elements in faith.
And she talked about the necessity of the apostate turning his skepticism on
unbelief to the same degree as he does on belief.

There was a marvelous writing by Stephen Dunn that Dr. Tucker shared with us
called "At the Smithville Methodist Church" that speaks, in part, of
outgrowing faith intellectually but subsuming it emotionally. One line from
it reads: "Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes. / You can't say to your
child/ 'Evolution loves you.' The story stinks/ of extinction and nothing/
exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have/ a wonderful story for my
child/ and she was beaming. All the way home in the/ car she sang the songs,
/ occasionally standing up for Jesus/ There was nothing to do/ but drive,
ride it out, sing along/ in silence."

There was a discussion following Dr. Tucker's presentation. Bishop Shelby
Spong and his book "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" were mentioned and
his dilemma of being in his official role in an Episcopal church, yet seeing
folly in many faith claims. We discussed the importance of the institution-
the structure- to believers. We can't change the institution, so we must
change ourselves, or else walk away from it.

A psychologist in our group talked of the psychological needs that are met by
faith. He said that non-believers can't say: "I'll pray for you" or other
comforting (if devoid of meaning to the atheist) words. We can feel the sense
of peace that a hymn offers but not honestly believe the message or have this
message to impart to others. We have a harder time creating a sense of
community, and have no deep traditions to hang onto.

The issue of predestination was brought up by one group member and how to
reconcile this Calvinist tenet with genuine ethical considerations. Tucker
spoke of finding peace from a sovereign God and placing a high priority on
"good works." When talking of the sense of praying to a predetermining God,
she said that one does not so much alter the plan of the Creator as one
creates changes in him/herself. "We are in a partnership with God," Dr.
Tucker stated.

Some other thoughts and questions posed to Dr. Tucker were regarded how she
defined "faith" as opposed to "belief," the evil done out of emotional faith
to uncritical acceptance of religious doctrines (such as was seen on
September 11 and all throughout human history), is faith itself a "good"
thing? Or is it only faith in what the given believer thinks is the one
"true" belief system? Is it a false dichotomy to set up faith as either a
belief in God or not? Is there value in group prayer even if there certainty
of a divine listener? Tucker spoke of the sense of community and shared
caring focused toward a person or issue and the intrinsic value therein. Does
the believer hope his faith is true, or does he believe it on faith? As she
stated earlier, the solving of vexing challenges to one's faith is not the
core concern, rather it is the giving in to the mystery and giving one's
doubts and even unbelief to a sovereign God." With my naked intellect I
cannot believe." Professor Tucker was forthcoming in stating that she swam
the shallow waters-enjoying the play of tensions, struggles, etc., on the
surface, rather than trying to plumb the murky depths. Talk arose of one's
faith emanating from an "accident of birth(place)." How could all the diverse
belief systems just in Christianity, let alone other faiths, all have it
right? "There is truth in all religions but only one path to Christ," was our
speaker's response. As to all the harm done out of dogmatic belief, Tucker
quoted another writer who spoke of how Christians have turned many away by
their bludgeoning use of faith and would garner more sympathetic supporters
if they "…didn't make Christianity so darned unattractive." Another quip was
that just one week with Southern Baptists would ensure no new conversions.

Secretary: Charles LaRue.

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