Another new member for the blog!

My name is Darrin Rasberry, and I am a student at Iowa State University and a personal friend of John's. I am a nontheist and a former Christian, and I hope I can get to know all the rest of you (on both sides of the debate) much better as people and as deep thinkers about important ideas. Other than theology and philosophy, I study mathematics, a subject in which I currently hold a Master's and which I teach to college level students; I additionally am a storm chaser (my primary hobby) and lover of literature and fantasy/sci-fi games. I just crossed the big 3-0, but I don't feel a hair over 18, and likely never will.

Unlike many other nontheists, my loss of faith happened literally overnight in an emotional fit. I deconverted to Deism and then Agnosticism when I was 18, having been convinced that the Bible preached that Calvinism "stuff" which, being from Wichita Falls, Texas originally, I thought died out close to the last time the Puritans were mentioned in my pre-1865 American History class. Convinced I was being fed lies, I left the fold, vowed to declare to God that I denied the "evils of Calvinism" for Him. Imagine all you hold dear being swept from you in one night - that's what happened that evening. The pain was worse than losing any relative who has died; worse than losing those friends and family who did not appreciate my heretical move; worse than anything I've experienced so far in life. Like the few "Calvinist deconverts" I've met, my values stuck for a while, but I could never see any way out of what I saw when I actually read the Bible completely on my own for the first time.

Many Arminian holders to the P in TULIP will likely doubt all of this, which is fine, but for a moment I'd ask you to let go of your control beliefs and think about the anguish you'd feel if somehow someone were to show you something that would undermine all that you believed in just a few hours. Yes, I received Christ and was baptized at the age of seven; I prayed, believed, told others, lived as much of the regenerated life as I could. But my heart couldn't hold Calvinism, and even though my arguments have expanded well beyond that subject (arguments which may - or may not! - have caused me to deconvert later), that emotional response ended everything. I am not hiding from my sins - being grounded in morals from a philosophical basis, I know I've done them, and if I owe to God for them then I will accept my just desserts (or if Methodism is right, say "phew!"). But I have a mind for truth, not conditionality, and like John, I have not seen sufficient responses to the non-Christian position, on many different grounds far outside of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate.

Looking at different arguments for God outside of Scripture reference, I eventually came to atheism from my Deist/Agnostic beliefs. With my "examine everything theologically major" neutral point of approach, I must honestly call myself agnostic to other significant theological God(s) (i.e. from some Islam sects I haven't studied, Hinduism, Judaism, theological Buddhism, etc.), so I now call myself "nontheist." I'll regain the "atheist" tag when I examine all the major Gods which have examinable definitions to begin with; any conversion to any religion is not probable by a long shot, but hey, if I go Section 8 and start preaching the word of Brahma or whatever, I'll spare the audience and start my own blog. ;)


Unlike many in the recent "New Atheist" movement, I am interested in approaching the ideas of many religions from a neutral position (or, if you're Calvinist, from as neutral of a position as possible). After all, if we ask Christians to apply the Outsider Test to their worldview, we ought to be consistent and apply it to ourselves. I traveled to the evangelical conference in Providence with John as a result of this thought, and got to meet and befriend the most respected evidentialist apologists out there - including an opportunity to talk Kalam, the Moral Argument, and Calvinism with Bill Craig and Paul Copan two-on-one for over an hour and a half. I made good friends with them and many others, including Mary Jo and Roger Sharp, whom I hope I convince to share a message board with the idea of holding civil standards of scholarly discussion.

John and I went to one of the top places in the world where we could find people to help us see how nonbelievers are seen from the Fundamentalist Christian "outside," and not only did we survive, but we still "nonbelieved" afterward! I would challenge not only Christians to take John's challenge, but my fellow nontheists as well, so long as the people you find aren't of the "no religious neutrality" types of Calvinists or their "alpha-male" counterparts that roam as an undesirable subset of the Arminian and Catholic camps.

Once you see that the good-hearted and open Christian scholars, although mistaken, are not wholly unreasonable, you'll open yourself to better standards of research and respect and reach a level of thought more in tune with a Quentin Smith, Hector Avalos, or Bart Ehrman rather than a Dawkins or Hitchens. The latter two are, of course, every bit as smart as the former, but the same level of respect and dedication to consistent, philosophical thought and scholarly analysis is quite different, and it shows.

John mentioned I may have trouble with the title of this blog, as my ultimate aim isn't to debunk Christianity, but merely to analyze the ideas Christianity (or any religion) present critically and temper those ideas with the greatest minds the opposition has to offer. The reason I am interested in your religion is that it is both a very important, deep claim, and also it serves as probably the best portrait available of how people both think and feel.

I ultimately decided to join this blog because there is one area where I become quite rabid in regards to fundamentalist Christianity, or at least with some portions of the group: politics. It is unfortunate that some of the best minds in the field of Christian scholarship advocate ideas such as Dominionism and Theonomy; even though they are minority rule, we may be a terrorist attack or two away from those who believe America is a Christian Nation finally getting their way and, say, stoning all of us nonbelievers in a public square (see Dr. Gary North).

Nonetheless, my postings and replies to questions on that particular subject will be scant - their theology is the deeper basis. I do not think I could ever debunk a two thousand year old religion completely out of existence, and I do not wish to "deconvert" a single person (although that won't be a necessarily awful side-effect ...), but if I moved one advocate for theocracy to a more liberal system which caused her to abandon that dangerous notion, I'd have accomplished one of my goals. Other than that, my posts should be considered "discussing Christianity," in accordance to the approach I wish to take.

I differ with John on quite a few points, but John is still the atheist who holds my point of view as close as I've personally found. To introduce a bit of controversy to some of the nonbelieving crowd here to clarify why I feel a bit isolated as the kind of atheist unwilling to walk with the "brights," here are some controversial points in my own worldview (i.e. "control beliefs!"):

*A belief in a knowable reality and groundable morality;

*A belief in human free will not described either by the common notions of "compatible" or "libertarian";

*A belief that Christ was a historical person, based mainly on the explosion of the early Church and the inability of the gigantic genetic fallacies inherent in the Christ Myth hypothesis to explain the historical Christ away, although with the belief that the historical Christ was distorted by legend;

*A belief that Paul authored a few of the letters attributed to his name, including I Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Colossians, etc., and perhaps served as the primary theological influence for the Book of John;

*A belief that engaging less informed, more preachy believers (see: Ray Comfort) in a nice but decisive manner about nonbelief is necessary, given their word - not the scholar's word - is what is being preached to the "masses" who have the power to gang up on us at he polling station.

My writings may appear critical, even harsh; however, I intend to attack no person unless first attacked (I will even try to withhold on this point unless good people I know, like John or Hector, are unfairly personally attacked).

As long as nothing is forced on anyone via law, I take Dr. Will Provine's point of view in that recent Creationist documentary which probably saw more time in the cutting room than all its theatre airtime combined, "Expelled":

"I don't care what they end up as being. I don't care if they end up being religious Young-Earth Creationists if they have thought their way through the issues to get there. I'm all for them."


Thanks for enduring this (rather long) post. I leave the floor to you now. You may ask any question you like, so long as it is civil; as long as John approves, all marks of overriding arrogance and personal attack beyond an occasional hiccup of temper or attitude for obvious nonserious show from either side will be removed by me from any of the blog posts I make. I'm here for the facts - not the fights. I hope you will be, too, and I'm interested in the discussion of the evidences and arguments from both sides.

-Darrin Rasberry


P.S. Some may realize I am unafraid to post my real name (yes, "Rasberry" is my real name, take a look at the Iowa State Mathematics grad student page!) and that any potential job, unlike, say, a self-employed writer like John's, would carry the risk of being rejected based on a quick search of my name from any potential employer. This is especially "risky" given that I'm looking in the storm-rich area of the Midwest for teaching, so I can drive my car into tornadoes on stormy afternoons right after work. If an employer rejected me for having an approach to religion that their top scholars respected, though, it would come out sooner or later - and better sooner, because I would not work for someone willing to decide an unrelated job position on religion in the first place. I am unafraid of where I stand in regards to religion, and having my name as-is here displays that IMO. Speaking openly also helps me remember to hold my tongue and continue my pledge to treat everyone fairly. I would invite as many nonbelievers as are reasonably able to introduce themselves with their real names as well, if they have not done so already ...