Editor’s Note: Yuriy Stasyuk presents his response to criticism expressed in written commentaries following his interview to Dr. Oleg Turlac, editor of Christian Megapolis. We publish it in hope for a cordial and meaningful dialogue between our authors and readers that at times hold opposite views. Christian Megapolis is a platform for meaningful dialogue regarding the matters of church and culture.
I would like to begin by thanking the editorial staff at Christian Megapolis for graciously inviting me to participate in this candid discourse and to those who took the time to kindly engage with the original publication. There were some thoughtful responses that added helpful insight to this conversation within the Slavic Christian community, for this I am sincerely thankful. Alas, many of the replies only increased the stigma and mischaracterization of nonbelief.
I had initially agreed to tell my story in a Christian publication in order to spark courteous and stimulating dialogue on these weighty topics amongst Slavic believers, and did not anticipate responding. My intent was to share the journey of a young man who is not a Christian because of what philosopher of religion J.L. Schellenberg calls “nonresistant nonbelief.” I wanted to do this in a lucid and humble manner – without pompous boasting or supercilious mockery – so that Christians may see that people like myself are not their vile enemies. I chose to concentrate on narrating my personal experience instead of trying to prove my position with tedious or punctilious philosophical arguments. I did this to show that – like everyone else – I am just a human being trying to make sense of the cosmos, not a nefarious blasphemer filled with hatred for the gods. Like everyone else, I too am a sojourner wrestling with the great mysteries and incomprehensible vastness of our sublime and unfathomable universe.
Sadly, this was misunderstood and replaced by superfluous antagonism. Thus it is my hope to clarify the misconceptions and blot out the misrepresentations that inhibit reasonable discourse between both sides of the naturalism/supernaturalism divide. I will reply in three parts, first a brief commentary on some of the common themes found in comments submitted by readers, then in future essays, responses to Victor Manzhul and Victor Shlenkin.
QUENCHING THE INQUISITION’S FLAME – A REPLY TO COMMON MISUNDERSTANDINGS
While I understand that the people whose comments contained these themes are probably not intentionally malevolent nor foolish, I feel compelled to highlight the misunderstandings to make way for more meaningful discourse.
1. “You weren’t a true born again Christian, just a fake religious person who inherited a tradition.”
To make this uncharitable assessment, someone has to think that without meeting me they are a better judge of my inner thought life than I am, which I find very presumptuous. If the emotional, personal, and existential weight of my faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ did not make me a Christian, then I must warn you, Christians everywhere need to be afraid. Billions are in danger, for neither I, nor my Pentecostal brethren, nor my Baptist brethren, nor the people who became Christians through my preaching, were able to discern that I wasn’t a true Christian. This is because I was passionately and relentlessly devoted to that which I believed was the “beauty of the elective, justifying, sanctifying work of Christ, through the power of the cross, by the grace of God for the glory of God.” I did not simply adopt religious traditions and ordinances, there was a time when I sincerely felt that I was born again. If my testimony does not convince you, nor should any other conversion testimony told from the pulpit.
However, if someone still insists that I was not truly a Christian, this leads us to a problem. Throughout the years, no one discerned (not even I) that I was false Christian, thus it makes evaluating the soteriological status of any believer impossible. If I was a false Christian, how could someone have realized this? What are the criteria for demarcating a true Christian from a false Christian? If having complete confidence in Christ and utter devotion to the gospel is not indicative of your salvific standing, then what is? Fruits of repentance? I certainly exemplified these through performing good deeds, loving God, loving my neighbor, fighting sin, and preaching the gospel. Persevering to the end? If that’s the case, then we have absolutely no way to evaluate who is a true Christian until death, which makes this whole conversation futile.
2. “You were just very proud,” ”you were raised to prominence too fast,” or “you are doing this for fame”
I’m not going to claim to be humble, for that too would be a boast. What I will say is that losing my faith dramatically reduced the level of respect I had from my peers. In a short while I went from preaching before thousands to social exile. In fact, the main reason I was so afraid to tell anyone about my struggles is the stigma levelled against doubters. On top of that, the choice to abandon my faith was a fiery chastisement of my self-assurance. Do you know how difficult it is to admit to your ego that you were wrong for so many years? Do you know how humbling it is to realize your epistemic limitations? Most people have not had these kinds of experiences, they acquire their foundational beliefs with their mother’s milk and never even consider “what if I am wrong?”
I find the attempt to explain away someone’s deconversion by appealing to immoral or reprehensible behavior is disingenuous. I don’t think these comments are caused by intentional malice, but I would guess that they are a reactionary mental defence to reduce the level of cognitive dissonance. If people can simply explain away my story as the result of evil intentions, they don’t have to face difficult questions about the hiddenness of God or consider the possibility that they too could one day leave Christianity. And that can be frightening and uncomfortable.
Finally, regardless of someone’s intentions, I think this is an uncharitable approach to discussing these big questions. As an analogy, it would be equivalent to an atheist saying that “the only reason you became a Christian, is because you are too cowardly to face reality without an imaginary crutch.” Insults are not helpful in understanding the nature of truth. I would never make such a move and it pains me to see others use it, regardless of what side they’re on.
3. “You didn’t understand Christianity, but were an ignorant fundamentalist”
First, let’s note that the original publication of Dixon and Torrey’s “The Fundamentals” hedged on five things (a) the inerrancy of the Bible, (b) the literal nature of the biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ’s miracles and the creation account in Genesis, (c) the virgin birth of Christ, (d) the bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ, and (e) the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross. I would venture a guess that almost all Slavic Evangelicals today adhere to all of these.
Second, it’s certainly true that that I believed in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scripture, and boldly contended that the text was both inspired and completely free of error. Does that make me a fundamentalist whose version of Christianity is erroneous? If that’s the case, then the small handful of sophisticated theologians that adhere to a more progressive view of inspiration ought to be afraid, for they are in the extreme minority, especially in the Slavic Christian community. Making this argument would lead us to conclude that the majority of evangelical Christians have an incorrect theology of the Bible, which would be a significant and strange conclusion.
Third, I can’t blame anyone for not knowing this, as I only covered the basics in the original interview, however, I wasn’t the naive fundamentalist brute that some have made me out to be. While my views were indeed theologically conservative, I was a “moderate evangelical” who had at one time or another considered N.T. Wright’s partial preterist theology, Peter Enn’s “incarnational model” for the Scripture, and even tolerated C.S. Lewis’ views on progressive revelation (that the earlier strata of the Hebrew Bible are more myth than history). The irony is that when I tell Christians about some of my more progressive theological views, the explanation for my deconversion is often “you were too liberal,” but when I concentrate on the more conservative views, the reply is “you were too conservative.” Likewise, when I speak about my voracious theological studies, I’m told “you tried to make it too intellectual, Christianity is about faith not intellect” but when I focus on the childlike zeal of my faith, I’m told “you weren’t intellectual enough.” Sadly, it seems like Aristotle’s “golden mean” is impossible to attain.
4. “Why do atheists talk about God the most? Stop talking about religion; go drink, eat, and be merry”
I am always confused about these kinds of comments, as they seem to indicate a serious misunderstanding of the ethics of philosophical discourse, and the nature of human curiosity.
Whatever views you have about reality, you will always have to reject the alternatives. If you are a polytheist, every time you say “there are many gods” you are rejecting monotheism. If you are a theist, every time you say “there is a god” you are rejecting atheism. If you are atheist, every time you say “natural things are the only kinds of things that exist” you are rejecting theism. It is unfair to demand that someone not reject alternative viewpoints, if you yourself reject alternative viewpoints.
In my former Christian context, testimonies of converts from atheism and non-Christian religions were highly regarded. When a Muslim converts to Christian faith and spends his life traveling the country, telling others about that Islam is not true but Christianity is, he is applauded and revered. Christian apologists who give lectures on the “folly of atheism” or the “lie of evolution,” are treated as heroes and produce many best-selling books and lecture series. Yet, when I talk about these same questions, but move in the opposite direction, the response is antagonistic and stigmatizing. This is a patent double standard.
The other interesting revelation from these types of comments is the presupposition that people leave religion because of hedonism (the love of pleasure). I cannot count how many times people have asked me why I don’t spend more time on seeking personal carnal pleasure instead of reading and discussing the history and philosophy of religion. The fact is, I don’t care as much for simple hedonistic pleasures as I do for engaging with the big metaphysical questions of reality. To me these are fascinating, important, and they captivate my deepest curiosity. Some people love classical cars, others follow sports, so why is it so unethical for someone to spend their free time discussing these metaphysical questions? Finally, if Christians try to convince me to change my mind, because they love me, and want me to accept what they see is truth, why is it foolish and immoral for me to do exactly the same? I don’t see any difference.
Photo: Yuriy Stasyuk.
© 2016. All rights reserved. Yuriy Stasyuk and Christian Megapolis. No part of this interview can be published in any form without written permission of Yuri Stasyuk and Christian Megapolis.
Disclaimer: Christian Megapolis does not necessarily agree with views expressed in published materials and bears no responsibility for personal position of authors expressed in them. It promotes free and intelligent discussion of matters related to Christian faith and culture.