I am happy to announce that I will be doing a new course, Why I Am Not a Christian: How Leaving the Faith Led to a Life of More Meaning and Purpose. I explain it all below, but as spoilers: it is July 23, it will involve four talks and a Q&A, and it is free. You can sign up for it at bartehrman.com/lifeafterfaith
The course will be unlike any other I have given in any context. It will indeed cover major issues involving the New Testament, early Christianity, and the formation of the Christian religion. But it will also be deeply personal and autobiographical. I became a scholar because of my Christian faith; then my Christian faith changed because of my scholarship. My “quest for truth” led me to evangelical Christianity; and then – as I grew, matured, learned, and reflected – it led me to away from the Christian faith.
In this course of lectures I explain how it all happened and discuss what the results were – for my scholarship, my understanding of Jesus, the New Testament and early Christianity. But also for me personally, on the social, emotional and professional level.
The course consists of four 40-45 minute talks, to be followed by a long question and answer period. I will be covering topics I have never lectured on or written about and tell stories I have never publicly shared.
My goal will not be to deconvert or convert anyone. It will be to discuss the problems of the Christian faith as I came to see them through a serious and sustained engagement. I will explain why, in the end, these problems led me to to leave the faith and how my move into agnosticism/atheism created emotional struggles and personal turmoil. But I will also explain why, in the end, my move away from faith led me to a happier, more satisfied, and more meaningful life.
No one’s life is like any other’s. Each of us has to make decisions about what to think, what to believe, and how to live. My view is that these decisions should be made thoughtfully, not unreflectively. “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates, in Plato’s Apology). I came to embrace that view already as a committed evangelical, and it ended up leading me in directions I never expected. My hope is not that this course will convince others to end up where I did, but it is to encourage others to follow a similar path, thoughtfully, honestly, and earnestly pursuing the questions of what to believe and how to live, to find a life of meaning and purpose.
My courses are not directly connected to the blog, even though, of course, I always inform blog members of them (you can see a list at bartehrman.com. Normally there is a ticket fee, but this one is a freebie. If you’re interested, go to http://bartehrman.com/lifeafterfaith
If you know of others who might be interested in such a course, please tell them about it.
Here is a summary of the lectures I’m planning to give.
Lecture One: My Escape from Fundamentalism: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time
When I was “born again” at the age of fifteen, I moved from a nominal / lukewarm faith to hard-core Christianity. Overnight I became committed to the inerrancy of the Bible and everything it teaches. But I also wanted to “follow the truth wherever it leads.” What happens when, after years of post-conversion study, a devout but open-minded person comes to realize the Bible contains contradictions, discrepancies, historical mistakes, and a range of other errors? Is it best to hope the problems will simply all go away? If not, is it possible to rethink what it means to believe without leaving the faith?
In graduate school I felt compelled to change my views about the Bible and some of the major religious beliefs based on it. Not everyone goes that route. In this lecture I discuss why I moved away from a conservative evangelical form of belief to one I thought was more intellectually respectable and honest.
Lecture Two: My Leaving the Faith: Going Where the “Truth” Leads You
A surprising number of people in our world today think that anyone who does not “believe the Bible literally” cannot be a Christian. Historically that is just non-sense. Indeed, most historical scholars of the Bible today recognize its many problems and yet remain committed believers. I was one of them for many years.
But I came to realize that there are even more serious challenges to the Christian faith than the inerrancy of Scripture. The ultimate issue is the existence of God himself: no God, no Christianity. During my years as s a conservative Christian I could (and often did) recite numerous “proofs” for God. Later, as a liberal Christian I didn’t think God was susceptible of proof like a linear equation or law of physics. Like so much else of human life, faith wasn’t based on math or science.
Even so, after a number of years, my faith in God began to crumble. I came to think there was no divine being in and over this world. Very few of my many biblical-scholar friends went that route or, to this day, agree with me. But I felt I had (and have) no choice. In this lecture I explain why.
Lecture Three: The Traumas of Deconversion: Emotional, Social, and Eschatological (Think: Fears of Afterlife!)
Christian faith is far, far more than a set of beliefs about God, Christ, sin, salvation, the nature of the world, the Bible, and so on. Like so many other committed Christians, in my church years I was surrounded by an all-embracing web of Christian significance and meaning deeply affecting my family life, friendships, social activities, morality, personal motivations, decisions about how to live, emotions, and on and on. Leaving the faith can affect nearly every part of a person’s life. Could it could possibly be worth it?
In addition, there was a very serious religious issue. The fear of hell had long been driven into me. What if I left the faith and it turned out I was simply wrong. Was I in danger of eternal torment?
In short, becoming an agnostic/atheist was a frightening prospect for me and at first I wasn’t sure if was worth it. When I made the leap, though, I quickly realized it was, despite the long term emotional and personal turmoil. In this lecture I explain why.
Lecture Four: Is There Life After Faith? What Agnosticism/Atheism Means for Well-Being, Happiness, and a Meaningful Existence.
Can there be any purpose and meaning in life if there is no God? Most believers say the answer is absolutely no. Some atheists agree, even as they struggle on with their lives. For me that was the greatest fear while questioning my faith, before leaving it.
Would I have any reason to be concerned about the lives of others and not just about myself? My entire ethical existence had always been tied up in this view — Christ wants us to love others. But what would happen when I no longer believed Christ was the son of God, let alone that there was any God at all? Would I have any guidance at all for my life? Would I be cast to the winds with no moral compass? Would my life be random anarchy?
More than that, how could there be any meaning in a world without God? If we are merely material creatures “in a material world,” with no divinely given purpose or destination, how can we have any goals, hopes, and ultimate aspirations? How can there be any meaning at all?
On the personal level, would I become completely apathetic? A sensual cretin? A nihilist? Would I live in angst and deep despair?
Once I became an agnostic/atheist, I realized all these fears were completely groundless. I actually came to appreciate and enjoy life more, to find deeper meaning in this brief existence, and to be even more concerned for the lives and well-being of others. I am more happy and content. How does that work? In this lecture I try to explain.