The following is an excerpt from Conversations with My Inner Atheist by Randal Rauser. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
I grew up in a Pentecostal church that was dominated by a focus on victorious Christian living. We reminded ourselves of the fact every time we would greet each other with this question, “Do you have the victory, brother?” “Sister, are you victorious today?” The answer, of course, was always a hearty “Amen!”
An implication of always having the victory was that you’ve basically got your Christian faith sorted out. Granted, you may still have some unanswered questions—after all, there should always be a bit of room for mystery—but you don’t have any nagging doubts, any questions that keep you up at night. You don’t have to worry about that because you have the victory!
I soon discovered that this focus on faith and conviction and the minimization of doubt and questioning that came with it, was not just a trait of Pentecostals: it was a hallmark of conservative Christianity more generally. Evangelicals and fundamentalists alike would regularly share their confidence in the great things of God. They grew up in a church that valorized certainty and rejected doubt.
Once Christians recognize the limits of this view of the world, many of them toss certainty altogether. While I understand where they are coming from, I don’t think certainty is a problem in itself. In my view, certainty can journey with doubt, confidence can welcome questioning, and together they can work to create a healthy and balanced Christian community.
Consider the metaphor of the ballast and the sails of a sailboat. The ballast keeps the vessel steady, but the sails capture the wind that drives it forward. The effective sailboat needs both the ballast and the sails. So it is with the Christian community. That community is healthiest when we have both the steadying ballast of calming confidence and certainty as well as the sails that catch the wind of nagging doubts and incisive questioning.
While I am grateful for the steadying ballast of conviction and certainty that I received in my upbringing, few people are always living in victory, and there’s nothing wrong with those who are not. As the metaphor would suggest, a ship that is all ballast and no sail goes nowhere. And a Christian community that is all certainty and confidence and no doubt or questioning is likewise in danger of getting caught in the doldrums.
The truth is, I’d rather accept that there are some questions I may never answer rather than return to the simple days where I thought my answers were beyond question. The revolution comes in recognizing that that’s what it means to raise the sail and catch the wind. It means giving up control and being willing to live into the questions as they appear on the horizon.
So how does one go about raising their sail? In this book, I propose doing so by listening to that voice within, the one that presses doubts and poses questions and often remains dissatisfied with the answers. I call it My Inner Atheist—Mia for short. It’s the voice that I learned to silence years ago when I was all about certainty and confidence and ever more answers packed like ballast into the bottom of my boat. I have gradually learned to listen to Mia more closely and to consider seriously the doubts she presses and the questions she poses. And I’ve learned that sometimes when Mia is dissatisfied with the answers, maybe I should be as well.
Perhaps you’ve heard of strawmanning, the fallacy of taking an opponent’s view and presenting it in a weak form and then rejecting that weak form as if it were the only version on offer. Steelmanning is the opposite: it consists of taking the views of one’s opponent and presenting them in the strongest light possible. Steelmanning is nothing more than Christian hospitality put into action with respect to the questions raised by skeptics and doubters.
While I think steelmanning is a necessary application of the Golden Rule, it always carries a risk that you might find yourself being persuaded by your own sympathetic defense of an objection. In fact, you might even change your own views as a result. The truth is that raising your sail means giving up some control but for anyone genuinely concerned about the pursuit of truth, I think these are risks well worth taking.
I have come to believe that the willingness to embark on this risky conversation is actually central to faithful and mature Christian discipleship. God gave his people the name Israel because they are those who wrestle with God (Genesis 32:22-32). As Christians we have also been invited into this radical life of intellectual honesty that embraces questions and wrestles with doubts.
When you are free to wrestle with God through questions and doubts, you show the depth of your relationship with God. The fact that you are not afraid to have the “tough conversation” is itself indicative of piety, trust, and intimacy with God. That’s what relationship looks like. That’s what it means to be true Israel. And that’s always worth the risk.
Praise for Conversations with My Inner Atheist
“This is exactly the kind of book Christian apologists should be writing. Randal Rauser is one of the most interesting and thoughtful current Christian apologists and philosophers. While he is more theologically progressive than I am, he tackles the toughest questions with honesty and transparency, and I learn something every time I read or listen to him. This is the third Rauser book I’ve read, and it is the best.”
“Well-written. Educational yet entertaining. Every Christian should buy this book to learn the newest and best apologetic defenses of his faith. Every ex-Christian should read this book to confirm the wisdom of his decision to leave this supernatural belief system. The book is written as a two person conversation between Rauser and his collective doubts about his faith, which he refers to as “Mia”. Mia confronts Rauser, time and time again, with the most common criticisms of Christianity … Rauser masterfully answers or deflects each criticism with very clever rebuttals.”
“Randal Rauser has a helpful, unique take on a lot of different apologetics issues and you see that in this book. If you enjoyed his other books and his blog posts, you will likely enjoy this book as well. The “atheist” in this book is not lame by any means—she hits him hard and doesn’t let him get away with anything in her rebuttals to his answers. I think the depth of these conversations show how much Randal has examined his own beliefs critically. The book covers some rare but very interesting topics that you might not find in another more typical apologetics book.”
About the Author
Randal Rauser is a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion. He is driven by apologetic concerns and above all by the tireless pursuit of truth. The downside is that this requires him to recognize when he is wrong (which is often) for truth is complex and it offers us no guarantees that we shall always find it. At the same time, Randal does not despair of finding truth, for he believes that in a profound sense Jesus Christ is the truth.