A Critique of Pastor Dave Schmelzer's Central Thesis in His Book, Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist

Pastor Dave Schmelzer wrote a book called Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. He and I have been interviewed together on a very popular and respectable Christian program called The Things That Matter Most (publication date March 1st). For a Christian program that's supposed to be fair with both sides, it wasn't. You'll be able to see for yourselves when they post it.

For now let me offer a critique of Pastor Dave Schmelzer's Four Stage faith typology, which can be read in detail right here. If you want to fully understand my critique you need to read what he wrote.

My critique:

This is all rhetoric and completely irrelevant to the truth claims of Christianity in any meaningful sense.

Dave improperly inserts atheism into a rebellious questioning third stage. But there are children who are brought up in good homes without any religious faith at all. Surely someone cannot say these children have been living all of their lives in the third rebellious stage. They were merely raised as non-believers. Only if they question their own atheism could someone say they are in stage three. So to be consistent, the third rebellious stage for the Christian would more properly describe backsliding or questioning Christians, since this is a spiritual four stage process, not a non-spiritual one.

The bottom line is that I could just as easily take these four stages of spiritual growth and apply them to Mormons.

Stage 1: criminal Mormons

Stage 2: rules-based Mormons

Stage 3: rebellious Mormons

Stage 4: mystical Mormons

So this has nothing to do with the truth claims of Mormonism or of Christianity.

The whole reason Dave argues this way is because he claims to have a relationship with an imaginary being. To me that’s representative of young children who play pretend games, not adult thinking, anyway.

To read our further exchange on the value of religious experience read this, leaving him with no reason to believe at all.

[Edited for additional comment below]

I think the four stage process Peck proposes simply represents a four stage personal maturity process. We never ever completely leave any of the earlier stages--sometimes they are necessary.

You can apply this maturity process to spirituality if you want to, or skepticism, or knowledge in general, so long as you keep the focus the same. I could just as easily say that all Christians are in stage 3 from a non-spiritual focus, for I think they are rebelling against the evidence, you see, and I do!

I know of skeptics who think Christians are stupid. I don't consider that a mature stage 4 understanding of the issues that separate us at all, although, I grant that some believers are stupid, as are some skeptics. There are people who think they have all the answers on both sides of this debate, and it is a debate! It's a debate about what to believe. It's a debate about what rules we should live by. And I have every right to rebel against the rules Christians set up, just as Christians might rebel against the rules I might set up. In fact, if atheism were the dominant view in society I could claim that Christians are stuck in stage 3! So you cannot circumvent this whole debate by punting to stage 4 faith. The debate remains regardless.

Let's be done then with this as a focus for describing anything about the content of what a person believes or knows. It doesn't at all. It merely describes the stages that mature adults go through. Some adults never move on to a more mature understanding, I know. But one can have a mature understanding of Islam or Mormonism or atheism too. That's why I describe myself as an "agnostic atheist." I'm not sure there isn't a God but I don't think so. Now that's a true stage 4 if there ever was one! Which Christian here would say the same thing? Which one would say "I think there is a God but I'm not sure"?


strangebrew said...

'For a Christian program that's supposed to be fair with both sides, it wasn't.'

The only thing that is surprising is that you anticipated fairness!
Christianity does not 'do' fairness...the dogma does not allow it..their premise is to weak!
And god obviously requires all the bias 'good Christians can muster'

It simply displays that the Christian religion is skin deep...it does not stand up to well to either criticism or exposure of the mythological inanity that is its stock in trade!

Anonymous said...

Hi John, and company.

For what it's worth, I'd love for there to be more fairness in public discussions on these topics. I have a question, as well as some links.

First, Dave has opened up a post on his blog related to this topic. I thought it only fair to provide a cross-referenced link.

Now I have a question. Related to my very similar comment on Dave's post, I was wondering...

How do you view the formation of worldviews? I seems to me that a person's worldview does not form in a vacuum. It does not come into being ex nihilo. It develops. [Developmental theory does seem to emerge, does it not?]

In fact, John, from what I know about you, you yourself transitioned through probably three stages. You were once uneducated, like me, without any prescriptive worldview. Later you opted into a religious, theistic worldview. And still later you rejected theism in favor of atheism, based on (presumably) reasonable analysis. It seems to me that you lived through three developmental stages, and have arrived at a set of epistemological propositions about the world that surrounds you which you are convinced to be true.

I do not fault you for that, not at all, nor should I.

However, it seems plain as day to me that you lived through three stages that could be described by a developmental model. Admittedly, such a model might look a bit different from a secular perspective. Most significantly, the secular equivalent would reject the existence of a fourth stage, which Dave argues in favor of.

So I'm wondering, do you reject a developmental model for the formation of worldview, as opposed to spirituality? If so, why?

Anonymous said...

I do not reject the goal of having a developmental model for the formation of worldview at all. I am just uninterested in it. For me the truth claims of worldviews are what I focus on.


Sinbad said...

Which Christian here would say the same thing? Which one would say "I think there is a God but I'm not sure"?[Raises hand]

I would.