Being Faithfully UnReligious by Russell E. Saltzman
Far from being a “religious” person, I think of myself primarily as an ex-atheist. But just as there’s no such thing as an ex-alcoholic — only an always recovering alcoholic — so I am, as a rule, a recovering atheist. I can recall my conversion to atheism with the same clarity of a Born Again Christian, down to the date and the hour if I search my memory. It was a visceral incident, carried later by a stern intellectualism.
. . . My recovery from atheism is in the day-by-day category. Unlike my born again-like conversion to atheism, my re-conversion to faith was a gradual drift, drifting along to the gradual place where I was surprised to find myself a believer, and even more staggered to sense a call to pastoral ministry.
. . . My faith didn’t begin in religion; it came out of left field. I was doing work for a master’s degree in history at the University of Kansas. It seems, so I learned, that real history has real consequences. One may feel and sense and judge the results of real events. This is what makes reading “alternative” histories — “what if” speculations — fun, and occasionally disturbing. It is a chancy life, a “for want of a nail” arrangement.
Historical events are open to interpretation even while the event itself is undisputed. Was it really Harry Truman’s bellicosity that launched the Cold War? Maybe, maybe not, but there you go regardless; we had a Cold War. Unbidden, then, this question began rattling around: If there were no resurrection, how’d we end up with, you know, the Church?
This rising conviction that the disciples encountered something entirely inexplicable led to my belief that Jesus had been raised and the Church, such as she is, is the explosive residue of a real event. Ah, but what if the Church interpretation is wrong? Did the disciples figure things out accurately? I tested this frankly hoping to find something to shake it, reading The Passover Plot among other things. I still enjoy a good book focused on debunking the resurrection of Jesus — and maybe for the same reason — but the explanations typically end up more convoluted than the simplest account: A dead Jesus showed himself live before his followers.
That’s how I ended up worshiping “Whoever It Was Who Raised Our Lord Jesus from Death.” A rather long name, I know, so I’ll just go with God. Mine was not a particularly religious experience, to be sure. But maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about “getting” religion. Maybe being an ex-atheist — today — is enough.