Postscript to Teresa MacBain’s eisstasy

Yesterday I wrote about the pastor-turned-atheist-turned pastor again, Teresa MacBain (Teresa MacBain’s Eisstasy).

Since writing the post, I’ve been able to listen to her sermon telling her story (“Grace Redefined”), available from her website.

(I know…I should have listened to this first)

It confirms my conclusions, but I found it fascinating listening, and it filled in most of the blanks for me. If you have a spare half hour, I’d recommend listening.

It confirms that her reasons for trying atheism were emotionally driven and her reasons for returning are arguably even more so.

Even though Teresa and I are both former pastors, our stories are fundamentally different.

 

For me, it is all about knowing what is true and accepting that (despite the costs).

For Teresa, it is all about being known and being accepted.

 

Obviously, I believe Teresa is wrong in her conclusions, but I do think I understand her and (for what it’s worth) I can accept that.

When her life turned tough (and it really did), she no longer felt loved by God and so concluded that there was no god.  But when life went from bad to worse in the wake of her public apostasy (and the disgrace of the Harvard debacle), and Teresa realised it was no easy thing to find community outside the church, she admits that she needed community, and so went to a progressive church again to find it.

And she found it.

And the acceptance was wonderful.

And although she doesn’t give any hints that she has resolved any of the intellectual difficulties with Christian belief, those were never the key things for her anyway, and she has chosen to ignore them, because acceptance (grace) is more important to her.

 

After watching the video her story all makes perfect sense.

The video rings true, and it is excellent to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit.  There is only one main point in the video which didn’t ring true, and that is her claim that she didn’t understand Grace beforehand.

While this is always possible, I suspect this is instead a convenient refashioning of what she really means, which is that she had never quite experienced how wonderful grace and acceptance feels, until now.  I’d be surprised if we were to look through her sermon archive, if we didn’t find a traditional protestant understanding of Grace being preached – “it’s not what we do, but what God has done for us in Jesus”.  But for Teresa to be able to say that she only just understands that now is an easy way of explaining why she went wrong and of now preaching that message anew.

 

Her revelation about grace is not new to me, though.  Her ‘redefinition’ is the evangelical standard one (even if a little light on the Jesus bit for those of my heritage).  I’ve preached an entire sermon series on Grace – but now I understand both the flaws in that doctrine and why even if you ignore those flaws the entire Christian system collapses in any case.

 

Having seen the video, I don’t think Teresa wants the limelight.  I think she just wants to be part of an accepting community who will love her despite her flaws, and whom she can love and minister to.

It’s an important reminder that community really matters – not just to Teresa, but to everyone.

Even though it’s sad at one level that fear, pain and brokenness caused Teresa’s will to falter and to stumble back to the security of the fold, I think I also agree with Galen Broaddus in his blog post,

But after a great deal of reflection, I’m actually glad that Teresa has returned to her Christian roots.

I don’t mean that in a snarky way, like she wasn’t worthy enough to be “one of us.” The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but conclude that atheism was simply never a good fit for Teresa. She wore her atheism like an ill-fitting set of overalls. I don’t think she was insincere about it, but I do think that her attempt to remake herself from pastor to atheist leader never quite worked.

 

There is absolutely nothing about Teresa’s fall to grace that gives me pause – no new evidence or information that calls my reasoning or conclusions into question.

I think Teresa will be happier with this change, because for Teresa, ‘integrity’ and ‘truth’ fall into line behind ‘acceptance’ and ‘love’.

For me, it’s the other way around.

11 thoughts on “Postscript to Teresa MacBain’s eisstasy

    1. Yes and no, Matt.
      I don’t think she’s in a great place, and succumbed to the siren call of community and ‘belonging’.
      I’m fairly sure she hasn’t acted with malice or intent to deceive – my second post covers it a little more.
      There but for the resilience of conscience go I?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PS (I also just realised that your comment was based on ‘my second post’, so my comment above may seem slightly askew – it wasn’t obvious from my phone which post your comment referred, and I thought it was the first post. I realise this is a largely irrelevant comment, but I try to note my errors where I find them.) 🙂

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  1. Personally, I have a lot of respect and interest in some types of progressive Christianity. For me, the key to finding a place within a faith system following deconversion is not to ask whether the Bible is true or false, but to ask “in what sense is this true?”. I would suggest that there are a lot of things within the Christian narrative and Christian community that resonate with reality in a way that the western world’s secular materialism fails to.
    Bottom line is that I think it is entirely possible to make a personal journey which goes from “Conservative Christianity” -> “Atheism” -> “Progressive Christianity” which is not a backflip but continuous growth.
    P.S. This may be a squishy sense of truth, but I also build bridges. If that worries people then I’m happy to provide a list of roads and buildings you should avoid 🙂

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  2. I’ll trust your bridges and roads Alan. 🙂
    Folks define terms differently of course. Some wouldn’t see a necessary incompatiblity between being a progressive Christian and an atheist, since a Venn diagram would accutarely show some (small) overlap between the groups (though that’s not Teresa’s situation).
    And… people do strange things all the time.
    I can see a few ways someone might follow the trajectory you’ve suggested, Alan (discounting lying, since in that case there isn’t really anything to account for).
    At one end, perhaps they were motivated in their atheism primarily by emotional reasons. In which case they could be entirely consistent and change their view for largely emotional reasons. I think this approximates Theresa’s case.
    But I think you’re suggesting something more than this.
    I think you’re suggesting someone could own the label atheist and then could look at the grab bag of things that can be appropriated under the label of progressive Christian, and think: ‘I’ll have that’. I’d call that a ‘Christian of convenience’. They’re not necessarily committed to specific dogma, but find it a convenient shortcut for claiming various ‘Christian principles’, like love and community and a sense that strict materialism is somehow inadequate in accounting for the important things in life. I can understand this, but think it’s ultimately wrong-headed and unnecessary (and so a little intellectually lazy). While it may be useful from a utilitarian or personally pragmatic perspective, it requires ignoring or marginalising the many problems with the Christian system (even the progressive Christian schema) and with theism in general.
    Some will reckon this worth the cost, and i think that’s what you’re suggesting may happen. But I think it will still lead to an incoherent system, and I don’t think it’s necessary to have an incoherent system.
    Then further along that trajectory are those who consciously know it’s a lazy and self duplicitous perspective (rather than those in the second group who have been able to persuade themselves it somehow makes enough sense). At the moment I’d fall into this self aware group were I to attempt to claim the progressive Christian label. The only way I could do it with any integrity is to redefine things so as to be one of those who use it whilst remaining atheist (and even then…). I think this is a confusing and confused way to use the words.
    While I’m very open to new data to inform my thinking, this is where I’m at.
    I haven’t yet found I have to hold a system with known contradictory parts. I will always adjust what I think to fit the available evidence. I am aware that could sound arrogant, but I try to implement it with a humble manner and methodology.
    Always happy to keep thinking and learning and seeing where I’ve misconstrued things or missed something. Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to catch up again when you’re able.
    [This was written on my phone, without being able to look back at your response, so hopefully it makes sense.]

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    1. I’m very impressed you could write a lengthy and cohesive response on a phone 🙂
      My thinking about the value in progressive Christianity is far more than a grab bag of ‘Christian Principles’. I don’t really see too much value in that mainly for the reason that the bast values in Christianity are common to all humanity. You can easily take what you like without adopting the name.
      I have a huge amount of work to get done this morning, but I will try to explain myself more clearly when I get a chance over the weekend.It would be great to catch up again soon, are you free this Sunday?

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      1. Thanks mate.
        Can’t this weekend – we’re off for a few days – but sometime soon. It’s always good to catch up.
        On reflection in the shower just now (ah, the joys of being on holidays), I realised that ‘intellectual laziness’ will only apply in some cases. I think it would apply for me, but I can conceive of cases where that wouldn’t be a major factor at all, but other reasons would dominate instead.
        Anyway, I much prefer off-line conversations, where it’s easier to avoid almost unavoidable straw-manning or oversimplifications.
        Your comment has me curious. 🙂
        Always good to hear different perspectives from thoughtful folks, as we try and nut things out.

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