Tim Prowse, a former United Methodist minister, has an extraordinarily honest exchange with Sam Harris at Sam Harris’s website. Here’s Prowse recounting to Harris how the practice of critical thinking brought him to a loss of faith:
An interesting thing happened while I was studying at East Texas Baptist University: I was told not to read Rudolf Bultmann. I asked myself: Why? What were they protecting me from? I picked up Bultmann’s work, and that decision is the catalyst that ultimately paved the road to today. Throughout my educational journey, which culminated in an Ordination from the United Methodist Church where I’ve served for seventeen years, I’ve continued to ask the question “Why?”
Ironically, it was seminary that inaugurated my leap of unfaith. It was so much easier to believe when living in an uncritical, unquestioning, naïve state. Seminary training with its demands for rigorous and intentional study and reflection coupled with its values of reason and critical inquiry began to undermine my naïveté. I discovered theologians, philosophers and authors I never knew existed. I found their questions stimulating but their answers often unsatisfying. For example, the Bible is rife with vileness evidenced by stories of sexual exploitation, mass murder and arbitrary mayhem. How do we harmonize this fact with the conception of an all-loving, all-knowing God? While many have undertaken to answer this question even in erudite fashion, I found their answers lacking. Once I concluded that the Bible was a thoroughly human product and the God it purports does not exist, other church teachings, such as communion and baptism, unraveled rather quickly. To quote Nietzsche, I was seeing through a different “perspective” – a perspective based on critical thinking, reason and deduction. By honing these skills over time, reason and critical thinking became my primary tools and faith quickly diminished. Ultimately, these tools led to the undoing of my faith rather than the strengthening of it.
As a teenager, I too had a taboo encounter with Rudolf Bultmann, which led to my reading of yet other authors despised (or worse, unknown) by the pastors at my Protestant church.
If liberal people really want to have an impact on stupidity in America, maybe they should focus less on taking prayers out of schools, and focus more on putting the formal teaching of critical thinking methods in.
Who can seriously say that critical thinking methods shouldn’t be part of a school’s curriculum? To do so would expose oneself, straight-off, as an ignoramus.
But grant only this single concession—that critical thinking methods should be self-consciously taught in schools—and so many other things, such as fundamentalist intellectual narrowness, would begin to take care of themselves.