I Cannot, and Will Not, Believe in That God: Libraries as Candles in the Dark

The reason I am now doing much better is that, after a decade and a half of struggling to remain in an authoritarian faith that entails fundamentally inhumane theology, I let go of it entirely. I stopped accepting that I needed to feel like an impossible person who shouldn’t exist, and I embarked—haltingly at first, and then with greater confidence—on a path of self-acceptance and truth-telling.

In truth, while hypocrisy in the church is a huge problem, it is far from the only reason we’re leaving. We’re leaving because of the theology itself, a theology that in so many cases we tried as hard as we could to hold on to even as it was destroying us. And by the way, the existence of those visible discussions and resources for exvangelicals you seem to fear are contributing to the church’s loss of a generation? They are literally saving the lives of young people like you and I once were, pondering suicide as they face a crisis of faith.

Evangelicals hold to an anti-pluralist, anti-democratic theology of inequality that has contributed to abuse and trauma in so many cases. Why is it so hard for you to see, Dr. Moore, that you simply cannot have a prevailing doctrine of “biblical patriarchy” without the pervasive abuse of women and children? Evangelicals also hold to a theology that simply makes no space for women who refuse to accept unequal status with men, for single women (except perhaps on the mission field), or for LGBTQ folks like myself who are told that our experience of ourselves is “rebellious” and that we shouldn’t exist. All the abuses inherent to authoritarian systems about which exvies have stories-and the scars to back them up-are logical consequences of evangelical theology and the culture it supports.

But is the preacher who beats his daughter for dancing really an aberration in evangelical subculture? Quite the opposite, for he accurately reflects the character of the authoritarian god of the evangelical cosmos, with his arbitrary and unjust social hierarchies and his insistence that eternal conscious torment for even the most minor of temporal infractions is moral. These beliefs are inherently abusive.

I cannot, and will not, believe in that god, and if I still believed in him, it is very possible that I would have killed myself by now.

Source: Russell Moore had a crisis of faith, but it didn’t help him understand ex-evangelicals | Flux

“I cannot, and will not, believe in that god.”

I recall my days and nights of spiritual torment as a kid trying to align Southern Baptism with my own burgeoning moral autonomy and sense of self. I couldn’t. One night, around age 10 or 11, I “let go of it entirely”. In that moment of letting go, I grasped my moral autonomy. I held to it as I quietly rejected the religion of my upbringing and the people who perpetuated it. The moral, ethical, and intellectual dissonance ebbed, and I never invited it back.

I turned instead to the far more satisfying spirituality found in the skepticism and wonder of science and the local library.

But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.

Source: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The best thing my parents ever did for me was park me in the local library all those days. In its stacks, I found candles in the dark. I found a secular education. I found an antidote to dissonance and fear of eternal conscious torment.

Previously,

Have you really read all these?: Anti-libraries and Knowledge

No, I haven’t read all of the books I own cover-to-cover. I read a couple books a week all the way through. I strategically skim and search a couple more. A lot can be learned from the introduction and opening chapters of a book, so I habitually download, search, and read samples from the Kindle store. Highlights and notes from all this reading go into DEVONthink and Ulysses.

PDFs, ebooks, and web archives also go in DEVONthink, where I tag everything. DEVONthink’s AI augmented search helps me find connections among sources, including ones I haven’t read yet.

All of the partially read and unread text I collect and curate form an anti-library, one that has been useful in my writing and research on neurodiversity, disability, tech ethics, and education.

Ulysses and DEVONthink are my zettelkasten, anti-library, research database, cognitive net, and thinking space. No, I haven’t read everything that they and my bookshelves hold, but I’m constantly discovering, rediscovering, and connecting ideas while creating the conditions for serendipity.

Someone walks into your house and sees your many books on your many bookshelves. Have you really read all these? they ask. This person does not understand knowledge. A good library is comprised in large part by books you haven’t read, making it something you can turn to when you don’t know something. He calls it: the Anti-Library.

I remember once in college, the pride I felt about being able to write an entire research paper with stuff from my own anti-library. We all have books and papers that we haven’t read yet. Instead of feeling guilty, you should see them as an opportunity: know they’re available to you if you ever need them.

This is the mark you must aim for as a researcher, to not only have enough material - and to know where the rest of what you haven’t read will be located - on hand to do your work. You must build a library and an anti-library now… before you have an emergency presentation or a shot at a popular guest post.

Source: The 5-Step Research Method I Used For Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, and Tucker Max

Some questions are only asked by people with a fundamental misunderstanding. The friends who walk into my office and ask, “have you read all of these” miss the point of books.

In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes our relationship between books and knowledge using the legendary Italian writer Umberto Eco (1932-2016).

The writer Umberro Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Taleb adds:

We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. Our relationship with the unknown causes the very problem Taleb is famous for contextualizing: the black swan. Because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

The antidote to this overconfidence boils down to our relationship with knowledge. The anti-scholar, as Taleb refers to it, is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.”

My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know.

Source: The Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are The Most Important