Fixing my prejudices about religion/faith
July 30, 2017 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I have it in my head that strong (Christian) religious faith is incompatible with being intelligent and/or progressive. I don't see it as rational and I have held ideas that, for example, Barack Obama was just pretending to be religous to be palatable - but now, I don't think this is at all correct. Can you point me towards readings/links to help fix my prejudice?

I don't think it's likely that I'm going to become faithful but people I hugely respect on social media - today, it was Bree and Deray - are religious and they're obviously not dupes and I'd like to find ways to be respectful about this in my own head. Thank you in advance for any input!
posted by ftm to Religion & Philosophy (45 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Well, for Christianity, try the Bible. Parts of it are interesting enough reading, and it's basically the primary source.

incompatible with being intelligent and/or progressive

Which is particularly funny considering the rather progressive teachings of Jesus... (To be clear, I don't think that mischaracterization is unwarranted, just err, well, a mischaracterization).

You might find that many things you ascribe to your notion of Christianity/religion are anachronisms relegated to share pages with irrelevant nonsense like headcounts of ancient tribes or tax rates for herds of sheep. I.e. things that really have nothing to do with the religion, but instead are just random bits of text wacky fundy people have seized on to suit their current mood or cause du jour.
posted by so fucking future at 1:50 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you might start with reading some books by Jim Wallis or maybe look into getting some back issues of Soujourner's Magazine.
posted by brookeb at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hi there - I'm an atheist, and I don't see that changing, but I've definitely found C.S. Lewis to generally be a good read as far as presenting Christianity as something a reasonable person could come to subscribe to. "the Screwtape Letters" is a fun read in this regard.
posted by aecorwin at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

You could try the works of René Girard (or this excellent website that discusses scripture in light of Girard's theories).
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:59 PM on July 30, 2017

Consider reading Fred Clark's blog, Slacktivist.

Also keep in mind that the loud, vocal christians who make the news tend to be the dumbasses, and there are a lot of people out there whose faith gives them comfort and guides them to do serious charity work but not wave their god around like a flag. Beware of false prophets praying loudly in public places, and all that.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:01 PM on July 30, 2017 [13 favorites]

How about looking up some of the Christian political thinkers of the last century, like Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Leo Tolstoy, Desmond Tutu, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and reading about how their religion informed their work?
posted by hungrytiger at 2:20 PM on July 30, 2017 [19 favorites]

Definitely try Desmond Tutu's 'No Future without Forgiveness'. It is extraordinary to see the levels of compassion and understanding his faith brought him to - even if it is based on a delusion.

Also try 'Religion for Atheists' by Alain de Botton. It skips past the whole 'is religion the Truth?' thing to examine the virtues of religion regardless of its veracity.
posted by matthew.alexander at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm an atheist, and on the face of it religion doesn't make a lot of sense to me. However, every person I know, no matter how intelligent, has some ideas about the world that to me seem illogical. So it doesn't seem like a stretch that someone could be quite wrong about their beliefs in one area, but still be very intelligent in others.

In fact, much of my family is composed of fundamentalists who are very intelligent but as far as I can tell either don't apply their intelligence to their Christianity or do so in a way that I don't understand. And I don't have to.

Reading is good, and I'll be perusing the comments above - but I'd also suggest getting to know some Christians with whom you can have really honest conversations and say plainly "I don't get how you can be a serious believer and also be an intellectual - can you help me understand?" There are people out there who thrive on those discussions.

Articles about progressives motivated by their religious beliefs:

Over 7,000 Catholic nuns unite against 'immoral' GOP health care bill in a public letter to senators

Why I Am Christian And Pro-Choice

If Your Straight Marriage Is Threatened By Gay Marriage, It’s Probably Time To Check Your Marriage

Still fighting the death penalty, Sister Prejean gets pope’s blessing

I'd also suggest Mountains Beyond Mountains (non-fiction) which talks in part about how Dr. Paul Farmer's Christianity fueled his work in providing health care to the poor. And Madeline L'Engle - whatever else you may say about her, she was definitely intelligent.
posted by bunderful at 2:51 PM on July 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

During my life I've had periods where I was curious about religion, though at the end of the day I cannot and will not believe. Reading the Bible has always been relevant, regardless. I can understand why people seek comfort and learning from it. What is nice about the whole Bible is the abundance of knowledge and experience, gathered through generations. The Old Testament has a sort of raw humanity about it that is good for when you are struggling with complex problems, and with the New Testament, the thing I like the best is that there are different points of view telling the same story. For me it's not so much that it adds up to become "true" in a literal sense, more that together they compose a richer narrative in a literary sense where the veracity lies in the acknowledgement that we all experience things differently for different reasons.
All of this was summed up in an experience I had 21 years ago, in the middle of my divorce when I was sitting in my new, empty apartment with no tv and no books so I was listening to a transistor radio, and there was a transmission from a church somewhere. The congregation was leaving, and the journalist asked people, "what is hell?". All of them replied that hell was something they knew from their lived experience, something they wanted to avoid because it was painful. No magic person in the sky or in the core of the earth for them, they had seen hell in their families and among friends.
posted by mumimor at 2:52 PM on July 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Atheist checking in to express some appreciation for Meister Eckhart. The Internet Archive has the book of his work that I once read.
posted by Wobbuffet at 2:53 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Slacktivist recommendation.

James Martin, SJ, has written The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life , which may give you an appreciation for the intellectual side of the Jesuits.

Maybe read about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement?

John Fea
, a professor of history at Messiah College (heavily Mennonite) writes well about religion, politics, and American history.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:57 PM on July 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maybe you need more people in your life who are both Christians and people whose minds you respect.

If you know people that you consider thoughtful, intelligent individuals that you also think are devout, it might be valuable to make time to talk to them about their beliefs and really listen to what they have to say. I always find it slightly tragi-comic to learn some of the things that other people assume I think/value/believe based on what they think the word "Christian" means.
posted by windykites at 3:00 PM on July 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Annie Dillard's book For the Time Being is, in part, the record of a converted Catholic wrestling with the problem of evil. It isn't itself a theodicy, but it's fascinating and certainly enough to disabuse anyone of the caricature of the unreflective Christian. (It seems from her website that in writing the book she may have talked herself out of Catholicism, but she says she "stays near Christianity" all the same.)
posted by Beardman at 3:13 PM on July 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have some discomfort with some of the framing of this article, but it just popped across my Facebook feed, and it may have some ideas that could be helpful to you: Moving beyond ‘whites only’ UU theology: Embracing theists is essential to the cultural and spiritual health of Unitarian Universalism
posted by lazuli at 3:15 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

To an outsider religion seems as though it's professed on a sliding scale from complete belief in the literal truth of religious books to a more metaphorical interpretation to a philosophy. Is there somewhere in that continuum that seems intellectually acceptable?
posted by Botanizer at 3:44 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe check out some of Jimmy Carter's books, for example Living Faith.
posted by gudrun at 3:52 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I might add that the Big Bang theory was developed by an astronomer who was at the same time a prominent Catholic priest. I dare say that this would make cosmology more suspect, rather than less, to the sort of Christians you are thinking about. The Vatican still supports an astronomical observatory.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:55 PM on July 30, 2017

Hm, not really sure where to begin here. Growing up Catholic, I don't really have this same notion so I'm not sure the best way to tackle it. I guess, on its face, I can provide anecdotes against it: while I was doing my undergrad at MIT, I underwent my Sacrament of Confirmation, and in the same class as me was a math professor, who had managed an unbelievable triple major in three hard subjects at MIT and got his PhD at Harvard, I believe. One of my best friends is also brilliant - MIT undergrad in physics, Harvard PhD in physics - and Christian. I think probably my smartest friend, with undergrad/PhD from MIT is also Catholic, albeit not super devout.

Anyway, I think it's a matter of selection bias. Somehow or another you've managed to not mingle with smart Christians. I'm not sure if there's a top university near you, but if so, you should check out their religious services or groups - it would undoubtedly have them.

How do you feel about the Dalai Lama, or maybe even Robert Pirsig? If you can accept that they're intelligent because they come from a different faith tradition, then maybe you can use that as an intuition pump to allow that Christians could be as well. In fact, a lot of Christians practice mindfulness as well.

All growing up I heard that Catholics value education. I went to a private, Catholic elementary school since it was better than my local public school. One order of Catholic priests, Jesuits, are renowned for their research and founded many U.S. universities including Boston University and Georgetown. Notre Dame, while not Jesuit, is also a Catholic research university. And here's a short but interesting article in Scientific American about Jesuits and science I just came across.
posted by losvedir at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I think it's great to seek out readings and social media accounts, but I think it might be even more helpful to get involved with progressive activist communities in your local area in which significant numbers of Christians are involved. I'm thinking about something like Moral Mondays. In my area, many organizations that are working on immigrant and refugee issues are affiliated with Christian churches, even though many immigrants and most refugees in my area are not Christian. I volunteer at one of those agencies, and I was initially a little concerned that I wouldn't feel comfortable there as a non-Christian, but it's been great. (To be honest, it hasn't really changed my impression of Christians, though, because they make it super easy to forget that they're in any way church-affiliated. Pretty much the only time they mentioned it was at new-tutor orientation, when they had a little speech about how they were affiliated with a church, but if you were there because you wanted to convert anyone, then you were in the wrong place and should find a different place to volunteer.) I think the best way to overcome this prejudice is to interact face-to-face with Christians you respect.

It's pretty likely, though, that you already interact face-to-face with Christians you respect, and you just don't know it. Many Christians don't broadcast it because they treat their faith as private, and some others may not broadcast it to you because they've picked up on the fact that you have some hangups.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:12 PM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am a big fan of the social justice work that Dorothy Day did, mentioned above, and have also read some good stuff by William Sloane Coffin, particularly his book The Heart Is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality which specifically tackles things like marriage equality and why everyone, including deeply religious people, should be all for it. You can get a good idea of what it's like by looking at this page.
posted by jessamyn at 4:41 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Robert Alter does great translations of the Hebrew bible (not, as far as I know, anything in the New Testament) which really helped me appreciate the complexity, beauty, and nuance of what seems on the very cursory face of it pretty boring and badly written tripe. Totally changed my outlook on religion in a very positive way.
posted by half life at 6:04 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thirding the Slacktivist. Fred Clark is a progressive evangelical, a seminary graduate, and a fine writer. His blogroll points toward other intelligent people of faith in the blogosphere. The community that's grown in the comments section is made up of Christians, atheists, LGBTQs, all of whom present a united front against trolls and agent provocateurs who would try to disrupt the normal goings-on.

Fred points out that many of the things today's evangelicals are against, abortion most notably, were perfectly acceptable 30 or 40 years ago. My own family has people who were both fully invested in their evangelical faith and in the truths of science.

Fred has also posts absolutely ripping LaHaye/Jenkins execrable Left Behind series of books to shreds, from both theological and writing perspectives. Old posts are published each Friday.
posted by lhauser at 6:06 PM on July 30, 2017

Remembered a few other things:

IAF - the Industrial Areas Foundation - a progressive entity which is largely fueled by religious organizations.

John Shelby Spong is a radical Episcopalian priest who has written several books about progressive Christianity.

Paul Tillich - German American Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian

This Wikipedia entry is actually on non-religious Nobel laureates, but just by looking at the percentages it's clear that many prize winners are religious. If you scroll down to "see also" there are links to pages on Jewish, Muslim and Christian Nobel laureates.

In my previous answer I mentioned that I know several intelligent fundamentalists. It's true that the more fundamentalist people I know tend to be less educated. You can be very, very intelligent and be wrong about a lot of things (Plato thought the sun revolved around the earth, for example). From your position and mine, it seems obvious that Christians are getting something wrong. However, you and I are almost certainly getting some things wrong too - we just have no idea what they are. Thinking of it in this way reminds me to be humble and try not to divide the world into smart people, who think like me, and dumb people, who don't.

I think it's really cool that you posted this question, and that you're recognizing and challenging your assumptions in this way.
posted by bunderful at 6:19 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Slacktivist.
posted by coldhotel at 6:22 PM on July 30, 2017

Unitarian Universalism is a progressive, intelligent, and open-thinking group that welcomes Christians and other people of faith as well as humanists, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and pagans. Here are some articles about UU Christians.
posted by matildaben at 6:52 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

There have been countless Christian radical and progressive activists. Too many to list. But I happened to just be listening to an Against the Grain episode about this very subject. Here: You might also look into Liberation Theology. You are allowed to have bias, everybody does, but best to beat that back with your own rationality, which should tell you "Hey, I'm biased but I'm also wrong about this particular thing." And just remember that before you act on it.
posted by shalom at 7:25 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Part of addressing prejudice is exposing yourself to things that run counter to the prejudice. My suggestions follow. And, I would recommend some practice in humility: You don't know all the answers. Neither do religious people. You are both seeking truth/reality/understanding/life competence and in that you are fellows.

You can find discussions and columns across a range of beliefs at Patheos.

For more conversations starting with, "I don't get how you can be a serious believer and also be an intellectual - can you help me understand?" try mainline Protestant denominations or a United Church of Christ congregation -- they will probably relate well to you and you will be more likely to feel accepted as an atheist in the conversation. You can also find people in Evangelical churches who want to have that conversation, but they might also be more prone to also encourage you to toward a specific conclusion (i.e., that Christianity is true and worth following)--ymmv depending on how comfortable you feel with it. You could look up groups at local universities where faculty and grad students gather to support one another in faith; see if they can suggest someone for you to speak with. Check out a divinity school at an institution you respect, like Yale or Duke.

Greg Boyd is a well-known evangelical intellectual who loves these conversations. You could look at his writing, including Letters from a Skeptic; the book is a series of letters between Greg and his dad, who was not Christian. My favorite thing about the book is the loving context--they are clearly supportive of each other while challenging each other's beliefs. You can likely find sermons where he's addressed the idea of religion/faith being incompatible with logic and reason. Or just reach out and see if he'll talk with you.

Seconding the idea that many people who believe sincerely and find deep meaning in an intellectually rigorous and spiritually mature life may not be noisy or easy to find. There are teachings in Christian scripture that encourage followers to keep their good deeds quiet. The idea behind that one is if you are rewarded on earth, you won't get the same reward in heaven. I've found this is especially true for more conversative/literalist believers, since they are more likely to take adjunctions like this one sort of literally. The amount of outward show-and-tell-ing is greater, in my experience, in secular environments.

Another stream you might follow is liberation theology and the social activism side of Christian religion. Look at how it's operating outside the immediate American 1900s/2000s context. There really have been so many more interpretations and expressions of Christianity than the one many of us are living in right now. There are some awful things going on around Christianity these days that are founded in culture, not theology; they are very much a result of the time and place where Christianity is happening but they are not at all the only way for it to be.
posted by ramenopres at 7:30 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Perhaps you might appreciate some philosophy of religion, which (because, hey, it's philosophy) is typically intellectually challenging and quite sophisticated. While I am also not religious, I used to edit philosophy of religion articles, and I learned that at least some religious people have examined their beliefs very carefully. Here is an article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which provides a good introduction with lots of related links.

In general, studying philosophy is a great way to humble oneself intellectually. Few people can articulate a well-formed account of their most important beliefs because doing so requires considerable study/reflection and nuance. We are all acting on some sort of faith (though, of course, some leaps of faith are more reasonable than others).

To listen to (or read about) a variety of thoughtful people (scholars, scientists, artists, activists) wrestling with "spiritual" issues (their scope is broader than specific religions), you could try the public radio program On Being.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:32 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Read anything written by Barbara Brown Taylor. Also Anne Lamott.
posted by 4ster at 7:39 PM on July 30, 2017

In addition to what has already been recommended, I'd suggest the following:

Bruce Bawer's "Stealing Jesus"

Marcus Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" (Marcus Borg, in general, is great)

Nora Gallagher's "Things Seen and Unseen"

L. William Countryman's "Good News of Jesus"

Joan Chittister's "Heart of Flesh" (She is great, as well. Her book "In Search of Belief" really helped me unpack the Nicene Creed)

Anything by Henri Nouwen - a personal favorite is "Can Your Drink the Cup?" I also liked his "Sabbatical Journal."

"Voices from the Desert" 'by Joseph Cardinal Bernadin

"Pastrix" and "Accidental Saints" by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nthing the recommendation for Archbishop Tutu - his "God has a Dream" is also wonderful.
posted by dancing_angel at 7:51 PM on July 30, 2017

Surprised to get so far down before seeing a recommendation for the podcast On Being with Krista Tippet. if you listen to even a few of her interviews on serious questions within the human experience, mostly with people of faith, you will definitely find plenty of people whose depth and intelligence are pronounced and worthy of respect.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on July 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

You might benefit from wrestling with some of the great minds of the Catholic tradition. These texts are strange enough to modern eyes to be humbling just to try to engage with, but, although you may reject their approaches (or their projects altogether), you can't spend time with them without recognizing their intellects: Anselm, Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Duns Scotus.

But, really, as a person who seems to be starting from/trying to overcome a position of intellectual snobbery, you must have a basic acquaintance with the great literature, music, and art of the West, right? Therefore you must know that virtually all of it prior to ca. 1700 or so was created by a monotheist of some variety, and quite a bit of it afterwards. Are you running around feeling intellectually superior to Bach? To the people who designed and built Rheims? To Holbein? To the guy who wrote Tristram Shandy?
posted by praemunire at 11:24 PM on July 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

Intelligence is not a valid metric of worth in almost every religious faith, like wealth or health or beauty. You can get a bunch of very smart people who are religiously useless, and vice versa. Intelligence has zip to do with religious belief, so you're looking for an intersection of something you feel you can measure, intelligence, with something you don't recognize, religious faith. I think whoever you get as answers, you'll end up still discounting their intelligence for having faith in something illogical to you.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:28 PM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

My inclination is not to refer you to religious or sacred texts, or explanations from within religions themselves, but rather to look at it from a naive-but-not-dismissive outsider attempting to grapple with what purpose religion serves, what religious experience looks like, what ideas or feelings or beliefs are trying to be communicated and whether they can be communicated, etc.

Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning is a secular work that nonetheless implicitly gets at some of the reasons people look to religion. Frankl talks in this interview excerpt about the religious-inclined as searching not just for meaning (as all humans do to various degrees), but for "ultimate meaning"; and that while all humans look for meaningful tasks to complete, the religious-inclined look to God or the divine as a "task giver". I'm not convinced this flawlessly applies to all religion/spirituality - as stated it doesn't perfectly square with my own experiences/beliefs, at any rate - but it's still a useful framing for most people, in my mind.

William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience remains one of the most elucidating books I've read on religion, and religious experience (rather than, say, institutional or ideological dimensions) in particular. He approaches the subject as one of empirical scientific inquiry, and does so in a very empathetic and perceptive way. Of particular note is his way of emphasizing the private nature of religious experience. These experiences (sometimes mystical or ecstatic, sometimes banal) are apprehended, rather than cognitively known. In this sense, religious experience may be seen as individual, non-cultural, pre-cognitive, and bounded in event. One might use this aspect rhetorically to thwart the authority of the objective or the empirical and to privilege the subjective, the personal, the private, the inaccessible, the ultimately unknowable. Trying to understand - or, conversely, revealing that rational understanding is misguided and an impediment - then emerges from this. But it's worth realizing that anything shared with others immediately becomes mediated, first through language, then through culture (and then through ideology, institutions, what have you). This framing of private experience in religion, unable to be communicated without something being lost in translation - has done a lot to shift my thinking about the nature of spirituality/religion.

To that end, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations is worth reading or reading about. A series of little language games that detonate the underpinnings of language behind them, leaving us with a clear roadmap for why roadmaps are useless. Either nothing to do with religion, or everything to do with it, depending on your point of view.
posted by naju at 11:35 PM on July 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Blaise Pascal - Pensees: The Misery of Man Without God
Marilynne Robinson - The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought
C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy
posted by tackypink at 1:20 AM on July 31, 2017

I wrestled with this when I was a junior in high school, after years of Catholic education that exposed me to dogma, to studying other religions, to service work, and to very smart people. I was super smart with smart friends, and was a tremendous intellectual snob. :7)

I just deleted a long passage to say only this: I can't imagine someone calling themselves a progressive who doesn't look at religious people -- e.g., Dorothy Day and the Latin Americans like Bishop Romero and Mother Teresa -- who pursue the aims of social justice and liberation theology, and not see a similarity of aims.

They don't need to convert you, but they are working toward the same ends. So ask what motivates them, and what encourages them when things are hard.

posted by wenestvedt at 6:54 AM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

To me, it comes down to accepting paradox. We expect our own thinking to be consistent and expect the same of others', but our own thinking is likely to contain any number of paradoxes (which probably make us uncomfortable, and we therefore tend to deny or ignore them).

For a highly intelligent person who is intellectually rigorous to at the same time believe improbable supernatural explanations seems paradoxical to those of us who are atheists, and who find faith illogical and puzzling, but it actually takes intellectual flexibility to entertain a variety of views simultaneously.

Although I am not among them, many people require a philosophical underpinning that creates meaning in their lives and orders their thinking. Many find that in religion and spiritual belief. It's not consciously adopted as a strategy, but that's what it comes down to, it seems to me. I can accept people who have religious belief because I see it as their way of creating order and finding meaning.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 7:07 AM on July 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another notion to consider: I find that non-religious people tend to reduce participation in religious life to "belief." For me and many other people of faith, belief - as in assertions about reality, or fact claims - may be one aspect of religious life, but is not the only, or even the most important, aspect. Often, religious people place more emphasis on the practice of their faith, the rituals and routines and texts and ideas they use to work through their daily thinking, address moral problems, and attempt to improve their lives and the world. As a former atheist who now has a religious practice, I often find myself in the position of replying to people who assume that my self-identification as religious means that I "believe" X, Y, or Z, which they understand to be tenets of faith. In reality those tend to describe things that are not part of my worldview and aren't important in my faith community.

When you scratch a religious person, you frequently find that their participation is not organized as a slate of tenets to which they fully sign on, but as a community of practice they find meaning and reward in. I know that I am not alone among religious people who spend relatively little time worrying about whether scriptures or assertions of dogma are true or not. It's just not central to all practice. We all have to figure out what our relationship to dogma and historical fact-claims for religion is, wherever those exist, but that doesn't mean we're fully signed on to those interpretations. And if we're not, that doesn't mean we're not religious. Explore the notion of religion as practice as opposed to belief.
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on July 31, 2017 [15 favorites]

Seconding Rev. William Barber and Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter, and adding Joe Biden, as well as Hillary Clinton, who used to teach Sunday school. (Pretty sure Jimmy Carter did, as well.) And let's not forget Tim Kaine.

If you're up for in-depth reading, Jimmy Carter's and Hillary Clinton's memoirs should have some good info for you.

Rev. Barber:
We are witnessing the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction : "Deep religious and moral values have been the backbone of every great progressive movement"

The Religious Life of Joe Biden
Joe Biden Speaks About Faith and Curing Cancer at the Vatican
Religion and Politics ’08: Joe Biden

"I do what I do for spiritual reasons"
5 faith facts about Dem. VP pick Tim Kaine, a Jesuit-educated Catholic, National Catholic Reporter
A Pope Francis Catholic
posted by kristi at 12:33 PM on July 31, 2017

I thought for awhile about posting here, because I am not in the echelon of others who have been named in other answers, but in case it is helpful, here goes:

I am a Christian, a member of the clergy, someone with a Master of Divinity degree from an elite east coast university. I am well-read. I see science, not as a threat to my faith, but as something that enlivens and beautifies it. I am also very politically and theologically progressive, someone who regularly faces at least some risk for preaching and teaching about the sacred equality of all people, including women and the LGBTQ community, a position that places me outside of the teachings of my own religious denomination.

I was born 46 years ago to parents who were both from blue collar families. My father was a Chesapeake Bay waterman who, through a series of happy accidents and a good deal of hard work, became a business executive. Neither of my parents graduated college.

I was raised nominally Christian, with Christmas, Easter, and occasional attendance at worship. In college, I was politically and socially conservative while being a hellion who, again, was Christian in name only. However, after college, I had an experience of transformation that dramatically changed me. In fact, everything about me in paragraph two above was set into motion by the big bang that was my conversion to Christianity.

My faith made me not only a clergyman but an academic, social activist, and progressive voter. It is the reason that I am endeavoring to raise my children without the prejudices that were openly accepted by my family in my own childhood.

So anyway, that's my experience. Conversion dramatically changed my mind on a number of issues for the good, and pushed far to the left and up the ivory tower. I guess what I am saying is that it happens more than one might think.

Also, thank you ftm for being honest and asking the question. As a person of faith, I greatly appreciate it.
posted by 4ster at 1:32 PM on July 31, 2017 [11 favorites]

I suggest listening to an episode or two of the "Bad Christian Podcast." It is comprised of two band members (from the band Emery) and a pastor, and they discuss their beliefs in detail.

One of the band members - Matt Carter - is particularly intelligent and well-spoken. He has a side podcast called "Break it Down (with Matt Carter)" where he geeks out about music composition, how things work, etc. Definitely entertaining and worth a listen.
posted by tacodave at 3:00 PM on July 31, 2017

Adding something I observe in American Evangelical circles, where there are some very smart people: I don't think it's as much that people are looking at two circles of thought--rational and not rational--and deciding they're going to add a good chunk of delusion to their regular, rational diet of thinking. There's in no way a consistent approach along the lines of, "Here's the universe as we know it, and now here's some additional stuff that I know isn't true or accurate but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, so I'm going to adhere to it."

It's sometimes more that someone's view of the universe is different, maybe more inclusive, than the one that some atheists might hold. Along with science and testable phenomena as they're understood at the time, there is also the spiritual and and supernatural and unknowable/mysterious side of things. A religious viewpoint can be realistic and rational, imo, in that it takes into account the things that are not measurable in the ways we currently believe measurement to matter. As someone above said, it takes intellectual flexibility to explore that side of things. Different religious take different approaches to that mystery and grandness. Within and across religions, there have been some consistent and repeated elements, which is another fascinating place to look.

If you have "There is a God and God acts and looks a particular way" as your context, if you have enough to go with that it makes sense to you to believe that fact and the related facts that go together to form a system of belief, then you do your intellectual exploration within that context. After all, in this worldview, God created our minds and our capacity to explore. It isn't an either/or. It's a within and both/and.

PS James Comey was raised Roman Catholic and is now United Methodist, according to the Google. Stephen Colbert is a practicing Catholic with some deeply profound and personal words about religion.
posted by ramenopres at 3:58 PM on July 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do you have even the tiniest remote interest in singing? Adult choirs, even secular ones, in my experience tend to have at least a few if not many Christian members - church hymns and church choirs are one of the most common ways people come to know music and go on to follow it.

As an adult member of a choir I have gotten to know quite a few Christian friends in a non-religious context where I didn't specifically know about their religious identity until l knew them pretty well as overall people first.
posted by augustimagination at 10:04 PM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, y'all. This is the most response I've ever gotten to an ask and I don't think I'll be able to get through it all before it closes but in the end I'll definitely be able to work through it all and I appreciate each and every response.
posted by ftm at 3:01 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

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