Q & R: understanding our son

Here’s the Q:

Dear Brian, Can you refer me to one of your books, (I have all of them) or other authors, for encouragement in the following situation. I will try to be brief. Our young adult son, raised in traditional Christian ways, has decided he does not believe in God. He does not call himself an atheist or agnostic but rather a humanist. He claims that since he can’t prove there is a God, he believes that all things we attribute to God are found within ourselves. There is no event in his life that would cause him to “leave the faith” other than perhaps his studies on existentialism in college. He enjoys his Christian friends, does not argue his point, is accepting of others’ beliefs and is not angry at God. He is a tremendously inspiring young man who in many ways seems further down the road of being like Christ than many folks his age. For me, I follow you, Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, etc. so perhaps that will give you an idea of my faith. I can’t prove God exists but I like to think that He does and my life is more, like you say, a quest, rather than a state…seeking to be more comfortable with mystery rather than certainty. Yet…I can’t shake the sadness I feel when I think of our son turning away from God. In his mind, we turn to God because we are familiar and comfortable with that but he turns within himself to offer goodness to others. Is it possible that our “framing stories”, no matter what we name them, will all point to God someday. My husband and I have had some really good discussions with our son in seeking to understand his world. We know that our job is not to “convert” him back to a faith in God but to learn to be a peace while we sit in that mystery. Where can we look for written encouragement in that quest? Please, I would really like to hear from you. God go with you this year.

Here’s the R:

First, let me say your son is blessed to have parents like you. I think many of us – you and me, plus lots of people who read this blog – understand your son’s choice: sometimes, religious affiliation seems so big and complicated and messy and convoluted that we would rather opt out and simply “sit in that mystery” (in the company of Quakers, or simply in the company of soil, air, water, and sunlight – and neighbors of whatever faith persuasion).
In fact, your son and those who opt out may be preaching to the Christian community at large in the only way they’ll understand: their opting out is a kind of “sit in” in reverse (a “sit out”), an act of protest that needs to be understood and responded to. In this way, your son may not be turning away from God, but from a complex apparatus associated with God, and when your son speaks of “all things we attribute to God” that “are found within ourselves,” he could mean what is meant by “the Holy Spirit” or “the image of God.”
Two books that I think capture this quite beautifully are Richard Kearney’s Anatheism and Peter Rollins’ Insurrection. It isn’t accidental that they’re both Irish – when religion collapses into tribalism and inter-tribal warfare (as it did in Ireland, and seems to be doing in the US), people have to find God in spite of the devaluing of the language and apparatus associated with God (including the word “G-O-D” itself sometimes).
I’d also recommend anything by Barbara Brown Taylor – especially her “An Altar in the World.” Her next book, I’m sure, will be especially helpful. (I heard her present some material that will be part of it.)
Among my books, I can tell from your note that you’ve read A New Kind of Christianity. I think you might find additional encouragement for your own quest in Naked Spirituality and Everything Must Change.