Why me, Lord? Why did I de-convert?

November 3, 2007 at 1:29 am 104 comments

Why 4Why 3About a decade ago, I started a journey away from religion after 30 years of Christian belief. During the de-conversion process, I must have asked hundreds of questions about religious belief, faith, specific doctrine and the bible. But as my unsettling, difficult, paradigm-shifting quest wound down, and I reluctantly admitted I no longer believed in god, one stubborn question remained: Why me?

Why did I venture outside the box and begin to find so many standard doctrinal answers unsatisfactory, while my Christians friends stayed perfectly content in their faith? Why couldn’t I just drop the doubt and recommit my life to the Lord, as I’d seen “backsliders” do in the past?

I’m no smarter than many of my Christian friends, nor am I more sophisticated or better educated.

So what was it that caused me to push off from the comfortable port of fundamentalist belief, where I’d been happy for so many years, and set out – alone and wary – for unknown lands? Why did fellow travelers veer into nearby ports like the emergent church, liberal Protestantism or Catholicism, or more exotic destinations like Buddhism or New Age belief, while I was compelled to continue my journey?

This question occupied my thoughts for a couple of years. Then two childhood memories finally answered it.

One experience took place at Christmastime when I was probably 6 or 7. My mother and I were in the kitchen working on a craft project and my younger siblings were – for the moment – occupied elsewhere.

I had always believed in Santa Claus, but for some reason that day I started musing aloud about him. “You mean those reindeer can pull that sleigh around with all the toys for all the kids all over the world?” I looked over at mom, but she didn’t answer. She just smiled to herself. I persisted: “Can he really travel all over the whole entire world in one night, and get all those presents delivered on time?”

I expected mom to reassure me immediately and I was surprised when she didn’t. She just looked at me, still smiling mysteriously, and said, “Well, what do you think?”

In that instant, I knew. I’d been duped; lied to. And not only me, but all kids, everywhere. There was a vast adult conspiracy, and even mom was in on it. The realization, with its attendant loss of innocence, crushing disappointment and shock, was not dissimilar to my much later – and much more gradual – realization about god and religion.

But back to my girlhood, only this time a few years earlier. I’m 4 or 5, and I’ve crawled into my parents’ king-sized bed early on a Sunday morning. Mom and dad are talking about something I don’t understand. Dad, a secular Jew and amateur science buff, keeps mentioning some guy named Darwin and “natural selection.” I can tell this Darwin guy is upsetting mom, a fundamentalist Christian. But dad persists until mom is so angry she gets up and leaves the bed. Dad sighs – retreat is mom’s favorite way of ending an argument. But she can’t resist getting in the last word: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” she calls out from the bathroom. “Genesis 1:1.”

That’s it, end of discussion. And for me, it’s enough. I want to side with mom – I always want to side with mom – and I’d heard that phrase enough to know it was god’s word: The last word. After all, if god said it, I believed it. And that settled it.

Examining those two memories explained to me why I had stayed with religion for so many years, and why I finally left religion when so many of my friends and relatives have not. You see, like my dad, I’m a natural-born skeptic. I’ve never fallen for a financial scam, bought a “miracle cure” or gone to work for a multi-level marketing agency. I want proof before I buy something; good evidence before I believe. Just like it did with Santa, my mind naturally puzzles things out logically all on its own.

If mom hadn’t been so invested in my believing in god and going to church, I have no doubt I would’ve been an apostate by age 10. Or at least by age 20, when I went through a serious period of doubt during my early college years. It was the extreme importance that mom placed on religion, and the importance to me of not disappointing her, that caused me to exempt Christianity from my brain’s natural scrutiny.

Mom said it, I believed it, that settled it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m sure it was no coincidence that I first allowed myself to entertain serious questions about Christianity as my mother sank into the fog of Alzheimer’s disease. Nor was it a coincidence that I realized I no longer believed during the grief-stricken year after her death in 2000. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was also during that year that my gay brother – who’d long estranged himself from the family – came out of the closet. Neither of us had been free to truly be ourselves while mom was alive.

I realize that skepticism doesn’t appeal to many people. Even in my ex-fundamentalist support group, probably 60% retain some belief in the supernatural. Some are still Christians (just not the fundy type), others are pagans, New Agers or just plain deists.

None of that appeals to me. Left to my own devices, I’m convinced now, I would have been an agnostic atheist many years ago. It just took me a lot longer than it should have.

How about you? Have you thought about why you entertained your own doubts when those around you did not?

- Karen

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Why do unbelievers care so much about belief? Questioning the very notion of faith itself

104 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Diggs  |  November 3, 2007 at 6:08 am

    Well, I would fall into more of the “emergent” follower of Jesus camp but I have plenty of doubts. I think I have entertained those doubts when others around me do not because I am really interested in what is true and not just to get an answer that might make me feel good. My doubt and skepticism often gets me in trouble among Christians who are frustrated that I question so much. I do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, I believe in evolution, and I question God involvement in the world when it comes to supernatural miracle type interventions. I reject typical Christian paradigms about how God has a plan for everyone’s life that would include the job they get and who they marry; as if God is the provider of the American dream.

    The question then is why do I still follow Jesus? I follow Jesus because I still believe that God has met us in our humanity through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is on this human level that I embrace God because I believe God met us on a human level. I believe Jesus took on humanity and on some cosmic level shares our human experience with all of us which includes questions, suffering, death, and he even met us in the injustice that as human being we have unfortunately brought onto one another and this world. I believe God still meets us on that human level today and lives in the way we would work to reverse injustice and the dehumanization that we often subject each other to; I believe that this was the message of his Kingdom.

    I am very agnostic about heaven in terms of the afterlife, but I do hold on to hope. But regardless, I think the message of Jesus was about our lives today. I consider myself very spiritual but I think the spiritual is connected to the natural and if God is present in the world I am most confident that he is present in people when they do good to one another. I often think of myself as more of a Christian humanist, if there is such a thing.

    Anyway, I am not trying to proselytize anyone here, just sharing my own experience. I find that I am often more comfortable with skeptics who ask honest and real questions than I am with many of those who confess Christianity. I appreciate it that you shared your journey on here and I resonated with much of it. Religion has done nothing but give us cheap over simplified answers to the real struggles and challenges of life, and the longer I live the more I realize that I don’t want to have anything to do with empty religion.

    Peace,

    James

  • 2. carlosjosebsantos  |  November 3, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I find your history interesting. Just two thoughts, i accept evolution, and im a Christian (Catholic)… and one of the CORE revelations of Jesus was the pain and suffer of our lives. He doesn’t came to eliminate the creation, just to walk side by side with us until the end.

    I respect your testimony, just want to share mine.

    Un Saludo

  • 3. loopyloo350  |  November 3, 2007 at 10:40 am

    I came to belief by way of hatred partly. I grew up in an abusive family of whom many members considered themselves Christians. My Grandmother never met a tent revival that didn’t touch her heart. Once she took us to see Oral Roberts, and convinced my Grandfather, an aetheist to go along. He was pretty well deaf, and when Oral Roberts was calling for people to be healed, my Grandmother pushed forward and told them he couldn’t hear. I don’t know if you have ever seen Oral Roberts in action, but he has this thing where he puts his hand on someones forehead and pushes them back while shouting “You are healed”. My Grandfather put his hand up and cupped his ear and said “What?” This is just one of my memories but the funny thing is when I became an adult I went through many things, rape,abuse,a mentally disabled child with severe seizures and I would cry and ask “Why me, Lord?”. One day I asked a different question, “Why not, me?” and finally I found myself saying “Thank you, Lord” Which may sound really strange to you, but look at it this way, If I had not had all those trials, I would not be the person I am today. And I like who I am, maybe you believe that is selfish but no one is perfect. If you don’t grow and change you die and the best swords are tempered in the fire. Someone once told me that to truly have faith you must first lose it. If you regain yours well and good, but if not, God still knows your heart and knows you by your works. I sound awful arrogant don’t I. I hate that, Peace be upon you and may the light always find you.

  • 4. Mike  |  November 3, 2007 at 11:17 am

    James,

    You say that you still believe in Jesus, although maybe a little differently than before you still believe he’s the incarnation of God. My question is why? What reason do you have to believe that’s true?

  • 5. JP Manzi  |  November 3, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Wow, I am so glad to have found this blog. Every post so far truely resonates within me. I am a natural born skeptic as well who does not take truth at face value. Oh, I tried. Tried real hard. I wanted to be a christian. Like you, I never understood how some people in their christian walk can get by without real questioning. I always questioned, I was always uneasy, I was NEVER at peace. Something never clicked with reasonability. For the first time in my life their is an inner peace that I never experienced as a christian.

    As for Santa, I remember it like yesterday when I started putting 2 and 2 together and finally came to my senses that I have been lied too.

    Man, was I pissed off.

  • 6. karen  |  November 3, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for your comments and for outlining your own journey here, James.

    Your situation brings me to a further observation I made around the same time I was embracing my “inner skeptic.” ;-) I’ve been in touch with many people like yourself who do question, and doubt, and have rejected many fundamentalist beliefs – like inerrancy of scripture – but continue to be theists or even Christians.

    When it comes down to it, they have an emotional connection to god and Jesus that they simply don’t want to break – although they will readily admit that they don’t have solid evidence for continuing to believe. There’s something in them that wants to believe and is willing to believe despite their doubts and uncertainties. Now, this may not be your experience at all, and if it’s not, I certainly respect that.

    But for me, once I left church I honestly just did not miss it. Sure, I was scared about hell and about losing my salvation for a while. And I found myself reflexively praying when I was scared or worried. But once I got over that – and I’m sure it took me less than a year – I felt fine with not believing. I never missed church. I fairly quickly established a new circle of friends around my personal interests rather than around shared religious beliefs.

    I just don’t seem to have that strong need to believe, or that strong emotional desire to think there’s a god. I’m not sure if that’s related to skepticism, or if I don’t have a “god gene,” or what. But I do seem to be in the minority in not only our society but in the world at large.

  • 7. karen  |  November 3, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Saludos, Carlos! :-)

    I’m aware that most Catholics accept evolution, and many liberal Protestants do also, though I didn’t realize that when I was a fundy Christian. However, polls taken inside the U.S. show that a very high percentage – I believe it is well over half – of Americans do not accept evolution and are scientifically illiterate. Which is a shame.

  • 8. karen  |  November 3, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for the kind thoughts, loopyloo. I don’t think you sound arrogant at all – I think you are just expressing your own thoughts and emotions, which I respect even though I do not share them.

    I was not involved in charismatic churches, nor did I attend healing services like Oral Roberts staged, but I have seen those televangelists’ “miracles” thoroughly debunked. It is truly shameful the way they take advantage of vulnerable, poor and sick people, and doing it in the name of Jesus is particularly egregious.

    It’s unfortunate that blind faith aids and abets those charlatans, in my view. And it’s also unfortunate that many people are “credophiles” – the opposite of skeptics, they are people that will believe anything. Those people get taken advantage of over and over again and never seem to learn. I have a few of them in my own family and they just amazes me how often they get their clocks cleaned but don’t change their approach to life.

  • 9. karen  |  November 3, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Hi JP – I’m so glad you found us! :-)

    Unlike you, I did believe for 30 years – and wholeheartedly. The way I did it, however, was to effectively wall off religion from the kind of skeptical reasoning I applied to everything else in my life.

    I was very, very good at compartmentalizing and at ignoring contradictions when they didn’t suit my strongly held beliefs. Unfortunately, such a state of cognitive dissonance is very stressful and tough to sustain. I was in my late 30s when it finally became too much for me, and I wound up in a midlife crisis.

    When I started knocking down the wall I’d built around my religious beliefs, and started scrutinizing them like I would scrutinize anything else in my life, those beliefs started to crumble. I read a quote that was very influential and that gave me permission to knock that wall down. Someone said, “If reason and logic have served me so well in all the other areas of my life, why wouldn’t I apply them to my religion as well?”

    That really resonated with me early on in my deconversion process.

  • 10. riddlej  |  November 3, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Hey, thanks for being so honest with your story. I’m a Christian (converted from atheism), but I really hear your heart. I just don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry about your mother, and the pent-up feelings you all had while she was alive. As much as I believe in God now, I sure hate the idea that my belief (even ardent) would put *pressure* on other people to stifle who they are.

    Since you’ve been a believer for thirty years prior, you probably know all about faith and works. I believe God doesn’t want us to live in works, which means putting up a front. I think he’d rather us be honest that we’re doubting, gay, evolutionists or whatever before he’d have us pretend we weren’t. And I believe this position is historical as Luther, C.S. Lewis, and others traveled that path before us.

    I’m also kind of glad you didn’t drift off into liberalism. From my experience as an atheist, I could never really understand people who weren’t “whole hog” one way or the other. The secular worldview clearly leads to naturalism and atheism, and I’m not sure how long people can fool themselves that it doesn’t.

    So thanks for sharing your story. I’d say I’d pray for you, but I don’t want that to come across as some condescending cr*p. I probably will, however. I believe that if God is really real, he can withstand doubting and make himself known. If he is really real, he can answer your very real and very important questions about darwinism, life, and everything else. I personally believe there are answers–you don’t just have to check your brain at the door–and that the real nature of truth is more like a coin: heads or tales. You can see it one way or the other, both consistently, but both very differently. Which side you choose to believe is objectively true is where faith comes in.

    But God is on one side. You knew him once, but maybe not in the way he wished you did. If he’s real, he can flip the coin over. It’s not bad that you are on that side now. At least you can see clearly and consider what questions you always had, and what truths you weren’t allowed to believe.

  • 11. Richard  |  November 3, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Karen- I agree with those who find your question highly relevant. I dont have a good answer, really, but I can make a stab at it.

    What stood out for me in your post was the degree to which it was important to your mother for you to remain a believer. Now, I certainly dont want to be so reductionistic as to suggest that that itself was sufficient reason, but surely it played a role. Emotional reasons can be quite persuasive.

    I have certainly found that the emotional and the theological have always been deeply intertwined for me. I dont think its an accident that my entire family, who had been conservative but only nominally church-affiliated for many years, became much more committed and engaged in fundamentalist life when my parents began to have problems and, eventualy, divorced.

    And I am even more certain that the reason I clung to it so tighly was because it provided clarity and surety in the midst of my pain and confusion. Nothing like evangelical dogma to make the world simple again. ANd thats what I wanted. Not what I needed, but what I wanted, and there were, really, no competing explanations/solutions available to me.

    Your question remains, though: why did I leave it? Carl Rogers postulated that human beings have a kind of instinct for health, and for growth. Not sure if I really buy that but it does make a kind of sense, maybe, given that eventually the reason I left Cx was that I came to see it as unhealthy. It devastated my self-esteem by teaching me Im all corruption.

    Here was the crux for me: Christianity taught me that if I got my soul and will in proper alignment with God, I would be “truly” happy, in that vague Christian sense — “the peace that passes understanding”. Well, I did everything I was suposed to and it just flat didnt work. According to the theory, that means, essentially, I didnt do it right. I had secret pride, or some bullshit like that. So the theory is a closed system — it has a complete explanation for its own failure: blame yourself, not the theory.

    Eventually, I decided that it wasnt me, after all, it was the theory that was wrong. Why? Still wrestling with that one.

  • 12. bigham  |  November 3, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Karen,
    I enjoyed reading your story, and it is in some ways similar to my own- or at least to the first part of it.

    I grew up in a Christian home and believed everything I was told mainly because it was what I was told and I respected the sources.

    I also thought, as it seems that you did, that a Christian should not have doubts. Or imperfections. So I isolated both my doubts and my imperfections, which were rampant.

    So when I started listening to my doubts, in the midst of my lonely struggle with my imperfections, all of the doubts that I had pushed to the side in order to push forward in what I thought was strong faith fell upon me like a landslide, and I was “de-converted”.

    I went through about five years of unbelief, but in March I was convinced, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

    I would just like to say that I disagree with the implied analogy between the “Santa Clause myth” and religion.

    And I will go out on a bit of a limb and presume that you have not taken your characteristic skepticism to evolution. I believe that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in Christianity.

    God pursued me and by His grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, I have been “re-converted” (although I would say that I never had true salvation to begin with).

    I used to attribute problems in the church I grew up in, problems with the Christians that I knew, and problems with the Christianity that I knew to Christianity as a whole. I don’t know if you do the same, but I hope not. Just because the church you went to had it wrong, the people you knew had it wrong, or because you had it wrong does not mean that it is wrong.

    Please give Christianity another chance. And feel free to bring along your natural-born skepticism, your need for proof and evidence before you buy something, and your serious questions along with you.

    “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” -Hebrews 13:20-21

  • 13. OneSmallStep  |  November 3, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Bigham,

    And I will go out on a bit of a limb and presume that you have not taken your characteristic skepticism to evolution. I believe that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in Christianity.

    This would be incorrect. From every single fundamentalist de-convert I have read, they read book after book on evolution and the biological sciences, and found that the creationist side often mis-represented evolution, took things out of context, or possibly even lied. They studied the evidence presented for evolution, and found it convincing. For the most part, science is all about skepticism. You have a hypothesis, you test it to see if the hypothesis measures up to the evidence, and there you go. You should be constantly testing, in order to fine-tune everything. I believe the saying is that biologists don’t debate that evolution happened, they debate the mechanics of *how* evolution happened. Science can point to fossils, to genetics and along those lines for support in evolution. Christianity cannot do this. It can point to the BIble, which says that Jesus died and was resurrected. But those are ultimately words on a page. It can point to those who have died for it — but people have died for Islam, or Mormonism. It can point to changed lives — but Islam and Mormonism have changed lives.

    Just because the church you went to had it wrong, the people you knew had it wrong, or because you had it wrong does not mean that it is wrong.

    If Christians act no better and no worse than the non-Christians, that is going to call into question Christianity’s claims. That, and while de-conversion may have started with the elements you list, often de-converts finally cross that step due to lack of proof, or validity, or because they find the concepts absurd.

  • 14. OneSmallStep  |  November 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    – to clarify. Bigham, I am not saying that you are absurd, or ridiculous for following your belief structure. I simply see that many Christians/religious people tend to offer the idea that people de-converted because of the church, or other people, and yet missed God. But de-conversion goes much deeper than that, to the very claims of Christianity itself.

  • 15. OneSmallStep  |  November 3, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Karen,

    Thank you for sharing. I found it interesting in your statement of skepticism not appealing to many people, and was mulling that over. Based on your experiences, would you say it’s because it’s hard to draw the line of what to be skeptical of? If we take it to extremes, we could start being skeptical of our very reality, of whether we see what we think we see, if we’re actually walking on ground and so forth. So for the more skeptical people, they clearly draw the line that, “I see a green tree. End of story.”

    However, trees and ground and such are part of the natural world. THey don’t violate the laws of nature or physics, or anything like that. Much stated in the Bible does, such as the healings, or the resurrection, or the sun standing still. That goes against the laws of the universe. But because Christianity is very supernatural-based, in a way, you can’t just be skeptical of one part. You can start with one part, but you almost have to include the “whole” or pick and choose where to draw the line. And what method would be used to determine that line? Likes? Common sense?

    For me, I would say I enterain doubts where others do not because of how easy it is to be a sheep. We’ve seen this in history, where people do awful things because they’re just following orders, or such. I also enterain doubts because of the nature of the claims — a God who loves much, hates injustice and so forth. And yet there’s a lot of … well, crap, that occurs in this world, that violate the concept of an all-loving God. (And no free will arguments, please. They don’t hold weight with me. Someone who is mugged has had his/her free will violated). So if it’s hard to see evidence for a God who loves and pursues justice based on the evidence in this life, what do I base the concept of an eternal paradise on? I can’t use this life, so I’m left with someone’s say so. “God really loves you, but is mysterious, and bad things happened because He wants you to choose Him, and if you do, you’ll be in heaven after you die.”

  • 16. Stephen P  |  November 3, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    I must confess that when I worked out the truth about Santa, I decided to apply mercenary pragmatism – I’d keep quiet just as long as the presents kept coming. I’ll leave others to work out whether any parallels should be drawn …

  • 17. Richard  |  November 3, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Bingham,

    Two questions-

    (1) It is effortless to claim that whenever you have a Christian who “gets it wrong” that its the person that failed, not the theory. So effortless it seems rather cheap. I could as easily assert that if everyone were a liberal, and the world would be a better place — and when someone points out all the rotten things that have been done by liberals, I could say “well, thats not *real* liberalism.” So can you tell me how you go about distinguishing between when you blame the person/institution for a failure (when it “gets things wrong”), and when you blame the theory? (Corollary question: is there any outcome which you would conclude is *better* explained by failure of the theory?)

    (2) If I approach Christianity with my “natural-born skepticism” and, after due diligence, conclude that I think it is false, would you accept that? Or would you say I hadnt “really” been skeptical?

    Richard

    P.S. The name for the fallacy you are employing is “no true Scotsman” (wikipedia has a fine entry on this).

  • 18. LeoPardus  |  November 3, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    How about you? Have you thought about why you entertained your own doubts when those around you did not?

    I’ve seen lots of de-cons muse about this. I haven’t spent time thinking about it myself though. Not sure why.

    Here’s all that pops to my mind.:

    Long ago I adapted a maxim for my life. It was, “I do not care what the truth about any matter turns out to be. I just want to find out what the truth is, and then get on the right side of it.”

    Someone asked me years ago, whether I really meant that and whether I would actually stick to it if I concluded that Christianity wasn’t true, or that there was no God. I replied that while I could not possibly conceive of what would convince me of such things, I would have to follow through if led to those conclusions.

    Later, the previously inconceivable happened. And when it did, I stuck to my maxim. I had to stick to what was true. And so, in a sort of Martin Luther situation, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

  • 19. James Diggs  |  November 3, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Mike,

    You asked me why I believe the incarnation is true. Well I think this stems first from believing that there is a God. For me there simply is more to life than what we see; a spiritual element if you will. I also think there is a sense of goodness that seems to transcend our own subjectivity, even though we might be only able to relate to this kind of goodness from a subjective perspective. I do think as society grows and as we benefit from multiple subjective perspectives that community begins to give us a better idea about what a more objective goodness may be. I know that many people reject the idea of goodness as something that even exists but I can’t deny that there is such a thing and that it seems to have a quality that goes beyond just what we decide it is. Injustice grates on us as humanity and while some may benefit from it humanity in general recognizes that there is a right and wrong quality to the way we are to live our lives and treat one another.

    Now, I have already said that I am not a bible literalist or believe in the inerrancy in scripture, but I think what scripture does give us is a testimony of how a particular people wrestled with trying to come to terms with both goodness and how to put away injustice as a community. I don’t think they always had it right, and I think their journey is similar to many cultures throughout history; many different people came up with laws and such in order to grasp on to what is good and reject or at least limit injustice in the world. I think the Judaeo/Christian scriptures also testify about a community over a large portion of history that recognized and attributed this goodness to God and saw God as a one that promoted righteousness and justice for humanity. They also saw God as some one who lived among them as a people and thought that his goodness should penetrate their lives as a community. I think their concept of relating to God in the context of community was way healthier than the individualized modern version we have of Christianity today in the west. Today in our culture too many people see goodness in the context of vain personal piety rather than how we treat others. Opps, I am getting sidetracked here; my point is I too see goodeness as something that transcends our human experience and it is not much of leap then to attribute that goodness to God.

    As for Jesus being the incarnation of God, this just makes sense to me as something that is consistent with how I see God interacting with the world today. Like I said, I do not have much confidence in the supernatural intervention of God today, I am open to the idea and willing to be wrong, but I simply don’t see it. I see God not in the supernatural but the natural; I see God in other people who strive for goodness and justice and desire to fight for those that are oppressed and marginalized. These are not always people in the church; unfortunately too often people in the church are doing the oppressing. But I think God is some how alive in all sorts of people who seek to live out goodness and justice for the benefit of humanity. Even scripture points to many stories where “God’s people” were on the wrong side of God and those who were really pursuing justice. Unfortunately religion can be a dangerous trap; I think fundamentalism is one good example of this in our country. I think in a lot of ways Jesus came to blow up the trappings of religion. I also think that if God lives within the goodness of humanity than the incarnation of God is the perfect extension of that. I know these aren’t concrete answers but I am both drawn to and at peace with the mystery of it.

    I am sorry for the length of my explanation. Believe me I left some things out, but that’s the gist of it. In a nutshell I believe the incarnation is the ultimate expression of a God who desires to live in the goodness of the human experience even if it meant he had to also bare the suffering and injustice that also seems to follow humanity. I believe in a God that is present in humanity and the incarnation is also the ultimate expression of God being present. This is just simply what I believe.

    Peace,

    James

  • 20. James Diggs  |  November 3, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    Karen,

    I don’t think it is just an emotional connection to Jesus I don’t want to break even though I am a skeptical person. Despite a lot of my skepticism I am pretty secure in my belief that there is a God, he is good, and that he met us in our humanity through Jesus Christ. (see my overly long explanation to Mike.) I just have thrown out a lot of trapping of the religious dogma of modern Christianity and don’t pretend to have a lot of answers to how it all works like many Christians do. My skeptism is also balanced by an appreciation and embracing of mystery; which is something that modern Christians really don’t embrace because their faith is less in God and more in their elaborate paradigms and pictures of God they create for themselves.

    As for the church, I never really liked church and frankly up until a year a so ago I was more than ready to chuck it. I still don’t like “church” from a traditional standpoint but I am part of a small community of people now who are trying to figure out what it means to really be an agent for change in the world we live in. We are really kind of misfits in the evangelical world because we care about social justice, the environment, and our community that extends to everyone we live with in this world and not just those who think the way we do or follow Jesus. Frankly, I surround myself with people who care about justice in the world and many of them aren’t Christian and some are atheist and too few of them are other followers of Jesus. And I also have friends who are more based on my other interests and I enjoy those relationships deeply regardless of their religious beliefs because I value the shared human experience which I think is a spiritual thing in of itself.

    As for going to heaven or hell; I chucked a theology that was obsessed with the next life a long time ago. I think the message of the Kingdom is about living today. I sometimes am not even sure if there is life beyond the one we have here and am much more interested in leaning into the goodness of God here in my human context because I believe that God came and met me here in my human context. I do have hope for eternity, but I will have to trust God with that because if there is or if there isn’t there is nothing I can do about it anyway. Oh, some say that I should be concerned about it today for the reward aspect of it or to escape hell. Frankly I have secular humanist friends that have a sounder basis for morality than rewards and judgment; some just do good for the sake of doing good. I like that, and think rewards and punishment motivations are for children and I think that idea in scripture partly comes from the fact that an ancient people were wrestling with concepts of goodness verses injustice and this was just part of the development process society took in regards to morality. I am not denying however that if there is life beyond today that our lives today will have an eternal quality to it; so if there is a heaven there also may indeed be a hell. But, I think our “salvation” is something we embrace today and is not about getting a ticket into heaven but about living in a way that brings heaven to us here on earth.

    You know, the thing is you say you may not have a “god gene”, but I think what is cool is that God through the incarnation of Christ took on our human gene. I think the “believing in God” aspect of religion that says that you get a ticket to heaven if you assent to a list of particular tenants of beliefs misses the point. I don’t think we can begin to experience God, weather it is through church, belief systems, or religious practices, until we realize that God first is experiencing us.

    Peace,

    James

  • 21. Slapdash  |  November 3, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    I can very much relate to the big role your mother’s faith played in your own life. I am in the process, I guess, of de-converting, and I realized some months ago that my biggest hurdle or struggle in it was the fear of disappointing my mom, a conservative evangelical. In fact, I still wrestle with it – I know my mom well enough to know that she is genuinely distraught as my waning faith and is no doubt on her knees in prayer for me every day. I hate the fact that she is worried about my soul and wish there was some way for her to be okay with it. If so, I would probably throw off the last vestiges of my faith pretty quick-like.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • 22. Dragons den  |  November 3, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    A very interesting article. I was reading a bigoted website the other day which would put anybody off religon.
    Not for the easily shocked
    http://thewayweseeit.wordpress.com/

  • 23. Lorena  |  November 3, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    How about you? Have you thought about why you entertained your own doubts when those around you did not?

    Awesome article, Karen. I know you are a writer, a very good one.

    I know I stayed a Christian for my first 40 years, because I was the kind of girl who always did the right thing. For example, when choosing universities, instead of going to a little-known one where getting a degree would’ve been easy, I applied, registered, and graduated from the toughest, most prestigious school I could find. So, the verse that says that many take the wide way but only a few walk the narrow way, appealed to me greatly. Christianity was hard, so it was the right thing to do, I thought.

    It also helped that my mom was such an adamant follower of God. And, of course, I wanted to please the woman. But she was also a skeptic. She taught me, for example, that when a politician gives a speech, you should carefully examine his every word, and almost for sure, he/she will be found lying.

    So I was a skeptic at about everything, but God: “mom says it, that settles it.”

    As luck will have it, I moved to North America and, without the influence of my mother, I eventually started listening to the nagging doubts I had about Christianity. It was bound to happen. I’ve never stuck with anything else, why would Christianity be any different?

    Thank you for the question, Karen.

  • 24. Evangelines  |  November 3, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    I don’t think you are wrong to be skeptical – quite often the church, and it’s members stray too far from the core message of Christ, of how we should treat each other and how to live, that it pushes people away. There is nothing wrong with questioning, and not just accepting what you are told. You have your own mind, use it to reason, find the truth for yourself. That’s what our brains are for. I believe many who claim to ‘know’ the message don’t really understand what they read in the Bible. But also, just because the church you have experienced has not been as it should, doesn’t mean the message of Jesus is meaningless, or not valid. It’s just that people, through their own prejudices, desires, egos, and hypocracy, make a church that suites them. That is not what Christiantiy is truly about. You can be outside the established church, yet have a belief in God and how we should be, and that is for you to decide – no-one has the right to tell you are wrong. Take your own path:)

  • 25. drivebymedia  |  November 3, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    it sounds as if you think that someone either has belief or doubt? but is that ever really true. I have never met anyone with out doubts no matter what beliefs they have. doubts are like anything else they can be used for good like to help help guide us to the truth or they can cripple us and make us stop moving.
    http://disorganizedreligion.wordpress.com/

  • 26. Paul Filan  |  November 3, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    I’ve been a part of organized religion for 20 some odd years and have always had questions. Most of the time those questions put me at odds with the leadership of those organizations… most recently got me fired from one. And now I’m left in a swirl of mis-understanding. No matter what I post on my blog, I am being told over and over that I need to repent. The question I ask is: what do I have to repent for? What if I don’t believe in the ‘book’ the way they do?

    I appreciate Richards response to Bigham: “(1) It is effortless to claim that whenever you have a Christian who “gets it wrong” that its the person that failed, not the theory…”
    I am growing weary of the ‘I’m right, and you need to repent’ attitude I’m getting from people I once walked with.

    I’ve just started this journey and find these discussions so beneficial and healing. I’ve found more understanding from people here, where many people have walked away from ‘christianity’, then the camps that I come from. They preach from the pulpit how much we are supposed to love our brothers… then I’m just kicked to the curb! Great way to practice what you preach… or not. And the sad part is that most of my friends just continue to fall in line. I don’t get it?

    Thanks so much for sharing your hearts on this blog, and giving me a safe place to ask questions and try to discover myself again.
    –paul

  • 27. fedupchristian  |  November 4, 2007 at 6:23 am

    Before I comment on this, I must say that my first language is french so sorry in advance for any mistakes…. thank you

    I would like to say like you, I am one of those why me, why me, I am asking myself this question every hours of the day every seconds of every hours… I have seen so many things on this earth that I lost all faith in God, on pastors and evangelists… I still will never understand why all good men and women on earth will still suffer more than the disgusting and cruel human being on this planet… Therefore the question why us, why them, why God doesnt do something about it…

    People told me about salvation, about promises of a better life but it never happened… I ve been a fervent pentecostalist since the age of 7 am now 27, during this period I ve suffered all a man can possibly suffered in this world… Why me I said, what have I done wrong? Nothing…

    My dad, a cruel man, we have been traumatised through deaths of loved ones, my sister had been assaulted, we have had to hid to save our lives, my mother had been sick for long periods of time, and am now struggling to make ends meet… I could add more but I will not… I know what everyone will say to this but some have suffered more, that s exactly my point, why us? You will find out that all the people that truly suffer on this earth, are innocent of wrong doing, are persecutees, are children who have done nothing to deserve such treatments while the persecutors are enjoying their lives, nothing bad happens to them, so where is the justice in all of this… why have I tried to keep myself in a good relation with God if it was for nothing…

    I have lost my faith, I will never read the bible again, and will never go to church again… Faith has become a business, pastors have become businessmen looking to extort more money from us… Where is salvation, where all the good men have gone…

    I must say it will take miracle for me to believe again and believe I have seen some miracle in my life throughout my christian years so I know what I m talking about… I dont know where is the truth, I dont know where love for each other has gone but you will certainly not find it in church…

    If anyone out there can comprehend my pain, feel free to write as I have more to say….

    Jun

  • 28. HeIsSailing  |  November 4, 2007 at 6:56 am

    Karen, I often wonder why I have lost my faith when so many of my old church buddies have not.

    See this post for my response.

  • 29. preechaman7  |  November 4, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Karen,
    Very interesting post. I really love when people become so open you can almost hear their heartbeat.
    To answer your question, I think I entertained my doubts out of respect to my parents. They are concerned for my spiritual well being, but, to this point, have not been outspoken about it. I really wanted everything I grew up believing to be true, but, alas, they are not. Maybe its nostalgia, I don’t know. A friend of mine told me one day, after I shared with him that I wished I could reenter the age of innocence and believe as I did before, that there is no way you’d go back knowing what you know now. And since there is no way to “unknow” I guess I’m stuck where I am.

  • 30. Samanthamj  |  November 4, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    great post… great comments… still reading…

    but, had to comment to Loopyloo’s post #3…

    Loopyloo wrote:
    ====
    “Oral Roberts in action, but he has this thing where he puts his hand on someones forehead and pushes them back while shouting “You are healed”. My Grandfather put his hand up and cupped his ear and said “What?” ”
    =====

    I just found that visual extremely hilarious! LOL Thanks!

    ~smj

  • 31. Samanthamj  |  November 4, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Karen –

    I’ve felt like that… but, now am glad I no longer have that “innocence”. I wrote a poem about that if you’re interested called “Days of Gray”, that starts out like this:

    ===
    Sometimes I miss the black and white.
    When I was sure of wrong and right.
    Before the days of gray crept in.
    Blurring lines of my vision.
    ====

    If your interested – the rest is at: http://smjpoems.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/days-of-gray/

    ~smj

  • 32. HeIsSailing  |  November 4, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Samanthamj,
    I remember using the black and white mentality of Christianity as one of its main selling points. I was proud that there was no world of grey, but with Christ we could for sure have a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Now I am happy with my shades of grey. It is much more realistic.

  • 33. James Diggs  |  November 4, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Samanthamj and HeIsSailing,

    “Black and White” morality is a modern/western/evangelical/fundamentalist take on Christianity; it has very little to do with the teachings of Jesus and much more to do with the lens in which a particular group looks at him.

    Peace,

    James

  • 34. Samanthamj  |  November 4, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Hmmmmm….

    Or the lens in which a particular group looks at everyone else, or everything else, in His name…

  • 35. bigham  |  November 4, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    there were a few comments that I would like to address… I didn’t read all the comments, so I apologize if there were others directed towards me that I do not address here… gotta run soon though, so a brief comment is better than no comment, in my mind at least.

    1- the skepticism issue- have you studied evolution as an opponent to it?
    you and I, and many others that are here it seems, are in a pretty unique position (this doesn’t include everybody here, so if it doesn’t include you, no need to defend yourself.)
    we have examined Christianity from both sides. Clearly, you look at things differently when you are a Christian reading the Bible, than when you have been “de-converted” and you are reading the Bible. Have you ever examined evolution as a “non-believer”, so to speak?

    2- the analogy between Christianity and liberalism- (I used “liberalism” instead of “Liberalism” and “Christianity” instead of “christianity” because liberalism cannot save your soul…)
    This analogy would hold if there was an unquestioned, definitive book on liberalism that everbody agreed on. If such a book existed, then we could measure an individual’s liberalism against said book and evaluate whether or not their liberalism is “real” liberalism.
    We have a Book like that with Christianity. We have Jesus’ teachings and accounts of Jesus’ life.
    So, when somebody professes to be a Christian, we can measure their beliefs and their actions against the Bible to see if they display “real” Christianity.

    This is a great defense against a lot of the big “what-were-they-thinking” moments in Christianity- i.e. the crusades, the inquisition, the witch hunts, and slavery.
    There were many “Christian” supporters of all of those tragedies, but when you compare those with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect and miracle-filled life, died on a cross for the sins of the world, and was resurrected 3 days later, according to the Scriptures, and we see that they do not much up.
    With the examples of bloodshed, Jesus’ teachings and His life show that Christianity is spread not by shedding others’ blood, but by being willing to shed our own if we must.

    To quote the poet/singer/songwriter/wordsmith Ross King in reference to Jesus:
    “You are the finest Thing that I could live for,
    and I pray You are the Thing for which I die.”

    …Off to do a private basketball lesson, adios y que la fuerza este contigo!

  • 36. bigham  |  November 4, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    …scratch the “and we see that they do not much up.”
    and insert “then we see that they do not match up.”
    (perfectionist in a hurry…)

  • 37. HeIsSailing  |  November 4, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    Bigham says:

    To quote the poet/singer/songwriter/wordsmith Ross King in reference to Jesus:

    “You are the finest Thing that I could live for,
    and I pray You are the Thing for which I die.”

    Holy Mackeral..!! Christian worship leaders are *still* writing songs in which they pray to Jesus for death by martyrdom???

    No Bigham, I have found that there is much in this life to live for. I have no desire to die for Jesus, and I sure hope you don’t either.

  • 38. OneSmallStep  |  November 4, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Bigham,

    Clearly, you look at things differently when you are a Christian reading the Bible, than when you have been “de-converted” and you are reading the Bible. Have you ever examined evolution as a “non-believer”, so to speak?

    I can’t speak for myself, but again, with all the de-conversion stories I read, they all started out reading books on evolution as an opponent of evolution, and found how much was falsified on the opposing side, which is precisely why they accepted evolution as scientifically valid.

    So, when somebody professes to be a Christian, we can measure their beliefs and their actions against the Bible to see if they display “real” Christianity.

    I think even here, one will have to select what portions of the Bible that displays the “real” Christianity. Revelation is a violent book, portions of the Tanakh are violent, and even certain descriptions of what happens to non-believers in the gospels themselves aren’t pleasant. Not only that, in taking the “nice” portions of the Bible, we could still run into complications. Jesus and Paul accepted slavery as a part of the world in which they lived. They didn’t speak out as to whether it was wrong, the way we would today. So that could be used as a defense as to why slaver was permissible (and probably was). Or take Judaism. Lines from Jesus such as saying the Pharisees were from the father of lies, or from Paul in that the Jews were of the flesh greatly contributed to the anti-semetism that we’ve seen over the last 2,000 years or so. We can debate as to who is taking things out of context and what was misinterpreted, and say that Christians of the past were wrong. But what makes your interpretation more valid than theirs? Because society now says things like slavery are wrong? Ultimately, it’s a subjective viewpoint.

  • 39. Richard  |  November 5, 2007 at 1:33 am

    “[re: the analogy between Christianity and liberalism]
    This analogy would hold if there was an unquestioned, definitive book on liberalism that everbody agreed on. If such a book existed, then we could measure an individual’s liberalism against said book and evaluate whether or not their liberalism is “real” liberalism.
    We have a Book like that with Christianity. We have Jesus’ teachings and accounts of Jesus’ life.”

    Are you kidding? “Everybody agrees on”? Im not sure how to take this. SUrely you cant mean what you sound like you mean. All two billion Christians agree? I dont think I could come up with a more *dis*- agreed upon book in the history of the written word than the Christian Bible.

    So which denomination’s interpretation should we accept when plumbing for the “real” Christinaity of the “real” Jesus: Catholics or Church of Christ? Or maybe Primitive Baptist? Or Methodist? You really only have two realistic options here: (1) pick a particular denomination’s view and defend it or (2) say “go to the Bible itself.” At the risk of putting words in your mouth — please correct me if I mispeak here – you seem to be saying: go to the Bible itself.

    Which would be a fine, fine answer… *if* it werent for the fact that that begs the question – how should we interpret what we read there? To answer *that* question, we have to chose a lens, ususally among a number of pre-existing options — i.e., a demoninational interpretation. (Or you could invent your own. But that just adds +1 to the range of interpretational possibilities.)

    It would be one thing if the New Test. were as clear a document as the Westminster Confession. Then it would be easy to tell what real Christianity was. Alas, it is not so. What about infant baptism? Works vs faith? The criteria for salvation? Eternal vs conditional security? Pre-trib or post-trib?

    Heres the crux of the matter, my friend: I have no doubt you could point to some Bible verses to answer these and any other questions I might have. Thats fine. But what if I disagree? What if I say, no, heres a different verse that leads to a different conclusion? The folks who teach eternal security have many verses to back up their view. But the folks who believe conditional security arent just making it up. They dont say “I dont wanna believe it. So there!” They, too, point to *the same Bible* to back up *their* view. How do we settle this dispute?

    My point is there can be no solution, for there is no higher authority to appeal to, no standard of truth possible, unless God himself were to intervene, but so far he hasnt seemed to see fit to. You may be able to put together a case on any given issue — maybe even a knock-down case, using linguistics, history, context, all that. But if in the end I still am unconvinced, what then? What if I argue with your reasons? **How do you ever know you’re right so long as objections and counter-arguments remain?**

    You cant. You can only make an argument. You may be quite convinced of your argument, but its still, in the end, an argument *about* the truth– not the truth itself. Thats as good as it gets. So as long as someone disagrees with your view, there can never be any fixed and final answer as to what the “real” Christianity is, or was.

    So my feeling is, the question becomes meaningless. There is no “real” Christiantiy, or if there is, it is unrecoverable to us. There is only Christianity as practiced by this group, and by that group.

    Which means, to get back to our point, its rather evasive to always blame the individual or the group, rather than the theory, because (you say) the “real” theory says something else. Thats easy to do if the real theory is so slippery as to be defined as “whatever this person do a bad thing over here *isnt*”.

    In a sense, there is no Christianity, only Christians. Or, as Nietzsche said, the last Christian died on the cross.

    Richard

  • 40. bigham  |  November 5, 2007 at 2:49 am

    The only *perfect* Christian died on the cross, so in that regard I agree that “the last Christian died on the cross.”

    And whatever argument I come up with cannot seal the deal for all. If Jesus was alive right now, and He was performing miracles right now- healing the blind, sick, leprous, and demon possessed- there would be some who would still say, “I am not convinced.”

    And there would be others who would try to disprove Him, or to catch Him up in some sort of “catch-22″, as the Pharisees sought to.

    I cannot fathom why the Bible would mention those things- that people heard Jesus’ teachings and saw His miracles and did not believe, and even worse sought His life- unless they really did happen.

    If you can think of a reason that those things are in there, I would love to hear it.

    The best reason I can come up with is the one the Bible gives, which is: “For He (God) says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” -Romans 9:15

    I have no clue why God chose to tear my defenses to shreds, piece by piece, until I saw, heard, and understood that Jesus was, is, and always will be the King of this universe.

    I am not the first, and I will surely not be the last, to be willing to die for his King.

  • 41. samanthamj  |  November 5, 2007 at 3:42 am

    Re: “If you can think of a reason that those things are in there, I would love to hear it.”

    Maybe the bible mentions those things (miracles) because, like so many other things in the bible, they are made up…. fictional… not real.

    Another reason might be that those who wrote it, or interpreted it, were being pretty smart, by providing an “excuse” as to why God stopped providing miracles. This way, people can say exactly what you just said (that even when Jesus WAS around and performing miracles, there were those who did not believe). It’s a pretty lame excuse – but, has worked for centuries.

    Personally, if God were to speak to me from a burning bush, or part a sea, or appear and walk across the water – or even just appear and say anything… SOMETHING – I’d believe. Yup. That would work for me. I have to think I’m not alone here.

    But, that won’t happen… and why? Because God already tried that, and some people still didn’t believe? So, MAYBE if he tried it again, we still wouldn’t believe? And, what if we didn’t? We’re already “going to hell” if we don’t believe supposedly… so, why wouldn’t God at least try to give us poor heathen folks that option… just like in the good old days?

  • 42. bigham  |  November 5, 2007 at 3:55 am

    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
    You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
    “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.”
    Romans 9:17-26

    (I was just going to put the part about Pharaoh, but I just couldn’t stop there…)

  • 43. James Diggs  |  November 5, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Bigham,

    I am sad and yet not surprised that you would blame evolution and liberalism for those who “de-convert”. Honestly I think it is that kind of fundamentalist rhetoric that is actually more responsible for many leaving the faith than anything else. Ironically evangelical fundamentalism is not interested in what is true even thought they talk about “truth” all the time. What these kinds of “Christians” are interested in is protecting their religious paradigms at all costs. When science and liberalism say something that is true and it conflicts with the fundamentalist paradigms these “Christians” sound like idiots as they both deny truth and scream about protecting it at the same time. I think there are plenty of atheists and those that have de-converted that in reality have NOT rejected Christianity and the gospel in as much as they have rejected evangelical fundamentalism.

    I know that there are plenty of atheists and agnostics that reject the idea of God even beyond the scope of a Christian God but I am always amazed about how many arguments against God and faith by many atheists are the antithesis of fundamentalist arguments. These arguments easily reveal the holes in this so called “Christian” thinking and because the argument takes place with the assumption of fundamentalist paradigms there is no alternative than to swallow all of it or none of it. I was listening to Richard Dawkins who wrote “The God Delusion” on NPR last month and this renowned atheist author was saying that Christians had to believe everything in the Bible or none of it. Fundamentalists have so monopolized and misrepresented Christianity as something that is exclusive to their paradigm of it that many of the same wrong assumptions about God, scripture, and faith are strongly held by people who reject fundamentalism.

    Bigham, I know I am not going to convince you of this because you are probably thoroughly ensnared by picture of God that you and fundamentalism have created for yourself. You will no doubt say that it is not your picture but the bible’s picture and thus deny the reality that you read the bible through your own lens. Beyond this I think fundamentalism actually participates in Bible idolatry as it sets up a picture of God that it draws from the scriptures and worships that picture which is created and is easier to box up, and get your head around than God actually is; which is such a profound mystery that even inspired scripture falls short in describing by comparison.

    The nature of western/modern/evangelical take on Christianity is a systematic, connect the dots approach to scripture in which it turns an inspired narrative of how God was present with a group of people throughout history wrestling with how to live this life with God in their midst and turns it into “God’s answers book”. This leads to all kinds of fallacies such as morality not existing outside of scripture and that scripture is the authority on morality. As a follower of Jesus I do believe that God sets the standard of morality but as a follower at best I can do is wrestle with it just like everyone else. The narratives in scripture speak from a perspective of people wrestling with this but not having the final answers too. I have far too many atheist and agnostic friends that have a higher standard of morality than many Christians to think that the religion of Christianity has a monopoly on morality. Not to mention that that the characters of these narratives not only saw the world , God, and morality through their historical worldview but often could not live up to their own understanding of such standards. The morality argument is just one fallacy that most atheists can see right through. Other fallacies include things like defining faith as having to accept someone’s idea propositional “truth”. Like all of its fallacies western/modern/evangelical Christianity takes this problem and “solves it” through circular arguments that’s objective is to protect its paradigm rather than seek what is true and goes beyond their God in a box.

    Most atheists are incredibly intelligent and self reflecting people and denying the truth of evolution or villainizing liberalism (especially when much of liberalism is concerned about justice and morality) because it does not fit into your small box of how you think God works is only going to convince people of how small your god really is. I would reject it too.

    Peace,

    James

  • 44. HeIsSailing  |  November 5, 2007 at 7:41 am

    James Diggs sez:
    <blockquote“Black and White” morality is a modern/western/evangelical/fundamentalist take on Christianity; it has very little to do with the teachings of Jesus and much more to do with the lens in which a particular group looks at him.

    I concur James, and since leaving Christianity and reviewing the Scriptures without the lens of my church creed, I see that this is correct. But this is Christian environment that I came out of. It was what I was taught my entire life, and it is the only Christianity I know. Liberal Christianity was heard of but thoroughly villified in every church I went to. I tried attending some liberal churches, but the friends I invited to go with me warned me and stopped me. If Christianity were a coil spring, Fundamentalism is that spring wound so tight that there is no room for flexability. That spring is the easiest to snap and break, which is why it seems the majority of us de-converts seem to come from Fundamentalist backgrounds (anectodal evidence here, since I am not really sure). I am not here to de-convert anybody else, nor challenge more liberal Christians. I am just reacting to what I was fed my entire life.

  • 45. loopyloo350  |  November 5, 2007 at 10:25 am

    James, as a liberal, evolution believing, constantly searching for knowledge Christian, I almost totally agree with your post.

  • 46. James Diggs  |  November 5, 2007 at 10:50 am

    HeIsSailing,
    Great spring analogy! I think the ironic thing is springs are supposed to be flexible, if it’s not I wonder if it really is a spring and doing it’s job? Rob Bell calls the same thing “Brick” theology and actually uses the springs in a tramalilne as an analogy to explaine an alternative view. You might be interested in his book called “Velvet Elvis” in which he talks about such things. I am not recomending this to try and “re-convert” you but just because you may be interested in how someone other than a fundamentalist evangelical looks at issues of faith and skeptism as a follower of Jesus.

    loopyloo350,
    Thanks! I value feed back from liberal, evolution believing, constantly searching for knowledge Christians. There aren’t enough of them around.

    Peace,
    James

  • 47. Richard  |  November 5, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Bigham-
    Your post is interesting and raises some interesting questions — but you also did not address the questions I put to you. But I think they are important, so I will repeat them.

    The issue at hand is getting access to the “real” Christianity. You say it exists, and I am asking you to tell me how to discover it.

    I say you cant do it. Again, it would be one thing if the Bible consisted of the Four Spiritual Laws, and nothing more. Those would be pretty hard to misinterpret. But there are thousands of Christian denominations, all or almost all of which read the same Bible you do and yet somehow manage to come to a very different understandning of what it means. Couldnt God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, write something any clearer than that? *We* can. Every one of the posts on this thread is clearer than the New Testament. Why cant God do that?

    Moreover, I say the fundamentalist Christian game is rigged, because whenever a Christian does something rotten, or a Christian finds his belief-system inadequate to addressing his needs, the blame is never, ever, in your thought, allowed to fall on the belief system itself. I dislike this word, because I think it is way overused, but the issue here is that your system is not falsifiable. There is no outcome that is ever “allowed” to count against it.

    My point in pressing this so hard is that I think this whole process has destructive consequences. For if you have a believer, struggling, unhappy, crying out to his God for help and sustenance, and nothing happens, then, according to you and those who teach what you teach, *the problem is always the believer*. He is failing, in some way. He is never allowed to question or challenge the belief itself. So his self-esteem pays the price of sustaining this rigged system — to the detriment of many sincere believers, sincerely asking their God for aid and succor, and sincerely hearing only silence.

    This is the crux of the difference between us, bigham: you say a “sincere” believer who gets no answer from God isn’t really sincere. I say the simpler answer is that there’s no one there to answer him.

    James Diggs- Thank you for your thoughts! I respect the hell out of what you said in your post. If I were still a Christian, it would be more like what you present. I wish there were more around whose view of their faith was more like yours.

    Richard

  • 48. bigham  |  November 5, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Richard,
    It is obvious to me, and probably to everybody else here, that you are the more inteligent of the two of us.
    However, that does not change the fact that you are wrong about Jesus Christ, who was, is, and always will be the King of this universe.

    You won’t like this answer, but I hope that I might be able to explain it in a way that is satisfactory.

    I think that the problems you point to are problems with American Christianity today.

    The main problem, one of the results of which you point to with your example of a struggling, unhappy, crying out believer, is the tendency of American Christians to isolate.

    I think this is caused by the mishandling of striving for the unreachable perfection.

    We live in a broken world. We live in a world where everybody sins. We would not agree on an operational definition of sin- I assume that some things I would call sins, you would say there is nothing wrong with- but whatever standards of good and bad you set for yourself, you fall short of. I say Romans 7 is the only valid explanation of this.
    Anyways, sin does not magically disappear because you have saving faith in Jesus Christ. No human being is perfect or ever will be perfect as long as they live, until Jesus returns.
    This is in constant conflict with the necessity to strive to be Christ-like, that is perfect.

    So, a big problem that I see in American Christianity is that churches tend to have an atmosphere where it feels like a person should be perfect, should not have doubts, and should not question their faith.
    And we live in a world where people are not perfect, have doubts, and question their faith.
    So, due to that contrast, you get believers that are struggling, unhappy, and crying out to God, alone and in isolation.

    Once a person is in that position- a position that I have been in, and from your awareness of it I assume you have been there too- it is easy to be deceived. I do not think that it is impossible for God to overcome a situation like that, but for reasons that He only knows, that situation often leads to unbelief.

    On the other hand, if American Christianity cultivated a culture where people openly discuss their questions, concerns, doubts, and struggles I think that this situation would be avoided, or at least happen less frequently.

    There is a great Ross King song called “The Non-Religious Me” where he addresses this. He points to two instances in Jesus’ life that should influence the way that we Christians address strugglers.

    One is when Jesus asks if there is another way, other than the Cross. The other is when He slipped and stumbled when he was carrying the Cross.

    The gist is that if Jesus, who had no beginning and no end and was the Son of God and was God, asked for a way to avoid the brutality of the Cross and stumbled when carrying the Cross, why should we expect sinful, imperfect Christians not to have doubts or stumble?

    This all has a negative feel to it, so I’d like to tack on a little something about the beauty of Christianity here.

    If we all sin, then what is the difference between believers and unbelievers?
    Those who have true saving faith in Jesus, have promises of future recompense for our faith, but I don’t think that those promises alone are going to convince unbelievers.

    I cannot prove without a doubt that God exists, just as you cannot prove without a doubt that God does not exist.
    No matter how sound of an argument I could possibly construct, at some point it is going to come down to faith.

    However, I think that reason and ration and thought can close the gap. There is still a leap of faith, but I don’t like to take big, blind leaps. That is not what it was for me. I was convinced that the life that Christianity provides really is the best life that a person can have. I was fed up with the female sex and all of the problems that I had experienced with them. I wrote a blog that goes into more detail on this- http://bigham.wordpress.com/2007/08/25/lets-talk-about-sex/

    Long story short, I identified that the characteristics that I wanted in a potential wife were characteristics that are components of Christianity. I believed that Christians were misled at the time, but believed that Christians were in general better people than non-Christians were. I believed they were more virtuous. So I decided that a Christian girl would be ideal, because she would have virtues that would be beneficial in a wife, and I believed this would also benefit the children that I hope to have someday, in that they would be more virtuous with a Christian mother.

    I also had in the back of mind something that I read a long time ago in some men’s magazine. The article sited research done by The Kinsey Institute, which found that the people who were most satisfied in their sex lives were those in faithful marriages. I didn’t totally agree with that, in large part because I had been Americanized enough to think that more partners = more satisfying sex life. I don’t know if people come out and say it that explicitly, but it is everywhere you look.

    So those things, along with seeing the happiness in a lot of Christian friends, and conversations with my brother, the seminary teacher and preacher, had me in a position to be open to Christianity.

    All that to say this: one of the beauties of Christianity is that it provides us with a way to avoid cowardice and to stand up and fight against the failures that we all want to avoid.
    You do things that you don’t want to do, as do I. The difference is that before I was dragged into Christianity against my will by God, I had a defeatist mentality towards things that I now call sins, some of which I thought were wrong then, some of which I didn’t. I was a coward to those things. They were a waste of time, only brought troubles, and were never satisfying. And yet I was a slave to them, and gave in like a coward every time they called.

    I am nowhere near perfect, and I still struggle with many of the same things. But I struggle with them less often. And the victories that I have experienced have allowed me to pursue greater pleasures.

    I was holding out against Christianity in large part because of some things that I saw as great pleasures. One of the great things about my conversion is that I have seen that those pleasures were nowhere near as great as I thought they were.

    The greatest pleasures that this world has to offer can only be found by knowing God and enjoying Him.

    The only catch is that you have to submit to His son.

    Joshua 4:14 says, “On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they revered him, just as they revered Moses all the days of his life.”

    My hope and prayer is that some how, some way God will exalt Jesus in your life in such a way that it will not even be a choice. The only option that you will see is to revere Jesus all the days of your life, and that will cause you to joyfully concur and delight in the law of the Lord, and in His law you will meditate day and night!

  • 49. One of the Beauties of Christianity « Eyes That See  |  November 5, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    [...]  http://de-conversion.com/2007/11/03/why-me-lord-why-did-i-de-convert/#comment-9699, and thought I would share it here) [...]

  • 50. Richard  |  November 5, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Bigham-
    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your sincerity and your concerns and even your prayer; I know that they are well-intended.

    I agree with you that in part, perhaps, some of this comes down to sociological issues. It is doubtless true that some, at least, doubting believers and prospective deconverts would have that deconversion process averted if they had had a more solid community, and a community more tolerant of doubts – but it is difficult to generalize about that because everyone’s story is different. When you read deconversion stories, the experience in this respect is all across the map. Some people do find themselves in isolation, many don’t. Many are quite, in fact, immersed in their community when they leave.

    I maintain that some of the problems I’m alluding to do not just inhere in the social structures of Christianity but in the theology itself. It is hard not to feel a pressure to “perfection” when the belief system in question always blames you for failure, and never accepts imperfection itself. What would you think of a doctor who held you responsible whenever his treatment didn’t work, but took credit when it did? Shouldn’t there at least be the possibility that the treatment just *wont* work? So, I agree with you that Christianity appears to demand perfection. I disagree with you as to why and what to do about it.

    You see, way back when, I read CS Lewis’ ideas about all this and they made a lot of sense to me at the time. He invited his readers to notice how far short they fall of their “own” internal standards — and I say “own” because Lewis really wants to convince us that this law is universal.

    But even granting him that – and who can disagree, really? Of course I’m imperfect! – Lewis then pulls a fast one that I did not notice at the time. He implies and hints that our deepest sense of guilt and shame are the truest intuitions we have. In other words, it is not just that we are sometimes imperfect, but that’s okay. No, its not okay. We are, in fact, cosmically bad and once we *really feel* just how bad we are, then we’ll get it. I.e., pay attention to your worst sense of guilt – because that’s accurate.

    But I want to know why. Why is my deepest sense of imperfection the most accurate reflection of my moral character? Why not my highest sense of ethical success?

    And more: why cant God allegedly not tolerate sin? Yes, I know “the wages of sin is death”, but *why*? Don’t you see? These things are assumed, not argued. It makes no sense – at least not to me, once I think it through – to assume that this almighty God who supposedly loves me so much cant (or wont) tolerate anything less than perfection – whether its my own perfection or perfection mediated through some sacrifice.

    Let me ask you: is this the standard you demand in your life? Do you require that your children (if you have any, but fill in anyone here that you love) be somehow rendered perfect or else you just wont tolerate them? Do you think this *should* be your standard?

    This is my objection to Christian moral assessments. And so that I round out this picture, let me say that I’m glad that your faith works for you and I’m not trying to talk you out of it. I’m honestly happy for you. Obviously you feel better, freer, etc, and that’s good.

    But so do I. I deal with “sin” – if you want to call it that – by letting up on myself. Why are ordinary human failings worthy of cosmic attention, much less cosmic punishment? I fail to meet my standards, I try to do better and move on. If I’ve hurt someone, I make amends. There is no divine intervention required here. The only forgiveness I need is from anyone I may hurt.

    And for me, as a non Christian, let me say that life is exquisitely gorgeous, unspeakably precious. I have no need to see my failings as sin against the cosmic order. My hope for you is that you someday learn to tolerate your imperfections, and make peace with your own humanity.

    Richard

  • 51. Samanthamj  |  November 5, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I’m enjoying this thread and debate…

    Powerful words in your last post, Richard. I hate how religion can make so many feel like they are naturally “bad”, and need to be saved. When I was a teen, I was bombarded with (and really resented) messages that implied the sin of Eve was on my, and all women’s, shoulders. I had enough things to feel guilty about… now, I needed to worry about what Eve did too?? LOL ; )

    Of course no one’s perfect, and never will be. So what? It’s like telling a child they are “bad”. You just should not do that. You tell them what they DID was bad or wrong… but, not that THEY are bad…. or they tend to believe it and become it.

    Why would so many Christians not apply this to themselves?? Some Christians will say that IS what they are doing when the preach the old, “Love the Sinner, not the Sin” message. But, ultimately, is that what they really believe? I see too many contradictions to believe that line. The message that CS Lewis tries to convey – that we are “cosmically bad” – drives home that the Bible says it is US, and not just the sins, that are “bad”.

    To me, it’s like another means and threat tactic to get people to believe. People believe they are so bad… that they simply can’t love themselves or have good self esteem without having God to forgive them. How many people buy into that? Too many.

    People interpret the bible however it suits them. Each era and culture has done this. Each generation, thinks the others before them interpreted it wrong, and were not “really Christians” if they did things that contradict what they NOW believe. Each current generation believes wholeheartedly that THEY have got it right and that THEY are “real Christians”. Years from now, people will have the Bible l meaning something else yet again… and pointing fingers at the Christians of today as being wrong.

    I love the end of the last post. Richard wrote:

    “My hope for you is that you someday learn to tolerate your imperfections, and make peace with your own humanity.”

    I hope that too.. Both for myself, and for so many others out there.

    ~smj

  • 52. OneSmallStep  |  November 5, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    The message that CS Lewis tries to convey – that we are “cosmically bad” – drives home that the Bible says it is US, and not just the sins, that are “bad”.

    And you have to wonder how much of this mindset has shaped history. If you’re told, from childhood, how bad you are and you you don’t deserve God’s love, think of how that would shape the child. If nothing the child does is “good enough,” then why would the child be motivated to try? If the child is told that s/he deserves hell, and heaven is the ultimate goal, why would the child try and maximize good in this world?

    If we instead told people how good they can be, and how to access that good, think of what that would do to the world.

  • 53. bigham  |  November 5, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    I don’t think I completely communicated my thought earlier about the culture where it is ok to be open with struggles, questions, and doubts:
    I think that, from only what I said, you could presume that I meant it is the community that keeps a person believing. That is not what I meant. I think that it is God who does that, but a strong, interdependent atmosphere would keep Christians from lonely battles, which I think lead people to be more likely to “de-convert.”

    I don’t know how much you know about justification and sanctification, but with your knowledge of a lot of Christian issues, I assume you know at least a little bit about those terms.

    In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And in Matthew 5:20 Jesus says, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    I believe that those two verses speak to “justification.” Basically, He is saying that you have to be perfect and have perfect righteousness to gain access to heaven. If a person is “justified,” then he or she can stand in the presence of God and gain access to the kingdom of heaven.”

    A seminary professor told me last week that the Greek word that is used for “faith” in the Bible is a little difficult to translate into English. We think of faith as basically belief in the unknown, but he said that the Greek word is actually more of a combination of faith and faithfulness, or a living or active faith.

    When a person has true, saving faith in Jesus Christ, he or she is immediately “justified.” All believers have the same level of “justification.”

    What makes possible is the worst “trade” in history. I looked for the verse, but couldn’t find it just now- but somewhere in Romans Paul says basically that Jesus Christ, who knew no sin became sin. And those who believe in Him, though there is no righteousness in them become righteous. Jesus got our sins on the cross, and by active, living faith and faithfulness to Him we get His righteousness. Even though He knew no sin and we know no righteousness.

    Now, there is some measure of righteousness in each and ever one of us, but not righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and scribes. They were legalistic and self-righteous, and Paul, who was a converted Pharisee said that he was *blameless* as to the law. And even that level of righteousness is not enough.

    The righteousness of the Bible is immensely impossible. James says that if you don’t keep the whole law, then you are guilty of the whole law- i.e. if you don’t commit adultery but you do commit murder, your just as guilty as if you committed both.
    And Jesus said that if you lust after a woman you are guilty of adultery in your heart and if you are angry with your brother you are guilty of murder in your heart.

    That is the level of righteousness that you have to have to make it to heaven on your own.

    Thank God that Christianity is not a works-based religion like most/all other religions. If it was, we’d all be doomed and it would be pointless.

    However, God gave us a loophole. We are all cosmically bad and our worst sense of guilt is accurate before Him. For our sin, even if we lived perfect and committed only one insignificant sin our whole lives, God’s justice and His wrath would still have to be satisfied. If we take our sin to heaven, God is unjust.

    So there has to be some kind of loophole where sinners who deserve God’s wrath can get to heaven and God can still be just in allowing said sinners to be in His presence.

    This is where the Cross comes in. Because Jesus lived a perfect life, fulfilled all of the Scriptural prophesies of the Lord’s Messiah, His Crucifixion satisfied God’s wrath.

    God passed over all of the sins of the world, and took out His wrath on His own Son.

    And Jesus, who pre-existed everything in the universe and will post-exist everything in the universe, endured the cross *for the joy that lay before Him*!!!

    “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:1-2

    And because Jesus joyfully endured the wrath of God for us on the Cross, He was right when,
    “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’”

    And that is why we are “justified” before God.

    Once a person is “justified,” all of the sins they ever committed or ever will commit have been wiped away- which opens another can of worms; as Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” -Romans 6:1-2

    A justified person is innocent of all past, present, and future sins- but a person with true, active, living, saving faith will not be unrepentant towards sin…

    Thats where “sanctification” comes in… which is a whole other ball of wax!

  • 54. OneSmallStep  |  November 5, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Bigham,

    How are you defining “the law?” The ten commandments were part of the larger Torah, which consisted of around 613 commandments. Some of those laws dealt with preparing food. So violating a food law is enough to earn one’s way to hell?

    God passed over all of the sins of the world, and took out His wrath on His own Son.

    But this is the penal substition theory of atonement, which if I’m recalling correctly, didn’t really make the rounds until late in history. This is not forgiveness — forgiveness is refusing to punish, and releasing the right to punish. God did punish, he simply punished Jesus.

    not righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and scribes. They were legalistic and self-righteous,

    Can you find any support for this statement outside of the Bible or Christian history? Support that the leaders of Judaism were all like this?

  • 55. James Diggs  |  November 5, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    I like what Richard wrote too when he wrote: “My hope for you is that you someday learn to tolerate your imperfections, and make peace with your own humanity.” I also think it is important to recognize that human perfections aren’t “sin”. I think SMJ is right when she talks about how the church works so hard to make people feel are naturally bad; in my opinion modern evangelicals often come dangerously close to Gnosticism (the idea that the body is evil).

    Bigham, I don’t think the larger problem here is in your belief in Jesus as God. While God’s existence as even as a concept is objectionable to an atheist in principle, I think what is often even more objectionable is the idea of God being this bloodthirsty being that can only be appeased by blood; either ours for our wickedness or his own Son’s Jesus Christ. This is where bible literalism has gotten Christians in trouble because the idea itself makes no sense yet most modern evangelicals (particularly fundamentalists) are obsessed with atonement imagery.

    Here is something to consider; sacrifices given to appease the gods go back into primeval history long before the narratives of Abraham in the OT. I think this imagery is used to show God meeting these ancient people were they were which included meeting them within their own worldview (which included animal sacrifices to make atonement for sin) These stories are descriptive and not prescriptive and yet still speaks to the reality of how great the consequences are for the injustice human beings can cause on one another. Having to sacrifice an animal and spill its blood was a strong visual image of just how awful our sins against one another can be. Ultimately however animal sacrifice never really did anything and real atonement or at-one-ment (the reconciliation between God and man and neighbor so that they can be one) would take much more than just slaughtering some animals.

    Bigham, I am a follower of Jesus. I believe that Jesus was God incarnate, and I believe he died on the cross and I believe in the resurrection. I also believe that Jesus fulfills and completes the imagery of OT sacrifices, but I also understand that the imagery is just that; an image and a picture of something greater. I believe that Jesus fulfills the picture but I also understand that the picture of blood atonement has limitations because it is just a picture. It is the overstatement of this imagery has something more than just a picture that many atheist friends of mine, and I myself, have a problem with. I just don’t see God as this vengeful guy that is out for blood and has to make some one pay. Besides that the whole argument has holes in it; like how does Jesus being sacrificed actually and literally PAY for my sin? Evangelicals run with this imagery and use sin and the cross to some sort of paradigm of economics in which Jesus is the only one that has enough cash to bail everyone else out. I am not denying the profoundness and powerfulness of this imagery; just that I believe that evangelicals overstep the limitations of the picture and take it literally too far; the worse case of this is the literal view of penal substitution.

    Also your understanding of terms like “justification” and “sanctification” seems to be limited by how they function inside your paradigm. In other words you understand these terms on some systematic theological level as to how they relate to each other and other terminology but fail to see how they reflect the reality of the real world. Instead of understanding scripture as reflecting reality you see scriptures AS reality and then reduce the real world to fit. These are the kind of arguments that make no sense for those that are trying to observe the real world. You’re not really addressing the fundamental questions being asked you’re just quoting a bunch of scriptures and theological terms and showing how you can connect the dots between them. Again I think this is the same kind of typical evangelical thinking that actually drives people away from faith.

    Back to Richard’s comment to you saying, “My hope for you is that you someday learn to tolerate your imperfections, and make peace with your own humanity.” Ultimately, I think this is what Jesus helps us with; through him we can make peace with our own humanity and the humanity of others. To me a faith that does not embrace humanity and the human experience is useless; apply the terms of “justification” and “sanctification” to that concept and you may be on to something. I think this is where God lives and ironically I know so many atheists and agnostics that do a much better job of leaning into valuing humanity than Christians. Again, this is why I am so enamored with the incarnation. If you ask me “salvation” began when God met us in our humanity and embraced us as human beings; the cross is only an extension of this because he also met us in the suffering and the injustice of the world that continually tries to dehumanize us. That is what “sin” is by the way, the things that attempt to dehumanize human beings. Again, most evangelicals think “sin” is what tarnishes their personal piety and adds a blemish to their eternal score card. I know atheist that have a better understanding of “sin” than this because they understand that sin oppression and injustice toward their fellow human beings.

    Ok, I am sorry…this is becoming a bit of a rant and I am getting a bit carried away. I’ll try to keep my replies shorter than this one from now on.

    Peace,

    James

  • 56. wolfshowl  |  November 6, 2007 at 1:07 am

    I deconverted about a year ago.
    *pause*
    Wow. It feels like so much longer ago than that.
    Anyway, I hadn’t really ever thought about why I deconverted and most kids I grew up with in Sunday School and such (and even my own brother) didn’t.
    I think there’s probably three reasons:
    1) I firmly believe indoctrination is similar to brainwashing, and it takes a very different location independent of those people for you to escape it. This is probably why so many college students deconvert. This, however, doesn’t work if you go to a Christian college.
    2) I’ve always been rebellious, analytical, last to believe anything the Bible teachers told us. It’s my nature to not go along with things.
    3) I think you were very right in saying that you were worried about what your mother would think. Students have actually said to me they would deconvert if it wouldn’t cause such an uproar in their family. I, however, did cause such an uproar in my family, and don’t care. I’m just not too attached to what they think of me. However, if you are attached to it, I can see that preventing deconversion.

    I really enjoy your blog. Congrats on the deconversion!

  • 57. Richard  |  November 6, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Im not sure I could do much better than James’ wonderful post above, but I will try to add my two cents worth. Bigham, the understanding of Christianity James portrays above is much more beautiful and far less harsh than the black-and-white, sin-and-hell focused understanding that you have. It takes much better account of human psychological reality and inspires us to be better, rather than trying to scare us into being better. It does don’t consider itself hog-tied to dogma but takes into account the real world while aspiring to the better Christian ideals of love, patience, and the emulation of Christ.

    Permit me a brief digression here – I promise it will be relevant. For in actuality one of the things I have come to find most frustrating about fundamentalist Christianity is that it does not even accord with the Judaism it grew out of. My wife is (Reform) Jewish, and I have spent a lot of time reading Jewish history and theology and trying to learn how Jews understand themselves, rather than how evangelical Christians understand Judaism – which, it rather goes without saying, is somewhat less than disinterested.

    The evangelical views of sin and atonement, especially substitutionary atonement, the role of law and guilt before the law, and most of all the goal of perfection, (“In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says, ‘Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’…. Basically, He is saying that you have to be perfect and have perfect righteousness to gain access to heaven”—from bighams post) are decidedly in contrast with Judaism’s understanding of itself.

    To simplify rather brazenly, in Judaism, the function of Mosaic Law is not, as evangelicals believe, to (theoretically) achieve moral perfection and thus be blameless before God. The function of the Law is to achieve “holiness”, or the modeling of oneself after God. It is teaching you how (in Judaism’s view) to lead a good life, *in this world*, not as preparation for the next. It is doing the right thing because it is the right thing. Reward has little to do with it. Even more, in Judaism the concepts of heaven and hell themselves have historically been quite marginal ideas, not generally emphasized and often (as in modern Reform Judaism) entirely absent.

    Moreover, although in its early stages of development the “temple cult” in Judaism – the part of the social structure focused on sacrifice – was predominant, that changed over time, especially with the destruction of the temple. The precursors of the rabbis ruled that atonement came through prayer (for sins against God) and righting your wrongs (for sins against others.) This may be understood as a practical move – there was no temple to make sacrifices at anymore. One of the prophets says “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” So the whole idea of sacrificial atonement vanished from Judaism entirely once the temple was lost.

    Thus, Judaism does not teach “works salvation” as fundamentalist Christians think. As one Jewish writer puts, it “salvation from what?” There is no hell to be saved from, no heaven aspire to. The fundamentalist idea that one must keep all of the laws, perfectly, in every detail in order to be “acceptable” to God is utterly foreign to Judaism. It does not, and has never, taught that one must keep all the law perfectly or go to hell. (bigham-“That is the level of righteousness that you have to have to make it to heaven on your own.”) This idea is purely a Christian invention, a la Calvin a la Augustine a la Paul.

    Let me be clear here: I am not saying this to promote a Jewish theology over a Christian one (I don’t believe in God, or rather, I see God as a projection of human ideals) although I do tend to find the Jewish view more ethically mature and more, well, humane, at least as compared to conservative Christianity. But rather, I say all this point out that there are ideas within fundamentalism that seem as natural and “obvious” as the summer sun, but which really are assumptions that we do not have to make. And indeed, even within fundamentalism they tend to never be argued.

    Fundamentalists think: *of course* we all sin. *Of course* we cant stop. *Of course* God wont put up with us if we’re not perfect. *Of course* we deserve and eternity in hell for even one sin. *Of course* we need someone to save us as a consequence. These things are obvious. Aren’t they?

    No. These assumptions aren’t shared by all, not even Christianity’s parent religion. They are not written in the stars somehow. They are distinctly Christian. This psychologically toxic, merciless emphasis on sin and corruption stood out for me in sharp contrast with another theism (Judaism, which is why I brought it up) that did not share it, and it equally well stands out in contrast to James’ Christianity. When I deconverted, the overriding reason I did so was not because of any intellectual arguement against Christianity; rather, it was because I came to see it as unhealthy.

    So, then, we are left with the question: why do these things exist within fundamentalism? Why do they make these particular assumptions, which are not, as we have seen, somehow as natural as breathing? The answer has to be, I think, is that these ideas speak to the psychology and emotional needs/issues of those who find them plausible. Total depravity makes sense to people already inclined to feel badly about themselves. This doctrine amplifies and sharpens that feeling – of guilt and shame and helplessness – and then proffers a solution. Christianity has well-honed methods for rooting out our deepest sense of failure and saying, “yes, that’s right. You are every bit as bad as you think you might be.”

    This is getting long, but I think what I’m aiming for here is a naturalistic understanding of the sin/hell/atonement ideas so seeped into fundamentalist thinking, because this suggests some targets for intervention, such as finding ways to build self-esteem so that no one *needs* to believe and try to justify this stuff. But I’ll leave that for another post.

    Even CS Lewis said that Christianity has nothing to say to the man who is not convinced he is sinful. I say, amen. Lets convince everyone of that.

    Richard

  • 58. karen  |  November 6, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Wow – I missed a lot here. Sorry to have been AWOL. Real life’s a bitch sometimes, no? ;-)

    I can’t respond to everything raised, but there are some great points being made here and I appreciate all the thoughts on why others deconverted. Thanks for those who said they would pray for me – I’m never offended by that.

    Richard:
    I have certainly found that the emotional and the theological have always been deeply intertwined for me. I dont think its an accident that my entire family, who had been conservative but only nominally church-affiliated for many years, became much more committed and engaged in fundamentalist life when my parents began to have problems and, eventualy, divorced.

    And I am even more certain that the reason I clung to it so tighly was because it provided clarity and surety in the midst of my pain and confusion. Nothing like evangelical dogma to make the world simple again. ANd thats what I wanted. Not what I needed, but what I wanted, and there were, really, no competing explanations/solutions available to me.

    I very much resonated with this, Richard. I was raised in a Presbyterian church, accepted Jesus in elementary school, but it was during middle school, when my parents divorced, that my faith began to take precedence in my life – and for the very reasons you describe exactly! I didn’t mention that because my post was too long already, but the timing surely was not coincidental.

    Add in that it was during the heart of the “Jesus people” movement and I was smack dab in the center of it here in Southern California and you’ve got two additional factors that wound up making me much more conservative and committed to fundamentalism even than my immediate family.

    As for being “reconverted” as some have suggested, I would never rule that out. If there’s anything I’ve learned during this process, it’s never say “never.” ;-) I don’t see it happening now, but I remain open to new evidence all the time (I’m an agnostic atheist) and I’m always questioning (as a true skeptic should!).

    The other thing I would say is that if god’s real, he’s got my number. He can get my attention, if he wants to, in a way that would surely persuade me – a mere human and not a real dogmatic person anyway – that he’s out there. So, here I am god, give me a call sometime! :-)

  • 59. karen  |  November 6, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Heather:
    Thank you for sharing. I found it interesting in your statement of skepticism not appealing to many people, and was mulling that over. Based on your experiences, would you say it’s because it’s hard to draw the line of what to be skeptical of? If we take it to extremes, we could start being skeptical of our very reality, of whether we see what we think we see, if we’re actually walking on ground and so forth. So for the more skeptical people, they clearly draw the line that, “I see a green tree. End of story.”

    No, it’s not that. It’s more along the lines of many people finding skepticism dry, cold, unemotional and too rabidly logical for them. One woman even told me skepticism was primarily appealing to males – and she’s right that the membership in atheist groups is heavily male, though I’m not sure her reason is sound. She said that women as a group (and the majority of men) tend to want a bit more mystery, romanticism, emotion and hope of an afterlife than skepticism provides.

    For instance, in an ex-fundy group I’d expect most members to be pretty skeptical. After all, they’ve found the flaws in a system they once accepted fully, and they’ve rejected that system quite soundly. However, the skeptics in the group I co-moderate are definitely the minority. People who deconvert from an established fundamentalist religion there often go into less-established religions, particularly (it seems) New Age beliefs like reincarnation, “universal energy” and so forth.

    Now, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but that stuff to me is just so much clap-trap. I don’t respect those beliefs, but I do respect the people who hold them, and the fact that they seem to need to cling to a happy message like “universal peace and reconciliation.” I see the appeal of that – of course! – but I don’t see why it has to be inextricably tied to supernatural belief. But many, many people want and need that supernatural element and aren’t emotionally fulfilled or happy without it.

    That’s why I said I don’t see skepticism appealing to everyone, though I sure wish it did!

  • 60. OneSmallStep  |  November 6, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Karen,

    People who deconvert from an established fundamentalist religion there often go into less-established religions, particularly (it seems) New Age beliefs like reincarnation, “universal energy” and so forth.

    That’s interesting, because my perception of de-converts is that there might be a heady load of skepticism for a while, just to make sure one is not “trapped” again — as you stated earlier. Then again, maybe those in the New Age movement did?

    On the other hand, speaking as the skeptical minority, I often wonder if I’m making too much of something, since so many people just seem to accept so much.

  • 61. James Diggs  |  November 7, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Richard,
    Thanks for the great insight on Jewish culture!! It always drives me crazy when I hear about Jewish culture from an evangelical lens because it so often very skewed. I have very often wanted to dialogue with Jews about their faith experience in order to grow from it, but unfortunately the only Jewish people I have ever known were “messianic” Jews; which were clearly “evangelical” Jews and I questioned if their take on Judaism reflected the broader faith as a whole.

    I have very much suspected, and a lot of what you are saying confirms this possibility, that the faith track I am on in regards to my own Christianity would be very consistent in many ways with Jewish beliefs correctly understood as you describe them. I would love to have more conversations in that regard. Do you have any resources or know of any place online where I could dialogue more with the Jewish faith?

    Thanks and Peace,
    James

  • 62. karen  |  November 7, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    That’s interesting, because my perception of de-converts is that there might be a heady load of skepticism for a while, just to make sure one is not “trapped” again — as you stated earlier. Then again, maybe those in the New Age movement did?

    I think it varies, but the biggest group seem to me to move from fundamentalism fairly quickly into a new religious belief system. I suppose it’s because when they reject fundyism they feel a big void in their lives and they want to replace it with another belief system.

    People who espouse agnosticism or atheism have to live with the tension of creating a moral and ethical belief system for themselves and, of course, living for today without belief in an afterlife. That seems awfully difficult for the majority of humanity to do. Which makes sense when we look at the persistence and pervasity of religion around the world, I guess!

  • 63. Richard  |  November 8, 2007 at 2:15 am

    James-
    I can suggest more books than online discussion boards. My time limits me from participating in very many of these and this is my main one, so I just havent explored very many others

    http://www.shamash.org has a number of mailing lists using “LISTSERV” (if that means anything to you) — kind of like this site but the messages get emailed to you

    http://www.beliefnet.com has some discussion boards (havent been on them myself, but Ive seen them there)

    http://www.myjewishlearning.com has a whole lot of great introductory essays

    For books you might try: What Do Jews Believe? by David Ariel. Good (short) introduction with historical overview — i.e., how beliefs and doctrines evolved over the ages. Overemphasis on Kabbalah/mysticism, IMO, but otherise good

    To Life! by Harold Kushner — another good intro. More general. Not quite “Jewish apologetics”, as hes not trying to convert anyone, but *is* written by a rabbi very enthusiastic about his judaism and trying to drum up interest and involvement among Jews; i.e., combination of information and cheerleading. but still good

    Liberal Judaism by Eugene Borowitz — one of the premier theologians of reform judaism; a truly wonderful book and marvelously lucid and accessible. I suspect you would find this very useful to you as a liberal christian as well as the approaches are the same — e.g., how the symbol system of a faith functions to convey its ideas. I highly recommend this one.

    Also you may be interested in A Rabbi Talks With Jesus by Jacob Neusner. He is, Im pretty sure, a liberal rabbi but writing from the vantage point of a traditional rabbi in Jesus’ day discussing the differences between Jesus’ teaching and theirs — and why, as Neusner says, he would respect him as a fellow teacher of Torah, but not follow him

    Hope that helps!

    Richard

  • 64. James Diggs  |  November 8, 2007 at 5:31 am

    Thanks Richard, I am going to get some of these books.

    Peace,

    James

  • 65. HeIsSailing  |  November 8, 2007 at 6:13 am

    Richard, I am enjoying your exchange and thanks for the book suggestions!! I will be sure to check one or two of those out. The next book on my reading list is ‘He that Cometh – The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism’, by Sigmund Mowinckel. Any other recommendations in that vein?

  • 66. Richard  |  November 9, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    HeIsSailing-
    Im not familiar with the book Mowinckel book you listed, but it sounds interesting.

    There is also a lecture series you can buy that I have found very helpful. Its from The Teaching Company. What they do, if you havent heard of them, is go around to vaious college campuses, find the lecturers considered the best, and record them giving their lecture series. They have a huge cataloge and most all of them I have heard (about a dozen) are wonderul.

    They have one on introduction to Judaism by a professor a vanderbilt named Shai Cherry. Its very good. About 24 lectures,30 minutes each, I think, and one of them is on “messianism.”

    Its a good place to start for understading judaism as jews understand it.

    The lectures can be bought on tape, CD, DVD, or downloaded in mp3 format (which is what I do, its the cheapest. I then burn my own CD’s and listen to them in the car.)

    Be aware that the courses are rather pricey when not on sale, but every course goes on sale at least once a year. I think I pay about $35 for a mp3 download of a course that size.

    The website is http://www.teach12.com. (and no, I dont own stock or work there, I just think they do a great job).

    Richard

  • 67. karen  |  November 9, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I love the Teaching Company! They’ve got a terrific thing going there.

    I downloaded a series on religion and science throughout history – fascinating – and one on the brain that was incredible. The best thing about them is that I can put the lectures on my iPod and listen to them as I walk or bike, exercising both mind and body at the same time! So efficient. :-)

  • 68. karen  |  November 9, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    I love the Teaching Company! They’ve got a terrific thing going there.

    I downloaded a series on religion and science throughout history – fascinating – and one on the brain that was incredible. The best thing about them is that I can put the lectures on my iPod and listen to them as I walk or bike, exercising both mind and body at the same time! So efficient. :-)

  • 69. TheNorEaster  |  December 27, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Hi, Karen:

    In some ways, your story sounds familiar. I have been through similar circumstances–”trials,” you might say–though not quite the same as yours. Maybe one significant difference was that I was not raised in a fundamentalist background. And when I chose to believe in God, I stayed away from fundamentalism. Today, I have my own views about God–which can be tough to do when you’ve got to sort through all the radicalism and the political nonsense.

    Well, time for me to get going. I’ll be around, though.

    thenoreaster.wordpress.com

  • 70. Grant Dexter  |  July 12, 2008 at 2:43 am

    I’m a natural-born skeptic. I’ve never fallen for a financial scam, bought a “miracle cure” or gone to work for a multi-level marketing agency. I want proof before I buy something; good evidence before I believe.
    Gosh! Why on Earth do you accept that rocks turned into people then?

  • 71. Obi  |  July 12, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Since when do rocks turn into people, haha?

  • 72. LeoPardus  |  July 13, 2008 at 12:59 am

    I think Grant is trying to make a reference to evolution. Not sure. If so, the reference was ….. uhm… rather rocky.

  • 73. Joe  |  July 14, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I know I’m in for it giving my opinion here, but I will anyway. I remember when I was 7 years old too. I ran into the kitchen and caught my Mom off guard. “How can Santa get to all those houses in one night?” I asked. “Because he can’t. There’s no Santa Claus/” Mom was in an impatient mood about cooking, and wasn’t “into” my questions. Besides, she most likely felt it was time for me to know. I cried very hard all day long. I felt ripped-off by Santa and my parents.

    Before I was a Christian I was quite curious also. But I have to be very honest—even as a kid when I was told that we “evolved” it seemed hard to “believe”—I use “believe” because our family was not religious in the least, and I was being asked to “believe” this story of evolution. I had heard of Adam and Eve naturally, but had no idea what that really meant either—–I’m just saying that evolution seemed “far-fetched” to me also. When my brother said “oh you see, fish started to come onto land, and as they rubbed their fins more amd more, they slowly turned into arms” (that was the explanation he was given at the time).

    I remember thinking “but how is a fin going ot turn into a foot or hand? How would that happen?” I seriously could not understand how nature itself could “determine” what it was going to become? I know my knowledge of evolution was flawed, but what I am trying to say is that I could not accept the premise, so I really did not know what to believe.

    But when you make the statement:

    “Examining those two memories explained to me why I had stayed with religion for so many years, and why I finally left religion when so many of my friends and relatives have not”.

    See, to me that doesn’t explain it at all. EVERYONE (at least everyone who is told there is a Santa) goes through the crisis of learning there is no Santa. EVERYONE goes through that. And most people ARE skeptical also—whether skeptical of Religion or skeptical of some scientific “theories”—you don’t have to be a christian to be skeptical of evolution—-some scientists are—and some secretly, who just don’t “buy” the theory—maybe they would if it had a bit more weight and proof.

    Using those two examples as to why you were able to leave the faith while others have not is not logical. And again, as I have mentioned on a couple of threads (and received heavy assault due to stating it)—-you appear to be saying that you have gone through something “unique” that others have not—that’t why YOU have been able to leave, while OTHERS have not. I have called this a “martyr complex”—-I continue to say that this appears to be very real. I am seeing it over and over again—-”this is why I MYSELF have left the faith, and OTHERS HAVE NOT”—you are saying you have experienced something “unique” that caused you to leave while others stayed.

    And I continue to state (and will do so no matter what flack I receive) that this is ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE. You have gone through the same doubts, crisis of faith, curiosity, that every Christian goes through—we ALL have doubts—-I went through the same things you have and I STILL BELIEVE,

    So, there has to be another reason you left the faith. And that’s where the true inquiry comes in. Why did YOU leave the faith after experiencing what others experience, and others did not? Are you special? No. Are you different than them? No. Basically it comes down to this—-you made a choice. The question ultimately though is “was it a good choice, or was it a bad choice?

    And that is where the whole, true argument lies.

  • 74. Joe  |  July 14, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    By the way—-YOU are unique and special—–what I meant is you EXPERIENCE is neither unique or special. sorry

  • 75. Obi  |  July 14, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Joe –

    The answer to your question is simple. People think differently, and most people cling to religion/faith because it gives them hope, even when there is little evidence for such beliefs, and even large amounts of evidence against it. Humans have been creating religions and their accompanying mythologies for thousands and thousands of years, and indeed, it’s very strange for a human not to have a religion, because many times it gives them something to hold on to.

    I don’t want to generalize, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the large amount of people hold fast to faith in their religion of choice merely for the sense of security that it affords them, and not because they see it as true in the slightest. It’s simply human nature.

  • 76. Grandma Honeybutter  |  July 14, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Obi–

    Thanks—but you are missing the point. What I am saying is that Karen is doing what a few here have a habit of doing. She speaks as though HER EXPERIENCE is FAR DIFFERENT than others. Read above again:

    “Examining those two memories explained to me why I had stayed with religion for so many years, and why I finally left religion when so many of my friends and relatives have not”.

    Even if MANY as you say hold onto religion for “security” what makes Karen “special” so that she chose to leave Christianity. She attributes her experience in learning Santa wasn’t real, and her exposure to Darwinism as to “keys” for her leaving the faith while others didn’t.

    I am saying this is not a good explanation at all. EVERYONE has gone through a “santa disappointment” in their life (If they once did believe in Santa), and EVERYONE has experienced skepticism at some point, either in regards to relgion or to science.

    For one to say “I know why I left religion while others have not, and it’s because of these two things” is to say you have experienced something others have not—you are somehow “special” and your eyes have been opened while other “believers” have not. Often linked wtih this is the expression “You don’t know the crisis we have faced as de-cons in coming to our decision”. I am stating this is a “martyr complex” because you are inferring you went through something uncommon to other believers——and I will repeat, this is simply untrue. EVERYONE goes through a crisis of faith in their Christian experience—there are times of doubt, deadness, suffering, uncertainty, etc.—-I know—because I have gone through it–came close to turning back for good, but came through it believing more strongly than ever.

    If I could just hear someone say “other Christians have experienced exactly what I experienced—–I just chose to stop believing, while they decided to continue believing”. This to me would be honesty—not a “martyr complex”, or acting as though their decision took much more pain and suffering than others who still believe have gone through. Stop thinking or believing that your decision to stop believing is because you are in some “special class” of people, faced with greater issues of doubt, etc.—admit that you are in the same boat with ALL that believe, but you decided to turn back when faced with doubt, rather than to continue as the majority do.

    You can jump all over me for saying this—-I really don’t care—I’m just tired of hearing about your “special crisis leading to unbelief”—as there are tons of testimonies of people facing just as difficult a crisis, yet continuing to believe also. It’s just hard to accept this “crisis” as the REAL REASON—-when so many experience the same crisis and don’t jump ship.

  • 77. Joe  |  July 14, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Obi—

    I’ve been joking around as Grandma Honeybutter, and keep forgetting to change my name. LOL

  • 78. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 14, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    You need to re-read Karen’s post. She’s not saying that those two experiences are the reason she gave up her faith while others didn’t. She’s saying she has a rational mind, and is unwilling to accept illogical arguments, and those two memories illustrate that. The ultimate point of this post is that she left the faith because she could no longer rationalize it. There’s no reference to a “special crisis” here, only a rational mind. The implication being, of course, that those who remain in the faith are either being irrational (something I see from most people regarding most topics, sadly), or ignoring the problems in the religion for other reasons (such as the desire to please one’s parents).

    Reading comprehension FTW.

  • 79. Obi  |  July 14, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Joe –

    Again, I think my post covered the issue. The majority that continue to believe do so mostly because they still want to feel comfortable, as well as to feel socially accepted, et cetera. There are a myriad of reasons why people would continue following a certain religion, even if they suspect or know it not to be true. Such is the human condition, mate. It’s a rather complex psychological issue, but I think that’s a fair breakdown of it.

  • 80. Prodigal Daughter (aka Walking Away)  |  July 16, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I ask myself the same question daily…why me? Why can’t I just turn my mind off and get back in line with my friends and family who have such die-hard faith? I don’t know the answer to why or to what will happen next.

    (Thanks for sharing the Santa story, when my son was little I refused to let him believe in Santa and most people thought I was depriving him. I’ve never regretted it)

  • 81. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I ask myself the same question daily…why me? Why can’t I just turn my mind off and get back in line with my friends and family who have such die-hard faith? I don’t know the answer to why or to what will happen next.

    Prodigal—

    When you say “die-hard” faith I have to ask what you mean actually. Part of the problem I see with quite a few decons here is that for some reason they see faith as almost a “feeling” or something you possess, some strength that allows one to believe. But actually we don’t need to have “more faith” to believe the promises in the Bible, we actually obtain faith by going to the promises. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. it is a completely opposite way than we are “naturally” prone. Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you would believe, you would see the Glory of God?” We say—”whoa! wait a minute—-I need to see before I can believe!!” So many say “I can’t believe the Bible!!” as though they need some “power” to believe—some feeling of faith is going to overwhelm them, and suddenly they know they believe. But the opposite is actually true. We say with the leper “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief” and we go to the promises and hold on to them.

    We want stuff in this order: feeling, faith then promise.

    But the opposite is actually true: promise,. faith, feeling.

    I alluded to a “race” in another post. Christianity is called a “race” in the Bible. “Run the race that is set before you…”
    I have to be completely honest here (I know decons will not like to hear this) but a decon is simply someone who has given up on the race. They have not USED the means given to EVERY Christian to stay in the race, and to win it.

    We have all seen a race (probably kids running) where we see someone just give up. They start out fine, right with the pack. Then they start to fade. Soon they are far behind. Then they start walking. Then they finally just leave the track.

    As I mentioned before, what if they then walk up to the other runners and said “You don’t know what I went through to come to the decision to stop running”. The other runners would stare at that person and say “We DO TOO know–we were part of the same race. We all saw you give up.”

    And what is a shame is that in the “Christian race” it really says nothing about winning the race—–It talks about finishing it. When someone says “I just can’t believe any more”, I understand the “feeling of doubt”, or the “deadness”, but faith is NOT A FEELING. OF COURSE you can still believe—–HAVE THE PROMISES IN THE BIBLE CHANGED? No—they haven’t. You are “trying” to “work up” some belief in the promises—–when what you should be doing is going to the promises and holding onto them, and the faith will flow FROM them. It is completely opposite of “trying” to believe.

    This is a long post, and I’ll most likely get jumped on for much of it, but I wanted to state it any way. The reason I still believe to this day is because I came to the realization that my feelings vary every day—my doubts will come and go, my hope will grow to heights, and plunge to the depths—-I am human. But the promises of God are forever—they are like a ladder. We simply grab the first wrung, and begin to climb, “obtaining” more and more faith as we hold onto more of them. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1) Faith is not some “force” within us—-it is something to held onto through God’s promises.

  • 82. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    They have not USED the means given to EVERY Christian to stay in the race, and to win it.

    I meant to say “to stay in the race, and FINISH it”.

  • 83. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Faith is not some “force” within us—-it is something to held onto through God’s promises.

    Again—-poorly put. I meant to say that faith is not a “force” within someone. It is simply seeing a promise in the Word of God and accepting it as truth. The promise will lead to faith—–one cannot work up faith to believe the promise.

    “faith COMES BY HEARING, and hearing BY THE WORD OF GOD”. (Rom. 10:17)

    Does faith come by “trying to believe”? No—it comes “by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

  • 84. BigHouse  |  July 17, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    What happens when what you hear doesn’t sound believable? How does the faith come?

  • 85. BigHouse  |  July 17, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I see commercials every day saying “Buy fitness equipment X and YOU TOO can have a body like this model”. EVERY DAY. I hear it and hear it and hear it yet…NO FAITH in it comes. Why do you think?

  • 86. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 17, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    But the promises of God are forever—they are like a ladder. We simply grab the first wrung, and begin to climb, “obtaining” more and more faith as we hold onto more of them.

    I realized that those rungs didn’t actually exist. I looked around and realized all the other Christians were just pantomiming, “climing ladders” but really staying in one place.

    Or, going to your race, I realized there was no finish line, just a bunch of people running in circles.

    You still don’t seem to grasp the idea of the pain involved in actually giving up the faith. Sure, all Christians experience the doubt. That’s not the pain most of us are talking about. Most of us are talking about the pain in actually leaving the beliefs behind, something Christians clearly haven’t experienced (obviously, since they are still Christians).

    You also seem to ignore the fact that many of us tried exactly what you are suggesting. We clung to God’s promises, but ended up with less faith than before (oftentimes because God’s promises wound up being empty).

  • 87. ubi dubium  |  July 17, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    BigHouse:

    Oh yes – the standard form of commercial for an iffy product:

    Did you know that you have (problem x)? Well of course you have (problem x)! That’s why you need (miracle solution y)! Tons of people swear by (miracle solution y)!

    You have “toxins”! You need “Kinoki foot pads”!
    You have “energy imbalance”! You need our “magnetic bracelet”!
    You have “sin”! You need “salvation”

    (Maybe the church should get Billy Mays to hawk their beliefs. But wait – there’s more! :) )

    Joe, you are going to scoff, and say I am belittling some true faith. Well, preachers have tried to sell me “faith” since I was small. I’m not buying it. It can’t solve any of the problems I actually have, only those problems that they made up and claim I have.

    Joe:

    They have not USED the means given to EVERY Christian to stay in the race, and to FINISH it.

    To use your race metaphor – I would not say I dropped out of the race. I realized that there was no race to begin with, so I stopped pretending there was. You can keep heading around that track if you like, but I’m not running with you any more.

  • 88. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    What happens when what you hear doesn’t sound believable? How does the faith come?

    Bighouse—-

    See—you are proceeding from “seeing is believing” instead of “believing is seeing”. Much of what one puts faith in does not seem believable. Jesus walked on water? Oh yeah, Sure—from a “scientific” or “logical” perspective it is laughable—but you are judging the “promise” by your own perception or knowledge. The opposite is actually true. The Bible says Jesus walked on water–it is true because it says it is.

    Your example of the fitness machine is funny, and I understand what you are saying. But faith is not “buying something from an advertisement”. I accepted Jesus Christ—-the Bible says “If any man be in Christ HE IS a new creation, old things have passed away, and new things have come”. If one sits around saying to himself “I’ve got to try to be a new Creation. I’ve got to try to be a new Creation” it is fruitless—you are “trying” to do something the promise says is ALREADY THERE. If you “accept” the promise as being true, you begin to see many new things—because you are “acting” upon something you KNOW is REAL.

    IWe want to proceed from “I wish I had enough faith to believe I am a new creation”—when in reality we need to proceed FROM the promise–”I AM a new creation in Christ, THEREFORE I am going to live that way”.

    Snuggly—

    I realized that those rungs didn’t actually exist. I looked around and realized all the other Christians were just pantomiming, “climing ladders” but really staying in one place.

    I think if you are truly sincere you will have to admit that yes, you did see many Christians who appeared to be “staying in one place”—but there were other examples—-Christians that you saw with real joy, victory, and a real heart for the Lord. I am not saying I am an example of that LOL—I know some of my impatience, and sarcasm has come out at times—-but you can’t say that ALL Christians that you saw were simply “pantomiming”—and to leave the faith because “most” appeared that way really isn’t too wise—-when there are still some that really show the fruits of a real Christianity and Christ in their hearts. I know—-just my opionion.

  • 89. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    To use your race metaphor – I would not say I dropped out of the race. I realized that there was no race to begin with, so I stopped pretending there was. You can keep heading around that track if you like, but I’m not running with you any more.

    Ubi—

    I may be mistaken, but didn’t you say you grew up in a Christian home but weren’t ever a Christian? If I’m wrong, forgive me—maybe it was someone else who said that. But if you never really “accepted Christ” then you never really entered the racetrack. So yes—for you there was no real racetrack (if that was the case). Otherwise I would say, that many, when dealing with something they cannot understand just “deny that it exists” and that solves the problem faster than anything else ever could.

    I am not asking you to run on the track—-if you don’t want to, that’s your prerogative. I accept that.

  • 90. BigHouse  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Joe, explain to me why you accept the Bible on faith but not the fitness equipment salesmen. Why are they different?

  • 91. karen  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Wow – this thread has taken on a life of its own recently! We might even say it has been “born again.” ;-)

    Joe, you are beating a dead horse here. I don’t know what it will take to make you understand that WE HAVE HEARD everything you have to say. We were Christians! We listened to preaching, we memorized the bible verses, we read the doctrine!

    We heard the easy answers, and the schtick about being a new creation and how you have to take the leap of faith first, and then justify believing it later, through some magic wand-waving of the holy ghost, and on and on.

    The first problem is, we don’t believe in ghosts any more. Or holy spirits, or invisible deities up in the sky, or anything else you want to pull out of your magical arsenal.

    The second problem is, you can’t seem to put yourselves in our place, and you don’t seem to want to truly understand where we are coming from, so you keep referencing our experiences from your very narrow perspective.

    I assure you that what you’re perceiving about the deconversion experience (we just gave up, we didn’t have enough faith, we quit the race, etc). is really ALL WRONG. It’s even laughable, from this side of the canyon, to see you over there jumping up and down and dancing and pulling rabbits out of your hat, because you don’t get it and unless you’re really able and willing to set aside your prejudices and preconceived notions, you’re never going to get it.

  • 92. karen  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Prodigal Daughter:

    I ask myself the same question daily…why me? Why can’t I just turn my mind off and get back in line with my friends and family who have such die-hard faith? I don’t know the answer to why or to what will happen next.

    It’s a vexing question – which is why I wrote the essay originally. I wasn’t trying to paint myself, or any of us here, as “martyrs” or any such thing. But it is an introspective process to deconvert and discussing it with others who’ve gone through the same thing is helpful.

    The one thing I have come to believe with some degree of certainty is that it’s nearly impossible to “turn off the mind” and rejoin the die-hard faithful of ones past. I have run across people who left fundamentalism, reconsidered a lot of the most hard line doctrine and then settled in as liberal Christians or deists. But those people never rejected the idea of gods entirely. I think once you seriously contemplate the likelihood that there are no gods, it’s pretty tough – if not impossible – to g back to believing in a fundamentalist way.

    (Thanks for sharing the Santa story, when my son was little I refused to let him believe in Santa and most people thought I was depriving him. I’ve never regretted it)

    You’re welcome. I’ve never regretted it either, and I don’t think my kids have either.

  • 93. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Karen—–

    I think if you read my original post you will see I was addressing
    “Prodigal Daughter” who said she “wished” she could have the “die-hard faith” of her relatives. I addressed her concerning faith because she seemed to be showing a “desire” to have more.

    I did not originally post directed at someone like yourself who no longer believes. I know that is a waste of time.

  • 94. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    BigHouse—

    Because I already received Christ. EVERYTHING in the Bible is ALREADY mine. I’d have to BUY the equipment I know nothing about from the salesman—-it isn’t MINE.

  • 95. BigHouse  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Joe, but you came to Christ by reading the Bible. You told the story here on this website last week.

    Why did make that leap of faith?

  • 96. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Bighouse—

    Just as an example, the Bible says “These things we write onto you so that you may KNOW that you HAVE eternal life”.

    Faith would not be “trying” to believe that—-it would be accepting it as a fact—as something you POSSESS–then true faith is being used.

  • 97. BigHouse  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Joe, but you sadi yourself that didn’t know these things before your neighbor handed you the gospel of John and you read it.

    Are you really ducking the question that reading the Bible triggered your belief?

  • 98. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Joe, but you came to Christ by reading the Bible. You told the story here on this website last week.

    Why did make that leap of faith?

    Bighouse—-

    I am proceeding from the premise that you “used to be a Christian” (and some would argue that if you really received Christ you still are, but deny that fact). Faith is a “gift from God” as it states in Ephesians 2:8,9 “By Grace have you been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the GIFT OF GOD, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

    When I got saved I “accepted” Christ. I did not make some “logical and long drawn out, thought out process of coming to a decision of whether or not to receive him”. I simply “asked” Jesus to come into my heart.

    When I did that He did come in. At that point ALL OF THE PROMISES for believers in the BIble BECAME MINE. Faith from that point on became an “acknowledgement” of promises that were ALREADY MINE—-I didn’t have to have faith to believe them—–faith actually came FROM THEM—-it’s the reverse of how we think naturally.

    For example BigHouse—if you did accept Christ for real into your heart, all the promises are STILL YOURS—-you are just denying they are real. if you were to return to Christ (I know—-highly doubtful LOL) you could approach Jesus from 1 John 1:9–a promise that you already possess, and confess your unbelief to him. He WOULD forgive you because he already PROMISED he would if you aksed.

    You wouldn’t have to go to Jesus like a salesman to “buy” an item from him—–you would use promises you ALREADY POSSESS.

  • 99. Joe  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Joe, but you sadi yourself that didn’t know these things before your neighbor handed you the gospel of John and you read it.

    Are you really ducking the question that reading the Bible triggered your belief?

    BigHouse—

    I’m sorry if I was misunderstanding—not trying to “duck anything” at all. I readily agree that the Bible triggered my belief by putting a “promise” in front of me that faith came to me out of. I “accepted” Christ, and then all the promises became MINE–when I exercise “faith” I am simply acknowledging something I already have in my possession.

  • 100. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Wow – this thread has taken on a life of its own recently! We might even say it has been “born again.” ;-)

    I prefer the more common concept of “thread necromancy.” This thread has risen as an undead abomination. :P

    I share prodigal daughter’s sentiment. I wish I could stay in the faith. It would make things a lot easier for me; I wouldn’t have to deal with telling my family and friends, I could continue to hold comfortable, fundamental beliefs that I don’t want to give up.

    That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve had faith as you describe it. I’ve held to God’s promises, and gained faith because of it. Later, I realized the thing I was holding to didn’t exist.

    I think if you are truly sincere you will have to admit that yes, you did see many Christians who appeared to be “staying in one place”—but there were other examples—-Christians that you saw with real joy, victory, and a real heart for the Lord.

    Sure, some Christian’s improve their lives through Christianity. But I would argue it is they themselves who are improving their lives, using Christianity as the motivator. My point is that when I look at Christians, I don’t see a ladder, though the Christians firmly believe it is there. They point to the impact the climb has had on their lives and faith, but as far as I can tell any impact originated in themselves. I suppose I can get rid of the “staying in one place” line, and suggest that any movement Christians have is due to themselves, and not their “climb” up a non-existent ladder.

  • 101. BigHouse  |  July 17, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you, Joe, this helps. So the timeline is:

    1. You were unaware of the promises
    2. You were shown the promises
    3. Faith in the promises appears to you/in you/however you want to describe it

    So again, my question is, why does this same timeline not occur for you with the fitness equipment salesmen? Steps 1 and 2 exist EXACTLY the same way. Why no step 3?

  • 102. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 17, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I “accepted” Christ, and then all the promises became MINE–when I exercise “faith” I am simply acknowledging something I already have in my possession.

    This is something I’m pretty sure every one of us de-cons experienced. Eventually, we reach a point where we start to doubt, and holding to those promises did nothing for our faith, nothing to help us with our doubts.

    We say with the leper “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief” and we go to the promises and hold on to them.

    We did this, and in spite of it we end up in complete unbelief anyway.

  • 103. Bryan  |  December 18, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Well, I am histatic to wonder across this thread. I feel compelled to leave a comment and a brief summary of where I am at…..I think anyways. I guess asking questions always came naturally to me. My study in apologetics (how to answer those questions) both built faith while putting it to the fire as well. I don’t know where I’m at. I think I’m just left with an awful taste of religion in my mouth. I don’t want to leave Christ but am not sure if that’s because of genuine faith and the reality therin or if its similar to a child-like security blanket. I even doubt my doubts and question my very own skepticism at times. I’m leaning towards accepting that the bible does indeed contain errors of the textual kind but overall the truth conveyed is the intention of God…..I just see God shaking his head at what we have done with it. I remember a much simpler time, very early in my faith, apart from ordinances and rituals and an emphasis on personal performance where it was literally and simplisticly a relationship. I smelled like smoke but He still sat with me…..I miss that. I also question if that was real or again, a child clutching the remnants of what once worked and gave purpose. After years of filling my time with study and theology and doctrine im left empty having turned and packed away my materials….yet don’t feel obliged to crack them open. I’m even thinking of reading the bible again only this time my lense has changed dramatically. It is comforting to know that I’m not alone in this although the “church” has apperantly deemed me as such. I like asking the questions that can’t be answered….that gets me in trouble. But its not to ne obnoxious, rather to encourage thought…..which I will never leave outside the door of any belief or faith.

  • 104. ubi dubium  |  December 19, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Great job thinking this out, Bryan. I encourage you to read your bible again, but make sure you read all of it, not just the nice bits. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/) is a great resource for spotting errors and contradictions.

    As for the “relationship” you miss, and you were wondering if it was ever real: Did you believe in Santa Claus as a child? A lot of kids really really believe in Santa with their whole heart, and I’m sure some of them are convinced that they have a relationship with Santa. Yet, how many adults still believe in Santa, or think that the “relationship” they had with him as a child was real?

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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