Reasons I Remained Faithful (for so long)
It’s now been more than a year since I intellectually gave up Christianity and six months since I publicly renounced my faith. They say hindsight is 20/20, and true to form, it seems incredible to me that I was a Christian for seven years. Those seven years now seem like an eternity to me, overshadowing the previous fourteen. Maybe it is just because they are the most recent seven years or maybe because the last third of my life has been the most formative to who I am. Regardless, it is still almost unbelievable to me that for seven years I prayed, I studied the Bible, I attended church, I spoke proudly about my ‘relationship with Christ,’ I preached and I witnessed to those around me.
So why did I remain a Christian for so long? What is it about the Christian metaphysic, which I now find so distasteful, that hooked me? This is a question I have been pondering for a while now, and though my list is more than likely not exhaustive, I’d like to record some of the prominent reasons I remained faithful for as long as I did.
Intellectual Humility. I am not an exceptionally smart person. I believe that I have a good, solid, objective understanding of my intellectual limits and abilities. I am of an average intelligence, perhaps on a good day slightly above average. But I am no genius. When I became a philosophy major and began to devote myself to the study of Descartes, Foucault, Aristotle, Weber, Aquinas, Hobbes, etc. it became only more clear just how limited my abilities are. I have said more than once that I am a student of philosophy but I am by no means a philosopher.
Why do I bring this up? Though I prided myself on being honest about my intellectual capacities, I allowed my limits to become an excuse for complacency. This doesn’t make sense, but it’s just because I’m not smart enough. There is an answer, but I just haven’t read it yet. There are men and women much better equipped than I am to answer these questions. These types of phrases became common thoughts as I studied particularly in the realm of philosophy of religion. I accepted that I just wasn’t on par with philosophers like Craig or astrophysicists like Ross or theologians like Barth. I would remind myself that each of us had been given spiritual gifts, and neither wisdom nor knowledge had been given to me. A convenient excuse, eh?
Personal Duty. I wasn’t raised by Christians. I had a slow process of conversion, which culminated in high school with my affiliation with the local Church of the Nazarene. By my sophomore year in high school, I was leading Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I was a small group leader in my youth group and I was an outspoken Christian at work and school. In college I began preaching at area churches and spent a year as a small group leader on campus. I have never been one to enjoy the limelight, but I often found myself in positions of influence or authority. In my time I have worked at two summer camps. At one, a non-Christian camp for high school students, I was able to form post-camp friendships with many of the students because of our age proximity. More than one became Christians after our interactions (if not as a direct result of my ‘witnessing,’ I believe it is fair to say that I had an impact).
As I began to more seriously doubt the existence of God, it seemed daunting because my entire life was built around the notion that God exists. My friendships, education, career ambitions all revolved around Christianity. If I gave that up, what would my friends say? What effect would I have on those who to whom I had witnessed, preached or taught? That sense of duty to the very God whose existence I seriously doubted and to his people kept me from exploring too far into the possibility that it was all just a myth that I had been duped into.
Pascal’s Wager. It’s a terrible piece of philosophy. The argument is skewed and incomplete. At the same time, there is a reason for its longevity: it is effective. I consider myself to be a rather reasonable person. At the same time, the fear of the unknown is incredibly potent. As I would flirt with the idea of forsaking my religious affiliation, I often considered, What if I am wrong? What if they are right about Hell? And worse, What if I am wrong and that contributes to others going to Hell?! I considered carefully, as I’m sure others have done about me since my de-conversion, the ramifications on my ‘eternal soul.’ This is the one that seems to be most ridiculous to me now.
Warnings Against Intellectualism. The Bible is not very friendly to questioning and skepticism. Colossians 2:8 warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” I feel almost like I need not explicate this point (but I will anyway). Time and again I would read this verse and convince myself that I was just a doubting Thomas, that some sort of personal sin had kept me from accepting the ‘Truth’ of Christianity. I reminded myself that there were, of course, areas of my life that would be different were I not a Christian. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to live a normal college life of hedonism. Perhaps I had been taken in by heathen writers, philosophers and scientists who did not have Christ as their foundation. To the credit of the founders of Christianity, I must say that this little verse is genius. It truly does keep the masses in line. It is much easier to dismiss the evidence of atheists if your Scripture holds within it a disclaimer: “All non-Christian evidence is flawed. Don’t listen to it! Don’t be deceived!”
I cannot help but think about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.. As I began to grow and question the foundations of my faith, it was as if someone jerked me around and forced me to look to the mouth of the cave and see reality as it truly was. Instead of embracing that reality, for a long time I desired nothing more than to turn back around and blissfully live via the shadows of reality.
This is just a cursory overview of some of those rationalizations, fears and excuses that kept me from more seriously and persistently questioning my faith. I am curious what experiences other de-converts or skeptical Christians have had in this area?