Religious people often make the case that people like being atheists, agnostic, or just non-believing because then they can “do whatever they want”. The idea is simple: if there is no god, there is no one watching you when you are alone and therefore there are no consequences as long as you can get away with something. In other words, atheists can turn a blind eye to their own actions.
The last couple of years I have watched in utter astonishment as “True Christian” after “True Christian” have on the one hand turned their eye to corruption around them and on the other self-righteously and tirelessly stood up for their favorite principles. It seems as if turning the blind eye is completely subjective and is not limited to the atheists. It is a human problem.
Along with this observation, I have had another question floating around in the back of my mind: why is it that some of us leave and some stay Christian? How is it that tiny details can drive one person to leave their faith while others can simply ignore them completely and act as if they are honestly no big deal?
For example, it may bother a good Christian woman endlessly to hear a swear word or be in the company of someone who is drinking alcohol but when it comes to sending troops to die in Iraq for what might be a trumped-up war… she can honestly act like it is not her problem and that they are serving the Lord by giving their lives up. A person can whine about a little wine and praise Jesus over a dead relative in battle?
For secularists things like this bother us enormously. We feel a sense that overwhelming injustice is being done by our fellow humans.Vote for a Christian Republican who supports creationism and refuses to even read the evidence for evolution? Be against abortion even in the case of rape? Teach the Bible is inerrant when there are so many “obvious” errors? Support Palin?
Young people aren’t walking away from the church—they’re sprinting. According to a recent study by Ranier Research, 70 percent of youth leave church by the time they are 22 years old. Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29 years old. Unlike earlier generations of church dropouts, these “leavers” are unlikely to seek out alternative forms of Christian community such as home churches and small groups. When they leave church, many leave the faith as well.
Thus opens the publicity blurb for a book entitled, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Church and How to Bring Them Back. In an interview published by Christianity Today, author Drew Dyck made this observation:
No two “leavers” are exactly the same, but some patterns did emerge. “Postmodern” leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes. For them, Christian faith is just too narrow. “Recoilers” leave because they were hurt in the church. They suffered some form of abuse at the hands of someone they saw as a spiritual authority. God was guilty by association. “Modernists” completely reject supernatural claims. God is a delusion. Any truth beyond science is dismissed as superstition. “Neo-pagans” are those who left for earth-based religions such as Wicca. Not all of these actually cast spells or perform pagan rituals, but they deny a transcendent God, and see earth as the locus of true spirituality. Spiritual “Rebels” flee the faith to indulge in behavior that was incompatible with their faith. They also value autonomy and don’t want anyone—especially a superintending deity—telling them what to do. “Drifters” do not suffer intellectual crises or consciously leave the faith; they simply drift away. Over time God becomes less and less important until one day he’s no longer part of their lives.
These groupings were not meant to be scientifically precise; their value was diagnostic and utilitarian. I wanted to help people understand why young people abandon the faith and equip Christians to engage leavers in meaningful conversations about God.
I’ll list Dyck’s categories below to facilitate my consideration of them:
I don’t think much needs to be said about the “Postmodern” category, as Dyck appears to have described that mindset adequately. I am offended, however, by his glib dismissal of the “Recoilers:” people failed and God was blamed unfairly. Uh, no, Drew – people failed and God did not do what he was reasonably expected to do, either
a) protect the victims who were hurt, or
b) prevent the perpetrators from hurting them.
In other words, Drew, God reneged on two of his key responsibilities: delivering people from evil (which is doubly evil when it’s done at the hands of so-called “godly” people or, even worse, in the name, and on behalf, of a god), and enabling his followers to be good, kind and honest, rather than nasty, brutish and devious. I consider divine protection and divine prevention (or intervention) reasonable expectations because both of those functions are ascribed to the Christian god in the Bible and in church doctrine. Therefore, when a god does not perform as promised, it’s reasonable to wonder if he/she/it does anything at all, including merely existing, and to reject a god that doesn’t live up to its billing.
Dyck’s characterization of “Modernist” church-leavers renders that category as little more than a stick-figure. Since his book is an example of social scientific research, one would presume that his concept of “science” goes beyond the “hard,” physical sciences that often come to mind when the term “science” is used in casual conversation. Readers who understand Dyck’s use of the term in that narrow sense may miss the fact that many, if not most, Modernist atheists are informed by insights gained through the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. We are not geeks with our eyes glued to microscopes, and pens and calculators sagging in our shirt pockets. We are multi-faceted people with multi-faceted interests who think in multi-faceted ways, characteristics that Dyck’s categorization appears to miss, or dismiss, completely.
The author’s final two categories seem adequate. I went through a period of spiritual rebellion as a teen, and I’ll admit that his description captures quite accurately the attitude I had then. And many of us can probably think of people who are Drifters.
I briefly considered getting Dyck’s book, just for shits and giggles, but I’ve decided to keep my money in my wallet. The bottom line is, I’m not going to waste my time reading a book that
…equips and inspires parents, church leaders, and everyday Christians to reawaken the prodigal’s desire for God and set him or her back on the road to a dynamic faith…. identifies six different kinds of leavers…and offers practical advice for how to connect with each type. Shrewd tips also intersperse the chapters alerting readers to opportunities for engagement, and to hidden landmines they must sidestep to effectively reach leavers.
The reason I’m not interested in reading this book is that Dyck has misidentified the problem at hand. His view is that people who leave churches are problems. I don’t agree with him. In my view, the people who leave churches are not problems. Rather, churches themselves are problems. The problem is not that so many people are leaving the church. The problem is that too many of them are staying.
– the chaplain
You’ve been lied to before. But never with the audacity of this candidate for top office Richard Supreme who is again campaigning for your vote. His promises are bold. He invokes the highest authority. He emotionally tugs at your insecurities to ensure your allegiance.
Just last week he unequivocally stated “If you ask me to do something, I will do it.”1 He added no qualifiers. There were no stipulations. It was the ultimate campaign promise. And that is not the first time he’s made it.
He has also previously stated…
Again, I’m not joking! If any two of you agree about anything they ask for, it will be done.2
He gave no conditions. Again there were no stipulations. Unquestionably a great way to win votes.
But Richard does not stop there. He actually suggests that even the most minuscule amount of confidence in him would be enough for him to mount a major public works project if you merely asked him to. Here is his clear statement.
If you had even an ounce of confidence in me, I would have an entire mountain removed for you if you’d only ask.3
Again there are no qualifiers or stipulations attached to his promise.
This is where Richard’s press agent James Spinner stepped in a couple days ago to make a “clarification”.
You ask Richard for something and don’t get it only because you’re selfish and merely want to satisfy your own desires.4
Hold on there, James! Did Richard make a promise or did he not? This is not a clarification; it is at best a distortion, and at worse insulting our intelligence. If James is claiming to be a spokesperson for Richard, then Richard is reneging on his unconditional promise. The promises were made in an official speech with plenty of opportunity for Richard to insert his own conditions. He did not.
What is James afraid of? Is James afraid that Richard cannot come through on his promises? So it seems.
There have been countless numbers of cases in which genuinely needy constituents within Richard’s district have petitioned him for help, and there has been absolutely nothing done. In these cases, James is always there suggesting the broken promises of Richard are merely apparent, and that the petition was invalidated due to the petitioner’s selfishness, even in cases where a mother is simply asking for the medical attention that will save her dying child’s life. Who here is the most despicable? Richard for making promises he cannot keep, or James for the audacity in claiming the petition was selfish?
The facts are clear. Richard Supreme is a liar and either can not or chooses not to deliver as promised, and James Spinner is his unscrupulous apologist attempting to place the blame for failed promises on the motives of the earnest constituents.
And James Spinner is not the only defender of the lies of Richard. Substantial pockets of supporters swear Richard keeps his promises. When pressed to supply evidence that constituents loyal to Richard receive any superior intervention in their lives, they offer merely anecdotal accounts that cannot be validated with either statistics or other tools of scientific validation. They simply repeat over and over “Richard would never lie” and “Richard has just a mysterious way of keeping his promises.” No “evidence” they offer can be traced to the signature of Richard, but rather maps precisely to what probabilities would have us expect. These supporters actually then accuse those who take Richard’s statements at face-value of distorting truth or suggest they are incapable of “properly” understanding uncomplicated statements such as “If you ask me to do something, I will do it.“
It must be noted that Richard Supreme also promises to eternally torture anyone who might claim he is a mendacious breaker of campaign promises. I’d like to suggest that this may be a contributing factor to the loyal base of supporters he currently enjoys.
Have the courage and integrity to vote “NO” wherever you see this promise-breaking and fear-mongering Richard Supreme on the ballot.
Words of Jesus
1. John 14:14
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
2. Matthew 18:19
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
3. Matthew 17:20
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Words of James
4. James 4:3
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
In the 17th century, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, after squinting though his microscope at ejaculate, became so convinced that each sperm was actually a little man (homunculus), he produced detailed drawings as shown on the right.
When his imaginative drawings were brought into question by those suggesting that such a notion leads to an infinite regress as each little man himself must possess sperm that also held other smaller little men ad infinitum, bible believers defended the drawings by invoking scripture. The sin nature was able to pass from Adam to all humans since all humans once swung in the testes of Adam.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. —Romans 5:12-14
Incredibly, scientists today have rejected the theory of Mr. Hoarsoeker. Scientist now claim that sperm do not at all resemble little men. But the track record of biblical insight into natural phenomena has suffered very few setbacks as fundamentalist will attest. It was simply a misunderstanding or misapplication of scripture they will inform you. They’ll get it right next time.
For several of the many possible reasons, I realized that I could no longer hold fast to the faith that I once built my life around. When this realization struck me, it was emotionally painful. Worse, most of the ways I had coped with pain and grief before were no longer open to me, as they were all forms of prayer- alone, in a group, or with a Bible. I could not really turn to my Christian friends or my Christian family for support, as they saw my doubts and concerns as an attack against them and all that they valued. I could not go to my pastor- I was the pastor!
Things I did that helped me get through this time of grief and pain:
- Go for a walk outside/get some healthy exercise.
- Fill a playlist with upbeat MP3s (Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, Tom Smith, ABBA, etc), and listen to them whenever possible.
- Pick up an old, creative hobby I hadn’t engaged in for a while (roleplaying, in my case. Yes, I am a geek.)
- Spend time in a social activity with friends (without discussing religion).
- Find ways to help people as I had when a Christian, without the Christian trappings (and realize that I am still the same person I always was).
- Find a support group of people who have gone through similar struggles (this site was a huge help for me!).
- Find people I could talk honestly to (see previous parenthetical).
- Journal (blog) the experience, and/or what led up to it.
- Remember to breathe!
- Explore different faiths, different fellowships, different philosophies, and find out what I wanted from them, what I could offer to them, and (most importantly to me) what I could put my faith in.
How about you? What helped you through your de-conversion, if it was painful, or helps you through other times of trial now that prayer is no longer an option?
Wow, my titles are getting more depressing though I think my content is more hopeful. This post should not be an exception – I hope.
The more I’ve been thinking about dealing with the arrogance versus humility issue, the more it has pried open an issue which, ironically for me, has become somewhat tautological. Suppression.
I’m pretty sure that every person deals with this on a daily basis, but I’m also pretty sure that conservative Christians are masters of exacerbating it. In fact, I was heavily on my way to becoming a guru when it came to suppressing everything I felt and wanted. And here is how I have been setting myself free.
For the most part I’ve identified two major areas of suppression in my own life: physical and emotional. Intellectually I suppressed some things – like how I considered evolution to be beautiful and immediately thought it was the devil speaking to me. But for the most part, I did not feel like the intellectual side of my mind was hindered too much by the Christianity with which I grew up. And if my intellect was suppressed, I feel that I have sufficiently dealt with that. Many of you may notice the change in tone of my posts – that I used to be much more analytical. So that leaves me with physical and emotional suppression.
Physical suppression revealed itself most strongly in sexuality. I remember distinctly being terrified of my first sexual thoughts. In my early arrogant Christian days – at around the age of 9 – I remember looking up to the teenagers around me in disgust. Who are these apes, gallivanting about all stupid and shit? I won’t be like them. I’m a good Christian. I’ll never look at porn. I’ll never commit adultery. I will never have sex before marriage. I had not yet learned that only the arrogant say “I would never”…
The topic of humility versus arrogance has been – for the longest time – a major blocker in my own thinking as I am sure it has been for others. I remember wrestling with this issue for years as far back as when I was thirteen or fourteen. At that time I would hear others talk about it and try to sort out what it means and how to achieve it.
As I remember, the struggle went something like this. I had been told multiple things about humility – and as with all Christian doctrine – I noticed through recurring headaches that there were strong contradictions in what I was taught.
One of those major contradictions was the impossibility of pursuing ones ability to be humble if a humble person does not think about their humility. A lot of people told me not to think about being humble, but I knew I was commanded to be humble. This, naturally, made me introspect to figure out whether I was. Then I would remember that a person who is humble cannot know it. But how am I supposed to pursue humility if I cannot think about it?
Naturally I wanted to resolve this contradiction. I mean, if it hurt my head that much surely resolving it would help others, right?
But there was a problem. The Bible. The Bible was the problem. First of all, the Bible never said that a humble person does not recognize his humility. In some places it implies the opposite. If you believe Moses wrote Deuteronomy, then you have to believe that a humble man can honestly – and in humility – write that he is the most humble man on earth. Noticing this, I began to garner a general distrust for Christian memes, since it seemed like people were ultimately pulling their end ideas out of their ass and these normally contradicted the Bible in some way…