Posts tagged ‘deconversion’
I was a seminary-trained pastor who felt responsible for those I pastored. I was responsible for telling them the truth, and more- for pointing to the Truth, the Way and the Life. My problem was that I could not figure out what the truth (or Truth) was. At one point, I counted at least twelve possible biblical understandings of Jesus and the Christian gospel- all of which were supported by some verses and condemned by others. What was I supposed to teach? The more I studied, the less confidence I had that I could say anything certain about God’s works or will. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that I had no confidence I could say anything certain about God, including whether or not there was one. When I reached that point, I asked my bishop to release me from my ministry.
Back in April, Leopardus posted a video about critical thinking and open mindedness. The same people have now made a video called Putting Faith in its place. This video shows the reasoning that led me to deconversion better than I could. Enjoy.
It was my sister’s turn to ride in the front seat, so I climbed into the back. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, but that wasn’t unusual, so I sat quietly as mom backed the station wagon out of the driveway.
I was thinking about the doctrine of the virgin birth, that it was simply impossible for Mary to get pregnant without “knowing a man.” I wasn’t stupid, after all. I had read the booklet that my mother gave me about the sperm and eggs joining to form a zygote; I had taken health class in seventh grade. I’d already known everything in the booklet that Mom had given me, but I hadn’t told her that. She was trying to be a good mother, it wasn’t my place to tell her that she was too late to teach me about the birds and the bees. And health class came even later, when I couldn’t think of even one kid in my class who didn’t already know the material that we were taught. We may have been immature, giggling and blushing behind our text books, but we already knew where babies came from. So now, sitting in the back seat of the car, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was impossible for Jesus to have been born of a virgin, it just didn’t make sense. But how could I be doubting such a basic Bible story, one I’d been taught for my entire life, the single fact that was considered true in every church I’d ever attended? I’d known about sex for years, yet I’d never had a problem believing in this miracle before.
My head hurt from the frown on my face, my clenched teeth, and the intense concentration of my mind. I could not come up with an answer but I knew I didn’t want to doubt. I wanted to have faith, even faith as small as a seed that could grow into a tree. If I could only muster up a tiny bit of faith…. but no. The doubt, the science of reproduction, was prevailing over my thoughts. My heart started pounding in my chest, and my breathing got faster and faster. In a few minutes, tears started flowing down my face. I tried to cry quietly so my mother and sister wouldn’t hear me. But they were used to my emotional outbursts by then and probably would have ignored me anyway, after asking what was wrong and getting no response.
Inside my head I began chanting, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief!” I couldn’t talk; my nose was completely stuffed up from the crying…
My story isn’t strange—born into a Christian home, raised into a Christian lifestyle and led a faithful Christian life as an adult. I was a missionary for six years, both living overseas and operating from a stateside base from which to travel. I worked as an assistant pastor/worship leader and youth pastor. I had always wanted to be a professional musician and opportunities arose which allowed me to pursue that dream as a member of a Christian band that saw a decent amount of success, both in the Christian music industry and the mainstream industry as well. Funny, at least one other de-convert here actually has one of my albums. Ah, irony.
As a teenager I left my Southern Baptist upbringing to follow a more charismatic faith. Later in life I left the protestant faith altogether and converted to Catholicism, having come to the studied conclusion that it was the most historically accurate iteration of Jesus’ and his disciples’ teachings. Throughout all of my transitions, however, I remained faithful to the core of Christianity. Yet I remember, on a few occasions, allowing doubt to surface.
What about people who are born into other religions? Would God punish them eternally in Hell for being born in a country where the social landscape was dominated by a different (read: false) religion? Regarding creation, I had always leaned towards theistic evolution, which was only inches away from pure evolution. At what point were humans given the “breath of life” and acquired souls? How did that evolve? Or were we plopped fully formed into an already evolving environment?
I asked a friend once ‘how could we know that any of this is real?’ My friend, who was educated in theology and philosophy wisely responded, “We can’t.” It was simply a belief that in the end we chose to believe out of desire and faith…
Today I was thinking a little bit about the reasoning process I see quite a few Christians use. Quite frankly, every Christian I have ever known – including myself – used this reasoning. It goes like this:
So far, all my experience shows me that Christianity is true. Therefore, I should believe Christianity until it is proven false. But because it is wrong and / or uncomfortable for me to doubt, I should do everything in my power to first eliminate my doubts. Leaving the faith requires a serious increase in my doubt, therefore I will work to defend the faith and leave only if I cannot: I will start with the assumption I am correct and only leave if proven wrong.
The inevitable result of this thinking is this: the person works intentionally to invent an explanation of their faith that is unfalsifiable. Why? Because an unfalsifiable faith is the only faith that can never be doubted because no evidence can ever contradict it. Unfalsifiable propositions are the holy grail of any faith system, because it makes the object of their faith omnipotent.
I see this regularly. A believer, when pressed to provide a reasonable and demonstrable test for their faith will inevitably shy away from a… well… reasonable and demonstrable test. Instead, any test and all surrounding definitions of God must be calculated and invented so that their faith will not collapse even if the test fails. Ultimately, the believer is only seeking their own selfish comfort when – ironically – selfishness and personal comfort is the one thing Christianity so lavishly preaches against…
Discussions between religious believers and nonbelievers frequently come to a point at which one participant asks the other(s), “What would it take to convince you that there is/is not a god?”
My current answer to that question is this:
All I’d need to believe in to believe in god would be a direct, unequivocal, simultaneous revelation of him/her/itself to all humankind.
Sacred writings are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; they are only persuasive to those who, for psychological, emotional and sociological reasons are predisposed to believe them. Moreover, many of them contradict each other and there are no standardized criteria by which humanity can separate the wheat from the chaff.
Personal testimonies are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; they are totally subjective events, which can be described to, but not experienced by, others. Therefore, differing interpretations of the events are not easily resolved.
Traditions and creeds are insufficient – we already have plenty of those; many of them continue to be useful at the current time, and others have been discarded for more effective or humane alternatives.
Miracles are insufficient – we already have plenty of purported miracles that have, eventually, been explained as natural phenomena. Even if one grants that some events have not been explained – yet – as natural phenomena, the odds are that natural explanations for these events will be discovered eventually. Moreover, even if an event could only be explained as miraculous, then that explanation would raise a plethora of questions about the being that performed the miraculous act: its identity; its character; its intentions toward humankind…
As I have left the faith this last year and half, I have watched old ideas shed themselves from my mind systematically. One of these ideas was the mentality that said I should always be paying attention to / worrying about what other people “think”.
The Protestant churches and schools I remember spent an inordinate amount of time with their finger to the wind of culture, constantly on high alert. Every slight change in culture or thinking outside the church should be brought to the attention of those in the church and critiqued for everyone’s “edification”. In particular, I remember spending a considerable amount of time discussing “post-modernism”, why it is bad, how it is bad, how we can counter it, and how we could witness to those confused post-modernists.
In many ways, I feel like some of the Christian commenters on this blog are doing this. They are here to “feel out” why people are leaving the faith, to get a sense of the changes in culture that are causing the church to lose members. I do not blame them for doing this. If one has the Absolute Truth of the Universe in their possession, it is only natural that they guard it – and themselves – from every “empty philosophy” the world offers.
But this post is not for them, it is for those who are leaving the faith and feel an overwhelming – and perhaps debilitating – responsibility to convert or immunize everyone around them from Christianity. In the time I have spent perusing blogs of ex-Christians, I have seen that there tends to be a period of militant anti-Christianity as people who are severely hurt by those beliefs try to protect everyone else from a similar fate. I went through this period myself…