When Christian Friends Are Terrified of Doubt

I sent my dad the link to this video:

He responded very positively. Here is what I told him:

“I’m so glad you’re open to hearing what the liberal Christians have to say. One thing that made me hate calling myself a Christian throughout college was how closed off Christians were to each other. Liberals are deemed wrong by conservatives and vice versa. I know that’s how it works in politics, but I hate seeing that same attitude reflected in something as mysterious and supposedly unifying as faith. I think Peter Rollins definitely says stuff that you’d disagree with, but I think it’s really special when people coming from such different perspectives on Scripture can find a deep commonality. This is all I hoped for as a Christian–a place where I could express my truest doubts. Instead I felt like I had to hide it to preserve everyone else’s faith. I tried dealing with my doubts with some of my closest Christian friends, and it ended up scaring them and hurting them to try and go there with me. They refused to let themselves go to that vulnerable place, and I’m not sure if it’s because they’re that terrified of doubt or because they simply didn’t think those were the types of burdens they were supposed to help me carry as Christians. I’m still perplexed by it.”

Advertisements

Pastors Politely Pester

My former pastor naturally sees me as a sheep who has been led astray, so he’s been making efforts toward putting me back on the straight and narrow. Here is our most recent, and hopefully last, exchange with regard to the topic.

_____________________________________

Katie,

I hope by now you have received the book I sent to you (Faith’s Reasons for Believing by Robert Reymond).  I hope you have the time and the desire to read it.  Because I love you in the Lord and care greatly for you, I would be very interested to speak (or email) with you about it and some other things.  Again, just to reveal my hand and put all the cards out on the table, you know I come with an agenda, but it is one borne out of love and care for you.  And my purpose is to persuade you that faith and reason are not at odds with each other, God is real, the Bible is true, there is only one way to have peace with a holy God (through Christ), and that He (the Christian God) is our only logically consistent justification for knowledge.

I hope you give me an opportunity to discuss these things with you.

Grace,
Van L.

_____________________________________

Van,

I did receive the book a while ago and read the first couple of chapters. I wound up skimming through the rest of the book, looking for something I hadn’t already read before and couldn’t find anything. At first I was a little insulted that you would suppose I hadn’t read those arguments before I lost my faith. I wonder if you think that was a quick and easy thing for me to experience. I can assure you it was not. It was the single most painful and alienating experience of my life, which is why I told you previously in an email that I need time to heal from that and find my footing.

What also struck me is that you are assuming a lot about what I believe without even asking me or knowing me at all. If you knew me, you wouldn’t send me a book that is over 500 pages long. Ask any of my family members or friends and they’ll tell you what little patience I have for reading books. If you knew me, you’d have tried a different method for proselytizing (or you would refrain entirely, if you really knew me). But your interest is not to get to know me. It is to change who you think I am–to fulfill your ministerial duty. You already have an agenda to tell me the truth (since you know The Truth) without even trying to form a positive relationship with me, as a real live human being. I’m just another soul to be saved.

I have never claimed that faith and reason are incompatible. That is not a belief that I hold. I have never claimed that God absolutely does not exist or that the Bible is entirely false. These are beliefs you assume I hold just because I claim to be an agnostic atheist. The title says so little about what I actually believe.

I am not interested in being “fixed” by anyone who comes at me with an agenda. I don’t know what you’re reading in the Bible that tells you some definition of love which reads, “Loving a person means approaching her with an agenda to change her.” If you’re honest with yourself, you know you would have never reached out to me under any other circumstance. The only situation that would draw your attention to me would be me losing my faith and suddenly you’re knocking on my door telling me you’re ready to love me now. I understand where your convictions are coming from and your orders from Christ to spread the good news. The fact is that I’ve heard it my whole life. I’ve experienced it. I believed that God loved me. All of that was very real to me then, and it is no longer real to me now. I’m not sure how else to explain it, and I doubt you’ll take my witness above what the Bible tells you to believe about apostates anyway.

If I wish to explore these topics further, I will do so on my own time. You’ve given me no compelling reason to explore these topics with you, and the only reason I would do so would be to appease you. I respect your position as a pastor and the burden you carry as a shepherd to your sheep. However, I am far more interested in discussing this with my father than with any other church authority, because he knows me and respects where I am right now. He loves me unconditionally, for being who I am, belief or no belief. That is real love. I dare say it’s probably more on par with what it means to love “in the Lord” than all those formulas churches have concocted.

Respectfully,
Kate


Therapy, Maybe

I’m considering going to see a therapist soon. This is probably not a huge thing in our society anymore, but it’s still kind of a huge thing for me. The only time I’ve actually gone to a psychologist before, I didn’t get much out of it since it was only a few sessions over winter break in college. But I’ve got to be honest with myself–my mind was messed up in college. I’ve already blocked out a good portion of what I experienced going through the beginning stages of my deconversion, which I didn’t know was my deconversion at the time.

 I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. 

Currently, I’m at a weird, albeit good, juncture. I’m slowly figuring out what life actually means to me. I’m sorting through my ethics, morals, passions, convictions, truths, unknowns, but I have this sort of haunting of my past occasionally invading my thoughts. Oftentimes I push it down and tell myself I’m not there anymore, which is true. I’m no longer in obsessive friendships, and all of my relationships are very healthy. I no longer beat myself up for not being able to figure out God, life, or other unknowns. However, I still fear these things happening again, which means I’m not sure that I would know how to combat these symptoms showing up in my life again if they did. I like to think that finally being honest with what I believe will be the lasting fix for all of those problems, but there is nothing to fully merit that confidence. I’d like to go back and explore the pain I inflicted on myself and on others in college sooner rather than later, before it’s too late and causes residual damage on my future. This is why people go to therapists, right? I live a very happy, healthy lifestyle right now. Is it a good decision to take this time in my life to sort through the mess I was a year ago?


My Response to a Response to the Reason Rally

The Reason Rally is one month away! For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that evangelical Christians will be there handing out Bibles, tracts, books and such. I actually look forward to talking to these people. I read the “True Reason” Christian response site today and decided to fill out their contact form. Here’s what I wrote:

“Hi, I’m Kate, and I just became an atheist a few months ago after being raised in the Reformed Baptist tradition and sincerely loving my life, my family, and my God growing up. I have no regrets about ever being a Christian, and I am grateful for the lessons I learned in life through having that worldview.

I appreciate the sincerity of your efforts, and I do look forward to speaking with some of you at the rally. I do want to clear up what the rally is about, as it seems you’ve gotten the intent a bit confused. This rally, first of all, is not about a collective desire to destroy religion. The movement is to show that atheism is more common than people think and that we’re a very misunderstood group. I consider myself an agnostic atheist, but I do not insist on the nonexistence of God, nor do I think it is necessarily wrong for a person to believe in God. There are a lot of atheists who think similarly to me.

At this rally, we hope to encourage those who still are hiding their non-belief to be honest with others, because suppressing your own true convictions is such a disservice to yourself and others who love you. I was terrified to tell my family and friends that I lost my faith, because I knew that some of them would turn their backs on me. And I was right. I lost some of my best friends, even though I’m essentially the same person I was before, just without a belief in God.

I can’t help but notice that all the lessons I learned in church growing up about how minority Christian groups in some nations are martyred for their faith are strikingly similar to how atheists are being treated in this country. There are silent atheists everywhere, especially in churches. They’re even preaching in churches, and they don’t know how to be honest about their beliefs out of fear of being ostracized from all the people they love. Unfortunately, this fear is valid, because a loss of faith often results in a loss of so much more. As much as Christians talk about love and humility, it’s hard to see it in these particular situations.

It’s also hard to see it with your group in how you are coming to the Reason Rally, not with open ears to what we have to say, but with your open books to expose your dogma to us instead, even though almost all of us have already read it a million times over. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read the books on Christianity and Atheism from both perspectives. I’ve painstakingly weighed the issues. I’ve suffered through doubts, and I’ve spent years begging God to help me trust in him. I am past that stage of trying to convince myself that what I was told to believe is true. I just can’t see how it is, and I’ve likely read the books you want to give me that’ll show me what you believe is true.

I’m not really trying to be mean here, and I don’t suggest that you refrain from attending the rally. I suppose I’m asking that you do the same for us that you’re asking us to do for you: listen. Listen to what we’re actually saying and understand what we actually believe. You might discover it’s different from what you thought it was.”


Salvation in Reverse

Here is where I discuss the most difficult part of losing my faith: Dad. No, not Heavenly-Dad. I mean my actual, biological father. I wrote a few times on my old blog, the deconversion blog that got hacked and destroyed, about what an impact my dad had on my life as a Christian. It would be downright insulting for me to ever let my deconversion imply that he no longer has a strong impact on my life. He does, and he always will. I want to attest to that now as I did before.

My dad, having received his PhD in Theology and spending years preaching in the ministry, probably took my deconversion harder than anyone else. Rightfully so. I don’t take offense and I don’t place blame on his reaction. He asked me once if I understand how much anguish he and my mother have experienced over this, and I said that I do. However, I don’t know if I truly can. I don’t know what it’s like to raise a kid under the righteous care of my Lord and Savior and watch her walk away. I imagine it’s something akin to being stabbed in the back, straight through the physical and emotional heart. It cannot possibly be any less painful than that.

Of what little I know about my dad’s own salvation experience, I understand that his experience was essentially mine in reverse. He had a very difficult childhood in a non-Christian home, and he got saved in his late teens. I had a wonderful, secure childhood in a Christian home, and I lost my faith at the age of 23. Here lies the most difficult part of losing my faith. It feels like my experience invalidates everything that has become true to my dad. How degrading it must be for him to see a little twenty-something turn her nose up to Love, Truth, and Everlasting Salvation. It’s a major and ultimately damning life choice from his perspective, and I doubt this makes any sense at all to him. What I continue to admire about him is how he gives me space to experience life myself and seek what is true to me. He does not disown me nor does he belittle me. He seeks to understand me, which is a gift I think few of us PK former Christians receive. I am so grateful to him for this.

What I have difficulty telling him is how little my deconversion has to do with my experience growing up. I loved my childhood, and I don’t think it influenced my decision to leave Christianity. I just didn’t know how to make that relationship with Jesus thing real. It didn’t work, and I couldn’t see how it ever would. It’s all psychology to me, and I don’t know how to see it as anything transcendentally more. But I hate implying that it’s all psychology to my parents and my sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and best friends. I hate how arrogant that sounds, and I desperately want to remove that divide. I don’t want to see them as people relying on a crutch, and I don’t want them to see me as a rebel to my True Calling. Perhaps these things can’t be reconciled. My only hope may be that we avoid these conversations at future family holiday events, online exchanges, and phone calls. Perhaps “I love you” will always be marked by “in spite of.” This may not have to be as dismal as it sounds. I’m willing to work to make it work.

Relatedly, here’s one of my crutch songs from this past summer! Ah, deconversion. Good times.


Understanding Balance & Prayer

It’s been approximately six months since I prayed my final pleading prayer (said like a true former addict :D). At this point, I’m not even sure if it would count if I said a prayer. If Muslim prayers are fruitless to a Christian, my atheist prayer would likewise be in vain. I often said as a Christian that it felt like my prayers bounced off the walls. I first heard that comparison from a girl in a Beth Moore Bible study I attended during college. She opened up to the group about how she was going through a dark time and felt like her prayers were just bouncing off the walls.

Ever the apt description. A small part of me felt a jolt of relief/freedom at her confession.

There is still this part of me that feels the need to tell people it’s true. Those prayers are bouncing around inside minds, and they’re not leaving from that place. You receive your own prayers, and you act on them. Answers to prayers are combinations of your own efforts, others’ efforts, and advantageous coincidences. That is the sweet formula for answered prayer. It’s a not-so-secret recipe after all. But looking at it that way, as the formula that it is, does not bring someone hope. It doesn’t glorify God. It doesn’t really glorify anything at all. It only speaks to what we call natural processes, and who would want to limit their God to something natural?


The Art of Ignorance

I recall thinking it terribly unfair that a lifelong criminal could lay on his deathbed and say a prayer of salvation, ensuring his place in the Lord’s Kingdom. This concept never made sense to me as a child, but the explanations were always so simple. “God is merciful. He has mercy on anyone who repents, even criminals.” Well sure, but didn’t that criminal go his whole life not giving a fuck about God just like a lifelong non-Christian who dies a non-Christian? The only difference determining the fate of these two souls is one final moment. That moment seals two antithetical eternities.

In retrospect, I think I was always more agnostic about my beliefs than I thought. I accepted the weak answers to my questions because everyone else around me seemed to accept them. I was merely a child. Who was I to say those beliefs might not be right? And honestly, I wanted answers. It might have been harder for me to accept the agnostic answer, “We don’t know what happens after death.” What?How?No. Better a weak answer than no answer at all.

This is the mindset I see among a lot of people, religious and non-religious alike. I can’t alienate Christians as they live out life on earth in anticipation of their coming Kingdom or Jews in anticipation of their coming Messiah or Mormons in anticipation of their own planet or Muslims in anticipation of their own virgins. I include atheists in anticipation of their peaceful nonexistence and reunion with the stars. I include anyone who feels the need to settle on what seems most likely to happen after death, myself included. I like to think that I simply won’t exist. This brings me a peace beyond anything dogma has ever offered me, and this peace likely reinforces my intellectual discoveries.

But even so, I notice that we so-called freethinkers are okay with honestly not knowing what to anticipate. There might be a damning God/Allah/{Supreme Figure} on the other side of this fence. In that case, maybe I am screwed. But I can’t admit to ignorance and still follow one of those beliefs. It’s one or the other, and I suppose according to Pascal’s Wager, I may be choosing the most dangerous of all paths.

And isn’t the risk of agnosticism what makes it so threatening to this society? After all, what is more bold and terrifying than not having the answers? What could possibly be more agonizingly splendid than living within the tension of the unknown?