Here’s a thing I wrote but never sent to a friend several months ago.
It’s possible we’re not really friends anymore, but I’m honestly moving past posting definitive labels on what we are. It’s complicated—very, very complicated. I think it was always going to be that way. Just look at who we are. I know you’ve reflected on it, the nature of who we are individually and together. I’ve wondered since I stopped believing in God why it really is that we can’t talk to each other anymore. I know it’s not because you don’t care about me. It’s a matter of self-preservation, I suspect. Do you know that what I’m thinking is threatening? Are you concerned about what that could mean for you? It is possible to leave the embrace of God. I promise you it is. I know you don’t want that. To tell you the truth, I didn’t want it either. Sometimes I still want it all back. I think of how much more symbiotic our relationship could have been if I could have just been awed instead of confused by God. What would my awe have looked like? Would it have made us closer friends?
I wonder if you suspect how conflicted faith looks on someone like you from my eyes now. I think you want to believe that I’m okay without God, and, even scarier for you, I think you do believe this. You know I don’t need God. You must know. You saw the turmoil, only you saw that. It was such a terrible, vulnerable time that only you can fully understand. I feel as though I threw you away with it, as we are no longer in contact. The more I shed my faith, the more I seem to be shedding you. I hate how the two got so twisted together. If I’d known that was what was happening all along, I’d have thrown my faith away long ago to hold onto you. You were always so much better to me than the invisible God. I remember the night you told me to stop emulating your faith so much and learn how to emulate God. You said it like it was so easy. Why couldn’t I just get it? Why couldn’t I get beyond the comforting tangibility of your body?
Scarier still is that living by faith, exemplifying Christ–it was all a failure for you in our friendship. Seeing you try to live like Christ only made me feel conflicted in myself. I felt distanced from you as you had your increasingly intimate times with God. I felt distanced from God, watching you with him. I just wanted to feel as though God loved me as much as he seemed to love you.
I know that’s hard for you to swallow. Everything you ever believed about being a witness for Christ, showcasing Christ’s love, has been brought into question by the person you ended up becoming closest to. In an odd, indirect way, I completely betrayed everything important to you. I ripped this sense of purpose away. I destroyed everything you could have ever hoped our friendship would be. I don’t know how you cope with it now. I imagine you pray a lot, write a lot. You probably seek redemption a lot. I wish you’d see how strong you really are. I wish you understood that you’re doing all of this by yourself. You’re picking yourself up by your bootstraps, which no one else can do for you. I just wish you didn’t call that beautiful part of your willpower “God”. It’s so much more than “God”.
The first religion course I took at my liberal arts university was “Christian Beginnings,” where we did a parallel study of the gospels and followed up with Pauline texts, clarifying which definitely, maybe, and weren’t actually written by Paul. Before I took this class, many cries of warning came from the general direction of my family and my church. I was told that academia would try to teach me their worldly, “scholarly” lies and that I needed to remain steadfastly discerning, guarding myself with the Word and prayer.
I remember the doubt that inevitably ebbed as I sat through the entire semester of this course. For one assignment, I was told to write a letter from Galatia to Paul, calling out his bullshit, and I executed this task with creative fervor. It was terrifying how confidently I stood against Paul, and I could tell my professor was just as shocked when he gave me an A and wrote, “VERY Insightful, Great Work!” at the top.
If there is such a thing as destiny, I’d think I was destined for a massive break from Christianity. It took a long time and a decent amount of exposure to new ideas for me to discover what had always been true inside myself the whole time, which is that I never found the Bible intellectually resonant no matter how many apologetic books I swallowed.
Should I have been terrified of information that contradicted what I was told to be true? At what point in a Christian’s journey is it okay to face the whole wide world of information out there? What does sheltering yourself from other information really produce? Not an understanding person. Not a person who has verified a tested reason to believe. I dug in and asked the hard questions and happened to come out an atheist. Is this so wrong? What did I do that was so bad? What law did I break?
Some people move from conservative to liberal Christianity in their journeys, and I’ve wondered why that didn’t happen for me. Instead, my entire foundation was overthrown. All of the presuppositions for a belief in God crumbled. I think part of it is because I just don’t care about Jesus. I see no need for Jesus, salvation, or any of that stuff that can only be necessary for someone who starts with a belief in a cosmic power of Evil. That belief itself is not necessary. I learned about the notion of necessity and discovered how much about beliefs aren’t necessary for understanding or surviving. A belief in God is born from something perceived as necessary to a person.
You get notions like these – For anything to exist, God was necessary. Since I feel this desire for God, God must be necessary. I can’t fathom the idea of there not being a God, so God must be necessary.
All of those conclusions are false conclusions for me. God is not necessary for me. I think this was true for a long time, but I didn’t even know it. Some tell me I am having a hard time with the deconversion because I have separated myself from God. Let me ask you about the former Muslims who are having an even harder time or the former Mormons having a harder time or the former Jews having a harder time. Believe me, I’m handling this better than a lot of people–a lot of people who believed in different gods. Why is deconversion so difficult for them? Is it because we’ve all been separated from our respective gods?
A lot of “logic” is flawed, particularly apologetic logic. A lot of the logic that I followed to get out of Christianity was also flawed, but what I finally landed on because of that was the extent of my own ignorance. I wish agnosticism didn’t get such a bad rap because it is truly the position that displays the most intellectual integrity.
I’ve been part of some groups lately full of both ex-Christians and questioning Christians and people who are generally fed up with Christian culture and/or Christian faith. A big theme as of late has been how many of these people lost so many of their close Christian friends once they started asking “too many questions.” What I’m not sure Christians realize is how bad this really makes them look. I imagine from the Christian perspective, some of them feel betrayed by people who leave the faith. Others probably take the “unequally yoked” thing to heart and decide it’s best to gain some distance from those people. Others probably just don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything at all.
There’s nothing in the Bible that speaks to how you should treat people who have really honestly considered the veracity of Scripture, lived it for a while, and for some reason or another found that it probably isn’t true. Those of us who have been on this journey have come by our non-belief honestly. I don’t hate God. I don’t insist on not believing in God. I simply don’t know how to believe in God at this point. I do wonder how there could be a God who would have just watched me on my honest journey and didn’t think it necessary to guide me toward him. Perhaps believing in God isn’t all that important to God after all?
When I try to explain all of this to some Christians, they really can’t get it. I get a lot of blank looks. Preachers tell them from the pulpit that every single person is depraved and rebellious to God, so this is the only way they know how to see me. I can tell them that I am being honest and that I am not rebelling from what I think is true, and they really just can’t get that. For this reason, a lot of Christians don’t talk to me anymore. Honestly, I don’t even know how to talk to many of them either. What do I say to someone who is convinced that love is solidly founded in God, and I’ve recently come to my own realization that this is not actually true? There’s just kind of this inevitable divide. I can reach out to these friends, and we can mutually say we care about each other still. However, we can’t go to the levels we did before, and I’ve always been such a deep conversationalist that it would just be weird of me not to talk about consequential things with them.
I lost my faith because I took it so seriously. How do I tell that to a good Christian friend? How can that possibly not sound offensive and/or concerning to this friend? My loss of faith has been a celebration of freedom for me, but it is a mourning for these friends. It makes sense why we can’t talk anymore, and it makes sense why some actually refuse to talk.
Jesus never told his followers to rejoice with those who lose their faith. I’m looking for those who can love and embrace my discoveries. Those people are not Christians.
When I first deconverted, it was pretty natural that I would really despise the worldview I left behind. Hating and feeling embarrassed by your past isn’t only damaging to the self, but it is potentially damaging to those who are still living that worldview. There was a fine line I walked between dogging on the silly elements of Christian culture that most Christians hate and dogging on the actual doctrine that most Christians believe is true. I still walk this line, and I’ve still not learned how to be as sensitive to it as some probably think I should be.
I received a message from a friend explicitly asking me if my main issue is with Christian culture or with the actual Christian God. I explained that they’re both kind of the same to me. Christian culture is reading the Bible. Well, not all of them are, but I know people swimming in the culture who have very carefully studied the Bible in the “original” Greek and Hebrew for decades. It’s not like they’re missing something. It’s not like they missed the point on who God is and are now raping God’s purposes. No, I think Bible God gets represented by every single Christian who reads the Bible: the Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, Steven Furticks, and Mark Driscolls as well as the Jon Acuffs and even the more liberal, mystical Christians. They’re all reading the same Bible. All of their actions are informed by the text.
This is where atheism makes a lot of sense to me by saying, “The Bible is full of inconsistencies and contradictions.” The illustration of this is all around us. Look at how many people are reading the same Bible and living according to opposite convictions. The Bible can be twisted to fit anything that a person thinks he/she needs. It just can. There are always certain parts that need to be ignored in order for you to live by your biblical convictions. Each Christian traces their own narrative through Scripture and applies it. Some see the never-changing God who hates homosexuality and destroys cities. Yep, he’s in there. Some see the merciful God who extends grace to the most destitute. Yep, he’s in there. This is what scares me about the Bible. I respect my friends who love God and want to love others because they believe God has called them to love others. That is wonderful and needed. But I’m just trying to love others, too, and I don’t pull my reasoning from the same book that informed mass genocides of the past. There’s just something eerie about the text. There is a lot of beauty and mystery in there, but there is also a lot of dark, morbid stuff. I don’t understand calling it a holy book or using it as the primary source for informing my beliefs. Yes, Jesus was nice in some respects. In others, he might have kinda been a dick. He had cool, revolutionary ideas, but I don’t think he was/is God. I can love people without him telling me to at least.
So yeah, I don’t often like Christian culture, and I probably don’t really like the Christian God. The key, though, is that I don’t think that God really exists, and this suspicion is informed by what I see. It’s relieving and terrifying at the same time.
If there is a God, I hope that God is not represented by the Bible. If there is a God, that God should probably be pissed about the Bible.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.