I have been involved with many discussions over the years with people who have walked away from Christianity. I do find far more empathy with some atheists than with some evangelical Christians (especially those who seem to have all the answers). There was one particular discussion in 2009 that seems to sum up so much of why people sometimes reject the Christian religion. What follows is my review of some of our discussions (the original author has seen this review but has chosen not to reply).
He had at one time been in full-time ministry. At the beginning of 2006 he was still saying, “I truly know that God loves me and nothing anyone can do to me can take that away – although he had had limited contact with other Christians for some 10 years. He had seen that the church he had been attending had a warped sense of community and was not reaching out to people. He was suggesting that he should have less fear of being open about his faith (he had been criticised for questioning), and he was considering the place of para-church organisations and the opportunities to mix with other Christians. He finally stopped attending church in October 2007.
One day he realised that he no longer believed that there was a need for a God in order for him to exist or life itself to be worthwhile. The main question he could not answer from his Christian beliefs was, “Who created God?”. He was obviously influenced by the origins of life – if the Bible is wrong about human history only being 6000 years it must be wrong about all sorts of other things! He then said that if Adam did not exist and did not sin then there is no need for a second Adam. And if atonement was necessary, how could the death of one man actually make God change his mind, especially if the man dying was actually God? It all started to unravel when he looked at the logic of the whole scheme of Christianity. The universal advice he got from his Christian friends was variations on “just believe” – in other words, just pretend to believe! Their response was to argue in favour of God’s existence either from Creation or by trying to prove the historical accuracy of scripture. He came to the conclusion that there is just not enough evidence for the existence of God or for the need for a God in order for things to be the way they are.
The end result is that he has no contact with any of his friends from church – it has been very painful to realise that these were ‘conditional friendships’. He suggests that he must be a bit like someone coming out of a cult and having a bereavement process to go through!
He now says that there are no quick fixes or miracle cures and that only he can help himself. He is no longer bound by the guilt of having to seek professional help in order to improve his wellbeing. He has developed a great interest in nature. He now knows what he is here for. “The world is being built on the actions that I and all the other people living today are taking every day. Human progress is actually an accumulation of what everyone from every previous generation has done. We all build on what has gone before, so I really believe that I am actually worth something rather than being a soul who may or may not end up in a lake of fire”.
He has some interesting thoughts about church – they don’t like people asking questions. Many people had drifted through the church over the years so they were used to people leaving. His suggestion is that if their lives were changed for the better they stuck in the filter and this created the group of people who made up the church. He recognises that the community feeling of being in a church with like minded people is very comforting especially in a society which is lacking in community – a social network that works – provided you don’t ask questions!
He describes himself as a soundly converted, born again, bible believing, spirit filled Christian who was attending a Pentecostal church when all this happened. He was not lacking in any aspect of his experience of God. He was looking for facts to back up experience and found the facts to be extremely lacking once the surface was scratched.
He says that there are two separate parts of his deconversion – his loss of belief in God, and the collapse of the logic of the Christian faith.
“If God does exist he has not had any involvement with the world since he started the creative process. His role can only be that of scientist, starting off an experiment and observing it. This is not the supreme being who will intervene and cure us of illness, forgive our sins or whisk us off to a better hereafter”. Also, there is no evidence of the creation of matter from nothing!
The realisation that his own religion, Christianity, didn’t make logical sense was a real problem. He had after all been a preacher, trained for ministry by very eminent scholars of the liberal Christian tradition, and his personal faith was a large part of his own personality for a very long time. He had been attracted to Christianity by the person and teachings of Jesus, and felt that if more people behaved like him the world would be a better place. He goes on to suggest that Jesus may never have existed and that the gospels read more like mythology than history.
He then says that there are all sorts of logical problems. People sin; God cannot accept them in a sinful state so there has to be a sacrifice of blood. God then sacrifices his own son, who is also God so that he can forgive us anyway; therefore there was no need for the sacrifice at all – and he says that he could expand on this for hours!
He wants to encourage Christians to think for themselves and question things that they are taught – suggesting that if they start looking they will find all sorts of holes in the scheme of Christianity!
“Understanding the purpose of life and our role in the universe is a work in progress for all of us. If it turned out that God did exist then I would be surprised and somewhat disappointed that he had not made himself known or helped us out from time to time. We live in a world of scientific investigation and discovery. It is not unreasonable to ask ‘Why?’ so I shall go on asking the hard questions!”.
Some people have said things like, “If you had experienced God like I have experienced God then you would believe too”. He says that he has experienced similar things but has interpreted them differently. Rather than looking for unlikely supernatural explanations he has tended to look for more obvious explanations based on reason and knowledge of how the world works. He feels that the argument for the existence of God based on experience falls down because the whole thing is subjective and cannot be tested objectively.
If he tells his story to Christians he says that the normal response is one of these three:
- You were never a proper Christian
- If you had experienced God like I have experienced God you would believe
- Just believe and let God do the rest (i.e. lie).
- What the pastor told me I had to believe,
- because of what he was taught that something in the bible means,
- that was translated by someone, from their selection of possible texts,
- of books chosen by one particular group in the fourth century,
- based on the translators particular theological background,
- using modern understandings of word usage in ancient times,
- from a text copied and recopied over hundreds of years,
- which was written by a human being,
- who was usually claiming to be someone else,
- writing about things that he had not directly witnessed,
- quoting conversations verbatim that he could not have heard,
- claiming that this was inspired by God.