Listening to Doubt: What Music Can Teach Us about Apostasy

Doubt is the shadow to the light of faith and repentance. Doubt in the Christian life has been around since Eve wondered whether God really didn’t want her to eat the fruit; it showed up when Abraham didn’t believe that God would give him a son and again when Thomas just couldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. And although orthodoxy reminds us that God defeats doubt and will eventually remove all remnants of it, there are cases where it looks like doubt wins the day.

Watching a friend, family member, or random acquaintance leave the faith after wrestling with doubt can be tortuously painful. The confusion, the theological implications, and the assumptions are present in force during these times. Why people commit apostasy is a question with many answers. Sometimes it could be uncontested desire like fellow CAPC writer Derek wrote about, sometimes doubt just wins the day, and sometimes it seems like there’s just no clear-cut reason. As a traditionally reformedish guy, I have my own thoughts on the spiritual progression from practicing Christian to non-believer. But apostasy spans the breadth of theological traditions . . . and that isn’t what this article is about.

The question is, what does grace and understanding look like in a relationship with an apostate Christian? That can be a tough spot to be in. How do we love them? Is it reminding them of their certain damnation? Arguing? Being unquestioningly supportive? It takes communication, empathy, and compassion. But how do we even know where the conversation begins?

Music is one place to start. Some artists who have given up on Christianity have something to teach us about apostasy.

Take David Bazan, the well-known indie rocker who left orthodox faith for agnosticism. From his Christian indie band (Pedro the Lion) to his first post-Christian album—which has been a called a break-up letter to Jesus—Bazan fights his way through tough doubts and feelings. He wrestled with doubt and doubt won. He says things that Christians don’t want to hear. On the title track on his first ex-Christian album, Curse Your Branches, he lays his emotional cards on the table, 

Wait just a minute

You expect me to believe

That all this misbehaving

Grew from one enchanted tree?

And helpless to fight it

We should all be satisfied

With this magical explanation

For why the living die

And why it’s hard to be

Hard to be, hard to be

A decent human being?

By opening up about his faithlessness, Bazan’s post-Pedro music brings vulnerability and weight to his “conversion.” He expresses feelings that many ex-Christians I have interacted with also feel. Bitterness, freedom, and melancholy all blend together to create a tangible weight, comparable to heartbreak. The god of Bazan’s Christian affections could be harsh, confusing, and distant. It’s understandable that he ended the relationship.

Listening to Bazan usually just makes me sad. Not just because I mourn the apostasy of Dave Bazan but also because I can empathize with the doubt, the frustration, and the Evangelical cultural straightjacket he felt strapped in. Some days I’ve felt a step away from Bazan. And if we are honest, most of us have too. It is hard believing in and worshiping an invisible God. The doubter doesn’t want that glossed over with a few churchy phrases. I don’t know Bazan personally, but just from Curse Your Branches I sense that the invisibility of God was difficult for him. Reality, or material reality, often looks immediately more convincing. Art can be a vulnerable, open-heart expression and when we interact with that, we can learn to understand the people who feel these feelings. And maybe a gracious understanding is just what someone who is hurting and struggling with faith needs.

The medium of music, like literature and every other form of art, can communicate complicated and painful ideas in a special way. Direct enough that the meaning is felt, but indirect enough that we can grasp the ideas without being overwhelmed in the reality of it. If we hope to love those who have turned away, or even those who simply wrestle with belief, the emotional medium of music offers a great place to understand the doubt.

Music and art can be a training ground teaching us how to give that grace and empathy, which doesn’t come natural to anyone except for Jesus. When we understand more fully we are able to love more fully. Instead of arguing right theology, oftentimes what is needed is unmerited, no-strings-attached grace. When love is presented to those who don’t believe in God it forces them to wrestle with something stronger than doubt: Divine Love.

About Nick Rynerson

Nick Rynerson lives in Normal, Illinois (no, seriously). In his free time, He writes, attempts to play mandolin, reads and hangs out with his groovy wife. Nick has a soft spot for any song with a banjo and thinks Bruce Campbell is the best actor on earth. However, he is a terrible golfer and has particular distaste internet controversy . Nick is passionate about the Church, (lower case) orthodoxy and whatever he's been reading about recently.

Follow Nick on Twitter: @Nick_Rynerson
or at his website: nickrynerson.com

  • RainRogue

    As an apostate unbeliever, this post was very encouraging to me. Everyone I know is a believer: my children, spouse, all our relatives… And the discomfort my unbelief is to them or will be when they learn about it is a major worry. The idea of comforting them music, and especially the hope that they will embrace the opportunity to respond with grace and love are uplifting.

    I also appreciate the vulnerability of the author in admitting that keeping a faith is hard and everyone is just a step away from losing theirs. That encourages me, too, as I hope the people I love will open their minds to the possibility of living without faith.

  • numenian

    “Is it reminding them of their certain damnation?” I doubt you really wanted to use that line, for several reasons. First, I will quote Dwight Edwards from his book Revolution Within: “One of the ways we erect these safeguards is to teach that a believer will lose his salvation if he wanders far enough from the Lord. But if we remove the concept of eternal security, we drive a stake right through the heart of grace and drain it of its lifeblood.” Second, “judge not”: it is solely up to God to know the heart of man and his final destination. Doubt or apostasy does not equal “certain damnation.” The radical, truly radical, nature of grace seems to frighten most Christians.

    At sixty-six, I have never once doubted the existence of God or found any cause to be angry with him. But as to the efficacy of Christianity, I have my fill of both. I want to turn over some tables. Maybe this is just the Christianity I am exposed to, American-style. The consistent and ubiquitous ugliness expressed in every corner of the faith toward the president and his party for over four years now, has deeply saddened me. This whole political marriage with the Right I find as enmity with God. I doubt God would approve of such worldly entanglements, yet this seems to preoccupy the faith here. If you aren’t Republican, you aren’t Christian.

    Sorry, I am not trying to turn your piece, which I found quite good save that one line, into a political argument. I am relating my doubt, which is centered in the message delivered in America and the actions of its adherents. Seriously flawed and demonstrably un-Christlike. It has been so painful for me that I can no longer listen to any preaching on TV, and I work at a Christian TV station, nor can I go to church. My stomach gets in a knot, for I hear nothing but empty piety. It almost seems like leaving the faith might be better for the soul.

  • http://@st_u2 StuartB

    “It almost seems like leaving the faith might be better for the soul.”

    Yes, and amen, so many times. The more I’m away from the church, the more in touch with God and the happier I am. It’s really disheartening at times.


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