A Holiday Loss of Faith Story

Until a few days ago, I’d never heard of Drew Marshall, the host of an Ontario-based radio program that’s advertised as Canada’s most popular Christian talk show. But when I saw an interesting post about him on Facebook (more on that in a minute), I went and looked him up. From reading the bio on his site, I was favorably impressed by his refusal to toe the party line:

I want to apologize to everyone here for the dumb-ass things which I’ve done personally that have just been a complete misrepresentation of how Jesus people are supposed to live AND for the dumb-ass things that Christians have done for centuries, in the name of Religion.

The initial things that naturally come to mind, which I should probably apologize for, are the Crusades or the Salem Witch Hunt or for the countless missionaries and explorers and white folks who raped, robbed, and killed in the name of Christianity.

I am really sorry for all that stuff. I don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Go into all the world and tell everyone the Good News.”

Of course I’d also like to apologize for some of the so-called Christian leaders of today; like Benny Hinn & Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson & the pièce de résistance… George W. Bush.

I’m so sorry for the dumb-ass things that have come out of their mouths… Things like; Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans or that HIV/AIDS is God’s punishment on the gay community… Or that God is a Republican and he fully supports “their” decision to start a war based on weapons of mass distraction. Please understand people, that the Christian right… is neither!

That’s the kind of thing I wish we heard more of. But what pleased me even more was that the post I saw on Facebook was this one from the self-satisfied ignoramus Ray Comfort, bitterly complaining about – wait for it – yet another popular Christian becoming an atheist!

Ater seven seasons as host of Canada’s “most listened to spiritual talk show,” Drew Marshall announced to his listeners that he is no longer convinced there’s a God… The doubting talk show host said that he became a follower of Christ in 1981. But it wasn’t until recently that he verbalized that he wasn’t convinced that God existed, saying “I feel pretty close to walking away from my faith.”

Intrigued, I searched further and found Marshall’s own account of his growing doubts. Although he says he’ll probably never have the courage to use the “A” word to describe himself, it seems clear that he’s drifting in that direction:

All I can say is at this point is that I still consider myself a “Christian” but before I reinvest another 30 years in Jesus I’d just like to know that God is real. I hope there is a God. I’m looking for him. (Wait, should I use a capitol “h” or not?) However, my fear is that if things stay the same as the last 30 years of my spiritual journey, I’ll probably become a reluctant agnostic who still has great respect for the teachings of Christ.

…I’d like a nail hole experience. One of the guys who actually got to hang out with Jesus also had a problem with doubt. (For some of us, it might be less about our circumstances and more about our nature or personality – but if anyone knows the best way to work with our individual idiosyncrasies, you’d think it would be God.) So this guy Thomas said he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the grave and come back to life (therefore being God) until he could put his finger in the nail hole of his crucified hand. THAT’S WHAT I WANT! Passive Revelation/Rumors Of Glory/Pascal’s Wager/Tribal Conditioning has sustained me for years but today my faith is weak. I’m at the point where my soul is crying out for a “super” natural encounter.

For obvious reasons, I think Marshall is going to be disappointed. But it’s interesting to see him openly admit that “rumors” and “tribal conditioning” have sustained his faith for years – something we atheists always say, but that most believers staunchly deny. And it’s even more interesting that his saying this has struck a chord among his listeners, some of whom are in the same place:

After I let the cat of the bag I asked the listeners if they thought I should just go away and process my crisis of faith privately or is this something that could be done on the show, publicly. I was inundated with listeners who were in a similar spiritual condition, asking me to continue.

This is a commentary on religion’s power to stifle honest questioning – that so many of Marshall’s listeners are voicing doubts that they never felt they had permission to express, until someone they looked up to did the same. And the reason so many Christians feel constrained from expressing their doubts can be seen in Comfort’s reaction. As is usual with small, weak-minded men, Comfort is unable to accept that Marshall’s doubts might be genuine, and has to attribute secret, dishonest motives to anyone publicly questioning Christianity and accuse them of never having been a Christian at all:

Spurious converts don’t experience the “power” of the gospel (see Romans 1:16). The message they heard didn’t come to them “in power, in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.” This is because the cross is the center of the gospel. It is the supreme expression of God’s love to the sinner and there is a good reason it was obscured to them… If we haven’t personally seen the cross, then we haven’t personally experienced the love of God. This is the tragic case of Drew Marshall…

Comfort’s polemical mindset treats doubt as an enemy to be suppressed at all costs, including by attacking the character of anyone who expresses it. This defensive, belligerent reaction is typical of apologists who see faith as nothing more substantive than a marker of tribal membership, a weapon to be wielded against any outsider. It’s Marshall who took his faith more seriously than Comfort ever has or will, and that’s precisely why he’s losing it. As with the other Christian artists and entertainers who’ve deconverted, an honest examination of religious truth claims can only have one result.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • jane hay

    See Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry. Elmer never had a second thought, as he mindlessly parroted the Christian line and bilked the rubes. His friend from the theological seminary had doubts and crises of faith and was the more honest of the two, but is repeatedly denounced by sleazy Elmer and comes to a bad end, at the hands of the fundies. Lewis had a handle on the whole picture in the 20′s, a decade we seem to be repeating.

  • Jeff

    …I’d like a nail hole experience. One of the guys who actually got to hang out with Jesus also had a problem with doubt. (For some of us, it might be less about our circumstances and more about our nature or personality – but if anyone knows the best way to work with our individual idiosyncrasies, you’d think it would be God.)

    I’m glad he said this. Christians have been excoriating doubters and nonbelievers for centuries merely for wanting something that Jesus was, supposedly, only too happy to give to Thomas.

    Of course, there are two Christian responses to this:

    1. “God knew that Thomas would respond by believing, and he knows that you would not.” Or, if you’re a Calvinist, “God preordained that Thomas would believe, and that you would not.”

    2. “Thomas was one of the apostles, chosen by Jesus. Who the f*ck are you?”

  • http://technologeekery.blogspot.com/ Hendy

    My deconversion began almost exactly a year ago. I hope to “go public” this next year. I’ve been very involved in a large Christian lay community and no one really knows. I hope to write a comprehensive documentation of my life as a Christian as well as why I currently do not believe that an intervening god, particularly according to the Christian story.

    I shouldn’t care, but two of my biggest fears since embarking on this path of doubt have been:

    1) being told I was never a Christian. Pardon, but that’s utterly bullshit. I prayed the rosary, went to adoration every day for a month straight, specifically prayed to discern marrying my wife and buying a house, etc. I can’t stand this ad hoc response from Christians.

    2) that I’m being malicious in any form. I can’t figure out why non-belief or doubt needs to be slathered with an “underlying” motive of god-hatred, immoral motives, etc. Why can’t it simply be as it is: the facts are no longer convincing to me? I find another explanation more plausible at this point? That’s all it is!

  • Monty

    Well, no true Christian would ever deconvert.

  • Jeff

    Hendy, if you were praying the rosary, you know that most Christians in this country would say you weren’t a Christian even when you were a Christian!

  • Mothman

    Is there any chance of a positive letter-writing campaign, or are those inherently bothersome?

  • Ryan

    Hendy:

    I see where you’re coming from, and bravo to Marshall for having the courage and good grace to be open about his doubts — and bravo to his listeners for encouraging him to stay open. That takes courage on both counts. As a guy who’s currently in the “serious doubting” stage myself, I can say (as all of you know, I’m sure) that it’s a lonely place to be. I’ve pretty much given up on Christianity — especially as a hierarchical institution — but I still occasionally find myself praying to a god I’m pretty sure isn’t there, or at least isn’t listening. And like all questioners, I know a lot of Christians would claim I was never really a Christian in the first place — because rational, honest questioning is heresy to a lot of these people. Frustrating as hell.

    But on a happier note, I will say that this blog and the conversations in the comment threads have helped me out a lot over the last couple of months. So thanks to all.

  • archimedez

    This “loss of faith” (or gain of healthy doubt) story is encouraging. However, Marshall’s apology for “the dumb-ass things that Christians have done for centuries, in the name of Religion” strikes me as unreasonable and unjustified. Apologizing for the actions of others, when one had no control over those others’ actions, is unwarranted. Merely sharing, with the perpetrators of those actions, the fuzzy label “Christian,” does not make him truly guilty of those actions. Criticizing those “dumb-ass” things that other people did, or the doctrines/interpretations used to motivate them, would make sense; apologizing for them does not.

  • Jormungund

    So: the story of doubting Thomas is a lesson on empiricism that modern Christians can learn something from? Perhaps it could be used as a counter-point to Christians claiming that faith alone is what should sustain them and that they shouldn’t want or need evidence to back up religious claims.
    Sadly, I’ve personally heard two Christians more or less reject evidence since it would sully their pure faith if they had proof. The world could use more doubting Thomases.

  • Ryan

    The world could use more doubting Thomases.

    Indeed. The part of the Doubting Thomas story that bothers me and always has is John 20:29:

    Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.

    It would have been nice for Jesus to bless Thomas for having the moral courage to demand proof before believing rumors.

  • Verimius

    #4 Monty hit the nail on the head. It is an un-losable argument. Any believer who leaves the fold obviously was never a true believer. Really, it is an attempt to deal with the discomfort resulting from the possibility that a devout adherent could lose the faith.

    It’s also called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

  • http://neatshirts.blogspot.com Abeille

    Ryan, I don’t think praying to a God that you don’t believe in is really that weird.
    People “talk” to [read "at"] people who have died. They swear and yell at living people who aren’t in the room and can’t hear them. Its a self-comforting thing, like whining, moaning and crying to yourself when you’re sick. It becomes unhealthy when if you believe that this imaginary being can actually do something.

    If it does bother you that you’re talking to Santa, just start addressing it to someone real or a pet.

    I write, (sometimes just construct in my mind), a lot of “Dear Anonymous” letters. That way they don’t have to be addressed to anyone in particular.

  • Ryan

    That’s a good point, Abeille. I often do — at least mentally — “converse” with people who aren’t in the room, especially when I know the real, upcoming conversation is going to be a complex one and I want to plan my strategy, as it were. With the praying, though, I think that, like Marshall, I’m still faintly hoping for a “nail-hole” moment. My ongoing process of questioning has been incredibly liberating on the one hand (I’m a bisexual guy, so as you can imagine I dealt with a lot of guilt in my early 20s when I was flirting with Evangelicalism) — but on the other hand, the realization that no one’s listening can be a bit disconcerting.

  • jack

    The responses from Marshall’s listeners, and some of the comments here, suggest that the number of believers who wrestle with doubt may be much larger than is commonly assumed. In other posts, Ebon has discussed polls that show a trend of increasing doubt about God, especially among the younger generation. These polls may understate the phenomenon, given the social pressure to conform. Maybe the courage of folks like Marshall will make the trend increasingly evident in the next few years.

  • Anna

    archimedez, I agree that people shouldn’t apologize for ancient history. We are not responsible for our father’s sins, so to speak. But he should apologize for the contemporary harm perpetrated by christianity, such as infliciting emotional harm on homosexuals, the push to outlaw homosexuality in parts of Africa, undermining public education, and undermining the consitution, etc. Of course I wouldn’t expect him to apologize if he has been a vocal opponent of these things while a christian, but I doubt that’s the case. As for ancient history, we still have some of it’s organizations around, like the Catholic Church – and it should be held accountable for all atrocities, no matter how ancient or recent.

  • Brock

    Hendy and Ryan:
    I hope that you will continue to draw inspiration from this site, and I hope you will keep us informed of your experiences, especially your “coming out” experiences. On a lighter note, I remember in my Jesus days being told, (and believing, which totally baffles me now)that since the Bible does not say specifically that Thomas put his fingers in the holes, that he was actually convicted by the mere presence of Jesus, and that this is the same experience that Christians have when they are “convicted” by the Holy Spirit. In other words, that he was saved by faith, ignoring the fact that a dead man was standing in front of him. So the doubter who demands proof is actually seeking an experience that Thomas did not actually have. If that seems tortuous, it’s because you lack the wisdom of the Holy Spirit…and the power to explain away anything that threatens your faith

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    The responses from Marshall’s listeners, and some of the comments here, suggest that the number of believers who wrestle with doubt may be much larger than is commonly assumed.

    I’ve learned more about Christian doubters since my de-conversion – just 3.5 years ago – than I ever knew in several decades as a committed Christian believer, including 11 years as a pastor. I still know and work with many Christians and I’ve often been surprised at who the doubters are. As I’ve shared accounts of my de-conversion with them, they’ve responded by sharing their doubts and their drifts away from conservative Christianity to more enlightened faith. I don’t push them to abandon their faith – I just accept them as they are and encourage them to keep thinking critically. They have to work through their doubts in their own ways. All I can do during that process is provide a sounding board for them, and, if they lose faith completely, I’ll try to give them a safe place to land.

  • archimedez

    Anna,

    Unless there is evidence showing that he (Marshall) supported outlawing homosexuality or discriminating against homosexuals, or failed to oppose such policies when the opportunities arose, I can’t see how he personally is culpable in any significant way that would warrant an apology. This guy (Marshall) is apologizing for everything from a perverse hard-line fundamentalist view of God’s punishment of gays to the presidency of George W Bush. I see no evidence that he ever had such views or promoted such things.

  • gamba

    Yeah. Archimedez and Anna. Everyone else should throw away their bibles or else i’ll have to charge them for robbing me of my history.

  • Herb

    I recently heard someone say he “shed” his faith, rather than saying he “lost” it. Do people agree that this is a more positive way of phrasing it? I struggle to think of cases for which “loss” implies a good thing except for losing weight. I’m happy when someone “loses their faith”, but that phrase makes it sound sad to my ears. Of course it *is* sad for many people at first, but they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t realize the benefit.

    It’s only a little thing, but I think I will make a conscious effort to use the more positive wording in conversation.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    I recently heard someone say he “shed” his faith, rather than saying he “lost” it.

    Both terms are appropriate at different points. When one initially de-converts, there may be a deep sense of loss. When I first realized that there was no god, I felt like my best friend had died; I definitely felt a sense of loss for several weeks. Over time, I realized that my “loss” was actually a good thing, and I started viewing it as having been liberated from something that had held me back and prevented me from freely exploring and enjoying my life and the world around me. From that point forward, I preferred the image of having “shed” rather than “lost” something, as a snake sheds an old skin that longer fits – it’s a process that had to occur if I were to continue growing and living.

  • Herb

    Exactly, chaplain – both words apply, but it seems that people usually refer to deconversion as a “loss.” I think this subtly concedes that atheism is a bad thing. When I hear the phrase “lost my faith” I get a momentary feeling of “aw too bad” in the back of my mind. I imagine the feeling is greater for religious people.

  • Lynne

    #8 Archimedez, I agree that one is not responsible for the actions of others, over whom one does not have control. However this is one of the core teachings of christianity: that we are all responsible for Adam and Eve’s original sin. So it is understandable that the impulse is there, however unwarranted.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I do agree that “loss of faith” doesn’t have the positive connotations I wished it had. Posts like this one are an effort to change that. :) I don’t think the English language has a good word for giving something up in a way that implies one is better off for having done so. “Relinquishing the Burden of Faith”, maybe? That’s not very snappy, though. “Shedding faith” isn’t too bad.

    Hendy and Ryan: Thank you both for sharing your stories! I hope you’ve found a community here (or elsewhere) that helps you come to terms with your doubts and makes you feel welcome. If you’re interested, I’ve written an essay about the deconversion experience, “Into the Clear Air“, that may be helpful.

    It would have been nice for Jesus to bless Thomas for having the moral courage to demand proof before believing rumors.

    Well put, Ryan. Lately, in debating with Christian apologists, I’ve tried this tack: “In the Bible, God gives Thomas (and others) the rock-solid proof they’ve asked for to assuage their doubts. If he was willing to do it for them, why not for me? Isn’t it reasonable to ask for evidence at least that good if I’m going to believe?” I’ve found it’s pretty effective – not easy for them to wave off, at least.

  • http://www.loreleiarmstrong.com kullervo

    I think the odds that a person will leave a religion or at least lose their faith rises with their involvement. Pastors, priests, artists, program hosts like Mr. Marshall, all these folks spend a lot of time thinking about their faith and reading the bible, and it becomes impossible to ignore the conflicts, errors, cruelties, and logical flaws. Casual believers don’t face the same risk. Plus, the stakes are much higher for the seriously involved, as Mr. Marshall expresses in his plea for some evidence of god. He’s spending his one life on Earth— and now he fears his one life, period— believing in and promoting something that might not be true. I can only imagine his distress and his concern for his livelihood. I am certainly glad I was raised an atheist, if only for the peace of mind!

  • archimedez

    Lynne,

    Good point. As to whether Marshall himself had such an interpretation and motivation, I don’t know.

  • Wednesday

    This is a nice antidote to the Christmas Eve sermon I heard not too many years ago, where the priest told one of those awful glurge stories about how an Angry Bitter Arrogant Doubting Atheist came to Worship Jesus thanks to some geese. It was clear that listeners were supposed to disapprove of the atheist because he wanted _reasons_ and _explanations_ for things, and then as a special Christmas Miracle, he changed his mind and became a proper Gentle Kind Humble Faithful Christian. (I had attended the service to make my mom happy. That was the last year I did so.)

    Once I got past my initial rage, I started thinking about how hurtful the story must be to people who had recently (or even still at the time) identified as Christians but who had doubts and questions, who wanted evidence, reasons, and explanations.

  • Ryan

    Ebon:

    That’s the problem I’ve had with religion lately (well, one of the problems): It’s built to be immune to criticism. If you want proof of God’s existence, well, it’s all around you. If you point out that there are naturalistic explanations for the things that are “all around you,” well, then you just have to have faith. They can’t have it both ways.

    And yes, this community has made me feel very welcome and is certainly helping me out a lot as I continue to think about this. It’s a great, thought-provoking site — both your posts and the discussions they inspire.

  • Quidam

    This bit is remarkable: But the talk show host’s problem is bigger than himself, and it’s deeper than his nagging doubt. We have millions of people within the contemporary church who have been convinced intellectually of the existence of God, but they’ve never been converted experientially by the power of God. So when someone comes along with what they perceive to be a more convincing argument, they begin to doubt their salvation. And so they should–because they are not saved. They are false converts; something Scripture refers to as “goats among the sheep”, “tares among the wheat”, “bad fish among the good.”

    False converts aren’t the genuine article. They are pretenders that sit among God’s people. This should come as no surprise to the skeptics. They have always said that the church is “filled with hypocrites.” And there the pretenders will remain, right up until Judgment Day when God separates the genuine from the false
    What Comfort has done here is to refute his own ministry – and the bulk of his article. He is stating that persuading someone by argument is worthless since the person would not be a true believer. Forget about Pascal’s wager, he’s saying that even if his methods and tracts persuade you that God is real and by believing you will be saved – it's not true unless you have an experiential conversion you will not be saved! By his own words, he is selling worthless tracts.

    If his argument about the “house builder” …
    I have to confess that I too have been having doubts. I’ve been living in the same house for more than 15 years, and I have secretly doubted if there was a builder. I know it’s beautifully made, with walls, carpet, doors, cupboards, windows, rooms, lighting, air-conditioning, a floor, an intricate electrical system, a fireplace and a roof, but it’s only recently that I have actually verbalized that I’m not convinced that there was a builder.
    … convinced me it wouldn’t matter – I would be a “false convert”.

    It doesn’t persuade of course. We know what houses built by people look like – a more appropriate simile would be “I’ve been living in the same cave for more than 15 years, and I have secretly doubted if there was a builder. Is it possible this cave has been sculpted over tens of thousands of years by water?”

  • 2-D Man

    Brilliant, Quidam!

  • Jeff

    I don’t know how impressed I am. I listened to several minutes of his interview with Candace Cameron, Kirk’s sister (it’s all I could listen to, before my brain began to throb). Like her brother, she’s an evangelical, and one who happily admits she has no “intellectual” basis for her beliefs. She told Drew that part of the reason she believes is that she’s afraid of going to hell. Drew didn’t seem to have a problem with that; he didn’t argue or say, “That isn’t enough for me.” I’d take his “crisis of faith” more seriously if he had challenged her, if he had said, “I can no longer believe in a God who will torment poor, hapless human beings for all of eternity.” He seems to be afraid to cut the cord.

    The strange thing is that he seems to be close to her – they’re friends, he calls her his “little sister”, she was one of the first he came out to about his dwindling faith – yet her brother is, of course, Ray Comfort’s partner. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be her friend because of that – but it’s weird.

  • Mothman

    Yeah, some of the things his site says make me really wonder if this burst of clarity will last. He’s still acting like asking for evidence is a problem to struggle with instead of something any rational person would do. I’d kind of like to send him a letter.

  • Scotlyn

    Archimedez:

    Marshall’s apology for “the dumb-ass things that Christians have done for centuries, in the name of Religion” strikes me as unreasonable and unjustified. Apologizing for the actions of others, when one had no control over those others’ actions, is unwarranted. Merely sharing, with the perpetrators of those actions, the fuzzy label “Christian,” does not make him truly guilty of those actions. Criticizing those “dumb-ass” things that other people did, or the doctrines/interpretations used to motivate them, would make sense; apologizing for them does not.

    I understand your point, but I would see his apology as one stage in the process he is going through of defining his problems with Christianity, and separating himself from them – and it. His is a “not in my name” protest – he is struggling with his self-indentification with a label, “Christian,” which he realises is also identified with great wrongs. Before he can reach the stage of criticizing these, he appears to feel a need to recognise that, in some sense, such evils ARE done in the name of all self-proclaimed “Christians” – therefore his wish to apologise. I suspect he will move on to the criticism stage later, if/when he decides he is ready to shed the self-identity as a “Christian.”

  • Eurekus

    ‘an honest examination of religious truth claims can only have one result’.

    I’m an example of it. I cried out to God to show me he exists in a desperate attempt to keep my faith. I took that honest view at faith, like Drew Marshall, so as a consequence I’m now an atheist. Of course when I told this to some Christian friends, as recently as last night at their place, I was told I couldn’t have been much of a Christian to begin with. Ha,ha,ha,ha. Of course I was then threatened with an eternally burning hell. Damn, Christians are idiots. Actually, they’re brainwashed fools.

  • archimedez

    Scotlyn,

    I see his “apology” for other people’s actions as, partly, a rhetorical gimmick taken to excess.

    “he appears to feel a need to recognise that, in some sense, such evils ARE done in the name of all self-proclaimed “Christians” – therefore his wish to apologise.”

    If that’s his reasoning, then he doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of apology. It would be the those who commit terrible acts in the name of all Christians who would need to apologize. I suspect that, if this is more than just a rhetorical gimmick and he really does feel personally responsible for all those problems caused by other people, this is some kind of warped Christian idea along the lines that we are all born in sin (see Lynne’s comment) and somehow we need to atone for that. We might put that in the realm of superstitious or magical thinking of some sort. But in the realm of real-world thinking, i.e., the mode of thinking that allows him to engage in most of his everyday activities, this doesn’t add up. If he really does feel personally responsible for all those crimes other people did, and if he’s serious about this, he should immediately turn over all his money and property toward compensating the victims and should immediately turn himself over to the authorities so that they can prosecute him for war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. The fact that he isn’t doing any of that suggests to me he doesn’t truly feel responsible for those things. I think he wants to dissociate himself from criminals, and has used a rhetorical device in expressing this, but the rhetorical device in this case, which is an attention-grabber and makes for good drama, is extended too far such that it is literally absurd.

  • archimedez

    p.s., it may be worth adding that Marshall’s over-the-top rhetorical gimmick “I apologize for…” was part of a comedy event (Global ComedyFest) in Canada which also involved atheists and humanists satirizing religion.