Walking from the Faith

This article, from Alternet.com, is by Valerie Tarico, a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com. Her study overlaps with the reasons for leaving the faith I published in Finding Faith, Losing Faith.  (HT: JM)

If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.

Testimonials at sites like ExChristian.net show that people leave religion for a number of reasons, many of which religious leaders have very little control over.  Sometimes, for example, people take one too many science classes. Sometimes they find their faith shattered by the suffering in the world – either because of a devastating injury or loss in their own lives or because they experience the realities of another person’s pain in a new way. Sometimes a believer gets intrigued by archaeology or symbology or the study of religion itself. Sometimes a believer simply picks up a copy of the Bible or the Koran and discovers faith-shaking contradictions or immoralities there.

But if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along. They may turn a doubter into a skeptic or a quiet skeptic into an outspoken anti-theist, or as one former Christian calls himself, a “devangelist.”

Here are some top ways Christians push people out the church door or shove secret skeptics out of the closet. Looking at the list, you can’t help but wonder if the Catholic bishops, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and their fundamentalist allies are working for the devil.

1. Gay Baiting. Because of sheer demographics, many gay people are born into religious families. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) they face if their families see homosexuality as an abomination can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or non-religious communities.

Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. When Christians indulge in slurs, devout moms and dads who also love their gay kids find themselves less comfortable in their church home. Young people, many of whom think of the gay rights issue as a no-brainer, put anti-gay churches in the “archaic” category. Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church. That makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church.

2. Prooftexting. People who think of the Bible as the literally perfect word of God love to quote excerpts to argue their points. They often start with a verse in 1 Timothy: All scripture is given by inspiration of God (as if this circular argument would convince anyone but a true believer). They proceed to quote whatever authoritarian, anti-gay or anti-woman verse makes their point, like, Whoever spares the rod hates their children…Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being or Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. In doing so, they call into question biblical authority, because the Bible writers so obviously got these issues wrong. Literalists who prooftext are a tremendous asset to those who would like to see Bible worship fade away – because prooftexting on one side of an argument invites the same in return, and it is easy to find quotes from the Bible that are either scientifically absurd or morally repugnant.

Many liberal or modernist Christians see the Bible as a human document, an attempt by our spiritual ancestors to articulate their best understanding of God through the lens of imperfect human cultures and minds. Suppose such a Christian is confronted with a verse that says, for example, Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man (Numbers 31:17-18), or No man who has any defect may come near [to God in the temple]: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed;  no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect,…(Leviticus 21:17-23). He or she can simply shrug and say, “Yeah, that’s ugly.” A couple of years ago a group of liberal Christians even kicked off an Internet competition to vote on the worst verse in the Bible. Their faith doesn’t stand or fall with the perfection of the Bible. Biblical literalists, on the other hand, give someone like me an excuse to talk about sexual slavery or bias against handicapped people in the Bible – in front of an audience who have been taught that the good book is uniformly good. For a wavering believer, the dissonance can be too much.

3. Misogyny. For psychological and social reasons females are more inclined toward religious belief than males. They are more likely to attend church services and to insist on raising their children in a faith community. They also appear more indifferent than males to rational critique of religion, like debates about theology or evolutionary biology. I was interested to notice recently that my YouTube channel, Life After Christianity, which focuses on the psychology of religion gets about 80 percent male viewers. Women are the church’s base constituency, but fortunately for atheists, this fact hasn’t caused conservative Christians to back off of sexism that is justified by – you got it – prooftexting from the Old and New Testaments.

Evangelical minister Jim Henderson recently published a book, The Resignation of Eve, in which he urges his fellow Christians to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. According to Henderson, old-school sexism has driven some women out of Christianity permanently, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who stay, it means that many are less enthusiastic and engaged than they would be. Churches rely on women to volunteer in roles that range from secretary to director of children’s programs to missionaries. That takes a high level of confidence in church doctrines and also a strong sense of belonging. Biblical sexism cultivates neither. Between 1991 and 2011 the percent of women attending church in a typical week dropped by 11 points, from 55 to 44 percent.

4. Hypocrisy. Christians are taught – and many believe—that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it.   But the added pressure on those who call themselves the “righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.

People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” – who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture—have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.

5. Disgusting and Immoral Behavior. The priest abuse scandal did more for the New Atheist movement than outspoken anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith) or Bill Maher (Religulous) ever could. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your point of view) Bill Donohue of the Catholic League seems to be doing everything possible to fan those flames: On top of the abuse itself, followed by cover-ups, he is now insisting that the best defense of church property is a good offense against the victims, and has vowed to fight them “one by one.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation publishes a bi-monthly newspaper that includes a regular feature: The Black Collar Crime Blotter. It features fraud, drug abuse, sex crimes and more by Protestant as well as Catholic clergy. The obvious purpose is to move readers from religion isn’t true to religion isn’t benign to religion is abhorrent and needs fighting. Moral outrage is a powerful emotion.

6. Science Denial. One of my former youth group friends had his faith done in by a conversation with a Bible study leader who explained that dinosaur skeletons actually are the bones of the giants described in early books of the Bible. Uh huh. Christians have come up with dozens of squishier, less falsifiable ways to explain the geological record: The “days” in Genesis 1 were really “ages.” Or God created the world with the fossils already in place to test our faith. Or the biblical creation story is really sacred metaphor. But young-earth creationists who believe the world appeared in its present form 6,000-10,000 years ago are stuck. And since almost half of the American public believes some version of this young-earth story, there are ample opportunities for inquiring minds to trip across proto-scientific nonsense.

Like other factors I’ve mentioned, science denial doesn’t just move believers to nonbelief; it also rallies opposition ranging from cantankerous bloggers to legal advocates. It provides fodder for comedians and critics: “If the world was created 6,000 years ago, what’s fueling your car?” It may produce some of the most far-reaching opposition to religious belief, because science advocates argue that faith, even socially benign faith, is a fundamentally flawed way of knowing. The Catholic church, perhaps still licking wounds about Galileo (it apologized finally in the 20th century), has managed to avoid embarrassing and easily disproven positions on evolutionary biology. But one could argue that its atheism-fostering positions on conception and contraception similarly rely on ignorance about or denial of biological science — in this case embryology and the basic fact that most embryos never become persons.

7. Political Meddling. If you look at religion-bashing quote-quip-photo-clip-links that circulate Facebook and Twitter, most of them are prompted by church incursions into the political sphere. A spat between two atheists erupted on my home page yesterday. “Why can’t ex-Christians just shut up about religion and get on with building a better world?” asked one. “Why can’t we shut up?!” screeched the other. “Because of shit like this!” He posted a link about Kansas giving doctors permission to deny contraception and accurate medical information to patients.

I myself give George W. Bush credit for transforming me from a politically indifferent, digging-in-the-garden agnostic into a culture warrior. He casually implied that, when going to war, he didn’t need to consult with his own father because he had consulted the big guy in the sky, and my evangelical relatives backed him up on that, and I thought, oh my God, the beliefs I was raised on are killing people. The Religious Right, and now the Catholic bishops, have brought religion into politics in the ugliest possible way short of holy war, and people who care about the greater good have taken notice. Lists of ugly Bible verses, articles about the psychology of religion, investigative exposes about Christian machinations in D.C. or rampant proselytizing in the military and public schools –all of these are popular among political progressives because it is impossible to drive progressive change without confronting religious fundamentalism.

8. Intrusion. Australian comedian and atheist John Safran flew to Salt Lake City for a round of door-to-door devangelism after Mormons rang his doorbell one too many times on Saturday morning. More serious intrusions, in deeply personal beginning- and end-of-life decisions, for example, generate reactive anti-theism in people who mostly just want to live and let live.

Catholic and evangelical conservatives have made a high-stakes gamble that they can regain authoritarian control over their flocks and hold onto the next generation of believers (and tithers) by asserting orthodox dogmas, making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition. Their goal is a level of theological purity that will produce another Great Awakening based largely on the same dogmas as the last one. They hope to cleanse their membership of theological diversity, and assert top-down control of conscience questions, replenishing their membership with anti-feminist, pro-natalist policies and proselytizing in the Southern hemisphere. But the more they resort to strict authoritarianism, insularity and strict interpretation of Iron Age texts, the more people are wounded in the name of God and the more people are outraged. By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition, they force at least some would-be believers to choose “nothing.” Anti-theists are all too glad to help.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • RJS

    This is an interesting article. Some of the reasons are “excuses” – but some of them are things we would do well to consider seriously.

  • Tim

    Excellent article. I’ve often remarked to my wife that things would have been a lot easier on me if I had been raised in a Methodist or even moderate Evangelical denomination such as the ECC. I got into all the wrong interests. I became interested in world philosophy, history, and culture, went for my Master’s in psychological science (doubly dangerous as it exposes you to scientific reasoning and methods, as well as exposing you to psychology of religion concepts), and I’ve traveled extensively and rubbed elbows with various cultures and ways of life. Much of what I was taught as an Evangelical Fundamentalist simply came crashing down in pieces. At that time, this was just existentially damaging and painful. But then when I saw these same Evangelical Fundamentalist communities push a worldview and political/theocratic agenda that marginalizes, denigrates, and persecutes others such as the LGBT community, and then tries to insert itself into our most private areas of life with some presumption to moral authority, I went from just feeling hurt from what I went through to actively thinking that Evangelical Fundamentalism is, despite some value they do bring, by and large a harmful force in our society that should be confronted, politically at least, by those of us who care about the well being and rights of our fellow human beings. So, all in all, I’d say this article is very insightful and I very much appreciate the post. Thanks Scot.

  • Tim

    RJS,

    Which reasons do you think are excuses and why?

  • T

    Wow and ouch. This is a big part of what drives my own convictions about orthopraxy being the true goal and test of orthodoxy, and about love being the defining center of that orthopraxy.

    We have many discussions here about orthodoxy, about the relative importance of various doctrines. The author of this blog, the many people like her, and the points she makes are all a constant source of conviction that we Christians are willing to die (or kill, or exclude, or split churches, or shame others) on way too many doctrinal hills. I’m not saying none of them matter, but few matter as much as obeying the many elevated and pointed calls to love that we are given as Christians, many by Jesus himself. Numerous times in the NT we are urged to make love our primary pursuit. Paul puts it above faith and hope, not to mention prophecy and tongues. John says that anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Jesus calls it the greatest command, and the convincing evidence that we follow him. These are huge statements and still only begin to lay out the primacy and shocking reach that love is given in our new covenant with God brought by Christ.

    What I hear in this woman’s article is a simple (biblically) prophetic charge: If we Christians have faith that can move mountains, or the ability to understand all the mysteries of God and the world, but don’t have love, we are nothing. Our pursuit of love must be prioritized enough to trump other seemingly important pursuits. If not, we will continue to make the atheist case ourselves. I pray she gets a deep hearing among Christians, myself included. Many thanks to the author.

  • Joey Elliott

    I agree with RJS that most of these reasons are excuses in that they represent distortions of the Christian faith, so to leave “the faith” would be something different than leaving these things.

    Also agree they need to be considered seriously, because they are examples of our sin distracting people from Jesus. The Christian faith is a He, not an it, so ultimately people don’t walk away from it but from Him. We should do our part to make sure they see and experience the authentic Him. I must decrease, He must increase!

  • RJS

    Tim,

    I think things like “Political Meddling” are excuses rather than reasons.

  • NW

    In my opinion, all of them are excuses as they have to do with the failings of ordinary Christian people and are not substantive criticisms of Christianity per se as neither Jesus nor the writers of the NT promised that those who follow Jesus would be transformed into perfect people completely free from the sorts of ordinary human failings mentioned in the blog entry.

    If it is proper to dismiss a worldview such as Christianity because its adherents are imperfect humans then I suppose that every worldview could be dismissed in this way, which is surely a mistake.

  • EricW

    4. Hypocrisy. … High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse.

    When did Rush Limbaugh self-identify as a Christian, or blatantly argue for Christianity, as being the basis of his beliefs or agenda and the things he promotes or argues against?

    I’ve never taken him as having or pushing a strong faith/spiritual/Christian component.

  • Tim

    RJS,

    Wasn’t political meddling provided as more of a reason some become more active and outspoken in terms of opposition to forms of Christianity than actually leaving the faith?

  • Mark Brown

    If the cause has been identified, is what is driving that cause being faithful to the Word or obnoxious sinful behavior? How do the causes above divide?

    In other words, are there some losses that the church must suffer?

  • RJS

    Well, the list begins … Here are some top ways Christians push people out the church door or shove secret skeptics out of the closet.

    All in all though I think the list is something that all Christians should look at with a thought about the impression their behavior makes on others. Some careful self-reflection is in order.

  • Tim

    …also, this talk about “excuses” makes me uncomfortable. To label something an “excuse” is to imply some hidden motivation as to the “real” reasons for such persons leaving Christianity. And this is made worse in that the usual suspects for such motives typically have something to do with some rebelliousness, lack of fidelity or trust, or some other character/moral criticism of the individual leaving the faith.

  • Tim

    RJS,

    I think perhaps much in the above list fits well within the context of the this insight Scot presented in his recent Biologos post:

    ““The essence of apostasy is that such persons ‘discover a profound, deep-seated and existentially unnerving intellectual incoherence to the Christian faith.’”

  • Peter

    People interested in the question of why some leave their evangelical upbringings might find David Hempton’s book, “Evangelical Disenchantment: 9 Portraits of Faith and Doubt” (Yale, 2008), useful. It’s a collection of mini-biographies of 19th- and early 20th- century artists and intellectuals who became disenchanted with their evangelical faith. Although Tarico’s piece draws on a lot of current trends and debates, one value of a book like Hempton’s is that it lets you see that many of these threads go back for a long time in our culture.

  • AHH

    EricW @8,
    Good catch. The presence of the non-Christian Limbaugh on such a list illustrates how closely Christianity (at least in its Evangelical form) is tied to right-wing politics in American culture and popular perception. It becomes easy to assume that any self-righteous right-wing blowhard must be a Christian.

  • Mark Brown

    Tim@#12 –
    Excuses could be a criticism of the individual, but how often are they just what is said because the individual “just doesn’t believe anymore” but they also don’t want to challenge or offend the former partner in faith they are talking with.

    Every cause of someone leaving the church isn’t a reason to re-examine or change doctrine. Sometimes seed falls on rocky soil. The reasons often are just excuses that are acceptable narratives for not talking further about “I don’t believe it anymore”.

  • Tim

    Mark,

    The above list doesn’t read to me as the sort of thing someone would say to avoid offending their prior faith community.

  • RJS

    I agree Tim, but then we need to ask why – why does something contribute to this intellectual incoherence?

    I think the behavior of Christians (and most of the above fall in that category) is a serious issue.

  • Tim

    RJS,

    It’s easier to speak from some initial incoherence I had with respect to my Evangelical Fundamentalist faith.

    I was taught to see fellow born-again Christians as, in general terms, “salt and light” with respect to the rest of the “world”. Now, most in my community weren’t so naive as to think that there weren’t significant failings and struggles that Christians experienced, nor did we caricature the “world” to such an extreme to suggest that people couldn’t be “good” in some secular or non-Christian sense.

    But the general expectation was that your devout, sincere, born-again Christian would shine in some way that represented the sort of vitality and virtue that the rest of the world was lacking. So that is where these moral criticisms can provide some serious incoherence.

    It is one thing to say, “well, there are always some bad eggs”, or “Christians can stumble just like anyone else,” or “a lot of us have a lot of growing left to do in Christ.” All that goes without saying. But it something entirely different to see that it is the fundamental worldview and attitudes pervading, extensively, one’s faith community as the underlying source of many of these problems – such as intolerance, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, sectarianism, narrow-mindedness, demeaning and denigrating out-groups, and unloving actions including shaming and social shunning to enforce doctrinal hegemony. That is something else entirely.

    So you then look at some other religions, or even those who are not religious, and for the life of you you don’t see the “salt and light” difference. It’s just not there. Certainly there are the positives and people who deeply, deeply are loving and charitable Christians. But the same can be said among many Buddhists, and Hindus, and Humanists. So when you don’t see the difference, but you are assured by your faith community it is there, what do you do? How do you reconcile that? A lot of times, the standard explanations just start to sound like rationalizations, and you can come to conclude that there is no apparent difference, because there is no fundamental difference. And that can do a number on your faith.

  • http://www.normmacdonald.wordpress.com Norm

    What struck me was the phrase “…because the Bible writers so obviously got these issues wrong.” Well if the Bible writers got it wrong about gays, women’s role in the church and the like what else did they get wrong? I may not like what the Bible says about certain things, both OT and NT, but that doesn’t mean I can simply say they “got these issues wrong.” Perhaps “they” didn’t get it wrong. I just have a wrong understanding.

  • P.

    When this writer says that the Bible writers got some things wrong, she could be doing some prooftexting herself. Now, that said, as a somewhat right of center moderate, I think this article is spot on. Yes, some people will find any excuse to reject Christ, but there are a lot of Christians who do the things on this list, and people are rejecting Christ because of it.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    We evangelical Christians often insist that we are loving; it’s just that the world is so sinful they can’t see it—or so we tell ourselves. They don’t understand what “true love” is. That attitude is frankly as arrogant as it is tragic. …If contemporary people don’t see in us what ancient people saw in Christ, it can only be because the love that was present in Christ isn’t present in us. And if they see in us what they saw in ancient Pharisees, it can only be because the self-righteousness found in the Pharisees is found in us. Our comical insistence that we are loving, despite our reputation, is a bit like a man insisting he’s a perfectly loving husband when his wife, kids, and all who know him insist he’s an unloving, self-righteous jerk. If he persists in his self-serving opinion of himself, insisting that his wife, kids, and all who know him don’t understand what “true love” is, it simply confirms the perspective these others have of him. This, I submit, is precisely the position much of the evangelical church of America is in. Until the culture at large instinctively identifies us as loving, humble servants, and until the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day are beating down our doors to hang out with us as they did with Jesus, we have every reason to accept our culture’s judgment of us as correct. We are indeed more pharisaic than we are Christlike. ~Greg Boyd

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Excellent post. Pretty easy to see that the bubble looks different from the outside than the inside.

    Sorry to say, but I do believe that Christianity is easily characterized by either this list or one much like it. And the error with Rush L. is as telling as if it were true. These folks feel he exemplifies what many Christians are about, and I agree.

    We need to get this message changed, and it has to start with having a rational Christianity. Having irrational doctrine sets everything else up for failure.

  • http://Leadme.org Cal

    Naum:

    Good Boyd quote! Ellul, a sociologist and French Christian, wrote that he couldn’t wait for the day that being a Christian lost all its social respect and cultural respectability. I agree, the broken and rundown should be banging on the doors of those who claim Jesus is Lord and they should get snobby and contemptuous articles from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I would be remiss to not say, again, that my 3 kids aren’t Christians for reasons just like this.

  • Andy W.

    I have invested heavily in my journey and sought God with intention and purpose since I was in middle school. I’m now 43 and still seeking with intention and purpose but am barely holding on to a thread of faith (mustard seed?). All the reasons listed here are part of that. The primary reason however is much more personal. For all my desire, commitment and intention to walk closely with God I largely feel He is absent. This list is simply a confirmation of what I experience and feel. If I don’t see God active and present in my life in any real way and then see those that claim to walk closely with God all too often represented by the listed behaviors and beliefs, what am I to make of this?

  • Sue

    Andy, the behavior listed above is mostly about control and belonging. But following Jesus is about giving up control (thus Jesus called it ‘giving up’ one’s life) and even embracing NOT belonging, except to him. His parable about wheat + tares should shock us more. I don’t know you or your journey, but maybe it really is a matter of not trying too hard, letting him be in charge if how and when you’re experiencing him, and otherwise just doing what Jesus said. Dr Philip Cary has a book you might like: something like “Good news for anxious Christians.”

  • P.

    Andy @26 – I think a lot of us have been where you are. It always helps me to ignore the people of Christianity and just focus on the God of Christianity. The people will always stumble and frankly, do stupid things. Keep your focus on Christ though, just like Peter when he got out of the boat. Well, it always helps me…

  • Tim

    Andy,

    I’ve been there myself too. For me, it seemed that it was very easy to experience God’s presence in Church, where I could sing along with the music and feel everything going on in that room. Hear everyone’s testimonies of how God touched their lives. Feeling like I belonged to something so very special and important, and knowing that God’s presence was there with us. With me. And I remember how I felt at retreats, or at Christian camp, sitting around a fire or talking late into the night with and appreciating fellowship and nature. Songs like “Our God is an awesome God” come to mind. And “Lord you are more beautiful than diamonds.”

    But that was my youth. But a lot of that ended when I joined the Navy. I could never quite settle in a Church. I tried the Chapel services on base, but it didn’t feel right to me. Keep in mind, of course, that I was raised from infancy in just one Church. That was my home and all I knew. I tried some churches my cousins out in the Seattle area (where I was stationed) went to, but that also seemed foreign to me. So I never really got back into a Church that felt like home, so I worshiped God independently. I read my Bible. I prayed daily. Quite often in fact. But the thing is over time I didn’t feel God so much anymore. Not without my peers to validate and participate in my experiences. Not without the songs. Not without the bonfires and acoustic guitar. Not without the soulful sharing with Christian friends.

    So I tried a few churches again. I spoke with some Pastors I didn’t even know. I basically told them what was going on and asked for help. Some wisdom. Some guidance.

    I remember the one thing that really bugged me, was that everything in the Bible seemed to indicate that God would provide peace and companionship to those who truly seek it. And I did. Very much so. But I did not experience it anymore. And I realized I wasn’t perfect. There are a lot of things people can point to that could keep you away from God. But I wasn’t proud. I was sincere, and sincerely asked for forgiveness, and just a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, some hope and comfort. Really. I didn’t have a crises of faith at that time though. But I do appreciate where you are.

    I think you could go any way with this. You might conclude that it was the music, and the fellowship, and the rituals, and stories, and testimonies, and the deeply shared sense of what was real and meaningful for you and your community that produced in you what you felt was God. Or you could find a way to return to Wonderland, take up the old rituals (or form new ones), immerse yourself again in the song and community and shared reality and meaning and all of that. And you might feel what you remembered as the presence of God return. And you might find peace and comfort and the doubts might go away and you could be happy and whole. That ought to be worth something.

    We all travel our journeys. And I for one won’t judge you or consider you a failure if you take one path or another. And you might find at this stage in your life all paths aren’t open to you anymore. You might find when you try to go down the path to where you want to go, your belief won’t follow you. The reality you want to chose, to accept, won’t accompany you. Or it might. Again, I sincerely appreciate how difficult this is for you and I don’t have answers. But I do recognize what you are going through and all I can hope is that those who are important in your life can accept you for you, and your sincerity in your own journey. And if they can’t, the least I can do is encourage you to find this acceptance within yourself.

  • JohnM

    Seems odd to worry about conservative Protestants decimating religious belief after progressive protestants have spent the last forty or fifty years doing it, not least within their own ranks.

    Yes, there are some loud, ignorant, obnoxious conservative evangelicals out there. But there always has been, it’s nothing new and it never stopped conservative churches from growing. It’s just as likely something else is at work now, if indeed anything new is happening.

    Anyway, what will striving to become agreeable to the world gain us? Numbers? Maybe, but a quiet contempt that allows us to cherish an illusion of acceptance is an equal possibility. Is acceptance by the world what you want? Will we gain actual disciples?

    What would you do counter to the views and practices Tarico lists as objectionable, and why?

  • Tom F.

    One thing to be wary of: not all the reasons that someone actually leaves the faith may be entirely conscious. For example, Regnerus (2006) found that teenagers who had more risk-seeking personalities were more likely to have “deconversion” experiences. And yet, teenagers likely can’t explain this, instead maybe using words like “boring” or “irrelevant”. On the other hand, adults may read rebelliousness into this lack of insight, but having a risk-seeking personality is very different from having a defiant personality. Risk-seekers aren’t necessarily less moral either (though it is easy to imagine that they may be more prone to the “lapse” in judgment sort of situation).

    The cognitve, conscious reasons that someone might deconvert are important and worth thinking about, but we should also look at less conscious reasons as well. For example, Diener and Myers (2011) found that religion has lots of personal benefits, but that these benefits no longer appear as countries become more developed. For example, in countries with more difficult living situations, individuals who were religious were more happy, but in countries with easier living situations (e.g. enough food and shelter and employment), religious people don’t differ as much from non-religious people. People may not come out and say it, but it may be that the cost-benefit analysis switches directions in affluent countries. Hopefully, people are becoming Jesus’ disciples because they have “counted the cost”, and found that it isn’t worth gaining the whole world but losing their soul, but it may be that a lot of religious involvement in the past has not always been motivated by altruistic or religious passion, and at least somewhat for the social and personal benefits. It may turn out, that in developed societies, those benefits are not as sought after. Theologically, this resonates with what Jesus said about wealth being spiritually dangerous; it may be easier for individuals in wealthy societies to become less religious because they experience less subjective neediness in general.

  • http://Leadme.org Cal

    Tim:

    When you make an abstraction like that, I can totally relate. A lot of religious service and practice is emotion driven (not that it is necessarily bad in and of itself). I usually (and this may be bad) cut myself out from feelings of elation and demand an answer to this question: “What is this? Is it real? Is it true?”

    The historian in me takes the promise of Jesus to heart, grounded in time, even as I can’t see Him and I feel distant. I feel your past agony, but please don’t paint it as a red pill/blue pill where Andy can just go back to sleep with his doubts.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I remember that early in my time as a campus minister I heard a lecture by a biologist who had no qualms about mocking fundamentalists and evangelicals who doubted an old earth. Afterwards I talked with her about it, saying “When addressing a topic that includes any controversy at all, you do not gain by needlessly ridiculing those with whom you may disagree.” She took the matter to heart.

    The article here addresses the other side of that coin.

    Peace,

  • Percival

    Personally speaking, if were ever to leave Christianity it would more likely happen because of a hot chick instead of a hot issue. Or maybe I would just leave because I found believers boring and irrelevant in comparison to myself and the kind of cool friends I deserved.

    Maybe I’m just not as noble as people who have actually left the faith. Maybe most of them are just seekers after truth who find it impossible to reconcile their high values with an archaic religion.

    On the other hand, when we deal with individuals and their motivations, I suppose it is more charitable to assume the best. But we are fooling ourselves if we take all their “reasons” at face value. (Feeling sort of cynical today I’m afraid.)

  • Percival

    Tom F #31,
    Good thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to write them.

  • Maria

    As someone who is somewhere on the line of leaving the faith, left the faith, considering leaving the faith, I must say that the political issue was the catalyst that started me thinking of many of the others. In the last couple of years I have seen people that I respected use the Bible to seem to say that God favors the rich over the poor. I have seen many Christians say that Christian values mean following a certain set of sexual ethics and fighting anyone that disagrees. Putting that together with a long-fought struggle with anti-feminist and anti-science attitudes in the church has put me near or over the edge. Some might say that I am reacting to people and not to God, but all I can do is react to the people that say that they are His friends and representatives.