According to John Shore, I was never a Christian. Huh?

John Shore is a progressive Christian blogger who advocates for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. He often gives advice to Christians struggling with what to believe about homosexuality, and has been featured on Dan Savage and published on the Huffington Post. I have followed his blog for probably a year, and appreciate his work to make Christianity more LGBTQ-rights friendly. And so I suppose I was a bit surprised to read the following in a recent post of his:

As for Christians who renounced Christ, who are no longer Christian? . . . As much ire as I know this will bring me, my vote is that such a person was never really a Christian in the first place—that their Christianity was always immature.

*facepalm*

Look, I expect this from fundamentalists and conservative evangelical Christians, the kind John spends most of his time combating on LGBTQ issues. I don’t expect it from people like John. I have to wonder whether John realizes just how much pain he causes when he makes a statement like that. He mentions expecting “ire” as a result of that statement, but does he realize that the anger is rooted in pain? For the amount of time he spends blogging against pain caused in the name of Christianity, I don’t understand how he can be blind to this.

Think about the thing you believe in most, the thing you are most devoted to, the cause you most want to further, the thing that means the most to you out of everything in your life. Now imagine changing your mind on that issue in the future. How would you feel, then, in this hypothetical future, if someone were to tell you that you had never actually believed in that thing? You see, with that one little statement, John is negating the very essence and core of who I was all of those years. And that really hurts.

With that out of the way, let’s look again at John’s statement:

As for Christians who renounced Christ, who are no longer Christian? . . . As much ire as I know this will bring me, my vote is that such a person was never really a Christian in the first place—that their Christianity was always immature.

Which is it, John? Was I never really a Christian, or was I just an immature Christian? Because to be honest, I’m confused. If someone has Christianity but that Christianity is “immature,” that means they’re not a Christian? I ask this because back when I was a Christian, we did use the word immature, but the idea was that there were both mature and immature Christians, and that immature Christians can grow in maturity over time, through God’s word, prayer, fellowship with other believers, etc. But John seems to suggest that if you have Christianity but your faith is immature, you’re not actually a Christian. What? But I’ll let that go. The sum of it appears to be that John thinks those who leave Christianity were never actually saved.

I don’t need to trot out my Christian credentials, because I don’t have anything to prove here. But I do want to talk for a moment about who I was and what I believed, because I think that the very thing that John suggests here should have him quaking in his boots. Because if I wasn’t a Christian, and yet somehow could have convinced myself and everyone else around me that I was a Christian, well. What does that say for John, or any other Christian? Is John sure he’s really saved, and doesn’t just think he’s a Christian?

I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was four. It was my idea, and my parents thought I didn’t understand well enough, so I did it alone, voluntarily, by myself. I attended church every day from when I was a baby through high school, and when I left for college I found a new home church even though no one was forcing me or checking up on me. I did AWANA Bible club K-12, and beat all the other kids in how much scripture I memorized. I read the Bible literally every single day from around middle school until well into college. I studied Greek and Hebrew so that I could read the Bible in their original texts. I studied Christian apologetics, and even took a class with a professor at a local theological seminary. I did all of this voluntarily and of my own volition.

Oh, but John may say I was a “legalist” and thus not really a true Christian. Not so. I was passionate about my faith and dedicated to centering my life around Christ and God’s plan for my life. I believed I was a sinner and was saved through God’s grace alone, and not through my own works. I invited the Holy Spirit to direct my life and influence my actions, and I had a strong personal relationship with Jesus. I prayed constantly, and lost my self in worship and in God’s Majesty. God was the most important part of my life, and I fervently wanted to do his will. It wasn’t just my parents’ faith—it was very much my faith. And I didn’t live by rules. I lived by grace.

But now John may do what he did in his comments section, and suggest that I must have left Christianity for immature reasons—hurt by the actions of other Christians perhaps—and that these reasons prove that my Christianity was never mature or real. Again, not so. It is true that I experienced hurt at the hands of other Christians—my parents. But I responded to this hurt by running to Jesus and placing my pain at his feet. All through that time, I was buoyed up by prayer and my continuing desire to follow Jesus, no matter how hard that journey might be. I explored the history of Christianity and the richness of its traditions, and I read the lives of the saints and the early church fathers, and found comfort.

I left Christianity because in my studies of the history of the church and the origins of the Bible I found that there was nothing about either that needed a supernatural explanation. The development of Christianity and the composition of the Bible appeared to be, well, human. And as I was discovering this, my relationship with Jesus became more distant little by little. The two went hand in hand, really, it wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t mad at God—after all, he had helped me through the dark time with my parents! I was studying the history of the Bible and of Christianity because my love for Jesus and my passion for my faith wanted me to know more. I didn’t realize that it would backfire until the day I realized I simply didn’t believe it anymore. I didn’t want to come to that point. I loved Jesus, loved the Bible, loved the richness of Christianity. I didn’t leave because I was hurt, or because I was angry with God, or because I hadn’t really understood the depth of Christianity, or because I never actually had a personal relationship with Jesus, or because I’d just been going through the motions and had never made it mine. I left because it stopped making sense, and I literally could no longer believe.

So if John Shore wants to say I was never actually a Christian, fine, he can say that. But he should realize, first, that negating the real experiences of other people hurts—something he as a supporter of LGBTQ rights should be perfectly aware of—and second, that if it’s true that I was never actually a Christian, he himself can’t be sure he really is one either.

Bruce Gerencser has some good words on this same subject.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Larry

    John has done wonderful things as far as LGBT advocacy goes… but when it comes to theology, he’s really kind of a doof.

    • http://johnshore.com John Shore

      Well, I did write Being Christian, which consists of answers to some 120 questions about every aspect of Christian faith, doctrine, history, and practice. So .. you know. I’m not completely chopless.

      • Peasles

        Hmm…if I were to point back to all the hours I spent at church – praying, taking notes, helping out with the youth group, volunteering, etc. – would that make me a Christian, a deeply committed Christian? Or would that just have been me going through the motions, since I renounced my faith about a decade later? Because if it’s the latter, then it doesn’t seem like writing a book on Christianity makes you any more an expert on Christianity than my living the life made me an expert on my own faith.

  • smrnda

    As a progressive Christian, John (never really read anything by him) might assume that if you had had mature faith, you would have seen that a *real Christian* isn’t tied down by fundamentalist dogma, that you can be a Christian and be for GLBT rights, and that *real Christians* can put aside the barbarism in the Bible and accept that it’s probably individual writers just offering their opinions, and that a *real mature Christian* wouldn’t possibly think that Genesis should be taken literally.

    Something I’ve noticed from my encounters with evangelical types if the constant struggle they have to be truly ‘saved’ or truly ‘spirit filled.’ When I attended a church for a while, numerous times, people who had been Christians for decades would offer testimony that those decades had been inauthentic, and that they had *just now finally* found true grace. It seems that nobody seems certain that they’re a real Christian in some circles. In fact, there were numerous ‘alter calls’ not just for people who wanted to ‘give your life to Jesus,’ but for people who realized that they had never *really* given their life to Jesus and who had to do it again. It seemed almost like a marketing ploy, a way to keep someone coming back for something.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      As a progressive Christian, John (never really read anything by him) might assume that if you had had mature faith, you would have seen that a *real Christian* isn’t tied down by fundamentalist dogma, that you can be a Christian and be for GLBT rights, and that *real Christians* can put aside the barbarism in the Bible and accept that it’s probably individual writers just offering their opinions, and that a *real mature Christian* wouldn’t possibly think that Genesis should be taken literally.

      Even if that’s the case, it STILL doesn’t work out in my case, because I WAS all of those things for a while before losing my faith—no fundamentalist dogma, totally pro-LGBTQ rights, and very much believing that the barbarism in the Old Testament was just individual people writing what they thought about God, not literally what happened. Oh, and I was all about theistic evolution, too. So yeah, even if John’s going by some sort of “anyone who isn’t a progressive Christian isn’t really a Christian” rubric, he still has to figure out a way to deal with the fact that I was a progressive Christian for a time—or at least, I sure as heck thought I was!

      • Fina

        And there you have the reason he said this:
        If people can leave his brand of faith, not because of fixable things (dogmatic issues etc.) but because they genuinely have no need for faith, because faith is ultimately superfluous – well, that’s probably very scary to any believer.

        And you did exactly that – tried everything to rationalize faith and reality, including all the things he advocates – and found faith wanting, thus dumping it.

        So i think that, ultimately, he said that for precisely the same reason fundamentalist Christians say it.

        And by the way, the same can happen to atheists too – for some, seeing a rational, scientific-minded person who still has faith can be unsettling.

    • Darkwater

      It’s just extremely odd to see this line of reasoning coming from a progressive, liberal Christian. I’d expect it from a fundigelical; my limited experience with them lines up with smrnda’s, but I wouldn’t think that someone who has as nuanced beliefs as John would engage in a No True Scotsman fallacy (and an ex post facto application of it, as well).

      • Kodie

        I don’t think it’s that odd, given that a lot of Christian posters on atheist blogs are of the liberal kind, and protest protest protest against the atheist “delusion” that the Christians we complain about the most are really Christian. Those people aren’t Christians! An incomplete list of the common complaints:

        If atheists have a problem with Christianity, they should fight against the real (liberal Christianity), but we stick to the fundamentalist wackos.

        We’re not all like that. Why do you have a problem with me? I believe a completely different set of beliefs, that I also cannot defend logically, but you’re making a huge error lumping us all in together. They make a lot of noise but most of us are super nice and once in a while still also believe something really harmful to others because that part of the bible is seriously true.

        You’re just mad at god, you don’t know god, what you were raised in was a grotesque interpretation, and of course you rebelled, but you left before you really got to know god!

        ————————-

        I looked at the article and all the comments, and what I read was a heap of manure. I’m sorry to be indelicate. But seriously. I wish all the Christians would just battle it out for rights to the name. High horses all around. They really feel like they’re onto something that no one else could get without the “holy spirit”, which they determine that many people have whether or not they know Jesus by name, and it’s not something you get merely from deciding you’re a Christian, calling yourself a Christian, or doing whatever your pastor says god requires for salvation. I have not seen that much sanctimony about Jesus from many evangelicals, and it all sounds quite drug-induced. I’m not saying they’re high, but they sound like people who do drugs and maaaaaan, you just gotta try this stuff, this is the real stuff, not that other stuff you were settling for. One of them got awfully sore at atheist bloggers for picking on them too, said it was coming from hate. The beautiful beauty built in the name of Christ, why don’t they just leave us be, they just tear it down because they hate!

        The main thing is, if you feel like god is actual, then you’re going to be from a perspective that thinks everyone else is in denial of an actual thing. You might misunderstand that thing and want it to love you and want to be saved and all, but to deny it exists is … the only thing they can comprehend is that you officially don’t understand what they understand about Christianity. You can’t leave if you know it any more than you can deny there’s a sun in the sky – once seen, cannot be unseen. I don’t know why anyone would be surprised that any kind of Christian who feels that positive about having the truth would dare to suggest that quitters were never really Christians.

      • Steve

        Most people commenting on his blog are crazy in their own way. The kind of crazy you can live with, but still crazy. It really does get very tiresome, very quickly to read their constant god-botting, “Thanks Jesus”, “My prayers are with you” and any kind of other Christianese catchphrases.

  • http://truthspew.wordpress.com Truthspew

    I have the first twelve years of my education in Catholic schools. But yeah, I wasn’t really a Christian. Especially after dissecting the Bible. Once you did that you realized what it was all about.

    Recall Cain – he went east of Eden into Nod. There he found a wife among the ‘other’ people. I’m one of those ‘other’ people, not subject to God’s little experiment.

  • Louise

    One of the comments suggested that people who turn away from god because it is “more fun to be evil” and filled with “pain and despair.” Yikes… :(
    I was going to suggest posting your story in the comments section, but it might be upsetting to read some of the comments you may receive.

  • http://brucegerencser.net Bruce Gerencser

    Thanks for the mention. I was shocked by what John wrote. I really appreciate what he is trying to do, but to suggest that those of us who have left Christianity were never really Christians puts him in the same league as Evangelicals.

    Like you, I may have started as a Fundamentalist, but when I left the Christian church 35 years later, I was not a Fundamentalist. I was quite progressive, liberal in my politics, and a supporter of people like Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis. Like you, my defection was hardly a result of an immature faith. I was a pastor for 25 years and I devoted a lot of time to studying the Bible. In the end, it was the Bible and what I learned about it that resulted in my loss of faith.

    John has lost a lot of credibility with me with this post. He marginalizes a lot of good people whose loss of faith was anything but immature. I expect this kind of judgment from Evangelicals but not from liberals like John. I hope he will rethink what he wrote and retract the errant judgment he made of those who once devotedly followed Jesus.

    Bruce

  • http://wideopenground.com Lana

    Interesting. I relate to this. “I didn’t realize that it would backfire until the day I realized I simply didn’t believe it anymore. I didn’t want to come to that point. I loved Jesus, loved the Bible, loved the richness of Christianity.” Even though I still believe God exists, I relate because much of what I believe I never wanted to believe, either. For example, I never wanted to believe the Bible has errors, but it does. I never wanted to believe in any from of universalism, but here I am. I remember when I first started questioning it all, it hurt so bad I wanted to cry precisely because I didn’t want to believe that the bible had all these errors and all these problems. Somethings we don’t choose. Overtime, I have learned I am still here, and happier for it, but in the middle of questing, it felt, well.

    Oh, and as for AWANA, you should have competed with me. :P w00t w00t. They changed the books now, so kids can’t work so fast. ;p

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Isn’t this standard Calvinism?

    In order to maintain “Once saved, always saved”, they must deny that you were ever saved.

    They take the “no true Scotsman” (or, in this case, “no true Christian”) route to avoid admitting that their Calvinist beliefs are wrong.

    • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

      I was going to mention Calvin, too. Christians are pretty much divided between the Calvinistic view that God predestined us to either be saved or be condemned, or the Arminism view that you can gain and lose faith multiple times throughout life. The central question between them is whether God is truly all-knowing. The Calvinists belief in “once saved, always saved” because they believe an all-knowing God would know what you’re going to say, do ,and believe before you do. I don’t see it as a way to dodge a critique of Calvinism since the doctrine can’t be objectively proven one way or the other.

      • Darren

        And for this reason, I consider Calvinist to the most intellectually honest Christians; at least they take their faith’s teachings to their logical conclusions and stick with them…

        (not that I consider them intellectually honest, just less dishonest).

      • Steve

        Calvinism is the most perverse, immoral and inhuman belief system ever devised, but yeah, in all it’s madness and horror, it really just takes standard Christian doctrines to their “logical” extreme.

    • Ken L.

      There are some of us who take “once saved, always saved” at face value. We get to believe that Libby and others like her are in fact still perfectly fine with God. It’s an interesting place to be. Many of us are at least open to Universalism though.

  • Daniel

    I always wondered what this “preservation of the saints” idea meant in this fundamentalis context:
    If it means that a person whith a certain amount of reverence and love for the deity would never drop under this level after saying “the sinner’s prayer”, than it should be possible to falsify this hypothesis through methods like FMRI (yes, I know it’s flawed) and it would be intellectualy dishonest to not test it. If it can drop below the level needed for salvation and the” preservation of saints” would still be intact, why should your lack of belief indicate anything about your state of “salvation”?/silly end

    Daniel

    • Daniel

      This should be fMRI

      • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

        faith MRI? ;-)

  • RowanVT

    He’d definitely consider my former Christian-ness to be ‘immature’, even though I believed in only God and that Jesus was his son and I needed to believe or I’d go to hell.

    He’d also probably consider my reason for leaving the faith ‘immature’… that is, reading the bible the first time as a teenager so having had none of the usual conditioning about the stories. I read them fairly blank-slate and I was horrified and appalled by the deity they depicted. It took me all of 3 months of religious studies at a Catholic high school to decide that I could NOT follow God because he was utterly unworthy of worship or reverence. Most christians don’t like hearing that I consider myself more compassionate than their deity.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    Do people say this about atheists who convert? As in: What? You were raised atheist but now you know the one true God? You must never have been atheist in the first place!

    • Luna

      They do. I know a couple of people who became Christians after being lifelong atheists who were told by atheists that “You must not /reaaaally/ have been an atheist.”

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      I’m curious as to what their response to me would be – declared agnostic, converted to Christianity, lasted about 6 years and then fell away from the church, and gradually from faith as well, to the point I would now consider myself atheist.
      Yeah, thats an interesting issue there I guess :) Perhaps I was never a real christian, and was just “trying it on for size” by their lights, but thats not how it felt at the time. I was incredibly sincere.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Tortue du Désert avec un Coupe-Boulon

      (Let’s try this again shall we)

      I am extremely skeptical of the claims of the former atheists. Atheism is not just about not believing in gods, it’s about not believing in gods cause you came to that conclusion through logical study and reason and rationality. Far too many former atheists turn out to be either “spiritual” or ambivalent – in that they just didn’t care about religion, without seriously questioning it.

      I have yet to see a good explanation for why a former atheist became a theist. Nothing that they say passes the smell test with me. These explanations are either rife with logical flaws, appeals to emotion, or some other things like that. If a former atheist – one who was deep in the rationality and reason – turned theist, you’d think they found the argument that could change the minds of someone like Richard Dawkins.

      So again, extremely skeptical of the former atheists.

      • The_L

        “Atheism is not just about not believing in gods, it’s about not believing in gods cause you came to that conclusion through logical study and reason and rationality.”

        Um, no. Atheism really is just about not believing in gods. Some atheists are atheists because their logic led them to that conclusion. Some atheists were raised in non-religious households and just didn’t have a reference point for religion to make sense to them as a child. Some atheists, sadly, really are atheists just to rebel against authoritarian, conservative-Christian-fundamentalist parents.

        The only “former atheist” claims I’m skeptical of are the ones where the person is very, very obviously a fundamentalist and has been since childhood. Like the faux “ex-Wiccans” out there writing hate tracts, such faux “ex-atheists” are really easy to spot if you know anything about conservative Christian culture and have ever met an atheist.

      • Darren

        It is fair to be skeptical of _anyone’s_ conversion story, regardless of direction.

        The claim, “I once was A, now I am B” and the implied (or direct) claim that “…therefore B is to some extent better than A” invites investigation and, if warranted, criticism of what exactly that person means by A and B.

        The challenge is to apply equal due diligence when someone is joining “our” team as to when they are departing.

      • Kodie

        Atheism is not just about not believing in gods, it’s about not believing in gods cause you came to that conclusion through logical study and reason and rationality.

        That’s not true. I would consider anyone an atheist who does not believe in any gods. They don’t have to have a list of very good, tight reasons for rejecting gods. They don’t have to have a religion, a religious experience, or know very much about religion to one day positively move to the thinking that “it’s just improbable” or “sounds pretty goofy”. Not having a logical or rational foundation, they may one day find a religious argument convincing enough if they cannot see what is wrong with it logically.

        I grew up in a secular household with some prejudices against some religions (“bible-thumpers” and JWs) inherited as we say, and some personal curiosity about the religions of my friends, which we never really discussed, and characters in movies and on tv. I did not believe any of it was true, but I didn’t have a good reason for rejecting it either until later. Mostly I could say some time in my late teens or early 20s I had an amazing revelation about religion – that adults take it very seriously. For it seems on the surface of it a joke, a fantasy, something you keep in your pocket for the scary times, but not something you guide your life by. At a stretch, it’s a cultural identity (like being part Irish or liking dogs instead of cats). And realizing that adults hold these beliefs so dearly, so fanatically, and sincerely live their lives by it is all I really needed to know about that to figure myself an atheist.

        What more should I need to learn about religion to finally “get it”, or logic and reason to reject god? I guess I have better reasons to use in an argument now, but it’s not strictly necessary.

        I think there are religious analogs to this. Some people are thoroughly immersed in theology and apologetics and the more arguments for god they consume, the more firmly they believe, while many are just simple followers and don’t need to know a whole lot to figure that it seems correct. Would Christians say they have to discover very deeply the reasons they should believe? I think John Shore thinks so. Is my rejection of a shallow estimation of religion “immature”? Religious people would try to convince atheists that they could not know what they are fighting against, since it’s real to them. We’re fighting against the misunderstood facade of religion, they say, or the perversely misinterpreted actions of a few, not the real Christianity. How could we? If we knew what they knew, we could not be atheists – to the point of being accused of knowing what they know, full well rejecting it because we’re in denial, mad at god, and just like to be bad.

        My initial assessment is still not wrong. And just for the record, I was a good kid. I did not suddenly reach an age where I decided to let loose and be an atheist because it was fashionable to go against society. I did not have a religious upbringing to rebel against, and neither did I feel oppressed by my environment. It was not until after I reached the age of 30 that I even understood that atheism was not considered a valid answer, since I mistakenly thought we lived in an age of equality and tolerance of diversity. Nobody at school picked on the lone Sikh and his turban (that I ever heard about – he was very popular). Nobody ever made nasty comments about “them Jews”. I knew Christianity (Catholicism) was most popular where I lived, but I thought atheism was not that big a deal to anyone anymore, and probably why I didn’t ever think I had to establish excellent logical reasons to be one.

        There is the weakness of thought, I would say, that opens someone like me between 10 and 20 years ago up to just one absolutely amazing convincing argument for god. That’s what I did with that – I did give in to fairness and test god(s) out for possibility of being real. I tested it myself with my weak thoughts and weak logical foundation and not a ton of theology but knowing how marketing works, and mostly what I get is that if I can make it up to be true, then everybody is. That’s not exactly logical either, but I already knew it was their burden of proof anyway.

      • Darren

        That said, there is rather a big difference between being an educated atheist who came to that stance through long, hard, struggle and the “I was an atheist in college because my parents weren’t around to make me go to church and I was too busy drinking and screwing around, but now that I am about to turn 30 and I have my house in the suburbs and a middle-class spouse and a child on the way I really should start thinking about going back to Church” former atheist…

      • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

        Atheism is not just about not believing in gods, it’s about not believing in gods cause you came to that conclusion through logical study and reason and rationality.

        Then we lack a word for people who happen not to believe in god(s). People change their minds about all sorts of things, including gods (zero, one, three, umpteen, which kind), for reasons which may be rational or stupid. So an atheist-turned-Christian may be a bad skeptic or a poor reasoner or carried away by social pressure and emotion (because humans are frequently all of that) or just acting on incomplete information (because our information is never complete), but it’s perverse to say they weren’t a “real” atheist.

      • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Tortue du Désert avec un Coupe-Boulon

        I should have realized I was gonna get into a dictionary atheists fight when I posted the original statement.

      • cipher

        Far too many former atheists turn out to be either “spiritual” or ambivalent – in that they just didn’t care about religion, without seriously questioning it.

        It’s the “Kirk Cameron” phenomenon. He loves to tell people he was an atheist before he found God, whereas all he really was was an eighteen year-old kid chasing girls around Hollywood who didn’t give fig about relgion.

        Agree with you completely.

        Agree with you compeltely

  • AnyBeth

    I’m kinda nervous/giddy. I commented a very abbreviated version of my deconversion story over there, specifically noting the problems my case can make for Christians. I have every reason to believe my atheism is a consequence of brain damage. (Yes, my condition is known.) Christian/atheist wasn’t a long struggle or a sudden realization for me; it was more like a light switch. I did nothing to provoke the change and there seems to be no going back. Connection severed; *POOF*! My story provides a problem for most Christians and this is the first time since it happened that I’ve told it on an explicitly Christian space. (I’ve told it on atheist spaces several times, not least when some say atheists who once were religious necessarily studied or reasoned themselves out of it. I reject ways to leave me out of atheism as much as I do ways to deny I was ever Christian.)
    I’ve no idea whether the man would have called my faith mature. I’d say it matured when I was facing my own mortality at 20. In the end, I was panentheistic Christian. (Let’s say I took the idea of omnipresence very seriously, for one.) Basically, I had humanist ethics but also plenty mystical and unobtrusive beliefs. Whether or not this faith was “mature”, I’m glad I had the humanism to fall back on; the sudden loss of religion would have been much harder if I lost all sense of purpose with it. Oh, but maybe I was never a Christian, hm? and that feeling of things being so suddenly different was just an illusion. Ha!

    • Caravelle

      That’s very interesting. Did this brain damage cause a general change in your thought processes or outlook and atheism was a consequence of that, or was it really a specific Christianity/atheism switch ?

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    He wants to have it both ways–never a Christian AND an immature Christian. This helps me make a bit of sense out of the books and e-mails my mother has been sending me lately. She believes I’m saved, but that Jesus is not the Lord of my life. It is hurtful. No matter how many different ways you state that you’ve simply changed your mind regarding Christianity, some Christians will only hear you through their theology filter.

  • swimr1

    IMO, if a supposedly “loving” god will let a completely sincere follower be fooled into thinking they believe “correctly” (whatever that means) then I don’t think the word “loving” is accurate. This is a wily and deceitful god that should not be followed at all.

    Like you, Libby Anne, I was completely sincere in my love for god. So sincere that I went into full time ministry after college because I was sure that Jesus was the answer and that nothing could be more important than sharing that information with others. It was only after encountering god through the ministry that I stopped to think about some of the things I was being taught. It was only then that I actually took an honest look at the evidence behind what I believed (not a cursory study of only the “evangelically approved reading list of apologetics”, but an honest study from various sources). The evidence does not hold up if put to a truly honest test.

    This was the most painful journey I’ve ever had. To see your most cherished beliefs crumble before your eyes and the world as you know it fall away is incredibly painful and difficult. For another person to simply dismiss that journey as if it were insincere or inadequate is wrong.

  • Darren

    There should be a “No True Scotsman – Haggis of Shame” award for people like John Shore…

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com Scottie

    I posted my own “I was a true Scotsman” story just a week or two ago. How timely.

    I really got pissed at John over this. He should know better. Doesn’t really help that his responses to comments have started to feel a little peevish (his only response to me so far essentially boils down to “you didn’t read my post carefully enough; also, I don’t know you; also, what does an ex-Christian care what I have to say about Christianity?”)
    http://johnshore.com/2013/02/27/the-only-sin-god-cannot-forgive/comment-page-1/#comment-294639

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    OK, I went and read the post. It comes down to the usual: whatever you believed, however fervently, however BFF you were with Jesus, how big a part of your life it was, if you rejected it then that de facto means the Jesus Magic never “really” happened. He’s more articulate and less obtuse than our recent commenter Ben P, but at heart it’s the same message.
    Personally, I’m not offended so much as amused (in a superior-sneery sort of way).

  • Cylon

    I think you should include the context of his statement about former Christians, if only to point out how fucked up his theology is. He says former Christians weren’t really Christians because if they were, then they would have committed the unpardonable sin and would thus be consigned to hell with no possibility of redemption. He doesn’t like that because he’s all about the love, don’t you see, so instead of questioning his interpretation of doctrine he has to question your sincerity.

  • ScottInOH

    Just one more angle on this: Does this mean all the new converts to Christianity, whether children or adults, aren’t really Christian? One of the things evangelizers emphasize is that conversion is SIMPLE: turn your life over to Jesus, and you are saved. There’s nothing about “maturity” in there.

    • Christine

      It implies that no Christian is really Christian, because you can’t know until they die. Or maybe you can’t know until you’re sure that they made it into Heaven.

  • Theo

    In my experience with John, he seems very well-intentioned and he /has/ done a good job of advocating for queer rights in Christianity, but when he makes up his mind about things he has no personal background in (asexuality is another example), he isn’t very receptive to input from people with personal knowledge on the subject.

  • luckyducky

    Hmmm… I’ve always been puzzled by this whole line of thinking and think it is a pitfall, if not unique to Protestantism, at least much more common among Protestants because “faith” is much more of an intellectual, cerebral proposition.

    I find it kind of strange that I cling to this as an agnostic but I was taught that faith is very much a gift… so maybe those of us who don’t (currently) believe are not in a state to receive/possess such a gift. It isn’t necessarily through any fault of their own, though there is a hardness of heart issue, and may even been through the fault of the so-called faithful (the quote attributed to Gandhi, the one about liking Christianity just not Christians…) but is more of a “to everything there is a season” kind of thing. This is reinforced by stories of saints going through periods of despair, doubting or even losing faith. Mother Theresa reportedly spent more of her life in such a state than out of it.

    Anyway, I think certainty, particularly if you *never* admit to any doubt, is a sign of an immature faith rather than questioning and doubts, even questioning and doubts that lead to loss of faith. If you don’t experience some pretty significant doubts, you aren’t really looking at some of the deeper moral quandaries and how one’s faith calls one to act — you aren’t really thinking about what God is calling one to do to in response to some of the apparently irreconcilable aspects of being human.

    Maybe it is a way of easing my own sense of guilt or responsibility or just anxiety at leaving the Church: if I remain open in mind and heart, I may again receive the gift, but I am increasingly comfortable with not. I have had periods of being very angry with my own church’s hierarchy because I felt like they directed me to act in contradiction to what I had been taught and where my own faith led me. It is a sort of a “may those who lead innocents astray be cast into the sea with millstone around their necks” kind of thing. I still think they are abusing power and betraying the trust of millions of people and dishonoring some of the more noble aspects of the institution’s history (it most certainly is not all noble) but I am not so sure about the divine retribution and try to limit the energy I devote to being angry at them.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      This makes a lot of sense to me, as to why I fell so dramatically in to the church – its what they taught at the start of my time there, that faith is a gift.
      But then you weren’t allowed to question, you were expected to follow. And I naturally have a questioning nature, so no wonder I started falling away a little. For a long time I wanted the gift of faith to return to me, as I felt incomplete without it. Then I went through several big life events, including meeting my now-DH, and I realised that perhaps my ex was right, and I was one of those people using faith as a crutch.

  • BonnieLB

    Here’s another puzzler about this attitude: considering how fervently you *thought* you believed, and how deeply you *desired* a relationship with Jesus (even though he thinks you never really had one), what more could you have possibly done to be a Real Christian? If you repeatedly invited God into your heart and he seems to have turned down the invitation, why?? Was true salvation simply inaccessible to you? And if so, why? Does that mean when they preach the Gospel, some of the people who hear the message and genuinely want to become a Christian will actually be forever denied the opportunity?

  • kagekiri

    Sure, John, go ahead and say we former Christians were not ever saved.

    I agree that I’m probably not saved now that I’m an atheist, but that’s not because I was never a “true”-enough Christian or never had faith. Rather, it’s because I now sincerely doubt the probability that the belief is at all reminiscent of reality.

    For what it’s worth, I also think he’s not saved nor that he was ever a “true” Christian, because I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as a “true” Christian or a hell to be saved from.

    But considering God says people will think they’re saved and yet be damned to hell anyway on judgment day (sheep and goats, Jesus telling a story about damning people to hell who thought they were saved), that should give self-professed “true” Christians pause before they throw this kind of self-righteous rationalizing crap out there.

    Their God says you shouldn’t even be confident about your own salvation, yet they presume to know his supposedly unknowable will concerning others or the sincerity of other people’s beliefs? Even within their own theological framework, even pretending this has anything to do with reality, they have no ground to stand on.

    It did sting quite a bit to be called a liar and a fake Christian by my family upon revealing my atheism, especially when they should have remembered the depths of my former belief, but some random Christian who doesn’t know me? Whatever, man.

    Glad he fights for LGBTQ rights, but he’s fundamentally wrong about the truth-value of Christianity, so it’s not surprising that he’s wrong about this part of it, too. You don’t stay Christian without some serious post-hoc rationalization and forceful evasion of any world-view contradictions.

    E.g., Hearing my sister say “you must be reading the Bible wrong when it treats rape/slavery/genocide as okay, because obviously God is against those things, try reading it in Hebrew/Greek”…..YEAH, okay, guess we shouldn’t use English translations of ANYTHING if the Bible can’t get that “minor” point across.

  • Noelle

    It was my maturing that led to atheism. My faith matured along with me, from childlike acceptance to an adult’s wisdom. My belief structure matured from believing in literal fairy tales to thinking those weren’t so much literal stories as man’s imperfect description of communicating with and about god to realizing humankind invented stories and traditions to explain what they didn’t understand, find order and comfort in troublesome times, and gain power over others. It was as an adult that I left childish things behind, but I most certainly did believe them once.

  • http://omorka.blogspot.com/ Omorka

    The “immature” faith vs. not actually being a believer in the first place is what’s really giving me trouble. Soteriologically, isn’t there a huge difference between those two?

    Having said that, I have to admit that in my case he might well have been right – I was never theologically satisfied with Christianity on any level, even as I struggled to continue identifying as a Christian. Then again, I converted to a different tradition when I left, not deconverted altogether, so my motivations and those of a humanist are probably profoundly different, even if the result looks the same to our fundamentalist families.

  • Ashton

    I grew up in an evangelical family and yet never believed. I finally gave in to my non-belief and feel much relieved for it. It came as a surprise to me that so many atheists had at one point been real believers. I had figured that most would be more like me – people who had always struggled with doubt (as it would be phrased by Christians) and hadn’t ever really felt anything spiritual. When a conservative Christian said something to the effect of, “You must never have really been a Christian,” I pretty much shrugged it off and thought, “What of it?” It was entirely true in my case. I didn’t realize how insulting this was until I saw how many former Christians really existed and how it denied their experiences. I wish people would stop saying this bullshit and would actually listen to other people. While saying that someone wasn’t ever a real Christian isn’t offensive to me personally, I’ve had plenty of interactions in which people negated and disbelieved my own experiences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    My Christian friends always said my atheism was because I was “too smart”, but that one day I would see the light and allow god into my heart and predicted it would be a life or death situation that would do it. Several of those later and I’m still not a Christian.

  • DEADn

    ” I invited the Holy Spirit to direct my life and influence my actions, and I had a strong personal relationship with Jesus. ” In essence you are now denying a fellowship you had with someone? At one time you believed in God, fellowshipped with Jesus, as you say, and now because of some history you learned to supposedly show God doesn’t exist(to you) this means the fellowship you had with Jesus in Spirit never existed even though you say it was strong? Or He did exist but the puffed up knowledge you learned pushed Jesus into a myth therefore your personal experience with Jesus was imaginary? If so then in the imaginary relationship , you had, what kept your faith going if indeed it was on your own and how did the influence of God in your life, as you say, get pushed into a corner and eventually out of your life?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      This is why I said that my relationship with Jesus grew more distant as I researched the origins of Christianity and found them thoroughly human. Again, I didn’t ask that to happen. But the more human Christianity appeared the more tenuous my grasp on my personal relationship with Jesus became. And yes, I have come to conclude that Jesus was, in essence, my imaginary friend. You ask what kept my faith going in that imaginary relationship—well, me, of course. It’s not like Jesus ever physically appears to you or speaks to you in an actual voice, right? In your own relationship with Jesus, what is there that could absolutely not be just a product of you having an imaginary friend?

      • DEADn

        If there was an authentic relationship there than how can a person allow origins to cause that to be mythology? Almost like saying you were my best friend but because you don’t have a birth certificate I have to deny you exist. Crazy talk.

        Along your ‘Christian’ walk did you ever have sign posts that show that God was with you no matter what so that when circumstances came your way to want to doubt that God is there you had those sign posts to draw back on in order to take comfort in? Or, maybe you rationalized those away?

        I usually know my own thoughts and feelings. There are those times when something ‘strange’ comes along in my heart and in my mind that goes contrary to them in a good way and yet a strange way. When I follow in those leading’s I find myself opening up inside even more to the Spirit. Jesus did say my Sheep hear my Voice and obey. Not always an easy thing because sometimes that voice goes contrary to what I want to do and I always remember that my own will goes contrary to the Will of God.
        If you cannot say that you had a life changing encounter with God in which your heart changed and your ways changed and you were lead by that still small voice in which you acknowledged that Jesus is God and Jesus is the Savior of the sinful soul then there is no way a person can say they were ever a Christian. I read of some people who thought they were Christians for 30 years and suddenly they hear a message on sin and they are on their knees convicted to the core and become as Isaiah did when he said he was a man of unclean lips.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

        DEADn, a real friend exists. You can see them, touch them, smell them. When they speak, you and others hear them. When they pick something up and move it, it stays moved. People who see your friend agree on what s/he looks like, said, and did. There are all sorts of sensory affirmations that your friend exists, and as our five senses are all we have to go on, that’s proof of existence.

        God doesn’t have any of those things. You can’t see, touch, or smell God. If you claim God talks to you, there is no outside confirmation of that. God has no corporeal existence, so s/he can’t move things, receive things, or give things.

        Our brains are very complicated and we don’t understand how they work yet. We know that our personalities are seated in our brains because brain injuries can change our personalities. We know our memories are seated in our brains because brain injuries can cause us to forget them or be unable to form new ones. We know our emotions are seated in our brains because we can watch different systems activate as we feel different things and because, yes, our emotions can change because of brain injuries. We can induce all sorts of weird conditions and feelings in ourselves by thinking ourselves into them. Self-hypnosis, meditation, semi-hibernation, glossolalia, just to name a few. Given all that, is it so weird to conclude that your special feelings and odd turns of thought are due to brain anomalies or misfiring neurons, not “God”? That doesn’t make them bad, just natural.

  • Elizabeth Hubbard

    According to my brother, John Shore isn’t really a Christian. I’m not either, for that matter. Both my brother and I have argued with John Shore for different reasons, and I find him kind of delightful and dumb. He blocked me for accusing him of hubris. (Completely unrelated to LGBT rights, which I am adamantly for.) I’m still laughing about it, mild-mannered me getting blocked by a Christian apologist.

    Anyway, in the middle of my argument with John Shore (which was an superfluously big deal for me, as a young human rights activist), I abruptly converted to Atheism. That lasted… Three days. Agnosticism is the way to go, because it’s admitting you have no clue whether or not there is a God (although that Bible is certainly fishy and I will feel really stupid if I ever have to swear on it for anything). It wasn’t John Shore’s fault; it’s just Christianity started to seem really stupid to me, and Christians seemed really lazy. Christianity seemed to me to be something that people did to make themselves look or feel better to themselves and the world, without putting in the effort of actually doing something useful.

    There’s something about old white men lecturing that puts me to sleep every time.

    “Let’s see, John. You believe in a creature in the sky that determines the direction that your invisible, scientifically-unverified soul, who will damn you for all eternity if you don’t have your head straight about his existence, is male and sexist, wrote a book about how to keep your slaves and to kill gay people, but simultaneously hates slavery and loves gay people. Keeping the book in mind, this is the paragon of all human morality. That makes so much sense.”

    I was Christian, too, and thought I had a personal relationship with God. God told me (in my vivid imagination) to be nice to gay people and people of other religions, yada yada, they were also going to Heaven. Christians were like, “God wouldn’t say that.” Muslims were like, “You think God talks to you? That’s sick!” Psychiatrists were like, “Let’s just get some medicine in you, dearie,” and I was like, “I take it back. God never talked to me. I must have been day-dreaming and thought God talked to me, I know recognize how delusional that was. I’m healed, now.” Nobody wants that kind of responsibility, not if they aren’t a despot. I feel better as an Agnostic than I ever felt as a Christian; Christianity is a sexist religion that literally has instruction for how to beat your wife and slaves. Besides, as Desmond Tutu said, “I wouldn’t worship a homophobic God.” See, either my God’s real, or the Bible’s God is real (keeping in mind how many followers the Bible has), or neither is real and human morality is rooted in common sense and biological necessity, and evil exists because biology is imperfect.


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