[Today’s guest post is written by Brian, aka “The Apostate,” who writes at A Pasta Sea]
I suspect that the very existence of apostates might be a bit of an inconvenience for Christians. Not all apostates obviously. Many fit the preferred narrative quite well. These are the folks raised in the church who “go astray” some time around adolescence. It’s easy to pick on these folks because their departure coincides with a time in their lives when they begin questioning the legitimacy of the authority figures around them and rebelling. This also happens to be a time when their hormones begin strongly leading them to engage in thoughts and behaviors that are deemed “immoral” by most Christians. They make easy targets for dismissal.
I’m sure many of these teens really do just want to cast off the shackles of moral standards and do as they please. But there are countless others who sincerely wrestle with and reject the faith they were raised in because they realize how intellectually untenable it is. Once their access to things like the Internet becomes unfettered and they begin having contact with divergent views, this process is likely accelerated. For many their rejection of Christianity is a combination of factors and not merely a simplistic desire to “fornicate with impunity.”
Those who reject Christianity in college are typically saddled with much of the preceding perceptions of moral failing, with the added bonus of also having been exposed to that dastardly arch-nemesis of insecure conservative evangelicals across this land of ours. I’m referring, of course, to the godless liberal professor and his relentless desire to strip those innocent little lambs in his care of their belief in Jesus. Mwuhahahaha! If only they had been better prepared by their youth minister or perhaps gone to a religious institution where the professors sign statements of faith. But alas, they do not. Faced with such an onslaught and ill-equipped to deal with it, they cave.
These categories of apostates are fairly easy for Christians to incorporate into their existing narrative. They’re used to them and they don’t really present much of a problem. Their stories will still elicit a certain level of hand-wringing about how to better prepare youth to guard against these things, but when it happens, it’s not much of a threat to the overall narrative. When you get beyond these instances, however, things get a bit more threatening because coming up with an explanation that fits the expectation is much more difficult. When it comes to explaining away grown adults with families and years of faithful service in the church, well, then you have to get creative…or just try to forget they exist.Still, the excuse of moral and spiritual lapse is bound to persist. Take, for example this excerpt from a Q&A by professional apologist William Lane Craig:
“I firmly believe, and I think the Bizarro-testimonies of those who have lost their faith and apostatized bears out, that moral and spiritual lapses are the principal cause for failure to persevere rather than intellectual doubts. But intellectual doubts become a convenient and self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures.”
Translation: In spite of what we say, the real reason people leave Christianity is, of course, due to moral and spiritual failure. Finding the claims of Christianity to be simply no longer believable on intellectual grounds is just a convenient and self-flattering excuse. It’s the same old song, just a different arrangement. Christians like Craig just can’t seem to take apostates at their word because they don’t particularly care for the idea that people really do leave the faith on the basis of intellectual honesty.
NOT AS FLATTERING AS YOU THINK
I find this notion of apostatizing for convenience quite humorous. I’ve poked fun at the idea before that people become atheists simply because they don’t want to be accountable to God. The ridiculousness of this notion should be obvious. In our culture, it’s simply far easier to believe that God thinks like I do than to admit lack of belief in God. After all, a god created in one’s own image is far more convenient than no god at all.
Moral failure aside, the idea that I would use deconverting on intellectual grounds as a self-flattering excuse is similarly humorous to me. Craig doesn’t seem to appreciate the almost daily experience of being reminded of some sort of batshit crazy thing I actually believed as a grown adult and just how humiliating that experience is. People who left the faith in their youth can blame it on indoctrination and not knowing any better. Like belief in Santa Claus, it eventually faded with time when they grew up and realized reality doesn’t work that way.
People like me don’t have this excuse. I mean, as my own Bizzaro-testimony shows, I was a grown, college-educated individual in my thirties and still believed in talking animals, giant floating arks, millions of people wandering the desert, etc. What’s my excuse? I have none, other than the list of tricks our brains play on all of us. I have to admit I was basically delusional and that every time I thought I was speaking to the creator of the universe, I was really just talking to myself. That’s not a source of pride, Dr Craig. It’s a source of humiliation. It’s probably why I’m sometimes uneasy around “forever atheists” who will mercilessly skewer some of the more ridiculous aspects of conservative Christianity on a daily basis. Far from being a source of self-flattery, this is a source of shame. Rest assured, when I make fun of this stuff it’s with the full realization that I’m poking fun at things I used to sincerely believe.
Nearly every time I pick up the Bible and read a passage, I have to confront the reality that I read the thing multiple times and didn’t manage to pick up on blatantly obvious things that should’ve raised all kinds of questions. These things were staring me in the face for years and even persisted after I had been armed with the tools of critical thinking. I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, but few exercises remind me of just how gullible I can be like reading a Bible passage, considering its claims, and remembering that I used to believe it was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of a deity. Furthermore, I often think about how, if circumstances had been slightly different or if I had been smart enough to be able to embrace some sort of rationalization for the intellectual difficulties I was facing, I may well still be believing that nonsense. Indeed I must admit that, there, but for the grace of random chance, go I.
Craig’s accusations of convenience and self-flattery might work with college kids or high school age apostates. For people like me, however, the words “convenient” and “self-flattering” are hardly ones I would use to describe my deconversion experience. Believe me. It was neither. As for people like Dr. Craig, they can feel free to continue to ignore what I say about myself; they’re going to anyway.