I’ve labored for years now trying to articulate the main reasons why I left my faith—or as I prefer to say, why my faith left me—but the slipperiest explanation continues to elude me. Yesterday morning I read a post from a friend that may help me capture what I’ve been trying to say. I’ll get to that in a second. But first, the question she asked.
She wondered aloud how God could allow a child to be tortured and killed by his caregiver. Here’s an excerpt of the reply she got from one of her still-believing friends:
“God hates to see His children abused as much or more then [sic] you do. He is not responsible for what man chooses to do to an innocent child so when it happens He can only make the best out of a bad situation…When we want to blame God for all the horror I say we all need to look in the mirror. There stands the real person that should be blamed.”
Nice little pivot to blameshifting there at the end, don’t you think? If a child suffers abuse, it’s ultimately your fault because you belong to the human race. That final swipe wasn’t accidental, either, and I’ll explain later why it had to show up.
Now, we could go thirty rounds about whether or not hers is a “biblical” view of God, and I’ve got a degree from a Reformed seminary certifying that I’m fully aware of how many biblical passages contradict this “his hands are tied” business. But frankly, that’s no longer my fight.
Besides, experience has taught me how little good it does to show those verses to people whose modern sensibilities make a bloody-handed God unpalatable to them, so I’m leaving that one alone today.
The God Whose Hands Are Tied
I recall how disappointed I was reading of the protagonist’s struggle in The Shack after his young daughter had been kidnapped, molested, and killed. In the man’s darkest hour of grief, God assumed three different human forms (two of them female, the horror) and visited him to explain that he/she was present with the poor little girl right up until the gruesome end…but did nothing at all to prevent it from happening.
What good was God’s presence, then? In time the answer came that he/she isn’t in the business of changing anything in the real world so much as he/she is about being with you in the midst of whatever is happening. In The Shack, God is mainly there to keep you company so that you’re not alone in your suffering.
Incidentally, I know lots of people who can do that, and unlike God they can actually speak and give real hugs. So does that mean I should start worshiping them now, too? It seems to me they deserve it more if that’s all he can really do.
I guess if people have to choose between two versions of God, I’d prefer to hear that their consciences prevent them from thinking it’s morally acceptable for a deity to inflict violence upon the world, his “children” included. But this more modern perspective creates even more problems than it solves. Again, not my mess to sort out.
And anyway, none of these are reasons I lost my faith.
Discovering the System is Rigged
One of the things that finally changed my mind about everything was stepping outside of my own head long enough to analyze the way I was thinking about these and other problems inherent in my faith. In the world of education we call this metacognition, which simply means “thinking about our thinking.” It involves not just mulling over these philosophical conundrums, but stepping back and looking at the way we’re going about the process of thinking itself.
What I realized when I did this was that I had inherited a theology that was constructed in such a way that God could not possibly do anything wrong. And I don’t just mean that in practice he doesn’t happen to make any errors or display any inconsistencies; I mean the way that Christian theology works, it would be impossible to detect them even if there were any. That right there should send up a number of red flags.
Now, I realize the core idea beneath it all is that God can do no wrong because he’s holy and pure or whatever, but for the sake of argument I would like for you to pretend for a moment that isn’t the case. Call it a thought experiment. Hypothetically speaking…if God could do something wrong, how would you know it? How could that even be determined?
The answer is that it could never happen, and it’s not just because his character and nature wouldn’t allow it. Rather, it is because the whole theological system is set up to make it literally impossible to find any fault on God’s part under any imaginable circumstances. It categorically excludes anything that would controvert its basic premises, and that’s what finally started to bother me.
People who never do any wrong wouldn’t need the system rigged for them like this. They wouldn’t require moral and ethical immunity, and yet there it is woven into the belief system’s most basic assumptions.
Are you familiar with the concept of diplomatic immunity? That’s a legal status which important dignitaries receive when they visit a foreign country. It doesn’t mean they are incapable of doing anything immoral or illegal, it simply means that the rules are bent around them in such a way that it’s legally impossible to hold them accountable for things they do. I suppose we do this because relations with other countries are too sensitive and too important to let a little law breaking on the part of a handful of individuals to get in the way of things.
But why must there be such an elaborate fortress of exceptions and excuses for why God cannot do any wrong? Just try and find fault with anything you are told that he says or does and watch how quickly you become the one at fault, just like the way the man did in the statement I quoted at the beginning of this post. That kind of blameshifting is a classic defense mechanism that people use when their reasoning is so thin that they need to relocate the focus of the discussion as quickly as possible.
The final pivot to blaming the questioner isn’t just an accident. A vulnerable system of belief like this regularly utilizes guilt and shame as a way of relocating the focus of discussion from the point of vulnerability back over to you. At some point, there must always come a “shame on you” moment in which you drop the line of reasoning at hand in order to deal with your own guilt because, as Christian theology asserts, you are why Jesus had to be killed. It’s your fault.
Now your hands are too full to hold anything else and those pesky philosophical questions give way to introspection and self-loathing, and now the heat is no longer on the belief system itself. It’s been shifted onto you. Now you’re too busy feeling bad to keep up this line of questioning.
Works like a charm.
Related: “The Absurdity of Inerrancy“
But Why the Fortress?
Now I’ll admit that neither of the above examples constitutes a smoking gun refuting the faith of my youth, but they are at least a sort of circumstantial evidence that should raise your suspicions. That’s exactly what they did for me. They were just a couple of the thousand tiny cuts that eventually killed off my faith.
Do you know why Superman never wears any armor? It’s because he’s invulnerable to the bullets and bombs and lasers that would harm anyone else who is merely human. He doesn’t need protective gear the way that, say, Batman does because Bruce Wayne is just a regular human being. Take away the money and the gadgets and Batman is just a normal guy.
When you see something or someone surrounded by countless layers of armor and defense mechanisms, you can be sure that underneath lies something quite vulnerable, susceptible to damage. So why is everything pertaining to God surrounded by so many rationalizations, caveats, provisos, and fine print?
The obvious answer is that the God of Christianity isn’t so impervious after all, and that both he and the Bible need a tremendous amount of protecting. Nineteenth-century preacher C.H. Spurgeon famously compared the Bible to a lion that needs no defending, but the very fact that he had to say such a thing betrays that it really does need it. The continued existence of apologetics as a discipline shows that this belief system needs a great deal of defending. If the claims of Christianity were true, there wouldn’t be a need for it in the first place because the evidence would be everywhere.
Over the centuries, the church has had ample time to develop a bevy of rationalizations for just about every problem that their faith presents, modern archaeological findings notwithstanding. But the amount of work it has taken—and continues to take—should clue you in to the fact that something isn’t right.
Like I said, this was just one of a number of factors that eventually nudged me out of my former belief system. But it definitely set off a number of alarms in my head that only sustained critical analysis could mollify. From that point forward, it was all downhill.
- The Two Main Reasons I Left My Faith
- Our Biggest Mistake: We Did As We Were Told
- How the Bible Helped Me to Become an Atheist
- Games Christians Play: Making Your Faith Impossible to Disprove
- Why God Cannot Forsake You
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