Fatigue – Not Doubt – Ended His Faith

Fatigue – Not Doubt – Ended His Faith April 12, 2018

Editor’s Note: Meet the rare ex-clergy whose road away from religion did not start with doubt. It did not involve doubt anywhere along the line. When I asked him to respond to the “doubt questions” I’ve asked others, he rightly declined. The questions simply didn’t apply to his experience. Instead, he answered in this much more satisfying stream-of-consciousness manner. / Linda LaScola, Editor

====================

By Dennis Augustine

My path away from religious belief wasn’t just one thing and didn’t start out as doubt.

I was a slightly lost and rebellious 19 year-old MK (Missionary Kid) living on my own in the Toronto area when my father, who was in the field in Dominica, suddenly died at the age of 48.  At his funeral I was deeply touched by the impact that he had on the lives of the scores of people who showed up to declare their love and admiration for him. I decided then and there to follow in his footsteps and go into the ministry.  I applied to seminary but was denied admission because I answered “yes” to a question on the application that asked if I had drunk any alcohol, taken drugs or smoked cigarettes in the past year. (It was the booze, in case you’re wondering.) I was crushed. I would have to wait two years to be considered admissible.

I decided that I would not be idle during the intervening period. I devoted myself to evangelism and joined and led street outreach teams at my church. We would go door-to-door in neighborhoods, out in the city, in parks, everywhere! I soon found myself facing tough questions from potential converts that I responded to with the same old unsatisfying, ineffective rote answers.  I simply had to do better! I started to devour everything I could on apologetics, the art of defending the faith, and learned new unsatisfying, ineffective rote answers. But I never gave up hope. I believed that once I got to seminary I’d be better able to explain to those unbelievers the truth of what I knew in my heart for certain!  After all, they weren’t my doubts; they were other people’s doubts that I had a responsibility to break down. I didn’t have doubts; I had faith. And soon, in seminary, I’d also have answers!

Well, when I got to seminary, things started to unravel a little bit.  I wouldn’t say that I left in a crisis of faith, but that I left feeling disappointed.  I got a decent education in seminary and learned a lot about the Bible and how we got it; about church history; about the different theological viewpoints and arguments over the years; about the strange idiosyncratic beliefs of different sects not far removed from my own. In short, I got to “how the sausage was made” and it wasn’t pretty.

The beginning of the end was when a professor I admired warned us about sharing too much of how the Bible came to be (specifically the turmoil around how we got the biblical canon) with the laity because,

“They may not be able to handle it.”

It didn’t sit well with me. It bothered me. I had a degree in theology and a bunch of new unsatisfying, ineffective rote answers.

Even then I didn’t lose faith.  I threw myself into trying to nurture a personal relationship with God and trying to hear from him. I believed that if I could just hear from God I’d have the powerful answers that would make the difference for those unbelievers and wavering Christians. Not for me, of course. Oh no! I had faith! I needed those answers for them. Besides. I craved that intimate relationship with God that others claimed they had.

After graduating from seminary I served as an interim minister in a troubled congregation. The previous minister had been removed for some hush-hush indiscretion. I didn’t ask, but I was pretty sure it had to do with sex. These things were always about sex.

I decided to focus on what I felt most strongly about. It was no longer apologetics and authoritative pronouncements from the pulpit backed by “the word of God.” It was things like love, prayer and hearing God’s voice. I gave it my all. I mean EVERYTHING. But try as I might, the heavens were silent. As much as I tried to convince myself that I heard something, I couldn’t reconcile the silence with the powerful personal experience that scripture and other people had led me to expect. It was emotionally exhausting and I eventually burnt out and was unable to preach with any passion on any subject but love.

I quit the ministry.  I didn’t know what I would do but I couldn’t stay. I was just tired. I took a sabbatical from ministry, but I never returned. It wasn’t doubt that started my “backsliding” – it was fatigue.

I was alone and without a career.  My saving grace was that I knew something about computers and eventually got into programming. The transition to unbelief happened very slowly and painfully over a period of more than 15 years. I can’t even say when I transitioned from one stage to the other or when I made up my mind that there was nobody on the other end of my prayers.  I just found myself alone in my apartment one day looking at the mirror and realizing, in horror and bewilderment, that I was completely alone! Nobody was there but me. Nobody could hear my thoughts. I was 43 years old and had just had my first realization that I had private thoughts!

I’d like to end with an admonition to folks who say things like:

“I can’t believe those religious people are so crazy/stupid as to believe those things.”

I don’t see it that way. I think most people believe things both true and false for very complex reasons that are mostly social in nature.  I think that belief and unbelief aren’t deduced rationally; they are primarily social and emotional deductions. My father was one of the sanest, smartest men I have had the honor to know, but he died believing falsehoods. Some things just take time, a nudge here and there, and a bit of luck. I’ll soon be 49 and will have outlived my father. It’s been more than 20 years since I faded away from the ministry and eventually from faith. There were no epiphanies and no distinct turning points. It was a slow, painful, isolating journey filled with depression, pain and psychological stress.  Somehow I’ve survived and managed to rebuild my worldview – my universe – from the ground up.

While I wouldn’t wish the journey on anyone, I can say that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wasn’t destroyed. I came out stronger and with a ready willingness to question even my most fundamental views.  I find myself in a universe more glorious that anything I ever imagined – one in which the most miraculous thing isn’t a god, but my own mind! I’ve replaced those unsatisfying rote answers with deep questions and am all the better for it.

=================

Dennis Augustine is a former Pentecostal minister who had doubts in seminary as he learned about the problematic history of the biblical canon. Today, Dennis works as a software developer and business analyst in Toronto, Canada.  He speaks out passionately about rational thought and the psychological and social impacts of religious faith and hopes to contribute to research in these areas in the years ahead.

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  • Brian Curtis

    Talking to someone who never answers back can indeed be exhausting. Many people in dysfunctional families, for example, spend their whole lives trying to earn love and approval from a parent who simply doesn’t care about them… and that parent actually exists!

    • Linda_LaScola

      Makes you wonder about the people who do get answers back. Where is that voice coming from? How do they know it’s God?

      • carolyntclark

        Strangely, the answer that God gives is usually the answer they were hoping for.

        • Ruth1940

          “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony

      • ctcss

        How do they know it’s God?

        Linda, I don’t know about other people, but given what I was taught about God’s nature (entirely good and loving), I often think of James 3:17 as a useful guide as to whether an answer is from God or not. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”

        To me, answers from God bring healing to troubling human situations. Which us why I rather like the idea of turning to God for help.

        My 2 cents.

        • Ruth1940

          The bible doesn’t portray that sort of god at all.
          “My name is Jealous, and I am a jealous God.” — Exodus 34:14
          It says that god allowed Job to have horrible things happen (to say nothing of his family, who were, of course, his property) over a bet!
          I was taught that god was good because he first told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but then stopped him, however that god didn’t tell Jephthah to stop!

          • ctcss

            The bible doesn’t portray that sort of god at all.

            You are entirely free to believe what you wish about the Bible and the meaning of what it contains, but all you seem to be saying here is that you have not perceived anything of value within it, thus you desire to have nothing to do with it. But when I read the Bible, I do perceive rather great value in what it contains, and thus I continue to study it. To each their own.

            However, I am guessing that you and I are reading it and interpreting in very different ways, thus our differing takes on it. I am not a Bible literalist, for instance, nor am I what people would term a Bible inerrantist. Furthermore, Jesus only had the OT to go by when he was preaching, and yet (according to the gospels) he seemed to be rather inspired and encouraged by what he perceived in its pages about God. And since I am interested in following Jesus, I guess I am going more with the sense of God that he was speaking of, rather than the sense of God you are speaking of. No harm, no foul. We have simply chosen to follow different paths.

            All the best.

          • Ruth1940

            I didn’t say the bible had no good things in it, rather that it doesn’t portray that sort of god. Stories that inspire good are in secular literature as well, though. The book says that Jesus said he didn’t come to change the law and that the kingdom of heaven would come before everyone who heard him had died, and I don’t think the prophecy came true. Of course anyone is welcome to pick and choose what they like in any literature, and I protect that right, but must refute statements that don’t reflect what the words say. It’s important to understand that all religions tend to teach what works in society: http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc2.htm

            Some historians make a good case for the very existence of Jesus being a myth, though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUYRoYl7i6U

          • Michau

            all you seem to be saying here is that you have not perceived anything of value within it

            I don’t think that this is what happens. The Bible does contain things that can be valuable, but they are not the only ones that can be found there. To believe that the Bible portaits only a god of love, mercy and compassion means to turn a blind eye to the whole lot of passages where he is shown as a god of revenge, wrath and unimaginable cruelty. And these passages are in the New Testament too; in some ways, the god of NT is much more cruel than the god of OT, because he invented hell (which was unknown ot the OT writers). As we turn to unbelief, we simply start noticing these things that we previously skipped over and tried to forget.

            Sure, you can choose to pick only the nice things form the Bible, but for most of us it seems to be a pointless task – why take a source where there’s so much chaff to separate the wheat from? You CAN do that if you really want, but there are so many sources of inspiration where beauty is not constantly hindered by cruelty and mercilessness.

        • Lark62

          The bible as read by christians is a mirror. It says what the reader wants to hear. If you choose to hear only peaceable and gentle things, that speaks well of you.

          But this in no way prevents other christians from hearing god tell them to hate gays, block same sex marriage, or lie at “crisis pregnancy centers.” In fact, “liars for Jesus” turn up quite often on patheos non religious. And we’ve long lost count of the number of “The bible is clear. Gays are an abomination.” christians caught cheating on their wives or molesting children.

          If you “were taught” that god is “entirely good and loving” it is because your teachers knowingly or unknowingly lied to you. The deity in the OT commanded slavery, genocide and rape. The deity in the NT would condemn humans to eternal torture for insufficient groveling.

          Good and loving it aint.

      • Jim Jones

        “God is the ego projection of the self styled believer in the supposed being — with added super powers”.

        It’s impossible to attribute any effect from such a ‘god’ outside of its effect on the self described follower so it is irrelevant to everyone else.

  • Hi. Thank you for this. I relate very much with what you’re saying. Fatigue is a good name for this. I too tried as hard as I could for as long as I could before I gave up.

    • Linda_LaScola

      This reminds me of one of the clergy in the Dennett-LaScola study, who listened for 10 years for God to respond to his calls before determining that there was no god there. Unfortunately, he blurted this out at a staff meeting – and was put on sabbatical. That was a while ago. He’s out now.

    • Dennis Augustine

      Glad this resonated with you. Congratulations on coming through to the light!

  • Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • Dennis Augustine

      You are most welcome! Thank you for reading!

  • carolyntclark

    “the most miraculous thing isn’t a god, but my own mind! “. Spoken like a true sage !
    I’ve missed you, Dennis and your words of wisdom….happy to see all is well.

    • Dennis Augustine

      Awww, thank you Carolyn! I’ll be back a bit.

  • “I think that belief and unbelief aren’t deduced rationally; they are primarily social and emotional deductions.”

    If that were true, I’d still be a believer. I had no social or emotional pressure to become an atheist. I didn’t even know any atheists when I realized Christianity was bullshit. While it’s true that sometimes belief and unbelief are deduced irrationally, those irrational decisions are often fragile. Rationality is a far surer and more robust way to find a truth that doesn’t rest on mere belief, but on evidence.

    • mason

      yep, Children should have and international sacrosanct right to not be propagandized and pressured into irrational religious beliefs
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3b7052623a8d03146add7e53aa7242c67bd3fd99e06e05b584b1c6474db65ab2.jpg

      • ctcss

        Sounds like a good approach to me.

        • Jim Jones

          “We all know that any emotional bias — irrespective of truth or falsity — can be implanted by suggestion in the emotions of the young, hence the inherited traditions of an orthodox community are absolutely without evidential value…. If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences. With such an honest and inflexible openness to evidence, they could not fail to receive any real truth which might be manifesting itself around them. The fact that religionists do not follow this honourable course, but cheat at their game by invoking juvenile quasi-hypnosis, is enough to destroy their pretensions in my eyes even if their absurdity were not manifest in every other direction.”

          ― H.P. Lovecraft

    • Mr. A

      I think the takeaway is that these things aren’t solely one or the other. Belief and nonbelief alike are multifactorial.

  • mason

    Hey Dennis! … my good Facebook friend and Clergy Project brother. 🙂

    I really enjoyed your article and can relate to the “fatigue” in many ways, like continually performing Christian apologetic cartwheels for the mountain of biblical absurdities and an immoral God, and counseling faithful sheep who’s desperate prayers were always answered with a deafening “No!” , even when the Shepherd in the sky promised to do what we asked if we prayed in his name.

    Feeling a very sick sense of fatigue having to talk theistic nonsense to parents of a dead child, a person smitten with fatal cancer, family of a girl raped and murdered.

    As I admitted to myself I no longer believed the BS I was bullied into as a kid, I also suffered great fatigue from hearing and parroting the same propaganda over and over, from sitting in the pews, standing in the pulpit, and not having Sundays free.

    How’s the salsa dancing going?

    • RJ Twain

      I’m with Mason. Your post resonated deeply with my experience. I distinctly remember the first time I considered, really considered, not being a preacher. I felt LIGHTER. Justifying and explaining and ignoring and reinterpretting. It’s a constant mental effort. Emotional fatigue is a great description for it. Thank you for your post.

    • Dennis Augustine

      Hey Bro Mason! I hear you man. Same.

      Dancing up a storm still. Just a bit less frequently than before.

  • ctcss

    Dennis

    The beginning of the end was when a professor I admired warned us about sharing too much of how the Bible came to be (specifically the turmoil around how we got the biblical canon) with the laity because,

    “They may not be able to handle it.”

    To me this sounds like rather a bad approach to teaching, not to mention a rather bad approach to the ministry. Something is wrong when teaching turns into the practice of hiding information from people or students rather than helping them learn how to delve into it and learn from it. And the thing is, any decent Bible dictionary is chock full of useful information about the Bible and its history just waiting to be mined, so anyone curious about this stuff is going to be able to find it, if they so desire.

    And why did he think so little of the laity and their ability to grapple with a complex area of study? That’s what education is about, teaching students to learn to grapple with puzzling problems. For instance, the Jewish approach to religious study is very much about grappling with their scriptures and the centuries of commentary written about them. They don’t seem to be worried that in so doing, the students won’t be able to handle it. They want and expect them to handle it! So why should students of Christianity be afraid of their subject area? IMO grappling is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    I had a degree in theology and a bunch of new unsatisfying, ineffective rote answers.

    This also puzzles me. You sound like you’re an intelligent individual and you obviously wanted to help others. And you were obviously intelligent enough to recognize inadequate answers when you heard them. So why, in all of this study of your own, didn’t you find or come up with some well thought out non-rote answers to help answer people’s honest questions? Rote usually means something memorized, but not understood. But teaching is about about helping students to understand. Plus it strikes me that when Jesus was teaching, his style seemed to offer understanding to his listeners as opposed to the manner of the teaching of the scribes. Thus, I would think that understanding (as opposed to leaving things as a mystery) should be thought of as a good and desirable thing.

    So how did this concept of needing to understand a subject disappear from Christian seminary teaching?

    • Jim Jones

      > Something is wrong when teaching turns into the practice of hiding information from people or students rather than helping them learn how to delve into it and learn from it.

      Most ‘believers’ don’t want to know. Their religious education is limited to Sunday School stories and they like those. Hard questions will just make them angry.

      • ctcss

        Well, I know that I certainly have a desire to know. And hard questions are interesting to me, not anger inducing. But then, I have often taught Sunday School, and I try to ask questions that require considered thought from my students, not memorized responses. I also enjoy questions from them. So maybe the problem is not so much teaching religion, but approaching the subject in a less than thoughtful manner.

        • Jim Jones

          There are many anecdotes from skeptics of them being kicked out of Sunday School for asking ‘difficult’ questions (i.e. those the ‘teacher’ can’t answer).

          I have my own list that stumps adults. The more honest ones admit that they are questions they cannot answer.

          • ctcss

            Any teacher who cannot deal with difficult, but honest, respectful questions from their students is probably not suited for teaching. But then, it seems that most of the non-believers on these boards came from dogmatic or fundamentalist backgrounds where there was little tolerance for curiosity. And yes, there are lots of questions that have no easy or readily available answers. That’s why this is (or should be) an area for study, investigation, and exploration, not indoctrination.

          • Jim Jones

            Many of the ‘teachers’ have no real skills in religion or in teaching. But to be fair, since many of us can destroy Christianity quite easily, they really have no chance. After 2000 years, no one has written an apologistics book that can stand up to criticism. The church has always had to resort to torture and murder to ‘prove’ its case – without those it is doomed. It is only successful with those who willingly resort to wishful thinking.

          • ctcss

            Wow, you might need to have that arm checked for breaks after all that vigorous back patting you just did. 😉 Look, Christianity is quite a broad swath of beliefs, not a monolithic construct. And from what I have seen, non-believers usually just go after the lowest hanging fruit they can find and then declare victory. But winning out over the weakest approaches does not mean winning out over all approaches. According to the Bible, Jesus was rather vilified by his contemporary religious rivals, but that didn’t mean that they really “destroyed” his ministry. They were simply in disagreement with him. And I am sorry to say, disagreement over religious beliefs is not exactly something unusual. I disagree with most religions out there, as well as disagreeing with atheism, but I don’t think anyone much cares if I disagree with them or not, nor would I expect them to. Religion (or lack thereof) is a very personal thing. To each their own.

            However, if you (or any non-believer) thinks that they can destroy Christianity by their brilliant arguments, go for it. I’d love to see the effort. But, quite frankly, I have read a lot of the arguments on these boards and I am not really impressed by them. And unless I have misread my calendar, we aren’t living in the middle ages anymore, so I am not really worried about being tortured and murdered any time soon by the churches who disagree with me, nor by my own church should I decide to leave it.

          • Jim Jones

            Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who wrote about the event, has a name and is documented outside of the bible (or any other gospels).

          • ctcss

            Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who
            wrote about the event, has a name and is documented outside of the bible
            (or any other gospels).

            You might also ask what outsiders were documenting the inner theological musings and activities of the Jews during their formative years.

            Look, although your question has some merit, it really isn’t all that relevant. For instance, I am from a very non-mainstream Christian sect, but I grew up in an area where I was surrounded by lots of different places of worship, Christian and non-Christian. However, I didn’t visit any of them to see what they were doing inside their walls when they met to worship or study, nor did they stop by to see what we were doing. I also never attended any revival meetings, even by big time and well-respected ministers such a Billy Graham or MLK. I was probably in my 50’s before I actually attended an outside service just to see what it was like. And it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I discovered that pretty much every other Christian denomination believed that Jesus was God. (I thought it was only a few that did.) My sect doesn’t share that view.

            People just don’t spend a lot of time examining things that they aren’t very interested in or believe in. There is also the question of whether their own activities take up the bulk of their time. There are only so many hours in a day.

            And regarding Jesus and the fact that outsiders weren’t documenting his ministry, please remember that he was mostly preaching way out in the sticks of his day. Furthermore, his country was occupied by an unfriendly military force so, best not to attract too much unwanted attention from that quarter. Also, the occupied Jews were not super united either with their own internal squabblings. And since Jews were a rather small potatoes, obscure kind of group, outsiders were not all that likely to be interested in them in general, much less a very small, non-mainstream group of them.

            So, unless one was super-duper interested, not many people would be witnessing what Jesus was doing out in the sticks. And any word of “interesting” works would likely have been met with skepticism, rather than “I must go see what this is all about!” I daresay that in those times many people from many cultural groups had tales of miracles to tell, but I doubt that very many were looked into by outsiders.

            Plus, Jesus was a Jew. He wasn’t inventing Judaism (it already existed) and he wasn’t trying to invent Christianity either. He was speaking to fellow Jews about their shared theology, citing the already existing scriptures of the Jews. It was just that his take on the scriptures was a bit different than theirs was. And the people listening to his preachings weren’t jotting things down, they just wanted to try to hear and understand these interesting things that he was saying and doing. And he didn’t hold to Jewish traditions, so he was an outsider (and likely to be avoided) even among the more mainstream and respected members of his own people. And mostly being out in the sticks, he was probably far removed from the power centers where the politically connected Jews were hanging out. (No slam intended here. It’s just obvious that in order to survive an occupation, you needed to know how to get along and not make waves.)

            Jesus also had a very short ministry, once again, mostly out in the sticks. And in the last short moments of his ministry, he was arrested, tried, and executed by the occupying military force, with none of the politically connected Jews trying to save him. (How many obscure, controversial or objectionable convicted felons have you followed around and documented, or tried to save?)

            So the only people who cared about Jesus were likely the ones who had followed him during his short ministry and cherished their experiences with him. And when it seemed that their shared memories might likely vanish forever because of impending death or danger, they may have done what they could to record them for their group’s posterity.

            So no, I wouldn’t really expect there to be lots of contemporaneous outside records of Jesus’ ministry, just as there weren’t lots of contemporaneous outside records of the Jewish theological activities in antiquity.

            Only people who truly care (i.e. insiders) are the ones likely to record their own story.

            So your very honest question is not a showstopper for me at all.

            All the best.

          • Jim Jones

            > However, if you (or any non-believer) thinks that they can destroy Christianity by their brilliant arguments, go for it. I’d love to see the effort.

            QED.

          • sophie1816

            ctcss- I tend to agree with a lot of your perspectives, and was therefore curious about which Christian sect you belong to, if you are will to specify? I ask because I would like to learn more about it, as I have not yet found a denomination that I feel conforms well to my own beliefs. Thanks!

          • ctcss

            Thanks for the kind response. I usually don’t specify what sect I am a member of (although I have been know to confirm someone’s kindly discernment of what I am), mostly because online discussions about one’s particular religion tend to be less than thoughtful and charitable. ( I am not suggesting that you are such a person, simply noting that public forums tend to be more about heat than light.)

            I am glad to see that you seem interested in seeking a home that resonates with you. More power to you in finding that place! My comment history is open, should you wish to read more of my responses to other people’s posts, (That may be of some help to you or it simply may bore you!)

            Just out of curiosity, what kind of beliefs do you personally hold? The reason I ask is that even when people seem to appreciate one another’s standpoints, sometimes there are showstoppers that simply raise red flags for someone, even when everything else might seem agreeable. Deciding on a religious pathways is a very personal decision, so some of the standpoints my group takes might very well be problematic for you, just as other people’s religious theologies are problematic for me, even when I like a lot of what they say.

            All the best

          • sophie1816

            Thanks so much for your quick reply. That is a big question, but I will try to answer it succinctly, or at least hit the highlights.
            It would probably be helpful to explain how I got where I am. I was raised in an agnostic household, and basically had no experience with church or religion as I child. We were culturally Christian and celebrated Christmas and Easter, but only in a secular way. Looking back, though, even as a child I was very drawn to books with underlying religious/spiritual themes, such as the fiction of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien.

            In my 20s I got involved with AA. I don’t know how familiar you are with that program, but AA emphasizes a relation with “God as you understand him” based on practice, not any particular theology. Specifically, you are encouraged to turn your will and life over to the care of God, ask for his help and guidance, pray and meditate, examine your faults and ask God to remove them, and perform service to others. Through this practice, I came not only to believe in God but to feel that I had a deep relationship with God.

            My beliefs now: though God is very important in my life, I don’t claim to know much about the nature of God – and I don’t even think about it that much, assuming that probably most of what I could think up would be wrong anyway. My focus is more on practice. I do believe in the eternal soul and that we continue in some form after death, but I don’t know what that looks like, and again assume that whatever I guess will probably be wrong. I think these are things that will be revealed at a later time, and my task now is to be the best person I can be and to continue to deepen my relationship with God through practice. As for the question of “salvation”: I lean toward the general view expressed in C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”, ie, that we choose to keep ourselves away from “heaven” because we love our faults/sins/character defects more than we love God. But I don’t of course claim to have any real knowledge here. I am certainly not a Biblical literalist, and in fact don’t know the Bible well at all, though I wouldn’t be adverse to learning more about it. There are certainly some passages that I find very meaningful and inspiring.

            After about 10 years in AA, I found myself drawing away from attending meetings (this is very common as people who have not had alcohol for a long time get tired of the heavy emphasis on discussing alcohol). So I tried to find another spiritual community, but so far have not found anything that conforms well to my own beliefs. As mentioned, I was raised as a Christian culturally, so that is the first place I looked. But I don’t believe in the Holy Trinity or the divinity of Christ, which is a tenet of most mainline Protestant denominations. I explored the Unitarian Church, which seemed like it would be a natural for someone like me, but it seemed like at this point it deemphasizes God altogether, which went too far for me. The religion I’ve found that probably comes closest to my own beliefs is Reform Judaism, and I have actually considered converting. But there is a language and cultural gap that I would need to cross – as well as a formal conversion process – and I have hesitated at that. But one thing I find interesting is that Jesus was Jewish and, as you have stated, was not trying to start a new religion – my understanding is that he was trying to teach people to be better Jews. So in theory it should be possible to be a follower of Jesus – i.e. a Christian – and still have beliefs that are very similar to those of Judaism. But I have not found any Christian churches that follow this approach.

            The one additional thing I should say is that I am very liberal socially, so I would not be comfortable in a religious organization that did not support equality for woman and for gays and lesbians, among other things.

            I hope this made sense – some of these things are not easy to articulate. If you’ve made it through the end of this discourse, thanks for reading!

          • sophie1816

            Thanks so much for your quick reply. That is a big question, but I will try to answer it succinctly, or at least hit the highlights.
            It would probably be helpful to explain how I got where I am. I was raised in an agnostic household, and basically had no experience with church or religion as I child. We were culturally Christian and celebrated Christmas and Easter, but only in a secular way. Looking back, though, even as a child I was very drawn to books with underlying religious/spiritual themes, such as the fiction of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien.

            In my 20s I got involved with AA. I don’t know how familiar you are with that program, but AA emphasizes a relation with “God as you understand him” based on practice, not any particular theology. Specifically, you are encouraged to turn your will and life over to the care of God, ask for his help and guidance, pray and meditate, examine your faults and ask God to remove them, and perform service to others. Through this practice, I came not only to believe in God but to feel that I had a deep relationship with God.

            My beliefs now: though God is very important in my life, I don’t claim to know much about the nature of God – and I don’t even think about it that much, assuming that probably most of what I could think up would be wrong anyway. My focus is more on practice. I do believe in the eternal soul and that we continue in some form after death, but I don’t know what that looks like, and again assume that whatever I guess will probably be wrong. I think these are things that will be revealed at a later time, and my task now is to be the best person I can be and to continue to deepen my relationship with God through practice. As for the question of “salvation”: I lean toward the general view expressed in C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”, ie, that we choose to keep ourselves away from “heaven” because we love our faults/sins/character defects more than we love God. But I don’t of course claim to have any real knowledge here. I am certainly not a Biblical literalist, and in fact don’t know the Bible well at all, though I wouldn’t be adverse to learning more about it. There are certainly some passages that I find very meaningful and inspiring.

            After about 10 years in AA, I found myself drawing away from attending meetings (this is very common as people who have not had alcohol for a long time get tired of the heavy emphasis on discussing alcohol). So I tried to find another spiritual community, but so far have not found anything that conforms well to my own beliefs. As mentioned, I was raised as a Christian culturally, so that is the first place I looked. But I don’t believe in the Holy Trinity or the divinity of Christ, which is a tenet of most mainline Protestant denominations. I explored the Unitarian Church, which seemed like it would be a natural for someone like me, but it seemed like at this point it deemphasizes God altogether, which went too far for me. The religion I’ve found that probably comes closest to my own beliefs is Reform Judaism, and I have actually considered converting. But there is a language and cultural gap that I would need to cross – as well as a formal conversion process – and I have hesitated at that. But one thing I find interesting is that Jesus was Jewish and, as you have stated, was not trying to start a new religion – my understanding is that he was trying to teach people to be better Jews. So in theory it should be possible to be a follower of Jesus – i.e. a Christian – and still have beliefs that are very similar to those of Judaism. But I have not found any Christian churches that follow this approach.

            The one additional thing I should say is that I am very liberal socially, so I would not be comfortable in a religious organization that did not support equality for woman and for gays and lesbians, among other things.

            I hope this made sense – some of these things are not easy to articulate. If you’ve made it through the end of this discourse, thanks for reading!

          • ElizabetB.

            Yes, where was the Studs Terkel for these probably illiterate nobodies?!! : )
            [a little /s regarding documentation question : ) ]

      • Linda_LaScola

        I heard this kind of thing a lot from clergy who wanted to share what they learned in seminary but were discouraged by more experienced clergy

        • Jim Jones

          The audience is the author.

      • Ruth1940

        It’s been that way for a very long time. Several years ago during the Q&A following a presentation in a series by area professors on how the bible came to be, a retired Lutheran minister explained that was what he’d been told forty years ago in seminary, but not to tell the congregations! http://www.canterburyforum.net A younger woman followed by saying that she’d finished seminary about 18 months before, and was told it was acceptable to share the truth with small groups of people who were ready. How could they live with themselves? smh

        • Jim Jones

          Those who like the law or sausages . . .

          • Dennis Augustine

            Exactly. Don’t look. Don’t ask. You’ll enjoy it more that way. 😉

          • Jim Jones

            My brother worked for a while in a fish stick plant.

            He urged me, in the strongest possible terms, to never eat fish sticks.

    • Lark62

      The Exodus never happened.

      The deity worshipped in the OT commanded human sacrifice and the rape of war captives.

      If “Jesus” existed, he was a dime-a-dozen wandering preacher who was not foretold by stars, born of a virigin or resurrected.

      The words attributed to Jesus are found in older religious texts. The actions attributed to Jesus are borrowed from other real and mythological deity-spokesmen.

      “Jesus” is schizophrenic, commanding love and introducing the concept of eternal torture.

      The concept of trinity is not biblical.

      Evolution is true. Since nearly every animal that has ever lived died or will die either of starvation or being eaten alive, if there is a “designer” it is monstrous.

      The only truth is that the whole of Christianity is make believe. It functions to bring wealth and power to the self appointed spokesmen. It has been and continues to be used to justify misogyny, racism, slavery, torture, murder, theft, nationalism and genocide.

      That’s the truth. Can you really not figure out why preachers don’t tell the truth?

      • Dennis Augustine

        Yup. What he said. ^

    • Dennis Augustine

      I went to a conservative Christian seminar and ministered in Conservative settings. In these settings information that brings into question the inerrancy of the scriptures is looked down on and we were in fact told that the laity didn’t need to get too deeply into these matters. WE did learn about them however. That’s why I say that the mistake they made was actually giving me a good education on these subjects. Learning about the scriptures in an objective, fact-oriented way is not compatible with conservative faith.

  • Mr. A

    What an interesting perspective. We hear about how former theists came to doubt before leaving thier religion, but this I think is something I haven’t encountered before. I tend to agree with you that people believe in things because of emotional and societal reasons, so I can understand this fatigue you speak of.

    • Dennis Augustine

      Glad it resonates with you sir.

  • Michau

    For me, it wasn’t doubts that did it, but frustration. Frustration that it’s not possible to get any kind of coherent answer from God. Frustration that things promised in the Bible never materialized. Frustration that since Christianity was not working for me, then obviously I was doing something wrong but for years and years of earnest seeking and praying I wasn’t able to figure out what. I believed without doubt, but it wasn’t working, so I was frustrated. From this frustration finally came the realization that maybe, maybe this thing doesn’t work simply because it’s not true?

    I think that doubts are not so dangerous to faith – lots of believers have doubts, so ministers have many of ways to deal with doubs to keep them in the pew. But things like fatigue, frustration, disillusionment – they are much more likely to cause somebody to lose faith than just doubts.

    • ElizabetB.

      Interesting — thanks, Michau

    • Dennis Augustine

      Yup!

  • ElizabetB.

    Dennis, the idea of research is intriguing — do you have a vision of how you might go about it?
    Thanks so much for the post!

    • Dennis Augustine

      Not being a qualified psychology researcher I’d like to partner with academics like Linda and Dan D to help me design studies. I’d base the study on interviews and meta analysis of studies involving religious and non-religious subjects. I suspect there are many psychological correlates for many religious and ideological phenomenons.

      • ElizabetB.

        Thank you, Dennis! Some of us spend a fair amount of time opining on Patheos…. which is helpful in sorting out ideas and questions, but having solid research would be a huge help. What a great ambition! so interesting, and hope it works out soon!

  • Mike Panic

    Being gay was incompatible with being katlik, so I left. I drank heavily and found myself in beds with other men the next morning with no idea how I had gotten there. After rehab I started having trouble with depression, suicide attempts the whole shot. I had l;oeft religion but it had not left me. It was in “daycare for depressed people” that a bible thmper had taken to shaming the gay out of me. In a fit of anger in group I tore into him, his gawd and his bible. I unleashed all my anger at the many month-long hospitalizations, shock therapy and suicide attempts. Did it cure me? No, but it dramatically lessened the severity of depressive episodes and it became mere sadness. When you see me tear into a krister and let it have it with both barrels, it is payback for all the suffering and self-hate heaped on me by religion..