Evangelical Churn: The Fury of the Tribe

Evangelical Churn: The Fury of the Tribe June 10, 2016

We talked last time about the deconversion of Shannon Low, a Christian musician who recently realized that Christianity’s claims and promises are false and who then publicly wrote about his journey out of the religion.

You can probably imagine that Christians aren’t terribly happy about Mr. Low’s deconversion. Today we’ll look at what his onetime tribe is making of his defection, because most ex-Christians have encountered much the same treatment–and if you’re a newly-deconverted person and haven’t yet, hang in there because you probably will at some point.

Just as Shannon Low’s deconversion shares a lot of features in common with other folks’ deconversions, Christians’ reactions to his deconversion are quite predictable.

Obsolescence takes many forms. (Credit: Alan, CC license.)
Obsolescence takes many forms. (Credit: Alan, CC license.) This is a holy water collection basin in an ancient Ethiopian monastery. Given enough time, even rock can erode away.

He Apparently Did Christianity All Wrong.

A writer for Christianity Today huffs that if someone’s going to go off and become an atheist, they shouldn’t do it for “stupid reasons.”

The “stupid reasons,” if you’re wondering, are not actually stupid. Our writer is not “sad” because Mr. Low deconverted at all; he “[doesn’t] have a problem with the fact that people stop believing.” (How loving!) No, he’s “sad” because Mr. Low apparently never heard his favorite magical apologetics arguments that wipe away all the atrocities that so troubled the singer. He’s sad that Mr. Low didn’t receive the same indoctrination that he did and didn’t internalize the same parroted excuses he has internalized. He characterizes what Mr. Low received as “awful platitudes and thoughtless nostrums,” but then recites equally awful platitudes and thoughtless nostrums of his own to excuse away what Mr. Low experienced.

In short, had Shannon Low pursued the same Christianity that the writer pursues, then obviously he never would have had any trouble with the story of Elisha and the bears, or with the rabid anti-gay frothing of his peers, or even with the sheer tribalism of the religion, or with preachers selling prosperity gospel. He’d be able to dismiss those things exactly as glibly as the oh-so-evolved writer does.

Out of tens of thousands of Christian denominations and countless takes on the religion, Shannon Low apparently never once brushed up against the arguments that this writer has decided are wholly satisfactory as answers to the problems Mr. Low saw in the religion. The writer dismisses the deconversion involved here as a thoughtless one that wasn’t as fully-considered or carefully-researched as he himself thought it should be.

The sheer narcissism of this accusation staggers me, even as many times as I’ve heard it. It simply doesn’t occur to such a Christian that his target might indeed have heard his favorite apologetics excuse and dismissed it as inadequate.

This pushback is meant to force the ex-Christian into justifying their decision. It’s meant to reinforce a power structure that puts the Christian in a position of judgment over the deconverted person–in essence shifting the burden of proof. If you choose to go down that rabbit hole, you’ll find that nothing you did is enough to satisfy the Christian accusing you.

You’ll notice, as well, that this writer doesn’t offer a reason to believe or for that matter any apologetics arguments that actually answer any of the deconversion ex-timony’s specific concerns (in fact, Mr. Low mentions hearing–and rejecting–some of them), but that’s nothing new either. He doesn’t argue at all about the findings, in fact. He is simply “sad” that Mr. Low wasn’t satisfied with the rationalizations offered up by apologists that he himself found satisfactory.

When confronted with a Christian trying to tell you that you did Christianity all wrong and that’s why you deconverted, or trying to find fault with the research or consideration you did before coming to your conclusions, try to remember that you are not obligated to prove yourself to anybody. No matter how much you did, it won’t be enough for them. You came to a different conclusion than they did, so by (their) definition you did something wrong.

And oh, hey, I know what this guy can spend his saaaaaadness on! How about being sad about the fact that his “god of love and mercy” is (according to his mythology) going to brutally torture billions of people for not accepting the “awful platitudes and thoughtless nostrums” that he has managed to choke down?

Oh, So That’s Why, Apparently.

It’s not uncommon at all to run into Christians who vastly over-simplify an ex-timony in order to dismiss it. (Obviously, #notallchristians are guilty of the things I’m discussing today–but enough are that it’s worth mentioning.)

A number of Christian sites are attributing Shannon Low’s deconversion to his having read the Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion. Christian Post cut to the chase by headlining its article about him thusly: “Metalcore Singer Renounces Christian Faith After Reading Richard Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’.” World Religion News went a similar route: “CHRISTIAN ROCK SINGER STOPS BELIEVING AFTER READING RICHARD DAWKINS’ BOOK.” And Christian Times skips right from his admission of reading the book to the actual deconversion. (Even a secular blogger with NYMag.com puts the matter in a similar way, likely as a result of having read Christians’ reactions to the deconversion!)

As far as remarking Christians are concerned, a book caused this deconversion. And not just any book, but a book by the hated antichrist Richard Dawkins.

Atheism doesn’t have pontiffs or holy books–as we talked about last week about the Law of Conservation of Worship. I’ve never even read it, though I’ve read other works by Richard Dawkins. (Here is an extract of the book and info about its impact.)

A number of well-known apologetics authors have written their own lengthy responses to it. Christians appear to be way more over-excited about the book than non-Christians are–likely because quite a bit of it is about how humans might have evolved religious belief and morality independent of anything supernatural, as well as how religion harms society and individuals alike. Indeed, Shannon Low mentions specifically that the book helped answer for him how Christianity might have formed as a world religion and why it seems to constantly borrow from other religions without its believers being aware of the borrowing.

But if you actually read Mr. Low’s Facebook post, you’ll notice very quickly that he was already struggling when he picked up that book. And he doesn’t indicate that he instantly deconverted after reading it. To the contrary, he goes on to describe months passing as he continued to think about the problems he saw in the religion. He certainly views the book as having answered a lot of his questions, but it wasn’t a slam-dunk that closed the lid on his faith. If The God Delusion was really such a huge part of his deconversion, he has a funny way of showing it.

The truth doesn’t matter much to the angry tribe, though. The magic words got said, and now the spell can’t be un-cast. The God Delusion was invoked: Everyone roll for initiative!

The reason the book is being blamed is that Christians are super-upset lately about atheists. So when Mr. Low mentions having read a prominent atheist’s writing, that’s all they need to hear. I’ve heard very similar accusations myself over the years, both directed at myself and others.

It can be really tempting for Christians to boil a complex decision down to something as simple as reading an illicit book or having a short conversation. Christian mythology itself is filled with similar instant turnarounds in both directions, which is why “evandalism”* is so popular among fundagelicals. These anecdotes are designed to be short sound bites that end with wide-eyed “… and then I realized!” proclamations of faith.

"Evandalism" is Neil Carter's coined word for when Christians deface or destroy other people's stuff as a way to "evangelize." (Credit: Pari, CC-ND license.) This particular evandalism was done on a protected archaeological site in India. Feel free to rage.
“Evandalism” is Neil Carter’s word for when Christians deface or destroy stuff belonging to non-Christians. Though the Christians doing it may insist that they’re evangelizing, it seems clear that they’re actually trying to assert dominance. (Credit: Pari, CC-ND license.) This evandalism was done on a protected archaeological site in India.

The more trivial the event, the better it sounds in the stories, but by the same token, the more alarming the details, the more attention it gets. Shannon Low’s choice of reading material qualifies on both counts. Reading a book isn’t that big a deal, but Richard Dawkins makes that book a serious problem.

“There was a lot more to it than that” is about all one can say here. Christians don’t tend to understand that faith has a lot of components and that most of us don’t stop believing until a sufficient number of those components are knocked out from under us. Most Christians are convinced that their religion is so richly-supported with evidence and facts that only the most superficial of Christians could ever find any problems with the religion’s claims.

And they’ll probably think that until they reach their own breaking point in belief.

He Apparently Wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ Anyway.

At this point, Christian leaders don’t even have to say all the knee-jerk catchphrases in response to a defection; the tribe is more than willing to handle that end of “Christian love” all by themselves. So one heads to comments to see all the other standard responses that display the usual batch of hateful, arrogant, presumptuous behavior.

“He was never a Believer…”

“He simply prefers sin, & he found an excuse. I guarantee that’s the issue.”

Christians make a lot of assumptions about ex-Christians, and almost all of those assumptions reveal hearts made of stone, scorched of all compassion. It’s a huge temptation to ask them if they’re psychic, since they clearly know the other person’s story better than the person it actually happened to. They don’t realize that their dismissive and contemptuous behavior speaks volumes to those who stand outside their church doors.

For example, someone claiming to be “The Bible Answer Man” says that Mr. Low now “claims to be an atheist”. Why would he use that kind of wording? Shannon Low isn’t claiming to be an atheist. He actually is an atheist. I wouldn’t say that “The Bible Answer Man” claims to be a Christian. I’d say he is a Christian–while at the same time indicating doubt in his status as a “Bible Answer Man” by merely writing that he claims to be one. See how that works? In the same way, one could say that Captain Cassidy is an ex-Christian, but that she claims to be a Space Princess. You only have to distance a personal statement about stuff that is open to doubt.

Again, there isn’t much one can do about Christians who mistreat others this way, except to note that we don’t find their behavior loving. Christians who are not loving may not understand, but some of them might be stung enough to amend their ways.

One of the things we are not required to do is prove to these Christians’ satisfaction that we were TRUE CHRISTIANS™. If we have to take their word for it that they are Christians, then they have to take ours for it. When I tangle with evangelism-minded people, I make it very clear from the outset that my onetime dedication and fervor are simply not on the table as debate topics, and that I’ll end the conversation if they try to make it one.

Remember, always, that they are the ones wanting to sell us their worldview. We are the ones they are selling to. We are not required to do a single thing in response to their sales pitches and claims–not even listen to them! We’re not required to tell them why we’re rejecting their claims, and we’re certainly not required to come up with a reason the salespeople find adequate for our rejection. In terms of power, as consumers we hold the final word on any sales transactions.

It didn’t use to be that way. I don’t think they like that it has changed–when they even accept that it has in the first place. But their preferences aren’t my problem or yours.

Last Thoughts: This Won’t Be the Last Defection.

Shannon Low’s deconversion is neither the first public defection of a (semi- at least) popular figure from Christianity nor the last one the tribe will ever see. One of the co-founders of The Newsboys, a music group featured in the execrable God’s Not Dead franchise, deconverted over a year ago and got much the same treatment, and I’m sure anyone who follows religious news could point to similar situations that have erupted in recent years. But Christians still haven’t learned yet how to deal graciously with the situation.

When they insult, denigrate, condescend, negate, and make false accusations against ex-Christians, all they’re doing is showing us that we were right to leave. This behavior was what was in their hearts all along, just waiting to be unleashed by sufficient provocation. “Jesus” certainly isn’t making them forgive seventy-times-seven or believing the best of their beloved friends and family members.

Hell, “Jesus” isn’t even making them as wise as serpents. Let’s face it: even incompetent salespeople know better than to insult potential or past customers. (And as that link points out, what sort of customers might such a sales pitch attract? One can see the answer to that question in any right-wing Christian forum.) The problem is that somewhere along the way, Christians stopped thinking of themselves as salespeople and began thinking of themselves as parents and rulers. They began feeling entitled to privilege and mastery. They began expecting dominance and deference. Little wonder they react to any peeling-away of any of their power as if it were real live persecution!

That reaction can be a real shock to people who leave the religion. It can hurt to realize that we threw in with people who care more about our tribal affiliation than they do about us as people. That was really hard for me, and I hear people saying much the same thing nowadays. But they’re not reacting to us particularly. They’re reacting to their own fears and anger. Maybe it’ll help to remember that what they’re doing is actively hurting their own credibility and their religion’s long-term prospects.

Considering how many deconversions are happening under their noses and how quickly that pace is accelerating, it seems more important than ever that Christians figure out how to treat people as if they really believed in their own mythology. A turnaround in their attitude seems vanishingly unlikely at this point, but really, it’s their call. They’ll lose far more than the rest of us will if they keep acting this way toward those who have left.

Speaking of which, this week we’ll be launching an examination of Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved, and I definitely hope to see you there. Spoiler: With “love” like that…

I’d rather have this love:

Like this. You probably don't want to know just what noise I had to make to get her to look up long enough to get this photo.
You probably don’t want to know just what noise I had to make to get Bother to sit still long enough to get this photo. And yes, she’s getting a bit of a belly.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment