My Reasons for Belief (Weren’t)

My Reasons for Belief (Weren’t) September 11, 2018

A while ago, I wrote about why I deconverted. I’ve also written about some of the reasons I believed in Christianity. Or at least, these were the reasons I thought I believed. Today, I want to show you what the main underpinnings of my belief were, and how I figured out that those underpinnings weren’t true.

One by one the stones fall away. (Henry Burrows, CC-SA.)

Finding Reasons.

Many Christians believe, firstly, that they can support their religious claims very easily with objective evidence. By the term objective, I mean that this support was compelling, that it was obvious to anybody whether they were Christian or not, and that it was measurable and observable. And you’d be shocked (or not) to find out how many Christians are completely certain that their beliefs have that kind of support.

Second, many Christians believe that belief itself is a choice that someone can make after critically engaging with that evidence. I don’t remember exactly when this imagery came to me–if it came while I was Christian or shortly after my deconversion. I began conceptualizing the thinking involved as someone on a grocery-shopping trip. This person read the labels, considering each product. Finally, one box stays on the shelf, while the other goes into the basket. And the shopper moves on, satisfied with their choice. That’s what I think of nowadays when I hear about someone claiming that they’ve chosen to believe–or that ex-Christians and non-Christians have chosen not to believe.

Third, I thought it was important for me, as a Christian, to know what my reasons for belief were. My effectiveness as a recruiter depended upon it! 1 Peter 3:15 tells Christians to “always be prepared to give an answer. . . for the hope that you have.” Of sales-minded Christians, most think that this means they must, as 2 Timothy 2:15 advises, “study to show yourself approved.”1

Unfortunately for me, all three of those beliefs were wrong.

Oops.

So I belonged to a flavor of Christianity that believed firmly that belief was a totally conscious choice made after presentation of objective evidence, and that I needed to know what that evidence was so I could present it to others, who would, if they were honest, brave, and not “hard-hearted,” make a rational choice to believe like I had.

Talk about a snowballing, compounding error!

All it took to pull out the base of that Jenga tower was for me to figure out that even one bit of the evidence I thought I had for Christianity was false. That’s it. That’s all I needed.

The first time it happened, I immediately wondered what else was false. Many other ex-Christians asked exactly the same question I did.

And Christian leaders have only themselves to blame for it.

A Cottage Industry of Science and History Denialism.

Many Christians think that their faith rests first and foremost on the Bible as an accurate account of history and science. Indeed, many Christian groups and leaders–like Focus on the Family–use this idea as part of their sales pitch. And if it’s right about all that history and science, it’s got to (they think, though this doesn’t follow at all) be right about all the supernatural stuff it discusses.

Adam and Eve had existed, I thought, and had separated themselves from their god’s favor. Similarly, the New Testament offered a solid biography of Jesus through the Gospels. Through Jesus’ very real death and resurrection, he created an opportunity for humans to find reunion with that god. In addition to those central events, the Bible contains thousands of other assertions about how various others went down.

I spent my childhood and adolescence–and the beginning of my adulthood–believing they’d all really happened. I’d always assumed that when I went to college, I’d learn about the evidence my pastors always said existed. There, finally, I’d be old enough and educated enough to understand that evidence.

Wow, did that notion ever backfire.

Learning the Truth About History.

I began learning that truth in college. From the very beginning, I learned that nobody reputable took the Bible seriously as a reliable source of ancient history. Not even my Christian professors did.

Worse (from the point of view of my leaders), I learned how people actually figure out what happened in the past. Christian literalists paint scientists and historians as coming to their conclusions in the most facile and arbitrary ways. But that’s simply projection. In reality, it’s Christians who ignore troublesome facts to construct narratives that fit their worldview and preconceptions.

As I made each new discovery, my beliefs collapsed further. And that collapse happened with lightning speed. Moreover, all the hand-waving that Christians do around uncomfortable truths failed to refill my faith pool. That routine only reminded me anew of the total lack of objective facts supporting Christian claims.

Christians couldn’t offer real facts like that. They still can’t. Literally all they’ve got instead is demonizing those who demand evidence that they cannot supply and trying to make their lack of such evidence sound awesome instead of dealbreaking.

I suppose they think that vilifying people and glorifying their flaws distracts people from their inability to offer any truly compelling reason to consider their product.

All Sorts of Supernatural Claims.

Obviously, the most dramatic Christian claims involve the supernatural realm. Christianity presents people with visions of angels, demons, and spectacular examples of divine messing-about. Magic healings, cities destroyed through divine wrath, worldwide floods, unexpected eclipses and bursting stars, and more litter the pages of the Bible.

Folklore, similarly, fills libraries with accounts of divine intervention–and with terrifying accounts of demonic meddling. Christians constantly come up with prophecies that they say come straight from their god, and all kinds of rules they say their god demands that people obey.

Standing head and shoulders above all that foofaraw, of course, the idea of the afterlife rules over almost everything Christians do. Most Christians believe in some fashion in these ideas (nothing is universal in the religion, for a reason). For the ones who believe, their life goal becomes convincing the ones who don’t of the dangers they risk in not adopting the same beliefs.

Unfortunately, none of those claims has ever been supported in any way whatsoever.

A Difficult Belief to Shake.

The idea of a supernatural realm–and of supernatural beings standing by to help or hinder people–runs very deep in people. It touches a bunch of normal psychological needs we may have experienced in our earliest years as a species–and that many of us experience in our early childhoods. And that was me, for sure.

A long, slow process of regaining independence finally shook all of those needs and fears from me. The first few steps were terrifying. But when disaster didn’t strike and I was fine, I felt emboldened to take bigger and bigger steps out of the cave.

Finding out about those needs and fears helped quite a lot. Perceiving how Christianity manipulates them in believers helped even more.

I can no longer see Christians using those points of manipulation without recognizing them. Someone with true claims doesn’t need to do that. Christians do it because they lack any better way to neutralize criticism.

They also do it because it works, grandly, on people whose worldviews prime them to fall prey to those tactics.

Testing Everything, and Holding to That Which Is True.

And yes, I tested whatever I could.

Did prayer work to accomplish anything that people could not possibly do on their own? No. And even Christians know that.

Had anybody ever found evidence for an afterlife–or even any realm that wasn’t our reality? No. Had anybody ever discovered a way for someone to feel pleasure and pain in ways not connected to our meat-bodies, or to exist outside of those bodies? Never.

Could our thoughts even affect anybody else, in and of themselves? Afraid not. Did some method exist for people to magically divine the future? Haha, no. Did “other ways of knowing” actually result in a gain of real-world knowledge? Nope.

My belief in the supernatural realm withered away as one belief after another turned out to be untrue. Once it’d died, I felt a little sad, sure–I mean, a universe I thought existed didn’t, and I mourned it a little. But I also felt energized and optimistic.

Magic Isn’t Actually Fun.

A magic-based universe often sounds fun to the people who try to live in one. But it can provide only a false sense of safety and control over events occurring within it. Sorcery operates by arbitrary rules, and defeating it requires even more arbitrary rules–which fail often. The more I saw how non-arbitrary the real world’s rules were, the more excited I felt that I could perceive those rules now–and, with effort, even learn them.

Living in the real world and using its rules is the only way to achieve a measure of reasonable control–and from there, to find a position of reasonable safety. (We’re talking soon about Unca Pat Robertson’s latest WTF EVEN move, on that note.)

Complete? No. but Christianity not only can’t provide that, it actively prevents us from achieving that more reasonable level. Woe betide the Christian who makes the dire mistake of even trying to offer anything more to me.

The Jenga Tower Collapses.

When the tower of belief gets built under the premise that the religion is based on claims that are totally objectively true, and that being true is the most important part of the religion, then it wrecks a believer to learn that those claims are false.

Christians who take a less literal view of the religion seem to handle those revelations more easily than those who go for literalism. That said, almost all Christians, even the most progressive ones, believe at least one claim that absolutely must be true. If Jesus Christ didn’t really exist, if he didn’t live and die and come back to life, then they think that they’d stop being Christian.

But I don’t think that’s true. I think if every Christian alive came face to face tomorrow with absolute certainty that the character of Jesus Christ was completely made up and fabricated, or at least that he absolutely did not resurrect from the dead, most Christians would remain Christian.

Many of them would do what they do now when they leave evangelicalism but remain Christian, which I guesstimate is about half of the lot of ’em in social-media groups.

They’d begin to find meaning in the metaphorical truth of their religion.

That’s when we come face to face with one of the big realities of Christianity:

Objective Truth Isn’t the Real Reason For Belief.

By the time a Christian gets around to investigating what they view as reasons to believe, they already believe. They’ve already embraced the most important claims in the religion: the supernatural exists, someone powerful is in ultimate control of it, and it’d tangibly benefit them somehow to enter into a relationship with that being.

That’s why, when we look at Christians’ explanation for why they believe, we often come face-to-face with their paralyzing terror of annihilation, death, suffering, loneliness, and meaninglessness.

Ray Comfort, for example, offers all kinds of childish, pseudo-intellectual rationalizations for belief–but when it comes down to it, dude’s terrified of losing the one safety net he thinks he has. William Lane Craig’s naked fear of being wrong glares at us from every single debate argument he’s ever crafted.

But those fears don’t make for very persuasive sales pitches. Not only would people ask how the sellers know that this fear is valid and that their approach helps to lessen it, but by confessing that they still have those fears, the salespeople would be admitting that their approach doesn’t help.

No Time For Magical Thinking.

I reckon that ultimately I shed belief because belief took a lot of time and emotional resources away from stuff I could have been doing. I eventually became acutely aware of how finite our lives really are. At some point, I began to notice that my general reaction to Christian sales pitches was that I simply haven’t got time anymore for stuff that doesn’t perform as advertised.

The Christians seeking to recruit us offer us a worldview that contains not one single conclusively-supported element. They offer us solutions to problems that they can’t even prove exist. Nor can they demonstrate that their solutions do anything except enrich their groups and mark us as prey for the predators in their ranks that they cannot promise to keep away from us. Then they insult us and condescend to us when we refuse their gracious offers to imperil ourselves and waste our money and time.

I think I’d be as likely to learn to fly unassisted than to believe in anything any religion pushes, at this point. I’ve been inoculated. My reasons for belief were quite childish and uninformed, but once I saw the truth, I could not un-see it ever again.

Only one thing could change my mind now. And no Christian in the history of the religion’s managed to produce that. I’ve got no time for anything less.

I know that many new ex-Christians feel afraid that maybe one day they’ll fall back into that thinking. If you’re one of them, please, let me offer you courage. Learn. Keep moving forward. Learn. Create tests, and apply them consistently.

And never stop learning.

NEXT UP: The red flags I ignored. See you soon! <3


Endnotes.

1 When I was Christian, I probably heard this verse parroted every other day. It contains some very prime Christianese. But we always used it in a context of showing ourselves “approved” to all the people evaluating our Jesus Auras. The actual verse reads, in the King James Version  preferred by so many fundagelicals, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The meaning clearly involves seeking divine approval–not human. And the commentary on Biblehub goes the same direction. And yet I don’t remember it used to mean anything except showing other people that we were divinely-approved. (Back to the post!)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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