Hm! Maybe we need to stop the presses for this tidbit. Last time, we talked about the breathtaking new change in most of the world: religious membership is now more optional than it’s been for many centuries. Well, maybe Christians are also figuring that out. Another high-profile Christian has flown the Jesus coop. Marty Sampson, a songwriter for the Christian band Hillsong, recently announced his deconversion on his Instagram account. Today, we’ll look at that announcement, and at the main reason he gave in it: the stuff Christians don’t talk about.
Everyone, Meet Marty Sampson.
Even if you’ve never heard of Marty Sampson, if you’ve done any time at all around Christian contemporary music you’ve probably heard of the band he worked with–Hillsong. They’ve been around since the late 1980s. Heck, I even had one of their CDs when I was a Christian. Even after my deconversion, I knew of their music (someone last time mentioned “Shout to the Lord,” which gave me actual aural flashbacks).
Marty Sampson himself has been associated with Hillsong for quite some time. He’s done some solo work and collaborated with other Christian musicians, but his discography contains mostly Hillsong stuff.
But it sounds like he’s been struggling for a long time with doubts. Yesterday, he decided to publicly announce that he’s finished with that struggle–and that reality won over faith.
I’m not going to second-guess or speak for him. Still, I don’t think anybody here will wonder why he struggled.
The Vast Disappointments Served Up by Christianity.
I sure don’t wonder. None of Christianity lines up with reality. The miracle claims don’t look like actual miracles to anybody but those primed to see them that way. Prayer doesn’t actually do anything in the real world for anybody–which is why Christians must tell people they’re doing it. Supposedly-divine rescues from disease, injury, or natural disasters only raise more (and more disturbing) questions than they settle.
So when I watched this short video from 2007 of him discussing a song he’d written, his words felt downright prescient:
Marty Sampson discusses his song “Devotion.”
In it, he mentions something that likely feels familiar to most people who’ve been involved in evangelicalism: the Endtimes. He doesn’t use the E-word, but he talks about how he thought for sure as a kid that Jesus would be returning to Earth around the time he turned 15. Apparently this is common among evangelical kids. I converted in at 16 so I can’t speak to that. But I can tell you that it didn’t even occur to me that I’d ever reach 30, much less now-almost-50, before the world ended.
Anyway, when that didn’t happen and life just kept going on, he had to go on with life as well–and subsequently reconcile his earlier beliefs with the reality before him. In a very real way, in that situation life starts to feel like the consolation prize instead of the grandest and most amazing coincidence we could ever luck into.
It sounds like Marty Sampson managed to make an uneasy peace with that disappointment. (Oh, don’t I know that feel!)
That uneasy half-peace didn’t last. Twelve years later, he announced via Instagram that he was done busting his hump to make it all work.
Marty Sampson’s Announcement:
Here’s the link to the announcement he made yesterday:
Time for some real talk… I’m genuinely losing my faith.. and it doesn’t bother me… like, what bothers me now is nothing… I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.. it’s crazy / this is a soapbox moment so here I go xx how many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgemental people on the planet – they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people… but it’s not for me. I am not in any more.
Sounds like he, like so many of us, wanted the truth so much that he chased it right out of Christianity:
I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others. All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point… I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.
The picture he chose for the post was that of the mythical character Sampson pulling down the temple pillars, as described in the Bible. I’m sure that choice wasn’t accidental.
“No One Talks About It.”
In a way, he’s quite right. Christians rarely talk about all the ways that their religion fails to live up to its various claims and promises (and yes, threats).
I mean, they talk. Really, all they do is freakin’ talk, at least when they’re not trying to rip people’s rights and liberties away. They just don’t talk about anything real or useful to folks with big questions. Such folks won’t settle for words, words, words.
A long time ago, I noticed Christians’ affection for a weird sort of defanged, neutralized, tamed form of doubt.
Most of today’s apologetics dreck runs along these lines. These works bash valid questions around with the crude tools available in the Christian toolbox, smear any people who don’t buy into the excuses on offer, copiously threaten their consumers with Hell, and then declare victory.
Christian leaders offer workshops, sermons, and Bible studies claiming to dispel their warped version of defanged doubt. Then, they announce they’ve defeated doubt with it. Why, any Christian who needs to resolve their doubts can check out these resolutions for doubt, and then they won’t doubt anymore!
And if Christians ever run into someone expressing doubt, all they must do shove a book or video at the doubter, and presto! They’ll be convinced!
Hooray Team Jesus!
Blaming the Doubters.
We’ve seen God do miracles for so long that we don’t even recognize them any more. Have you grown tired of God?
— Tracy Howell, Bay Area Christian Church
(Yes. That is obviously the Big Problem Here. TOO MANY MIRACLES.)
Even worse, however, are the various Christian leaders who insist that anybody feeling doubts that can’t be quenched by these materials must be Jesus-ing wrong.
Yes. Doubters are obviously feeling doubt because they didn’t choose the right flavor of Christianity out of many thousands of contradictory, competing flavors. Or they’re sinful somehow or wanting to rationalize some unapproved sex.
Most of all, doubters have obviously taken their eyes off Jesus. Perhaps they’re concentrating too much on the religion instead of the imaginary relationship. Maybe they pay too much attention to bad Christians. Or maybe they’ve just gotten all complacent and spoiled with all the miracles they keep experiencing.
Therefore, doing the opposite of those errors should fix the problem. Indeed, in the video linked above Marty Sampson specifically mentions that notion several times. After his vast disappointment with reaching the ripe old age of 16, his task became “keeping Jesus as the focus of all that [life] stuff.”
But the direction of his focus wasn’t the problem.
Not by a longshot.
Oh Wait: Doubt Has NOT Been Defeated.
The problem is that all those materials that these leaders insist can resolve doubt, well, don’t and can’t.
Instead, they offer plausible excuses to Christians who just feel a little bothered by minor stuff (or want some ammo in dealing with objections from heathens). If we call back to our Faith Pool analogy, their faith pools still hold a lot of water; only a little has drained away. They just need a quick top-up and they’ll be okay again.
As long as the water doesn’t drain too quickly and from too many leaks at once, then any decently-skilled manipulator can reel the doubter back. As a bonus, that topped-up Christian will mistake the defeat of their own easy-to-defeat doubt for the same level of doubt faced by someone like Marty Sampson, or me, or millions of other ex-Christians. When these materials fail to answer those serious doubts, then those more-easily-convinced Christians will naturally think that these doubters must be hard-hearted. (See endnote.)
Someone whose faith pool is draining very quickly will not be satisfied with the excuses that settled out these other Christians. Their involvement with Christianity began and continues for very different reasons. The water feeding the faith pools of these other Christians won’t–can’t–satisfy them.
When Feelz Outweigh Reelz.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the only way for someone to remain Christian is to avoid caring what reality has to say about it.
And millions upon millions of decent-hearted Christians do exactly that.
They don’t douse themselves in olive oil and pray for magical healing; instead, they go to the doctor. Nor do they avoid purchasing insurance rather than trusting angels to keep them out of car accidents–or for their god to Rapture them away before death. They marry for love and compatibility rather than asking imaginary friends in the sky for advice. They wouldn’t dream of entrusting their children’s upbringing to authoritarian asshats with child-abuse fetishes. Even if they believe that the Bible has anything authoritative to say about anything, they live solidly in the real world. (See endnote.)
These Christians don’t care what the Bible says about stoning people to death, slavery, genocide, and all that. The version of Jesus they carry around in their heads doesn’t look like the Bible’s version, but perhaps they love him all the more because of it.
Millions more control-lusting toxic Christians go much the same route.
They joined up and remain in the groups they’re in specifically because those groups allow them to live the way they want. They don’t care about Jesus’ commands to love people or to give to the poor till it hurts. They’re not interested in turning the other cheek or forgiving seventy times seven. All they want out of Christianity is a big cosmic permission slip to hurt people and feel superior–and maybe they also want a little divine help that non-members can’t access.
This second group pretends very much to care what the Bible “really” says about the stuff they’re doing. Mostly they just borrow authority from it to get their permission slips. Even when oodles of Bible scholars disagree with them, they “do the research” all over again to come out with the shocking conclusion that Jesus, say, totally wants them to harass gay people.
Most Christians create for themselves the god and ideology that suits them best. As long as they ain’t hurting anybody, I don’t worry about them.
Chasing the Truth Right Out of Christianity.
But if someone gets involved in Christianity because they 100% believe that a real live god is involved, and they care more than anything else to hold beliefs based in reality alone, then they are going to find themselves unable to accept the fake-resolutions offered to settle defanged doubts.
Threats won’t cow them unless the threats are credible. Insults won’t intimidate them because, well, insults say a lot more about the people makin’ them than about the people gettin’ them. Endless awful apologetics arguments will fall flat.
In fact, these manipulation techniques will only make their doubts grow faster.
They don’t want permission slips. Nor do they want a nice gauzy framework for living decent, compassionate lives. They want the truth. Even if it’s scary, even if it’s hard to digest, they want only what is real in their lives.
That’s when Christians collide with the wall of reality–and discover a whole new world behind it.
That’s where I think Marty Sampson’s ended up.
And I really hope that he continues to chase the truth to wherever it leads him. It’s safer now than it ever has been to wrestle with difficult doubts, ask those hard questions, and follow wherever the answers lead–no thanks to toxic Christians themselves.
NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides on Monday! Then we’ll tackle some more multi-level marketing (MLM) shenanigans and a Jesus-y business that’s reeling from multiple revelations. See you next time!
About that Christianese: Christians frequently express anger and frustration when someone disbelieves their tall tales or rejects their sales pitches. In response, they fling various accusations at these doubters. A “hard-hearted” person refuses to accept any old story, unlike the accusing Christian. Sometimes they say instead “close-minded.” It means exactly the same thing but lacks the same Jesus-flavored oomph. The opposite, of course, is “open-minded.” An open-minded person, in Christianese, happily accepts whatever bizarre story or sales pitch someone offers them–as long as it flatters them or fits in with their beliefs. If a Christian accuses you of hard-heartedness, accept it as the compliment that it accidentally is. It means you’re hard to manipulate. (Back to the post!)
About living in the real world: And it drives their leaders out of their trees! Christian atheists are actually a real thing, but most Christians use the term to viciously insult their fellow Christians (sorry about the messiness of that archive) for not Jesus-ing the right way. Some guy’s even written a book on the topic. Shock of all shocks, he also offers up an oh-so-trendy USED-TO-BE-AN-ATHEIST-YAWL testimony. (Back to the post!)
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