About a year ago, one of our dear and recently-departed commentariat members, Brad Feaker, asked a question. He posed it to the Christians who frequented Disqus’ also-recently-departed religion channel. And the Christians who received that question did not want to answer it: no way, no how. Today, I’ll show you what that question was–and then we’ll briefly look at why Christians simply don’t want to engage with it.
(BTW, all pics can be clicked to embiggen.)
Once upon a time, Disqus itself–this blog and site’s commenting engine–hosted channels on their main site. These operated much like blog commboxes, just without the blog posts up top. People could start discussions just like they start threads under blog posts. In response, whoever used a Disqus account could come by and chat about those topics.
One of these channels centered around religion and faith.
And toward the end of his lifetime, our friend Brad hung out there.
About a year ago, he asked an infamous question of Christians that sparked a HUGE outpouring of responses. However, Christians’ responses almost never directly replied to his question.
Once I tell you what the question was, you’ll probably understand.
Christians – What would make you lose your religious beliefs?
As an atheist I am often asked ‘What evidence would convince you that (insert religious belief here) is true?”. Atheists are often called closed-minded and arrogant. Or told we just hate God. (How can you hate something you do not believe exists in the first place?). And the ‘evidence’ we are repeatedly presented is never really evidence at all.
As an atheist I have many reasons I do not believe – chiefly that there is NOT any convincing evidence your claims and religious texts are true.
Today I would like to reverse that question.
What would it take to convince you, as a Christian, that your faith was not true?
What would it take to convince you that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions?
In response, Christians lit themselves on fire and ran around screaming with their hands in the air.
I’m only exaggerating a little.
(Here’s a partial archive I grabbed of it. And here’s a better one, but the WayBack Machine barfed on it, I think. It might not work. Alas, the page itself is dead now. Disqus’ admins didn’t even preserve the discussions for posterity–that I know of anyway.)
A Question Seldom Asked, Seldom Answered.
Sometimes, I have fun looking up exact phrases in Google Search. Putting stuff in quotation marks tells Google you want an exact match for whatever’s in the quotes.
“Why do you believe” Jesus returns almost 5.5M hits. Almost every one of those pages actually takes a shot at answering the question. Most of them don’t sound even slightly believable, but at least they’re on-topic.
Well, the exact phrase “what would make you lose your faith” returns 26 pages, most of which don’t actually deal with that question. It looks like about a dozen pages actually ask the question Brad asked.
In addition, I tried “what would cause you to lose your faith.” Doing that, I got another two distinct pages. One of them appeared as a comment on an atheist’s blog. The other simply asked the question without answering it (see endnote for a quick rundown).
The Trend in Christianity.
So no, Christians don’t normally talk among themselves online about what might make them l0se their faith. I don’t remember ever talking about it in real life when I was Christian.
Not only do Christians not ask this open-ended question of themselves very often, but if someone does ask it they lose their little minds and start babbling. Generally speaking, they do not want to engage with that dangerous question.
It’s so indicative that on that one relevant-return site where a Christian asked his group “what might make you lose your faith.” However, only he himself actually made a stab at answering it. (See endnote, however.)
That’s what we see elsewhere, as well. If a Christian actually asks this question as an open-ended one, the people answering have no idea how to reply.
What Happened on Disqus When Brad Asked A Dangerous Question.
When I showed up to the thread, I immediately noticed one fact above all:
The Christians commenting there NEVER actually answered his question.
Instead, they responded much like this fellow:
Or they preached at him. Or they attacked him or insulted him.
But they didn’t actually answer him.
A Selection of Non-Answers.
This one “fought too hard to get here.” Her “belief and practices are solid.” Hey, it takes a lot of work to build a strong antiprocess bubble around oneself!
This one set out two laughable conditions that I saw numerous other Christians also declare. He based them on, respectively, his own misunderstanding of burden of proof, and his own gullibility in accepting apologetics in lieu of evidence.
Text: “Well, you’d need two things that don’t exist. 1. Definitive, scientific evidence that God is not real. 2. Definitive literary and philosophical evidence that the Bible is actually filled with contradictions.” (Yes: He thinks both are “impossible” to achieve.)
One guy defaulted to OMG you GUIZE it’s not a reLIgion it’s a reLAtionship! Sure, that doesn’t actually answer the question, but whatevs!
Text: “My faith has nothing to do with a book (bible). I have relationship with Jesus Christ. The world has nothing to offer me that can entice me back. He is my life!”
It just amazed me, how transparently unwilling Christians were to answer this question. They could have ignored it and nobody would have known they’d done so. But no, they had to join the thread and remove all doubt in their intellectual cowardice.
Text: “While faith can be troubled or challenged (in order so it’s built), the only thing that could make a believer lose faith totally is to turn to sin and refuse to repent, over and over and over. Jesus makes it clear that no man shall snatch us from the Father’s hand. The only person that will destroy my faith is ME. No man has that power. The devil doesn’t either.”
Technically they’re not wrong with that very last bit, which just makes their completely wrong first bit all the funnier.
Apologetics to the Rescue!
Wish I’d screencapped these, but they’re too good not to share. They’re from my Word file of the thread.
One guy, Theophilus, declared thusly:
Nothing, the disciples and many of the first century belivers were willing to die for their belief in Jesus, so am I. There are no alternatives.
Is he sure of that? Cuz I’m not.
And I got a laugh out of this silly non-answer from one Mendulavian:
What would it take to convince you, as a Christian, that your faith was not true?
Obviously my faith is true as I would not have it if it was false.
What would it take to convince you that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions?
I have never seen convincing evidence that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions.
When I talk about what apologetics actually accomplishes, this sorta thing is what I have in mind. When Christians feel challenged, they use apologetics like a shield made of pure antiprocess. Think adamantium is hard? Ha! That stuff ain’t got nothin’ on antiprocess. And these shields operate like that book in Saturday the 14th.
And in the movie, the parents of course think the noise of the monster’s fall came from owls outside the window. Like this movie’s cosmology, Christian apologetics creates an untestable, unfalsifiable, self-confirming worldview for believers.
Ignoring Brad’s Question Entirely.
This one didn’t answer either. Instead, they described Christians’ subjective experience as all the reason they need to believe. Amazingly, they compared Christians to the nuts who think they’ve been abducted by aliens. YES, that was a thing that happened in that thread.
Text: “Are you ever going to convince someone who was abducted by aliens that they don’t exist? Born-again Christians have been “abducted” by God on a daily basis. There is nothing to contradict that. Mock me all you want, it’s just more proof He exists.”
This one, as well, drilled down on faith as a get-out-of-the-need-for-credible-evidence-free card.
Text: “Evidence or reason usually convinces people but if you did not come to your beliefs by either of those then no amount of evidence or reason will suffice. Faith is believing something beyond the evidence or what is reasonable.”
Brad ended up flat-out asking one Christian gal for a real answer.
Text: “OK – but what evidence would it take to make you change your mind and abandon your religion? What would it take? I think I already know your answer – but I would like to be wrong here.” — Lois’ reply: “Since I am dead to ‘self,’ final decision has been made – done! If that is answer you expected, please don’t be concerned. Looking at the world today, I believe many would wish to have the peace & joy I experience. (definitely not materially) I believe we all need to count our blessings – one by one!!”
Defaulting to Threats as a Non-Answer to Brad.
Of course, some of these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ defaulted to threats of Hell.
Commenter “samuel starks” took up roughly 600% of the thread with finger-wagging, screeching, threats, and insults to his tribal enemies. Eventually I got sick of him. Clearly, his strategy (such as it was) involved simply wearing down his enemies:
I believe Christ do not reveal anything special to atheists because they refused to believe anything related to God. This is their belief that is I do not believe and I refused to believe in God. Christ respects their believe and why should God reveal something special do those who refused to believe? This is okay with me because this is their free will to believe what they wish. But it is not smart to tell Christians that there is no god.
This guy and several others kept threatening people with Hell. Hilariously, they did it long past the time it became obvious they had some existential terror of their own to deal with and were projecting it on others.
As a consequence, Brad dutifully–and constantly–reined them in and kept them on task:
Wrong. I have plenty of joy and plenty of peace. I was diagnosed recently with metastatic small cell lung cancer and have around 2 years left. Yet I am completely at peace with my fate. I do not have to have the fear of hell or the promise of a non existent heaven to live a joyful, fulfilled life. You know nothing about me at all yet tell me exactly how I feel? How arrogant and condescending of you…and typical of Christians who cannot tolerate anyone different from themselves being happy.
And they say that leading atheists is like herding cats.
It is just so weird, y’all, (/s) how seldom TRUE CHRISTIANS™ live according to their god’s direct commands to them in the Bible they idolize.
So That’s Brad’s Thread.
When we learned Disqus was ending their hosted site channels, I grabbed Brad’s entire thread–as much of it as I could get before Disqus did its usual comment-dropping thing–and threw it into a Word file.
Reading it today, I see so many beautiful conversations occurring on the side. People exchanged information with each other. Discovered new friends. Had fun with each other. Delighted in each other.
Connected with other human beings.
However, the only people doing so were either Christians from our own commentariat or were non-Christians generally. As we discussed just yesterday in Lord Snow Presides, the Christians Brad really wanted answers from took his question as an offensive maneuver and retaliated in kind–with both barrels.
Given an opportunity to really reflect on the nature of belief and disbelief, of conviction and doubt, Christians retreated hard into the false certainty of talking points, magic books, and the general abusive and manipulative techniques they learned as newbies at their pastors’ knees.
The Question, Answered by Ex-Christians.
And the funny thing is, ex-Christians usually have some very specific ideas about the question of what might cause us to regain our faith. Ex-Christian groups even talk about it among ourselves sometimes.
Why, it’s even come up in the commentariat here on occasion, and I regularly blog about what sparks, rekindles, and destroys faith. Just a few months ago, for example, I specifically tackled the idea of rekindling faith. We had a big long (and delightful) conversation about the topic in the comments.
Ex-Christians aren’t usually scared of such a question at all. We’ve been through and past the idea of what made us question and then lose our faith in Christian claims. So we also tend to know exactly what it’d take to persuade us again that those claims are true.
But when I was Christian, I didn’t like even thinking about a horrifying question like that.
And it turns out I was far from alone–thanks to a quirk in Christian zealots’ minds.
Visualizing Scary Ideas.
It’s interesting that we seem to concentrate more on what wouldn’t make us lose our faith than what will :).
A while ago, I picked up a fascinating book, Never Saw It Coming. This 2006 book explores the question of how people visualize good futures vs. bad ones. Its premise began with a simple question (p. 2):
What’s the worst that could happen to you? Can you clearly articulate it?
Karen Cerulo posed this question to college students, along with the question’s opposite about describing the best that could happen to them.
Every time, she found that her respondents could usually very clearly articulate the best. They could outline the best like it was a movie script! They’d marry their best friends. They’d graduate with a perfect GPA and land their dream jobs. Or they’d win the lottery. Their answers, Cerulo thought, sounded “amazingly precise.”
However, they typically had a great deal of trouble figuring out what the worst might look like. Verbatim, some of her responses included:
- “maybe, death?”
- “getting sick”
Not only were their responses vague, but they were “terse.”
I perceive something similar happening with Christians.
Anticipating the Worst.
As Cerulo tells it, Americans tend to be really bad at planning for worst-case scenarios. In fact, we tend to be really bad at anticipating worst-case scenarios. We also have trouble describing awful events that have happened to us. And we respond more slowly to the bad performances we see than to ones we like.
Cerulo calls this tendency positive asymmetry. It’s asymmetrical because we assign greater importance and mental precedence to concepts and events we consider good than to ones we dread or consider inferior.
This tendency to avoid discussing or planning for bad situations rises to the level of a cultural bias at times. Not only are we bad at this stuff on a personal level, but our entire culture tends not to want to deal with anything unpleasant like that. And if we’re members of a group that needs to make structural changes to avoid disaster, well, we’ll have a harder time doing that–or adapting to the disasters once they arrive.
We’ve been talking about these kinds of ideas for years by now around here in hardline Christianity.
So when Brad asked his question, he deliberately–albeit accidentally, I think–invoked something very scary and dreadful to many Christians. He himself lacked that element of cowardice in his makeup, so I wonder now if he simply judged his audience by his own sterling standard.
I don’t know why he decided to ask the question. I do know he wasn’t looking to deconvert people specifically. Maybe he just wanted Christians to stop and think first, the next time they decided to blame ex-Christians for having Jesus-ed all wrong.
Whatever the motivation was, he sparked a spectacular clusterf*** and s***show that I will never forget.
The very idea of unshakeable doubts represents a worst-case scenario to quite a few Christians.
To speak openly of answers to Brad’s question–or even really to spend time thinking about it–makes deconversion feel more possible. It’s like saying Voldemort’s name, or invoking a horrific death for a loved one merely by whispering it aloud, or accidentally striking down your spouse because you went to see a life-insurance consultant that day. Speaking aloud or thinking about terrible potential future fates makes them feel more real and more likely somehow.
So if Christians simply avoid talking or thinking about deconversion, that effort prevents it from happening, right? Right?
Why This Dangerous Question Matters.
Whether Christians want to admit it or not, this question matters enormously to them.
Or it should, anyway.
If they’re not actively thinking about the very real reasons why Christians might deconvert, then they’re not spending any resources addressing those shortcomings in their worldview. As a result, they’ll be completely unprepared for the situation when–not if–it crops up.
And they’re not actively thinking about any of it. Instead, they’re avoiding thinking about why people really deconvert! It’s absolutely crazy and beyond incompetent, but here we are.
In fact, not only are they not thinking about the real reasons why people deconvert, they’re making up reasons that don’t even accurately describe anything real people do–and then smearing and insulting those real people.
Maybe they think it’ll keep the people in the pews there a bit longer. Maybe they’re hoping to drill down hard on their in-group identity markers–or intimidate any doubters out of expressing their concerns. But more and more often, we see that this behavior only drives out more and more of their few remaining compassionate members.
The Ticking Clock.
Years and years ago, in the first year or two I wrote this blog, I talked sometimes about the loudly-ticking clock I saw counting down the minutes left of evangelicals’ cultural hold on America’s psyche. At the time, I thought Christians might still have time to address their flaws and fix them. But I didn’t think they had very long to do it:
The problem is that Christians aren’t listening to us. They’re hearing what they want to hear and ignoring or distorting the rest. I know why they do it; I did it too when I was Christian, to my lasting shame. But that doesn’t make it okay, and as I’ve said, Christian leaders don’t have the luxury of time for self-indulgent self-deception. The clock’s ticking, the lightning’s about to strike the tower, and they’re idling in the car fooling around with the stereo and arguing about what music to play.
I no longer think this way. Indeed, how silly I sounded! As if they’d change, ever.
The more optional and less compulsory Christianity becomes over time, the more its membership rolls will depend on Christian groups’ ability to serve up a membership package that feels worthwhile to members. And that’s a reality that they will never ever ever be able to deal with.
Almost exactly a year ago, Brad Feaker started a thread on Disqus asking Christians what might make them lose their faith. And literally the only people who answered him were ex-Christians. The Christians who swung by the thread replied to him with everything under the sun except answers to his question. And in the doing, they revealed one of the worst cultural biases they have as a group.
This thread will be what I think about forever when I think about Christians doing everything they possibly can to sabotage themselves. And I have Brad to thank for it.
Rest in peace, friend.
NEXT UP: IT’S SOOPAH SPESHUL TIME! Then we’ll explore how Christians react to their churchmates’ confessions of losing faith. (We’ll be on this topic for a little while.) Seeya next time!
- Would you leave your parents and family to be a Christian missionary?
- What would you give up to follow Jesus?
- …would cause you to lose your faith in Christ?
- …motivates you to follow Christ?
I have no idea what age group this blogger intended for his quiz. Anyway, he seems to think that the three groups would answer these questions very differently. I mean.. Hmm! Probably, they would! But he didn’t answer any of the questions, and nobody commented on the post who might have tried to do so. (Back to the post!)
About that link: Hilariously, another commenter congratulated the group for not going “down the route of ‘absolutely nothing – it would be quite impossible,'” while doing exactly that himself and reading a thread full of Christians doing the same. He did also correctly peg the motivation of going that route, too: “such a ‘faith’ (if it can be called a faith) is no more than a dead mantra borne out of fear.” Aww, you don’t say! (Back to the post!)
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