Some Responses

Over the last few months, as I have spoken to Christians about my deconversion. Christians who viewed me as a church leader, a teacher and in some places a friend. Telling these people that I no longer believe in the way I used to, well it has brought about a variety of responses. I wanted to reflect on them and share them here. As and when I come up against other responses, I will be sure to capture them and share those as well.

The final response I share with you has been extremely painful to receive, and I hope in writing this I allow myself the space to work it through.

‘I thought you’d had a real experience of Jesus’

So did I. I never pretended to be something I wasn’t. I believed that Jesus was who I had been told He was. I believed that the scriptures were the revelation of God in fullness. I worshipped and thought my experiences were God moving. I prayed and expected those prayers to make a difference. The list could go on.

The individual who said this to me has heard the audible voice of God and felt His judgement. Therefore, this individual is a believer. When I was talking to them, I was reflecting on how Abraham, Moses, Peter, and Paul all had very real experiences of God. They witnessed God either physically or in a form that convinced them that He was real.

But not everyone has these experiences, if we did, then I am sure a lot more people would be believers. I then reflected on the idea that this person believes in God due to the conviction of real and personal experience that they have had. But I have not had this experience, and I don’t believe it. Now my unbelief isn’t due to this alone – that needs to be made clear. But say I had this experience and was a believer again, would I then demand God to provide an experience for all those I love to ensure they also believe in them?

Surely God knows what each one of us requires to believe in Him until the moment we pass away. Couldn’t God give us all these experiences, and if He doesn’t for me, but does for some, then, is that right?

If my children didn’t believe in God because He didn’t give them the required experience to convince them, but He did give me the experience I needed, would that God be a fair, just, righteous, and loving God? I guess that depends on what you think the consequences of not believing in God whilst you are alive really are.

‘I have faith that you will get your faith back’

That’s great. We all frame our lives within stories that help us to understand and navigate the climate and world that we find ourselves in. But what is faith? Is it the belief in the unknowable? Is it the daily decision to engage with something we hope to be true? Is it words we say, lives we live and money we pay, so that we can feel something?

I have faith in getting paid this month. I have faith in my wife, to not cheat on me. I have faith in my children’s health. I have faith in WordPress to remain a viable platform for me to host this blog on for many years to come. In all these situations, faith is hope in something that I am fairly sure will come to fruition. So, is faith in God a hope in something that I am fairly sure will come to fruition?

I am not sure we have the ability to convince ourselves of something as true without evidence that genuinely persuades us that it is true to start with. Take the age of the universe as an example. To the best of our scientific knowledge, we date the universe to the approximate age of 13.8 billion years. 

Now I can’t ever go back to the start and then watch it unfold to witness myself that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. But I can put my faith in a variety of methods and measure that all point to the universe being that old. I can look at the various evidence, weigh it up and come to a conclusion.

Say I believed that the universe was in fact six to ten thousand years old, as many creationists believe. 

I would have to reject all scientific and collaborated evidence against my position to maintain a young earth (and universe) creationist stance. I don’t think I have the ability to make a decision on this stuff, but I do believe that given enough evidence, thinking things through logically and working at what we have at hand, we can all get to a place where we realise, we are just trying to stick within our self-made narratives if we claim the universe and earth are only six to ten thousand years old.

So, in short, I appreciate your faith – I have faith in many things, life is dependent on faith, but faith in the unprovable due to comfort isn’t something I want to pretend convinces me.

‘You’ve read too many of the wrong books’

This was said to me by someone who has no idea what books I have and have not been reading. From what I can tell, and I have stressed this before, people need to create a narrative to surround where they find you to make sense of it within their lives. Religiously pious individuals will tell themselves what they need to hear in order to confirm their personal convictions and reject your position if it differs from their own.

Sure, I have read a lot of ‘non-Christian’ books, I have read a lot of Theology, History, Sociology, Philosophy, Apologetic (Christian and none), Devotional and Biblical books as well. I have no issues reading around and allowing my mind, as it works through what I read, to land in its own resting place. I mean come on, it will anyway – it’s just whether you have the strength to admit what you believe as you take the steps to read more than just that which backs up your beliefs.

‘You are without Truth’

Claiming ultimate truth is a card many believers, from a variety of religions, like to claim. For the last 200,000-150,000 years (depending on where you date the first evidence for Homo Sapiens), humans have been fascinated with why we are here. We can see it in cave paintings and burials, we can see it in the ancient civilizations that we unearth, we can see it today as we ask ourselves the purpose of our own lives.

We long to know the ‘why’ in our existence. We search, seek and endeavour to understand this short life on this blue planet, and this is why answers that provide comfort will be popular. Especially answers like Christianity which has drastically shaped the western civilisation that I find myself in today.

I am a product of this Christian development. But that does not mean I need to agree with unknowable truth claims that are associated with the historical influences these truth claims gave rise to. We see it growing even today, people are calling it ‘the rise of the nones’ those who class themselves as having no faith or religious affiliations. People across the last few generations have begun to wake up and realise that we believe things because we believe things, not because there is evidence or proof that these things are real, true and worthy of our belief.

The enlightenment came out of a Christian society, but that doesn’t mean that we should adhere to these Christian beliefs just because something came out from Christianity. We can use the tools that the enlightenment has given us to address the very thing that brought those tools about.

Claiming you hold the ultimate truth because you believe it because your life is dictated on it because it is an ancient truth claim or because you want it to be true, doesn’t make it an ultimate truth. Provide your undeniable evidence and show me you hold ‘truth’, or admit that you are just like the rest of us, asking questions, listening to answers and working these things through.

‘Sometimes you just have to decide something is real and believe it’

7 am: ‘Today, I am going to decide Islam is real, and I am going to believe it.’

10:30 pm: ‘Yeah I still don’t believe Islam is true, even though I tried to believe it, I wanted to believe it and I pretended to believe it all day’

If you have decided to believe something, without really believing it, then you are just lying to yourself. I think this is why so many Christians are scared to talk to ex-believers, or to read non-Christian books that look at Christianity, or to listen to podcasts that ask flipping hard questions about faith, belief and the Bible.

I can’t decide Islam is real and believe it. I could say I believe it and pretend; I could lie to myself and believe it eventually with enough preteens, maybe that is possible, but that doesn’t make it true and I don’t want to believe in things that I can’t know to be true.

I could be raised in it and believe it because those that raised me told me it was true and warned me about the judgement and hell that would follow if I didn’t believe it. But these things don’t make Islam true, for that I would need to study, search, wrestle and then come to an honest conclusion myself, allowing the evidence I come across to do their own work and inform me as they will.

I want to close with a very personal one.

I sent this message to someone very close to me a couple of days ago, along with the link to the article (linked further down): 

‘I know you have a passion of Johannine texts. This is meant to have caused a lot of waves within academic circles this month. Might be interesting? I managed to get it for free :)’

This person is a conservation Christian, arguably a fundamental Christian with a very clear impression of what they believe to be real, true, and definitive. They are also an itinerant preacher. I must say here that I love them very much, and I believe that they love me as well. They have their impression of me now that they know I have deconstructed, which I think will cause us problems for the rest of our relationship, whilst we are both here in very different camps

Before anyone asks, I had hoped that this person would read the whole article, that they would think and reflect on what it says and then together we could work through the responses and have a starting point to talk about personal belief from the back of academic biblical studies.

It didn’t go to plan and has caused me a lot of pain.

You can read the journal article here. Below is an exert of the first page, showing the first paragraph, so that you can understand their response.

Their unedited response:

‘Ok, I’ve read the first paragraph and, if you want to doubt the scriptures then I’m sure you can find thousands of other works to do the same thing. Because there are many many people who long for the Bible to be proved wrong so they can justify their sin and avoid the certainty of judgement that the Bible brings. At the end, there is a choice – believe and repent or don’t believe and push the reality of judgement into an academic box that will always be there but just slowly covered in dust until it is too late to avoid.

I choose not to believe doubters. I have found the Bible true, whole, complete and something that cannot be ignored. If you choose otherwise, you need to realise it is a choice you have made and that it will have consequences. So, after that frankly offensive opening paragraph I choose to not read any more.’

Yeah, I am sure you can imagine that this got me a bit upset. I wrote a bunch of responses, but I didn’t send a single one – what good would they do?

This person doesn’t understand my position, and it feels as though they are putting up walls to any dialogue that isn’t strictly about me wanting to personally believe again. They mentioned Judgement twice in this message, and also makes it very clear that they think I am using academics to cover over a conviction that I know to be true. They also suggest that I have a choice, either believe and be saved or don’t believe and be judged (resulting in hell) – but as I have stressed in other blog posts and above, we don’t have a choice on what does or does not convince us to be true.

A couple of days later I posted something on my blog and social media addressing the main points in what they said, making no reference that I had received this. Currently, this person doesn’t know about the blog (or its social media channels), at least not at the time of writing this.

It will be interesting to see if they ever do read this, I wonder if they will ever see why what they wrote hurt me so much, and how wrong it is. I guess only time will tell.

So dear reader, what would I have said in their position? What would I have said if one I loved had tried to send me an article questioning the very things that I claim to be the foundation of everything I believe? What if I thought this loved one was going to go to hell unless they believed again? Would I have done anything differently?

Yeah, this shit hurts, so let’s leave it there.

_End of Blog Blurb_

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Since I first read this, I have had various thoughts in response. I’ll put distinct thoughts in separate comments for clarity.
    First: Thank you for your courage in mentioning your dyslexia. That certainly helps me to suppress my inner grammar-nazi while reading your blog, and I think it helps me be less critical of other people’s writing who aren’t as brave as you.

  • That’s an interesting selection of responses you’ve had. I don’t share most of them, and would want to be cautious in what I say. I don’t want to contradict or ignore your description of your thoughts and experiences.

    I don’t know if it helps, but I wonder if talking to someone who no longer believes in God is as hard as talking to someone who has suffered a bereavement – so people avoid the bereaved because they don’t know what to say. The big difference is that recently there have been books and articles written to help us know what to say to the bereaved.

    • whenbeliefdies
      May 7, 2021 9:16 am

      Maybe! Doubt is a historical thing, and we’ve had time to adjust to it, yet we still shy away from those who do doubt.

      Saying that I don’t want to make excuses to soften the impact of what has been said, and how I’ve been treated. I am not the only one who feels this, sadly.

  • And then on to science and evolution. Many of the people who developed the scientific method were Christians who believed that God was rational, and the the universe he made could be understood rationally. Science does however assume (explicitly or implicitly) that there is nothing supernatural involved.

    Postulate for the moment that Jesus actually changed water into wine. A chemical analysis of the wine would have found nothing unusual, but the normal combination of complex chemicals that make up a good quality wine, plus alcohol (and a fair amount of water holding all the components together). There would have been nothing to prove or disprove the miracle except the eyewitnesses.

    Therefore a scientific conclusion cannot be used as proof for the non-existence of any supernatural event (such as Creation itself). That doesn’t stop someone believing that evolution on any scale from cosmological to micro-biological is sufficient explanation, or that God is unnecessary for thir world-view, just that it isn’t the only option compatible with the raw scientific data.

    • whenbeliefdies
      May 7, 2021 9:25 am

      Yeah, I think you’re conflating a couple of things here.

      You are right, science does not (explicitly or implicitly) assume that there is nothing supernatural.

      What science does do though is evaluate the material and observable state of play, and establish theories as to how it came about, and then test said theories.

      Science has shown us many many examples of how a long evolutionary process has brought humans about, and before that how a long material process has formed galaxies and planets. If ‘creation’ is a God thing, then He has been pushed back to a state just before the ‘big bang’.

      That is what the raw scientific data shows in regards to evolution and the formation of all we interact with.

      There are many areas science can not touch, such as consciousness, or supernatural claims that can’t be tested, such as Jesus turning water into wine. I have no issue saying that. I have no issue with someone saying ‘I think God created this world 6,000 – 10,000 years ago’, I do however see no credible evidence for this anywhere so I wouldn’t be happy for opinion to be taught in a school, over observable and testable scientific facts (such as gravity or evolution).

      I do have an issue saying that we can’t know evolution is true, based on the evidence we have in its various forms.

  • You won’t be surprised to hear that I see it from the other direction. I’ve no problems with saying that if you don’t need or want to account for God, that evolution gives the best coherent picture of how we got here today. But if you start with belief in a creator God, then the scientific evidence doesn’t contradict that – it gets interpreted in a different framework. You do run into philosophical questions which I’m not qualified to handle – for instance if God created rocks with a particular chemical composition that is now interpreted as being billions of years old, is he being deceptive? I don’t think so, but I can see the potential problem.

  • whenbeliefdies
    May 8, 2021 12:23 pm

    Hey Jeremy, this is giving me a nice reason to procrastinate on some course work I have on the go right now, thanks 🙂

    I actually do find it surprising to hear that you see it from the other direction.

    I know many many Christians who hold a belief in God and evolution. You actually have to prove creation (as In this setup we are in isn’t billions of years old) rather than prove evolution. That’s because there is a lot of evidence for evolution, and only a claim about creation.

    You can believe in creationism, but you can’t point to any sort of evidence. The idea of a God who created rocks and made us think they are far older than they are is a really strange one. Plus God’s going to have to do a lot more fooling due to the other evidence we have to hand, so other than just geology He also has to fool us about: background radiation, speed of light, black hole expansion and evolution – to name a few.

    The evidence for evolution is SO overwhelming that if God is just fooling us, then I think we could create an argument to distrust this God and their other claims.

    Just my thoughts. Aware you will disagree. Though I hope you will continue to ask questions, read and engage with other peoples books and work on this subject. There as so many others who are far smarter than me who can help you work it through.

    Though you are welcome to believe whatever you want, without evidence.


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