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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