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12/23/04                                                                                       View Comments

Intellectual Honesty

sent in by Robert Marlow

I'm well past "recovering" as a Christian now so this probably isn't really a site aimed at people like me. However I like what's been done with this place and thought perhaps my testimony may help encourage others. I think few people realise how difficult it can be to stop being a Christian. I hear so many Christians talk about how difficult it is to be a Christian. What isn't spoken of often enough is how difficult it can be to stop being a Christian when you already are one. Unlike converting to Christianity there isn't any bait like a promise in the afterlife and, perhaps even worse, there isn't generally a large support group waiting on the other side with open arms to help you with the transition. Sites like this are good because they'll at least help some people cope with what can be a very traumatic, life altering experience.

My story starts when I was about 6. I don't remember it too well but apparently I started asking my mother questions like "who is this God person anyway?" (apologies to Douglas Adams). I think I probably got it from some kid I used to get babysat with on school holidays or perhaps overheard my devout grandmother talking about God. My mother wasn't a believer so she took me somewhere that might be able to answer my questions - the local church's sunday school. I enjoyed it a lot and lapped up the lessons. I was a kid who always wanted to do things the right way regardless of how everyone else acted. So, believing what I was being told in sunday school, I decided I would be a christian and gave my heart (probably a few times) somewhere between the ages of 9 and 11. I don't remember any specific time probably because I was too young for there to be any particular change in my outlook in life. It was more like a gradual transition to christianity and I was more interested in the being than the conversion. I also made decisions based on my faith such as not swearing. I wasn't particularly popular because of it but I felt I was at least doing the right thing regardless what others thought.

When I got to high school things got a little tougher. I've read Dave's testimony and can agree 100% that adolescent hormones make being a christian difficult. On the one hand sexuality is somehow sinful, and on the other it was patently obvious that my body was hardwired to be sexual. I was also friends with a lot of non-christians at school. They asked questions for which I gave standard christian responses confident that they'd convince anyone because I was told they're good arguments. It was frustrating to find that my friends didn't find them to be good arguments at all, and further frustrating to be acknowledging deep down "yes, you're right. That is kind of a stupid argument, isn't it?".

Similar questions to what my friends had been asking as well as many of my own started swimming around in my head causing doubts. My natural christian response was "have faith!". Essentially I was telling myself that it doesn't matter how problematic these questions seem, what's important is I continue believing despite the difficulty. "God's testing me". In effect I was doing what I'd been told to do in difficult times - put faith (believing regardless of reality) at a higher priority than reason.

The turning point for me was when I was about 15 and reading Jesus speaking of moving mountains with faith (Matthew 17:20). I wanted that kind of faith. I'd already decided I wanted to be a pastor or missionary and I wanted to be the best christian I could possibly be. And that meant having faith strong enough to move mountains. Yes, literally. The bible is literal, right? So I decided that having doubts in my mind just wouldn't do. I decided that if I was to have this kind of faith I couldn't have doubts in the back of my mind which I was simply ignoring. I had to confront my doubts head-on. Faith would win through, I'd be a stronger believer, I would be able to answer when non-christians confronted me with similar doubts and of course my faith would become rock-solid!

So I set out with a heavy dose of prayer and philosophising, giving serious consideration to my fairly primitive doubts at the time: how do I know christianity is true when there's so many other religions? People of other religion rely on faith too, they're believing due to what they've learned that their faith is true and putting their hearts fully into it in just the same way christians do. Should they be punished by God simply for being mistaken in their efforts? What about people who have never heard of God? If God punishes them then that doesn't seem fair, but if he saves them, why do they get it so easy compared to those of us who have to face a decision? And what about this whole evil thing? Where did it come from? God created everything, right? Surely evil is a part of everything? Does that mean God created evil? Or at least created satan or humans in such a way that they could bring about evil which in effect sanctions its existence? Fairly standard philosophical difficulties regarding the christian god (I didn't really know enough about biblical problems to add those to my list of difficult questions).

What I was dismayed to find was that these questions were much more difficult than I'd expected. I approached my church pastor about them. He actually thought I wanted to meet up to discuss baptism, the poor man. Instead I started asking all these questions I had problems with hoping he could clear some up for me. Unfortunately he could only at best answer with the same half-arsed answers I'd already tried and discarded. I still remember how despondant he looked. He resigned as the pastor shortly after saying it wasn't his calling. I imagine he'd probably been under pressure from similar questions himself and just couldn't handle carrying his own doubts along with everyone else's and needed a break.

I eventually came to the point where I decided if I had such strong doubts in my mind I couldn't call myself a christian anymore. It was my way of being honest with myself. I decided if I have doubts at all then I don't believe in god with all my heart and if I don't believe in god with all my heart then I'm clearly not a christian. So I took a break from christianity. I announced myself no longer a christian to my family (my mother had since become a christian herself so this was shocking to her - she'd basically become christian through my church attendance and I'd helped her get through her problems of doubt many times before) and took my time to pray to God pleading that if he's really out there to help me return to christianity stronger than before. I decided I wasn't going to harden my heart to christianity, I was going to keep my heart open, constantly hoping that God would enlighten me and bring me back into the fold. After all, if God truly loved me he'd make sure I, his lost sheep, weren't left by the wayside, right?

What I found was that this never happened. I pleaded by prayer with God constantly, I kept seeking answers which were stronger than my doubts and nothing happened. I started to notice things. People say that when they become a christian they notice things change. Well, I noticed that when I stopped being a christian nothing changed at all. Here I was expecting to lose favour, to stop seeing all the fortunate things that used to happen in my life that I attributed to God's guidance and him looking after me. I was just as fortunate as I was when I was a christian. I realised that it wasn't God making good things happen or testing me with bad things, it was just me interpreting things that happen to everyone in a way that it reaffirms something I want to believe in. I also realised that people notice changes in their lives when they become christian often because becoming a christian gives them incentive to change their lives and give up the things which make them unhappy. It didn't seem christianity was anything so special after all.

Slowly but surely I got less and less interested in christianity and more accepting of my agnosticism. I proclaimed happily "I don't know" when people asked about whether there's a god or how everything came to be. I felt comfort in freedom in being totally honest that I simply don't know enough about the universe and can in no way make an honest judgement on whether christianity is true or not. Meanwhile I'd occassionaly philosophise and study a little on christianity, almost always from abstract ideas like whether the christian god makes sense in the universe. I came to the conclusion that it didn't make sense, if there's only one God who created everything and is perfect then it doesn't make sense that he should create things he hates or take partiality with some of his creations. Why would a monotheistic god who is omni-benevolent create evil just to hate it? Why would he create all people and find quite arbitrary favour with the jewish people only to later decide they're not so special after all? Why would he be male? The way I saw it the only way a monotheistic god could be possible is if he was completely neutral and partial to nothing. Only that could explain why nature doesn't care who it kills when it has an earthquake or volcano eruption. A partial, monotheistic god just doesn't make sense in our universe. To presume otherwise is putting arbitrary restrictions on something supposedly more infinite than the universe itself. I wrote about these kinds of things and put them up on my website along with a bunch of other things I had been thinking about during a phase where I was yearning for people to understand me and my views (they're all gone now. I consider most of them too primitive by my current standards).

Eventually I met Jean at university when I was about 21. She was a christian, and like most christians when she heard my story wanted to save me. She soon came to realise that I actually had a pretty good understanding of christianity already and needed a bit more than "Jesus loves you" to win me over. She introduced me to her pastor and I posed my questions to him and he gave me fairly standard responses. I didn't argue with him much because I didn't want to make a bad impression with my new girlfriend's pastor who she admired so much.

Dating a christian reignited my passion for christianity. I'd told Jean I was being an open-minded agnostic and she reminded me that I should still be searching for the answer, so I resumed my search with renewed vigour. By this stage I guess I was already pretty partial to the idea that the christian god was false so I was more happy to read non-christian material. Oh boy, it was a whole new world. I discovered just why people say the bible is full of contradictions. I started studying the meaning of some verses in their hebrew words and realising many christian interpretations were due to poor translations, sometimes intentional (especially for the NIV). I learned how the bible had historical and geographical errors. I learned a lot about how not only was it uncertain whether it was divinely inspired, I learned that it was certain that the bible is full of errors and internal contradictions. I read christian apologetics for these errors and how poorly constructed they were. And above all I learned that christianity is indefensible.

I'm still agnostic in general. I have my reasoned opinions but I can't honestly say I know whether the universe is infinite and self-sufficient or whether a god or many gods created it. I still study christianity and the bible and try to be objective in determining whether the christian or non-christian argument is more convincing. But I can say from what I've learned with almost 100% certainty that christianity is a big lie. Jean, now my wife, is still a christian. She's struggling a bit. She's come to accept that there are indeed problems in the bible. When we decided to marry her pastor refused to marry us on the grounds that we were "unevenly yoked" (as christians love to say). It spawned a fairly lengthy debate between him and I. This time I didn't pull so many punches. He got furious and made veiled physical threats as well as saying he'd pray for something bad to happen to me so I'd have no choice but to ask god for mercy. It didn't bother me at all; I enjoyed the debate. I got a kick out of making a 60 year old former missionary pastor from a family full of missionaries and ministers whose house is full of books on theology run around in circles trapping himself. It was a bit of egoboo. It had a bit of a disillusioning effect on Jean though.

So in summary, be strong everyone. Keep being honest with yourselves and smite ignorance. Leave christians to their belief but always encourage them to keep asking questions and seeking answers. I believe that if someone truly wants to be an honest christian, then they shouldn't be half-arsed about it and they should approach it from honesty, always seeking out the problems so they can strengthen their beliefs. Don't let any christians you know off easy by letting them believe out of ignorance! Make 'em work for their salvation, I say ;)


URL: http://www.bobturf.org/
City: Perth
State: Western Australia
Country: Australia
Became a Christian: 10-11-ish
Ceased being a Christian: 15-16-ish
Labels before: "Congregational" church. It was kinda baptist. But Australian baptist. I think there's slight differences.
Labels now: Agnostic
Why I joined: Trying to do what's right
Why I left: Tried taking my faith to "the next level"