And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil – John 3:19 (KJV)
I was a Christian for most of my life of 43 years. I fell away for one simple reason: I finally found the claims of Christianity to be unbelievable. I no longer believe in presupposing that the Bible is inerrant and divinely inspired so that I can wrap my worldview around it. I do not trust the Christian Church, run by mortal and fallible men just like me, to know my path to eternal salvation. Like the noble Bereans, I had to investigate the Scriptures for myself, and read them without the filter of Church Creeds to interpret them. And the Scriptures, while more fascinating than any Creed could make them, do not in any way hold as an infallible belief system.
But I want to believe. It is so much easier to fit into society when we all have common beliefs. It is easier for people to relate to each other when we all have our shared beliefs to bond us together. It is not easy going against the stream of common or popular thought. Most people take their belief in Christianity for granted and never think it out. Maybe they do this because of a lack of care, lack of concern, or because of the fear of doubt. Maybe it is because they trust that their church has the correct path to heaven. Maybe it is because they were born into their religion, and their religion gives them a cultural heritage that they see no reason to question. Yes, most Christians take their beliefs as axiomatic. It must be true because… well… because! I dared to step out and challenge those assumptions. And I have found that is all Christianity is – baseless assumptions. Our churches are not the body of Christ run by the power of the Holy Spirit, but politically driven institutions run by human beings no better than you or me.
But I want to believe. I want to believe in the same thing my wife and my wife’s family believes. It would be so much easier to go with the flow. I would not feel so uncomfortable refusing to receive the bread and wine that my friends depend on for their salvation. I would not feel like I am standing out, or that everyone probably looks on me as a sinner, when I refuse the elements. But my conscience tells me otherwise. How can I not get upset when I am accused of having an illegitimate marriage because I have left the Faith? But I can no longer take the knowledge of the salvation via the death of Jesus Christ for granted. What is the evidence that it actually happened? I am not asking for proof, but when the existing evidence is non-existent, unclear, contradictory, or just flat out fabricated, then something is wrong. Belief without evidence is called Faith. Belief despite contradictory evidence is called Delusion. I cannot continue believing in falsehoods and willingly accept a self-delusion while maintaining any integrity.
But I want to believe. The Gospel story is a beautiful story, and the fabric of it is very plausible to me. If God exists, I expect him to be transcendent, perfectly holy and separate from us. I fully understand the ancient writers when they say we are sinful and imperfect beings next to a perfect Divinity! It makes sense to me that a holy God cannot accept us as imperfect as we are because it is against his nature. God cannot accept our sinful nature any more than water can mix with oil. So he sent a part of himself, The Christ named Jesus, to suffer and die to provide whatever mysterious mechanism that is required for us to join him in paradise. As Daniel Dennett has said, religions, including Christianity, are brilliantly designed. I want to believe this beautiful idea, and I am not the only one. From the Phoenix, to Osiris, to Mithras, to Adonis, and even Gandalf and Aslan, the age-old dying and rising hero motif has been popular throughout history, and for good reason! It is very appealing to the mystically minded, and I admit, very compelling and even hypnotic to me. But Jesus, as a mythical god figure, fits right into that motif, just like the rest of mythology. All the other ancient Mediterranean gods are now viewed as myths, but I had always assumed that Jesus was different from the others. Why should Jesus be held to a different standard from the other mystery religions that abounded during that time? I am challenging those assumptions.
But I want to believe. I want to believe that there is hope for us here on earth, comfort for the sick and needy, help for the helpless and love for the unloved. I want to believe in assurance for abundant life here on earth, and everlasting life in the hereafter. I want to believe that I will spend all eternity with my wife, the woman that I love. I want to believe there is hope in the future, there is relief when I get older, and there is confidence of my eternity. This is lovely and wonderful to believe – but I had always neglected to consider the other side of the Gospel story. I neglected the belief in everlasting torment for the wicked unbeliever, the belief that Jesus is the exclusive path to salvation with no other option available, and the belief that the way of salvation is narrow and few will make it. I neglected the belief in a demanding and sometimes brutal god who will punish the unfaithful on earth with disasters and illnesses, and test the believing with similar disasters and illnesses. I neglected the belief of the faithlessness of man, that we can loose our salvation merely for lack of faith in Jesus. I neglected the unanswered prayers with excuses of not being in God’s will, or being chastised by God because of a faithless and sinful life. I just conveniently swept then under the rug, and continued with my happy Christian beliefs as if whistling in the dark.
But even as an unbeliever, I still want to believe. What it boils down to is this. I want to believe the beautiful, lovely and hopeful aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to believe in universal salvation, a loving heavenly father, and hope for eternal life. I do not want to believe in eternal punishment for my loved ones, even if Scripture tells me that is their ultimate fate as unbelievers. I tried to excuse God who seemingly ignores us when we need him the most. And I know that I was not the only Christian who wanted to believe in this selective way. In fact I am willing to bet that most Christians choose not to believe the unsavory aspects of the Gospel, despite what their Bibles and churches tell them. The gospel contains both sides, both the good and the bad, and I was taught that if I wanted to be a serious Christian, I have to accept that. God is who he is, and no amount of believing what I wish to be true would change his nature. I could not claim to know the mind of God and invent my own religion of only peace and light.
That is the dilemma. Do I continue to be a Christian who pretends all is well, or do I follow my convictions and leave what I know is not true? I figure if there is a God, he knows my heart and knows I do not believe. So why pretend? It seems honesty is more noble then putting up a front of piety.
So as a Christian, I was forced to fully accept and believe everything in the Bible as literal truth. Now, as an ex-Christian, I fully reject the belief of the Gospel of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
But I want to believe. Despite what John 3:19 claims, I am grieved to lose my beliefs. I feel like I had been hoodwinked for most of my 43 years on Earth. It is sad, and somewhat painful to put my entire belief system up for critique and find it entirely lacking in any credibility. But I must, not because I love darkness, but because I must be true and honest to myself, and to my family, friends and loved ones. And in that sense, I really do want to believe.
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