I cannot believe. This statement is distinctly different than saying that I will not believe. Assenting to the claims of Christianity would mean betraying myself and what I now know. It would be akin to forcing myself to believe that I don’t have two legs. That would simply be impossible. No amount of mental coercion could accomplish such a feat. I know damn well that I have two legs just as I know damn well that Jesus was not God, the bible is not God’s book and he most certainly did not die for my sins.
It all happened quite different than I ever imagined it would. I, as a Christian, thought that those who had backslidden simply “chose” to walk away. Maybe some do make an affirmative choice to leave the fold but for me it would have been an affirmative choice to stay and that affirmative choice would have been to lie to myself. I learned things I did not know before. I asked questions that I was not supposed to ask. I did not leave Christianity; I was spoiled for it. It was as if I was carried along on a wave of reality and the only way to escape its hold would have been to swim beneath it and drown in so doing. I never wanted to be an ex-Christian. As my wife so wrenchingly described it, finding out God is not real is like Santa Claus but a million times worse. I cried that whole December day at the age of six when my sister broke the news to me in a somewhat nonchalant manner. I've anguished for months over God. I loved the Eucharist. I loved Mass. I loved daily prayer. In my teenage and early college years as a Pentecostal I loved praise and worship music, powerful sermons and late night prayer meetings not to mention the constant affirmation that my generation was The Generation. I loved all these things because they helped me love Jesus. They made God seem so real. Now I’m embarrassed to remember those moments. They feel so cheap on the other side of them.
Others highlight the dozens of thinking errors of Christianity in their testimonies and how realizing those errors helped them find their way out of that game of mental gymnastics we call religion. I quit the game not so much by an inability to stomach biblical inconsistencies or poor apologetics arguments but by asking one simple question: what is faith? No one had a good answer for me, not my Christian friends, not my pastor, my mentors, my religion professors at my small evangelical college. No one. They all explained faith by placing it into one of two categories. Either the practical act of faith was drawing conclusions based on experience or it was drawing conclusions based on no experience. The Christians who made faith out to be believing in a thing because the evidence suggests it to be true puzzled me for two reasons. The first is that such a definition of faith is hardly a biblical model and second because that’s not faith at all, it's reason. If faith is the same as reason then we have no cause to differentiate it from reason. They are the same thing. I have heard it said and said it myself in the past that faith is not reason but it is reasonable. Again, however, if faith is compatible with drawing conclusions based on experience then faith is neutered. It is not supernatural if it does not add to, interfere with or augment the natural.
The latter understanding of faith is more consistent but more baffling. If faith is believing in something for which there is no evidence then it is a denial of reason. If faith is the same as reason then the concept of faith is useless and is certainly devoid of any theological virtue. Only reason is reasonable. This is where it all came apart for me. Faith and reason cannot be reconciled.
No one lives by faith in their day to day lives, not even those "Word of Faith" folk. I don't use faith when I drive to work or when I slice tomatoes or when I pay the electricity bill. I use reason. All of those actions are guided by my experience and perception of those experiences. We only use faith to believe in God. If we use reason to believe in God then we have no faith and cannot please him. If we use faith then we are unreasonable. There is simply no amount of semantic dressing that can cover up that fact, at least, not while being honest to yourself. Once the thought had occurred to me I was ruined for faith. I tried to patch the holes for about a year. I just quit thinking about it for another year but then the flood came and I ended up on the shore of reason. It’s amazing how much simpler life becomes when one is not tied up with all those endless rationalizations. I am now more free to live my life, love my family, friends, and yes even my enemies.
Note: as a Christian I was quite the apologetics buff. I realize now that I had never given Christianity a hard look. I had given the answers a hard look but never the questions. I poured over Lewis, Chesterton, McDowell, Craig, McGrath and a dozen others. I avoided however, those who they were attempting to answer. I want to charge those out there who are defenders of the faith lurking around on this website to really dig in and learn the critics. If Christianity is true then you have nothing to fear.
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Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)