Sent in by Andrew
It's been about a year since I've stopped considering myself a Christian. I want to put together a 'coming out' letter to give friends and family some idea as to why I have given it up. Please let me know if you think I should add something, or leave something else out. Is it even a good idea to do something like this? I sent this letter to a close friend who is pretty devout, and she seemed to appreciate it.
Dear Christian Friend,
Because you mean so much to me, I wanted to give you at least some sort of idea as to the ‘why’ of my deconversion. I want to let you know, at least at a surface level, why I’ve chosen to ‘leave the fold’, to share a bit of my story.
To begin, I want to let you know that this is not something that has just come up or that I’ve decided on a whim. I’m sure you didn’t think as much, but I just understand that it can be difficult to comprehend why someone would ever leave Christianity, especially when it is so ingrained for so long. It has been a very long journey for me. One that started about 3-4 years ago, when I started thinking critically, step by step, not just about things relating to faith, but everything in life. I began to question everything I had ever taken for granted, such as whether western culture was the best, whether eating kraft dinner and hot dogs would ensure a long, healthy life, and whether this ‘relationship’ I had with God was something I could confidently espouse.
I began to understand the importance of objectivity, and that when the owner of a company tells me the product he sells is really great, that there is possibly cause for questioning and investigation, and not just acceptance. I gave up the notion of the earth being 6000 years old quite some time ago, and that in no way changed what I thought about Christ, or his sacrifice. I did an investigation, not caring particularly which way it ended up, and decided that the evidence pointed to the earth being old and to common ancestry among biological organisms. God did it of course, it wasn’t a big deal. It was the people whose worldview would come crashing down if they had to admit an old earth that I had to worry about. Their ‘evidences’ and ‘scientific studies’ were greatly dependent on the conclusion they had already decided on, which of course is not the correct way science is done.
Next I began to greatly question my charismatic [pentecostal] roots and after a good year of reading, studying, experimenting and writing, I decided that much of what I had grown up with thinking was the work of the Holy Spirit was really just socially learned group-think. It took quite a bit to convince me of this, but the evidence was really overwhelming. There was, at least to me, no good reason to think that I had experienced anything more than mob mentality; a peer pressured, psychologically explainable experience. If the exact same things happen in polemically different worldviews (such as new age, opposing religions, etc), and they were contrived experiences (since God wouldn’t bless mutually exclusive worldviews), what made me think my identical experience was the one real thing, given by God almighty? I definitely still believed wholeheartedly in the central tenets of Christianity, but my faith was changing, morphing into something new, and I had no problem with that.
Then, I began to question the things I was reading in the Bible, especially the darker notions of God himself, like him committing genocide, or ordering ethnic cleansing, and the concept of hell. Whenever I would bring them up to have a meaningful conversation it would just come down to: “You can’t question what God does, because he knows better than us.” So basically, I came to conclude that as an everyday Christian, I had to be able to say that genocide is good sometimes. God cannot be questioned on these matters, so he gets a free ticket to commit [or at least if they happened today, what would look exactly like] atrocities. I had a real problem with that and started looking deeper into the character called God in the Bible. He does all sorts of terrible things. Things I’m not comfortable typing out in this letter, things that the Sunday School teacher skipped, things that Pastors brush away far too easily.
Hell was a big one for me. How could an all-loving, all-good God conceive of this place of eternal torture? The way the Bible describes it, not even the worst monsters of history could come up with worse ways to treat people, and this is punishment for not being born in the right country, or for not thinking thoughts correctly about a guy who lived two millennia ago? All this for simply not believing in something for which there is no empirical evidence?
Anyway, when I finally (about a year ago) came to the place where I was willing to put some of my misgivings about not believing at bay, I was able to come at the question of the tenability of Christianity with even an ounce of objectivity. It wasn’t until I had a good talk with my wife about the remote possibility of me coming out the other side of this investigation as a non-believer that I really dove in.
You see, two years ago I was unable to think objectively about it for many reasons: fear of hell, fear that I would be tricked by Satan, fear that my relationship with my wife wouldn’t be as strong (more on that later), fear that I would lose my purpose in life, fear that all my friends and family would hate me, disappointment in never being able to see dead loved ones again…etc. As more and more of those things were put to rest, the final one being my conversation with my wife, I began to see the arguments in a new light.
Before, I had already decided the conclusion to the question: “Of course God exists! Is this even a remotely valid question in my life!?” Whereas, I had begun to think about things as if the possibility of the truth of Christianity were up in the air. I still wanted it to be true, I really wanted it to be true, but I was open to the possibility that it wasn’t, and wanted to follow the evidence where it led, even if it was down a road I wasn’t comfortable traveling.
As I was beginning my research on this about a year ago, I had a very important conversation with my wife. I was sitting outside our apartment, having a drink and generally enjoying the weather getting warmer while reading my first book about all this. I was into the second or third chapter when she walked up, home from work. We chatted a bit and I mentioned that this book was really interesting. She looked at me and asked me if I was going to become and Atheist, I asked her whether or not she would be mad or stop loving me if I did. She laughed, looked me straight in the eye and said that it wouldn’t change her opinion of me whatsoever, she loved me no matter what. We laughed and possibly my greatest fear of taking a look down this road was assuaged.
As for my relationship with my wife, it is one of the things that led me to this point in the first place. Over the course of our marriage, our relationship has grown and gotten sweeter. I had grown up through Church with the understanding that my relationship with God had to be number one, and accepted that wholeheartedly. When we got married, we were told several times that our relationship would only grow closer if we both put God first, then, like a triangular celestial threesome, the closer we both grew to God at the top of the triangle, the closer we would grow to each other.
The opposite became the case. As my faith became more and more cerebral and less and less of an emotional reaction to my life, I spent all my emotional energy, love, care and attention on my wife, and our relationship flourished more than I ever could have imagined. I remember several times wondering how it was possible that I was becoming more and more happy, more and more fulfilled in life, more and more content, the further I got from God. I only read the Bible in scholastic and intellectual pursuits, and only prayed when asked to the dinner table or every so often in class (I went to Bible College) or church groups. I had very little of the personal relationship with God, and felt absolutely no need, emotionally, intellectually, personally, to pursue one, since nothing was lacking in my life. I began questioning how my experience could so contradict what I believed ought to the be the case. It made me question this ‘relationship’ further.
With my wife I experience a beautiful, deeply satisfying relationship. I talk with her and she responds. She relies on me during hard times and I can trust her with anything. Neither of us is ‘above’ the other. No one has more power than the other. Neither of us rely on the other exclusively, but are balanced in our love and appreciation for each other, understanding that together we make each other better. How is it that the closer I feel to her, the further I feel to God. Moreover, how is it that our healthy relationship with one another makes this other ‘relationship’ in my life seem so useless, so made up. I finally came to admit that my wife was far more important to me than God. I didn’t particularly like the notion, and thought I should probably take steps to change it, but it was what I was feeling at the time.
As I researched, it was becoming more and more clear that perhaps there aren’t any great reasons to believe. I haven’t had traumatic experiences with the church or Christians. There are nice and mean Christians, just like there are nice and mean non-Christians. I’m not sure how the numbers work out, but it seems to be about the same nice to mean ratio inside and outside the Christian camp. This is not a factor for me in deciding the truth of the claims of Christianity. For me it’s about evidence.
I spent the last year of my studies at Bible College focusing on apologetic classes. I did extremely well at them and they kept me off this path for a little while. But the arguments ultimately fell short.
This is how I honestly think about this stuff: that there isn’t a reasonable basis to believe, and I understand that is very difficult to read and may sound arrogant or condescending, but one thing that I’ve really come to understand in talking with Christians is that there is no getting around this, and having a mutual understanding of our worldviews is key to having conversations about it without driving each other crazy.
At the core of our worldviews, we think each other are deeply mistaken, which when articulated, sounds arrogant and offensive. I was surprised at how arrogant and offensive I found our Pastor during much of his series on apologetics, but he was just speaking from his worldview, which just happened to put non-believers on par with ignorant toddlers, unwilling to see the obvious truth. Many non-believers, on the other hand, think believers are committed to a delusion. One of these is a truth (at least to some extent). So when people who hold the opposite points get together to talk about it, it is a must that they understand that those on the opposite side have a basic idea of what they stand for, and be willing to give up a few potential offenses, otherwise they’ll just offend each other to high heaven (so to speak).
When I talk to a Christian I expect them to say something that has the potential to offend or be mean, but I understand they are speaking out of the way that they understand the world, and that they themselves are trying to deal with the idea of myself not only giving up my faith, but theirs also, thus creating the need to be defensive. I understand that can be painful. I continually remind myself of this and strive to understand people’s responses. So far it has been surprisingly fantastic. Perhaps people are afraid to share their true feelings about it, although I wish they weren’t, but so far every Christian I’ve talked with about it has been supportive. I’m sort of expecting that trend to change.
One last reason I wanted to respond, was that I wanted to make sure you know that I’m alright, and our (my wife and I’s) relationship continues to grow. While at times it has been a bit of a scary journey, it has also been exciting, and in so many ways, freeing. I remember at Pentecostal summer camp and youth retreats we would often sing songs of freedom and yell about being ‘free indeed’. I can honestly tell you I’ve never seen the world in such vivid colour, never felt so unchained, finally realizing that my every thought, action and decision is not part of some grander plan that may or may not end in my favour. The universe is such a grand and phenomenal place, and I’m just glad to be here, to have the great fortune of living my life, of loving my wife, family and friends, of experiencing life to the fullest. I realize now that for me, religion (defined as belief in the tenets of Christianity) was a set of chains: guilt, remorse, continually second guessing God’s will, fear, trying to decipher to fluid labyrinthine text of the bible, and being in a relationship with a being that never really related.
I would welcome your thoughts and ideas regarding this stuff. I’ve had plenty of great conversations, through email and in person about this and I feel we’re all intelligent, thoughtful people capable of having meaningful talk about it. I think we can learn from each other. If I am mistaken, I want to know, since this is obviously a very important issue. It seems the world is becoming increasingly non-religious (again, defined as belief in a religion, like Christianity), so I think talk on these topics will become more and more relevant for both believer and non-believer alike. I will do my absolute best not to push anything on you, or anyone. I understand this is a deeply personal issue, and I don’t want to strain our relationship because of an idea. I agree with Bono: “Ideas should never come before people.”
I think our friendship will continue to flourish. While this strand has withered, the original way we met and became friends is a historical fact and cannot be changed. I grew up in Christian culture, understand the language and continue to have meaningful conversation with Christians about their faith, not necessarily bringing up any of my own misgivings about it (unless they ask of course), and hope we can continue that. I look forward to many great memories together as we continue friendship into the many years ahead.
Love, your friend...
tag: de-conversion, ex-christian, former Christian, skeptic, Christian, hell, judgment,
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)