Over the last year, I’ve had many Christians tell me that I only stopped believing because I wanted to. I think this is primarily used to deflect the conversation away from the actual issues I’ve brought up (like the ones I’ve been posting about). But maybe these people really believe that. Is it true that I just didn’t want to be a Christian anymore?
Let’s compare my life now to my life as a Christian. When I was a Christian, I didn’t steal, drink, smoke, do drugs, or use bad language. I was happily married and tried to teach my children to be moral individuals. Now that I’m not a Christian, none of those things have changed for me. I still live my life in exactly the same manner. In fact, the only visible change between what I did then and what I do now is that I don’t go to church anymore. And we actually only stopped going to church when our old congregation withdrew from us (note: withdrawal is severing ties with people who have left Christianity or are involved in sin in an effort to bring them back; I’ll be posting more about it soon).
When I was a dedicated Christian, I didn’t mind going to church (and we went to every service without fail). I actually really enjoyed it most of the time. And it’s something I had done since childhood, so there was a momentum in place that made it very easy — it’s just what we did. So church attendance never felt like a burden to me. There’s no way I would have given up my religion just so I could stay at home more often.
And when people make this accusation, they’re really not thinking about everything that we’ve had to give up over the last year. 11 months ago, my wife and I began having long, painful religious discussions with our friends and family. They were sometimes heated, and they almost never went well. That was extremely unpleasant. And whenever we were around our families socially, a pall hung over the event that everyone could feel. Once we were officially withdrawn from in December, our friends and family would have no more social contact with us. We weren’t welcome at Christmas or New Year celebrations. My wife’s birthday in February went unnoticed by most. It’s been the hardest thing we’ve gone through — and we’ve been through some tough things before. And that doesn’t even touch on the inner turmoil we both felt as we struggled with these issues.
What have we gained that could possibly outweigh that emotional and cultural upheaval? What benefits have we gained in unbelief that made our parents’ disowning of us worthwhile?
Another problem with the accusation that we just didn’t want to believe is that it doesn’t account for reality. For instance, I’d like to believe that I can fly through the air like Superman. But simply wanting that to be the case is not going to make me jump off a building to test it. When I was a Christian, I really, honestly believed that Jesus was the son of God and sinners were bound for Hell. If I gave up Christianity just because I wanted to (and not because I was actually convinced of something), how stupid would I have to be to knowingly consign myself and my family to Hell? Maybe other people believe things just because they want to, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I need evidence and reason to back up a position before I’ll believe it.
The simple truth is this: I had no doubts in Christianity. Sometimes I doubted our understanding of doctrine, but I had no doubts in Christianity itself, until I was presented with significant evidence. After spending some considerable time testing that evidence, I was finally convinced that Christianity is not true. If I ever convert to Christianity again, it will be because of evidence, not wants.
I’ve spent the last two months posting some of the major issues that caused me to lose faith in Christianity. Amazingly, most of the Christians I’ve presented them to have simply said that they’re not bothered by them even when they don’t have any evidence to explain them. Others have researched some of the problems and found responses to them, but none that actually answer the problems.
I’ve been very consistent. When I was a Christian, I happily admitted that I based my beliefs on the Bible. When it was shown to me that the Bible isn’t perfect, I stopped being a Christian. Now that I don’t believe, I’ve been very honest about the specific things that led to my unbelief. If there were answers to those things, I’d be a Christian again. My beliefs have never been about what I wanted, but what I thought was demonstrably true. I thought everyone approached it that way…
22 thoughts on “What Have I Gained?”
Hey Nate, I just have a quick question. Obviously, you don’t believe in Christianity any longer, but what’s your stance on God? I know to some they’re connected and the to others they’re not.
Thanks for the great question! I do view them as separate things. I don’t believe in any of the revealed religions, but I do think a decent case can be made for the existence of God. In fact, when I first stopped believing in Christianity, I was very interested in Deism.
Ultimately, I’m very agnostic about all of it. I’d probably be classified as an agnostic atheist because I don’t have a particular belief in any god, but I do think it’s possible that one exists.
Nate, I’m really glad you posted this and I truly hope that some of those that have so harsh and critical of you will see this and actually THINK about it. I’ve been shocked and disappointed in some of the responses you’ve gotten. I’ve known you for almost twenty years and I can’t begin to fathom you (or your wife!) throwing away your beliefs for some petty or selfish reason. The points that you’ve brought up on here and real, valid questions/issues and rather than actually address them, either you are attacked personally or you’re blaspheming for questioning God (when that’s not even what you’re questioning). Ok, it’s late and I’m rambling. Sorry! I just wanted to say that I’m really offended FOR you that so little is thought of your character when your views no longer match those of your family and so-called friends. I sincerely wish that this had been an easier time for you guys, but alas, it hasn’t. You know we are here for y’all and I’m really glad we’ve reconnected. Keep the posts coming!!
Thanks Graham — that honestly means more than I can say.
I found you over at http://www.bittersweetend.wordpress.com.
For the first year after I had officially left Christianity I spent a lot of time thinking and discussing it (and blogging about it!) but in the past while I had lost interest. I felt I had sort of said most things I wanted to say. I’ve been drawn into some discussions lately and I came across your blog. It’s neat seeing how other people have had a similar journey to mine.
I love where you say:
“I’ve been very consistent. When I was a Christian, I happily admitted that I based my beliefs on the Bible. When it was shown to me that the Bible isn’t perfect, I stopped being a Christian. Now that I don’t believe, I’ve been very honest about the specific things that led to my unbelief. If there were answers to those things, I’d be a Christian again. My beliefs have never been about what I wanted, but what I thought was demonstrably true. I thought everyone approached it that way…”
I find it maddening discussing things with people when it’s obvious they aren’t really looking for truth but will come up with any argument that allows them to stay where they are and keep believing what they’ve always believed. I don’t have the patience for it I guess! It’s their right to do that but it’s frustrating.
It was nice reading a bit about your journey. Thanks for making it public. The internet is a grand thing isn’t it?
Thanks for your comment! And I’m glad you linked your blog too — I’ll definitely check it out.
I completely agree with you about the difficulties discussing things with people who obviously aren’t interested in examining their own position. It’s incredibly frustrating!
Thanks again for stopping by 🙂
Welcome. We have traveled different roads but perhaps heading in the same direction. I had to leave my Christianity in order to find God again. When I did and learned to base my beliefs and faith on what I chose to see as truth it has been Freedom with a capital F. God bless you and your family. It took me 16 years to get it all out of my system But it was worth it. Hopefully it won’t take you that long.
It took me a long time as well to leave my Christian upbringing to discover God. I too feel so much freedom . As a Deist, I have been able to shed the Orthodoxy that I was brainwashed with and accept people for who they are.
I hadn’t read this post before, and came upon it because of the two recent comments (I keep checking for new stuff :)). This is a really powerful post. I was quite indignant while reading about how your “friends” and “family” treated you and yours following your de-conversion. The things Christians should be known for have become the last things many would ascribe Christians: love, grace, and mercy for all.
I’m sorry you had to go through this. In a lot ways I empathize a deeply with your story. I actually have attended church very little in recent years, and have found a similar withdrawal by many former “friends” I had in the church. I also went through a divorce, and am now engaged to an atheist (GASP!). You can imagine the further withdrawal this causes. Anyway, I have found many churches to be far more pretentious, and not nearly as loving, graceful, thoughtful, and merciful as I believe Jesus would have been. I continue to seek a church where I feel that I, or anyone, is welcomed as Jesus would welcome. And, that doesn’t mean a fake smiling face and superficial handshake on the way in :-).
You and I come down on different sides of whether the Gospels represent reliable historical documentation, but there are, I would imagine, a lot MORE things on which we agree.
Thanks to all of you guys for the great comments!
Josh, I especially appreciate what you’ve written, and I agree that you and I probably have much more in common in our worldviews than people might initially think. Sorry to hear that you’ve faced some estrangement too for being more inclusive — it’s a shame that tends to drive some people away. I hope you find a group soon that focuses more on acceptance than on judgment.
Thanks again! 🙂
Thanks for this post nate!~ Very similar to my own path. And it is frustrating how many seem to believe that I left the faith because I chose too, (for either a. I did not want to believe in god, i loved myself more than him and did not want to be a servant…etc or b. there is a sin in my life i am unwilling to turn over.)
I used to get flustered when people would say…”well, you were never REALLY a christian” and fight about it. 😉 I used to bring up how we are to know ….gal 5 etc…
And ask about how you could see the fruit in non believers and believers from other religions…etc.
Now I just make it easier for us all…
I word it…”when I used to believe I was saved”…
Happy to find your blog. I am very much enjoying reading about someone elses journey, though I am sorry it has been so difficult with your family.
Yeah, I find it funny that so many people initially want to treat belief as though it’s something voluntary. The only reason someone would stop believing something is if they no longer find it believable — what they want to believe has nothing to do with it! I usually try to illustrate it by asking them how they would react if someone told them they must believe in Santa Claus, or they would be punished in some way. Would that threat of punishment make them actually believe in Santa Claus? Of course not. At most, they could claim belief, but it wouldn’t be true belief.
Thanks for clicking the link from Ark’s site to check mine out. I’m looking forward to reading more of yours too!
Take it easy 🙂
It seems that the answer to your titular question is “nothing but truth”. Am I reading you right?
Of course I’m also saddened to hear how Christianity has caused division between you and your family and friends. I commend you for honestly seeking truth, though. 🙂
Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. And thanks for the words of support! 🙂
A superb post. I could read your posts day after day.
I too went through similar rejection and I still struggle to admit to certain family members of mine that it’s not that i’m just unsure about my belief or lack of, but I am a huge atheist who rejects the idea altogether. When you asked the question about what was it you gained that made the abandonment by your parents’ worthwhile – Of course I champion your reason and critical thinking – as well as your open and honest inquiry into hot topics which others apparently cannot handle – what I would say is that you exposed your parents to how their belief has caused them to behave. I hope I wasn’t too blunt with that but I definitely think that those who are willing to cut you out because of differing ideologies – especially considering your ideological shift is based on reason and rationality – then they are intolerant and somewhat extreme in their religious views. Religion can be pleasant for some – but when it manifests itself in ways that harm others or even emotionally harm people who are close to them – I think there’s a problem.
I look forward to scouring through more of your posts. I hope things have improved for you and your family since your intellectual emancipation.
Hi rationalhumanist! Thanks for the comment.
I wholeheartedly agree that extremism is the real problem. And yes, I’d have to say that many in my family are extreme in their views. It’s unfortunate.
Anyway, thanks again for your kind comment! And I’ll be sure to check out your blog as well. 🙂
Wow, I must say I love people who are looking for honest answers. I don’t know if I have any of those answers for you, but I do want to read what you have written and share thoughts if that is possible. I’m clicking your follow button not because I look forward to more challenge in my life, believe me. But if…but if maybe…we don’t know, do we. So I will read…I will try to understand…I will try to share respectfully…and I will pray. I know that I too have been moved outside the “Church Box” as I like to call it. Something has gone wrong inside the Church Box, and even though I still attend, I find myself bumping heads a lot, and have been led of God to go to the streets for real and simplified ministry. The “simplicity” of Christ. Well, that’s where my head is anyway, Nate. May we all find the right answers. May God speak to you in a way you can hear, and I pray the same thing for myself, everyday.
may we all find truth, whatever it happens to look like, whether it be at the feet of a god, or at the table of gods, or in the abyss of the universe – may those who truly seek for truth find it, and be deceived by no lie.
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Both your comments are very well said — thanks!
Btw, thee-n-counter, did you used to go by “CowboyForChrist” or something similar? Your picture is familiar…
I’ve been reading Spinoza’s thoughts on the Bible. Some quite interesting ideas that man has. Almost, but not quite enough, to bring me back into the fold. Of course the church father — or in Spinoza’s case — the Rabbis excommunicated the heck out of him for writing the book I’m reading — and let me tell you, when those Rabbis excommunicate and place a curse on you, they don’t mess around or leave any stone unturned.
The Highest form of thought, that allows all other thought to exist is Faith. That means Founding onself in God.
Reason is the broadest and it is totally blind without Faith.
Logic is the lowest because it relies on the senses.
I have yet to see even the capability of logic from you. this is what you fetishize, because you believe nothing but the devil’s lie that “gnosis / enlightenment / illumination / wishful thinking” would make “ye be like Gods.” voiltaire thought if he could come up with “twelve wicked words a day” that he would somehow remove Heaven. voltaire came up with that and more, but not only is he damned like all of you he is totally forgotten like all of you, only remembered as a sad warning of an ego that sought to ruin mankind. I won’t say the last part applies to you as not a one of you are influential or remarkable enough.
The Church and Heaven remains, as they are one and the same thing.
Now, when your kind says “reason” and “logic” you mean “wishful thinking” and “belief you will replace God by sneering.” When you say “critcal thinking” you mean “following with total rigidity marxist ‘critical theory.'” As Chesterton said, “you hard-shelled materialists were right on the edge of belief — belief in anything at all.”
So what is it that you have gained? Nothing. you were damned before your birth (this entire message goes to everyone here), so you seeking to damn yourself further only succeeds in changing nothing but adding onto an Eternal, infinitely extending punishment for your Eternal crimes that would be infinite if you were not Mercifully (to all of us in The Church) cut short. There is no limit to that punishment, and your far greater lifetime of sin will not cover up that first small sin that made you go reprobate.
you were allowed to be born here instead of directly in hell to give you the chance to Repent. you did not just make poor choices, you removed your possibility to make choices.
Repent while you still can. I say this because it is a True statement (one of those “inflexible realities” and “fixed, invariable, unalterable facts” you think disbelieving in makes them go away), but also to mock the impediment you gave yourself and then God put into stone in your heart to mock you delusion of apotheosis.
Heh. Now, THAT is Justice AND Mercy all in one.