Lately I’ve been reading The Bittersweet End, and I’ve been quite engrossed in the way his story is unfolding. He began the blog as a place to gather his thoughts about a few doubts he was dealing with. Over the last year, he has moved further and further away from belief, until he now pretty much considers himself an atheist. He has just recently talked to his wife and his pastor about it (he’s still attending church), and it’s been very moving to hear about those experiences through his writing. It’s reminded me of my own de-conversion.
I started this blog almost 6 years ago. That’s a pretty good life for a blog — I don’t often run across any that are that old. In fact, it’s made it impractical for me to display my archives without a drop-down; it would just take up too much space. But it’s not like I’ve blogged constantly through all that time. In 2007, I went back to school and got a 2nd Bachelor’s degree. I didn’t complete it until December of 2008, so you’ll notice that I didn’t really blog anything that whole year. 2009 saw a little more activity, but barely. I only made 3 posts that year, and I posted nothing in 2010. So I essentially had a 3-year hiatus from this blog. What happened in the meantime to make my return in 2011 a complete reversal from my original approach?
Well, like I said, I was in school during 2008, plus I was still working full time and I had 2 young children. Blogging just had to take a back seat. But 2008 also saw Barack Obama’s historic election to President of the US. I’m a Democrat, and I have been for a long time. But living in the South and associating with conservative Christians, you tend to be inundated with Republican talking points. It’s not that I have anything against Republicans. I just sometimes have trouble understanding why conservative Christians identify with them so much right now. And during the 2008 election, that stood out to me more and more. I often heard my Christian friends (and I was a Christian too at this point) talk badly about efforts to provide universal health care, for instance. They were against abortion, yet they didn’t support welfare programs that would help take care of the mothers and babies once they’ve been born. I had trouble squaring that with what Jesus said here:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
– Matt 25:37-40
I felt that their position ran counter to Christian values. I was really bothered by that experience, but I wasn’t naive enough to blame Christianity itself when these were just faults in its adherents. However, I was part of a denomination known as the church of Christ. They believe they are the one true church that Christ established on the Day of Pentecost. Since the CoC thinks it’s the one true example of Christianity in the world, they believe that virtually everyone else is going to Hell. By the time 2008 rolled around, I no longer agreed with them on that. But I still thought God had a high standard set for salvation, and I still believed in a literal Hell. So when I saw how the group of Christians that claimed to follow Christ more closely than anyone seemed more concerned with keeping their taxes low than with helping those less fortunate, it became hard to rationalize how they could be on God’s good side. It was also hard to see how the “heretics and heathens” that did try to help the less fortunate could be going to Hell.
And it didn’t stop with social issues. Members of the CoC are often known for their extensive Bible knowledge. That’s admirable. But there were still many in the congregations who obviously didn’t think deeply about their beliefs or doctrines. Many of them had just been raised in the church and didn’t seem to know very much about why they believed what they believed. Of course, that’s a common problem in any denomination. But since the CoC takes the position that others will go to Hell for not understanding Christianity more perfectly, what would happen with those casual members in the CoC? Would they be found acceptable just because they were in the right version of Christianity? If so, isn’t that unfair to all the other casual members of any other denomination? And if the CoC is really the one right version of Christianity, but its casual members aren’t saved, then just imagine how small the number of saved will be.
In early May of 2008, the country of Myanmar (or Burma) was devastated by a tsunami. Over 138,000 people died. I was really bothered by that event. Myanmar is a very poor country, and almost 90% of the population is Buddhist. According to my Christian beliefs, almost every one of those 138,000 people went to Hell, after living in poverty and dying in a horrific manner. Why would God allow that?
My thought processes during this time showed me that according to my beliefs, the vast, vast majority of people who had ever lived were going to Hell. That’s a pretty bleak picture. Surely God wouldn’t be okay with that scenario. So I began studying about Hell to see if I had misunderstood what the Bible said about it.
I’ll talk more about that in the next post.