Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, Free Will, God, Religion, Truth

A Curious Mix of Confidence and Low Self-Esteem

Since leaving Christianity, I’ve had time to reflect on why some people leave their faith when confronted with issues and why others stay. The reasons are quite varied, of course. And a large part of how people react depends upon how literally they take things in the Bible. I was raised in a very conservative version of Christianity that believed in biblical inerrancy, so much of my criticisms of Christianity come from that. As I was going through my deconversion, I studied with many friends and family, and I was surprised at how differently we ended up dealing with the various problems in scripture. Why did we have such different approaches?

When we believe in God, I think at least part of that belief comes from a position of confidence, maybe even arrogance. Why must there be a God? Well, just look at the complexity of life! And by that, we mean the complexity of humanity. After all, many people reject atheism because it means that life has no higher purpose or meaning. It’s difficult for people to accept that. We’re intelligent enough to know that we’re all going to die, and that’s not a pleasant thought. We feel that our lives have meaning (and to us, they certainly do!), so it’s hard to imagine that death could really be the end. Surely there’s a bigger point to it all! Yet most of us don’t have trouble accepting that when animals die, that’s the end. There’s no soul that lives on. Why do we accept that with animals, but not ourselves?

Beyond just a belief in God, when we hold to a particular religion, we’re employing even more confidence. We’re saying that we know who God is. We have a personal relationship with him, and we believe he has a plan for us. We believe we know what he wants to the extent that we’ll correct those who are doing it wrong. Sometimes, we believe this so wholeheartedly that we’re willing to inflict harm upon those who disagree.

At the same time, there’s a curiously low level of self-esteem among the religious. When we encounter problems in our beliefs, this lack of confidence helps allay doubt and worry by reminding us that the wisdom of God is far superior to the wisdom of man. That we should “lean not” on our own understanding.

The brand of Christianity I came out of used fear to great effect. We believed in a literal Hell, and nothing sells Heaven better than a literal Hell. You can’t afford to deeply question your beliefs if it’s going to land you in a never ending barbeque. And this is where the strange duplicity really comes in: Christianity tells you you’re important because God made you, he loves you, and he has a plan for you. At the same time, you aren’t smart enough to understand some parts of his plan, like why he would promise to destroy Tyre so that it would never be rebuilt, but then didn’t do that. Or how Jesus’ genealogy could be given 3 different ways. Or how he could die at two different times on two different days.

This fear of getting it wrong causes many of us to simply put our heads in the sand and avoid the issues. Though after reading the Parable of the Talents, it’s surprising that any Christian would pursue such a tactic. What’s most ironic is that many Christians believe that people from other religions are required to question their own beliefs so they will turn from them. But why should they expect something of others that they’re unwilling to do themselves?

Of course, not all Christians are this way. And this is something that all people can be guilty of, no matter their worldview. But this curious mix between utter confidence and cripplingly low self-esteem is definitely something that many people struggle with, and they really shouldn’t. If the God they serve really has the qualities they think he does, then they don’t have to be so afraid of asking tough questions. But we’ll talk more about God’s nature and why it should encourage honest inquiry in the next post.

72 thoughts on “A Curious Mix of Confidence and Low Self-Esteem”

  1. Great read and well said. For someone who is more spiritual than religious it gave me a thing or two to think about. Also, if you don’t mind my asking, what, if any, religion have you converted to?

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  2. I consider myself an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe in a god, but I think it’s possible one could exist.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Nate, have you ever read up on Terror management theory? It explains a lot of about the hows and whys people believe. There’s a related 2003 documentary, Flight from Death, which i think you can see on You tube.

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  4. What’s most ironic is that many Christians believe that people from other religions are required to question their own beliefs so they will turn from them.

    That is a good point. Since leaving Christianity behind myself, it has become strange to me to think that every other religion but mine was wrong and if they only would question theirs they would become Christian.

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  5. Wow, John. I just read the Wikipedia page on TMT and all I can say (again) is WOW. I had never heard of this theory but I’m definitely going to do some research on it.

    I really hate watching YouTube (I’d rather read than watch), but I may break protocol in this instance.

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  6. @Nan… New to me today, too! I was blown away. I’ve watched some clips of the documentary on Youtubby and its brilliant. The experiments they do are mind blowing, and scary.

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  7. Nan… you can find the whole film here (I didn’t include the www. or else the video would have uploaded here, and Nate would kill me 🙂 )

    hulu.com/watch/173530

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  8. I’m watching it right now. EXTREMELY interesting, but so tough to just sit at the computer and watch. Used to have Hulu, but dropped it quite awhile back. sigh

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  9. This was a very thought provoking read. I have often wondered about other religions and if we are all experiencing the same supernatural force and defining it differently. But the various religions are so different from one an other that it seems unlikely to me that the same God could have inspired them all. So the whole topic just tumbles around in my brain unanswered.

    On a side note, I think many people are disturbed by animal death being the end as well. There are many cat and dog lovers that are almost insistent that animals go to heaven.

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  10. I guess I’ll have to buy the book. It has 59 minutes to go and I just can’t stay with it. Wish there was just an audio version — I could have handled that. And it could have been done because most of the images are just for association purposes. Oh well.

    I will say this — it’s a fascinating theory and one that I doubt few could dispute.

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  11. I think religion and belief in anything (deity, sun, spirits, what-have-you) is simply an extension of our innate drive to understand and name the things we see around us. There is something spiritual about us and there are phenomena in the world that defies our current understanding. How we go about learning what those things are defines us as a society. It is too bad that much of that search for understanding has turned into dogma.

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  12. Oh, I had a point, but failed to make it! Here it is: I guess that’s where the disparate characteristics come from. We don’t really know what’s out there (though I am 100% sure there are no supernatural gods), but dang if we don’t have to just pick some explanation so that we can get to the business of living (and controlling those around you).

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  13. “If the God they serve really has the qualities they think he does, then they don’t have to be so afraid of asking tough questions.”

    Love that! I find it interesting as well that many have asked and answered the tough questions, and yet remain in their faith, while others have walked away. I wonder what makes the difference?

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  14. I think that, having been a Christian myself, believing in God is more about humility than low self-esteem. Of course, there are many believers who are not humble at all and manifest arrogance in their belief. But true Christianity is about accepting the grandiosity of God and the limitation of man. I am not sure how atheists perceive humans as far as humility. But I agree when you write that, if God is truly a loving God, then we don’t have to be afraid of asking tough questions.

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  15. Thanks to everyone for all the great comments! And Kent, thanks for bringing up the other side of it. I don’t really talk about it in my post, but there are definitely Christians who haven’t been afraid to ask the tough questions, yet haven’t lost their faith.

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  16. Nate-
    You make really good points. Christianity is difficult to swallow. I find asking the tough questions actually drives me deeper into my faith. I don’t know why that is the case for me, and not for others. In fact, my ex-wife and I went to the same churches for years, hearing the same messages from the same pastors and in the same Bible studies. My faith only deepened with the difficult discussions, while hers began to melt away until she became an atheist. I don’t have answers to all the difficult questions based on Christianity, and I find a lot of things in Scripture difficult to deal with, yet my faith remains. A lot of it is the hope offered, a lot of it is that I’ve found some mysteries easier to conceive given Christianity, but a lot of it, also, really just seems to be that “my faith remains”. Can’t explain it. Thanks for the post, Nate.

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