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.