Agnosticism, Atheism, Bible Study, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion



So here’s what’s been going on lately. Most of you who read this blog already know that when my wife and I left Christianity, it wrecked most of our family relationships. My wife’s parents and siblings, as well as my own, felt that they could no longer interact with us socially after our deconversion. We were no longer invited to any family functions, and our communication with them all but disappeared. We would speak if it was about religious issues, or if there were logistic issues that needed to be worked out in letting them see our kids, etc.

Over the years, things have gotten a little better, especially with my wife’s parents. Things are by no means back to normal, but at least our infrequent interactions have become more civil and more comfortable. A few weeks ago, I even had a phone conversation with my father that lasted about half an hour and had no references to religion whatsoever. It was nice.

Nevertheless, the awkwardness is still there, just under the surface. And we’re still blacklisted from all the family functions.

Throughout this time, I’ve occasionally reached out to my side of the family with phone calls, letters, facebook messages, etc, in an effort to discuss the issues that divide us. I don’t get much response. I’ve always been puzzled by that, since I know they think I’m completely wrong. If their position is right, why aren’t they willing to discuss it?

In the last five years, I’ve also been sent books and articles and even been asked to speak to certain individuals, and I’ve complied with every request. Why not? How could more information hurt? But when I’ve suggested certain books to them, or written letters, they aren’t read. When I finally realized that my problems with Christianity weren’t going to be resolved, I wrote a 57-page paper to my family and close friends, explaining why I could no longer call myself a Christian. As far as I know, none of them ever read the whole thing. And sure, 57 pages is quite a commitment. But they say this is the most important subject in their lives…

This past week, the topic has started to come back around. A local church kicked off a new series on Monday entitled “Can We Believe the Bible?” It’s being led by an evangelist/professor/apologist that was kind enough to take time to correspond with me for several weeks in the summer of 2010. I’ve never met him in person, but a mutual friend connected us, since he was someone who was knowledgeable about the kinds of questions I was asking. Obviously, we didn’t wind up on the same page.

can we trust the bible?

My wife’s parents invited us to attend the series, but it happens to be at a time that I’m coaching my oldest daughter’s soccer team. So unless we get rained out at some point, there’s no way we can attend. However, we did tell them that if practice is ever cancelled, we’ll go. I also contacted the church and asked if the sermons (if that’s the right word?) will be recorded, and they said that they should be.

Monday night, the weather was fine, so we weren’t able to attend. And so far, the recording isn’t available on their website. However, they do have a recording of Sunday night’s service available, which is entitled “Question & Answer Night.” I just finished listening to it, and that’s where the bulk of my frustration comes from.

It’s essentially a prep for the series that kicked off Monday night. They’re discussing why such a study is important, as well as the kinds of things they plan to cover. What’s so frustrating to me is that I don’t understand the mindset of evangelists like this. I mean, they’ve studied enough to know what the major objections to fundamentalist Christianity are, yet they continue on as if there’s no problem. And when they do talk about atheists and skeptics, they misrepresent our position. I can’t tell if they honestly believe the version they’re peddling, or if they’re purposefully creating straw men.

A couple of times, they mentioned that one of the main reasons people reject the Bible comes down to a preconception that miracles are impossible. “And if you start from that position, then you’ll naturally reject the Bible.” But that’s a load of crap. Most atheists were once theists, so their starting position was one that believed in miracles.

They also mentioned that so many of these secular articles and documentaries “only show one side.” I thought my head was going to explode.

And they referred to the common complaints against the Bible as “the same tired old arguments that have been answered long ago.” It’s just so infuriating. If the congregants had any knowledge of the details of these “tired old arguments,” I doubt they’d unanimously find the “answers” satisfactory. But the danger with a series like this is that it almost works like a vaccination. The members of the congregation are sitting in a safe environment, listening to trusted “experts,” and they’re injected with a watered down strain of an argument. And it’s that watered down version that’s eradicated by the preacher’s message. So whenever the individual encounters the real thing, they think it’s already been dealt with, and the main point of the argument is completely lost on them.

For example, most Christians would be bothered to find out that the texts of the Bible are not as reliable as were always led to believe. Even a beloved story like the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus writes on the ground, we’ve discovered that it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It’s a later addition from some unknown author. To a Christian who’s never heard that before, it’s unthinkable! But if they’ve gone through classes where they’ve been told that skeptics exaggerate the textual issues in the Bible, and that the few changes or uncertainties deal with only very minor things, and that none of the changes affect any doctrinal points about the gospel, then it’s suddenly easier for them to swallow “minor” issues like the insertion of an entire story into the gospel narrative.


I’m going to either attend these sessions, or I’ll watch/listen to them once they’re available online. I may need to keep some blood pressure medication handy, though.

1,060 thoughts on “Frustration”

  1. Even a beloved story like the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus writes on the ground, we’ve discovered that it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It’s a later addition from some unknown author.” – In the fourth century! It was added because to those in authority, it sounded like something Jesus would do.


  2. May I ask, does your wider family see the fear in their response to your atheism? Another way of putting it is to ask whether they see the fear in their belief of course.


  3. “Sigh” is right. Now, I’m not an “evangelical” Christian, so I do not place complete stock in the Bible. Can’t: there are contradictions in it that render it not perfectly reliable. I’m a Catholic, but I don’t place complete faith in the Church either. Can’t: there have been too many atrocities over the years. I’ve directly experienced miracles, and sought out and collected scientific documentation on several more. Those are real enough, but they don’t come with context. To understand what they mean, you need to know the backstory, and for that you do need the Bible and the Church, imperfect though they are. So it’s through a combination of personal experience, first person and third person miracle, and the explanation of the meaning of these miracles and identity of their source through Church and Text that I come to what I know to be true.

    But really, do you want to actually discuss such things with me?

    How would the discussion go?

    “I’ve experienced such and such a miracle.”
    “That’s not a miracle.”
    “Yes it is, that doesn’t happen in nature.”
    “Then it didn’t REALLY happen to you either. You’re making it up.”
    “No, I’m not.”
    “Then it’s just a natural phenomenon, and you’re mistaken about it.”
    “No, I’m not.”
    “Well, sorry, I’m just not going to accept that you’ve really experienced miracles.”

    And therefore any first person evidence I can give is ruled out of court.

    What’s left then? Third party miracles.
    “Here’s the science.”
    “That’s not science.”
    “Yes it is, look at the sources.”
    “Then they are mistaken. or fraudulent, or it’s just something we don’t understand. But whatever it is, it doesn’t prove God exists.”
    “Well, gosh. Actually, yes it does, because it’s physically impossible, but there it is.”
    “Then it’s not REALLY there and you’re mistaken.”

    And therefore any third person evidence I can give is ruled out of court.

    That throws me back on just the Church and the Scripture.

    But the Church burnt Joan of Arc and protected men who touched boys’ pee-pees, so nobody is going to give THEM credibility.

    Which leaves the Scriptures, and they contradict.

    Which leaves us nothing to talk about.

    None of which means that I didn’t experience the miracles and that they don’t reveal God. It just means that no conversation is possible across this chasm.



  4. The charge of “anti-supernatural bias” is one I’ve run across in a few spots, including J. Warner Wallace’s “Cold Case Christianity.”

    In truth, I’d be incredibly interested in supernatural phenomenon. I don’t discount them completely just because I “feel” like it.

    Two problems stand in my way of accepting supernatural claims:

    1)Almost ALL people that accept the supernatural only accept SOME supernatural claims, while rejecting others. Their methodology for accepting supernatural causes is almost always based on the lack (or, more commonly, their lack of knowledge of) an extant natural cause. Their explanation of the supernatural mechanism is grounded in the perceived reliability of an ancient “inspired” text or their gut “faith” feeling. If I could be convinced of supernatural causes, they would still have to convince me to accept their supernatural mechanisms while discounting those of other belief systems.

    2)The very word “supernatural” is ill-defined and lacking in content. In some cases, natural events are attributed supernatural causes and orchestration (see most “miracles”). If there are both “supernatural” and “natural causes,” why can’t we add a third category, “Goulbap?” (Thanks Fake Word Generator!).

    Goulbap causes are causes that are natural in another dimension of the universe, but considered supernatural in this dimension. Why are supernaturalists so quick to dismiss the Goulbap? They have no evidence that Goulbap causes do not exist! (However, do not be deceived when the Locobots say their way is supported by Goulbap causes.Use discernment, prayer, and the words of the Peloozoid to guide you).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Nate

    You have my sympathy friend.

    Having seem some debates on matters of faith I have concluded that the two conditions that be placed upon any debate or discussion are:
    1) the person of faith should accept that there is a possibility God is not there;
    2) the person without faith should accept the possibility that God is there and therefore that miracles are possible.

    Unless parties to discussions are prepared to actually consider both possibilities then there will never be a sensible discussion. I see abuses from both sides of the argument.

    People who had been active church members and have left after a deep consideration of issues are generally very well informed. Consequently a high level presentations of all the standard arguments is actually likely to be unhelpful.

    I know what I am looking for is empathy from people of faith. An acknowledgment that issues which cause people to question their faith are not due to moral failure but rather a consideration of evidence.

    I am sorry Nate that this has been such a heart wrenching issue with your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. crown,

    I think you’re right, a discussion with a non-believer over a miracle that you’ve witnessed wouldn’t be convincing. At the very least, the skeptic would think you were just mistaken about what you saw or the perceived cause of it.

    however, i can understand how such a personal experience would allow someone to believe in the bible and the church, even if they are fallible, but this creates other issues in my mind:

    – why doesnt god perform miracles to the unbelievers, when miracles obviously go a long way to convince the nay-sayer (Thomas, Jacob, Gideon, yourself)?

    – If the bible and the church cant be trusted, how can you be sure that it is those that actually provide the context to the miracles you’ve witnessed?

    – and if the bible and church both contain their share of problems, and if witnessing a true miracle is what it would take to recover believe in them, then it shouldn’t be surprising that people who have not witnessed miracles don’t trust in them.


  7. I agree with you. These conversations become contentious, if not impossible, when one or both sides fails to try to understand the other person’s position. Even though I may be pretty convinced of my conclusions I could be wrong. Too many people seem to be 100% confident in their given position and, therefore, instead of listening with the intent of having meaningful discussion it just turns into both sides trying to change the other’s mind. Which results in a stalemate at best, and a full fledged row at worst.


  8. I am all too familiar with that awkwardness with family members. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person out of all my extended family that is not a Christian.

    Nate, I think your family has really made things even more difficult by imposing the banishment from get-togethers as if you have some kind of disease or something. I hope they can move past that, it seems rather childish. I think the best way to restore relationships with Christian friends and family is to just not talk about religion. Being invited to a series like that is really an insult (they may not realize it), but it’s like saying “here, come learn something” – as if you haven’t spent countless hours looking over all the arguments already. On the bright side, maybe the series could produce some interesting discussions here on your blog. I’d be interested in listening to the audio if they ever release it.

    Your analogy to a vaccination is right on. I can remember receiving many of those in all the sermons and classes I have sat through.


  9. I don’t view nate’s family so harshly – I pity them. I imagine that they don’t like what they feel must be done and probably don’t even understand why god wants them to banish their son, brother, friend, and so on.

    They do it because they think god commands it of them, I am sure. I am certain that it would cause them much grief… I do wonder if, in so doing, they still have that “peace that passes all understanding…”

    they probably view this as an amputation – nothing they want to part with, but something they must do for spiritual health.

    people with such faith and devotion are almost admirable, except that in order to commit to this, it seems like they’d have to keep themselves from really thinking things all the way through – likely out of fear that god will punish them eternally for their thoughts. they likely cant allow themselves to consider the notion that questioning the bible’s claims (made by men) is not the same as turning your back on god… except that maybe since all they know of their god came to them by men, it is hard to differentiate between the two…

    it sounds like an unfortunate and tragic situation.


  10. I’ve never understood shunning. Jesus consorted with folks considered untouchables and there are these cute sayings like “hate the sin, love the sinner” etc. but I haven’t met too many Christians who think that Jesus’s commandments/behaviors are worth following.


  11. The frustration you express here, Nate, is the same reason why I haven’t told all of my family about my deconversion. There still are too many social networks tied to faith in Alabama, and those faiths require petulance instead of understanding. Your family is showing the exact same behaviors that my very religious family members show. I suppose the only difference is that they’ve shared what they think of non-believers with me.

    Stay strong. This post shows that your capacity for human decency is far larger than those who would sacrifice a relationship over believing in zombies and party tricks. When put that way, it seems that what they’re doing is fairly petty, isn’t it? But really, they’re still beholden to what used to ail you. It’s a tragedy, I think, because they’re missing out on having a decent person in their lives.


  12. Most atheists were once theists, so their starting position was one that believed in miracles.

    Quite right.

    At one time, I even disagreed with Jerry Coyne about this. He said that science ruled out the resurrection. My point of view was (and still is) that science makes it implausible but does not completely rule it out.

    I was far more influenced by the biblical account of the resurrection. It is hopelessly vague and could easily be describing hysteria among distraught people.


  13. Nate, I’m surprised that it’s so incredibly rare that you express frustration – what you’ve been through with your family is in my mind intensely traumatic.

    I think the only positive thing I can think of saying is that practically everyone on your blog would love to bake a cake for you (as well as for SaintPaulieGirl).

    I think at some point it’s fair for Christianity to become like Islam or Hinduism to us. Yeah, I know we never want to turn away from any possible evidence that may show it to be true – I fully agree with that. But at some point surely we come to the place where we feel the time spent will not be fruitful. We do it with so many other religions after all. I know this is a tricky thing, but we all have to come to our own feeling that we’ve given more than enough effort and chance and at that point not feel like we are obliged to give in to every seminar our families want us to attend. I don’t have the answers on how we can know we’ve reached that point yet though. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  14. re: religious freedom laws:
    for any Christian that thinks they have the right to refuse service to bake gays a wedding cake, they need to crack open their buybulls to luke 6:30, jeezzzuuusss says “Give to EVERYONE who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

    And if they get sued for refusing service, they need to crack open their buybulls and read matthew 5:40 when jeezzzuuusss says “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

    not only do they not have the legal right to refuse, they dont’ have the moral right to refuse.
    Their argument is bogus, they are nothing but phony christian bigots.


  15. Thanks for all the great comments.

    I think Howie’s point is very powerful, and it’s one I should take to heart. When it comes to my family and former friends, I’ve made every effort to remain above board. I’ve always believed (even when I was a Christian) that truth has nothing to fear, so further examination of an issue can only be a good thing. Any time I’ve been sent a letter, or something similar, I read it, think about it, and send a reply. I don’t want any of them to think that I had no answer to something they sent, or that I didn’t read it. I’ve tried to keep an example “above reproach,” so to speak. So that’s the mindset I have when I go into this kind of thing.

    However, I think Howie makes a great point, and it’s something I’ll have to think about. I also agree with those of you who said it’s hard to expect much from this kind of thing. It’s true that these kinds of things are done with believers in mind, not skeptics. And they’re not going to talk about anything I haven’t already studied in deeper detail. I primarily want to listen to these so I know what my family is hearing. If I get the opportunity to talk to them (and I told them I expected us to discuss these things, if we were going to attend), then I hope to not focus too much on whatever is covered in these lessons. I’d rather talk about the reasons why my family members believe the way they do. What are their reasons for belief? In our past discussions, it usually revolved around my reasons for not believing. But the specific issues that resonated with me struck directly at the foundations of my faith, and I’ve realized that the reasons I believed are very different from the reasons most of my family believes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find out what those reasons are.

    @Ruth — yeah, completely coming out definitely has some drawbacks, but I think I would personally have a harder time if I had stayed in. It’s just hard to imagine having to tacitly approve all the nonsense. Plus, if I had kept my atheism in the closet, I would still be going to church 3 times a week to maintain the charade. Probably even have to teach the occasional Bible class. **shudder**

    @Crown — thanks for commenting! I think you’re right — a real conversation about the issues would be difficult, because I’ve never had a supernatural experience. Knoxville Freethinker and William both made comments that really resonate with me on that topic.

    @Peter — I couldn’t agree more with your 2 points. Thanks!

    @william — yeah, I think your analysis is right. They don’t want to sever these family ties, but they think they have no choice. It’s really sad.

    @Neil — I completely agree with you. I don’t discount the possibility of miracles either. It’s the other issues in the Bible that sank the ship for me.


  16. @Nate,

    yeah, completely coming out definitely has some drawbacks, but I think I would personally have a harder time if I had stayed in. It’s just hard to imagine having to tacitly approve all the nonsense. Plus, if I had kept my atheism in the closet, I would still be going to church 3 times a week to maintain the charade. Probably even have to teach the occasional Bible class. **shudder**

    My deconversion happened about the same time I got divorced, sold my house, and moved to another town 30 miles away. That helped me to not have to play along. Had I stayed where I was I’m sure I would have had no choice in the matter. I don’t think I could tacitly endorse the nonsense. It makes me feel ill just thinking about it. I’m fairly certain that most of the people I was close to have guessed that I’ve made some sort of spiritual transition – perhaps to a more progressive Christianity – based on my not tacitly endorsing certain ideas and instead questioning them, but I doubt they’ve made the connection to my not believing at all even if they think my salvation is questionable.

    How’s that for a run-on sentence?


  17. Nate, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been going through. I agree with Howie, it’s intensely traumatic. Published in the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies, Psychologist Marlene Winell writes:

    “Leaving the fold means multiple losses, including the loss of friends and family support at a crucial time of personal transition. Consequently, it is a very lonely ‘stressful life event’ – more so than others described on Axis IV in the DSM.”

    I think that it is most likely fear that is causing your family to push you away. You wrote:

    “What are their reasons for belief? In our past discussions, it usually revolved around my reasons for not believing. But the specific issues that resonated with me struck directly at the foundations of my faith, and I’ve realized that the reasons I believed are very different from the reasons most of my family believes.

    I think you’re right.

    Dr. Winell goes on to say:

    “Making the break is for many the most disruptive, difficult upheaval they have ever gone through in life. To understand this fully, one must appreciate the totality of a religious worldview that defines and controls reality in the way that fundamentalist groups do. Everything about the world – past, present, and future – is explained, the meaning of life is laid out, morality is already decided, and individuals must find their place in the cosmic scheme in order to be worthwhile.

    The promises for conformity and obedience are great and the threats for disobedience are dire, both for the present life and the hereafter. Controlling religions tend to limit information about the world and alternative views so members easily conclude that their religious worldview is the only one possible. Anything outside of their world is considered dangerous and evil at worst and terribly misguided at best.

    Sending you a virtual hug. {{{hug}}}

    Liked by 2 people

  18. My own definition of supernatural would involve the suspension of the natural known laws of science, and even then, I would be forced to consider a law that may not yet be known. Otherwise, I would have to admit that “magic” exists, and except for the magic that I’ve found in the unconditional love of a child, I’ve yet to see any.


  19. Hang in there, it gets better.

    You’ll know you’ve had enough when you have a proselytizing book in your hand or your standing at a church door, and you say to yourself, ‘I’m really just tired of this nonsense,’ and go do something else. At that point you may also realize that it really doesn’t matter why your family members believe as they do, it’s your own sanity you need to worry about, and it is really the other family members who need to accept that, and live with it. If they love you, and it sounds as if they do, eventually they will.


Comments are closed.