I’ve been reading the comments here lately and I have noticed that a lot of Christian readers say the same things over and over again: “If you REALLY had been a Christian you would have never de-converted.”
Now the details of the statements differ from reader to reader, some saying “if you’d really had faith,” others saying “if you’d really known the love of God,” or “if you’d really read the Bible with an open heart,” “if you really prayed honestly,” or even “if you were a true seeker you would have found the Lord.”
I’ve been struck by another thing recently as well: noticing that many de-converts were formerly in the ministry.
These two things made me think that maybe it’s being TOO dedicated, too devoted, too much a seeker that is the danger.
Here’s what I mean: Maybe we de-converts were more real in our Christianity than the people who can’t believe we eventually rejected “the truth.” We weren’t content with going to church on Sunday and Wednesday, or with going to confession once a week, or with saying our daily prayers and reading the Bible in a year every year — whatever the flavor of true devotion was in our particular version of Christianity.
We wanted more. I know that is true for myself. I wanted to see the power of God, the way it was described in the Bible. I wanted to experience what the apostles experienced on the day of Pentecost. I was hungry for more of God and I read the Bible every day, over and over again in several translations. I worshipped Jesus with all of my heart.
I know whatever I say here won’t convince anyone that I was a “real” Christian…
It was my sister’s turn to ride in the front seat, so I climbed into the back. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, but that wasn’t unusual, so I sat quietly as mom backed the station wagon out of the driveway.
I was thinking about the doctrine of the virgin birth, that it was simply impossible for Mary to get pregnant without “knowing a man.” I wasn’t stupid, after all. I had read the booklet that my mother gave me about the sperm and eggs joining to form a zygote; I had taken health class in seventh grade. I’d already known everything in the booklet that Mom had given me, but I hadn’t told her that. She was trying to be a good mother, it wasn’t my place to tell her that she was too late to teach me about the birds and the bees. And health class came even later, when I couldn’t think of even one kid in my class who didn’t already know the material that we were taught. We may have been immature, giggling and blushing behind our text books, but we already knew where babies came from. So now, sitting in the back seat of the car, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was impossible for Jesus to have been born of a virgin, it just didn’t make sense. But how could I be doubting such a basic Bible story, one I’d been taught for my entire life, the single fact that was considered true in every church I’d ever attended? I’d known about sex for years, yet I’d never had a problem believing in this miracle before.
My head hurt from the frown on my face, my clenched teeth, and the intense concentration of my mind. I could not come up with an answer but I knew I didn’t want to doubt. I wanted to have faith, even faith as small as a seed that could grow into a tree. If I could only muster up a tiny bit of faith…. but no. The doubt, the science of reproduction, was prevailing over my thoughts. My heart started pounding in my chest, and my breathing got faster and faster. In a few minutes, tears started flowing down my face. I tried to cry quietly so my mother and sister wouldn’t hear me. But they were used to my emotional outbursts by then and probably would have ignored me anyway, after asking what was wrong and getting no response.
Inside my head I began chanting, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief!” I couldn’t talk; my nose was completely stuffed up from the crying…
Suddenly, after months of resistance, after exhaustion, after going to church six days a week, after listening to three hour sermons every night and skipping school when I was too tired to get up in the morning, suddenly I wanted to be what they were. I wanted to have what they had. Suddenly I understood what I was missing.
I close my bedroom door, sit on my bed, pull my knees up to my chest, and shut my eyes. In my mind, I picture a teenage girl standing at a makeshift altar at the front of a small basement arranged like a church.
Her lips move in silent prayer as tears stream down her face. Tom Shaffer, a visiting evangelist from Texas, lays hands on her, his ostrich-skin cowboy boots spread hip-width apart, firmly planted on the concrete floor, his pudgy fingers pressing down into her hair. His words are so loud, he doesn’t need a microphone in this small sanctuary. He hardly needs one when he preaches in the VFW or Oddfellow’s hall, either.
“Repeat this prayer after me,” Tom says. “Heavenly Father, I want to receive this power that Jesus spoke of. I ask you now to baptize me in the Holy Ghost.” The girl repeats, timidly at first, but getting louder with each sentence. “I say by faith that I receive Him now in all His fullness, and as the believers did on the day of Pentecost, I will speak in tongues as the Spirit gives me utterance.”…
A few weeks ago, ironically when I’d been planning to speak at an atheist meeting, I went to church with evangelical friends. I almost called them fundies, but I’m not always sure what that means any more. These days it carries a connotation of negativity, so I’m choosing not to use it to describe my friends, although I’m pretty sure they still hold to the “five fundamentals” with which the name originated. These were friends from my teenage days in New York, when I was on fire for God, a spirit-filled, born again Christian with a mission.
The experience made me wonder how I got that way, because when I think back to my younger days, I was a nominal Christian. I was born again when I was nine, but I didn’t spend most of my time reading the Bible, praying, or witnessing. But when I was 14, all that was starting to change.
Friends from church invited us to their house to hear a preacher from Texas. Ernie greeted everyone at the door, and Helene ushered us down the stairs into the basement. The long, narrow room was filled with metal folding chairs lined up in rows facing a makeshift pulpit that was nothing more than a cheap music stand. There was no organ, but two electric guitars and a microphone stood in the corner of the room next to a small amplifier, and a tambourine waited silently at the foot of the pulpit…
I am an atheist and recently spent a wonderful weekend with some old evangelical Christian friends. We had a great time, we talked about everything — including politics and religion — without fighting or calling each other names. It just makes me wonder why other people have such a hard time talking to and understanding “them”… but yet I see it happening all around me all the time. It’s so sad and I really want to find a way to break down these barriers.
I went to church with my friends, and heard a guest speaker say in so many words that Christians had to fear for their lives now that the Democrats are in power in the US. And this week I read an atheist blogger saying the same things in reverse — how Christians are stockpiling guns and are out to “get us” liberals.
Someone has to break the cycle of terror. I don’t mean fear of terrorists, either. I mean fear of the “other” in our own country. The liberals (including most atheists) are terrorized by the idea that the religious right is going to make our country a theocracy and take all of our rights away the conservatives (including many Christians) are afraid the progressives are out to destroy morality, eliminate religious freedom, and take all of our rights away. Both positions are ridiculous in the extreme.
The scary part is that if we keep going in this cycle, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone has to tone down the rhetoric first. I want to be part of the group that spreads reason and hope instead of buying into fear mongering. I hope it’s not too late and I hope some of you will join me in trying to break out of the destructive cycle we’ve locked ourselves into.
My friend Eric Maisel has written a new book about atheism, The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods. Instead of being a tirade against religion, or an anti-apologetics polemic to try to disprove the existence of God, Eric has written a book about how those of us who already are unbelievers can live meaningful and productive lives without belief in gods. Here’s a short guest post by Eric. Enjoy!
The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods
By Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
I see my new book The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods as primarily providing a roadmap for non-believers who are looking for an answer to the question, “How can I invest my life with meaning if the universe takes no interest in me or in human affairs?” At the same time, I think it will serve the many believers who have questions about their belief system and who harbor a lurking doubt that believing in gods makes good sense. For both groups, I see The Atheist’s Way as providing real answers and a vision of an “atheist lifestyle” characterized by personal responsibility, meaning adventures, and joy.
In writing the book, I thought it wise to skip the arguments for the non-existence of gods. Those arguments have been presented many times already, sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes thunderously. From my point of view is made better sense simply to state that there are no gods and to proceed on to the really important next questions. For the non-existence of gods is a starting point, not an end point, and merely sets the stage for the play…
Mom was folding laundry on the bed. I was pairing up socks, rolling each pair into a tight, little ball, and folding one cuff over on the outside to make a neat package.
“Don’t be disappointed,” she said, “but you won’t be getting much for Christmas this year.”
“How do you know?” I asked. It was, after all, still summer. School hadn’t even started yet. Santa couldn’t have already decided if I’d been naughty or nice.
“We don’t have as much money since Daddy left. So I won’t be able to buy a lot of presents for you.”
I looked down at the pile of laundry and dug out a match to the sock in my hand. What could that possibly mean? Had my parents been buying my Christmas presents all along?
“You already know this,” my mother said, “but please don’t tell June that Santa Claus isn’t real.”
Even though I was only nine, I knew I couldn’t tell my mother that I had believed in Santa right up until that moment. I didn’t want to make her sad…