losing my religion

Losing at Losing my Religion – a 10 year perspective

For just over 10 years now I’ve been an atheist, an ex-Christian. After losing my religion I starting sharing the story of that journey, my difficulties with the church, and many of your stories as well. I’ve been talking privately with dozens of people ever since the first time I wrote down my story, and I’ve been touched by what it’s meant to you – and what your stories have meant to me.

During the first few years after I left the faith, I found myself driven toward kicking against the church with as much vigor as I could. I needed to see it’s defeat and I needed it to be done at my hands. I felt like everything leading up to my awakening had been a giant deception, and that was true – people, adult people – had lied to me in order to control me. They used their influence to teach me that my beliefs about god were determining factors in my eternity. I eventually modeled their behavior. I did the same thing to others. I also became as self deprecating as they were, as I learned to hate all the parts of myself that couldn’t meet the standards set forth by my benevolent but jealous god.

Eventually my vigor waned. I became more concerned about social justice; LGBT rights, the lives of black and brown people, the treachery of warmongering and death in countries inhabited by people poorer than anyone reading this can fathom, and the importance of separating church from state. It became clear to me that what was important was not my insistence on godlessness and controversy, but instead on humanity and the philosophical ideology of humanism and what reaching it’s ends would look like for underprivileged people. I thought – and maintain, that the church will destroy itself with no help from me. It will implode by the force of the immense anger and hate machine that churns inside it.

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Pushing the Gospel on Easter Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday, and outside my window I can hear birds singing through the occasional rush of cars leaving the church just down the road from my house.  In the church this was always one of those most important services of the year – I don’t know how true the statistics were, but the asses in seats always seemed to confirm that the Big Three services were Mothers Day, Easter, and whatever service your particular church had for Christmas. The Big Three because on these three days, moms and families would be more able to convince their adult children to go to church with them – and in the churches I attended, when you had a captive audience of people whose salvation was questionable you had all the reasons necessary for pushing the Gospel.

Easter always seemed to be the most obvious time for this sort of thing, but I’ve seen hellfire and brimstone preaching done in Mother’s Day services too. Some churches would have the sort of messages that would simply pull at your heartstrings and tell a story of sin and sacrifice – while others would focus on the dangers of hell.  I’ve never seen anyone pass up the opportunity to sell to the unbelieving or unchurched on these days, and if I did in my small town I think there’d be a pastor looking for work that coming Monday. Parents want their kids saved, especially older parents who are afraid they’ll miss out on the opportunity to see to it that their adult children are given the guarantee of an afterlife that isn’t full of torment – and so these opportunities are unapologetically taken.

That’s what Easter Sunday looks like in my experience; well dressed people, uncomfortable and present by coercion as relatives look on hopeful that something the preacher says will hit them in the gut just right to get them to the alter.

Good news?

By definition, the word gospel means “good news”. It’s meant to convey that Jesus himself was good news to all the world (or for your Calvinist buddies – to the Elect) by providing them with salvation by means of his sacrificial death on the cross at Calvary. The goodness in it is that all of your sin and inadequacy to meet the standard of the Law is covered by a single sacrifice of one perfect man.

Somehow, looking back, that doesn’t sound all that good to me anymore.

The prima facie belief required for the gospel to be true is actually pretty horrific. That belief is that all of mankind is wretched, from the smallest child to the kindest adult, and deserving of punishment as their creator sees fit seems like a headline from the world’s angriest newspaper. Furthermore, that you are so wondrously wretched that a perfect man must die in your place to make up for it is a horror unto itself.

Christianity posits that we are sinners. Inescapably.

This message is entirely unavoidable, so far as I can tell, within Christian tautology.

And I think you should reject it, because I think it’s a lie.  You have no basis for pushing the gospel if nothing is being cured by it.

Something better

I read somewhere that, as an adult, you should try to be the person you needed but didn’t have available to you when you were younger. If you are 20 today, be who you needed for someone else at the age of 16 – so on, so forth.

When I was 16, I desperately needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t a sinner. I desperately needed to feel adequate and worthy of my own life.  Somehow I never experienced anyone like that in my life, but I know the sort of value they would have had for me. I do try, and I’ve had the opportunity to fulfil that role a few times in my life. Nothing – ever – has been more fulfilling than loving people who believed themselves to be broken enough to tell them otherwise.

So – a new gospel:

You aren’t a sinner. Nothing about you is so broken that it required the death of a perfect man to fix. Nothing about you is so broken that it makes you less worthy of good things, but if you continue to believe that you aren’t worthy of good things – you may miss the opportunity to pursue them. Pursue good things for yourself.  Treat yourself with kindness, treat others with kindness. Do not tolerate those who refuse to do the same. We only have an instant on this planet, try to make it the best instant you can. You don’t need to be saved – you are just fine the way you are.

I think that’s good news.

Is Christianity Dying?

Why this generation is really leaving Christianity

Christians on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been sharing a deluge of recent articles from “hip pastors” about how young people are leaving the church and leaving Christianity. Each of these articles posit a number of reasons why they think this diaspora is occurring, and I’m sure there’s a nugget of truth in each of them – but the one thing I’ve noticed among the articles I’ve read is that they lack any real experience in the matter, and none of them seem to be asking the people who are leaving Christianity why it is that they are doing so.

I’m a real life apostate who left the church and eventually the faith and some might say I know more about why people actually do leave as opposed to some pastor who’s trying to sell a book, but no one is knocking on my door to ask me or any of my apostate cohorts – and nearly every time I try to inject some experience into the conversation these believers are having about us I’m met with negative remarks and accusations about the likelihood that I’m possibly attempting to quell some hidden belief in god with a rage against him.

So, I’ll do what others on the inside have failed to do – I’ll give the outsiders view of why we are becoming outsiders of the church and Christianity, I’ll try to give my own reasons for leaving the church and leaving the faith (two separate things), and I’ll try to do my best not to pigeonhole those that have left by assuming the reasons I’m listing here are theirs – but I’m hoping I’m going to be in the ball park for a lot of you based on my own experiences and my interactions with the ex-christian community.

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Grief and the loss of your faith

Moving Mountains

A poem written while reflecting on the loss of faith and the beginnings of my own personal grief.

This particular post is being written with the ex-christian and ex-believer who has embraced atheism or agnosticism in lieu of their former faith. This is done because this is where my best experience lies, however – for those that leave their faith for another many of these same words will ring true, and so I hope you will still read and take from it what you can – and share with me your own experiences if you are so willing.  I don’t write in this way to alienate anyone and I hope my words don’t do so – my goal is to provide those experiencing these emotions with some feeling of normalcy over what is happening and an understanding that they are not alone.
 
 

A couple days ago Neil Carter over at Patheos’ Godless in Dixie (Which is currently my favorite atheist blog btw) was gracious enough to use one of my posts from 2011 as a guest post on his very popular blog. That post, entitled “It Get’s Better: A Letter to Doubters” has made the round a number of times since I originally published it 4 years ago now and I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to follow up on it in some fashion, if you haven’t read it – I recommend you do. The emails and comments I’ve received since it’s appearance on Godless in Dixie have confirmed that need more than ever – and so today I want to discuss the process of grief and the loss of your faith.

The Death of Faith

Traditionally grief is a process that occurs after the death of a loved one and for many in the ex-christian and ex-believer communities the loss of their faith is very similar to the death of a loved one. I personally believe that just how death-like this process might be depends on how sincere and life consuming one’s faith has been – but even the nominal believer will experience the symptoms of loss when recognizing that he or she no longer holds the same beliefs that once rang true.  In other words – the devotion you have to your god or faith will be directly proportional to the pain you will feel as that faith dies.

This faith death is often spurred by a series of realizations, often the embracing of doubts that have long been quieted by the desire to leave well enough alone. Whether it be a recognition that  your particular holy book doesn’t meet the criteria for evidence and truth that you once thought it did, or  the epiphany that your own cognitive biases have held you in a belief system that new information simply can no longer reconcile. Whatever the reason and however abruptly or agonizingly long this death takes to occur the end result will seem very confusing and difficult to explain – most people say that they feel alone in the world and, despite a sense of data overload that accompanies all the new information coming to you about the faith you no longer hold, a sense of quietness that seems unlike any other that you may have experienced before.

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Debating God In The Bible Belt

Some months ago I was contacted via email by the organizers of the God or No God Debate and issued a challenge to debate the topic of God in the town of Waycross, GA – about 2 hours from my home town. Public forum debate is not a common occurrence around here, this is the buckle of the Bible Belt and that most people believe in God is a foregone conclusion – in fact, the most common question I got for years after coming out as an atheist in my town was whether or not I worshiped Satan (we don’t, by the way).

To say this invitation/challenge came as a surprise was an understatement, but if anyone knows me you know that I’m always up for a discussion or a debate – and so I immediately said yes, and we began settling on a time and a topic.

On Wednesday, September 17th my wife and I traveled to Waycross to meet the organizers at the middle school’s auditorium (It’s a very nice auditorium for plays and school events) and Pastor Rip Snow to debate the topic we decided earlier:  God or No God: Which Explains Reality?

There was a fairly standard format of two 15 minute opening statements, two 10 minute counters, a 15 minute cross-examination period, and two 10 minute closing statements followed by 35 minutes of audience Q & A, all of which is available below. (A few parts had to be removed from the Q & A due to one disruptive participant.)

(Please note:  The audio and video gets better at the 10 minute mark, my apologies)

I’ll probably post my own critique later, both of my own arguments and presentation – and a further critique of things I didn’t have time to deal with of Rip’s arguments. For now, I submit this for your approval, commentary, and for you to critique as much as you like – so long as you do so with as much respect as possible.

The Day I Gave Up My Hindu Faith

Krishna

Today we have another episode of “Your Stories”. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post one of these, but this one comes from a friend of mine who shared this on his Medium account – when I read it I knew I had to share it with my own readers and help them follow the posts he’ll be using to follow up from this one. So please, follow my friend Prashant Patel on Medium so that you can read the next in this series as I’m positive they’ll be informative posts that you can reflect on and identify with. While Prashant is an ex-Hindu turned atheist – people from any religious background should recognize many of the same feelings portrayed here.

This was originally posted on Prashant’s Medium Page Here.

I’m writing this to explain why I moved on from my religion. I have been asked many times about how it happened and I often think about this most when I think of the event that pushed me over the edge. So here’s that event and the context. In the future, I’ll be writing about what effect this has had on my life and what it could mean for you should you also be questioning your own faith.

The Context

So first of all, it didn’t really all happen in one day. For me, it was gradual with some major turning point along the way (I suspect the same is true for many people who change some important viewpoint they hold). My major turning point was September 27, 2003 (11 years ago today).

It all really began a few years before that day. Our temple had youth education known as Balvihar (it’s pretty much like Bible study or Sunday school for Hindus). Younger children were regaled with various religious mythology and how the heroes of history overcame the evils that threatened our world. As we got older, we were moved into a different group where we sat with a respected member of our community and discussed various religious texts we had been assigned to read. Our discussions often focused on why we maintained certain traditions and held certain beliefs. These discussions are what led to my first debates about my faith. I’m purposely not going into details because you already know the problems with major religions and it won’t add anything to this story. Anyhow, these debates were the tremors leading up to the earthquake that was September 27, 2003.

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What You Lose when Losing Your Religion

losing-my-religon-vibe

Neil Carter, over at Godless In Dixie recently wrote a great piece on what he gained when he left his religion which inspired me to consider all that I’ve lost in losing my religion. There are, inherently, a lot of built in benefits to holding to religion and maintaining a religious belief – especially if that belief is the predominant one in your community, country, or family but I find this idea largely unexplored by atheist and ex-christian writers. Losing your religion has lots of pro’s and con’s considering your particular station in life – so, what might you lose?

1: An immediate and supportive community.

Within most religions and Christianity especially there are strong communities built around churches. Stepping away from the faith meant that I was a leper in my former community, where I could call someone for help anytime I needed it and had built in job references from people that had known me for many years. I had people that, so long as what I had to say was approved, would stand behind me and support me.

There are supportive atheist communities  out there, that’s important to note, but they are small and struggling to grow in small towns like mine. It’s just not the same as having hundreds of people in support of one another (again, so long as the message isn’t deviated from) the minute you join a church and become an active member. The effort required to have huge amounts of built in friends is incredibly low – as an atheist in a small town, especially as the type of atheist that is active in the community, it takes a great deal of work and networking to build any sort of clout with people.  (As a small business owner, this is incredibly important.)

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Mailbag – Why Did You Leave the Church?

mailbag

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, that’s largely because I’ve been preparing for a live debate coming up on September 17th between myself and Rip Snow in Waycross, GA. Go to www.GodorNoGoddebate.com for more information on that.

 

I thought I should probably try to push out a little bit of interesting content none-the-less since all of the stuff I’m currently working on is into the 3000+ word area and nowhere near complete (Running a growing business and having a full-time job leaves me with very little time for writing). That said, I thought I’d open up a new section called The Mailbag – where you can submit questions or comments and I’ll respond.

 

To submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.


 

Today’s mailbag comes from a Facebook message from Clint W.

Clint W. writes:

 

My question was why did you leave the church, because of who Jesus is or because of who the church is? I can see someone being disillusioned with the church because of people in the church but I have never seen anything Jesus does in scripture to make me even considering leaving the faith. Matter of fact with the words of Christ I have such an understanding of how much we as the church miss the mark. But it also makes me strive to be able to serve him the best I can.

 

Thanks for writing Clint. I get that more often than you might think – and the honest answer to the question is that I left the faith because of who Jesus wasn’t. Or, better yet – because I simply couldn’t believe in who the Bible claimed he was. Don’t get me wrong, I had suffered a great deal of disappointment at the hands of Christians – but I always tried my best not to judge the faith by the faithful. I still do. As I studied and got deeper into an understanding of the Bible I realized that so many of the claims around Jesus were simply unsubstantiated, and I was unable to maintain any faith in him or in God at all.

 
I simply don’t believe that there are any credible accounts for Jesus’ life. So, none of the written accounts are credible enough to believe – and because of that I find it impossible to hold Jesus in the position that I once did. Whether or not the authors of the synoptic gospels believed that Jesus was Lord is irrelevant, because their accounts aren’t trustworthy since they weren’t written down until at least 30 years after his alleged death, so I don’t have a reason to believe the story they tell.

 

Whether or not Jesus was even a real person is a better starting point than whether or not the accepted Christology of Jesus is true today, but we are expected to take the word of scribes who probably never met the man and who had their own agendas to push about who he was.  I also find that the Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about is generally different than the Jesus talked about in John and that Paul believed in – the latter being the focal point of Catholic Christology at the Nicene Council and still largely accepted to this day.

 

The fact of the matter is that I truly wanted to believe in Christ more than anything on the planet, most notably while I was losing my faith, but after enough time I just couldn’t and nothing I did – no amount of prayer or study could fix it. I had to eventually become OK with that fact, and I am.

Thanks again, and remember that you can submit something to the mailbag either tweet me @Revoxley using the hashtag #mailbag or submit it through the Contact Me form.  While you’re at it subscribe to my new YouTube channel – I’m working on lots of new content right now.

Why Cling to Faith?

People of faith  often share an experience that is so rarely discussed among themselves that, at first glance, it seems as if it’s existence is completely covered up – this quiet secret is not rare in any way at all, however, and most people of faith know more about doubt than they are willing to admit in public or even in private to their peers. There has to be a reason for this hush surrounding the uncertainties that are likely to accompany faith and that often do – that reason is that with doubt comes consequences.

And so doubt is buried and ignored and handled with no real help at all.

The first moment in which a person has an inkling of doubt about something foundational to their understanding of reality and something they have up until this time known to be true is utterly terrifying. Most people, as they test these feared waters, find themselves bravely dipping their toes in and then quickly retreating as soon as they realize just how difficult this will inevitably become.  Faith is that thing we most fear questioning as the implications of being right vs. being wrong are eternal and severe.

“I’m going to start by questioning the goodness of god,”  or “I’m not sure who Jesus really was,”quickly turns into supplications made out of an overwhelming fear often generated by the simple thought of this intent toward questioning. Fear is faith’s built in survival mechanism, you threaten faith – even momentarily and even in the most seemingly miniscule way, and fear will overcome every crevice of your person. This is precisely why many never fully experience doubt – they try it out, become overwhelmed by fear, and retreat to the comfortable lie they’ve always known.

Those who fully embrace doubt do so at the expense of every comfort they’ve ever known.

The first time I started to approach my doubt I recall being absolutely terrified to the point that I trembled.  I would lay awake at night pouring with sweat as I prayed for forgiveness for my uncertainty, knowing – like Pascal – that the price of being wrong was heavy and eternal and yet at the same time fiercely angry at the god who would allow for such muddy waters where the truth about his will and existence were concerned. It’s easy to be a young man who knows only his faith and only the basics of even that – it’s much more difficult to have a library of religious knowledge at your feet and still view your own faith with the same objectivity that worked previously.

Unlike Pascal and nearly every young apologist I’ve ever encountered I understand something about belief that, upon first approach, is very difficult to swallow; you are not in charge of what you believe, you will believe what you are convinced is worthy of belief – but never anything that hasn’t met that criteria. You may study and learn and throw yourself into your faith – but if you, for whatever reason, later become unconvinced of the truth of that faith – not believing it’s tenets is entirely out of your control. Simply put:  You cannot believe what you do not believe.

That’s what makes doubt so dangerous, once it’s seed is planted it cannot be stopped – and once well rooted and growing it won’t be pulled out by any amount of force. Of course, there are counter measures one can make – all of which are, in my experience, temporary.  Most who experience doubt retreat quickly and then employ some sort of cognitive dissonance to explain away their experience – but as I said, these efforts are generally fleeting and as long as they may last the dormant root of doubt one day revives and lays the faithful to waste once again. I certainly experienced this a number of times throughout my life as a Christian. If I look back on it the times that I was most outwardly devout they are likely also the times I was most fiercely attempting to dissuade uncertainty. I think many people are the same way; their desperation leads to devotion – strained though it may be.

As surprising as it may seem to those unfamiliar with this territory, I’m not describing any unknown phenomena. There isn’t a pastor alive today with more than a few years experience that hasn’t been precisely where I’m describing, in fact, there are ministries set up just for pastors who are so burned out that they are in peril of losing sight of what it is that led them into the ministry in the first place. Doubt, despite it’s obvious existence in the day to day life in even the most average of Christians – is a topic spoken of like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. “That which shall not be named,” largely due to an overwhelmingly and absolutely justified fear that a congregation that gets even the slightest whiff of doubt may oust their beloved clergyman altogether.  Uncertainty a dangerous thing to admit to when your financial well-being depends on a steadfast commitment to absurdity.

Clergy aren’t the only people with a vested interest in maintaining a faithful status quo. The average believer will have invested a good chunk of his or her life into building a social construct consisting mainly of people who won’t challenge their beliefs. Within this social construct exist friendships and families, churches and social clubs that watch out for one another; if there is anything that the religious are good at it’s being inclusive of those with homogeneous stances and beliefs on the issues deemed important by the bodies that make those decisions.  It should be noted that they are also incredibly good at being exclusive to those who fail to fall in line. It doesn’t take long for a convert into your average religion to notice what happens to those that begin to fall out of line, many of us grew up hearing the gossip about the backsliders in our churches and watching how those people slowly became appendages of little or no use – only to be cast away.

Not only does the average believer have an interest in maintaining membership in “The Social Club”, they also generally want to maintain the simplicity of faith.  It’s altogether easier to believe that every disastrous moment in the life of a person is a part of some divine plan, and to rely on whispered prayers in times of difficulty or crisis for comfort rather than facing this cold and unforgiving universe as it is. I don’t even have to mention the benefit of promised eternal heavenly reward (even if imagined) to make the ease of faith seem like an improvement over the harshness of a life without those small comforts.

The faithful cling to their faith in lieu of exploring the questions and uncertainties haunting the back of their minds for many reasons – most of them having to do with the sheer terror they face when attempting to approach those questions, the danger of losing their social or family structure as well as their membership in a believing majority, and the exclusion provided by those that remain – who exclude for fear that doubt may be infectious.

And it is.


Discussion points:

Are you a Christian or other person of faith clinging to your faith?

What keeps you from embracing the questions and critiques you have about your beliefs?

Are you a former believer who has experienced something similar to that which is described here?

What made you finally decide to begin allowing your questions to drive your thoughts? Where did they lead you?

Choosing Hell

Choosing Hell

Choosing Hell: Leaving faith against your will

 

Any atheist who has spent any time talking with or debating with theists is going to have heard it at least a dozen times, “You have just chosen not to believe” or “You’ve chosen one faith over another faith” or some derivative of this idea. Personally, I’ve heard it hundreds of times – largely because of my status as an apostate.

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