Critical DisBelief

When certainty becomes uncertain…

When a Christian is no longer a Christian

I was running through my old church’s statement of beliefs this morning and I couldn’t find one I could agree with. Admittedly they are very conservative and, though there are other churches which do not hold to their extreme views on biblical inerrancy, hell and atonement, I have to be honest: the Sunday service of any Christian Church I have visited has almost zero value. I’ve thus left the Church, local and global, abandoned my faith in historic Christian doctrine, and am attempting to live out my respect for Jesus apart from the Church.

What I miss most is meeting the good folk after church services for a chat. Nice folk mostly, albeit with some horrible beliefs. Beliefs they fear they cannot abandon. Luckily most people do not actually live out their beliefs or act according to them. For if you really think that God is violent sometimes, then maybe it’s OK for you to be. OK, sadly some Christians do live this out. Politicians as well as parents. If God the father is basically always angry with you for your constant failings and requires Jesus to intervene to keep Him from killing you then maybe that’s how we should be fathers and mothers: angry overseers, ever-so-loving, but in need of constant appeasement. No wonder the history of mankind as a history of wars did not change at all when Christianity gained the upper hand. Violence wins…

Such thoughts and others convinced me over the past year I realised that I was becoming unChristianized. The tipping point, at which I was fairly evenly undecided, was probably around the time I listened to a Christian minister debate the head of the British Humanists and found myself repelled by both sides. Since then the scale has tipped in favour of humanism, though not necessarily in favour of the aims of the British Humanists. A philosophy which says all life is sacred, like that of Albert Schweitzer, is far better than the barbaric views expressed in the Bible, both in the old and new testaments.

Luckily for Christianity, it is an amalgam of teachings and thus can draw on passages at will to counter almost any attack. This was my standard approach in defending the faith: If accused of being a violent religion, appeal to Jesus’ teachings on loving your enemies. If accused of being capitalist pigs, quote (but never apply) his injunction to give up all your possessions (Lk 14:33). If accused of taking a low view of humans, bracket out Paul and respond instead that “all are made in God’s image”[1]. If accused of misogyny, again bracket Paul, and instead focus on the few females in the Bible who are cast as heroes. Think for example of Mary of Magdala, the first of the Apostles, the Apostle to the Apostles and don’t mention that your Church won’t ordain women or let them teach any men. There doesn’t seem to be any criticism Christian apologetics can’t answer but when you put all the answers together they just don’t fit.

At some stage I realised this was just not honest. How can Christians say that Islam is violent because of some injunction to violence in Surah 9 when their own Bible has God himself directing wars and rewarding his soldiers with sex slaves? Saying “that was the Old Testament” or “we must look at the context” is just another way of saying “it looks bad, but here’s why it’s OK” which is basically what a liberal Muslim scholar will say if you query them on Allah’s command to “kill the infidel wherever you find them”. Interestingly both sides are keen on Absolute Morality but their arguments claim that that behaviour (killing your neighbours and taking their daughters) was acceptable long ago but not now. If that isn’t moral relativism, I don’t know what is.

And so I plan to continue journalling my thoughts on Christianity here as well as finding a way of living in the aftermath of fundamentalism collapsed. I want to find a way to think and live properly and articulate what seems to me the problems and the solutions in our world.

[1] A phrase not actually found in the Bible. It was Adam and Eve made in God’s image and, as we know, they “fell” and became depraved after eating the fruit so you could argue humanity is not all Imago Dei.


6 responses to “When a Christian is no longer a Christian

  1. ian smith August 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Hello Marc

    Thank you for being so honest; and I applaud your courage in being true to yourself through your (no doubt painful) intellectual and spiritual journey. You show a desire for reality that a great deal of the church should learn from and imitate. Thanks also for not just disappearing off the map now that you’ve reached your present position but continuing to be ‘present’ and dialogue with others. This gives me courage and affirms me: I’ve had to go on the ‘Pilgrimage of Questioning’ myself and, like you, discovered that if all else fails there’s still Jesus, and he cannot be surpassed.
    Ironically, it seems that my process was initiated by God when he facilitated the realisation that my ‘Fundentity’ was in fact a construct I created to defend against very serious mental illness (which developed anyway, but I guess it might actually have been worse). The condition and its unconscious thought-patterns, because of certain life experiences, was strongly bonded to an internalised image of the most horrific, diseased god-image. This image fused well (?!) with highly toxic material that was already there from very early experiences.
    However, if I’m to attain anything like health and an authentic experience of my identity, that religious self and its thinking have to go, and so the Fundentity has been slowly crumbling for quite some time – your blog and Premier postings have helped me a lot there. I’m convinced that many people need to shed an identity that is not authentic and is held in place by fear – often fear of the god they want to get away from, plus fear of rejection by churches who are threatened by such ideas.
    I’ve become aware of the many (largely unconscious, but not always) mechanisms used by religious types to dismiss scary people’s thoughts: shaming, accusation, personal attack, confrontation (in love), large Bibles dropped from a great height and so on. The willingness to listen to sincere questions and still stay with you is very rare: you can feel the fear.
    So, good on you, Marc. Making yourself transparent (and therefore vulnerable) in this way is a wonderful example. I think you’ll help many people who are battling with their questions. Jesus would admire you, as this is the kind of person he was.
    Hope I’ll post some more and we can talk. meanwhile, thank you so much for the help you’ve been to me already.
    Peace and love to you.

    • Marc August 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      Wow, thanks Ian, for your wonderful feedback. After I posted this I seriously thought I might be cackling in a dark corner and not offering anything anyone else can or would want to relate to. What am I doing here? Trying to convert people to atheism for Jesus? I hope I’m just trying to get people to follow Jesus regardless of their take on theism. And, for myself, I can really relate to the problem of a Fundentity, like a real toxin I need to get out of my system. And you’re right, fear is the main stumbling block which ironically, Jesus own nature and teaching removed for me, and allowed me to doubt the Scripture and Tradition he himself critiqued and attempted to reform or abolish.

      • ian smith August 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm

        Hey, Marc.
        Glad you liked that. I think you’ve been giving a voice or example to lots of church people who sense a deep dissatisfaction, but haven’t got a name for it, far less know what to do with it. As you know, it can be very, very hard to make feelings like that known in church, and even harder to find somebody to help you articulate them and find what they’re about. You’ve been giving a good lead here.
        How marvellous that you distinguish between Jesus and Theism! That must be one of the most helpful things I’ve ever read. It seems to me that if we can strip away from Jesus all the various -isms that we let encrust and obscure him, then he’s free to affect us, which can only do us good. As he said, the truth sets you free, but people restrict that to mean ‘If you grasp cetain religious truths/facts you’ll be free’. In fact, it’s necessary to accept everything that is true or real. Surely Jesus means that reality facilitates freedom. Some parts of that reality are what you might call spiritual/religious facts, some parts are ‘scientific’, some parts are the hard facts about your life’s journey; but avoidance of reality always creates problems and bondage (arrrgh! Spiritual Fundy Word Alert!). Thus, Biblical literalism is fraught with difficulty and requires serious denial, repression and absurd exegesis in the effort to avoid the plain sense of certain passages. The result is cognitive and emotional damage. Jesus, however, is a person, not a text, and we don’t have to deny certain aspects of him, as if you could. Religious stereotyping likewise creates damage, forcing denial of aspects of one’s self that don’t match the expectations of the group, and can lead to serious illness and personality damage. Interestingly, I’ve found that psychotherapy in its various forms works with the ‘truth is freedom’ model. If you accept reality (or as much of it as you can at any one time), you acknowledge as real the things that happened to you, the denied aspects of the self, your actual emotions, etc and thus the defensive, painful aspects of mental illness (rooted in untruth) lose their grip. Reality is good, if painful. And its easier said than done!
        Yes, the fear, the fear…
        In demolishing the Fundentity, I constantly find great dollops of fear holding it all together (you can see them in certain responses in premier debates). If I say, ‘That’s a terrible thought!’ I get afraid – ‘god’ will be angry; but it’s only a sick thought using Christian themes to express the defensive attitude. Mind you, I think a lot of Fundy ideas (aka Fundeas) are in fact diseased – it’s not just a matter of my condition twisting healthy ideas. I’m sure you can think of a few yourself. But the toxic ideas are backed up by deeper ideas, and so on. It really is like the proverbial onion. There’s a whole web of denial, mistakes, threats, fears, fantasies, etc. I would now say that a very large part of my illness stemmed from religious happenings and ideas, combined with severe life events. The life events would have given me enough trouble, but the religious junk added to them and provoked great suffering and despair. Again, the answer is Jesus and reality. As I’ve made the scary pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady of Dismantling, when the fear hits, I remember ‘Jesus won’t reject me if I think this’ and i begin to feel safer (eventually). It doesn’t always seem big at the time, but I’ve actually changed immensely via this route. It has been a wonderful discovery (though tentative) that Jesus actually would like me to think. This, I feel, is an aspect of love. How can you love a person if you deny them their own thoughts? Imposition of doctrine is thus a form of rejection and infantalisation and is sick (but very effective, as many cults will tell you).

        Anyway, I feel a curry coming on.
        Wishing you a complete and successful Fundectomy,


  2. sue August 23, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Admittingly i did not find it very easy to read your blog over the past years and I certainly did not read the passages where you went into deep theologigal discussions which was neither relevant for my personal life nor did it interest me too much.
    The ‘outcome’ of yours at the moment though made me think a lot about my world view in general and about cultural behaviour and I noticed that there are certain ‘core points’ where I can’t turn my head anymore and keep it out of my life because now it becomes relevant for my behaviour.
    For me it turns out to be a question of morality as well. Christian morals, the ten commandments, the existance of God and the teachings of Jesus are just the anchor points which I believe in.
    Denying these would take the ground away under my feet and I do believe in these facts.
    But it is much more that you question and there are certainly points that I never got together in all the years of Christian belief that I lived now.
    Just some examples-
    The image of the personal loving God versus the angry God in the bible who wipes out whole peoples and sends people into wars, the continous battles and the incongruency that I can see in the rules that apply during these wars- destroying really everyone including their possessions because of the spirital background versus leaving possessions or people in the hands of Israel and neglecting the spirital background.
    We can’t approach God and need Jesus because we are sinners who can’t come close to Him but in the Old Testament there are passages where the people spoke directly to God.
    I noticed that the view of man and women in a lot of churches appalls me because it is said that they have equal status but in reality they do not. Still there is a difference between the sexes and the question of the natural identity rises. Who are we- seen in God’s eyes? What does the cultural background teaches us? I believe in equal status though not in being the same- since we are simply not.
    I believe there is a plan that God had for us and that we just did not fit in- because of our nature?
    I believe there is an ‘ideal’ which we just don’t adjust to for various reasons.
    Unfortunately the matter is not very easy, not black and white, no easy answers, exceptions to every statement that you can find.
    It is couragious to pose all these questions, to face them. I don’t know if i am couragious enough sometimes – or do have the energy to live through that on a daily basis where I still have my daily life challenges.
    These are the important questions though because they determine how we live, what we teach our kids and how we treat the world.
    I just sense that the truth must be somewhere in between. You have the tendency to go very extreme and shoot into some direction and sometime later possibly into some other one.
    Maybe we just have to bear the tension of unanswered questions – to a certain extent.
    That takes courage as well. I am not talking about putting the pillow over our heads or sticking the head in the clouds, I am rather talking about the awareness of certain incongruencies, still hanging onto core beliefs but being further on the quest of diving deeper into possible answers and understanding more.
    We are all constantly on the way…

    • Marc August 24, 2011 at 6:01 am

      @Sue, I definitely understand and can relate to sense of being cut loose and having no foundation without theism. But the whole idea that we have a foundation in ideas about God is, I think, an illusion. It’s called Foundationalism and it’s discredited though a fixed part of our language. That is not really how we think and act, building ideas and values on some “foundation”. Our values grow in the context of our make-up and our experience. That kind of real foundation cannot be shaken except through new experiences.

      There will always be things in the world we don’t understand but religion has made more of these “incongruencies” than are necessary or even healthy. A loving god who will kill and torture you if you don’t love them back is just not something the human psyche can, or should, be forced to take. My next post will attempt to show how we can have a true morality apart from a written or divine code and how our existing Judeo-Christian code both points towards a true morality but itself deficient in many ways (e.g. the 10 Commandments).

  3. Marc August 24, 2011 at 5:53 am

    @Ian Yep, reality is important and one thing the victorious platonic form of Christianity has done is sever what is out there (and seen) from what is real (unseen). This isn’t a car wreck, it’s a spiritual ambush. This isn’t a doubt, it’s the devil attacking your mind. Or so we are told. But why should the devil have any power if Jesus said “now the prince of this world is cast out”. Again, either Jesus was right and the world is fine or, as I think, he was wrong. Jesus was a theist to the very end but his final words are where I pick up on: “God, why have you forsaken me/us”. The vision was pure and true, the reality harsh and disappointing. Get on with it.

    As I will be posting next we need to focus on reality, that which we all share and experience as the closest thing we have to the modernist illusion of objectivity. No one is objective and God is not there to arbitrate our disagreements but truth is undeniable because it’s to correspond to and describe reality (IS and SHOULD). That this reality is subjectively perceived and, as you say, often internal and emotional, does not make it any less true.

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