Yes, it’s a great song by REM, but the sentiment should haunt every Christian. How, and why do people lose their religion? Why have people with all the Christian upbringing, intolerant of free thought or critical thinking, left the faith of their childhood and moved on to other religions, or no religion at all?
We can go through all the reasons given by Christians (those who haven’t been through it), but is that likely to give anyone an insight?
Christians believe, first and foremost, that a loss of faith is a choice, made due to a love for an evil way of life. Christians thus believe that even atheists believe in God (I think there’s even a book on this subject, which I intend to read). They believe that these people have chosen to turn from God, and that means these people must believe in God, or they couldn’t have chosen to turn their backs on Him.
This is essentially what Christians must believe. If they don’t believe this, then they have a problem with claims to free will. If people loose their faith because the church leaders lie to them, and the facts that are concealed by these lies act as evidence against the liars claims, then it isn’t a choice, it’s a loss of belief due to perfectly reasonable circumstances. If someone has done research diligently into the Bible and sees contradictions, or the most immoral behaviour in God’s name (which God repeatedly fails to disapprove of), then their belief will likely fail. This is reasonable, it is expected, but it removes the idea that this person chose to turn against God.
This is a mistake from the Christian side. Someone who doesn’t believe something can’t turn their belief on, this is one of the critical errors in Pascal’s Wager. Either you believe something, or you do not. It seems cruel to blame some decent people who have looked at the Bible more diligently than those who currently occupy church pews for their disbelief. It seems far more reasonable to say that God was hiding from them, or that the Bible was mostly just made up. The big question which needs to be asked is, if God wants people to believe, why make it so difficult for people to believe?
As you may have realised, I’m not just talking hypothetically about some people losing their faith, I’m speaking personally. I lost the faith of my childhood because the blind sheep of that church couldn’t provide any answers to significant questions. One of the key problems was Hell. Apart from Hell just being a stupid idea that is used to scare people into accepting blindly what their pastors tell them, it isn’t presented according to the obvious Biblical reading. The impression that any uninitiated critical reader would take is that some people will live for eternity in paradise, and the rest won’t live at all (John 3:16; Rom 6:23; Obad 16 and more). The never ending Hell idiocy seems to have little Biblical support. Which allowed me to be enticed by Adventism as they seemed to be literate regarding this.
But I’m at this point for a second time, I still believe, as I always have, that the natural world is probably not all there is and that some kind of, probably disinterested, deity probably does exist. But I have to point out that the Bible, the supposed guide that should lead people to God, is the single greatest influence on deconversions and barely ever comes into people’s conversion stories. I have read it before, but blogging through it has lead me actually study it as closely as it should be studied according to Acts 17:11. I doubt people do “search the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so,” rather I think they just read the bit the pastor told them to and believe whatever he says.
I have a few issues, and these have been building up for a while. My first issue comes down to honesty, an ultimate moral authority, that is both omniscient and omnipotent wouldn’t be represented by dishonest people. Perhaps you can find a Christian denomination where some kind of dishonesty is not part of the method for attracting fresh tithe payers, I can’t. I myself have been dealing with a pastor who is too busy to fulfil his pastoral duties because he’s been dealing cars, imagine how this makes someone in doubt feel, “sorry, I didn’t have time, I was showing a car” after telling me he’d come and visit. So far, I’ve seen no reaction to my emails of complaint to his superiors, apart from the fact that he suddenly can make time for me. That aside, the evangelists who the church endorses as speakers, knowingly lie. Zoology professors know better than to teach the “hopeful monsters” caricatures of punctuated equilibrium, yet the church endorses this dishonesty and the omnipotent moral authority seems powerless to stop this.
If things are absolutely wrong, genocide and the killing of pregnant women and children, and the implied rape of the non-pregnant women is immoral, and any half decent moral system should be able to point this out. Numbers 31 and the war against Midian, the Midianites were killed, the pregnant women were killed with the male children (“lest the anger of The Lord be kindled against [the Israelites]”), the remaining woman were probably raped. People will say that the command from Moses was to take the women into Israel as wives, and thus rape wasn’t condoned here. I doubt that anyone who says this has given it any honest thought, when you kill a woman’s entire race, her brothers and sisters, and her parents, she doesn’t want to marry you (does this surprise you?) The Old Testament has no marriage ceremony like what we know today (if it does, please leave the relevant scriptures in the comments), thus a couple where married only after sex. So, the Israelites had sex with women who probably didn’t want it, but there was no rape involved. ???
People don’t belong to other people, if someone does something punishable by death, and their possessions are supposed to be burnt with them, don’t burn the wife and kids. Apparently they do, Achan was burned with his entire family, even though they did nothing wrong (try “the sins of the father” comment, I dare you).
Regarding issues like this, I asked an elder, he asked who had a problem with it. Seriously, I don’t need someone to point out that genocide, especially since Midian was the wrong target, is wrong. It also wouldn’t matter, the idea is no doubt to point out that the critic is an ungodly person who is influenced by the devil (the cop out). This doesn’t matter for anything, since the real problem isn’t that this bothers critics, the problem is that it doesn’t bother Christians.
I have many other issues, which it seems the church isn’t interested in addressing, and this was the same issue I had with the church of my childhood, nobody wants to answer questions properly, they want to give a half cocked quick response that you must believe if you don’t want to suffer the wrath of a forgiving and compassionate deity. These issues are things I will have to dedicate entire blog posts to, but for the mean time, I’m putting this out there so that people can help me through this. Atheists and critics will, no doubt, help by trying to promote the doubt, while Christians should help by trying to offer answers or reasoning for me to hold onto my faith (please don’t threaten anyone with Hell on my blog, I’ll make an idiot out of you). I’m going to be honest here, I want there to be a caring God, but if there is one, I need to see that this deity cares enough to not hide behind threats of Hell and blind, unquestioning (stupid) faith.
I will continue blogging my way through the Bible with the same sentiment I started with, so there’ll be no change there, and I will do my best not to shake people’s faith.
I started with the idea that Christians think atheists believe in God, I’m going to end by pointing out that as far as perception goes, Christians don’t believe in the deity they present as “the one true God.”