TRUTH AND SUFFERING: A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

TRUTH AND SUFFERING: A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE


W

hen I was seven years old, my family moved to St. Petersburg, Russia to proselytize for the redeeming message of Jesus Christ inside the recently liberated schools of the former Soviet Union. I was young but I can still remember the weight of the emotions I felt witnessing the transformation that true belief can bring about in someone. The message we offered was just words, but these words had the power to realize a complete psychological metamorphosis, nearly instantaneously. Decades of anti-religious, communist rule had left a country of people fully receptive to this gospel of personal, divine salvation. Ideas have great power, suppressing them only makes them stronger. I learned this early.

Upon our return to the United States, I became a devout and studious believer in the fringe realm of anti-evolution, creationist science and a well-read, vocal obsessive in eschatological Christian theology. I took to internet forums as a precocious teen, spreading the message of Earth’s impending doom and our need to repent or face the consequences upon Christ’s imminent return and the onset of the apocalypse as told in the Book of Revelation. I took on atheists regularly with enthusiasm and (I thought) unbeatable arguments.

Ideas tend to reinforce themselves through the natural process of our psychological need for internal consistency, and so it wasn’t long before I was a young man on the brink of a college experience fully committed to the truth of the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God.

I suppose you could point to this pivotal moment as the beginning of a long and difficult de-conversion process. As a fan of classic Christian apologist thinkers like G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, I was drawn to the concept of strengthening and clarifying ideology through effective challenge and argument. It was primarily for this reason that I chose to attend a secular university and study religion academically rather than take the course of some of my fundamentalist peers who were heading off to Christian colleges.

I’d like to paint for you the picture of an open-minded seeker of truth who dove into the secular study of religion with gusto, free from bias and craving correction, but this of course is not how the human mind generally works and my mind is unfortunately not exceptional.  If I did anything exceptionally it was a willingness not to shy away from hard facts. I took courses on the historical Jesus, studied Biblical Hebrew with a rabbi to better understand the words of the Old Testament and undertook extra-curricular trips with professors to experience the cultural variations of my own religion and those of the world’s people. I wanted to know my faith because at the time I sincerely believed it was beyond recrimination.

I can still remember a discussion I had with Dr. James McGrath, a New Testament expert, in a hotel café in Riga, Latvia. We were there on a two-week trip to study the religious history of the Baltic States. This was the summer of my sophomore year and the cracks in my armor of self-deception had already begun to show, if ever so slightly.

I asked him about the problem of inerrancy, a question that had been plaguing me perhaps most of all at the time. If the Bible isn’t inerrant, how can any of it be trusted? Aren’t we essentially creating our own religion if we don’t accept all of it? And if it is inerrant, how do we reconcile the apparent contradictions and morally difficult passages? He began to offer a response, but our time was cut short by the next item on our itinerary and we put a pin in the conversation. We never did get a chance to revisit those questions, but it’s not because of this frustrated conclusion I remember it so well. I remember it because it marked the exact moment that the questions I’d been struggling to answer crystallized into genuine doubt about my beliefs.

I now understand why so many religious leaders caution against asking hard questions, once the doubt sets in the yarn tends to unravel. I won’t be so arrogant as to claim all religious people are suffering from acute self-deception (at least no more than anyone else), I am sure that many have doubts they effectively manage or deem inconsequential in the face of religious experience. Others feel no doubt at all. I was not one of these people.

With the doubt came that sinking feeling that profound uncertainty tends to bring with it, and I spent much of the next two years in a near constant state of mental struggle. The realization was a trickle at first. A series of questions that hung in the air. If the truth of the Bible is self-evident and God has both the desire and ability to reveal himself to us, why does it seem the vast majority of people live and die within the religious tradition they’re born and raised with? Is eternal damnation a fair punishment for temporal failing? If brain trauma impacts personality and decision making, does free will actually exist? Since morality shifts with history and the advancement of science, can a series of books written in a specific historical context truly claim to speak with the voice of absolute moral clarity?

Philosophical questions of this sort soon gave way to the dilemma of the moral message itself. Slavery, male dominion, genocide, the entire book of Job, animal sacrifice and the condemnation of homosexuals. If this collection of books was truly perfect in its depiction of morality, why did it conflict so consistently with my own innate sense of conscience.

Many of these questions probably seem patently obvious to some of you, but when you’re deeply nestled in the warm comfort and protection of profound self-deception, they are startlingly easy to overlook or ignore. When you’ve spent your entire life convinced of a fundamental truth about reality, reinforcing that belief with every opportunity, it takes a great amount of intense self-reflection and willingness for painful, soul-exposing vulnerability to even engage honestly with these questions of immense importance.

Family and friends when presented with these doubts encouraged me to focus on the New Testament, on the person of Jesus and his message for humanity’s redemption. Most of my concerns, they said, were abrogated by Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament; eye for an eye became turn the other cheek after all. But if this was true, why did Jesus quote so heavily from the Old Testament? Was the God of the Old Testament not also God? I found their answers, and those of the many apologists I consulted through their writing, unconvincing. Though I wanted badly to believe, I now knew that I was lying to myself.

The process to this point was slow and painful, but once the moment of epiphany is reached it is all but impossible to unlive that experience. Arguments I once found compelling and emotionally moving struck me now as childish, even delusional. The core of my being had shifted irrevocably.

In the years since this moment, I’ve largely kept my lack of belief to myself. Even now as I write this sentence I struggle with the reality that the words I’m typing will deeply wound people I love. I share my experience as an example that real, fundamental change of thought is possible, though it’s difficult and personal. I share it also as a much-needed emotional catharsis. Facing the depth of your own carefully crafted self-deceptions is a challenge not to be undertaken lightly and it leaves many scars.

I see atheists on social media often who seem singularly focused on de-converting the religious. They make compelling arguments that religion is a net-negative force, that it demonizes science and divides people. It’s hard to look at the state of the world right now, engulfed in religiously motivated violence, and not feel the truth of those words.

But there’s a different side of religion too, and much is lost when God dies in the human heart. For most of my life my religion sustained me, it gave me meaning and it told me I was loved by my creator. It tied me to those closest to me and gave me a community of like-minded, mostly kind-hearted people to belong to. I feel that loss and it still pains me, but that pain is honestly earned and so I bear it. Living in what I believe to be a lie is a different kind of pain that I cannot accept.

We are complicated animals, and the human brain remains a great mystery. Even now I doubt myself all the time. I doubt the existence of an uncreated universe (in the same way I doubt the existence of an uncreated creator), I doubt my intuitions and feelings, I doubt the origins of my own thoughts, I even doubt whether there is such a thing as truth at all. But maybe I’ve learned to live with my uncertainty. I just hope someday I can learn to embrace it, retaining some degree of humility in the process.

I have BAs in Psychology, Philosophy and Religion from Butler University in Indianapolis, though I don't claim any particular expertise. I am not a professional writer nor do I pretend to have some special insight into the world. This blog exists for the sole purpose of scratching my occasional creative itch. Please feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook or email at the links below. Thanks for reading!

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  • AtalantaBethulia

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I’ve found the same process to be intimately true and equally difficult, though deeply rewarding. Blessing to you as you continue on your path.

    • Thank you! Very kind of you. The sentiment is returned.

  • Laura from NC

    Thank you for your honesty. Questioning and doubt are healthy. The question that I am working on now is whether it has to be all one way or the other. Could it not be that God does exist and love us and we have only glimpsed bits and pieces of the truth? Could it be that the Bible is not inerrant or even completely historical, but a catalog of part of humanity’s attempt to understand the divine? That means that Christianity is not the only “valid” religion, but one of several pathways for understanding God. There may be truths in each. I wonder.

    • Hello, Laura! Thank you for reading and for the kind words. I would like to believe some middle ground is possible, though I struggle with what form that takes or how meaningful it can be on a day-to-day level. I have no issues with individuals seeking God outside of religion, I freely acknowledge the scope of the universe often leaves in me a sense of wonder that seems to demand a creator. That to me is natural. When I say at the end of the piece that I still have many doubts about reality, the existence of God is certainly among them. I don’t pretend to know if God does or does not exist, but I feel more or less convinced (depending on the day) at this point that if he/she does, it is not perfectly or completely captured by our numerous holy scriptures.

      This idea of religion as man’s attempt to understand divine experience is not one I’m wholly unsympathetic too, but neither am I okay with what often seems to flow from that, namely the claims of absolute, unalterable morality and requirements for salvation. If the men and women having these experiences simply stated them as such and did not assume divine authority or demand adherence under threat of eternal damnation, I would have no issues with them at all and I think the consequences they’ve wrought in the world would be much diminished.

      • Taylor Walston

        I think your point above, about making up your own religion is relevant here. When you throw away the things you don’t like about your religion, you do insulate yourself from doubt. I think you also step away from truth. If you ignore the foibles of men, you miss the evidence of people making things up as they go and their religious thoughts changing with the society they are living in.

        • Yes, and I think it’s a valuable thing to do if you’re going to take your religion seriously. If you don’t, you end up with super literal, conservative sects like Westboro Baptist, but at the same time, this makes it really hard for me to feel like I’m being honest with myself if I’m picking and choosing the stuff I like or don’t. I’ve never really been able to solve that particular conundrum.

    • Arliss Whiteside

      Hi, Laura,

      I think you are on the right track. I believe that one God exists and loves us, but we have only glimpsed parts of the truth. I believe the Bible is a library of writings describing how God was understood by a wide variety of persons, over many centuries. These writings reflect how the understanding of God changed and improved, throughout Old Testament times and into New Testament times. I think our understanding of God is still improving, slowly and not smoothly. I am convinced that we should expect and plan for gradual improvement of our understanding of God and the Bible. By improvement, I mean more correct and complete understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus, as applied to current human life.

      Yes, this means that Christianity is not the only “valid” religion, but one of several pathways for understanding God. Indeed, I think there is not one set of multiple beliefs about God and man that all Christians should believe. By “should believe”, I mean that God would like them to believe this set. By “not one set”, I think there are many different sets of beliefs, but not unlimited sets, about God and Man that are best for different Christians to believe.

  • Elsa

    Thank you for sharing this, Josh. My faith went through a similar deconstruction, quite some time ago.
    My question now is, how do we explain those dramatic personal transformations that you describe at the beginning of your post? I’ve witnessed them, and I’ve had them. What is it within us, do you think, that causes such a sudden and complete shift?

    • Hi, Elsa. Thank you for reading it! Those are really good questions. I think the experience is probably a little different for everyone but the mechanisms may largely be the same. I tried, however ineloquently, to draw the parallel of my own de-conversion epiphany as a sort of similar experience to that of the newly converted. For me it was simply knowledge that crystallized into belief. When that belief is a fundamental one, it has a domino effect that alters everything else it comes into contact with, often in complicated and unexpected ways. Sometimes that change is for the better (feelings of worthlessness can transform into feelings of profound significance – which you often see described in religious conversions), or for the worse (a desire to aid ones community turning into a desire to commit terrorism against civilians – as you often see described in the process of radicalization).

      If you consider for example the experience of a drug-addicted woman who finds out she’s pregnant. Research seems to suggest that in a large percentage of women this realization that they are pregnant instantly transforms their view of the world. Habits are destroyed and rebuilt almost instantly. It may seem like an odd example, but in considering the mechanisms at work it strikes me as somewhat similar. One moment a person believes they are alone, they have no purpose, no meaning. The next they feel this incredible sense of belonging, that their existence has purpose and this shift in perspective has dramatic and immediate consequences in both their mental state and their behavior. 20 years of habit forming drug addiction gives way to self-sacrifice in the case of the pregnant woman, where as 20 years of self-loathing can give way to intense feelings of self-love in the case of the convert. It isn’t so much that the belief needs to be true, the person just has to believe it is. Certainly in the case of a pregnant mother there’s also biological and psychological factors that go beyond simply a shift in perspective, but knowing your life now has purpose is no doubt part of the equation.

      • Elsa

        Thank you, Josh. I think you’ve described it very well. Whatever the trigger, there is a complete shift in perspective, which results in a change in behaviour, a change in everything, really. We are truly amazing creatures, when you think about it. Our minds are so powerful. We see this all the time: I’m thinking of people I know, who have a lot of anxiety – their minds create havoc when there is no real danger, and I guess, in this case, it is the goal of therapists to facilitate the change in perspective.
        Keep writing!

  • Redstart

    “For most of my life my religion sustained me, it gave me meaning and it told me I was loved by my creator. It tied me to those closest to me and gave me a community of like-minded, mostly kind-hearted people to belong to. I feel that loss and it still pains me, but that pain is honestly earned and so I bear it. ” Unfundamentalists do feel this love. You have much still to learn, grasshopper.

    • I would never claim otherwise. Always more to be learned.

  • You wrote, “much is lost when God dies in the human heart….but that pain is honestly earned and so I bear it. Living in what I believe to be a lie is a different kind of pain that I cannot accept.”

    Powerful words. And I identify with them so deeply as I, too, went through a number of years slowly losing hope and faith because I kept seeking truth. Rather ironic, like you say.

    Excessive doubt can be it’s own lie, also. At least that is what I’ve discovered the hard way. Now many atheists are claiming that ethics are only “subjective preferences,” that our “I” is an illusion, that no one has any choice. Nihilism beckons.

    Have you read Martin Gardner? He is one of the co-founders of the modern skeptic movement? He wrote about his own loss of faith in The Flight of Peter Fromm and in The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener. Both great books.

    • Thanks for reading, Daniel! As I alluded to in the conclusion, I do admittedly struggle with the origins of my own ideas and the problem of free will. I think I’ll put my thoughts on that subject into a more complete blog post at some point. For now I’d just say that I don’t necessarily believe that we have no choice at all, but rather we simply don’t have a realistic sense of the origin of many of our own thoughts. It’s a hard distinction to parse out, I admit. I’m not versed enough in the specifics to articulate it well, but for example: if I think “a cheeseburger sounds pretty good” – why am I craving a cheeseburger exactly? Is it some lack of nutrients that my body needs from that meal? Is it that I was primed to want a cheesburger because I saw an advertisement 20 minutes ago for one? Do I have a psychological addiction to the enjoyment that eating a cheeseburger provides? Has a lifetime of experience with cheeseburger consumption conditioned me to crave it? Obviously the answer is complicated and essentially unknowable, but it’s not something we’d actively think about. It’s still my choice to eat that cheeseburger or not, but even then the degree to which I resist the urge is largely contingent on forces not directly under my control.

      Maybe that’s a terrible example but I’m no expert on the philosophy of mind, though I do find the question of choice a fascinating if frustrating one to ponder. Can we do things actively to manipulate these unseen forces? I believe we can, absolutely. Is that a form of free will? I suppose someone could argue our choice to manipulate these forces is itself being manipulated by them, but at some point it becomes unhelpful to think that way in my opinion. Regardless, I will continue to think on it and in the mean time I will absolutely look up the books you recommended. I am not familiar with Martin Gardner but I will become so.

      • Thanks for the quick reply. By human choice I don’t mean something totally unrelated to our circumstances, but that as conscious rational (at least part of the time) primates we can effect changes our surroundings and within us.

        In contrast, so many atheists are exactly like Calvinists, only changing the fatalistic determiner from God into the Cosmos or the “laws of physics”:-(
        For instance, both Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris claim that we humans are so determined that we would make exactly the same movements even if the universe and time happened again a “trillion” times. They claim we are “puppets,” “wet robots,” etc. and that every murderer and every rapist has no choice.

        Well, it’s possible that I am typing this because the cosmos determined I would 15 billion years ago. But I doubt it.

        I think it’s more likely that a lot chance events, some environmental events, some nurturing by my parents, some factors of my temperament, my university education, and my own reflections and reasoned out thoughts are why I am typing this:-)

        I hope I’m not going to have to meet my father at that fated intersection someday and kill him;-) (Couldn’t resist that satiric comment; I’m a retired literature teacher and taught Greek plays for years.

        • I think I agree with what you’re saying, though I’m not sure the two things can’t be reconciled in some way. I’m pretty familiar with some of Sam Harris’s work, but I haven’t read his book on free will so I can’t really comment on it. It is among my list of books to read. Jerry Coyne I don’t know at all. If we knew all the physical variables in the universe could we predict outcomes with 100% accuracy? I kinda lean to yes, though I realize this is an untestable assertion.

          When you say that you’re typing this because of your education, personality, your parents nurturing alongside random events and environment seems right to me, but that doesn’t also mean that those factors are not in turn determined by a specific string of physical events, right? Is personality a physical phenomenon? I don’t know, though I think there’s an argument to be made there. If we eliminate the possibility of the soul, then what’s left is really just physical phenomenon interacting with each other. Admittedly, my knowledge of physics is nearly zero. I often read about and ponder the philosophical implications of physics, but I couldn’t solve a mathematical proof if you threatened my life (granted, that would probably just make it more difficult, not less).

          • But of course, your “I” is an illusion. Only the Cosmos knows/decides/determines;-)

            Think about it the Nazis couldn’t stop from murdering 10 million in concentration camps. The ‘physics’ made them do it.

            It’s not Allah and self-centered sadism and their own choices which cause Islamic State leaders to murder and rape. Oh no, it’s atoms, not adam;-)

            No thank you, I’ll take neither.

            This is why I would never become an atheist–it often leads to anti-humanistic conclusions much worse than religion. Just a month ago atheists were arguing with me again that slavery isn’t wrong; it’s a “personal preference.”

            Now that I’ve ranted;-), maybe take a look at evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s books. He argues against determinism.

            Unlike the hard determinism of the biologist Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris (I’ve read 2 of his books and listened to his podcasts),
            Gould reasons in his famous anti-deterministic book, The Mismeasure of Man and in his other books that chance and choice also play a factor in existence.

            While Coyne claims that it was determined from the Big Bang that the dinosaurs would become extinct from an asteroid,
            Gould thinks that if Time came again only once!
            different events would happen.

            Gould states that homo sapiens probably wouldn’t even show up.

            Since I am not a scientist, I don’t know, but at least that Gould’s view leaves open a future for us.

            I came your way via James McGrath, your former professor’s site,

            Thanks for the dialog. Happy seeking:-)

          • I’m definitely intrigued by what you’re saying, though I admit I don’t fully understand it. I know Sam Harris has written a book also on scientific morality, so I’m curious how he reconciles a belief in morality with this determinism you’re talking about. I should probably explore that more in depth. So much to learn and so many books to read. It can be a daunting task.

          • He doesn’t. He lives a contradiction. Check out his podcast called “Tumors All the Way Down” where he explains that every single human has no more choice than a human whose brain tumor makes him murder:-(
            Also, if you have time listen to the other podcast, an interview with Jerry Coyne.

            Coyne emphasizes that he doesn’t have a choice, not even what to have for lunch and that no one has “moral responsibility,” yet he censures people who disagree with him and bans them from his website. Go figure.

            Determinists are exactly like Calvinists. For 55 years Calvinists harangued me that I have no choice, that no one does, but they also claimed that I was guilty of rebellion against God and that God has predestined me and billions of others to eternal damnation.

            Contradictions abound in most worldviews.

            Look at this way, you don’t need to learn anything unless its determined;-)

          • Haha, well I’ve found in studying philosophy that contradictions are all but unavoidable for the most part. If you find a cohesive system of belief that manages not to contradict itself ever I would be very interested to learn about it. The goal I suppose isn’t total consistency, given the impossibility of such a task, but maybe just honesty. Honesty that you harbor conflicting ideas and honesty that you try your best to resolve them whenever possible.

          • Taylor Walston

            I think you over simplifying what Coyne is presenting. It is not as simple as x + y = z. They do state that your brain prioritizes things and can be trained or influenced. One of the big problems we have in our life is the attribution of chance or randomness to things that are not truly random. My wife has trouble with this as part of her leaving the religious process. If everything is “random” is the way she phrased it. If you step outside and you get hit by a car, it subjectively feels pretty random. But the fact the driver left at the time they did, was distracted and veered into your side of the street is all deterministic from the perspective of the person that struck you. Our reaction to such events in our lives essentially sets the priority of information we react to. These events are not really random, but our subjective prioritization certainly determines our reaction to these events. If by education you can reset the priorities you can change your subjective reactions, which is why Coyne feels that it is not a simplistic you are wired and stuck this way. For the believer, they are constantly reinforced with god is great, god is love, and god is essential. This raises the probability they see and credit god for events in their lives. I have been equally successful and have very similar life challenges to my coworkers who are faithful. I.e. we all have kids struggling with alcohol, drugs and addiction. So there really is not a markedly better outcome from believing that god is interacting in their lives, but they sure think there is (:

          • No, Coyne claims that we are “wet robots,” that we don’t have any “moral responsibility,” and agrees with Harris that even if Time lived again a “trillion” I couldn’t even move my finger slightly differently to change the direction of a golf ball.

            He also agree with Sam Harris that all humans have no more choice than a murderer who has a brain tumor that is making him murder! Determinism makes every murderer murder, not the individual. He has no choice in the action.

            (See the podcast “Tumors All the Way Down.)

            Coyne and Harris claim that you can’t “If by education you can reset the priorities you can change your subjective reactions…”

            On the contrary you can’t even choose what to have for your lunch, not even what to think about.

            Weirdly, Coyne and Harris are as hard determinists as Calvinistic Christians. The only difference in their determinism is that instead of a god causing it, they claim the cosmos did it.

      • I had the pleasure of meeting Martin Gerdner several times. He also loaned me from his private library some rare works by Chesterton I had not yet read, and showed me and my girlfriend some magic tricks. His book, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener is an interesting read, and he even wrote a critical review of his book under a pseudonym that was published I think in the New York Times Review of Books. And a witty well known logician friend of Gardner wrote a book length reply to Martin’s book, titled, Who Knows?

        I also underwent a personal transformation very similar to your own, and edited a book featuring the tale of my journey and nearly three dozen others out of Conservative Protestantism, titled, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. My own chapter can also be read online, and is titled, If It Wasn’t For Agnosticism I Wouldn’t Know What to Believe!

  • SmoovP

    This is a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing it. My faith journey has been that I have moved from skeptic/agnostic to believer.

    And while I am certainly no fundamentalist/absolutist and I am always wary of those who profess certainty, I choose to believe in a Higher Power that loves me and sustains me. And my doubts are essential to my faith. Faith, to me, is a choice. I choose to believe in spite of no real evidence and try to remember when I doubt, that absence of evidence is not proof of absence.

    Genuine atheism is, I believe, just a different kind of absolutism.

    • Thank you for reading. I think I agree with the general thrust of your point, that absolutism is antithetical to truth seeking, and I certainly don’t advise anyone to close their minds off, even if they are convinced something they believe is absolutely true. Obviously I believed myself absolutely right at one point only to come to believe I was absolutely wrong, a fact I try to remind myself of often if I feel like my thinking is ever becoming too dogmatic.

      Everybody is different but for me I can’t help but to follow the preponderance of evidence as I perceive it. I tried for years to will myself to believe because the belief itself was comfort, but the mental toll exacted by that level of constant intellectual guardedness was, for me, unsustainable. If it had simply been a matter of overcoming doubts of a philosophical nature I may have been able to maintain it, but ultimately I came to believe that certain aspects of the Bible’s claims about morality were just incompatible with my own sense of right and wrong. Whether that conscience was given to me by God or engendered by society and informed by personality, the effect was the same, I couldn’t live with that much cognitive dissonance, and so I chose not to.

  • Leah

    Wow….thank you. This is THE most profound thing I’ve read thus far in my journey of de-constructing my faith. I’m still in the early stages. I’ve been in evangelical Christianity my whole religious life and the cracks were forming for a long time, but they’ve now broken wide open.

    I’ve been exploring progressive Christianity, but I’ve also explored atheism too. (By explore, I mean doing a great deal of book reading, blog reading and Youtube watching.) I’m very much in process and don’t have anything worked out, but I’m at the place where the noise from my cognitive dissonance got so loud, I could no longer ignore it.

    I like what you said about living with doubt and uncertainty. Maybe that in and of itself, is faith. Knowing that we don’t know, and that being OK.

    Keep writing!

    • Thank you, Leah! I’m honored by that. It genuinely means a lot to hear you say it.

      I make no claim to the answers either, but sometimes it helps just to have a fellow traveler. Whatever you end up deciding about your faith, I think you’re already asking the right questions and being honest with yourself. The rest really takes care of itself.

      And I plan to!

  • e.hope

    I love this. I too was raised a fundamentalist, but over time began to question the very tenets of my belief. When I started questioning why a blood sacrifice was needed at all, and the answer was that Jesus took that burden, that made me realize that was a god I didn’t understand or want to believe in. It took a long time and much struggle, and I lost the assurance and comfort of blind faith and a church family. Today, I believe that the truth in the word of god is that god is love. And that is all we need to know. There is one truth and one love, and we are all seeking it. Unfortunately, my spouse just became a born again christian, and does not understand when I say it would be very difficult for me to have such a narrow view or definition of god again. That is a problem.

    • I feel for you. I was lucky to be raised in an interpretation of Christianity that focused on love, redemption and sacrifice for others rather than the fear-based brow beating that many are. This has most certainly shaped the person I am and the way I view the world, I do not regret that fact. I may no longer be convinced that the source of love is God, but I have not abandoned the underlying belief that love is our greatest hope in this life.

  • Steven Potter

    Thanks for the article. I too have followed a similar path. I was raised in a Christian household and left home at 18 with a fairly conservative understanding of the world, both politically and religiously. In my military career, I’ve made many LGBT friends and have become familiar with many different cultures as I’ve moved around the country and deployed to all corners of the globe fighting insurgencies. Between that and realizing that all the scripture verses that I learned were almost always misquoted or paraphrased, I soon realized the Bible was a historical document and not much more. I’ve come to the point now that I consider myself a Christian, but I look for truths from other religions that improve my understanding of the world and how it works. The main reason I still cling to my Christian roots is that I consider Jesus’ “cleansing the world of sin”, to mean we shouldn’t obsess over it so much in a worldly sense. By focusing on sin with our minds, we multiply it exponentially in our hearts. The most conservative religions in the world tend to be the most violent. I also attempt to use prayer almost like a meditation. I don’t expect an actual answer or actual divine intervention, but I do believe we can align our thoughts with the Divine or Holy Spirit in order to act in ways that create an overall positive impact on the universe for however long it ends up existing. Even still, I spend most days daydreaming about whether or not there is an afterlife. I think a guaranteed afterlife with streets of gold and pure happiness is nothing more than an appeal for the masses. Most days I’m content with whatever lasting positive changes I can effect in this world being my own eternity shared with the Divine. If I had to choose one tenet to base my spiritual views upon, it would be that life is precious and should only be extinguished when not doing so would let others perish.

    • Hey Steven! Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. I think I’m just wired to require evidence for everything, though I realize this tendency is not always in my best psychological interest. Nebulous spiritual concepts like the ones you’re describing are valuable frameworks through which to view life, to be sure, I just have struggled to base my own worldview on them largely because I see no evidence to do so. I realize that faith is, by definition, not founded on evidence, but I suppose that’s why I’ve come to have so much trouble with faith.

  • Rob Boeke

    I hope your losing faith is not to have lost it completely and inexorably. Faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence or fact. It is staying in touch with truths that lie in the marrow of your bones. Our culture pulls at the fabric of our faith, so often dismissing it out of hand. But I know that the Christian faith has depths and layers. There is meat to sate the most voracious of intellectual appetites. Dostoyevsky, Isaac Newton, Galileo, CS Lewis, Michelangelo, GK Chesterton and many of the most luminous thinkers, scientists, artists in human history have found answers to life’s toughest questions in the cross in Christ and Christendom. And many great scientists and thinkers have not, that is not lost on me. I only mean to point out that losing faith and living with perpetual uncertainty is not a graduation of thought or a natural out-working of academic study. The Christian is not uneducated, uninformed, or easily convinced (not all anyway). Nor is faith something you simply grow out of (Dostoyevsky came to Christ in a Siberian prison, CS Lewis’ conversion came late in life and after extensive internal doubt and struggle). All this to say: I hope you don’t feel that your 20’something year old faith had reached maturity leading up to college (my 32 year old faith is still childish and incomplete in many ways), or that you’ve seen the only answers or depths Christianity has to offer. A new and fresh perspective, a broken faith will hopefully lead to new and richer revelations. There is truth in the Bible in Christianity that penetrate deep into my soul. But I am always learning and perceptions are being changed. Traditions are being questioned. Jesus is hard to pin down and his love is irrational, reckless, and wild. I’m finding that some truths bypass the mind and cut straight through to the heart. Be ever vigilant in your quest for truth and love. Count me among your dearest companions and warriors for truth.

    • Thanks, Rob! You’ve always been a great resource to bounce ideas and doubts off of, so I genuinely appreciate your concern and support on this journey. I don’t doubt that many Christians throughout history and today find a wealth of intellectual satisfactions in their religion, though I do question how many Christians in the 21st century really know their religion (as opposed to a very selective interpretation of it). My issues with the Bible aren’t so much intellectual, though I’d be lying if I didn’t say that many of the miracles described in the Bible require a certain amount of credulity to believe, but in most cases moral and philosophical (some of these questions I mention in the essay).

      I realize there is a side of the Bible (mostly found in the New Testament), that we were primarily raised to emphasize, that is all about love and sacrifice, but there is also a side of the Bible that is very much about vengeance, punishment and in some cases downright vileness. Take for example the passage about God commanding bears to maul children for taunting a prophet about his baldness (http://biblehub.com/2_kings/2-24.htm). You can argue ways around this, but if you’re going to take all of the Bible as inerrant and literal, you can’t just ignore it. I find the arguments used to obfuscate passages like this one to be emotionally and intellectually unsatisfying. Other moral passages like wives submitting to their husbands (http://biblehub.com/ephesians/5-22.htm) and God commanding genocides (http://biblehub.com/1_samuel/15-3.htm) are really hard for me to understand in a modern context, but I can appreciate that others are not as hung up by it.

      The appeal that God speaks to your heart in a way that bypasses doubt I believe is entirely true, but I just have never had that experience. For a long time I thought maybe I was the problem, that I wasn’t seeking honestly enough, but whatever the reason religious experience has always eluded me.

  • Thin-ice

    I so relate to this. My de-conversion, after 46 years of fervent belief (and missionary work), was not embraced lightly. Leaving a supportive “family” was hard, but harder still was the prospect of living the rest of my life with a real cognitive dissonance.