Why Many Christians Aren’t Interested in What I have to Say

i just don't care

As many of you know, I see a secular counselor on a regular basis. More than once, he has challenged me about what he considers my naïvety about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to someone they would at least understand where I am coming from.  While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know, that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.

These kind of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If me telling my story contradicts  their conclusions, then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true, is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on The Way Forward. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.

When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons, they don’t believe me.  There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They can not imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like a person who drives a Ford. They love driving a Ford and because they love driving a Ford everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.

Most of the atheists/agnostics I know, were Christians before  they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way, they were true-blue Christians.

These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have questions about the Bible and Christianity. They began to have doubts and questions, and their doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be a Christian, but as they read and studied, they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked always from that which was once most precious.

Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:

  • Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
  • Evangelical Christian
  • Emerging/Emergent Christian
  • Progressive/Liberal Christian
  • Universalist
  • Agnostic
  • Atheist/Humanist

I tried to find a natural stopping point, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried  to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand an answer from me. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow. While I certainly haven’t tried and examined every religion, I am comfortable with where I am today.

Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a recent commenter on my post about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:

I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.

I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.

I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?

Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!

I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?

Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but this post, and based on the post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt. You can go to the post itself to see my terse, unkind response to Brad. I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue.

For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one, (though they rarely consider that their own faith is often for reasons other than intellectual)

This past September, it has been ten years since I pastored a church and five years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.

Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There was five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and Polly and I had discussions about starting a church as late as 2007. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t.  No one hurt me, no church so injured me  that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.

Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children, and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow  me to authentically tell my story. (please read, You Don’t Get to Control my Storyline)

While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-rightous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason (s) I am not in the ministry and no longer a Christian. I now know that I can not make the blind see. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they can not grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.

I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult I rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all.  I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone like me can lose their faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who can not talk to me any more because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?

Comments (22)

  1. Becky Rogers Wiren

    Also, they don’t want you to be lost and burning in hell. Because their God of love burns non-Christians. SMH.

    Reply
  2. Aram McLean

    It’s a hard truth, but so true.
    I wish there was some ‘magical’ way to get people to question their own thinking about fantasies based on nothing but emotion and archaic scribbles.
    But there just isn’t.
    Oh well, at least I know the whole truth about myself and the world ;)

    Reply
  3. Annie

    Here is my simple philosophy – determined at the tender age of 14.
    1. If you don’t like my views: I don’t care.
    2. If you don’t want to listen: I don’t care.
    3. If you try to ‘guilt me: I don’t care.
    4. If you gossip to others (family, friends etc) about me: I don’t care.
    5. If you decide to never speak/see me again: I don’t care.

    Life is too bloody short to have someone(s) try to destroy me because of their own close-mindedness and jealousy.

    To put it simply: I don’t care.

    I love my life, and that decision I made all those years ago was the single best one I ever made. Go find someone else to harass, because it just doesn’t work with me.

    Reply
  4. Matt Martin

    I find that many believers have a particularly negative reaction to atheist apostates because we offer the prospect of morality without God.

    And isn’t that one of the reasons so often advanced for why we need religion? Its utility as a device of social cohesion? Why without a fear of an eternity in the pits of shit we’d all just be out there raping and stealing and molesting with carefree abandon.

    Clearly Bruce you’ve not lost your compassion or respect for the dignity of your fellow men and women. You’re respectful even to those who disagree with you. Your family has not broken down.

    And I suspect that in some visceral, subconscious way scares your former confreres.

    Reply
  5. unapologist

    I think you have it exactly right in this post. To someone on the inside, their faith is perfect and if only they could make you see things how they do, you would repent of your unbelief and come back into the fold.

    I’m surprised your friend in the post above didn’t mention your unconfused sin. I mean let’s face it Bruce, the real reason we are all atheists is that we are in rebellion against god. We want to do whatever we want with no consequences and if meet Jesus at the cross then we would have to be accountable for our actions. We don’t want that so that’s why we are atheists.

    Now I say that tounge-in-cheek but I’ve been told that before.

    Reply
  6. Lynn

    I need to reread this to think about it more, but I think Christianity just feels so obviously true to them and defines their whole life; so they aren’t searching. They also have been told to beware of tricks of Satan to draw them away. Maybe they think Satan works through unbelievers-the unbelievers may say something that plants doubt in the mind, and that wouldn’t please God. I wonder if Christians who read your blog might find disapproval from their pastors-like this could be a dangerous thing for them to be reading.

    I do know readers are probably at much greater risk for leaving the faith. You’re a big reader and so am I.

    Reply
  7. tammy

    For me and jim, there was hurt in the church. Deaths, lies, affairs … In addition to the smaller abuses of our emotions and intellectual freedoms. People will always think they know more about us than we know about ourselves. I find this in nonreligious circles too, if that’s any comfort.

    Reply
  8. Erin

    Your list is almost exactly like mine. Mine would be this:
    Conservative Fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian
    Evangelical Christian
    Emerging/Emergent Christian
    Progressive/Liberal Christian
    Universalist
    Pantheist
    Agnostic
    Atheist/Humanist

    It took 8 years to go through this process. I think that’s because when we have been indoctrinated as life-long Christians, we really don’t WANT anything else to be true. It’s terrifying to consider.

    I frequently hear that I MUST have been hurt by something that happened, and yes, I was. Still, being hurt wasn’t why I left. If that were the case, I would have become an atheist when I was 14. In this instance, being hurt shook me in some way that caused the foundation of faith to crack open and the reason to roll in. Why? Who knows? But I’m ever so grateful it did.

    I love this quote: “I tried to find a natural stopping point, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand an answer from me.”

    It was exactly the same for me. Each time I thought I had found a stopping point, there was a new question around the corner. I tell people I know who are questioning faith that they will have to consciously choose to stop questioning at some point, because otherwise the questions will inevitably lead to the bottom of the proverbial slippery slope.

    Reply
  9. Oberon

    I think back to when I was a Christian and remember the deep seated fear of having my faith challenged. It was who I was! More important that life itself. The very thought of leaving it after 30 years was impossible to consider. What’s odd is that no one actually argued me out of it. Somehow it simply stopped making sense as I really studied the bible and church history. Gradually, years later I was no longer a believer. Not an easy journey, but at the end was the joy of mental freedom.

    Reply
  10. Reverend Greg

    I don’t think anyone likes being told what they’re thinking or why they do things. I’ll take you at your word, Bruce, since you’re the only one who really knows (other than you-know-who,lol!) It drives me crazy when it happens.

    Reply
  11. Blaine

    I really liked this quote when I read it: Because people haven’t been reasoned into their beliefs, they can’t be reasoned out of their beliefs, [and] when people have existing prejudices, showing them facts that run counter to those prejudices does not dislodge them. In fact, statistically, it is more likely to make those prejudices stronger.

    Reply
  12. AtheistChristian

    How do I find a secular counselor? I live in the Greater Cincinnati area (in Kentucky), and have tried looking. The last counselor I went to had an office plastered with Christian sayings and shelves of christian books. (Her first question to me and my wife was are you going to church). How do I find someone secular and maybe even evidence based? I’ve tried looking but I guess I don’t know how to look or what to ask.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Most of the counselors in this area are either biblical counselors and/or the counselor is a Christian. The former use a decidedly Biblical approach to the mental health problems. The latter, though they may technically be secular, often allow their Christianity to seep into their methods. Most of the counselors advertise in the phone book, so I was able to eliminate anyone that emphasized Christianity in their ad or in the name of their counseling group. Then I called and asked if they had a counselor that was either secular or didn’t have a Christian emphasis. I finally narrowed things down to Dr. Deal. While Dr. Deal is what I would call spiritual, in a Buddhist sort of way, his approach is strictly secular. He has a good understanding of religion and I think having me as client has helped him to better understand the psychological and emotional damage fundamentalist religion causes to many people.

      You and I live in areas where Christianity has a lot of influence. Finding a counselor that can set aside his/her Christianity or who is not a Christian, is difficult. I have a bit of an advantage because I am quite familiar with the buzzwords and terminology that Christian counselors use, even when they don’t advertise themselves as a Christian counselor, so this allowed me to eliminate many counselors right away. I would call the counselors office and ask questions about where they got their training, what their approach is, do they take a Biblical approach, etc. If someone got their training at an accredited Evangelical college,I would not go to them. The key is to ask a lot of questions. The last thing you need is to go to your first session and find out that the counselor thinks the Bible has the answer to whatever ails you.

      Reply
  13. Daniel Wilcox

    Bruce, I get all your steps, except the last:
    Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
    Evangelical Christian
    Emerging/Emergent Christian
    Progressive/Liberal Christian
    Universalist
    Agnostic
    Atheist/Humanist

    I suppose the difference is that my main reasons–intellectual convincement–that there is Meaning to the Cosmos is separate from any religious dogma,
    so though I clawed down the slope (the opposite of C.S. Lews, in reverse I was dragged kicking and screaming ‘out’ of Christianity by the facts even though I didn’t want to leave).

    Any comment on Anthony Flew, who moved from Atheist to Theist?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Flew’s concept of God would not be considered orthodox by any of the Christian sects. Christians were giddy over his supposed “conversion” until they actually read his definition of God. I have no problem with his view.

      Reply
  14. richardmarlowe236

    Bruce,

    I found out the truth that people didn’t care what I had to say when I started blogging. I thought my logical arguments would at least challenge them to learn why I deconverted. But nope! They cast me off as “crazy, gone off the deep end, and influenced by Satan”. They have their mind made up, and do not care what I have to say!

    Reply
  15. Lily

    A friend of mine has recently joined a fundamentalist, evangelical church in part to deal with some issues of what he calls Sin and I call Shame (in the psychological sense). He is particularly vulnerable to their manipulation and I believe it actually reinforces some of the worst of his thinking. He has decided that my lack of faith can be traced to my abusive, hypocritical father – disregarding everything else I have said about how I came to be an atheist and actually recreating the non-validating, denying behaviors of my sick parents. Thankfully, I had some really good therapy and counseling education myself and am able to put his comments into perspective while persistently countering him with my truth – not always easy due to his tendency to become angry when I express a view counter to his religious belief. This type of Christian believes it is good and necessary to confront non-Christians but that they should be exempt from being confronted in turn.

    Reply
    1. gimpi

      I’ve had that experience too, Lily. It’s hard to cope with. I found my friends, seeking help, actually got much worse, even as they were celebrating their “healing.” I saw them slip into fantastic conspiracy-theory type of thinking, and become almost paranoid about “unbelievers” such as myself.

      In the end, I had to let them go. I came to this blog, in part, hoping to understand them enough to salvage the friendship, but I came to understand that their new world-view allowed for only two positions, Just Like Us or The Enemy. Because I could never be Just Like Them, I became The Enemy. I had to walk away. It’s hard, but sometimes it’s right.

      Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Lily,

      I love what you said here:

      “This type of Christian believes it is good and necessary to confront non-Christians but that they should be exempt from being confronted in turn.”

      This illustrates perfectly how I thought for many years. I know God, I have the Bible, the Holy Spirit lives inside me, and God has given me everything I need that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Because I am on this “higher” spiritual plane, I am quite suited to judge, critique, admonish, and rebuke, others. Of course, the only way this works is if I ignore or deny my own deficiencies and shortcomings.

      Reply
  16. Randy

    As many other comments above, I could have been reading my deconversion process in this post. Personally, I can associate very well with your story Bruce, coupled with your excellent writing ability is why I love to follow this blog. You are very intelligent too, which puts value to my time spent. I love to read the comments of other readers; obviously very reasoned and intelligent folk as well..at least most of them based on the reference to one in this post.

    Although from a ‘lay’ perspective, I grew up from birth in the IFB. My parents were ‘charter’ members of Faith Baptist Church in the Atlanta area. Upon my birth our family lived in a house on the church property. Bruce, you may recognize the last name of Pyle. ‘Dr’ Hugh Pyle wrote numerous books to which some were probably in your library at one time. There were several Pyle brothers and I think they all were IFB pastors or in the movement.

    My entire education k-12 was in Christian school. My dad would work two jobs just to keep me and siblings out of the evil public school system. Tithing came first, even if this meant groceries weren’t purchased. Home life consisted of spare the rod spoil the child, daily family devotion, no tv for most of my youth, no evil rock music, no movies, parents helped in bus ministry, annual “Neighborhood Bible Time” (an early standardized IFB VBS), Sunday AM/PM Wed services (i.e. ”if the doors were open”), revivals, traveling evangelist, slide shows by traveling missionaries and then there was the mission conferences. The “Sword of the Lord” publication lay in stacks around our house. It was a life I’m sure you can relate to.

    I can remember back on my early childhood years in family devotion as we “read the Bible through in a year” (almost annually) certain passages and divine love seemed hypocritical and would make me question and reason; but you dared not, because to do so was sin. Maybe those were the early seeds to where I am today.

    I’ve been relieved of the fear of everlasting torment prepared for the devil and his angels for more than 5 years now. It took 45 years and the relief is peace of mind.

    Reply
  17. William E. Hammons III

    Bruce, I am a christian, but I understand some of where you come from. I was raised, simply put, anti-christian. There is a cruel ignorant streak running through most churches. The Bible is wielded like a club. It is not seen as an invitation to God, but rather as a bludgeon. I have been a Christian for 31 years after being raised among occultists. Perhaps this gives me a different perspective. If I may, bless you and those that follow your work. No bullshit intended.

    Reply
  18. Angiep

    “These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have questions about the Bible and Christianity. They began to have doubts and questions, and their doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be a Christian, but as they read and studied, they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked always from that which was once most precious.”
    EXACTLY my experience, worded so perfectly I got a lump in my throat.

    Reply

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