Why Do Christians Think Atheists Shouldn’t be Emotional?

emotions chartZoe, a dear internet friend of mine, left an interesting comment on Erin Word’s blog, Reason for Being:

I was born into it. Then born-again at age 13. My conversion was emotional. Did anyone care about that being some “false” conversion because it was “emotional”? Up and until that time Jesus loved me. The Bible told me so. The Sunday School teacher reminded me. The Reverend preached it. Then I learned Jesus loved me “if” and this scared the proverbial waste matter out of me and so I talked to this “loving” Jesus who really would burn me forever if I didn’t ask Him into my heart and was born-again which started this convoluted and dare I say emotional journey into the morass of Christian evangelicalism now commonly known as fundamentalism with a swirl and a twist, heavy on the twist of literal legalism.

How many people “come to the Lord” bawling their eyes out? Shaking in their boots? Broken and prostrate, filled with guilt and shame, up to their whatever in sin(s). A lot of them. How many of them prayed their sinner’s prayer without emotion? How many of them “found” Jesus without emotion? How many of them think their “mountain top” experience was not emotional?

When I read Zoe’s comment I wanted to jump out of bed, shout praise, uh praise somebody, and have an old-fashioned Holy Ghost camp meeting run the aisles experience. Zoe states succinctly what I have thought for a long time when Christians accuse me and other atheists of deconverting for emotional reasons. As Zoe clearly shows, most people when they get saved, come to Jesus, are born again, are filled with the Spirit, are baptized in the Holy Ghost,  or walk down the saw dust trail at an old-fashioned revival, are quite emotional.

In Evangelical circles, few people become a Christian for intellectual reasons alone. (in Most Americans Christians are born into Christianity, live in a Christian nation. How could they NOT be or become a Christian?)  Evangelical preachers frequently tell people that they are sinners, the enemy of God, empty with a God-shaped void in their life,  and living a life without purpose and meaning. How can one not be emotional when finding out the Jesus can forgive your sins, make you a friend of God, plug the hole in your heart,  and give your life meaning and purpose? (please read Emotional Manipulation in the Evangelical Church)

So why is it that Christians disparage atheists when they admit that emotions played a part in their deconversion? Isn’t this one of those good for the goose, good for the gander moments? After all, atheists are human, and as a human beings they have emotions. I readily admit that my deconversion had an emotional component. No I didn’t deconvert because I was angry at God or the church hurt me in some way, but my deconversion did have an emotional component that certainly played a part in me exiting the Christian faith.

My emotional response came not when I was questioning or doubting my faith, but when I started asking questions out loud.  When I started blogging  I was still a Christian,  of the emerging/emergent variety. Andrew Hackman, who I think has followed me longer than anyone else (truly he is long-suffering) , can give testimony to the fact that I was trying to make peace with Christianity and its teachings.  Where emotions came in was when I was openly, viciously attacked by people who were pastor friends, former parishioners, and friends. No one sidled up to me and tried to understand. Instead, they mercilessly, with no thought of anything but their own certainty and righteousness, attacked me.  I think this is clearly shown in some of my posts like A Letter to Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,  Dear Friend, Dear Ann, A Letter to My Fundamentalist Grandmother, Dear Bruce, A Letter to My Former Youth Pastor, Dear Mom and Dad,  A Letter to Fundamentalist Christian Parents.

Gary, a recent frequent commenter on this blog, rages on his blog against the emotionalism found in Evangelicalism. Yet, he doesn’t seem to get that his blog posts are filled with emotion. He may want to paint himself as a person who is dispassionately seeking the truth, but it is evident he is quite passionate about the resurrection of Jesus, the one holy catholic church, and the Lutheran church.  He is every bit as emotional as the people he met, and now despises,  in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church of his youth.

When I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of fifteen, it was a very emotional experience for me. I was sitting with my friends at an Al Lacy revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and all of a sudden I felt an emotional heaviness, as if God himself was talking directly to me.  Even though I had made a number of professions of faith, as many IFB kids do,  this time I felt conviction, and when the invitation was given I went forward and put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Afterward, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from me. My life changed, I was baptized and I confessed to the church that I believed God was calling me to be a preacher.  And here we are forty-two years later.

As I type this post, I am listening to Southern Gospel music. Why? It’s not because I believe one word they are singing. (i.e. The Poet Voices are singing, Jesus builds a bridge you can not burn) Polly HATES any sort of Christian music, so I don’t listen to it while she is home. I listen to Southern Gospel music because it elicits an emotional response from me. God? The Holy Spirit? Of course not. My mind has been deeply imprinted with Christianity and its beliefs, values, morality, ethics, and music, and it should come as no surprise that “some” things Christian still appeal to me emotionally.  Preaching, on the other hand, does the opposite. Like my good friend, and former preacher, Jim Schoch says, going into a church and hearing someone preach causes a rise in blood pressure. Preaching elicits a deep, negative emotional response from me. Not only do I intellectually reject the bullshit sandwich they are selling, I also reject the emotional manipulation and control that subtly lurks under the surface of most everything that goes on in church.

Today Dale sent me an, are you OK, Bruce, email. I appreciate him doing so and I know many of you have done so in the past.  He was worried that Jason had gotten to me and that I was having one of my historic mental meltdowns. While I wasn’t near meltdown level, I was quite depressed.  Earlier in the week, I attempted to clone the SSD drive on my desktop computer so I could move the operating system to a larger SSD drive. The cloning did not work properly and I had a *&^%*& big mess on my hand for a couple of days. And then after I got everything back up and running, my Seagate hard drive that held all of my programs decided to fail. This was yesterday, so I spent yesterday trying to get things back in working order.  Added to this, the basement flooded, the power went out, and the internet was down off and on throughout the day.  Jason’s comments were the icing on the cake.  (and I am very grateful for everyone of you who took Jason to task for his comments)

So, no I wasn’t OK, yes I was depressed, but, Hey…today is a new day. I am in a tremendous amount of pain today (stress, depression don’t help when it comes to chronic pain) but my computer is back up and running, the power is back on, the internet is working, and it stopped raining.  Praise, Zeus.

Let me summarize my rambling post. Let’s admit that all of us are human and that we all have emotions. Our emotions play a part in most everything we do. However, rarely are emotions the only reason we make a decision. Yes emotions played a part in my leaving the ministry, leaving Christianity, and deconverting,  BUT the primary reasons were intellectual. I, with great passion, thirst for knowledge, and with as much enthusiasm as a chronically ill person can possibly have, I continue to walk the wild, woolly, scary, and wonderful path I am on.  Can I get a witness, church? :)

Comments (12)

  1. Lydia

    “As I type this post, I am listening to Southern Gospel music.”

    My husband used to work with someone who listened to Christian praise and pop music at work. The really funny thing is that this coworker had never been a Christian. He just liked those styles of songs sometimes! They are very cheerful and upbeat. I can understand the appeal of them.

    I think this is more common than you might imagine. :)

  2. mikespeir

    “BUT the primary reasons were intellectual.”

    I don’t doubt that. It’s true for me, too. The thing a lot of us don’t recognize, though, is that until emotion turns the key (or let’s down the walls–whatever metaphor you like) the intellectual reasons pretty much mean squat. (Although, I’ll also concede that regularly running into contrary intellectual reasons over a long period of time might slowly wear at the emotional walls that guard our beliefs. In other words, contrary reason and evidence might have a hand in inciting the emotional turn that allows for deconversion.)

  3. sgl

    in my experience, when my emotions and my “logic” aren’t in synch, that’s a clue that one of them is wrong. and it’s not always the same one that’s wrong. sometimes my emotion is an indication that my “logical” model of the universe is incorrect, incomplete, or flawed; and other times my emotion is a residue from some societal programming that’s bias or bigotry, and the “logical” view is the one that’s correct.

    each case, it takes a little while to sort thru which is which. and i doubt that trying to suppress the discrepancies will do any good.

  4. NeverAgainV

    Wow, what great points you make here Bruce!

    So many go to Christianity as you said, quaking in their boots, emotional messes-and of course that’s A-OK. But somehow when others make decisions (that are not for christianity) using their emotions, that is somehow…wrong? Hmmmm, quite the double standard there.

    My deconversion was mostly intellectual. I could no longer agree with what was being preached and I saw so much contradiction in the bible. I also saw that pastor seemed to harp the same pet bible verses, ignoring the ones that didn’t mesh w/ his worldview or particular dogma. I studied, read, thought long and hard and agonized over my leaving the Christian faith. There were some emotional elements, such as being shunned when we left the church- and how the members treated us as less than human after we left that brand of Christianity. However, those were NOT the reasons we left. those were just the validations that indeed I had made the right choice because if this his how God’s truth leads human beings to treat one another….I don’t think i want that god, thank you.

  5. ... Zoe ~

    Awoman! Race you down the aisle. :mrgreen:

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      We will likely trip half way down the aisle. :)

  6. Scott

    Take care Bruce. As one Australian politician is on record saying “Don’t let the bastrads grind you down”.

    I like this sentence: ” Preaching elicits a deep, negative emotional response from me. Not only do I intellectually reject the bullshit sandwich they are selling, I also reject the emotional manipulation and control that subtly lurks under the surface of most everything that goes on in church.”

    I’m still dutifully attending evangelical church services and oh how I can relate to your sentiments wrt preaching. (I’m not ready to jump ship….. I’ve written letters to the ministers concerned and they want to talk with me over a coffee….. Unlike you I have not researched the alternatives to any great depth…– too many other things to do than prove a point by reading. I’d rather just head for the bush. The issues for me are probably different than yours. I’ve reached a point where my conservative reformed-calvinistic theology is seemingly crumbling. I am sympathetic to – open theism, euthanasia, abortion, people whose sexuality doesn’t quite fit what I’ve been told is acceptable. What to do when inter-generationally some of the men in my family have expressed uncertainty as to their sexuality and in one case is openly homosexual…. Then the questions are in the back of my mind about the tens of millions of people who have never heard of Jesus. They are all in hell (so called). So I’m open to there being no hell. I guess I may be some kind of universalist. I’ve taught in third world countries – but in India I found many devout Hindus… Are they all going to hell? I’m sick of the American christian fundamentalists who think it’s ok to be world conquerors…. and don’t get me start on their Zionistic tendancies… oh I’m sick to death of so called creation science and Bill Ham and his Australian counterpart) HELP I want to GET OFF! Or else I will be thrown out as a heretic and I’m sure my Xian friends will all leave….

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing this, Scott. One aspect of my deconversion I have written enough about is how my leftward move politically played an important part in my deconversion. Like you, I found that my changing political beliefs ran sqaure into my theological beliefs. I plan to write some on this in the future.

      You are on the right path, my friend. Wherever it leads is where you need to be. Please accept my American apology for all the air for brains Americans who think the whole world is an American playground or mall. Some day, a lot of days, I am very embarrassed to claim the Red, White and Blue as my home.

  7. Scott

    For a moment I thought my post had been deleted but then realised you’d added a new post…. Silly me. I was feeling dejected. Don’t apologise for your nutty culture. Australia is not much different except we are very secular. Bruce, thanks for all you write. I look forward to reading your blog. Down under made.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks Scott. One reader, a while back, thought I quit blogging because every time he came to the site the same post was at the top. I had made the post a sticky, so it was at the top for several weeks. :)

  8. Stephanie

    Of course, emotions are a part of who we are. I found that empathy and compassion actually had a great impact on changing some of my views. I saw the way certain groups (women, gays, the poor, etc.) were being treated and I realized something was wrong. And come to think of it, a lot of parts that I really like in Christianity like forgiveness, love your neighbor, give to the poor have some to do with emotion. The emotional response of feeling your sins forgiven and having a fresh start is powerful but so is guilt and shame. Double edged sword. Seems they are using the two strongest opposing human emotions on people.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      You raise an interesting point about how emotions are used in many Evangelical churches. Sin makes us guilty/shameful/fearful. Salvation/Jesus gives us joy/peace/deliverance. Of course, the big question for me is, if we didn’t have the former would be likely choose the latter?


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