I want to thank Dave for sharing the letter he sent to a Christian friend. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
You know about my dismissal from the church staff five years ago due to my “independence”. And you know that my daughters and their husbands shunned us after that happened cut us off completely. And you know that those relationships continue to be painfully torn apart. And you know that I haven’t been to church in a couple of years. Well, here’s what you may not know. Here’s the rest of the story.
The end before the beginning: I have lost my faith. I have left the faith. I no longer believe in God as embraced within Biblical Christianity. However you define it. I’m done. I have left the building.
How did I get here? Is this just my response of anger and hurt to my perceived injustice of people behaving wrongly in the name of God? Are these just my own personal offences? No. You are free to think that if you choose, but that is not what this is. This is no knee-jerk reaction. And I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly. It was a long, arduous, painful process.
From a recent article I read:
“A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday”.
That describes me, I think. It’s a quote from an interview with Psychologist Marlene Winell, who lists it as a symptom of what she calls Religious Trauma Syndrome. You can read the article here.
Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways:
Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.
That’s another paragraph that seems to describe my experience.
I was “all in”. I was never a pew-sitter. From my earliest beginnings in the winter of 1973/1974, I was all about serving Jesus with everything I had. I was 18.
I decided to forego college because I believed the return of Jesus was imminent and my time could be better served elsewhere. Besides, college was all about getting a job and making money and I was so not into that. So I ran coffee houses and street ministries. I spent my time trying to convert wino’s and street people instead of building a 401K. I worked at youth camps, went on mission trips. I handed out Bibles in Moscow’s Red Square and preached at public schools in Russia; helped build an orphanage in Belize.
I led worship and small groups. I served on staff at churches and preached sermons. I taught classes and Bible studies. I led prayer groups, like organizing a 24-7 prayer vigil for a deacon in our church. For three months after he was burned in an industrial accident, we believed and cried out for his healing. He left behind two young boys and a wife who herself died of cancer a few short years later. (but I digress)
I studied the Bible. For hours and hours and hours….and for years. I know it inside out. I studied Greek and Hebrew lexicons, concordances, study guides, all of it. It was the Word of God to me. It was the source of life. Even when I didn’t live up to it; still it remained true. I prayed. For people; for healing; for life. Many hours spent in prayer over 38 years. I tithed. I gave my time and money and energy and the absolute best years of my life. And I gave my children. To the Lord. Willingly. And he took them.
Now none of this is meant as a diatribe against God, the old, “look what I have done/sacrificed for you, and what have you done for me”. No. That’s not what I’m saying. All this is meant to say: This was NOT a casual thing for me. It was everything. I was always passionate about what I did and I was always all in.
So when you get knocked down what do you do? You get back up and dust off and trudge forward. Except this time, after a couple of years of trudging on, I began to ask why. Why am I trudging forward? To what? For whom? As I contemplated these questions I realized something: I had never truly examined this faith that had been everything to me for my complete adult life. I had jumped in as a slightly disoriented young man lacking direction and motivation and found a cause to attach myself to. But I had never critically examined the claims that Christianity is built upon. I just accepted them. I was told the Bible was divinely inspired and is the authoritative Word of God and is complete and total in its instructions as to how to live and for whom to live and what life is all about. I bought it. I never, not once, compared Christianity to the myriad other religions that make similar claims to exclusive authority.
I found in Christianity a place to belong and something to give myself to. That was enough for me. And, oh yeah, I got to go to heaven when I died; so there was that as well. It had everything. And I gave it everything. Until I didn’t. Until I finally laid it all out on the table and examined it. I quit making excuses for the parts of the Bible that had always troubled me. I quit looking the other way. I decided if the Bible couldn’t stand on its own under the glaring light, then I was no longer going to minimize its inconsistencies and contradictions.
I won’t go into it here about what I found. It’s too much. It’s too ugly.
Once the Bible became a common collection of letters and books (written by ordinary men) to me, the rest of the dominoes fell rather quickly. And after all those years and all that effort and all that devotion and all that worship, I was done. It was over.
I invite you to pause a moment and watch this video; or at least just listen to the song. I heard it recently. I stopped. I paused it and played it back over and over. I wept. And I wept and I wept. It captured perfectly my experience of losing my faith.
“Say something, I’m giving up on You”. That’s how I heard it. You. Jesus.
“I’ll be the one if You want me to; anywhere, I would have followed You”.
That was my cry to the Lord when I was sifting through all of this.
He didn’t. He wouldn’t. And I came to the painful conclusion…he can’t.
“I will swallow my pride; You’re the One that I love, and I’m saying goodbye”.
I’m not sure if many people understand how hard that is. To look up and say, I was wrong. For almost 40 years, for my whole adult life…I was wrong.
You might not understand, and you might not agree. I get that. But it is what it is. And no, it’s not something that will change. I’m not going to suddenly (or even gradually) believe in Jesus again. If you once believed in Santa as a child and no longer do, wouldn’t it take some remarkable evidences to cause you to believe again? You can’t make yourself believe something again just because you want to.
Trust me, after what it has cost me, if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I would.
You may be disgusted or disappointed at my personal loss of faith. That’s OK, I understand how that may affect you. You may want to talk to me about it. I’d be glad to. You may grieve with me at my loss. I appreciate that. But please, don’t do this: don’t say something like, well it’s religion that has done this to you, and I hate religion too; I just love Jesus. No. Please no.
It was Jesus who said this:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
If Jesus indeed said that, we should want nothing to do with Him. Those verses sound pious and holy and simply dripping with devotion, but they are deadly in their application. (by the way, if he didn’t say those words, what are you doing? What is the Bible then, really?) Those verses sound very spiritual in terms of one’s relationship with Jesus, but until you have seen those words play out in your own family, you don’t really know what they mean. (by the way, this scripture was being quoted pertaining to me while I was still VERY much in the faith).
You can’t imagine-and I hope you never experience, the damage that this kind of thinking can cause. I have seen my family totally devastated. And I have settled into a life that is marked by a dull ache. Every now and then when I see pictures on FB, or get Christmas cards with grandchildren’s pictures, there is a sharp stab of a pain of a different kind. But mostly, it’s like a cloudy, cold day that settles on you like a wet blanket. I guess it will always be.
So no, I’m not angry at God. You can’t be upset with someone if you don’t think they exist. I’ve heard it said I am bitter. Maybe a bit toward certain people; but certainly not toward God (again, he’s not there I have regrets. Many regrets. I will live with them.
One last thing. This has not changed who I am at my core, I still love people and cry when I see them suffer; or when I see them treat each other with kindness; or pretty much any time. I am moved by loss and pain and grief. I enjoy life, the bits I can snag that are good. I value humanity more than I ever have. In fact, I have a heightened sense of the value of every person and no longer view them in terms of what side of the “aisle” they are on. I see folks as all the same and seek to do good as opportunity presents itself to show kindness or generosity or love. I am no less moral than I ever was.
Anyway, that’s the gist of it, If you’re getting this, I figured I owed it to you. Because you are or have been, a dear friend.