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 from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïveté about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to people, 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 in the crooks of their elbows, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.

These kinds 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 my 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 this blog. 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 cannot imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like people who drive Fords. 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 doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be 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 away 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 (Calvinistic)
  • Emerging/Emergent Christian
  • Progressive/Liberal Christian
  • Universalist
  • Agnostic
  • Atheist/Humanist

I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, 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 answers. 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.

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  commenter on a post I wrote 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 the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.

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.

This coming September, it will been thirteen years since I pastored a church and seven 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 were 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 as late as 2007,  Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. 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.

While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-righteous, 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 or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I cannot make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they cannot 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, 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 who are prominent today, 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 such as I can lose my 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 cannot talk to me anymore 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?

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8 Comments

  1. Doug B

    Arrogance is an ugly trait, and I suppose I have to battle it as hard as anyone. I hate that and wish I could say differently. Sometimes, I guess, we just let our enthusiasm get the better of us.

    I’m not sure I understand why Christians will visit an atheist blog to be snarky, and I don’t understand why atheists will go bug folks at religious blogs. Is it that arrogance “demon” again? Perhaps.

    I just wish people could disagree without being so darned disagreeable. Would try to help without being so irritatingly condescending. And sometimes just shut and listen. That latter goes a long way, I think.

    I guess I can understand why people who knew you back when might come here and (in their minds) try to help you out. But it is frustrating when people don’t listen to what you have to say.

    It is a pity some of your former friends do not listen more closely to what you have to say. I have to say I appreciate the atheist friends I have for the fact they push me and make me think and force me to keep at least one foot on the ground and not loose my head in the clouds.

    Of all your posts I most enjoy the ones dealing with fundamentalism. That is the kind of thinking that shipwrecked my faith. So shallow it could not withstand the hard times. So childish it left me very ill equipped for what I encountered outside my tight little circle of friends. It’s a big world out there. Fundamentalists have a hard time grasping that I do believe.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Hey Doug,

      I am slowly combing through my older posts on fundamentalism, doing some editing, restating, and correction. Several people have asked me to PLEASE put it back online. So…I will. 🙂

      Bruce

      Reply
  2. Stephanie

    I would be lying if I said that the sexism, intolerance, over involvement with politics had nothing to do with me wanting out, because it did. That’s what started some of the intellectual questions. I don’t understand it when people think they can ever truly know another’s motivations. I used to be like you and think: “I can make them understand!” When I start to think that now I state my view and let it go. I am one of those people that can get caught up in endless debates.

    Reply
  3. James

    Thank you for your post. I wish to day stay strong. I have been a long time atheist so I cannot say I understand your situation completely. I know that it is difficult to leave a faith when your family and friends all belong and it is a large part of your life at the time. But deciding if you want to stand for rationalism and free thought is apart of who you are. I would also say you are not alone and the group of nonbelievers is growing everyday. You may not be able to reach those too set in their beliefs to change, but you may reach some and remove the blinders from their eyes.

    Reply
  4. Melody

    I like your example of the Ford. When I still believed, I always vehemently denied that I only believed because I was raised as a Christian. I disagreed whole-heartedly, because hadn’t I chosen Jesus myself? I believed because I wanted to and had even gotten baptised to prove it! I believed all those things were my own choice and had nothing to do with my background. But the truth is there was never any space or tolerance for anything else. Choosing a different church, maybe; choosing a different religion or none at all? Utterly unthinkable!

    As for them knowing you better than yourself, about a week ago, I had my first encounter like that in a comment section. I’d quite clearly explained that if there is a God like the Bible says, it should be hugely self-evident, a clear fact even, and since it wasn’t, I had stopped believing. I got the advice to jump of the divingboard and God would carry me. It did’t really matter what I said, or how I explained myself, he didn’t ‘hear’ what I said. It was a bit frustrating to be honest, though I tried to stay nice and polite. Anyway, I also thought that if I could just make sense, he might get where I came from in this discussion. But he repeatedly showed that he wasn’t interested in that, but only wanted to preach at me. He didn’t actually understand me: perhaps because he genuinely couldn’t or because he didn’t want to.

    A long time ago, I went onto an atheist forum trying to evangelize because I felt that it was less scary than preaching in the streets or handing out leaflets and I had to do something for God. I didn’t last long… I got the question if God was able to create a stone so heavy that he couldn’t carry it anymore and also the one about God being all-knowing and how that related to free will. I didn’t have any answers and it frustrated me greatly, so I left the forum. They joked about it for a while that Christians always left so soon and easily and they’d hoped for someone to last a little longer… It hurt quite a bit, them being so callous and me totally unable to defend my God properly. I’d never have guessed in a million years, that I’d become them a few years later: frustrated by ‘drive-by preaching’ as another commenter called it.

    Reply
    1. Peter

      Melody I really liked your comment. As a deconvert who spent years involved with Christianity I find that as much as I wish Christians would be prepared to listen to the reasons I left the faith I also wish that some atheists wouldn’t be so rude to Christians.

      I have found that is hard to have any sort of meaningful dialogue unless both sides are prepare to be open to their position being incorrect. However often in discussions neither side is open to this possibility so it is just each side restating their position.

      But when I suggest to Christians that I can’t be certain that my atheism is the correct position they tend to see it as an admission of weakness.

      I have pretty much given up trying to debate any young earth creationist as given their capacity to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence against their position it is clear that facts are not relevant to their position.

      Reply
      1. Melody

        Thanks! Yes, it is seen as a weakness if, for instance, you would say that atheism doesn’t mean that you know 100 % for certain that there isn’t a God, but simply that you haven’t seen solid evidence for one yet, and until you do, you presume God doesn’t exist.

        I agree that both sides can be arrogant and rude in defending their position. The same arrogance and disdain Christians often have for others (that I’ve seen plenty of), can also be seen in some atheists against believers. I generally dislike it. As the saying goes: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And I definitely dislike the idea of believers as somehow dumb or stupid when they often are not.

        Having said that, I do enjoy watching the late Hitchens rant in his debates. I think there is a place for anger also, and public figures such as the apologists he argues against, do so at their own peril. Besides, a debate is somewhat different as it’s also about entertaining/informing the audience.

        Reply
        1. Peter

          I tend to get angry when I come across Young Earth Creationists who have the audacity to accuse atheists of being wilfully ignorant. The hypocrisy of these folk is just too much for me.

          Reply

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