Dear Friend: Dave Tells His Story to A Friend

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I want to thank Dave for sharing the letter he sent to a Christian friend. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Dear Friend,

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 offenses? 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.

Video Link

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.

Say something…anything…please.

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.

Dave

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14 Comments

  1. kittybrat

    Dave,

    I hope your friend reads and actually digests this. You have spoken truth. Truth raw and horrible, yet so necessary. You stated you are no less moral than you ever were. Truth. You are moral to your core, and would have been whether or not you had been immersed in your faith. Rest easy, if you can. I ache for you. Losing your family by their choices for religion is devastating. I hope some day they will come around.
    Peace to you.

    Reply
  2. Zoe

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt letter to your friend with us Dave. Your family has lost such a valuable member of their family. I hope your friend will honour your friendship and like kittybrat, I too hope one day your family returns to you.

    Reply
  3. Ami

    Once again I’m reminded of how invasive Christianity is. Tentacles into every nook and crevice of a person’s existence. It’s really a very unhealthy obsession for a lot of people.

    When family turns away from someone they love based on religion it’s disgusting. And sad. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  4. Brian

    Very honest, heartfelt and very very human. I thank-you for being who you are and feeling what needs to be felt. I weep with you. I recently tried to explain to my very Pentecostal brother that his family, his wife and kids are his first love, his heart and his human love. He believes in Christ though….. this excessive demand for the departure from family love to some greater love in woo-woo is the sick heart of religion.

    Reply
  5. Kenneth

    Thank you for sharing this and being so honest with yourself! It is often a long and painful process to leave what you once believed in at the door.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop thinking about those Christians who would say you were never really “saved” (your actions show you certainly believed you were) or you are only “backslidden” (when it seems you found out the truth and it will never change). I know most Christians believe that, so I’m sure your friend will likely believe that too. Just ask Bruce 😉

    Reply
  6. Heather

    Eloquent, to be sure. Makes total sense to me. I hope your friend is flexible enough to wipe clean a little bit of the Christian lense through which he most likely sees everything. My cynical side says that’s not likely as the screen through which most Christians sift things will not be able to let something that huge pass through. BUT, then again, I was about as staunch as they come and it took one time of a friend explaining why they became athiest to start a tiny, almost imperceptible crack in my belief. One that surprised me given how secure I felt in my “salvation” and how wholehearted I was. The scraper that went under the cracked paint was reading Bruce’s blog and reading his words when he confessed he no longer thought the Bible was god inspired. After that I rapidly took that scraper and fervently scratched away to see the truth below. Like no longer believing in Santa, it’s true… There’s no going back. My whole life has changed and broadened. I have so much sympathy for people that I never had before. (I mean, I had the “they made their bed and now they have to sleep in it” mentality instead of compassion) So my optimistic side says there is a chance he’ll get it. Slowly, and with fits and starts.
    I enjoyed reading this. Hope things turn out positive. 🙂

    Reply
  7. exrelayman

    Very nicely written, Dave. I had an initial reaction of wondering why you glossed over the problems and inconsistencies in Christianity. Then I realized how good it was to leave them unstated so as to 1) leave the document on a personal experience level, and 2) leave those items for discussion only if your friend shows an interest in them rather than shoving them at him whether he wants them shoved at him or not.

    Reply
  8. Unknown Author

    Everyone fails the structure of man made religion. God knows we are broken people unable to meet the standards of man made religion. All God ask is for us to look up and see his light. Feel and except his love and share it. You don’t earn your way to God by your works and your dutifulness! Running yourself everywhere and trying to fix and please. Can’t be done. God doesn’t ask that of us. He loves us unconditionally. Even those who deny his existence. Until we leave our earthly bodies we will be subject to our broken nature and desires. All God requires is a heart exchange and belief in him as our creator. Preachers are just like us. Broken lost and struggling like the rest of us. If I thought life here as we know it was all their is. I couldn’t face another day. I would not want to be a mother grandmother or nurse. What hope could I give my loved ones and patients. I know without a doubt I have a creator above that loves me just like I am. Knowing him makes me want to love give forgive and keep reaching out. Even on the days I can barely get through. He holds me up always. I pray for those who have lost sight and belief in this. Take your eyes off of churches, people, circumstances and look up. He will never not be there for you. Just open your heart!

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Cheryl,

      Please read the comment rules. Your preaching is not welcome here. Try and learn from Dave’s story rather than thinking you have the answer he needs to hear. Consider the fact that Dave is fine just as he is and has no need of what you have or think you have. I know, it is hard to fathom that someone doesn’t want or need your Jesus, but here we are happy and content, having no need of your religion or any other religion.

      Bruce

      Reply
      1. Brian

        ” If I thought life here as we know it was all their is. I couldn’t face another day. I would not want to be a mother grandmother or nurse. What hope could I give my loved ones and patients. I know without a doubt I have a creator above that loves me just like I am. Knowing him makes me want to love give forgive and keep reaching out.”

        I am so sorry that life is so meaningless to you, that you couldn’t face another day! That you would spurn motherhood and being a grandmother and nurse! Wow, what utter depravity you must live with…. I am so sorry. As a mother, a grandmother and nurse you likely give such love and help… YOU give…. Why do you throw that away as if it is worthless? I find statements like yours very very sad. What on earth happened to you to make you state such things? Just open your heart (to yourself.)

        Reply
  9. Zoe

    Cheryl wrote: ” If I thought life here as we know it was all their is. I couldn’t face another day. I would not want to be a mother grandmother or nurse. What hope could I give my loved ones and patients.”

    Zoe responds: Sure you could Cheryl, you just don’t know it. You aren’t so very different than many of us who also once could have and did have those same thoughts. I suspect like many of us because you are a mother a grandmother and a nurse, you indeed could face another day, many days. 🙂

    My unbelief in your God does not affect who I am as a caring and kind person. I spent time yesterday with a Christian family who is facing a life and death situation. My unbelief did not affect my love for them or my ability to be present, to help, to make supper, to care for children, to encourage and support them. It certainly also did not interrupt my hope for the best possible outcome. As a nurse myself (no longer in practice) I am also still a great sounding board regarding medical terminology. My unbelief in a theistic being like yours doesn’t change who I am as a human being.

    Reply
  10. Brian

    Zoe, I am sorry to hear your friends are facing troubled times. I know many Christian, Muslim, Bahai people with whom I share some society, though I bring my unbelief (mostly silent unless queried). What impresses me about your statement to Cheryl is that you do not require or even want her to necessarily share your unbelief…. it doesn’t apply. The problem with Christianity and other world faiths is that their scriptures demand compliance or punishment. No matter how gently you phrase it in meek smiles, as a non-believer you are to be ultimately tortured forever in the most heinous imaginable ways. Gentle Jesus will watch over your bubbling flesh as it drips from your body but you will not die!
    Any cursory reading of scripture will offer up countless examples of the true depravity of extreme belief. If Cheryl was a little ol’ granny who had only ‘God loves you’ on her tongue, I suppose that would not bother me much. We are all a bit gah-gah about one thing or another and that is wonderfully human but the codification and extreme focus on complying with ideas about perfection and so on, just leaves me babbling in nonsense. It leads to great harm in the world. It goes quickly from “God loves you” to “shame on you for ignoring how Jesus gave all for you” to “Burn, you will burn”. Then come the militants who go around shooting people and decapitating for GOD. And every once in awhile some hater even targets Christians-only in their massacres. The concept of live and let live, is not allowed in the world of belief. It is used as an appetizer but when the main dish is served, ‘live and let live’ is long gone, And in USA, there is barely a difference between God and Country. Many Christians think they are pretty close to being the same thing! George Clooney, in the Coen Brothers’, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, says at a key moment, “We’re in a tight spot…” That phrase comes to mind so often these days of warmongering and the dangerous inclusion of religion in politics. Our Canadian PM uses Christianity to support his following the American model of war, even attacking the right of women to wear religious garb in Canada while taking their citizenship. He calls it wrong and not our way to allow such things.
    (We’re in a tight spot!)

    Reply
    1. Zoe

      Thank you Brian and Happy Thanksgiving to you today. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Skyler

    The way you articulated that was beautiful. Thanks Dave!

    Reply

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