WHY DO I WRITE

After years of blogging/talking/dialoguing about religion, I am ashamed that I have not been able to clearly communicate my “heart.” In the last few years I have seen so many responses riddled with spite & condescension. I have heard dozens of stories of gossip and ugly rumors that have been spread about me. On days like these I am deeply disappointed in humanity, but also hopeful that we can restart everything from the beginning.

So this is my clumsy-and-sentimental open letter to all of you who are religious believers. I earnestly hope you will hear my “heart of hearts.”

 

Dear religious believer,

It’s no secret that I sincerely think that some of your beliefs are not correct, a position which I accepted very reluctantly in an effort to be as intellectually honest as possible, no matter the cost. Yet my disagreement with you doesn’t mean that I harbor hatred or spitefulness towards you.

I am not at war against you.

I am not on the side of the enemy. (In fact, our real enemy, I believe, is the cowardly intolerance, brutish unkindness, and unneeded aggression we as humans often exhibit in our foolishness.)

As strange as this may sound, I am on your side, because I care about you enough to hope you believe the truth.

Deep down, at the core of my being, I genuinely want us to share an earnest pursuit of truth together. I want us to join hands as we explore the fabric of reality and strive to understand the universe as it is. You think the answer to everything is your religion, and because I was once a deeply devout preacher who believed it with all of my heart, I totally get that and understand how it feels. And if that answer is indeed true, I sincerely want to accept it and believe it. And likewise, if its false, I want to reject it so that we can move on and discover the more accurate answers, even if we don’t like them.

I promise you this.

I really need you to understand this: I did not come to my conclusions because I am evil, wicked, stupid, daft, and most assuredly not because I hate you or want to offend you.

I am not here to cram some ideology down your throat or to promote a sinister agenda. I am not here to justify some secret sins, nor because I am angry and want to bring about revenge against someone that hurt me.

I really don’t have a wicked plan to wage war against all the infidels, heathen, sinners, or fools, in fact, I hate all those words. I certainly don’t want to make a deep line of division that will separate people into camps, “sinners vs saints” or “smart vs dumb.” As strange as it may be for you to believe this, the fact of the matter is, I want the very opposite.

I earnestly believe we can make the world a better place, where religious and existential dialogue is kind, friendly, helpful, and most importantly, honest. Where people are not degraded for their beliefs, even as these beliefs are challenged. I want to live in a world where people are are not indoctrinated, nor shamed, shunned, mocked, or frightened into submission, but instead share a deep passion for seeing the world as it really is.

This is why I “waste” so much of my time writing and discussing these matters. It’s not to offend you or degrade you, but because I want to be helpful to you.

Deep down, I really do care for you. When you try to “evangelize me,” do you not do this because you care for me and want to “save my soul”? In the same way, when I try to persuade you, I do this because I really do care about you and I care about the truth.

What do I want?

If I am wrong, I sincerely want you to use sound reason and good evidence to convince me of that, so I may join you (don’t merely call me names, gossip about me behind my back, or threaten me with hell – as is unfortunately all too common). If I am wrong, at least I will have sharpened your thinking, and helped you correct some serious flaws in your theology (surely you don’t claim to have all of the perfect answers, perhaps there is something you can learn from me).

If you are wrong, I want you to become aware of this, so that you may join me in being “less wrong” and seeing our universe as it really is instead of believing the wrong answers. Consider that billions of people in the past believed things you now accept are false, surely if you were an ancient Greek polytheist, you would have wanted me to tell you Zeus doesn’t really exist, even if that would upset your worldview? No?

Surely if you are wrong, you want to know that? Don’t you? I certainly do.

I want to make you think, carefully and critically. I want to help you consider your faith with as much scrutiny as you consider the beliefs of other religions or philosophies. I want to make you care more about the truth than what people will think of you. I want to encourage you prefer the truth over comfort and safety. I wish that you would learn to be more fair when examining other peoples religions and perspectives, and learn to be more critical of your own. And I want you to kindly encourage me do the same.

At the end of the day, I want you to join me on this honest journey to pursue the truth, and whether it takes us to Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, or something even stranger, I want us to walk together in honesty and kindness, willing to accept the truth, whatever it  really is, even if we don’t like it.

believers stand to lose

In my previous post I contemplated what I would do if I was wrong about God and religion.

I’m frequently asked “what if you died and met [my particular version of] God?” My reply was that I would be sincerely surprised, however, I would not get angry, rebel, or hate this God, instead I would quietly sit down next to him and ask him some questions. A God who is good and loving, who knows fully the openness of my heart and willingness to be humble, couldn’t possibly hate me or torture without end..

If I’m wrong, then I would be open to changing my mind, I would be willing to believe that God exists, I would be willing to accept God’s dominion. I trust that any good omniscient being would know my intentions have always been pure and would treat me fairly. So I’m not at all terrified of torture.

What about the traditional Christian (or Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, etc) believer? Let’s ask you the same question:

What if you are wrong? What have you to risk?

THE USUAL REPLY TO “WHAT IF YOU’RE WRONG?”

I have encountered this quote by the rapper Lecrae many times, in each case, it was the reply given by kind religious folk when asked this question. They say something along the lines of: “If I’m wrong then I wasted my life. If you’re wrong about [my] God then you wasted eternity.

lecrae

Lecrae is by no means the first person to come to such a conclusion, this idea has been around for hundreds of years. It was best articulated by the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, who ordered it as follows:

“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” (Pascals Wager)

But is this really the case? It is a profitable gamble? Many philosophers and thinkers have considered Pascals Wager and discovered numerous errors; lets briefly survey a few of these.

 

PROBLEM #1 – IGNORES OTHER FAITHS

Here is how the average believer imagines the situation. You have before you the option to (a) believe or (b) withhold belief. One of these options has the possibility of an infinite reward with no loss, the other a possibility of infinite loss with no possible reward. Believers of any particular religion who employ this kind of thinking use binary logic, because they only see their religion as an option.

pascals wager 1

The reality of the situation is that there are dozens of contemporary religious options with millions of followers that present the same wager. Instead of standing before one statement with a 50/50 chance, we are have before us a few dozen religious claims, each with their own afterlives, heavens, and hells. This drastically reduces the odds of being right, it’s no longer a true or false question that yields 50% odds, but rather it’s a multiple choice question, and there are dozens of choices. Instead of having “nothing to lose” if we are wrong, by choosing God A instead of God B, we open ourselves to go to B’s version hell. Instead of odds that are 50/50, we are looking at 1/50.

pascals wager 2

 

PROBLEM #2 – ITS A SELFISH LOTTERY

The second big problem with this wager is that most faiths require that a believer profess faith out of the genuineness of their heart. According to the theological teachings of major theistic religions, adherents are called to have a selfless faith, utmost respect, careful obedience, and authentic love towards God. Yet, Pascals wager calls people to make decisions with a calculated interest in self-preservation. One must consider his odds of playing the “afterlife lottery” and use his selfish desire to roll the dice.

It is a decision grounded in the natural desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure, it’s a choice that stems from our simple carnal urge to run from the horrors of hell and seek the lavishness of heaven. By the definition of most religions, especially the top three monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Judaism, & Islam, this faithless act of picking the option that is most likely to save your skin disqualifies one from the salvation found in that religion.

Believing in God only because you have something to gain, or because you fear punishment is not a noble selfless sacrifice, it is selfish self preservation.  

 

PROBLEM #3 – ASSUMING NO RISK

As part of the argument it is commonly asserted that a believer who is wrong about (their) God loses nothing. (This is a standard line of thinking in Pascals wager, though Lecrae’s version does admit one “loses” his life.) Traditionally, it’s presupposed that a life which is finite or temporary cannot be meaningful and must automatically be a waste. Yet there is no good argument to justify this assertion. Is a finite donut less tasty because it doesn’t last forever? Is a short trip to Disneyland less meaningful because it’s not eternal? Surely no. It seems fallacious to simply assert that a temporary life has no meaning, and even worse to make the baseless claim that if your life was eighty, not a trillion years long, then it must be a wasted life.

In any sense, lets say you decide to play the selfish afterlife lottery, what do you stand to lose?

1. You risk displeasing the God(s) of every other religion, known and unknown to us

As Homer Simpson put it “but Marge, what if we picked the wrong religion? Every week, we’re just making God madder and madder!” The reality is, unless you are absolutely and positively sure that your particular version of faith is the true one, you may be incurring the wrath of God(s) upon yourself. And yes, I know that as the believer of one religion you think all those other religions are so obviously silly and wrong that you cannot take them seriously, and yet, that is exactly what the adherents of those other religions think of your faith. Believing something simply because of a wager is a problem not only with different religions, but even within the same religion. What if you take Pascals Wager and simply jump into Pentecostalism, but the real truth ends up being Catholicism. You will be worshiping the right God, in the wrong way and rejecting his emissaries to this earth, and while you may end up barely making it to heaven, you are surely risking some kind of punishment or chastisement by carelessly making a leap of faith without thoughtfully exploring the options.

2. You risk the only moments of existence you will ever get

Sure when you compare eighty years to a trillion years, the eighty obviously pales in comparison. And if we knew for a fact there were infinite years to be had, only a complete fool would choose eternal torture for those infinite years (which begs the question, is such an insane person even eligible to receive punishment, we don’t imprison the mentally ill, so why should God torture them in hell?). Yet, all we do know for a fact is that we have a few decades in this vast cosmic arena, this life is certain, the rest is merely an ethereal possibility. If this short life is 100% of your existence, it is still a huge tragedy to simply gamble it away, even if that is less a tragedy than gambling away 100% of eternal existence. In some ways, it can be said that wasting 100% of your money is even more sad when you have a small wallet rather than an infinite bank account.

3. You risk your only chance to embrace the truth of reality

What if you only have one opportunity to embrace and understand the sublime grandeur of the universe? By throwing it away on a gamble, you risk your only chance to learn and understand reality. Just pause for one second, are you really saying that if the answer to the greatest puzzle of existence isn’t the one you think it is, you don’t want to know the real answer? You don’t even want to try? There could be untold wonders in this universe, perhaps the ultimate answers of reality are infinitely more fascinating and wonderful than what the traditional religions have given us? Perhaps these religions have only grasped at a tiny drop in a vast ocean of beautiful wonder? And you would rather lose what may be your only opportunity to learn about it? Just because you only want the answer that you already picked to be true?

4. (In some traditions) you risk the ability to live a happy life

Fortunately we all live in a peaceful time in history and many of us belong to healthy religious traditions, but at the same time, others do not. There were the millions of people who lived in difficult historical periods, and used the thinking behind Pascals wager to live unhappy lives. There were many stoic and ascetic believers who intentionally harmed their health, happiness, and lives as a sacrifice for God(s). There were millions who lived in repressive religious cultures that prevented women from having freedom, caused men to spend thousands of hours on their in repetitive prayers, groveling in shame, or hunted “heretics,” burning them on pyres. Today there are still religious traditions that prevent many from obtaining joy by shame and physical repression, others prevent adherents from enjoying life, beauty, sex, culture, and etc. This doesn’t apply to all, for indeed many religious traditions offer a good sense of community and meaning, but millions of people have thoughtlessly risked their happiness on religious traditions that don’t.

5. (In some traditions) you risk holding back the entire human race

There are indeed brilliant scientists who are religious believers, yet historically they tend to be at odds with sizable portions of theologians/religious leaders in their tradition. On top of that, the majority of scientists today grow up in non-religious homes. Sociologist Elaine H. Ecklund has found that “When compared to the general population, a larger proportion of scientists are raised in non-religious homes.” (Again, not all religious people hinder science, nor all traditions, but a significant number of historically and today do that it’s worth mentioning). If you simply use Pascals wager to select one of these religious traditions, you are hindering all of humanity. If you pick a religion that discriminates against a race, sex, or sexual orientation, your wager is harmful towards those people. If you simply hate evolution or stem cell research perhaps your impulsive wager will negatively millions of other people.. 

6. You risk teaching others that the fear of death/punishment is stronger than intellectual honesty

Life is filled with many grand riddles, and whatever the final solution may be, if you simply pick a “safe” answer that you think will save you from some ethereal torture, or will shield you from contemplating the sobering reality of death, you are advocating intellectual cowardice. Rather than investigating the truth with courage and integrity, with the aim of accepting it regardless of its conclusions, you would act impulsively on the basis of fear. If you simply pick the answer that appears to be less frightening, then is not a brave intellectual honesty that motivates your decisions, but simple cowardice.  When you act this way you are teaching others that fear is stronger than the truth.

7. You risk teaching others that selfishness is more important than intellectual honesty

On the same note, if you primarily consider the possibility of personal reward, or that if there is no reward at least you have lived a happy life by thinking there is one, you are selling your soul. Rather than pursuing the truth, to whatever conclusion it may lead, you prefer to make the selfish choices that offer you a reward, or at least the hope of one. You opt to make a calculated decision based on how much personal benefit you can reap, not on the truthfulness a claim. And by doing this you teach others around you that the value of selfish desires is more important than a courageous quest for truth.

 

Does this mean you should change sides?

Am I saying you should change your religious views? No, not necessarily (though if you have a good reason, then yes). My goal is to urge you to stop using these careless cop-out answers, stop living a life where you merely make impulsive decisions grounded in fear, selfishness, or indoctrination instead of careful and considerate thinking. I want you to stop assuming this topic requires little or no consideration but just blind faith. Whatever choices you make, please understand all of them are of utmost importance and require care and attention.

If your religion is the right one, it will affect all of your existence, so make that decision carefully and thoughtfully; don’t make silly wagers based on irrational fears and hopes of rewards.

If your religion is not the right one, it will affect all of your existence, so be willing to examine your beliefs, don’t run away from this by using wagers with a calculated self-interest.

Whatever the answers are, be courageous in exploring them and be honest in accepting them.

talking to god

I’m often asked “what if you’re wrong? What if you stand before God? What would you say?”

I believe the expectation is that I would fall down and feel utterly shameful for vehemently hating God. Except that I don’t and never have hated God, I’m simply very doubtful that the kind of God that people preach about really exists, the kind of God who lets millions of children in Africa suffer and die for a mysterious reason, but helps wealthy footballers win sports trophies, the kind of God who says he loves everyone and will do everything for their good, but will also torture them forever if they didn’t died before accepting his offer of kindness. That kind of God is a contradiction, that kind of God simply cannot exist.

It’s a foolish world we live in, where sincere questions about an idea are reinterpreted as hatred against a person. To reiterate, I don’t hate God, I simply don’t think the particular depiction of God that evangelicals promote is real. If I though he was, I would never be at the philosophical position where I am; it’s absurd to think otherwise. But lets put that aside.

But what if he existed and I stood before him?

What would I do? Would I cower in shame?

Would I run and hide? Would I ask for the mountains to fall upon me?

No.

For why should I run and hide? What have I done that I should fear a perfectly good being?

I have never done anything to intentionally hurt a particular God that I think exists, I don’t hate any particular version of any particular God, so why should I be afraid? Is God malevolent? Is he spiteful? Is he hateful? Is he violent? Is he dangerous? Is he the kind of person you should be afraid of? A man who lives an honest life does not fear an honest judge, he only fear a corrupt judge, a judge that cannot empathize or understand, a judge that is more interested in cruelty than kindness.

No, if I met God I would not run and scream, I would ask to sit next to him, and quietly ask him some questions.

Perhaps I would start off by saying:

Dear God, I know that you’re eons above me, and perhaps you owe me nothing at all, but may I please ask you some questions? You saw my heart and know that I was sincere, I made the best choices with the information you made available to me, and that led me to conclude that the picture they drew of you was wrong, or that you didn’t exist at all. Now that I can plainly see I was wrong, I want to understand how. Seeing you doesn’t clarify the big issues I have had. Can you help me with some of the difficult questions that your followers haven’t been able to answer?”

And I would sit there and ask God some questions.

1. Why did you stay so hidden?

I’ve spent so many years looking for you, I’ve studied science and philosophy, I’ve studied the Bible, and a little bit of the books of other religions. I read the arguments and studies, I did the calculations, hoping and seeking, but all I really wanted to was to be your friend, to know you were real. You saw that I devoted thousands of hours praying to you, talking to you, asking you to show me you were more than a figment of my imagination. And all those times you never answered, not even once. Not even for one second. There were hundreds of occasion where I had to make up answers in my head, hoping they were from you, but deep down I knew it was me, it was always just me. Never you. Why?

Why not just take 10 seconds to quietly whisper in my ear? Why not dispatch the lowliest of your trillions of angels, surely you have a dozen for every person in this world. Why did you remain so quiet? In my deepest moments of need, when tears streamed down my face, and I screamed and begged for you to just be there, to let me know you heard me, why didn’t you? Why did you hide? When I suffered and felt pain, why did you hide? You made a thousand promises in the Bible, but you didn’t even keep one for me? God, you know how much I wished for it, how many times I promised you that I’d give everything up for you. You know that I offered to give up my life, I was willing to sacrifice it all, my money, prestige, family, future, all of it for you. Yet you remained silent and distant, you never explained any of it, God, please, tell me why?

2. Why do you choose torture people in hell?

God, I sincerely can’t understand your desire for the pain of others. Vengeance is never the answer, even Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. What possible benefit do you have for causing so much pain and misery for these people? What sense is there in torturing a woman for a trillion years for a short miserable life of 50? Why would you want to punish people? Why desire to cause them such dire pain and torment? Why do you prefer that they receive pain than forgiveness? Why not empty hell? Do you not have compassion for these people as they are burning? While you look at their screaming faces and withering bodies, have no you love… or at least pity?

Is your vengeance so overwhelmingly powerful that you would not rescue them from the burning fire after a time? I would not wish such a punishment on my worst enemy, and I am but a mere human mortal, not perfect by any means. A thousand trillion years of torture for every second of sin  feels so cruel and pernicious, why would you even dream that up in the first place? Why does such horrendous vengeance please you so? Why not change it to something, to anything, that is kinder and more merciful? Why such horrendous vengeance more important to you than kindness and forgiveness?

3. Why would you refuse to answer prayers that help the needy?

Do you remember those sick children God? The ones I prayed for? Time and time again, as my eyes would glance upon them in their state of utter misery, eyes filled with tears, begging you for help, I joined them in prayer. I wished for you to swiftly come and help. Cancer, malaria, aids, muscular dystrophy, such horrific and ugly things. Why did you let them exist in the first place I’ll never understand. But even more so, why did you ignore the prayers of the needy? You promised God, in the Bible, I can quote you the book by heart, you promised to help people, you promised to answer prayers. So why didn’t you do it God?

Why did you make a promise and then disappear into the silence? Every day of my life, billions of people suffered unimaginable sorrows, all of them cried out to you and begged you for help, but you didn’t do anything. They listed the promises of the Bible, to answer our every need, to answer us in our time of trouble, but there was no reply. Our help came after thousands of years of your absence, we created antibiotics, vaccines, Tylenol, and surgery, we did it because you were not there. Every hospital we built is a somber reminder that you don’t answer prayers. A few people claimed you healed them, though our psychologists said it was placebo, but in the end, with such a small handful of people, it doesn’t matter. You promised to help us, but 99.9% of people in the world suffered and died in excruciating pain, begging for your help, and you never responded, even though it would cost you nothing at all. Why?

4. Why were you so violent in the OT era?

As I read the Old Testament, my heart broke a thousand timed, over and over again. I was not grieved by the people described in the book, I was grieved by it’s narration of you. I hoped it was wrong, but turns out you are the same God of the Old Testament. Why did you have to do it this way? Perhaps it’s too bold of me to question you, but I still will, not to judge you, but as a child who sincerely wants to understand his parent. I cannot fathom how you could promote such ugly, vile, barbaric cruelty? Why would that even interest you? Why would you even care about creating rules for slavery, teaching the subjugation of women, or commanding armies to brutally slaughter masses of small children? Why didn’t you send Jesus in the very beginning?

Why didn’t you teach love, peace, and kindness from the start? Why did you send plagues and armies? Why did you support so much violence? My heart breaks just thinking about it? I thought so highly of you before I read the Old Testament, and now, please forgive me for this, I have a hard time differentiating you from your enemy? How are you two different if you both support such ugly violence? God, I’m so sorry, but I hoped for something more transcendentally beautiful from you.

5. Why would you be so unclear that there are thousands of religions and denominations?

When I looked for you, I heard stories from a thousand different people, who came from all kinds of backgrounds, and they all claimed to have seen you. But they described you differently. To some you were a Trinity of persons, to others a pantheon, and still to others just One. Each of our religions had different pictures, rules, and rituals. From our measly human perspective, it was so difficult God, utterly difficult, to know the truth. How was I supposed to know which religion to pick? They all argued convincingly, they were all persuaded, millions of people from every religion died for their faith. God, they died – they gave up their one and only life – that’s how certain they were. And yet it turns out almost all of them were wrong.

That just seems so unfair God, why would you allow such chaos and confusion? Why not make your Bible clearer? There was so much you could have done to prevent this, all at no cost to you, so why leave us to blindly grapple with the invisible? Why not simply make write your dictates in the stars? Why not spell it out in our hearts, in such a way it’s impossible to misinterpret? Look at our modern books, they are not vague, they are clear, there is no misinterpretation of these, there are not 2,000 different ways to interpret our modern legal code, we have found ways to write coherently and unambiguously, so why didn’t you? Why didn’t you make it perfectly clear God? At least we would all focus on obeying/disobeying the true religion, instead of dealing with the confusion and fear of joining one of the millions of false religions.

 

Would God reply?

And what would happen then?

If the evangelical Christians are right, God’s wrathful anger would boil hot and he would crush me and torture me, as I scream in breathless agony. That version of God would probably never stoop so low as to answer my questions, I’m a rebel that needs to be burned and destroyed, nothing more.

But if there is a real God and it/he/she is perfectly good, then I am certain we will have the most interesting conversation in the history of the universe.

big myths about religion

The last time I went to church was almost a year ago. At the time I was inches away from becoming a pastor at a large mega-church. I guess it’s fairly obvious that is it has been a strange and unusual journey since then. And now that I am an evangelical exile, I frequently hear people describe reasons explaining why young people like me have left the church (or religion in general). Unfortunately, none of the reasons I’ve heard reflected even one element in my own journey.

In the last year I have had the pleasure of meeting about a hundred people who have similar journeys that expelled them outside of religious orthodoxy, and after lengthy interaction with about half of them I discovered that, they too did not fit any bullet points on the usual list of motives. This group of drop-outs includes everyone from philosophical atheists, to agnostic seekers, and even some Christian deists, so it’s rather difficult to give accurate generalizations, but I will try nonetheless. (I will note that this is a sloppy qualitative/anecdotal survey based on a small personal sample, not a rigorous study, that said these answers are consistent with what large scale quantitative studies have shown).

Here is why we did not leave our religion

1. Think it’s true but are looking for freedom

The great irony here is that the Christian motto is that Jesus gives freedom. In fact, there is even a New Testament verse that states “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Thus if one has to leave the church in search of freedom, what does that say about the church not living up to it’s claims? Usually the “freedom” motive is proposed by people who are involved in a very authoritarian church culture (perhaps in some cases, an almost cult-like church) that tries to control every element of their members lives. Yet I have never met a person who completely abandoned Christianity because of one authoritarian church, but I know many deeply committed Christians who simply found a less totalitarian church. In any case, only a fool would wholly abandon a religion he was convinced was true, simply because there were too many rules among one group of followers of that religion.

2. Think it’s true but want to sin

Of the many dozen church-dropouts I’ve spoken with, none have become the depraved, morally nihilistic, preachers of debauchery they are purported to be. Certainly, some people follow moderately different lifestyles, a few now drink alcohol in moderation, have married people they were not formerly permitted to marry, and etc, but none have shown a radical change. Nobody divorced their wife and went on a drug induced romp through the Nevada brothels.  No one has yet become a serial murderer, alcoholic, or pedophile. If these people left the church in order to sin, they certainly aren’t doing it very much. Even my anecdotal evidence aside, the very idea is nothing short of stupid. What person in their right mind would rebel against a God they know exists, by pretending he doesn’t exist, in order to justify their sin, for which they know they will pay dearly? That would be like a burglar, who is utterly certain the police are around the corner, telling himself “there is no police” in order to justify a theft that he knows will lead to his arrest and incarceration. It’s absurd! If a person merely wants to sin, they would do far better to stay the church and utilize free grace, after all, God forgives an infinite multitude of sins if you just ask.

3. Think its true but hate your particular version of God

I have been accused of this a thousand times. Usually their eyes roll around in circles, as though they are grasping for some logic to explain everything. Then, it’s as though a bright light appears, their eyes widen, they lower their voice, and out it comes. “You just hate God! You hate him and want to be your own God! That’s why you don’t believe!” Sigh. Yes, because everybody who claims to not believe in Santa Claus actually knows, deep down, that Santa is real and vehemently hates him. Because everybody who claims to not believe in Allah actually knows of his existence, but hates him desperately and is only pretending to not believe. All that aside, many of the people I’ve met told stories of deep sorrow and much weeping at the loss of faith, as though mourning for an old friend who died. As Chuck Templeton, who once was Billy Graham’s best friend and fellow evangelist, said after losing his religion, “I miss Jesus.” That’s right, some of us still miss Jesus, we wish the good parts of the story could be real, and only reluctantly admit that we don’t think they are. There is no hatred. When asked “if there was a good and loving God who revealed himself to humanity, would you rebel and hate him?” every single church drop out I’ve met says “never, what on earth for?! I’d like to meet him, but where is he?”

4. Think it’s true but are just too lazy

This whole argument rests on the premise that anyone who leaves the church or the faith is simply “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” because they couldn’t handle it. It’s similar to thinking that someone can stop believing that gravity works because their physics class was too hard. It’s utterly preposterous, and generally comes from someone sporting a holier-than-thou attitude, who just knows that you can’t have tried as hard as they have, because they have all their answer figured out. Surely if you were as committed as they, you would agree with them on everything. Alas, not only is the theory behind this premise severely lacking, so too is any real evidence of it from my experience as an exile in the post-evangelical wasteland. Nobody that I have spoken with had a faith crisis because they just didn’t try hard enough.

5. Think its true but are too hurt by people in the church

This is the most common motive I have heard ascribed, it’s as if some people simply must label me with something, lest they accidentally believe my real story. In any case, I will admit that certainly there are people in churches (as well as outside) that can be rude, unkind, and hurtful. And of course that can influence people to leave one church for another. That said, it’s highly unlikely that someone would abandon a religion they believe to be the ultimate truth because some (or even many) people in that religion are rude. To do so, a person would have be at the height of insanity, for they would have to knowingly accept the eternal torture of hell, forever, just because people were rude to them. Another variation of this (one I’ve heard quite a few times) is “you’re just upset because they didn’t give you a role.” I honestly cannot fathom how deranged a person would have to be to knowingly reject a religion they believed was true (and thereby sign up for eternal hell) because they didn’t get to lead Sunday school.

Here is why we did leave our religion

1. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with disillusionment by the dogmatic structure

In my conversations some said they began to question their faith after seeing that the structure of the church is very antithetical to questions. They saw religious people were very hostile to those asking the kinds of questions that curious skeptics and seekers like to ask, and in fact church authorities seemed overly aggressive in denouncing those who think differently. Wondering about why these authorities were so harsh and could not handle uncertainty began a journey of questioning those dogmatic answers, which culminated in reluctantly finding insurmountable problems in the traditional religious narrative.

2. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with disappointment in people

A small number (this is by far the smallest group) mentioned that it was seeing the actions of people who claimed to be devout believers that started sowing doubt about the whole endeavor. Though not even one person said they specifically left religion simply because Christians were disappointing, but rather that this began the process of critical thinking in their minds. Seeing the hypocrisy of believers made them wonder “if these people claim so loudly to be perfectly right about religion, but act so wrong, can I really trust them?” As a result these people began to inquire into their religious history,reading books, and critically examining what was taught to them.

3. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with higher education

The largest group of people (probably 1/3 to 1/2) said it was pursuing higher education that started their journey. Interestingly, for a handful it was actually education at various Christian colleges. This in fact correlates very well with large scale statistics that have shown that each year of schooling “reduces the propensity to attend religious services at least once a month by about 14 percentage points” (1). While this certainly does not prove the validity of any belief, it shows that somehow modern education reduces religiosity, take that as you will. In my personal experiences, the people who left the church because of education stated that what they were learning created cognitive dissonance with their religious views, they had to pick some theological dogma versus an empirical observation (i.e. biological evolution, geology/age of the earth, psychology, history, etc) and that made them start asking difficult questions about their faith.

4. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with the Bible

Reading the Bible is my personal reason for leaving the church. Close to a dozen people that I have talked with have also reported this as being the most important and influential factor in their journey.  In my purely anecdotal experience, it seems that most of these people, including myself, were overly devout (many were or wanted to be preachers/pastors/etc). For us, it was reading the biblical texts with extreme reverence and dedication, especially those passages that people really tend to avoid spurred our critical analysis of the religion we held very dear. In my own case, reading the Bible and noticing numerous contradictions, scientific errors, and morally reprehensible actions and commands that pulled the rug out from underneath me. I very reluctantly gave up my dearest friend, my faith, only when I exerted every attempt in apologetics to defend the things I was reading in the Bible. I simply could not dishonestly placate my emotions by fallacious apologetic arguments; I sincerely love truth, and would be willing to believe in anything, as long as there is good justification and evidence, but not without it, and especially not against it.

5. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with critical thinking

The four groups above are composed of people whose first step was a catalyst for intellectual examination of religion, yet for a moderately sized group this was the starting point. This group includes some people who have been irreligious for a very long time and made their decisions from a fairly young age. Some mentioned that as far back as they can think, they have always been skeptical because the stories they heard of things that can’t be seen, never made sense. Others started down this journey only in their mid-twenties and thirties after beginning read and think about philosophy. Overall this group of people have the most “organic” story with nothing besides rational reflection sparking their critical examination of religion.