Having grown up with a deeply devout and sincere Christian faith I have been on a journey away from certainty and dogma, filled with many questions and reluctant skepticism, you can read some bits of it here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5). I went from a passionate Pentecostal, to an ardent charismatic, then to a zealous evangelical, a sincerely pious Calvinist, later becoming a liberal Christian, finally ending up as a diligent questioner of all of the above. Certainly I remain open to it, but very skeptical as well.
Whatever else can be said, I should note that I have never done something halfheartedly, I gave it my all, and worked my mind, body, and emotions to their utmost. I was never the Pentecostal hiding in the back, chewing gum, sitting there because my parents forced me to. I was up in the front preaching my heart off. I was never the charismatic who goes to church once a Sunday and prays a lackluster prayer for prosperity, I was the one watching IHOP prayer rooms couple of hours a day and visiting local prophets, trying to receive an impartation to change the world with. I was not the lazy Calvinist who was once saved, and ready to hibernate until heaven, I passionately persuaded people to the gospel, and even wrote ¾ of a 35,000 word devotional book about God (granted this was never finished or published.) And now that I am questioning the reality of everything I did and believed in the past, I have also done this avidly and somewhat publically.
What does that mean for me? I have encountered an interesting range of emotions, experiences, and personal interactions with people. Some of these have been really rewarding, others have left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach, and a lack of hope for the human race.
What does this mean for you? First, as a fellow human being you can learn from the bad and try to imitate the good. Or, second, as a fellow skeptic, before you tell others you have are doubtful of their religious claims, you should “count the cost” and understand that some people will treat you severely and unkindly.
1. They may threaten you with violence.
This is rarer than all the other kinds, but I have been threatened with violence by at least three people now, one of them a middleaged ministry leader at a local Slavic megachurch. I was told my teeth would be knocked out because that’s what Jesus wants. I was also warned that when a particular gentleman meets me in person, I will receive what I deserve and should be very afraid for my life. Besides the few threats of physical violence, I have had half a dozen threats of “spiritual violence” wherein people tell me they are praying for God to punish me, harm me, kill me, and send me to burn in hell.
2. They may call you names and insults
This is probably one of the most common responses I have received. From being labeled a heretic, atheist, scum, idiot, coward, and the usual slurs and hateful remarks, I have also been privy to some very creative labels. The literary ingenuity of some people still makes me smile. These include gems like “pathetic loser who PISSES me off,” “ignorant idiot who gets off on trying to be smarter than everyone,” and my favorite “stupid calvinist atheist.” (I still haven’t figured that one out.) That said, I’ve probably seen words like idiot and stupid show up quite a bit. It’s really surprising how much conservative Christians can use such rude language when someone asks them difficult questions about their faith-based ideology.
3. They may claim you are evil for asking questions
This is also fairly common, many people have an incessant need to label you, to herd you into some kind of box that they can understand and feel power over. When you fail to provide them with a self-label for which they have a scripted way of negating you, they begin to improvise, and usually do this by blaming your morals. I have had at least two dozen people try to pull the blame-game on me, some accused me of not praying enough, or having a rebellious heart, others claimed its various “secret sins” of pride, sexual sins and etc. Some others stated I had been a lying faker all along, while a few even said I was sinful enough to open the door to satan. In sum, their point is that they only reason I have doubts is because I have failed to be as holy as they are currently being, and because I have a dark, ugly, wicked heart.
4. They may recede into the distance and ignore you
A less common response is complete disownment and apparent indifference. A few people who were good friends or acquaintances just disappeared from my life. One or two even blocked/unfriended me on social media. The truth is, compared to the above three responses, I would much rather see this as it’s much kinder than the others. Still, it’s rather sad that some people can just disappear, but that said, I do understand this and hold no grudges.
5. They may remain as condescending “friends” with one goal
Some remain friends, which is pretty great, but do so in a severely condescending way. They begin to treat you as though you are broken, crippled, blind, foolish or mentally unstable, and they are here to nurse you back to health. Instead of taking your questions seriously, they treat you as though you have some kind of mental/spiritual problem, but loudly claim that they still love you,even while you have this dark problem. Conversations aren’t very open or honest, and most turn into debates where they again reiterate that X is not a real problem, but the problem is in your ugly, dirty, broken heart, and they are loving and praying for you to stop being so darn stubborn and accept their version of truth. Again, at least they stay friends, so that’s swell, but the condescension is a bit taxing.
6. They may be genuinely friendly, even while they disagree
Unfortunately this group is rather small especially compared to the rest. However, they make up for their small size with their big hearts. These people are exceptionally great and are a shining illustration of love and kindness. They genuinely understand where I am at and why I feel this way, they are good friends regardless of our disagreements. These people tend to be less dogmatic and certainly would not classify themselves as fundamentalists, however, many certainly are Christians. Ultimately I hope more of us can learn to be the kind of friends who kindly accept others when they disagree, perhaps trying to win them over by diligent debate, but always from a position of humility and kindness, never scorn or condescension.