In this post I want to recall some conversations I’ve had with various people that made an impression in some way on this topic.
Back when I was a Christian, I can remember a handful of conversations. I can remember a good friend of mine comparing religious belief to belief in fairy tales. I laughed at the outrageousness of this claim. This friend’s mother is a somewhat nutty Christian, so it was interesting that his position was so extreme. He must have rejected the faith because of his relationship with his mother, I thought at the time. It is somewhat galling now to come to the view that he was right. Especially after the many impassioned defenses I gave.
I remember another friend announcing that she was no longer a Christian. I talked to her and tried to persuade her or at least understand her position. She would say things like ‘I know these arguments. I’ve used them myself on other people when I was a Christian!’ and ‘I just don’t believe any more.’ I asked her what she thought of Jesus. She answered that this was a tricky one, but that he was probably just a good teacher and a charismatic man. I gave her the old Lord, Lunatic or Liar routine and she sort of shrugged it off. What’s interesting is that I’m in the same position now, and saying the same kind of things to select Christian friends. I now suppose that, similar to me, she didn’t want to upset my Christianity. Christians have a good thing going, so why rock the boat?
The Lord, Lunatic, Liar or Legend routine seems so weak to me now. It’s like Sherlock Holmes, “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely must be true.” Like the real world works so neatly. Why can’t he be a somewhat complex mixture of the last three like everyone else who’s ever lived? Seems like that’s waaay more likely than that a God (of whom there is no evidence) came to earth as a man and somehow neglected to leave any convincing evidence behind. All to give us the hope of life after death (of which there is also no evidence). Surely it’s more likely that when our brain evolved to its current level of intelligence, we started wrestling with our own mortality and creating stories to give us some hope.
But my faith was undeterred by such interactions. I dutifully prayed for the individuals and looked for opportunities to witness to them and bring them back into the fold. After all, if they truly looked at the person of Christ they would surely come to faith.
While I was losing my faith, I discussed the issue with my pastor who’s also a good friend. He and his wife were so sweet and said that many of their good friends were atheists, so whatever I decided they would love me.
After I lost my faith, I did not advertise the fact widely. My wife was very understanding, and probably not far behind in her own journey. Although if her Christianity remains firm that’s fine with me.
I discussed it with an agnostic friend of mine, who counselled me to just be an agnostic, because, in reality, I don’t know. Beliefs are very personal and there’s no need to get worked up about it. After all the Christian community is a good gig. Sage advise.
A Christian friend of mine explained that belief came from faith and faith comes from God. Good reformed theology. “So if I don’t have faith it’s because God chose not to give me faith?” I asked. “Yes. I suppose so.” I said, “So God just might be choosing me as a ‘vessel of destruction’. I mean, clearly there’s no point pretending, since God knows everything.” He agreed. But if God made me skeptical, then it’s his fault that I’m not a Christian. Basically. These are deep waters. The Christian ‘virtue’ of belief in the face of evidence.
Another friend of mine listened quietly and asked questions. A few days later he said “if you really come to this conclusion, I would expect you to fight it with every fibre of your being! It would make it the greatest evil ever perpetrated on man.” I told him that I had developed a more nuanced view and what’s wrong with people believing whatever makes them happy? I’m not sure how I feel about this really though.
My mother listened for a while, and then gave a two hour monologue equivalent to one that she would give to a stranger on a plane. Like I hadn’t grown up with a knowledge of her stories deeply ingrained in me. The stories did not appear to be tailored at all to the specific issues I had raised. I’m still working my way through the pile of books she then sent, none of them dealing with the issue of evidence.
I take all this in the best possible way. Christians believe what they believe and, if they care about you, must reach out and try to bring you back to the fold. It’s a statement of love, for which I’m appreciative. As a Christian I used to do the same. But if Christians are like I was, there is probably a private assumption that there must be something else behind my falling away. Something nefarious. I must be angry with my mother or something. Surely it’s not just that I weighed the evidence and found it wanting…