Sunday, 7 June 2009

So what’s it like to leave Jesus behind?

I was listening to an audio book recently, God’s Problem by renowned Biblical scholar and former Evangelical Christian, Bart D. Ehrman. As I listened to his words I felt such a resonance with what he wrote. He captures how I felt, how I sometimes still feel, and the issues I face(d) having left Christianity behind.

To my Christian readers, I don’t share this to try to convince you of anything, or to try to deconvert you from your faith. I share it with you just to share it with you.


"People who have gone through a kind of “deconversion” experience like mine understand how emotionally wrenching it can be. It may be easy to have a good sense of humor about it now that I’m well on the other side of the crisis (a friend of mine says that I went from being “born again” to being “dead again”), but at the time it was extremely traumatic. I went from being a hard-core and committed evangelical Christian who had spent his young adulthood in a fundamentalist Bible college, an evangelical liberal arts college, and a number of Bible-believing churches, to being an agnostic who viewed the Bible as a book produced entirely by human hands, who viewed Jesus as a first-century apocalyptic Jew who was crucified but not raised from the dead, and who viewed the ultimate questions of theology as beyond a human’s ability to answer.

"I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t call myself an atheist, because to declare affirmatively that there is no God (the declaration of atheists) takes far more knowledge (and chutzpah) than I have. How would I know if there’s a God? I’m just a mortal like everyone else. I think what I can say is that if (IF!) there is a God, he is not the kind of being that I believed in as an evangelical: a personal deity who has ultimate power over this world and intervenes in human affairs in order to implement his will among us. It is beyond my comprehension that there could be a being like that—in no small part because, frankly, I don’t believe that interventions happen. If God cures cancer, then why do millions die of cancer? If the response is that it is a mystery (“God works in mysterious ways”), that is the same as saying that we do not know what God does or what he is like. So why pretend we do? If God feeds the hungry, why are people starving? If God takes care of his children, why are thousands of people destroyed by natural disasters every year? Why does the majority of the earth’s population suffer in abject poverty?

"I no longer believe in a God who is actively involved with the problems of this world. But I used to believe in a God of that sort with all my heart and soul, and I was willing and eager to tell everyone around me all about him. My faith in Christ made me an amateur evangelist, one determined to convert others to belief as well. But now I’ve deconverted. And I have to say, the deconversion process was not easy or pleasant. As I pointed out in an earlier chapter, I left the faith kicking and screaming.

"But what can else could I do? What can you, or anyone else, do when you’re confronted with facts (or, at least, with what you take to be facts) that contradict your faith? I suppose you could discount the facts, say they don’t exist, or do your best to ignore them. But what if you are absolutely committed to being true to yourself and to your understanding of the truth? What if you want to approach your belief with intellectual honesty and to act with personal integrity? I think all of us—even those of us who are agnostics—have to be willing to change our views if we come to think they were wrong after all. But doing so can be very painful.

"The pain for me was manifest in lots of ways. One of the hardest things was that I was now at odds with many of those who were near and dear to me—members of my family and close friends—people with whom I had once shared an intimate spiritual bond, with whom I could, before, pray and talk about the big questions of life and death with the full assurance that we were all on the same page. Once I left the faith, that no longer happened, and friends and family started treating me with suspicion, wondering what was wrong with me, why I had changed, why I had “gone over to the dark side.” Many of them, I suppose, thought that I had learned too much for my own good, or had opened myself up to the snares of the devil. It’s not easy being intimate with someone who thinks you’re in cahoots with Satan.

"Probably the hardest thing for me to deal with personally involved the very core of what I had believed as an evangelical Christian. I had become “born again” because I wanted “to be saved.” Saved from what? Among other things, from the eternal torments of hell. In the view that was given to me, Christ had died for the sins of the world, and anyone who accepted him in faith would have eternal life with him in heaven. All those who did not believe in him—whether out of wilful refusal or sheer ignorance—would necessarily have to pay for their own sins in hell. Hell was a well-populated place: most people went there. And hell was a place of everlasting torment, which involved the spiritual agony of being separated from God (and hence, all that is good) and the physical agony of real torment in an eternal lake of fire. Roasting in hell was, for me, not a metaphor but a physical reality. No wonder I was so evangelistic in my faith: I didn’t want any of my family or friends to experience the fires of hell for all eternity, and so I did everything I could to make sure they accepted Christ and received the free gift of salvation.

"This view of hell was driven into me and deeply burned, so to say, onto my consciousness (and, probably, my unconscious). As a result, when I fell away from my faith—not just in the Bible as God’s inspired word, but in Christ as the only way of salvation, and eventually from the view that Christ was himself divine, and beyond that from the view that there is an all-powerful God in charge of this world—I still wondered, deep down inside: could I have been right after all? What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.

"All of this is rooted in a sense of suffering, of course. The evangelical theology I had once held was built on views of suffering: Christ suffered for my sins, so that I would not have to suffer eternally, because God is a righteous judge who punishes for all time those who reject him and the salvation that he has provided. The irony, I suppose, is that it was precisely my view of suffering that led me away from this understanding of Christ, salvation, and God. I came to think that there is not a God who is actively involved with this world of pain and misery—if he is, why doesn’t he do something about it? Concomitantly, I came to believe that there is not a God who is intent on roasting innocent children and others in hell because they didn’t happen to accept a certain religious creed."

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Taken from chapter five of God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman, published by HarperCollins.

3 comments:

Michael McDonald said...

Troy

What were you thinking, You've been hurt by church, you looked at man's inability instead of seeing Christ's true salvation.

Michael McDonald

Anders Branderud said...

Hello,

Quote "I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t call myself an atheist, because to declare affirmatively that there is no God (the declaration of atheists) takes far more knowledge (and chutzpah) than I have. How would I know if there’s a God? I’m just a mortal like everyone else. I think what I can say is that if (IF!) there.”

Bart Ehrman should read the proof for the existence of an Intelligent and Perfect Creator found in bloganders.blogspot.com (left menu).. That would help him in his quest!

I think the logical and historical research of Ribi Yehoshuas from Nazareth's found at www.netzarim.co.il can be of interest to your Christian readers.

Have a nice evening! /Anders Branderud

Troy Waller said...

@Michael - You think I don't see 'the truth' any more? That I'm blinded by hurt? Well, at least you're nice enough to say THAT rather than say I am blinded by my own lust, greed or something as nasty. Good to hear from you BTW Mike. :)

@Anders - Yeah, there's a lot of things Bart Ehrman should do I am sure. Perhaps you should email him via his publisher and suggest he read that bog...er, blog. ;p