An Open Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear ones:

I write this today to express a few things that have bothered me in the course of my deconversion.  This will be an imperfect and incomplete expression of my thoughts.  It’s the best I can do for now.

This was probably brought to a head over Easter when I responded to a posting by a Christian friend which mocked non-believers 

with a post of my own.

Not skillful, I admit, but here we are.  So many of the issues raised and explored when one leaves Christianity can become endless conversations charged with emotion.  Eternity can do that to a discussion.  I confess that I have at times been less than skillful in my communication.  I’m certain I’m not alone in that failing.

When I began this blog, not so long ago, it was never my intention to convince anyone so much as explain what led to my abandonment of Christianity, as well as to explore it myself in detail.  The questions I had that led me to this decision are many and detailed.  Obviously I think that the questions, and their answers (or lack thereof) are substantial enough to abandon Christianity as a viable worldview and belief system.

I feel the need to write this because, instead of addressing the very specific philosophical, historical, anthropological, scientific, and literary questions that led me to this point; my motivations, methodology, personal integrity, intelligence, and overall worthiness have been questioned, denigrated, and even attacked, sometimes in pointed detail, by some of you I consider, and would still hope to consider, friends.

There are a few key aspects of being an ex-believer which, if I am able to communicate clearly, might help us focus on the content and the philosophy, rather than the perceived conflict of motivation.

First – I did not leave Christianity: so I could sin/because I’m mad at God/because other Christians hurt me/because I wanted a change of scenery.

None of the above.  Period.

It had next to nothing to do with any sort of personal behavioral preference.  What little relation it may have had was just the opposite – during my exploration I wished to make a positive change I could not apparently achieve in my devotion to Christianity.

I wasn’t mad at god.  I’ve never been mad at god.  When I believed in god, I was always mystified how anyone could be mad at god.  I mean, if he’s god, he’s – well – god.

No Christian ever hurt me very deeply until after I gave up my belief.  The hardest part of leaving Christianity was leaving behind friends who, for the most part, have always been very good to me.

I didn’t want a change of scenery.  I will say, however, that a change of scenery motivated me to take a very hard look at the faith I’d followed unquestioningly for 26 years.

This is not the first time I have clarified these points.  Yet I have been accused of all of these, occasionally with some offensive specificity.  You know who you are.

Second - I did not decide to leave god, then try to justify my position.

When I realized where my questions were leading me, I clung to god.  I explored every question from both sides, hoping I could find a way to resolve what I saw (and still see) as unsolvable problems with Christianity without having to lie to myself about what I found.  In the end I could not.  After exploring thoroughly, I abandoned my belief.  But to be clear, I did not “leave” god.  That would imply that there is a god there I have actively abandoned.  That is not the case.  I looked behind the curtain and found there was nobody there.

Third - I do not think I’m smarter than you.

It is not a matter of intellect.  It may be that I have been more willing to explore the issues intellectually than some of you are.  That is not a value judgment.  That is not one being better than the other.  I have begged several of you to directly address the specific issues that led me to abandon my faith.  On this very blog and in offline conversations I have laid out many of my reasons in clear detail and offered ample opportunity to have them questioned, explored, and even refuted.  Why would I do that?  Because I’m certain that all of you are reasonably intelligent, as I’m certain I am reasonably intelligent, and I think we can dialogue on facts.  Yet I am met mostly with obfuscation, insults, questions of my character, speculation of my motivation, and simple refusal to engage with the material at hand.

Fourth – My non-belief is not an open invitation to judge or disparage my character.

I suppose this is related to my first point, but I’ll say it anyway.  This has become a terrible habit among some of my Christian friends when engaging with my personal expression about what I believe and do not believe.  You accuse me of being bitter, angry, egocentric, an attention whore, and more, all the while ignoring the content of my expression.  The Easter posting is a perfect example.  It had a very particular message about the nature of sacrifice.  Of the long comment thread accusing me of being bitter and expressing anger that I should sully their special day with my own personal expression, only two comment touched briefly on the actual point made; one saying they’d never thought of it that way, the other finding it humorous.  I don’t know if you’re afraid of the conversation or if you disrespect me so much you’d rather just insult me than engage.  Honestly, unless you are able to intellectually engage with the questions I ask about the faith, I’m not really willing to engage with a dissection of my personal motives or morality.

Fifth – My thoughts about my Christian experience are not attacks directed at you personally.

They are simply my thoughts about my Christian experience.  That’s all.  As I examine my life as a Christian I see turning points and decisions that I would have made differently.  I see ways in which my biblical mindset influenced me in ways that I now deem negative.  I also see the opposite.  I see ways in which my Christian past influenced me in ways that are positive no matter what mindset one would have.  These are my thoughts about my life.  If you disagree with my assessment of these decisions, you’re free to say so, but taking personal offense at the way I assess my life decisions is overstepping boundaries.

Sixth – Skepticism is not a belief system.

No matter how some of you wish to argue it, an attitude of skepticism of any claim is simply a requirement that a claim be proven to a reasonable extent before being accepted.  Whether your claim is about Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Mithra, Horus, the universe, the afterlife, human origins, evolution, what color your car is, or the spirituality of eating a peanut butter sandwich, I only expect that such a claim be supported with evidence that any reasonable person can verify independently.

That is not a “belief” system.  It is actually a method of examining belief systems to determine if they are worth believing.  It is not a position that makes any positive claim except that truth should be evident.  It is a refusal to invest in any set of claims for which there is no reasonable evidence.  It is a starting point only.  I don’t know how many other ways to say it, but I do know at least one of you will insist otherwise and use repetition in place of evidence.

I’ll say it again – I will accept your claim if you present it with reasonable, verifiable evidence.

Seventh – I do not want to deconvert you.

I really don’t.  I’m more than happy to have Christian friends.  You who are my friends through church I would still consider my friends outside of it.  Perhaps you don’t feel the same way.  Perhaps you perceive that my deconversion is a threat to your continued belief.  I can’t help that.  All I seek is for you to respect my viewpoint and lack of belief with the same respect you demand for your beliefs and your expression of them.  This is severely lacking on the part of many of you.  This is also much in evidence on the part of others of you.  At the same time as some have gone on the attack, others have messaged me to apologize for you who have attacked, and we had the chance to express mutual respect for our individual journeys.

What I seek is that you recognize that our individual expressions of belief will often conflict.  If you wish to ignore these expressions, that’s fine.  If you wish to engage about them, even better.  But, as expressed above, I expect you to engage with mutual respect.  I expect you to respect my intelligence, as you would expect me to respect yours.  I expect you to engage about the topic rather than make unwarranted accusations about my motivation or disparage my moral character.

I do not want you to change your mind about being Christian.  I do want to change your mind about something, though.  I want you to accept that, while you may be sure of your beliefs, there are a good 5 billion people who think you’re wrong, many of whom are at least as certain of their position as you are.  I want you to accept that maybe, just maybe, you could be wrong, if even you think you’re not.  I want you to treat me as an intellectual equal, not as someone blinded and unable to think for himself.  And just in case you think I exaggerate, that is pretty much a direct quote from more than one of you.

Of course, accepting that someone who doesn’t agree with you might have a point might be a deconversion of sorts in and of itself.  Maybe that’s just a bridge too far.  But it’s the only way we’ll be able to engage in constructive conversation.  If instead you insist on battering me with bible verses, disrespecting me and my viewpoint, and pointedly refusing to engage in the actual question at hand, then I don’t know what to tell you.  Maybe we’re not friends anymore.

I hope that’s not the case.  I leave it in your hands.

Thanks for listening.

21 responses to “An Open Letter to My Christian Friends

  1. Interesting. It saddens me that some of your cherished friendships are being undermined by what amounts to faith tribalism. Scares me a little, too, because we all know how powerfully religion inspires good people to do bad things. I learned that when I was young, and guilty of it myself.

  2. I really believe that most of them can’t help it, that the more they care about you, the more they will want to draw you back. I mean, they truly feel it is not only right and good, but that it is the ONE way. And the more they love you, the more they want you to see that, too. This is why I won’t date one. I saw on one guy’s profile something like, hey, I’m a Christian, but you don’t have to be one (though you should). And up until that point I was a little openminded, but then I thought, no, they all really feel this way, don’t they? He just had the balls to say it.

  3. “…unless you are able to intellectually engage with the questions I ask about the faith, I’m not really willing to engage with a dissection of my personal motives or morality.”

    Living in the Baptist Belt, I sometimes feel like it would be useful to have that tattooed on my forehead. Bon mots (even if some are really big mots).

  4. “I want you to accept that maybe, just maybe, you could be wrong, if even you think you’re not.”

    This is the crux of the matter right here. You and I have done this, and it hurt in many ways. Yet those of us who have entertained this gut-wrenching possibility, with so much at stake, with so many years of indoctrination resisting every question, are labeled as “proud” by those who refuse to consider the possibility of being wrong. The meaning of humility is thus twisted to be precisely the opposite of what it would otherwise mean, just as has been done with “wisdom” and “love.”

    A well-written post.

  5. well said my friend, well said.
    unfortunately, you will lose friends. There is no way to avoid it sometimes. I have, for example, lost half my siblings and mother when I realized how much harm was being caused by religion. Especially, as I see it, through the indoctrination of children ie: child abuse. So, I lost family, but I gained truth. And we can only live for truth, or for what or we living?

    • I have lost friends, a few. I suppose “lost” is a relative term, though. Many of them I didn’t lose completely. They move, instead, to the periphery. They can’t relate to all of who I am, and I can’t relate to them that way anymore either.

      It’s easier to accept now, though. After all, isn’t it just one more piece of reality?

      Thank you for reading and for your kind compliment. Cheers.

  6. Thank you for this post. I’m trying to come to terms with my own questions and there is almost nothing out there for people who question but don’t appreciate the Dawkins-style anti-religion. I hope this comment finds you quite well.

    Ben

    • Anthony,

      Hope all is well and the family is good. We’re doing well also. Our daughter Tonya is 8 weeks pregnant with her second, and it was a surprise for all of us. We’re sorry we couldn’t make your last presentation, but hope to catch the next, let us know early so we can plan on it. It seems pretty amazing (and yet not) that I would get an email from you after so long, and so soon after I had sent out my post on FB, was this a coincidence? Anyway, we continue to pray for you. Hope to see you soon.

      In HIS Grip

      Tony

      • Tony – No worries. One of these days it will work out. I think you guys would really enjoy it :)

        I didn’t see your post until after I received notification of your comment. I try to stay away from a lot of those. I could have put out a paragraph or 10, but you weren’t really writing to me, y’know? :) I’m trying to pursue a more peaceful path and dialogue, and to focus on compassionate and kind living rather than fight the existential battles.

        I will definitely let you know about dates. We’re having a little trouble scheduling our December concert – but keep your eyes open for a weekend date about a week to 10 days before Christmas and I’ll let you know early :)

        Love you, bud. Cheers.

    • Thanks, Ben. Good luck in your search. For me, some of the hard-nosed Dawkins style talk is what helped me see clearly, but we each have our paths to follow. Thanks for visiting and commenting. I hope my reply finds you as well as your comment found me :)

  7. A well-written and illuminating post. Your third point is one I find particularly interesting. I must admit that there have times when I have wondered whether staunchly religious folks are generally of lower intelligence — usually after being drawn into (or simply just witnessing) a creationism vs atheism discussion.

    However, I would say that most of my religious friends and acquaintances appear to be quite intelligent and rational when it comes to other matters. It’s as if their religion is a huge blind spot — one willingly maintained in the name of faith.

    In the end I can only conclude that, regardless of intelligence, some people simply place greater value on trying to be honest with oneself (no matter how unwelcome the truth might be) than those who prefer (or can’t resist?) a comfortable and reassuring lie.

    That’s not to suggest that someone who doesn’t carry religious beliefs won’t self-deceive. The very human quality of hope is typically shaded with a reluctance to take a bluntly objective appraisal of a situation, particularly when it comes to hoping against the odds.

    But perhaps some people are more inclined to recognise hope under certain circumstances as being largely wishful thinking, and in the case of a belief that our lives are overseen by an almighty creator who will provide us with everlasting life in heaven once our time on this planet is over … well, the wishfulness does appear to strongly overshadow the thinking in that case.

  8. VERY well put – and your points reflect EXACTLY the attitudes of a few of my Christian friends when I expressed my doubts about religion and offered a humanist philosophy as an alternative – especially the ad hominem attacks (after they claim to feel personally insulted/attacked for my very general Facebook posts. Irony is not something they see with #3 above, their blind spot).

    In fact, will copy and paste this link as a response – since I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for writing and sharing this (and for saving me the time and effort of trying to piece together as cogent a response)…

  9. A very gentle tale of deconversion. Well written and moving. Best of all, truthful. I thank you for your efforts. Re the photo “best of luck”: I’ll take random; dumb luck any day over the hope the Big Dude In The Sky is looking out for me.

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