One of the difficult parts of this process is talking it through with the friends you’ve had for decades of shared Christian experience. These are friends you met and grew with wholly in the context of Christianity. Every conversation you had, every struggle you shared, every joy you delighted in was in the name of Jesus Christ. You understood that every good thing came from above. You understood that every bad thing was a means of testing, proving, correcting; driving you closer to the all-loving God of the universe. Even if you weren’t talking about God at all, there was always that mutual understanding of a shared faith. It was a trust connection from without that didn’t exist for people outside the faith.
Now, suddenly, that particular connection is severed. Not on my part, I would like to think. To me, the connection was only ever a human one anyway. Outside of the devotion to a biblical God, we could still carry on that depth of friendship and trust. After all, in our devotion to each other we’ve gotten to know the human behind the profession of faith. Aren’t we still the same people? Am I not every bit who I was a year ago when it all still seemed real to me?
But to my friends, it is severed. In their eyes I am cut off from the power and blessings of the Holy Spirit. It is not a question of an equal devotion to different philosophies. It is a deficient position, bereft of a spiritual rudder, one that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly, and therefore from making sound decisions.
To them, the existence of god, more specifically, a biblical, personal God, is understood – to the point in which you either believe in that god, or you are in willful denial to serve a selfish end. It’s not that you don’t believe, it’s that you deny believing what you know deep down is actually true. The related assumption is that there is some sort of sin you wish to indulge in and therefore deny and repress the spirit of god in order to pursue your indulgence in sin. One of the first online exchanges I had about leaving the fold included a poster whose willfully and openly arrogant question was, “So, what’s your favorite sin.”
So the conversation already starts off handicapped. I don’t mean that to say their position is deficient. I mean it to say we have a specific difference in a foundational understanding of the nature and existence of god. We are on different planes, trying to find a common ground. It is an understanding that will never wholly arrive, I’m certain. Not that we will be unable to be friends. I’m sure we will, but I will always be that friend who needs extra prayer, who needs god to somehow shake him up and bring him back to the flock, who they’re sure someday will come around.
I have had several of these ‘friend’ conversations. I felt it was important to see and speak to several of my closest friends. I wanted to make sure they heard it directly from me. I didn’t want them getting a fourth or fifth hand hearsay laced account of how I deconverted and had taken to roasting babies and puppies on the backyard grill. Also, I wanted to respect their place in my life, and the time and energy they had put into me over the years, and I back in them. Finally, I wanted to make sure they knew that, regardless of their response, I still loved them and considered them the dearest of friends.
One conversation I had with a friend I’ll call Titus. I’ve known Titus for most of my Christian life, over 20 years. By the time we had a chance to sit down he had an inkling that I had veered from the path. The conversation was concerned and loving, but it was also very strange. Over the years I’ve sat on his side of the table, listening to others tell my why they couldn’t believe. You pick up key phrases in these conversations. As a reasoning agnostic they mean one thing, usually something positive. As a Christian they are red flags.
One phrase that I used several times during this conversation was “Open myself up to,” as in, “I had to OPEN MYSELF UP TO other ideas.” After I had told my story, Titus keyed very quickly onto that phrase. To be open-minded and consider that one might be wrong is anathema to the Christian. To question God, his son, his word, one questions all that is real. To put reason on the same level as the Bible itself is blasphemous. Paul wrote: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” and later in the same passage (I Corinthians 1:18-25), “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
You can imagine how this destroys the ability of a Christian and non-Christian to dialogue about wisdom. He who reasons with his mind and considers the world as it is, without the filter of the bible, is already considered a fool, one who is perishing, and the very act of questioning the bible in contrast with worldly wisdom is itself evidence of one’s fallen state. It’s a non-starter. There can be no mutual understanding, no respect of the process, because the process wasn’t subordinated to the bible itself.
Of course, had it been, the conversation wouldn’t be taking place at all.
I explained to Titus that I would be more than happy to explore the issues in detail, but that it would be up to him, as I didn’t want to be the one casting doubts around for the heck of it. After the conversation we exchanged a couple of private messages on Facebook. He probed lightly around some of the things we talked about at first. Finally he said exactly what he was thinking. It was loving in its way, and it didn’t surprise me in the least, but it still… well, see for yourself:
I forwarded it to you via email. Easter presentation many many years ago. I believe it was in that presentation where you play the blind man … and when they asked “How is that you see?” Your line was something like “All I know is I was once was blind but now I see!!!” I truly believe with all my heart that you have been blinded once again bro! I hope you hear me in love. You were seeing! You were “touching the world” the world was lost (sic). Through music and drama, through prayer and faith. And so what you’ve done in this search for truth is that you’ve opened yourself up to an enemy that you once believed in. He has duped you into believing there is no real God of the bible, He didn’t send His Son Jesus to be your Savior, and so if you don’t believe in that, than there’s is no reason to believe in satan. He has caused you to take all of your doubts and stock pile them, showing you them time and time again, adding to them, causing you to research and read and read and read, he had given you the list of top best sellers according to atheism, anti-God and anti-Christ. He has caused you to intellectualize right out of your faith which you held so dear at one point. “Lord God! Father and creator of the universe! Jesus! Son of The Living God! Open my brother’s eyes once more!!
How am I to proceed? What else is there to say. He cannot begin to question, and therefore he cannot begin to understand my doubts. He cannot give them credence. Atheist writer and blogger John Loftus made an interesting observation recently. He said: “[Christians] must be convinced their faith is impossible before they will consider it to be improbable…” Christians cannot begin to question the bible and all they’ve been taught until they’re convinced they won’t be on the next train to hell by doing so. No wonder so few of us get across that bridge.
It’s not that I have any vested interest in Titus giving up his faith. Not at all. I would like him to simply treat me as his friend and respect what I believe as well. I don’t want to be his project.
I’m getting the feeling that I won’t be getting my wish.