For those of you with a background in the evangelical church, you will be all too familiar with the idea of the “testimony.” An individual’s testimony might be a story of a particularly difficult scenario which turned out good in the end and, most importantly, reflects the individual’s assertion that the good that came of it was because of the direct intervention of God. Most often, though, a person’s testimony is the story of their becoming a Christian. This usually involves a description of their life before faith, proceeds to depict the circumstances that led to their questioning of the direction of travel for their life, followed by a realization of “lostness” or of fear for what awaited them later in life or beyond death. The story then depicts how God began to arrange things in order to bring the person to Himself, how they finally gave in and turned to God, then how great life has been since that decision. Many go something like this (not my actual experience): “I grew up in church but fell in with the wrong crowd in high school, life started taking me down a dark path of sex, drugs, selfishness… (insert other/additional terrible, sinful behavior here as appropriate), my life was falling apart, someone invited me to church, Jesus is awesome so I decided to give my life to Him, things are now so much better (even if they’re really not), things are not perfect but I know God is in control and I know where I’ll go when I die.” OK, that might be a little condescending and simplistic but it’s not far from the truth. The problems with the Christian testimony are many: they don’t get questioned critically because that would be rude, they cover over details that are inconvenient or don’t add to the intended outcome, they don’t really cover what happens next in the day-to-day reality of life, and on and on. I have said it before and I forcefully reiterate it now: my intention is not to hurt anyone’s feelings. I have no wish to make light of someone’s deeply-held beliefs or the very real struggles of their lives. I merely bring up the issue of the Christian testimony here to set the stage for my own story and to contrast the journey into Christian faith with the journey out of it.
I was a Christian’s Christian. From the moment I walked down the aisle at the end of a Sunday morning service when I was 13, I poured my all into my faith. To be fair, I was a teenager and did teenager things. I was far from perfect, but the overarching theme of my life was church and Jesus. I played in various worship groups from about the age of 14. I taught Sunday School and other classes not long after I finished high school. I was in a Christian band that played youth groups and summer camps. I went to Bible college. I moved across the Atlantic to be a youth pastor. I started a Christian study resources business. I completed a BA degree in Christian Studies and was studying for the MA. My dream was to be either a church planter or a Bible college professor and was working academically toward those goals when the wheels began to come off of my faith.
I had always had a little bit of a rebellious streak running through my faith. For example, despite my Southern Baptist affiliation and training, I simply didn’t believe drinking alcohol was inherently wrong. I didn’t believe Republican and Christian were synonyms. I believed that we grew and matured in our faith when we asked difficult questions rather than when we blindly accepted. I believed the God of the Bible was “Ultimate Truth” and it was our job to dig beyond the easy answers in order to find out the truth, and I had absolute faith that, no matter how far we dug, what we would find would be Him as the result of our digging.
Imagine my surprise when a textbook, for a biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) class, in an MA degree program, at a devout evangelical college, told me the difficult truth that the Bible was not reliable. Obviously it didn’t say that in so many words, and that was not the intended take-away. But what was I supposed to think when, for example, I found out that many people believe that much of the work attributed to the apostle Paul in the New Testament (in other words, most of the New Testament) was actually written by unknown others who used his name to lend weight to their words? What was I to do with the argument for a long-lost “Q document” which was essentially source material for the Gospel writers? I mean, if at least two or three of those guys were physically present during Jesus’s ministry and the others were getting their facts directly from eyewitnesses, why would they need a source document for their first-hand experience? What was I to do with the fact that there are NO original writings still in existence that became the Bible, that the earliest documents we do have disagree with each other, and that no one seemed to have been able to agree with what was authoritative and what was not for hundreds of years after the time of Jesus? If the Bible was supposed to be The Word of God, these were serious problems.
I am tempted to start going through the various options of biblical interpretation at this point and laying out why they don’t hold water. The problem is that this post would become very long indeed and I would have nothing to write about on other occasions. For the sake of this story, suffice it to say that I moved from being in the biblical inerrancy and infallibility camp (see my previous post for explanations if necessary), to the progressive Christianity neighborhood of believing that the Bible isn’t perfect but still gives us a great insight into God and what we should believe and do, to a very stark realization indeed: the Bible is untrue. Whew, it feels weird to write that: all out in the open and everything! Not only is it untrue, it has been used, abused, edited, and rewritten over the centuries to control people and to reinforce itself and the structure of the Church it has given birth to.
In terms of my deconversion story, all this Bible stuff is absolutely essential to talk about because my loss of faith in the Bible is my loss of faith. I tried to maintain a faith in some hazy notion of a vaguely Bible-shaped God that could still be real even if the Bible wasn’t a great representation of Him, but I just couldn’t keep hold of it. As I said in my previous post, the Bible is the basis of authority for the Christian faith. If Christianity is to be believed, it must have a foundation. If the Bible is the foundation of Christianity, it has no firm basis for belief because the Bible is untrue. For me, the whole faith experience simply crumbled like the house built on sand that I read about somewhere.
Unlike a Christian testimony, there wasn’t a sudden moment of decision for my deconversion. I can tell you the date, time, and place I decided to become a Christian, but not so for my apostasy. It simply melted away slowly like mist in the morning sun. Some days I wrestled with questions, some days I didn’t think about them at all. Sometimes I contemplated meaning in life, most times I just lived. As time has gone on, the wrestling and contemplating have been happening less and less. I must say, if I’m really honest, living life has been easier outside of faith. I’m not running all my actions and thoughts through that filter and it’s just easier. I’m free to think what I actually think and not what I should think. I’m free to treat people according actual real life ethics rather than according to outdated prejudices. If the truth sets you free, and I feel free outside of the Christian faith, then does it not follow logically that the Christianity is untrue?
I know that there are arguments involving everything I’ve said against the Bible and against faith. The posts that follow will put flesh on the bones of some of my arguments. I know that there are scores of people out there writing blogs on the other side of the fence: armchair apologists and theologians who would love to pick me to pieces. Be my guest! I have seen people who have left the faith ripped to shreds online with people questioning their motives, their decisions, and even if they were every really believers in the first place. I have no problem taking on those who wish to prove themselves by trying to take me to task. I was once one of you and an attack on the faith felt like an attack on you personally. It’s not, but maybe this response is sign of fear that your own faith is not as stable as you hope it to be. This blog is for those who have left the faith, or are thinking about it, and are afraid. I hope you find comfort in knowing you are not alone and that your questions, and your feelings, are legitimate.