Ask Richard: New Unbeliever Distracted by Anger Toward Preacher February 21, 2011

Ask Richard: New Unbeliever Distracted by Anger Toward Preacher

Dear Mr. Richard,

How are you? After reading your posts on Friendly Atheist I decided to contact you with a problem of my own. First a little history leading up to my dilemma. It has been a long, hard slog to were I am at now. I started as a somewhat skeptical, but otherwise convinced, believer in God and Christ. After I entered college I immersed in evolution wanting to make an informed decision about the subject. In the past 4 months since I started college 2 years ago I have abandoned the belief in God, or at least a personal God.

I have told no one of this change save a close friend. I still attend church because it is were my friends and family are. However, we have new preacher; a young guy in his late twenties. He has a family with a 3 year old daughter, a 1 year old son, and a third on the way. He has a Masters in Theology from Liberty University, so you know the type. He is a stereotypical Southern preacher: YEC, evolution-denier, Jesus freak, America is a Christian Nation, war on Christmas, how can atheists be so dumb as not to believe in an invisible superman.

I like him as a person, but I tend to avoid him lest I lose my composure. Well last week he preached a sermon entitled: How the Grinch, King Herod, and The Atheist (my emphasis) stole Christmas. I almost walked on stage to tell him just how full of bunk he was. My main problem is that he homeschools his little kids. Now I can’t stand, as a lover and defender of science, to see these kids brainwashed. Sorry for the long letter, but can you help me?

Sincerely,
D.

Dear D,

The most important step in problem solving is recognizing what is the actual problem.

I’m sure that in the past you have known many people with exactly the same religious beliefs, opinions about science, history, and politics, and attitudes toward atheists as does this new, young preacher. Previously those things didn’t annoy you so much, if at all, because you shared some of the beliefs, and you probably weren’t so keenly aware of the rest of it because it was all around you, and you were not on the receiving end.

But then he delivered that sermon vilifying atheists, and suddenly he was talking about you.

Welcome to the world in which we nonbelievers live. After a long time of deliberation, just four months ago you crossed a line between belief and non-belief. Because of that, many people on the belief side of the line will revile, slander, libel, despise, dismiss, and worst of all, shun you. All of that is because they fear you. Belief in an “invisible superman” as you put it, is difficult, fragile, and perishable, and doubt can be contagious. You, by merely existing, are seen as a threat.

But this preacher is not your problem.

Do not focus on him, or his ignorance, or his prejudice, and certainly not on his homeschooled kids. There’s nothing you can presently do about any of that. All of that is a distraction from your more painful and frightening actual problem:

The problem is the fact that you have only felt safe to tell one close friend of your change in belief, and you continue to go to church because that’s where all your friends and family are. You are living in a charade, being false, compromising your integrity in order to avoid losing their love. I fully, deeply understand that, but now it’s all resting on a crumbling foundation of deceit.

Sitting in church, gritting your teeth and churning your stomach while you listen to aggravating and insulting sermons like the one you described is probably not good for your health. You’ll eventually get sick, or you’ll have an outburst right there in the pew. You’ll have to stop going, and then your family will ask you why. Excuses and cover stories won’t work for long, and when you finally tell them the truth, they may take it fairly well or not well at all. There will be tension at the very least, or at the worst, shunning which is a cruel and revolting practice.

It will be better if you have control of this process rather than letting it come unraveled on its own. Keep that one friend, and develop a new circle of friends where you can be yourself, and you don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. Maybe there’s a secular kind of group at the college. You will need the support of these new accepting friends during whatever trouble there is with your family and your friends at church.

After you have your social safety net in place, gradually begin to share your views more openly with your loved ones, and only go wherever you actually want to be. Remain willing to love and accept them even during any upset they are having about you. That of course does not mean that you have to accept abuse. Just make it clear that your love for them is not conditional on their beliefs matching your beliefs, and you hope that their love for you can be free of that condition too. For there to be love, you only need them to treat you decently, just as you are treating them.

Hopefully your family and the truest of your friends will adjust after some time, and will resume a loving relationship with you. It may be difficult for some of them. Be patient. Demonstrate the qualities you hope to see in them.

College is a time of enormous change for people. While much of it can be exciting, it’s also full of upheaval and turmoil because as they discover new things, they have to discard old things. Sometimes relationships are challenged, not just ideas. With patience, and with your efforts concentrated on the actual problem rather than distractions, I think you will be able to preserve what is precious, both love and your integrity.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.


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  • Steve

    Or if you want (or have to) lie, don’t go to church and tell them that while you still believe, you have problems with the guy’s specific beliefs and theology. If you aren’t sure whether they’d accept you as an atheist, they’d probably accept a liberal Christian.

  • Dan

    Atheist groups are awesome. I went to my first meetup a couple months ago and the DAY AFTER, I was hanging out with one of the people I met that night. We hung out as friends, not because we wanted to discuss atheism further (though the topic came up) but because we just got along.

    So it really is a great way to meet friends – and you may very quickly notice how fast you find friends which you share much more than non-belief with.

    I suspect that because a lot of atheists are vilified, when you go to one of their meet ups, their almost dying to meet someone new to make friends with. They thirst for someone friendly to talk to. They are super welcoming. They generally are in full support of human rights extending all the way to be being extremely respectful of what you have to say, not interrupting, being complementary, polite.

    Really, it’s a good time. I’m willing to bet any secular/atheist meeup group or campus group you join will be thrilled to have you not just as a member – but a friend most importantly.

  • D.,

    In agreement with Steve, there is nothing wrong with a 2-step (or 3-step) strategy for dealing with this all.

    Step 1 could just be telling everybody that you are not a YEC and want to find a different church to go to. You could always take your time in finding a new church. 🙂

    Step 2 could be declaring that you are agnostic, atheist, or liberal christian… whatever you feel comfortable in declaring yourself as.

    These steps could be separated by a couple of years.

    Of course keep the goals in mind of
    1. developing a new set of friends
    2. maintaining good family relations
    3. being true to yourself

    Just come up with a strategy that works for you with where you are in life.

    And forget about that preacher and his kids. I’d advise you to do nothing about it other than letting him know that you are not a YEC and you are moving on.

  • Alex

    I recently had to go to a baptism in a Catholic church. While I thought that kind of witch hunt in the pulpit was reserved for Evangelicals I was shocked and angry to hear atheists and “nonbelievers” bashed throughout the sermon, all the more offensive because the father baby’s father was a Hindu. The metaphor “god’s stillborn children” was tossed around, poetic right?

  • Ashton

    I don’t see how this pastor’s children are being homeschooled – they’re 3 and 1! They’re not old enough to be in school. I know quite a number of people who were homeschooled, but none of them were homeschooled for their whole education. They all ended up going to a school at some point and being exposed to other ideas. I wouldn’t worry too much about those kids, at this point at least. If this is a small church, maybe sometime (Christmas or the kids’ birthdays) you could give the kids a book about dinosaurs or something that might expose them to something in a subtle enough way that it might go over their parents’ heads.

  • Slider33

    Dear D (OP)

    I can relate to your story. It’s infuriating to sit there and bite your tongue, and listen to ignorance being spewed at you in such a manner.

    I’m kind of in a similar situation, since I’m not completely an out of the closet atheist beyond my immediate family. However, them knowing I’m a non-believer has been a huge relief, and a huge burden off of my shoulders.

    I was definitely afraid to tell my loved ones, especially my wife and my mom and dad. At first, it was pretty rough. I suppose the shock value of telling people you don’t believe has some unexpected and unpleasant consequences.

    It has gotten considerably better. A skeptic’s point of view is a much stronger position of debate, than a person who has to rely on faith. After calm and rational reasoning, I feel like it’s definitely starting to sink in to my close family.

    Most people aren’t stupid, and they can’t simply deny facts and have blind faith without starting to doubt themselves. But plant that seed of doubt, and back it up with some good research and scientific facts and people just won’t be able to reconcile or justify their beliefs rationally.

    The only option for them is to delude themselves even more, or face the facts.

    I’m happy to say, after many long discussions my family is coming around. I hope yours will too. It was met with a lot of fear and shock, but no hostility. I hope yours do the same.

  • The Other Tom

    D,

    There are a couple steps you could take along the road toward letting everyone know you’re an atheist.

    You could openly disagree with the preacher, doing so on terms of the nicer things Jesus said. For example, when he preached against atheists, you could have said that his remarks were unchristian because they are judging and not loving his neighbor. This argument applies any time he preaches against the wrongness of someone else, rather than preaching to the congregation about how they can behave well.

    You could also openly say that you feel the new preacher is “too political”, and if you want to, you could use this as an excuse to stop attending the church, and tell people for now that you intend to “pray privately” while you think about it. If necessary you can quote the bit from the bible where Jesus says to pray quietly in private. I think it’s in Matthew.

  • lurker111

    Time out, everyone. Is this fellow still in college and, if so, is he dependent on family funding? If so, then the dynamic and the advice change considerably.

  • Josh Wilson

    Dear “D.”,

    Have you considered talking with your pastor? I’m not trying to be condescending but I would suggest discussing this matter with him.
    I’m 27 years old and I have recently accepted God’s call for me to preach. If I were in his position I would hope that you would feel comfortable to talk with me about your concerns. If you were to come to me candidly and wanted to discuss your concerns (privately) it would never leave our conversation. It wouldn’t go any father than that.

    There are several people at our church that do the same. You’re not alone D. To have questions about Christianity does not mean that there is something wrong with the way you think; it means that you’re being authentic. I wouldn’t want to fake this. I wouldn’t be preaching if I didn’t have authentic faith that God is real and what His word says is Truth.

    As Christian’s we are to ask and seek (Matt 7:7). Jesus wanted us to ask and seek so that we would then receive and find.

    There’s a stigma that I can’t help but to recognize in a lot of these stories and comments. That stigma is that people are not allowed to question Christianity. That’s just not true. We’re human: we question EVERYTHING.
    A lot of that stigma is motivated by bad experiences in Christian families or with other Christians as well. Bad experiences with those who are not qualified to answer, or don’t have the answers or just simply give the impression that you’re not to question Christianity.
    I’m here to say that Christianity is not be blamed for a person’s poor decisions or poor conduct towards others. If we put our faith in people then we will always be disappointed. But there are apologetics out there that are willing and able to answer many questions that you might have. There are books and even surprisingly people in the Church that can answer those questions. God show’s favor to those who are truly seeking to find answers. He is well pleased with those who diligently search and whole heartedly ask. He is NOT pleased with those that just go through the motions and think that they meet the “Christian Quota” by walking in Church and sitting through a sermon.

    Christianity is a personal journey with God. Your time on earth is not to “play church” and convince others that you are a Christian. Instead, your time on earth is to know God and to grow closer to Him. The only way is through faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. But first, we must be reconciled for the Sin that we inherited when this world fell apart and the sins that we have committed.

    I know……it doesn’t seem fair.

    Does it seem fair that I was born to poor parents? Unless I do something about it I’ll be poor with them right? Well what do I have to do to see that my income changes? I have to make better choices right? We make a better choice when we choose to allow Jesus to be the punishment for our sins and accept that He lived a sinless life and died a sinner for us. Once that is done we are reconciled with God. We have shown enough faith for God to work within our lives. But we have to SEEK IT. We have to ask through prayer and look for the answers.

    So back to the subject….if you haven’t FIRST shown God the faith that you accept that you are a sinner (and if you disagree with that, then ask yourself if you have kept ALL or the Ten Commandments). You must then accept Jesus Christ as the one that takes the blame for your sins; then you are found worthy to come to God with your concerns and with an AUTHENTIC desire for His understanding.

    That’s why Christianity is so hard for many to understand. That’s why a lot of it is so hard for them to wrap their minds around. Because they have not FIRST humbled themselves before God and admitted their transgressions and accepted the ONLY atonement for their transgressions, Jesus Christ.

    For those of you who are still reading this and wondering why we have to do exactly what God says in order to inherit eternal life….

    Think about this…..

    If I put an ad in the paper to sell my ATV and it says “$1000 Firm, no trades” Then I get a call from a guy who says: “I got $500 I’ll give you for it.” That to me is an insult…
    I would say “No, the ad says $1000”.
    That guy might get mad, curse me and hang up…..but he knew what I wrote in that ad.

    Or another guy calls me up and says: “I’ll mow your yard for a year if you give me that ATV.”
    I’d say: “Um no….the as is clear about the $1000.”
    The guy then says: “Whatever man, you’re a jerk! You act like you can pick and choose who get’s that ATV or something!” then he hangs up.

    I’d think there was something wrong with that guy’s brain. LOL

    The same thing goes with what God requires for our salvation and to understand Him. He’s God. He laid down the requirements for eternal life. He says what must be done in order to be forgiven, to have eternal life with Him in heaven and to have a relationship with him on earth.
    Who’s going to argue with that? On what grounds? LOL

    There are people right now that have read God’s “ad” for eternal life in the Bible. They know the cost is to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and turning from their sins.
    Yet they are calling up God and saying:
    “I’ll give you 100 Hours in church for eternal life”….
    No, that won’t cut it.
    We have to accept Jesus Christ as our PERSONAL Lord and savior from the sins that we have committed and then serve God. Search the knowledge of God. Ask for Wisdom and understanding…..he’ll give it to you.

    Let me take you back to 3 years ago in my life. I was an Iraq veteran with no job….spending my disability income on weed and whiskey. Trying to make myself feel better INSIDE. I would surf the internet reading Atheist forums and laughing it up whenever people would bash Christianity.
    You see by that time I was divorced and I felt that there was no purpose in life. I thought that Christianity was a joke because I had given it a try in the past. I was even raised to be Christian as a child.

    I looked back at when I was a teenager and how I claimed to be a Christian and how I would go to church. How every now and then I would pray to God. But now He wasn’t answering my prayers. I even bargained with God and I said that if Jesus Christ would appear before my eyes I would know that God really wanted my soul. Nothing ever happened.

    I thought that I had been a Christian. In the past I would even claim to be one. Until I started thinking about how I went about it. I was a hypocrite. I never read the Bible. I never went to Church. I continued in a sinful lifestyle. I didn’t give it all I had.

    I was bargaining with God and only giving Him a small percent what he required…..yet I had the audacity to get angry because I didn’t feel that He was coming through for me, He didn’t really want me!

    But it was me that didn’t want Him. I realized that if I really wanted God in my life, if I really wanted to see evidence of Him really FEEL that I was a Christian….I was going to have to give Him what he required.

    It wasn’t until I gave my life back to God and repented of my past sins through Jesus Christ that He began to SLOWLY show me the answers to my questions.

    I started out with a million questions before I gave my life back to God and became an AUTHENTIC Christian and I was even HONEST with Him…
    I would say: “Look God, I don’t know why people cry when they talk about Jesus. I don’t want to fake it, I really want to FEEL why…not just know why.”
    Slowly I began to understand through my OWN PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with God.

    2 years ago I had about million questions for God. Right now……I have about half a million. I’m serious when I say that too. It’s called a journey for a reason! You don’t walk into Christianity knowing ALL the answers and knowing HOW to react to every situation. You learn! and you don’t learn without trying. Seek and ye shall find.

    So “D.”, I want to motivate you to ask yourself: Have you made an authentic effort to answer your questions. Have you truly sought God to show you the answers or are you still relying on others? Have you given up because God didn’t come through or because you didn’t come through?

    The answer to those questions might help others to understand the true “stigma” of Christianity.
    God Bless you and I hope others can benefit from this as well!
    Josh Wilson