Why She No Longer Attends Church June 6, 2011

Why She No Longer Attends Church

To any Christians out there, reader Amanda wrote an excellent post about why she and her husband Bryan no longer attend church. It’s worth a look — and I’d love to hear your responses to it.

Amanda explains one particular illustration that I’d never heard before and it’s another reminder of how Christians view people like us, who dare to question their beliefs and who are proud to be free of religion:

… Bryan and I both remember a specific object lesson, taught in both our separate youth groups, that illustrated the danger of having secular friends; ask one person to stand on a chair, and then see which task is easier: pulling someone onto the chair with you, or being pulled off the chair. Naturally, it’s much easier to pull someone off the chair (something called gravity), but this was supposed to show us that we should have Christian friends to fellowship with and to be cautious of secular influences.

I understand the premise. I really do. However, this relegated me to a very uncomfortable position: I couldn’t even make friends within my church group, and “secular people” were only in existence so that I could witness to them, so what was I to do?

Don’t you love how, even in their metaphors, Christians have to be higher than everybody else…?

A huge round of applause should go out to all of you who have ever pulled a Christian off a chair 🙂

Amanda also points out some of the big reasons a lot of Christians leave their churches — they treat “tolerance” as if it’s a dirty word and they fail to acknowledge the hate coming out of their culture. As more young Christians get to know gay people, they’re going to realize how awful their places of worship really are.

As much as I hate to see the GLBT community suffer at the hands of Christians, I have to acknowledge that the Evangelical church is digging its own grave as it denies equality to that group… and I’m bittersweetly grateful for that.

(via Shades That Matter)


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  • littlejohn

    Does pushing a Christian off a cliff count? This blog could lose its “friendly” status quickly!

  • CelticWhisper

    I wouldn’t say “quickly.” I mean, it could be just a short cliff.

    Overlooking a conveyor belt.

    At a recycling plant ooooookay yeah it’s losing the “friendly” status.

  • I will admit when I was a christian and went to church I too like her, couldn’t seem to make friends with the people inside the churches that we went to. So I know exactly how she felt.

  • Jim

    I don’t recall ever being given this particular example. But after living all around the country and seeing the amazing intolerance of so called Christians, I have come to the conclusion that anyone who feel they need to have a higher power set their morality probably has some sort of major sociopathic issues underlying their beliefs.

  • Steve

    She is right about reinterpreting Christianity’s crimes and oppression by saying that it was only a few misguided people who acted like that. When same-sex marriage will be a reality in all states in a few decades, doubtlessly they’ll say they have been for it all along and it was just a small, wrongheaded minority that fought against it.

  • Roxane

    Did you notice that down in the comments, someone said, “Ah, you read Hemant’s book, didn’t you?” They talk about your awesomeness and Chicagoness. So maybe Hemant helped pull her off that chair!

  • Kat B

    I keep hearing the argument from Christians that only the outspoken minority are so bigoted and to not lump all Christians into that same category. I truly see the wisdom in that line of thinking, but…

    If the majority of Christians are so pro-tolerance of gay people, why are we not able to see gay marriage thrive in the US? You’d think the majority would be able to quickly implement marriage rights for all gay couples, but that just isn’t happening.

    It seems to me like there are a minority of Christians who are tolerant and accepting of gay people, a minority who are outspokenly bigoted towards gays, and a majority who are silently bigoted towards gays (God will judge them).

  • Jon Peterson

    CelticWhisper: Have you been watching the Brave Little Toaster again?

  • Otakumommy

    I pulled my mom off the chair for good 😀 True story… yay for me!!!

  • SC

    I heard the exact same metaphor in my Monday night Bible study for adults 20 years ago – taught by Chuck Missler. At the time my ego thought I was above those people who didn’t know the lord. You can see that in a lot of “christians” – just listen to them for a short time. It’s ego at work (“I’m in the club!”) and it’s being stroked constantly in church even amongst the “you are wretched (but apparently worth saving)” messages. It comes out whenever most of them deign to talk to someone who’s “unsaved.” Just listen.

  • Roxanne: No one thing “pulled me off the chair”, but Hemant’s book certainly helped validate my decision.

    I’d say I was pulled off the chair by my own insatiable desire to think critically and know the truth, more than anything else. But! Dealing with the poisonous nature of the church I grew up in definitely didn’t do much to convince me to stay.

    It’s this church if you’re interested – not too much shocking on the webpage, other than the fact that it should be nominated for World’s Most Awkwardly Designed website, but the section titled “We Believe…” is kind of telling of the narrow-mindedness that they espouse.

    Hmm. I’m trying to think of other “object lessons” that were used…I can remember one that was supposed to show our physical limitations by asking myself and a couple of girls to hold a gallon of water in each hand with our arms extended. Obviously, no one could hold it for very long, and this was supposed to illustrate how weak the flesh was and, on the other side, what glorious power God gave us to overcome these physical weaknesses.

    I REALLY wish that the object lesson would have ended with us praying for God to overcome our physical weakness and LETTING US HOLD UP THOSE DAMN WATER JUGS. Unfortunately, the object lesson ended solidly in the realm of reality. Womp womp.

  • Also, sort of related: I think it’s really telling of how desperately exclusive the church is by how apologetic and cautious atheists and non-believers have to be when addressing these issues.

    I had written the original blog post and went back and added the “disclaimers” at the beginning. Since differing viewpoints are deemed dangerous (they might inspire doubt! which is also looked down on), athiests have to somehow combat the knee-jerk reaction of Christians to deem anything different as “persecution”. Which is bullshit that SCCL dealt with pretty handily here.

  • Jackie

    I pulled my husband off of the chair and brought 3 out of 4 of my children with him! 🙂 Oh happy day…

  • Blacksheep

    This makes no sense. The very basis of Christianity is to humble oneself and love everyone. Sure, it’s important to have friends with whom you share core beliefs and ideals, that’s true for everyone. But Christ’s life (he was criticized for his friendships which others felt were unnacceptible) makes the argument that Christians ought to have friends from outside of their circle to an even greater degree than the average non-believer might. (For example many atheists might find it objectionable to have close friends who are Christians).

    The analogy of standing on a chair makes no sense to me because it represents putting oneself above others, and the analogy of being pulled off makes no sense to me because it would be better to be firmly grounded in faith that can’t just get knocked down.

    Note to Christians who keep writing these letters: The Bible is translated into English, so you can read it and see if it’s time to change churches instead of blaming The Faith.

  • The whole of religious belief exists only in the mind. It is all man-made-up and perpetuated. When something is as tenuous as this, one has to be careful to keep other more reality-based ideas at bay. The religious are just being practical in guarding against outside thoughts and influences. A more apt analogy might be a pin delicately balanced on its head where even the slightest breeze would blow it over. You would then want to make sure this pin exists in a room free of any breezes.

  • The analogy of standing on a chair makes no sense to me because it represents putting oneself above others…

    Blacksheep, isn’t the central premise of Christianity that god has chosen some people to be elevated to a higher plane, and that other people are going to be forever tormented? How many times have I heard “god’s chosen people?”

  • beckster

    “We believe that the souls of unbelievers remain, after death, in conscious misery until the second resurrection, when the soul and body reunited shall appear at the Great White Throne Judgment, and shall be cast into the Lake of Fire, not to be annihilated, but to suffer everlasting conscious punishment.”

    YES!! Party at Satan’s lake house everyone!

  • I’ve also heard pastors warn in their sermons against having non-believers as true friends. He basically said to just surround yourself with fellow Christ followers and view all others as potential converts. Only feign friendship with non-believers to gain their trust for evangelism purposes and opportunities. I’ve seen evangelism “how-to” videos distributed within the church about how the most effective evangelism is when someone is going through a personal crises. The video said to keep an eye out for these opportunities and pounce.

    Here is to those Christians who don’t do this.

    I wonder if the “wait and pounce” Christians are just doing what they think Jesus did when Jesus hung out with the down and out?

  • Flah the Heretic Methodist

    My church was not a “separate from everyone who isn’t just like you” church, so this is the first I’ve heard of this type of illustration. But I do know of many who are told to set themselves apart instead of embracing their humanity.

  • Rich Wilson

    Something I’ve realized (not that it’s new, but just sort of really sinking in) is that when you ‘attack’ some facet of a religion, adherents of that religion take it very personally. If someone draws Dawkins with horns on his head, or says they can’t wait for Hitchens to die a horrible painful death I don’t take it personally. I may respond, but I don’t feel like they’re insulting me. But if I refer to Jesus as a zombie, people freak out.

    I guess I’m just getting tired of the disclaimers.

  • Gordon

    Down here on the floor we can walk about, we can interact with our environment.

    Up there on your chair you’re stuck with a skewed perspective, you can’t move.

  • Blacksheep

    Blacksheep, isn’t the central premise of Christianity that god has chosen some people to be elevated to a higher plane, and that other people are going to be forever tormented? How many times have I heard “god’s chosen people?”

    My take on what you’re pointing out (and the reason I can accept it) is that according to the Bible, The higher plane is the intended, proper place for everyone. We believe that nobody deserves salvation but all are welcome to it. The hard part for us is getting ego out of the way to accept the need for Christ.

    I would be a liar if I said I didn’t struggle with the torment part, it’s in the Bible but I don’t understand it.

  • Richard Wade

    I really like the chair metaphor, because it is far more telling than the Christians who use it realize. They’re saying that their position is unstable and vulnerable because they don’t have much to stand on. They’re saying that a person with her feet on the ground has an advantage. Uh, yeah.

    He who sits highest topples easiest.

  • Ron in Houston

    The hard part for us is getting ego out of the way to accept the need for Christ.

    Actually I’d say it’s the ego that makes you want to accept Christ. It makes you crave the desire to “be” someone. To “be something” to “be” a “Christian.” If also fears annihilation which makes you desire for something more than this life.

    I was in a very liberal protestant denomination so I never had the same issues as Amanda and Bryan. As to what Blacksheep said my problem was letting go of things like facts and evidence to continue calling myself “Christian.”

  • Happy Camper

    Better to just kick the chair from under them. Sorry, that’s not so friendly but reality can hit hard.

  • Blacksheep

    Something I’ve realized (not that it’s new, but just sort of really sinking in) is that when you ‘attack’ some facet of a religion, adherents of that religion take it very personally. If someone draws Dawkins with horns on his head, or says they can’t wait for Hitchens to die a horrible painful death I don’t take it personally. I may respond, but I don’t feel like they’re insulting me. But if I refer to Jesus as a zombie, people freak out.

    I always thought the opposite – that compared to the other two “big” religions, Christians are pretty thick skinned. Christianity is constantly being made fun of in the media, whether it’s portraying the Christian character as a bore or nerdy half-wit or a cartoon boxing match with Jesus. If the slightest thing is said against Judaism, look out. If you insult islam, bar the door, literally.

    I’ve seen pretty angry responses on this forum when peoples views on atheism are disagreed with or questioned, and most certainly hostility toward Christianity.

  • How do you get atheists to jump on chairs? It’s simple!

    Declare that the Floor is now Lava!

    I would jump on a chair on declaration of that.

  • PCE

    This is an interesting example, but I don’t think it is necessarily descriptive of most Christian communities. There are also large numbers of Christians that pride themselves in having non-Christian friends, so they feel like they are ministering to them. These Christians will likely have more Christian friends than non-Christian friends, but there is much value placed on the process of converting someone (just like how most people here value converting people from religion).

    also,

    @Justin Bonaparte

    You are talking about Judaism. Israel was the “chosen people.” Christianity very clearly claims that God wants all people to choose him, and that because of Jesus ALL people are “God’s chosen people” on an equal playing field. So the central premise of Christianity is the exact opposite of what you stated.

    For example, the most famous bible verse of all time: John 3:16. It talks about whoever believes being those who are saved. Or even more explicitly, Galatians 3:26-29:

    “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

    If a Christian is being true to the bible, they will admit that they are no different than anyone else (and not some holy pedigree). They are not “chosen.”

  • bible belt atheist

    as more young christians get to know gay people, they’re going to realize how awful their places of worship really are.

    Looking back, I think that my path to deconversion started with meeting gays and finding out that they were not the evil people that the churches made them out to be.

  • @PCE

    Isn’t the god of the Jews the god of the Christians? Did he change his immutable mind once Jesus was sent? Isn’t the OT all about god’s chosen people?

  • @PCE, Justin Bonaparte’s “chosen” words may have been unfortunate but his larger point still holds true… that it is the central contention of Christianity that people will be divided up in the supposed afterlife into “winners” and “losers” (my words) where the “winners” go be with God and the “losers” are forever (minimally) separated from God… and all you have to do to be among the “winners” is to believe this premise and that Jesus is your vehicle of salvation. That is Christianity in a nut-shell. Winners and losers.

  • Nicoline

    My own sister thinks that way. She told our parents that she can’t have too much contact with me because we don’t believe in god, whereas they – supposedly – do. Our second-hand baby stuff apparently did no harm, though. Needless to say, my sister and I are not close.

  • JSug

    I think the chair analogy is actually quite appropriate. Not because the Christian is placed above all others, but because it reveals the precariousness of their beliefs. If their beliefs had a more sound basis, they would not be so easily unbalanced by the questions and examples of non-believers.

  • Edmond

    And I’m sure that as soon as Amanda & Bryan left their church, they ran right out and became skeptics and critical thinkers, investigating all the OTHER irreconcilable nonsense in the bible, right?

    It couldn’t possibly be true that they just went home and decided that they’ll have their OWN relationship with god, and now they’ll just freely define their Christianity on their OWN terms, could it?

    As heartening as it is to hear about people “leaving their church”, in most cases the truth is that they simply invent their own personally-friendly version of the religion they “abandoned”, continuing on as if they’ve actually learned something.

  • Steve

    If they were secure in their beliefs and/or their beliefs would stand up to scrutiny they wouldn’t behave that way. It’s like they know how easy it is to pick them apart and develop doubts, and they need extreme defense mechanisms against that

  • Rich Wilson

    I always thought the opposite – that compared to the other two “big” religions

    I didn’t mean to pick on Christianity alone. I think we all have too thin skins. And my biased impression is that the reason Christianity brushes off as much as it does is that it is the majority. It’s a lot easier to take verbal barbs if you are comforted by numbers. And I think that works the other way too. Part of the reason you get as much anti-Christian hostility here as you do is that those who have anger to burn feel safe here. I know I’m more reserved in ‘general public’ then I am on specifically atheist sites.

    And another point just occurred to me, but I think I’m going to present it separately.

  • bloomc

    Christianity has become very corrupt in these days. It is considered to be a religion (technically it is), but we are not supposed to view it as so. It is more about having a relationship with Christ. The lack of this relationship is why so many people call themselves “Christians” yet don’t actually live the way we are supposed to be living. Also, @Justin Bonaparte, the Bible specifically states that Jews are God’s chosen people, not Christians. We are nothing special, and we are supposed to see Jews as having a special place in God’s heart. Who knows why? That’s just what God decided. In fact we are supposed to purposefully make ourselves as low as possible, as low as dirt, in order to completely submit to the Lord. It’s just that so many people have lost sight of what the Bible really teaches us. Just because one Christian says something doesn’t mean it applies to all Christians. It truly is saddening to see how many people say they love the Lord, but then live a life and act towards non-believers in a way that suggests the exact opposite.
    I have several friends that are atheists and a very close friend that is openly gay and polytheistic. Although I do believe that this is sin (and of course, I am a sinner too)I would never state that he is “evil” or that he should be hated and looked down upon. God loves us all equally, even atheists who detest Him. All sin is equal, which means that when I tell a lie or have a lustful thought, I am committing a sin that is just as bad in God’s eyes as being gay. Christians have a natural enemy, Satan. And a part of his power is that he is corrupting the minds of people that are supposed to be witnessing for God. And that is exactly why we have so many Christians, (Westboro Baptist Church?)that hate everybody that isn’t saved. If you really want to learn what being a Christian is all about, please please please do not go up to a Christian and ask about it. First, crack open the Bible and read what it says. Of course there are things that not everybody is going to like, and you most likely will be confused and not realize it. The Bible can be very hard to read and comprehend. Then, just as guidance, go to a non-denominational Christian (denominations have certain beliefs and traditions that are simply that, not actually part of the Bible) and ask about whatever you have been reading. If that person says anything about hating another person because of his/her sin, find someone else! We have absolutely no right to hate anyone, and obviously that person is a deceived Christian. There are no perfect Christians, and we certainly are not any higher than anyone else. Many people call themselves Christians that are just deceived and confused, and they don’t realize it. This is why our faith has such a bad rep now.
    I can honestly say that instead of listing all the bad and horrible things I’ve had to live through, counting my blessings is all that I have a right to do, no matter how bad I think my life is. I would be absolutely nowhere without Christ, and I know I probably would be a very unhappy person. But whatever your view on Christ is now, God bless, and hopefully everybody will come to know Him as He wants us to.

  • Rich Wilson

    And another point just occurred to me, but I think I’m going to present it separately.

    Or maybe not. It went too off topic. Maybe I’ll finally get off my ass and write my first blog post.

    I would like to point something out though.

    I said:

    Something I’ve realized (not that it’s new, but just sort of really sinking in) is that when you ‘attack’ some facet of a religion, adherents of that religion take it very personally.

    And Blacksheep said:

    I always thought the opposite – that compared to the other two “big” religions, Christians are pretty thick skinned.

    I was pretty sure I said religion not Christianity. And sure enough. I did.

    and

    I’ve seen pretty angry responses on this forum when peoples views on atheism are disagreed with or questioned, and most certainly hostility toward Christianity.

    I’ve seen hostility towards Christians, but my point was, there’s a difference between hostility to Christianity, and hostility towards Christians. I know I’m biased, and certainly defensive, but I’d love to see a poll:

    Can you make a moral judgement about someone knowing only their religious beliefs?

  • PCE

    @Justin Bonaparte
    Yes, God would have to in a sense “change his mind” to accept non-Jews as his people. That is exactly what I was referring to earlier. I don’t think you understand the Christian faith. There are very very few Christians who are of Jewish ethnicity.

    The OT is not about God using his “chosen people” to have a secret club. When he calls Abraham he says, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Though they didn’t do such a great job of blessing other nations in the OT).

    @JeffP

    You’re right, but that is not what Justin and I are discussing.

    We are responding to the idea presented in this post that has to do with Christians and how they relate to non-Christians. The fact is, most Christians don’t believe they are not supposed to be friends with non-believers because they are inherently different and superior to them. We are all in the same situation according to the Bible:

    “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
    Romans 3:22-23

  • PJB863

    The whole busines reminds me of a bunch of middle-schoolers in a clique. “If you talk to Paula, you can’t hang around with us, Amber. Everyone knows how gross she is. We don’t want to get her cooties.”

  • Blacksheep

    If their beliefs had a more sound basis, they would not be so easily unbalanced by the questions and examples of non-believers

    Many of us believe that our faith has a sound basis and do not become easily unbalanced at all. We have strong faith, some doubt mixed in, and no problem engaging in conversation with anyone about it.

  • Blacksheep

    Down here on the floor we can walk about, we can interact with our environment.

    Up there on your chair you’re stuck with a skewed perspective, you can’t move.

    That would make a great sermon on why Christ came to earth instead of staying “up there!” It’s one of the reasons that I love Christianity in fact.

  • JSug

    Many of us believe that our faith has a sound basis and do not become easily unbalanced at all. We have strong faith, some doubt mixed in, and no problem engaging in conversation with anyone about it.

    That’s fine, but I was commenting on the analogy in the context of it being used to dissuade Christians from interacting with non-believers. Certainly, if your faith is so strong, you would have no need of such justification for avoiding discussion.

  • Cheryl

    There was a guitarist in my community who had a regular gig accompanying a popular jazz vocalist at a local gay bar. Apparently, this older gentleman was uncomfortable at the location, but it was a regular gig and paid well enough.

    Well a couple years in, he got sick and had to have surgery. He expected that the people at the church would be there for him. He was mistaken. However, the guys at the bar showered him with care and made sure he was OK and had everything he needed.

    Let’s just say, this man now has a different opinion of both his church and the guys at the bar.

  • Interesting, especially since the post highlights a major difference between theists and atheists. Amanda stopped attending her church because of unfriendly, hypocritical behavior on the part of the clergy and congregation. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to stop attending churches because supernatural claims no longer make sense to them. It seems like Amanda’s problem could be solved simply by finding a more progressive church, whereas even the most accepting, welcoming, liberal Christian church is not going to appeal to the vast majority of atheists, because atheists disagree with the fundamental assertions being made there. If Amanda still believes in a deity, I’m sure she could find a church to suit her interests, but there is no Christian church I would ever want to attend because I believe what they teach there is false. From my point of view, not all Christian churches teach immoral things (like Amanda’s church does), but all of them do teach false things. I wouldn’t want to be in an environment where false things are being taught and promoted.

  • It’s also interesting how many of these evangelical churches are on the “unequally yoked” bandwagon. That’s something you don’t see in Catholicism or in mainline Protestantism. I wonder if the insular nature of such churches is designed to keep people not only from entertaining doubts about the veracity of what they are taught, but also about the morality of what they are required to believe. I suppose it’s easier to believe that eternal torture is “just” if no one you love and care about is going to be tortured. If people in those churches formed real, significant attachments with the “unsaved,” maybe it would give them an incentive to question these horrific beliefs. At the very least, it should shock them out of their complacency. In the words of Amanda’s church:

    “We believe that the souls of unbelievers remain, after death, in conscious misery until the second resurrection, when the soul and body reunited shall appear at the Great White Throne Judgment, and shall be cast into the Lake of Fire, not to be annihilated, but to suffer everlasting conscious punishment.”

    As long as they require belief in such a sick and disgusting thing, it’s no wonder that they tell members to avoid getting close to people they believe are going to suffer this fate. If these are normal people (you know, who feel empathy for others), I would imagine it’s easier for them to be comfortable and happy in their own lives if they don’t think too hard about all those people who are going to be tortured. As long as they view secular people as objects of conversion, they are not forced to confront the reality of what their belief entails. The world is divided up into “saved” and “unsaved,” and the “unsaved” are not people one should love or care about. It’s almost like we’re not even real people to them.

    By the way, Amanda, I find the whole “We Believe…” page extremely shocking, not just narrow-minded! I suppose to people who grew up in the evangelical subculture, these beliefs seem normal, but for those of us who were raised in a secular way, the concept of unbelievers suffering “conscious misery” and “everlasting conscious punishment” is not only shocking, but sick and twisted. It’s almost like it’s too absurd to be real, although I know that people actually believe this stuff. What makes a good person want to attend a church like that? I don’t understand what makes a person look at that list of requirements and think “Hey, that sounds right to me!” It’s one thing if somebody is born into it, but to continue attending such a church as an adult must say something about them. Kudos on leaving that environment. If you still believe in your deity and want to attend church again in the future, there are more progressive churches out there that do not require their members to hold such heinous beliefs.

  • Troglodyke

    Amanda also points out some of the big reasons a lot of Christians leave their churches — they treat “tolerance” as if it’s a dirty word and they fail to acknowledge the hate coming out of their culture. As more young Christians get to know gay people, they’re going to realize how awful their places of worship really are.

    As much as I hate to see the GLBT community suffer at the hands of Christians, I have to acknowledge that the Evangelical church is digging its own grave as it denies equality to that group… and I’m bittersweetly grateful for that.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    As much as it galls me to hear so-called “Xtians” saying ridiculous things, I know that someone, everytime they hear the b.s., will begin to doubt.

    Keep it up, “Christians.”

  • Heidi

    @Edmond & Anna: She already said she left the church completely. Read the comments. Hers are about 11 down from the top.

    Amanda: I’d say I was pulled off the chair by my own insatiable desire to think critically and know the truth, more than anything else. But! Dealing with the poisonous nature of the church I grew up in definitely didn’t do much to convince me to stay.

  • @Edmond & Anna: She already said she left the church completely. Read the comments. Hers are about 11 down from the top.

    Thanks, Heidi. I read the comments, but I’m still not sure if Amanda is an atheist. She makes reference to leaving “the church,” but I don’t know if that means she has jettisoned her supernatural beliefs. As I said earlier, it seems like the catalyst behind her decision to leave that particular church was hypocrisy, unfriendliness, and insularity. It didn’t sound like she necessarily had a problem with the supernatural claims being made.

  • Heidi

    Welcome, Anna. I got the impression that she no longer believes. If I misunderstood, and she is still with the church, then I agree with your previous post completely.

  • Lizzy

    This mirrors how I feel about Evangelical Christianity. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in the fundamental principles of the religion, but that’s not how my journey started. In the beginning it was frustration with the conservative bend of the church, things like banning pre-marital sex, hating gays, and supporting George Bush started me down a path of doubt. For some time I believed a wishy-washy new-agey brand of lite Christianity. Eventually I didn’t even need that. It would be great if everyone could just up and say that it’s all bullshit, but that’s probably not how it works for most of us.

  • At any rate, the information concerning whether or not I’m an athesist, in my three-year-old voice, if for me to know and you to find out when I’m ready. After all, it’s me who’s fending off the phone calls and emails desperate to convert me or “bring me back on the straight and narrow”, not them.

    Dealing with non-belief in tight-knit, deeply religious families is like walking through a mine field (going full-circle back to the chair analogy).

    I had friends in a very, very conservative, family based church in Indiana, and you could actually be excommunicated from the church and shunned by its members (many times your aunts, uncles, and cousins). Although this church is an extreme example, I think this idea is pretty common in the Midwest, and therefore something to consider before jumping to conclusions.

    Everyone’s got his own bullshit to deal with. Can I get an amen?

  • Rike D.

    @bloomc
    God loves us all equally, even atheists who detest Him.

    Why are atheists always being accused of hating or detesting something that doesn’t exist? There is nothing there, bloomc, so no need to waste energy on hate (or on faith, either).

  • Dan

    Good discussion. I am a Christian, and there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to address, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

    First off, Jesus taught that the two most important commands were to love God and to love your neighbor as you do yourself, and that by following these two commandments properly you were following the other commands by default. If all Christians actually lived this way — “loving your neighbor as yourself” — we wouldn’t have a need for this discussion.

    Unfortunately, many Christians tend to “love your neighbor that is like yourself” instead of truly loving everyone they come in contact with. Which is why we end up with some Christians coming up with silly stuff like Amanda’s “pull them off the chair” illustration.

    Hemant: quick question for you. A key issue seems to be that various groups of people (atheists, gays, pick your favorite group…) don’t like being judged and labeled by Christians, right? Do you realize that when you say something like:
    “it’s another reminder of how Christians view people like us, who dare to question their beliefs…”
    you are doing the same sort of generalizing and labeling (of Christians) that you are accusing us of?

    The truth is, I enjoy having discussions with people of differing beliefs, and a lot of believers that I know do as well. Maybe it’s influenced by where I live (west coast), but most Christians I know are not the type that hate gays, persecute atheists, etc. (In fact, I don’t know any that are like that.) I’m not saying the issues don’t exist, but my guess is that it comes from a relatively small minority, not the majority of Christians.

  • Dan

    Amanda – I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that sort of BS — I will give you an “amen” on that, even as a believer. Being in the “Bible Belt” (or just north of it) puts you in a tough spot with family, and I really am sorry you’re stuck dealing with that.

  • Dan

    Two issues.

    First, Hell. There is a growing segment in the church that disagrees with the traditional viewpoint of Hell as laid out in the blurb from Amanda’s church. (ie, “tormented day and night forever and ever”.) While I can’t say there is no judgment whatsoever, I will say that I think there are problems with the traditional viewpoint, and I believe that is a significant stumbling block that keeps folks from believing in God.

    I think that the church will be revisiting it’s beliefs on Hell, but it won’t be easy and could get ugly, just as things got ugly with the protestant reformation. I’m hopeful that eventually the prevalent theory on hell won’t be something that makes people immediately toss out Christianity because “if God exists, He wouldn’t be like that”.

    2nd, the resurrection. I understand that many atheists automatically assume that the resurrection cannot be true, and therefore automatically dismiss Christianity as being implausible. But, the historical evidence for the resurrection is substantial.
    Really short version: Jesus’ disciples knew whether resurrection was real or not. They were put to death, when all they had to do was say “no, there was no resurrection” to avoid dying. None of them caved. If the resurrection was fake, some would have caved, but none did. To me (and others that started as atheists and changed their mind), this was proof enough that the resurrection is real.

  • Heidi

    I’m good with that, Amanda. I would never ask anyone to out themselves if they weren’t ready. And for all I know you aren’t even sure yourself where you stand with your beliefs. Good luck with your family and your situation.

  • Steve

    @Rike D.

    God loves us all equally, even atheists who detest Him.

    Again, it’s impossible to detest something that does not exist

    I certainly detest the monster described as god in the bible and wouldn’t worship him based on that. I detest the concept of your god. But I don’t believe he exists in the first place

  • Blacksheep

    Really short version: Jesus’ disciples knew whether resurrection was real or not. They were put to death, when all they had to do was say “no, there was no resurrection” to avoid dying. None of them caved. If the resurrection was fake, some would have caved, but none did. To me (and others that started as atheists and changed their mind), this was proof enough that the resurrection is real.

    Great point Dan.

  • ACN

    Didn’t the same thing happen to Joseph Smith?

    Therefore Mormonism.

    Didn’t the same thing happen with the Heaven’s Gate cultists?

    Therefore aliens in the hale-bopp comet.

    Haven’t the various christian sects tortured and killed each other for various internal heresies?

    Therefore all christian heresies, although mutually exclusive, must be true.

    Come. on. The fact that people are willing to stake their life on a claim being true, DOES NOT MAKE THE CLAIM TRUE. The two propositions:
    1) Claim “A” is true.
    2) A person is willing to die for their belief in claim “A”
    are not causally connected the way you want them to be. They may be loosely correlated.

  • Steve

    It also takes everything written in the Bible at face value. In fact we don’t know how much of it, if any, is true. There are some things here and there that are definitely interpolations added at a later date.

  • Dan,

    First, Hell. There is a growing segment in the church that disagrees with the traditional viewpoint of Hell as laid out in the blurb from Amanda’s church. (ie, “tormented day and night forever and ever”.) While I can’t say there is no judgment whatsoever, I will say that I think there are problems with the traditional viewpoint, and I believe that is a significant stumbling block that keeps folks from believing in God.

    Hell has nothing to do with it. What stops people like us from believing in your god is the utter lack of evidence for its existence. As atheists, we can point out the immorality of the hell-concept, but it has nothing to do with the reason that we don’t believe in your deity. To be frank, there is simply no evidence of the supernatural. If I thought there was evidence for your particular god, then I would be a Christian universalist. Problem solved. The notion of hell doesn’t keep me from believing in your god. It merely seems obvious to me that gods and goddesses are inventions of the human mind.

    Amanda,

    At any rate, the information concerning whether or not I’m an athesist, in my three-year-old voice, if for me to know and you to find out when I’m ready. After all, it’s me who’s fending off the phone calls and emails desperate to convert me or “bring me back on the straight and narrow”, not them.

    It’s certainly your decision, and I hope I didn’t imply otherwise. Whether you’re an atheist (or not) is for you to express when you’re ready. I’ve never had to deal with leaving a church (let alone an evangelical or fundamentalist one), so I can’t even imagine the kind of pressure you and your husband must be under to come back to the fold.

  • From a health and safety point of view standing on chairs is almost inviting you to fall off. Especially office chairs. They really aren’t stable at all. A soap box is much better and it actually seems more appropriate to the story.

  • Stogoe

    None of them caved. If the resurrection was fake, some would have caved, but none did.

    You have a book that says none of them caved. I have a book that says Harry Potter and his disciples destroyed the seven Horcruxes and then defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort.

    Sorry to be so flippant, but no, I’m not.

  • Amanda,

    Also, I find it really interesting that some people from the FA crowd are really sweating the worth of this post because of doubt as to whether or not I’m an atheist. There have been a few comments (on FA) that actually seem to be thinly veiled contempt at the idea that I might still be a Christian. Seems to me that these ideas are simply that…ideas. Colorless, odorless, religiousless ideas. I wonder if they would be taken more seriously if I came out as an atheist (or less if I came out as a Christian?).

    Just saw this comment on your blog. Not sure if I was included in your assessment, but I don’t think your personal beliefs are relevant. Whatever you believe doesn’t make your post any more or less valid. I’m not sure where you’re seeing “thinly veiled contempt” from us. On the contrary, whether or not you still believe in Jesus (or in any other aspect of the supernatural), I think it’s admirable that you have left the church. I respect anyone who has the fortitude to leave religious institutions, especially if they have been brought up in that environment. Whether it’s for the “right” reason or not, leaving a repressive church is certainly not a bad thing. I doubt any of us here at FA hold you in contempt.

  • Dan

    @stogoe – actually, it’s the independent historians, not the Bible, who’s writings discuss how each disciple was killed. And personally, I was quite relieved when Harry beat Voldemort (really looking forward to the movie next month).

    @hoverfrog – you’re right, a soapbox is more appropriate and safe.

    @blacksheep — I liked and was saying “amen” to your comments……

    @Anna — there is actually plenty of evidence of the supernatural, both current and ancient. You can say it’s all myths and there is no evidence, but those that have personally seen “miraculous” things happen won’t be swayed by someone who says “that’s a myth”. (And yes, I’ve seen some things that are unexplainable without something “supernatural” being involved.)

    @ACN – the reason I’m saying the resurrection claim is different is this: if it was a lie, the disciples KNEW it was a lie, yet they were still willing to die. I might be willing to do die for something that I believed to be true… maybe. But there’s no way that I would die for something that I KNEW was false. The fact that they were willing to die indicates they believed the resurrection was true, and they would have known if it was false, because they were eyewitnesses.

    And by the way you guys, I’m not the type to go out of my way to argue with atheists. I saw a link to this blog post and Hemant called us Christians out and said “I’d love to hear your responses…” regarding Amanda’s blog post. I enjoy the dialogue, and I’ll defend my faith if you take shots at it, just as you defend your beliefs when someone attacks them. I do hope that I don’t come off as smug or arrogant when we have these debates — I started my first comment in this trail by saying that Jesus’ tells us to “love each other as ourselves”, and I will do my best to treat anyone that I don’t agree with in a loving, respectful manner. If I don’t feel free to call me out on it, alright?

    Have a great day….

  • Steve

    You clearly don’t know how cults work. There are plenty of ways to make people believe the worst kind of nonsense with all sincerity. To an outsider it seems strange, but the ones in the cult don’t see it that way.

    It’s also kind of how we see Christianity sometimes, though not all Christian sects are literally cults.

    If you except to have a serious discussion here, you need to adopt credible standards of evidence though. Otherwise any debate is utterly pointless. We simply can’t acknowledge what you think is “proof” or “evidence”, because it’s not.

  • Dan

    @Anna — you said:

    “I respect anyone who has the fortitude to leave religious institutions, especially if they have been brought up in that environment. Whether it’s for the “right” reason or not, leaving a repressive church is certainly not a bad thing.”

    Believe it or not, I agree with you on this. It is very hard to leave a religious group where there are family & community ties, etc., and I have a lot of respect for Amanda for doing so.

  • Dan

    @Steve – were you saying I don’t know how cults work? I understand that people can get others to believe stuff that is nonsensical and false — just look at the whole Harold Camping end of the world madness two weeks ago. What I was saying is that the original disciples knew whether the resurrection was true or false. There was no “convincing”, since they were eyewitnesses to whether the resurrection did or did not happen.

    And regarding your other comment about not knowing how much of Bible was added later, stories changed, etc., I’m aware of (though not an expert on) the textoral criticisms and that sort of stuff. For me, the resurrection is the historical event that I believe is verifiable, and my trust of the Bible stems from the resurrection being true.

    Most Christians that haven’t examined issues thoroughly work it through in the opposite direction — they believe the Bible is God’s word, therefore the resurrection must be true. If someone comes along and challenges the Bible, they either cover eyes and ears (lalalalalalala) to ignore it, or their faith gets shaken. I was there 25 years ago, but came back to faith when I becamed convinced the resurrection was real. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis was influential — Lewis was an atheist that set out to prove God didn’t exist and ended up with the opposite conclusion.

    Did you know that Tolkien and CS Lewis were buds and used to hang out and talk theology? Tolkien believed and Lewis didn’t, but they were able to hang out and discuss issues as friends.

  • ACN

    For me, the resurrection is the historical event that I believe is verifiable, and my trust of the Bible stems from the resurrection being true.

    There is zero independent confirmation of a resurrection event from any source outside of the bible.

    Worse, many of the events that are claimed to have accompanied the resurrection (I’m looking at you Matthew and your zombie apocalypse) are utterly unverifiable as well.

    How can you possibly claim this was a historical event?

    Edit: It’s actually funny you mention “Mere Christianity”, it was reading this, and encountering his utterly absurd trilemma (re-directed from something by Josh McDowell) that was one of the nails in the metaphorical coffin for my theism.

  • Dan

    Steve also said: “If you expect to have a serious discussion here, you need to adopt credible standards of evidence though. Otherwise any debate is utterly pointless. We simply can’t acknowledge what you think is “proof” or “evidence”, because it’s not.”

    Understood. I’m not expecting you to change your beliefs because of what I said about the resurrection. I do think if someone were to look at the logic, it’s not unreasonable that they may come to same conclusion I (and others before me) have.

    As for evidence of the supernatural in the world today, I know that my saying it’s out there doesn’t offer any proof or evidence. If you or anyone else would seriously like to hear my “testimony” and check out what I’ve seen and/or witnessed, I’d be happy to continue that discussion offline. You could then decide for yourself if what I share is acceptable evidence or not.

  • Dan

    @ACN:

    No, there’s not independent verification of the resurrection outside of the Bible.

    But there is independent verification outside that the early church BELIEVED in the resurrection.

    And, there is independent verification outside the Bible as to the manner and method of the deaths of the original disciples (Peter crucified upside down; James beheaded; Mark dragged behind a horse until dead; etc.)

    The combination of historical evidence regarding how the disciples died and the logical evidence that they would only be willing to die if they knew the resurrection to be true is sufficient evidence for me to believe in the resurrection.

    I know that’s not sufficient evidence for you, and I respect that. I disagree, but I respect that you can arrive at a different conclusion than I do. Agree to disagree, right?

    That story in Matthew about other believers rising and appearing to people is bizarre, isn’t it? “zombie apocolypse” I’m not sure what to think about that, but it doesn’t negate the resurrection for me.

    I’ve GOT to get offline and get to my yardwork. Peace….

  • ACN

    What else is there to do but agree to disagree?

    This statement:

    logical evidence that they would only be willing to die if they knew the resurrection to be true is sufficient evidence for me to believe in the resurrection.

    is a strange one. It’s just not clear that it is true. People die for all sorts of reasons, some silly, some meaningful. Knowing someone died for some particular set of beliefs doesn’t tell you a lot about them. They could have sincerely believed. They could have been suicidal and used the romans as a way to kill themself. They could have known the whole thing was fabrication, but been so dedicated to the cause of jewish liberation and opposing the romans that they thought they were more useful as a martyr for the cause than as a living symbol. They could have died for some other reason!

    I don’t mean to personally advocate any of these views, but like Lewis’ trilemma, it seems as though many options here are either missing or swept under the rug.

  • Steve

    Some Muslims kill themselves because they sincerely believe that it is their god’s will and that will be rewarded in heaven. Are you going to believe in Allah and the Koran now?

  • Hopefully I’m not double-posting this, but I think something went wrong when I tried to post a comment a few minutes ago. Apologies if it goes through later.

    First, a shamefully overdue thank you to Hemant for putting my humble post on FA and a thank you to everyone who has commented. I have only responded to a few, but I’ve read them all (rimshot!) religiously.

    The hint of contempt, if it can be called that, I interpreted from Edmond’s comment:

    As heartening as it is to hear about people “leaving their church”, in most cases the truth is that they simply invent their own personally-friendly version of the religion they “abandoned”, continuing on as if they’ve actually learned something.

    I guess I simply heard a bit of condescension in the tone and the insinuation that I hadn’t learned anything through the experience. I suppose I should speak to both the process of de-conversion and the difficulty of leaving the church, but I’ll be brief.

    Going from a Christian upbringing and arriving at atheism is a long process and sometimes a painful one.

    You identify blatantly problematic teachings. You develop doubts. You try to get rid of these doubts. You read the Bible more. You read C.S. Lewis. You find that unsatisfactory. You accept evolution as a fact. You discover contradictions in the Bible. You discover it’s been edited a gazillion times. You stop going to church. You meet homosexuals, feminists, hippies, atheists, potheads, partiers, and all the other off-limits sections of society. They suggest that you read Dawkins and Hitchens. You do. Then you decide that you’ve been an atheist, actually, for a long time.

    When I told my mother that I no longer a Christian and that Bryan and I had been engaging in some scandalous, wonderful premarital sex, she wept and told me that she loved me but that she wanted me “to come to Jesus more than anything in the world”. I can’t imagine what she’d do if told we were heathen, pagan, baby-eating, Christian-hating, lib’rul atheists.

  • Also, I just want everyone to know that the blog itself is a means to keep in touch with our out-of-state relatives and friends. Although I’ll certainly address more issues like this in the future, most of it is going to be about what I made for lunch. Or how I built a table. Or what I did over the weekend.

    I just don’t want anyone to think the blog is going to devoted to issues like this, only to find a shitload of pictures of my cat. 🙂

  • Steve

    Ok, that comment is somewhat offensive. I didn’t really see it the first time. Now I can understand why you reacted that way.

    But I don’t think that’s true even for people who leave their church and stay Christians. The whole religion thing would be much better for society if it moved away from strictly organized worship to personal spirituality. Those people have learned something. Namely that organized religion is a bad thing.

    Would it be nice if they let go of their faith in the supernatural too? Yes, sure. But as long as it’s only a private belief and they aren’t forcing it on anyone else, they aren’t really harming anyone.

  • I’ve always been curious about how people can think there is actually any real evidence that Jesus was resurrected.
    The popular belief among many Christians is that the resurrection was witnessed by the disciples who talked about it for a number of years and then finally wrote it all down as the four gospels.

    The real story is a bit different. The gospel stories were written down by authors who never knew Jesus as a way to personalize the Hellenistic ideas they were trying to bring into the larger Jewish (and non-Jewish) culture. The details in the stories were written to move people and gain converts. Although it is possible that the authors themselves believed the details, it is extremely doubtful that the gospel authors actually witnessed anything personally.

    It was like a game of telephone (or Chinese whispers) over several generations within a Jewish-Hellenistic context culminating with a nice little story about a crucified messiah who was then resurrected. That scenario is a LOT more plausible than believing that it actually happened.

  • Dan,

    @Anna — there is actually plenty of evidence of the supernatural, both current and ancient. You can say it’s all myths and there is no evidence, but those that have personally seen “miraculous” things happen won’t be swayed by someone who says “that’s a myth”. (And yes, I’ve seen some things that are unexplainable without something “supernatural” being involved.)

    Well, Dan, saying so doesn’t make it true. I understand that you believe in the supernatural, but there is not a shred of evidence for it. If you actually have credible evidence, please enlighten the rest of us. If what you say is true, then there should be no doubt. All scientists and skeptics would agree with you.

  • Amanda, thanks for coming back and clarifying! I can’t speak for Edmond, but as a general sentiment, I think it’s sometimes true and it’s sometimes not true. There are people who take leaving a church as an opportunity to overhaul their entire belief system (as you did) and there are people who pat themselves on the back for discarding certain beliefs while leaving others entirely untouched. I have moral respect for anyone who gets rid of harmful beliefs, but I have more intellectual respect for those who are willing to question the foundation of their belief system, even if they don’t come to same conclusion I would.

  • Blacksheep

    The gospel stories were written down by authors who never knew Jesus as a way to personalize the Hellenistic ideas they were trying to bring into the larger Jewish (and non-Jewish) culture.

    Actually, the accepted view by most Christians is that at the very least, some of the books in the NT were written by Jesus’ disciples who spent time with him while he was alive.

    I have never met a Christian who believes that none of the books in the NT were written by contemporaries of Christ.

  • ACN

    Actually, the accepted view by most Christians is that at the very least, some of the books in the NT were written by Jesus’ disciples who spent time with him while he was alive.

    This may indeed be the narrative the christians believe. However, the canonical gospels were all anonymous and originally untitled. Christians of the 2nd century basically made up personalities associated with them and passed down that tradition.

  • If only the supposed God incarnate in the flesh Jesus had the foresight and wisdom that it might be a good idea to actually write something down himself and not just leave it up to others generations later to write down exactly what He said all those years ago. Oh well, I guess He couldn’t think of everything.

    When I brought up the “game of telephone” problem up in bible study once, the Christians there were of the opinion that the words of Jesus were so powerful for the people who heard them that the people remembered them word for word their entire lives. Then if they wrote them down later in life, they would have gotten them exactly right. I’m simply skeptical about that. The Christians in my bible-study group also believed that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were of the original 12 apostles. To prove it to me they even flipped through the bible to find the names of the 12 apostles to show me. They were a bit confused when they couldn’t get all the names to match up. They were happy, though, that they got one or two first names to match up. This is an example of Christian scholarship among rank-and-file believers. Assume the gospel authors were of the original 12 disciples themselves and never really question things. Never mind why they were written, when they were written, who wrote them, and how the names were attributed to the authors. Just believe them because you want to believe them. That sums up religion for most people.

  • ACN

    I always enjoy this summary of the issue JeffP 🙂

    I had an arrangement with a former friend that soured, and as a result I’m forced to raise my kids in this tiny house surrounded by freeways. It’s virtually guaranteed that without my guidance my kids will get hit by a car, so to teach them about road safety I’m going to compose a parable about four lemmings and some tin snips, dictate it in English to a transcriptionist who’s only really fluent in Quechua, and then mail that book to Seychelles.

    That’s how much I love my kids.

  • @ACN,

    Nice summary! 🙂

  • bloomc

    @Rike D.
    My apologies, I was mistaken in my wording. God loves us all equally, even atheists who don’t believe in Him.

  • ACN

    Don’t worry bloomc, the invisible pink unicorn that lives in my bedroom loves you even though you don’t believe in her either 🙂