Let me start off by reassuring any readers that no, my faith has not died. And by the grace of God it is not going to die. This blog post is more about recounting stories that I have read online about people whose faith has died, or gone to sleep indefinitely.
So I was just doing a bit of research online an hour or two before starting to write this post, when I started seeking out stories of people who had left the Christian faith. I like to read stories like this for this reason: it helps me to think more about my own faith, critically. It is also good of course to listen to other people in their own words rather than to make assumptions about why they made the decisions they made. As Christians, we can sometimes live in this big Chrisian echo-chamber where our own thoughts and values are constantly repeated back and amplified to us all the time, so it can be hard to put that to the side and try to see things from other people’s perspectives. This is why historically I have always been interested in engaging in robust conversations (aka arguments!) with atheists and strong believers in other faiths. However, reading from people who were Christians, and who were sometimes as grounded in belief as I am, but who then decided to walk away – this brings a whole new perspective. This is usually because I can identify with so much of what they say. I can identify with the positives that they acknowledge from their days of faith…and to be candid I can also identify with many of the negatives too. For instance, one woman I was reading about today, asked (I paraphrase) “Why is God’s will always so unclear? Why does He not make it a whole lot clearer to us, so that there can be absolutely no confusion whatsoever?”
And I thought – “hmm-mm!” To be honest, that has been one of my own biggest frustrations in my faith. There have been times I have literally cried out to God: “God, I am so confused!” And yet, ultimately, my overarching principle has been to just do what the Bible says, live according to the principles that are incontrovertible in God’s word, and then if necessary make my own decisions within those principles, trusting that He will guide me. And then looking back I am often frustrated at my own cluelessness. Why did I not know that?! For instance I have been a webdesigner for well over a decade. Throughout that decade there have been words and phrases that I have heard and read about thrown about all the time. And only just now, (that is literally yesterday) I finally decided to look into those things. And I was thinking: “If I had done that all that time ago, it would have saved me from so much stress!” That said, I also acknowledged that there were circumstances of my life which made this largely unfeasible. My point though is that looking back, I can see God’s leading, training and protection even through my own cluelessness.
Christianese is when Christians talk in general Christian platitudes, or say what we as Christians are “supposed” to say. We as Christians are supposed to talk always about how amazing God is. So my last sentence “I can see God’s leading, training and protection even through my own cluelessness” would be a classic example of Christianese. Except that it is completely true. Please believe me, that I have been clueless – oh my goodness – embarrassingly so. A few months ago I explained that I had unfriended many people on Facebook. What I did not explain is that I largely did it not because of them, but rather because I was embarrassed at the person I was at the time I knew them, and cutting off ties with those people who knew me at the time was like psychologically cutting off my ties to that embarrassing past. I used to feel inadequate and lesser as a human being, and you know how some people find it hard to accept the new, more confident you, but will always try to bring you back down to that smaller person that they remember? Well I’m not saying that everyone was like that, but in some cases I did not even wait for them to prove themselves but simply cut them off. And yet even in those “clueless” times, God protected me from so much. He preserved me from danger even when I did not know that I was going through danger. He protected my mental health and continues to do so, so that I have avoided having a nervous breakdown. He has led me so that I have learned such a lot in such a short time. Let’s talk about my general business escapades. Candidly, it feels as if I have lurched violently from one dismal business failure to the next. And there have been so many! Just today I finally forced myself to look up an old YouTube series that I did, where I was reading out from classic works of literature, because they are out of copyright and so on – check it out here: BigBookCTK
This is one of the many many business endeavours that I actually remember – there have been so many!
And yet, even though none of these ventures have yet materialised into the kind of success that I have been dreaming of – or indeed into any kind of success! – yet in all that I know that I have learned so much. Not just about business, although I’m sure I now know many things not to do in business! But also about life, about myself, about knowing myself, about relating with other people, about character, about God. About relationships and marriage, of course. There is also the fact that if success had come earlier for me, my character would likely not have been sufficiently established to handle that success, and my greatly longed-for success may actually have destroyed me, as premature success has destroyed countless others, especially considering how clueless I was. And then there is also the inescapable fact that there are so many aspects of life I have big dreams for: my relationship with God, my relationship with my husband, my career. To excel at just one of these things would be an incredible feat. But all three? At the same time? In no way could that possibly be an accident. And because they all impact on one another in a way you need to have a strong understanding of how they will all fit together so that you can build your life as one interconnected whole. Otherwise overemphasising one now might negatively affect another one 10 years down the line. So I needed to have a strong understanding about all of them before and their complex interplay really making headway in any of them Or at least that is what I tell myself to try to console myself! I should point out that the relationship with God will be the foundation for the other two big dreams, so it can only be beneficial to work on that while trying to understand about marriage and career dreams. I am happy to say that in my life I have prioritised my relationship with God, and I continue to do so.
So that is how the issue of “God’s will” has shaped out in my own life, thus far. There were two other issues that the faith leavers talked a lot about: negative experiences with other people in the church, including hypocrisy – and their sexuality, that is their struggles with reconciling their faith in God with their desire to have a full and honest expression of their sexuality. Also doubting the Bible, is there really a God etc – however this seemed to be an afterthought that they embraced once they had already disconnected with faith – actually only one person out of three distinct accounts of “defaithing” went this far.
Regarding sex and sexuality, to be candid it can be difficult to understand. I suspect that everyone struggles in some form with trying to navigate the issues of their own sexuality. And that would be everyone, including people who subscribe to a particular faith, and those who do not; those who are married, and those who are not. So “defaithing” will not automatically release someone into guilt-free sexual freedom. Rather, I suspect that it will continue to be just as fraught and confusing as it ever was – except that now there will be no predefined guidelines but much of it will be made up as you go along.
Towing the party line (or toeing – whichever is correct!)
My own position on this can be hard to understand. Here is the thing, I am a Christian, I completely and totally subscribe to the teachings of the Bible. However when it comes to the church, I tend to be a non-conformist. (Not a Nonconformist, which is confusingly a religious term. Actually, I checked, and technically yes, I am a Nonconformist too!) I have zero qualms about throwing out many of the teachings of the church as unbiblical, but I have total reverence for God and His Word the Bible and for Jesus. Yes, I totally believe that Jesus is God. Yes, I totally believe in the literal, physical bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe that salvation through Jesus Christ is the only way through which we can be reconciled to God, which means, if true, that many of my lovely friends of other faiths and none will be condemned to Hell if they do not ultimately embrace the sacrifice of Christ for themselves. In all those ways I am a good orthodox Bible-believing Christian.
And yet, in that I can also recognise that much of what passes for faith is man-made. Much of “standard church experience” has either no origin whatsoever in the Bible or is inadequately supported by true Bible doctrine. For instance, the doctrine of tithing is one such practice which actually does have a Biblical origin, but is laughably unbiblical in the way it is commonly practised in our times. A few years ago I wrote a post on facebook, which I subsequently coverted into the ebook below, arguing that tithing is not a Biblical commandment. And for this Facebook post I was actually thrown out of the church I was attending at that time. To be fair, I should make it clear that the pastor and I really did not get along; I had zero respect for him, and I was not at that time mature enough to try to hide that fact. So that facebook post was really the last straw in a church denomination that is literally built not only on tithing, but also on squeezing out every possible penny it can possibly receive from its members. In a way tithing is only one facet of that; they resurrected every single reference about Old Testament offerings to give them a modern and monetary relevance, as if no-one had read Corinthians which states that Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5v7), so because of that we do not need to bring in offerings each and every year for cleansing of sins – we don’t even need to do it symbolically (Hebrews 9v25, also whole of Hebrews 9 – complicated but very important!)
So yes, tithing is one facet of that. However it is so fundamental! So you can see how my Facebook post was received as being tantamount to blasphemy. In this church, they actually taught that failure to tithe to a church would send someone to hell. Well if that is true then I am currently straight on my way to hell and I don’t envisage that that will change any time soon.
(To be clear I am not saying that tithing is a bad thing. Since I wrote that facebook post and converted it into an ebook I myself have tithed to different churches. If you are in a church that is truly centred on Christ and you have been tithing I encourage you to continue.)
So when it comes to church as such, I can often be a non-conformist but there is no negotiation when it comes to the teachings of the Bible. None whatsoever. So yes I am absolutely an apologist for Biblical teachings on sex.
And the Bible does make it clear that sex should be reserved for marriage, which is to be between a man and a woman. Yes, there were other examples of marriage and sexuality that were practised even in the same Bible; for instance having concubines. However restricting sex to marriage between one man and one woman is the clear standard that has been set out for New Testament Christians. So what I would say is this: yes, the Bibles rules can be difficult to apply. It can sometimes feel as if we are being fundamentally dishonest in trying to squeeze our “true” sexuality into the rigid teachings of the Bible. And yet, as I recently examined in my post about sexual purity as a feminist choice, sex and expression of our sexuality can bring so much pain, far beyond the pleasure that they promise. I can’t help thinking that if people take away the teachings of the Bible, then try to construct their own guidelines to minimise pain and getting hurt romantically, ultimately they will often come back to something that looks very much like the Bible anyway: ie that you should generally be faithful to your partner – but removing the proviso about reserving sex for marriage. Either that, or all-out polyamoury, anything goes.
Regarding the first option – is that what this all boils down to – you’re leaving your faith because you want to have pre-marital sex? Please don’t do that! And I’ll show you why not: ultimately, for sex to be all that as we all dream of (er, right?!) it will come down to choosing one partner to sexually grow with for the rest of our lives. I’ve already looked at this in a couple of posts: Whatever you want in marriage, and Sexual Purity as a feminist choice.
To all intents and purposes, faithful lifelong commitment to one partner is a marriage. The fact that you might call it by different names, like “cohabiting” or that you are technically not legally married is here a matter of semantics. (I wonder how long it will be before people get official “cohabiting contracts” – if they do not already exist!) Now there are of course reasons why we as human beings have legal processes for all these things, why we do get legally married – that is, to make it official. Now the point of avoiding pre-marital sex is this and only this: to make sure that you are with the right person before you start giving your body away along with the deep spiritual and emotional intimacy of sex and sexuality. Otherwise it will just end up bringing further pain to add to your life, further baggage to carry into your future, whether or not you do end up getting married to the right person later on. Even if you did end up getting married to that same person – all’s well that ends well, right? On the whole yes, maybe. However you might still need to work through the issues of disobeying God and dishonouring your own self and one another. And these are the real issues at play. I guess what I am trying to say is that once you have decided to make the commitment to one another, it does not really matter what form the wedding itself takes. If there are legal requirements then yes we do need to follow those. However the problem comes when we throw ourselves into a sexual relationship before we know that we are in a position to be committing to that person. We might cause immense pain to ourselves when we discover what they are actually like.
So by telling us to restrict ourselves from this, God is protecting us. By walking away from God’s protection in this, it is like we are opening our cage to swim with sharks. Yes God’s law is rigid and confining and feels somewhat unnatural, like a cage. But it is like a cage that protects us from sharks. By walking away from God altogether it is like we are cutting the cord that tethers us to our boat. Thankfully God has very long arms. And yes, God can heal us from any of the wounds that we indirectly inflict on ourselves. However, why would we go through the pain of getting bitten in the first place? And some of these mistakes can totally change our lives. Yes, God can heal us. However, once a baby has been born, it is not going away anywhere, is it? And this is why you are leaving your faith? So you can swim with sharks on “your own terms”?
Or perhaps you want to watch pornography and masturbate to your heart’s content? Frankly, you would still be swimming with sharks. The use of pornography is increasingly recognised as a factor in sexual violence, here is a link to a Google search on the topic:
Pornography as a factor in sexual violence
Regarding polyamoury, or having multiple sexual partners, sometimes simultaneously, I was recently thinking about this. Firstly it sounds immensely complicated. Has anyone else noticed that there seems to be a proliferation of new terms and terminology relating to these newly accepted expressions of human sexuality? Approximately once a week I hear a term that I have never heard before. Even with my background in Classics (ie Latin and Greek, from which most English words originate) I often cannot work out what these terms mean, or what they might be related to. Polyamoury itself as a term is quite straightforward to decipher, and is probably not such a new term. Beyond linguistics though the technicalities themselves can be quite complicated. So polyamoury can apparently mean when one person has multiple sexual partners, and this is known and accepted and celebrated by all the other sexual partners who might each have their own multiplicity of sexual partners, or it can mean when there is a group of people and they are all having sexual relationships with one another or it can mean any combination of these two things. So there might be a group where lots of members are sleeping with one another, but not necessarily anyone. So my question then is: what happens when someone wants to bring a new person into the group? Do they have to be vetted and approved by every member of the group? What if one person immensely dislikes that particular individual – perhaps they crossed paths in a previous polyamorous setup? To me, it seems like many of the issues that people were trying to avoid in leaving behind monogamous relationships, issues like jealousy, are lying in wait to express themselves in this kind of setup – but literally multiplied to an even bigger scale than in traditional monogamous relationships.
I was also reflecting one day on situations where people allow one another to have no-strings sexual relationships. I was thinking that wow, these people can sleep with whomever they want! From the accounts I’ve read, what tends to happen is that almost invariably someone starts to develop feelings, (usually a woman), or someone starts to feel possessive or something inconvenient happens like a baby is conceived. However, let’s assume that these situations were avoided. It occurred to me that what you would need for this setup to work would be exactly what you would need for any other romantic setup to work; trust. You would need to trust that this person is going to be where they say they are going to be, that they are not just going to stand you up at the last minute. You would still need to have a relationship with each of these individual people. You would still need to trust that they are not going to hurt you, or they are not going to “stealth” you. And you know what that amounts to? Yup, you’ve guessed it – two years! And I thought to myself “It has been so hard finding even one excellent person to share my life with – how much more stress it would be to find four! If I did find one excellent person, why would I dilute that and weaken that by introducing other people into the mix?” I guess part of the attraction is about always having sexual partners available. But these partners are not just sitting there waiting for you to call them, or not. The likelihood is that they have been making their own plans. So if you suddenly call one person last minute, when your most unreliable partner has stood you up, yet again, then the likelihood is that they will be busy.
And I was also thinking that all of these modern ways of organising our lives could only have arisen in our times with our technology, as in earlier times these arrangements would simply have been too complicated. Perhaps part of the attraction too is that if theoretically you have so much choice available, then you do not need to worry about things like character. But I put it to you that just because you have several partners does not mean that character is any less important. It just means that you now have to seek it from 4 different people, rather than just one. Ask any startup founder! OK perhaps you could say that no one individual has to be your be-all and end-all; they could all have different strengths. But it also means that you are not actually sharing your life with anyone, or building deep connectedness. The promise is of “no-strings fun”, but much of the value of the relationships, much of the context for the sexual pleasure actually comes from the “strings”, in having someone who understands you, in having a shared history together, in things that we have overcome together, in the prospect of getting to know one another more and more over the coming months and years, to unravelling further layers to one another. This is exactly the same thing with community bonds, and with family ties. By choosing this “no strings” way you are making sexual pleasure just another profound human experience to be cheaply packaged and commodified, stripped of the context which makes it profound, alongside food and eating, for instance, and working to earn a living, both often stripped of the context of family, friends and wider community, and you are thereby contributing to the emptiness and loneliness of our supposedly “prosperous” Western lifestyle. See a relevant article here.
Now going back to the last major reason why people “defaith”: their experiences with other people. Yes, I am an apologist for God. However regarding the Church and even “Christianity”, to be candid yes they have often been used as tools to control other people. However this is an expression of human nature rather than the character of God. I always think it is so unbelievable and sad that a faith like that of Christ, which is all about grace, freedom and the inherent value of all human beings can simply be twisted to create the exact opposite of those things for many people.
The Christian church is full of insincerity. Fact. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the human heart loves power. This is part of our fallen human nature, and it is definitely true outside Christianity. So if you successfully managed to eliminate the Christian faith forever and ever, people would still be striving to assert power over one another.* Is that a controversial statement? In any religious system God is the highest power there can be. So for many people who are in any way attracted by the prospect of asserting power over other people, all they have to do is manoeuvre themselves into a position of “spiritual leadership”, then they can start asserting power over other people in the name of “I heard from God” or “God is saying”. Becoming a pastor can literally be as simple as posting flyers through letterboxes, and finding a hall to meet up in. Literally anyone could become a pastor. There are no regulations, no checks, nothing. Rather it is up to the people who would visit the church to conduct their own checks. So I could become a pastor tomorrow! (The difference is that I have a far deeper understanding of God and His Word, and commitment to His truth than many supposed “pastors”. To be honest it is actually quite plausible that I could become a pastor, no joking – actually on reflection, I’ve remembered how impatient I get with people. I would probably spend most of my time “unfriending” all my congregants on Facebook – ha ha!)
As if this is not bad enough, it gets even worse. I was thinking to myself not too long ago that for many Black people, achieving some level of spiritual leadership is the recognised way of our times of achieving some measure of prestige or success in life. It is also the easiest. So imagine that you are like me. You are an African in a foreign land. No matter how hard you try you just cannot seem to get a job that genuinely reflects your capabilities or ambitions. What is the quick and easy answer? Join the church and at least you can achieve some leadership position, and be regarded with a measure of respect as people call you “pastor”, no matter what might be happening in your employment situation. So in this way, you often get people who are attracted into churches and “leadership” not because of God or Jesus or holiness or the Bible or loving other people, but rather because of the prestige and the social position it offers. Actually, all this is often true even when we Africans are in our own ancestral countries. Many of these people, these supposed “pastors” could not care less about God and Jesus and other fundamental aspects of authentic faith. And I am not exaggerating.
So then it is no surprise that when you interact with these people, you find people who have zero aspirations or efforts towards Christlike character. And then they expose you to the extent of their unwonderful character. And it is invariably awful. I have met enough genuinely Christlike people to tell you that Christlikeness is lovely. It is unmistakably lovely. And yet it is not always popular. Why? Because it is committed to telling the truth, as unwelcome as that might be. But unchristlikeness is just like the devil, its father. It pretends. It often pretends to be charming. It is not committed to telling the truth, so it does not have to take unpopular positions on any subject. It also does not have to tell you the truth about what it really thinks about you. At first you are reeled in, excited. But then as time goes on, its true nature reveals itself. And this is almost invariably what all these “defaithers” say; “At first, everyone was really lovely…it was so warm…but then it became controlling, or manipulative”.
Now back to those pastors. If they play their cards right, the church can actually become their employment. Which leads us on to the second reason why there is so much insincerity in the church. Simply money. Many people quite blatantly become pastors purely for the sake of earning a living, or making a killing in the church. Once again many of those people have no real interest in God or Jesus. So when you interact with these people – surprise! You do not find people who are striving to serve you, or to pursue Jesus with all their hearts. Which is what we should all be doing as Christians. Rather you find people who are happy to wring out every last penny from you, and do not even care about the methods that they employ. They do not care about the depths of manipulation to which they have to sink. Why would they care? After all they do not genuinely believe. Christ is just a tool to use to achieve their own purposes.
And unfortunately the church provides the perfect opportunity for them because there is already a sufficiently established market of committed Christians AND there are well-known Bible teachings which can be twisted to encourage giving as much money as possible “to the work of God”. And when the love of power meets the potential for making money – oh my – the thing just explodes.
This is one reason why I
hate have such strong feelings about the doctrine of tithing. Tithing is the one reason why there is so much insincerity in the church. If this doctrine was removed, overnight so many of these jokers would simply move on to their next “Get rich quick scheme” without even glancing back at their supposed faith for a millisecond. Sure being able to tell other people what to do would likely still have an allure, but it is the potential to make so much money from it that makes “spiritual leadership” so irresistible.
But just because there is a huge (huge, huge) number of charlatans in the church does not mean that God is not real. It also does not mean that every supposed pastor is a charlatan. Speaking candidly for myself I have met no end of insincere pastors and Christians in the church. This is why it is so important to know the Bible and to know God for yourself. But don’t give up your precious faith because of someone else, a joker, a liar who does not even belong to God but rather to the devil. Even a succession of such people. Rather take up the Bible, and purpose to know God for yourself. He is so real, and so beautiful, and to know Him is such a privilege. When you get to know Him yourself, it also means that no-one can manipulate you about what the Bible says, but you too will be able to write books about tithing which will get you thrown out of churches!
Something else to say is to be extremely fussy about people that you let near you, or people that you allow to assert spiritual authority over you. Knowing that people can be deceptively charming, and it is unspeakably easy to be deceived at first, and disillusioned later. Seriously I am as fussy about choosing churches and pastors as I am about choosing a husband. Potentially even more fussy!
So seriously yes, by all means do reject all the rubbish and all the lies and all the insincerity, but choose God. God is good, God is real, and God is beautiful! I need to make it clear that even in totally sincere churches, because we are all still growing in the character of Christ. we will still hurt and wound one another, sometimes to the extent of some people leaving the church and the faith altogether. However there is such a big difference between spiritual sincerity and insincerity. Something else to seek from your leaders as well as total sincerity is spiritual maturity and general life experience to handle tricky situations.
Free ebook on tithing is available here
*This is exactly the same in companies, for instance, except that regulations exist to prevent employers from exploiting workers too much – except that it invariably still does happen to some extent, as sexual harassment also happens in companies, despite regulations. However, due to the religious nature of churches/religious institutions, and the fact that they are subject to a “Higher Power”, they often escape regulation to the same extent as companies face, and they are largely left to regulate themselves. Which only makes matters worse, naturally!