This Sunday I’ll be preaching for St. Petersburg Presbyterian Church for the third time. I’ll be wrapping up a series on faith and doubt. Thanks to a facebook friend, who actually happens to be a real life friend of mine-though now separated by 900 miles-I came across this article of an Atheistic de-conversion. It is the journey from faith to doubt to disbelief (although if you read the article it does seem that doubt preceded disbelief for only a very short period of time). I love reading articles about conversion, particularly someone coming from a hostile atheist background to saving faith in Christ. But I think these articles of de-conversion are also helpful, even though they can be quite discouraging. We can still usually learn something from them.
Here are some things I took away from the article, aside from simply being saddened by this dark descent into disbelief.
1.) The relationship with one’s father is often key.While this gal couches her disbelief in science and rationality, I think there is much more going on.
According to one pastor who started an outreach ministry, asking a friend or neighbor about his/her father opens the door to understanding barriers to a relationship with God. For instance, people often reject faith because their father rejected faith. It is of course no tit-for-tat, but there does seem to some connectedness. Understanding that relationship can help you minister to that person.
When I read in this article that this gal ran away from home and has no relationship with her father, I cannot assume that had nothing to do with it. Yes her mother is a Christian, but how much of her rejecting God is her rejecting her father? I wonder.
Bad relationships with fathers seem to be incubators for doubt. But, according to this pastors experience in ministry, they can also be open doors to faith based discussions.
2.) I don’t think anyone makes a decision to follow or un-follow, believe or disbelieve in God or specifically His plan of salvation through His Son from an entirely rational basis. I’ve heard atheists on a discussion panel explain that they got into Atheism because their friends were such. This story of de-conversion is not a treatise on a pure quest for rationalism. Now I think she advertises it as such, but there is too much baggage she is so quick to leave behind. And I don’t blame her for some of this seems pretty sad. But there is an emotional experience she is quick to leave behind, and I don’t think it is simply because “the bible lied to me.”
3.) What question is the person really asking? In general the post-modern mantra is “does it work or help” (pragmatism) more so than “is it true” (modernity/rationalism)? This gal seems to fit into the modernist quest. I just read Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide, and he argues that most people simply want to know “does this work.” But I find very rarely does someone fit into a purely rational or purely pragmatic category. Where I live now, and when I lived in Bradenton, I found skeptics to fit into more the modernist rational variety. Many people do ask the question, “Would I like what I would become?” So we have to make sure to present the gospel in such a way as to respond to these “defeater” beliefs (what Tim Keller refers to as the barriers we have to deal with before we can actually get to the gospel). For the Jews, Paul discerned it as “power” for the Greeks it was “wisdom.” (I Cor 1). What is it for your friends?
4.) Where was the gospel? This gal was allegedly raised in a grace-less home. One always needs to consider the source (an estranged daughter), but it is hard to misinterpret 10-15 beatings based upon a child not obediently responding the first time. Regardless, from her perspective, there was plenty of law but not a lot of gospel or good news. And regardless of whether or not the dad felt like he was showing grace, the message perceived (which is still important, for if someone doesn’t feel like we’re showing grace, maybe we’re not!) was I’m proud of your performance. Not a delight in the person but a delight in the performance of your child. That’s not grace. As a parent, that’s something I never want my kid to think. I was only proud of how well he did and not simply that I loved him simply because he was my son.
Would a gal be so quick to “jump ship” if she had at least had an experience of grace, where she could honestly struggle and question? I would like to think so. But in the end, I think what this gal is rejecting is more than just a belief in God; she is rejecting a form of moralistic behavioral performance based Christianity that has at the very least been perceived as Christless.
5.) Don’t be so quick to jump ship. Doubting is not a bad exercise. But doubts are best done within the community of faith. If you try to discern whether or not God exists, and you posed certain question, and you don’t get satisfactory answers, then it might be good to look a little bit harder.
…This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?
Alex had no answer — and I realized I didn’t either. Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.
I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.
Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.
That’s not a big question of mine. I have them. Plenty of questions, but they are more of the “why did this happen variety” (which ultimately reveals a latent belief anyway but that is for another post) than of the philosophical variety like this. But as Billy Madison so eloquently argued in reference to the book The Puppy Who Lost His Way, “You can’t give up looking for your dog after half an hour, you have to put up some signs, and get your butt out there and find your bleeping dog!”
I know this gal had grown up believing the bible, but according to her own words, she disbelieved very quickly and in isolation from real gospel centered community.
If answers aren’t satisfactory, we have to spend time and be willing to spend time with doubters. There are people smarter than us who have asked harder questions and have found intellectually satisfying answers. CS Lewis anyone? Please don’t be like the boy in The Puppy Who Lost His Way and give up after half an hour. Don’t let doubt grow into disbelief in the matter of minutes, hours, or even days. Let’s put up some posters and find, or help others find, that bleeping dog.