The Clergy Project is a very interesting community of current pastors and clergy who no longer believe the Biblical message, but they continue to serve in their ministries while they try to figure out what to do next. I can only imagine the anguish and difficulty they face as ministers who now feel they are preaching a lie, but if they “out themselves”, the results are devastating. They are often outcast and shunned, and relationships with family and friends are often severed by those who cannot accept the new views of their minister.
I recently say a post from John Lombard, who was a missionary in China for many years. John asks Christians not to misinterpret his reasons for no longer sharing his faith. He liked being a Christian and likes being an atheist even more. I really appreciated his post and wanted to re-blog it here:
I am not Rebelling Against God – By John Lombard
One of the comments (or perhaps more accurately, accusations) that I hear from Christians is that my rejection of Christianity and the Christian God is an act of rebellion. They accuse me of the following transgressions:
- Not wanting to be bound by God’s laws
- Seeking to put myself above God
- Preferring worldly wisdom over divine wisdom
I understand these accusations. I used to think the same way myself. It certainly provides a neat, tidy little box in which to fit those who disagree with you. No need to think about the actual reasons why they rejected God. No need for understanding, examination, further study or insight.
Rebellion implicitly requires disliking or disagreeing with the system in question. You don’t rebel against something that you like or agree with. And, as a Christian, I very much liked Christianity. It gave me assurance of an eternal afterlife in Heaven — an afterlife where I would be reunited with loved ones whom I’d lost. It gave my life purpose, assuring me that I was created by an omnipotent, loving god who had a specific, intentional plan for my life. It gave me comfort knowing that there was a god watching over me, caring for me, and guiding me.
I valued all of those things — and rejecting them was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. In fact, it took me more than a decade of soul-searching and contemplation before I took that final step and said, “I don’t believe.”
To put it as simply as I can: because reality is not defined by how I would like things to be. No matter how attractive some aspects of Christian theology may be, the simple fact that I find them attractive or desirable doesn’t render them implicitly true. No more than the Viking belief in Valhalla is true because they like the idea of an eternity feasting and battling; or the belief of some fundamentalist Muslims that dying as a martyr will result in spending eternity with 72 virgins.
As I learned more about the world around me and examined the evidence for and against the Christian view of the world (as well as many other religious views), I found more and more that the evidence just didn’t stack up. Christian claims worked only so long as I kept myself isolated in a world in which I rejected anything that contradicted them — which, of course, some Christians advocate as a good thing.
But the truth is, any religion or belief system will appear “true” if one is isolated from everything that contradicts that belief. What is the value of such a belief? “I believe this because I explicitly reject everything else, and refuse to consider any alternatives.” It’s amazing to me how many Christians will claim that it is good to isolate oneself from any contrary claims or beliefs. Yet they will criticize people of other religions who do the same thing. For example, Christians who home school their children in order to protect them from non-Christian claims or knowledge will go on and on about why it’s the right thing to do; but will almost inevitably turn around and condemn Muslims who do exactly the same thing, accusing them of brainwashing or indoctrinating their children.
My journey towards atheism began when I recognized this key point: if it is wrong for Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists to indoctrinate their children by limiting access to other ideas or teaching a biased, inaccurate perspective on those other beliefs, then it is wrong for Christians to do it, too.
I came further to the firm belief that faith based on knowledge is more valuable than faith based on ignorance — a belief that is firmly advocated within the Bible itself.
Ultimately, as I examined the evidence, and all the competing claims, I came to the conclusion that the claims of Christianity were neither internally consistent nor were they consistent with observed reality of the world around me.
It is not my purpose here to explain the details of my reasoning. It is also not my purpose to convince people to abandon their belief, or to show why they are wrong. Instead, I want people to understand that, far from being an act of rebellion,rejecting my Christian faith was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It meant losing most of my friends, being ostracized from almost every organization I belonged to, and facing anger and condemnation from people I loved and respected.
I rejected Christianity because, no matter how desirable or comforting it was, it just didn’t fit with the actual evidence that I had. I could not base my beliefs on how I’dlike things to be; I felt compelled to base my beliefs on how things actually are.
As I have regularly reassured my parents, if some day I were presented with evidencegreater that the evidence I currently have that the Christian god is real, I would be quite willing to re-examine my own conclusions. I do not believe any such evidence will ever be forthcoming. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be an atheist. I will seek always to base my conclusions on evidence.
I realize that many Christians (and people of other faiths) will disagree with my conclusions. That’s inevitable, and I understand that. However, I’d greatly appreciate if, in disagreeing with me, you first understand the reasons for my conclusions and not seek instead to pigeonhole me with the trite, inaccurate conclusion: “He is rebelling against God.”
There are certainly atheists who rejected Christianity out of rebellion and anger because of bad experiences in the church. But if you heard the experiences of many of the people in The Clergy Project, you’d find that one of the most unifying themes is how reluctantly they rejected their beliefs, and what a difficult, painful process it was.
Disagree with us — we understand. Debate with us — we welcome it. But please don’t lie about us or seek to reduce us to simplistic platitudes. That serves no purpose other than reaffirming a personal desire to see the world how you’d like it to be.
John Lombard is a Humanist and ex-missionary who grew up in Ontario and has been living and working in China for more than 20 years. He currently works as a cross-cultural consultant to help foreign companies seeking to do business in China.