Hemant Mehta poses the question…what is the fastest way to make someone an atheist? In the end he says there is not an easy way to make someone an atheist. This video which came out recently led me to ask the question…what makes someone an atheist? This explores the reasons why Christians de-convert. Plus how the loss of faith from a faith crisis may be the beginning of a person eventually embracing Christian faith down the road.
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
“In terms of asking questions I plead guilty. I ask a hell of a lot of questions. That’s my job.”
Note I quote from the late Christopher Hitchens in this post, so if you have a problem with the language…all I can say is that is Hitch as we knew him.
This is the newest video from Hemant Mehta who blogs at The Friendly Atheist. I like Hemant’s blog as I read it regularly. When this popped up in my Youtube subscriptions I watched this eagerly to see what would be said. Hemant tackles the topic of if there is one easy fast way for someone to become an atheist. What is it? He explores briefly some of the things which I will touch on below. But in the end he states that there isn’t one simple way to make someone an atheist. He also says that it should not be that simple. That he wants people to think, reflect and put some thought into it. In the process they need to figure things out for themselves and arrive at their own conclusions. In the video he says that he doesn’t want one person to become an atheist over a simple situation or scenario. He wants people to de-convert for good because atheism needs advocates. It needs former Christians who can advocate for atheism and engage the Christian community.
While I write as a Christian I do respect Hemant Mehta greatly and enjoy reading his work. I want to get into his call for people to think for themselves because in my own unique way I am going to call for people to do that as well. We should all be thinking for ourselves. But if I stop and consider some of the reasons why people leave the Christian faith…what would they be? Down below I want to do a sampling of some of those reasons why people would reject Christianity or religion. Also, note that I have written about the issue of people who leave the Christian faith, never being Christians to begin with, and nope…that dog don’t hunt for me! You can read that in this posts which I titled, “‘If they leave the Christian faith they never were a Christian to begin with…’ A Pushback Against that Line of Thought as Inspired by a Recent Godless in Dixie Post”
Why do People Become Atheist/Secular ?
I want to be clear that there are many, many reasons why Christians de-covert and lose faith. It is a diverse and broad range of reasons and it is not simple. For each person it can be unique, and different. For each person they will have one issue or situation that will become their tipping point. By the way if you are an atheist and you read this please know that this blog would be interested in letting you tell your de-conversion story. I am still pursing those stories to tell on a regular basis here. But below you will have but a mere sampling of the reasons why people push back and throw in the towel in regards to religion and faith.
Outgrow their Faith
Some people I think kind of outgrow religion. What do I mean? There are people who grow up and see religion as something that maybe played an important part in the youth but who don’t see a reason for religion in their adulthood. They find it strange, foolish, and problematic. They see little reason to have a faith in their life as they go through adulthood. I kind of think of this in a way a butterfly exits a cocoon. I draw that analogy to say that I think some people shed religion as they have different situations or experiences in life and they leave it and move forward. I think that accounts for some people, and that is one reason, but let’s look at another.
See The Harm of Religion/Fundamentalism
In this group I think you find the people who see the incredible harm religion can create. History is full of examples from the Puritans hanging “witches” in Salem in June of 1692 to Pope Urban II calling for the first Crusade on November 27, 1095 saying God wills it. In this group you find the individuals who see the harm that fundamentalism has caused in life. It can be profound as some of these people are dealing with pain from fundamentalism from their own family, friends or relatives. They see how religion causes great harm, leads to devastated families, and how people are divided. They may have relatives who have cut them off or see children being played against them or others. I spend time on Ex-Christians.net and some of the stories I see there of the strife that goes through some families are heartbreaking.
Another issue that goes along with this is the corruption that plays out in Christianity or religion. I can very much identify with this as it was an issue I had to deal with in my faith crisis. When I was outside Christianity I had a co-worker who was trying to get me involved in a Sovereign Grace called Redeemer Arlington. So here you had this guy listening to Christopher Hitchens and other atheist material. I looked at Christianity as being corrupt and as a cancer and would think of all the problems, child sex abuse, and allegations of criminal activity that play out in the Christian faith. So when I started to research Redeemer and Sovereign Grace I was stunned. The allegations of C.J. Mahaney’s criminal activity alone were quite disturbing. For me it was like pouring gasoline on a fire as being invited to a corrupt denomination helped me to justify atheism. This is part of the reason why I write about the big picture of all these topics together…so much of this is linked together.
See No Real Need For Faith
This almost could be included in the first category but some see no real need for faith at all. Instead I think some believe in humanity and good nature of mankind. They believe that instead of being theistic its better to pour ones efforts into mankind and science. I think those who are in this group have a more optimistic view of society and have more noble ideas They see religion and faith as problematic that causes problems in so many ways. In this perspective those who go down this path see faith as a means give a false sense of security. Maybe that is part of the human condition…the longing to be wanted, but those in this perspective I think have been able to overcome that perspective and move forward.
Strong Belief in Science
Another reason is that many have a strong belief in science. Perhaps they were taught strict creationist views or taught to be suspicious of science. As a person grows they discover in high school or college that science has an incredible amount of value. Others come to value the belief of evolution and in the strict, legalistic mindset find themselves facing a choice as they have been incorrectly taught. That choice is this…God or science? In that either or frame of mind faith is chucked as a person believes they were mislead and fed lies. If they can’t trust what they were taught…why should they trust any of it? Science after all has many positive attributes…look at the advances of modern medicine. We have medical treatments today that are incredible. Here is an example of one…in the Washington Post last month they had an article about how Stanford researches have used stem cells to reverse damage from a stroke, with patients who couldn’t walk..now can. Then recently there has been the news of NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter. We live in a society that values science and you see it in education, you have the benefits of it when you go to your pharmacy. There is much that we should value when it comes to science, and some people because of how they were raised were put in a position where they had to choose one or the other. Plus another factor is that there are some evangelicals who attack science, and scientific education. Can one be a scientist or a biologist and a Christian? For some people because of what they have been taught the answer is no.
Mistaught the Bible
Another reason why some people go secular is because of some aspects of the Bible and what they were taught. Take the destruction of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. There are parts of scripture that are hard and when some people take such a literal approach to it they end up painting themselves into a corner. I recall one person explaining to me that God showed a lot of grace in annihilating the Canaanites. I was stunned to hear that as in my skeptical mind at the time. As an atheist/agnostic at the time that would be like me saying in response, that Adolf Hitler showed the Jews a lot of grace in running the concentration camps. The need by some Christians to defend absolutely everything in the Bible becomes problematic and it creates issues for many people. I can identify with this as Old Testament genocide became a major issue for me in my faith crisis. There are many difficult topics in scripture, I wrote about a strict creationist viewpoint up above in regards to science but there are many others. The story of Abraham and Isaac is another difficult issue. I recall watching an old Christopher Hitchens video a while back where Hitch said the following. “If I was told to gut my kid and kill him I would tell that God to fuck off.” There is the story of a donkey in Numbers 22:21-31 that speaks and flies into a rage. An animal that speaks back it you in a language you can understand? Yes that makes no sense in many ways. I could go on with differing examples, but some people are mistaught perspectives and I believe that contributes to some people having deep problems and eventually walking away.
De-Convert Against Their Will
There are many individuals who go through a faith crisis and de-convert against their will. There are many people who don’t want to be an atheist, or skeptic. Its not what they had planned to be, but they found themselves in a faith crisis where they were overwhelmed with doubt. To have faith almost wash out or have it be dragged out of you is painful. Its like experiencing a death. I wrote about this in the following post called, “Eagle Writes a Journal Entry Inspired from Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie on Grieving the Loss of Your Faith.” The pain a person goes through is traumatic, exceptional and unique. To put it clearly this is not something you will understand until it happens to you. One thing that also happens in these situations is that they can become “violent.” Now when I speak of violent I am not talking about physical violence. Nope…not at all. Instead I am talking about emotional in the perspective that it tortures your soul. You find yourself being angry about going through something like this, plus you get enraged, or jealous at those who are not dealing with these issues. For example I can identify with this because I would get enraged in my faith crisis. Why did I have to struggle and deal with the problem of evil? Why not others? Why could other people smile, and go along and all appeared well? This contrasted sharply with the earlier section of people who outgrow their faith or see no real need for faith. There are some atheists out there who do not want to be secular. They never planned to de-convert, and they are frustrated over their situation.
Permanent Faith Crisis
There are other people who have a faith crisis that I believe will be permanent. What do I mean? Some individuals have a faith crisis and they get stuck. That means they will not leave it and instead get fixated on that one particular issue that brought it about. Whatever the issue it becomes a barrier that they can not overcome. I do not have any knowledge or the details of how frequently this happens or the numbers. But I would wager it happens more frequently than people want to admit. In my situation when I had my faith crisis I started to become convinced that I was going to be forever stuck on the problem of evil. It was my situation that taught me how this could be a very real situation. Can a faith crisis last 10 or 20 years? Absolutely it can…and I think those prolonged situations open the door to permanent situations.
Coming to terms with the fact that you are gay and Christian for some people is another tipping point that results in some people leaving Christianity and de-converting. There are many people who have spent years trying to “become straight” because the church has taught them that they must be. There are others who have friends, families, and loved ones who come out and reveal that they are gay. I recall one experience with an old accountability partner in Wisconsin. His brother came out as gay and he cried in his pillow for hours when he realized and heard all that his brother endured in the evangelical Christian church. All the hate, back-stabbing and more. Because of the way many parts of the Christian faith have approached this issue, plus they coupling of politics to faith this has become a difficult issue, this causes some people to leave Christianity. If you are in the evangelical Christian church I will say this…we need to do better. Our approach to the gay community and those who are gay is awful. In saying that I don’t know what they recourse is, as this is a difficult issue. But I do know that anything that involves hate, doesn’t work and instead backfires.
Losing Faith may not be the End…it may be the Beginning
In the video up top Hemant says that he wants people to think for themselves. He doesn’t want a person to read an article and become an atheist, he wants them to think it through. I agree with Hemant in this manner…we all need to be thinking, and to practice discernment whereever you are at. Here is the deal I am a Christian who writes this blog from a Christian perspective. I am pretty conservative in my doctrine and how I look at the Bible. Yet I very much am concerned with how many parts of the church operate. I commend Hemant for his challenge to get people to think for themselves and arrive at their own conclusion. I share in that and if you read me I want you to do the same thing. I am not here to teach you how to think or what to believe. Instead I would like to challenge you to think in a way that is quite different than what you expect or what you will hear from a pastor on a Sunday morning.
But I also believe this…we are all on a spiritual journey and your story- wherever you stand is not finished. I can tell you this…I never imagined going through some of the religious movements I went through in my life. Likewise I never saw the day coming where I would have a full blown faith crisis. In my case I would have to leave the Christian faith for a number of years to think it through and wrestle with it. I had to reject Christianity in order to find it. In evangelicalism there is too much of an emphasis on and immediate “walking with the Lord.” When a person parts or pushes back people tend to push that person off and not walk with them through their life. I would challenge the Christian church to look at people in the long term perspective of the span of their life. Think of someone in the context of 20 or 30 or 40 years from where they are today. Life is hard and life is both long and short. In the case of time people need to figure things out and we should look at people in that perspective. Sometimes people need to reject faith in order to find it. And others need to wrestle and think things through for themselves. The church should not grow nervous or despondent if someone rejects the faith, instead they should look on that person as being on a spiritual journey, that in reality may just begin.
Here’s what I think will happen…I think some people who leave the Christian faith will eventually come back in the course of time, or maybe later in life. Then I think there are those who are atheist or humanist now that in the years to come may become a Christian. And then on the other perspective I think there are some people who are Christian now who will leave and never come back. I think some people may be done for good. But who is to say how things will turn out? I mean I am 41 and I am amazed at how life has brought surprises and issues that I never could have imagined. As you age you too will be surprised by what happens. But above all else if you read me I want you to do this…please think for yourself. Challenge yourself, and challenge me. Don’t take all I have to say as fact, and realize these are my opinions based on experience. We are all on a journey…Christian, atheist, humanist, and more and our journey is still continuing and moving forward. I want to commend Hemant Mehta for the good video he posted and let him know that I appreciate his work and am grateful for the blog that he has created and runs. As always you are free to leave your comments. Please know that I love you guys wherever you are in your situation in life.