In May of 2016 the leader of a Christian metal core band came out on Facebook and explained why he became an atheist. From The Friendly Atheist to Christian and religious media Shannon Low’s deconverison was covered. This is my take on this situation in which I explain that when it comes to difficult issues like Old Testament genocide some people may have to leave the faith and wrestle with these issues outside for a few years. Shannon is on a journey and his commitment to integrity is to be commended.
“I’m leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it’s not raining.”
“Life has a way of setting things in order and leaving them be. Very tidy, is life.”
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
2 Kings 2:23-24 NIV
Order of Elijah with Shannon Low
The Order of Elijah is a metal core band out of Joplin, Missouri. It was known for being Christian. Then the members one by one started to push back from religion. On Facebook on May 21, 2016 the lead singer Shannon Low published a statement explaining how he became an atheist over the previous year. Shannon’s deconversion was covered at The Friendly Atheist and in religious media which you can read here and here. I have a different take on the situation but before I get into my thoughts I re-posted Shannon’s original announcement for you to read first.
WARNING: This is a novel.
Well I’m not sure where to start. I was baptized at 20 and quickly decided I was called to be a pastor. I spent a decade+ on up’s and downs with life, visited some churches, did a lot of drugs/sex and played guitar in some metal bands. Later I joined a church I liked called Ignite here in Joplin and fell in love with it. It was small then and it grew quickly. The pastor and I became friends, encouraged my marriage, married us, etc etc.
A few year later I played guitar for the worship team on Sundays and was a leader in the teenage youth group. For the first time ever I felt I was doing what god had called me to do. I’m not going to continue with how all that came to an end because the story gets longer. The story short is it all fell apart. I’m just pledging this flag to let you know how passionate I was about Christ and having a ministry. This was the time when TOOE was taking root and forming. Many people have completely discredited that passion, not only recently but through the years.
The divorce began about 1 year after our daughter was born. I can easily say it was the roughest season of life I’ve ever had. After 5 years of being sober I found myself drowning in alcohol every night again. I decided to return to church in search of inner solace again. I was welcomed with open arms. Some things had changed but I was feeling at home at Ignite again.
One Sunday morning there was a sermon that spoke about Elisha and the bears. After a large group of children make fun of Elisha for being bald he curses them in the name of god (which I thought was a commandment not to do). God sends out two female bears to rip the kids apart limb from limb. Now this story disturbed me. I thought “I’ve read the whole bible, how did I overlook this?” So I began asking some questions and found each person had a different apologetic answer for this story. Some said “You don’t understand, calling someone bald back then was horrible.” or “You need to realize these children were heretics and needed to die so their seed didn’t spread.”
This enticed me to see how many other things I had overlooked. I found stories of an old war general sacrificing his virgin daughter in payment for a war victory, guidelines on how to beat your slaves, and an ocean of relentlessly cruel stories. This didn’t break me though. I still claimed Jesus, I said to myself “Jesus must have realized everyone was insane and there to set it straight.” Which many people were quick to inform me that was blasphemous because Jesus condones and quotes the old testament quite frequently. I still stuck to my guns but received a lot of flak by my spiritual peers for not understanding why the OT god was so racist, ethnic cleansing, jealous as an insecure girlfriend, cruel and power hungry.
So this led to research about the history of the bible. I never knew that the earliest gospel wasn’t written until half a century after Christ supposedly died, or that Paul never read any gospels, or that there isn’t even any evidence from that time that Jesus existed. Now that doesn’t mean he never did, I mean we don’t have writings from Socrates but still know he existed. Although the eye witness accounts were long gone by the time the gospels were written, not to mention many of the miracles are similar to other gods from before his time. I look at how people of Christian faith today intermingle their beliefs with “Karma”, which is a Hindu belief, and can’t help to wonder how many beliefs were intermingled in the iron age. I picked up a book called The God Delusion which talks about how all of this chaotic puzzle adds up, it answered so many questions that my Christian friends would literally get furious for me to even address.
Sometimes I would lose Christian friends by simple pondering certain questions. I would see these same Christians publicly calling my other friends “abominations” for being gay. The pastors making millions with feel-good sermons and theatrics, the abortion clinics being bombed, children dying because their parents insist on using faith healing, the barbarism of middle eastern Islam, the list goes on…. all of this cruelty justified by each particular sect in the name of their god’s love. Who’s god? Religion’s bad attributes began outweighing it’s good.
It seemed to me that if god was trying to speak through us he was going about a very peculiar and inconsistent way. Each section of the world was born into a religion that directly contradicts other religions, often in a “hell fire” sort of way. This is not the way TRUTH behaves. In India 2+2 is 4. In Afghanistan 2+2 is 4. And in America 2+2 is 4. If god’s message to us was so vitally important why would he give it to us in vague, ancient scriptures filled with contradictions? Why allow his message to be spread by fallible humans and sit by while idly while falsehoods are spread in his name? Why sentence 2/3’s of the world to hell for being born in the wrong culture? I’d think a perfect god would never need to correct his word if our literal souls depended on it.
After one of the most difficult decisions in my adult years, I had no choice but to accept that I had shed my faith like a cocoon. It was scary yet liberating, it confusing yet simple, I felt at peace yet completely shaken, I pretty much had to reprogram my way of thinking about the world. Not only that, I felt I had lived a lie for half my life. I read books, tried meditating, hell sometimes I’d even try to talk to god.
After a few months I read about the science of addiction and life trauma. I stopped trying to pray my alcoholism away and began combating it with real methods. I began confronting my problems head on rather than “giving them to god”. I became very interested in researching science and the culture of other religions daily. I eventually completely gave up alcohol, got my health back, and enrolled in college. I’m proud to say I have a 3.75 GPA.
So here we are today. Look, I love you guys and I’m sorry I’m not a Christian anymore. This is honestly me completely coming out of the faith closet, I tried to avoid throwing all my mental baggage into the road but you guys very important to me and the rest of the TOOE crew. I’m not looking to debate anyone in the comments or anything. I understand that apostasy is highly shunned upon, you guys just deserve to know the whole truth. Special thanks to Will Strotz for reaching out to me instead of getting angry.
Don’t hesitate to message me if you have questions or even come speak in person on our tour.
There is a lot that I would like to say in response to the situation above. This may be viewed by some as me pushing the envelope. However, when have I ever been conventional? I understand where Shannon is standing as I have had my own faith crisis and look at things from a very different perspective but let me start by making some points based off Shannon’s announcement.
Honesty and Integrity are Important
In life its important to be honest as honesty is a key part of having integrity. Its an important characteristic of life and is needed for day to day living. I want to state that I deeply appreciate Shannon Lowe’s commitment to honesty and integrity in writing that post and displaying that on his Facebook page. After all I think of how many times some Christians play and live a façade of not having any doubts, problems, issues or concerns in life. I find it impressive that there can be many people outside the Christian faith who can have far more integrity at times. And that is what is important in this situation. Shannon is showing incredible integrity in how this unfolds. It would have been easy for him to go along and play and act the “Christian act” which is what so many people do in these difficult situations. The honesty issue alone is huge and this Christian is impressed that he has the courage to be that honest. This gets us to our next point.
Courage Is Exhibited
Shannon’s post reveals his deep courage. For Shannon to go public like that given his position and a million other challenges shows his bravery in wanting to do the right thing. That right thing is to be honest about his doubts. Lets stop for a second and think of all the differing scenarios he has to deal with because of his courage. He no doubt has family that will have a difficult time processing this news. Will that be easy for them? Not at all. Shannon has business associates and those in the music industry who will ask questions. Shannon also has money on the line as he deals with his doubts and yet he is showing courage in being truthful. Think of how people in his church who have known him are reacting. They will be saying inapproapite things like “Shannon was never a Christian to begin with.” Quick side note I wrote a response to that last year called, ““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.” Shannon is going to be receiving a lot of heat. Lets be honest about something sometimes people lie because its easier and more convenient. In being truthful Shannon shows his courage in speaking openly. Another contention is that some Christians are going to claim that he had a false conversion. That is also going to be difficult. Lets be honest parts of evangelical Christian culture are harsh, unhealthy and cannibalistic. Evangelicals love to devour those who are struggling with their faith or who are having enormous difficulty. Think of it as a spiritual version of the Donner Party being reenacted when a person has a faith crisis. What is the Donner Party? It was a group of pioneers who got stuck in the High Sierras in 1846 and 1847 winter. They turned on each other and practiced cannibalism to survive. I had to deal with some people turning on me in my faith crisis. The reaction and behavior by Christians can he harsh and for Shannon to be courageous in the face of the odds is amazing.
The Challenges of the Old Testament
There are many parts of the Bible which are difficult and challenging. And the Christian church needs to be open and honest in discussing them. In the case of Shannon Low it was the text from Elisha with the bears that caused difficulty, as it opened the door to other issues. For me it was the story of Old Testament (OT) genocide with the entire annihilation of people groups such as the Canaanites. Yes I know there are problems with the Canaanites but lets remember the Egyptians also had their own problems, and so did the Jews. In my faith crisis and my own personal despair the issue of OT genocide became one of the driving factors for me to reject Christianity for years. The explanations by some people horrified me. For example I recall one person telling me God showing the Canaanites grace when he slaughtered them. My response was like “Really?” It honestly made me wonder how God is any different than Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin? Plus lets remember this in Exodus 11 there is the plague of the death of the first born son. That alone I believe had a wide age range as well when one considers the death of the first born son. Now some of the first born were young but stop and compare that act with the slaughter of the innocents of Matthew by King Herod. One question that I still think has merit is the following. Why is there revulsion over what King Herod did but not concern or questioning over the death of every first born male son in Egypt? These are deep and difficult questions and its hard to find a place that can discuss this or look at it. Plus this issue very much depends as to where you are at, meaning what church and faith stream as well. If you are in a seeker sensitive church that lacks substance you are not going to be able to find people who can discuss these kinds of issues. The pastoral staff is most likely not going to adequately prepared to discuss such an event. This is one of the flaws of the seeker sensitive movement. Now if you are in a Neo-Calvinist church you are going to have problems there as well. Especially with John Piper defending genocide in the OT. In those environments you are not allowed to challenge or ask questions that go against the accepted belief. Fundamentalism operates like that and its one of the problems with it.
I am using OT genocide as an example but there are many stories in the Bible that are hard to grapple and deal with. I will expand on this more below but in the case of Shannon Low I think leaving the faith is normal and something that needed to happen. I will explain more below but I do believe that are some issues that are so hard, so difficult and challenging that you can’t explore, wrestle or question them inside the current evangelical frame work. How many small groups are going to allow you to ask difficult questions that challenge the faith? How many pastors are willing to sit down with someone in a full fledged faith crisis and talk and work with them for a year or more if that is needed? These are difficult issues that we’re talking about here and unless you go through something like what Shannon writes about you will not understand. While OT genocide was one such issue for me another challenging issue that tore me apart if the problem of evil. But Christians are going to have to re-think their approach to such issues. I am open to hearing how some people deal with this, I’ve thought long and hard about these challenging topics and maybe the best thing that could be said is “I don’t know.”
You do not Need God to be Moral or Ethical
Here is another factor that emerges in Shannon’s story. Many Christians are taught incorrectly that they need God to be moral or ethical. I was certainly taught that…and then I remember how stunned I was when I began to interact with atheist, agnostics, and even people from other faiths who possessed good ethics. There are a lot of lies the church teaches Christians and this is a major one. It creates problems in so many ways. For example in Shannon’s story he shares his struggle with alcohol. In some ways the Christian church sets up people for failure when they buy into that teaching and then they discover it doesn’t work. Or on the flip side they overcome their problem or issue in a way outside the Christian faith or what the church taught them and some realize that they were lied to. I’ve been there and done that. It helps create faith crisis and sets people to become angry, livid and enraged. Again I have been there as well, and I empathize deeply.
To build upon what I write earlier in the previous paragraph the other problem is that Christians needlessly isolate atheists and skeptics by saying they need God to be moral. First they assume the worst about skeptics and atheists in which they can be wrong. Next they dismiss the fact that there can be people outside the faith who have high standards. They work in law firms, medical offices, professional companies, law enforcement, military and other government positions and have been professionally vetted in some cases to get the jobs they have. If they had serious ethics flaws or issues in some situations it would have been flagged and caught. But this is an issue that needs to be challenged firmly. Shannon Low’s story helps illustrate why this is bad in the end.
Christians Need to Embrace Science
It is long overdue that evangelical Christians embrace science. They need to join the Catholics and others who have moved past the science wars. In some cases some Christians are re-fighting the battles that the Catholics fought in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Science is proven and accepted today. This is a ridiculous and needless battle that is often a waste of time and resources for Christians today. I myself believe firmly in evolution, firmly in psychiatry, and firmly in modern science…and I do that as a Christian. I am comfortable with it.
Shannon’s story illustrates the problems that Christians have with science. Especially in the context of alcoholism, and the medical understanding of addiction. There is a lot of medical factors which can be helpful or useful in treating addiction. To not employ or use the best and latest of medicine is faulty. Its one of the many, many things Christians need to change. After all Christians would employ medical treatment if one had a brain tumor, appendicitis or a form of cancer. Alcoholism is a disease as well and why not use science in treating it?
Shannon is on a Journey and we Should Commend Him as Sometimes People Need to Leave the Christian Faith
As I read, re-read and reflected on this situation with Shannon I have to say this…and I am drawing from my own personal experience. Sometimes people need to leave their faith to wrestle, grow or evaluate things. Too many Christians have a short term mindset and just look at situations like this in that slanted context. I am excited and happy for Shannon as he is on his journey. What I see is someone dedicated to truth, perseverance, integrity, honesty and to being himself and real. Those are valuable characteristics that I wish more evangelicals had at times. The fact of the matter is that sometimes people need to leave the faith for a period of time or even years in order to grow and have other experiences. Now here is the part that is sketchy…I believe some people will come back to the faith, and some people will not. Those that do return will be in a small minority of people who have wrestled with and gave great thought to issues that 99.9% of the Christian church is afraid of discussing. Those that come back after such an experience will have more to offer both the faith and the church around them. Then there will be those who will not come back. If that happens I would encourage people to just love them, care for them and treat them with grace, love and kindness. One thing that angered me immensely is that in another Facebook post Shannon wrote about how some churches and youth groups were discouraging his music and to not engage him. That is jacked up and wrong. That behavior reveals more about the hollow and shallow faith of those people that it does about Shannon.
Now having said all that this is what I think Shannon will find in atheism. I think he will find more intellectualism than what exists in Christianity. He will find more of an emphasis of science which is a strong suit of the atheist movement. He will find a community of strong critical thinking skills and more; especially if he looks into places such as the Center for Inquiry. However, after a few years Shannon will also discover that there are some problems in the atheist camp as well. Some atheists can be just as fundamentalist as some of the Christians. There will be a few problems here and there for example while science can explain a lot there are still a few things science is still trying to explain. I am not saying this to mock science as I am a firm believer in it, but the fact of the matter is that it is still inventing, discovering and finding amazing discoveries. It will always be in that process of doing that as well. But Shannon will find out that atheism has its pluses and minuses. Its like any organization or movement. If we are going to be brutally honest all organizations whatever they may be have positive features to them and negative features to them. And that is something Shannon will have to discover for himself and I want to encourage him to be as open, honest and ask those hard questions then as well. Whatever happens to Shannon I love this guy and think no less of him. If he finds himself in the Washington, D.C. area I would be happy to meet and chill with him for a couple of hours. By the way congratulations to Shannon on his GPA in college. That is amazing and takes hard work. I had a 3.0 GPA in college so he takes me down any day!
I know that many people are going to disagree with my take on this situation and that is okay. I am unconventional and outside the norm, I know that very well. Having explained all that you are free to leave comments and critique my thoughts as well. This post is being sent to Shannon Low, and as always guys please know that I love you.