Recently on Instagram Josh Harris explained that he is no longer a Christian. Harris’ deconversion from Christianity has created a buzz on the internet. This post looks at what happened and explains why this is a positive development for Josh Harris. A faith crisis can be healthy and good and this blog hopes that each reader who processes this post will go through one in their life. The real tragedy in the perspective of this blog is how Josh Harris is being mocked, ridiculed and and attacked by evangelical Christians. This situation shows the insecurity of many evangelicals.
“Atheism leads a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation: all of which may be guides to an outward moral virtue.”
Sir Francis Bacon
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 NIV
Glacier National Park in Montana
The other day Josh Harris announced that he is no longer a Christian. Josh Harris has been a profound and well known Neo-Calvinist evangelical pastor. He was a leader in the courtship movement with his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” The responses by many keep coming across the blogosphere and podcasts. For example Al Mohler addressed the topic the other day. Carl Truman also responded to the issue to take a swipe at the Young Restless and Reformed movement. Over at The Gospel Coalition Kevin DeYoung, Collin Hanson, Josh Gilbert and Justin Taylor also commented on it. Julie Roys wrote a post about this situation which you can read here. Over at The Friendly Atheist they also noted how Heath Lambert wants to remove Josh Harris forward from a book he has written about pornography. The evangelical community is responding and this blog wants to comment on how they are reacting below.
Before I get into what I am planning to say, let me acknowledge that what I am about to say will upset many people. Its going to be misunderstood and deeply criticized. But this post is being written from a personal experience and the way I am looking at this is quite different. So if you disagree with this, then please speak your mind. I’m a big boy I can handle many different hostile opinions.
Why Josh Harris Deconversion is a Positive Development
The deconversion of Josh Harris is viewed by this blog as a positive development. Its a step in the right direction especially from the Neo-Calvinist fundamentalist theology that he was immersed in. During this time Josh Harris is going to be misunderstood. There will be many people that will claim that he was never a Christian to begin with. People who have known him for years will turn their backs upon him. But his deconversion is necessary as that is an out from the theology in which he was raised. This is a hard process for him, and one that will leave many who know him confused. Everything that he knows is being thrown overboard. And yet in order to get healthy this is a path that he must take.
There are many reasons why people can go through such a process of deconversion. It can be triggered by the issue of evolution and creationist theology. Or the problem of evil can trigger this move. Another possibility is that the topic of Old Testament genocide can be an issue in the context of the question asked is how is God any different than Mao, Joseph Stalin, or Adolf Hitler? There are other issues that can trigger this process of deconversion. During this time he will probably wrestle with topics and issues that he never wrestled with before in his life. Evangelical theology can be too smothering to allow for a journey or process of asking questions. In many situations questions create problems. In rejecting fundamentalism Josh Harris will be closer to the human race and more in line with humanity than many in the Neo-Calvinist camp.
One thing Josh Harris is to be commended for is it brutal honesty. His coming out and sharing that he doesn’t believe in God anymore is healthy and transparent. By taking that course of action Josh Harris is much more transparent than 95% of evangelicalism. Behind the scenes at this blog this writer has interacted with some people that could not believe in faith but covered it up in silence because they were afraid of losing their marriage or family. Instead of coming out of the atheist closet they stayed silent and bottled it up. That is far from healthy and how alcoholics are created. The most important thing one can do is to be honest with oneself. If you can’t do that you are deceiving yourself and that is problematic. Josh Harris is being brutally honest and open, and that is to be singled out and commended. The decoversion of Josh Harris is essential to him reclaiming his life. During this time he will re-order and re-shape everything from his life as he leaves the shell of fundamentalism. That includes issues like money, sex, career, work, hobbies, life, dating, entertainment, family and more. Fundamentalism can be so toxic because it is controlling and destructive. Individuals who deconvert can go through a discovery phase where they find themself by experimenting and trying new aspects of life. In his 40’s and 50’s Josh Harris may be doing things for the first time that people do in their late teens or twenties. And that is healthy and good. You won’t understand any of this unless you have gone through a similar experience. When I write this it comes from personal experience, let me explain some more.
My Faith Crisis and Deconversion For Five Years
In 2009 I went through a faith crisis that was dark and painful. What triggered it was a number of things. Issues with evangelical culture, problems with the Bible specifically the issue of Old Testament genocide and the problem of evil. Going through the process of losing faith is hard and painful. I didn’t want to go through it and was dragged through against my will. This blog which does well could have much higher ratings if I focus more on scandal. But issues like atheism and doubt deserved to be looked at and covered, My faith crisis in many ways was “violent.” When I say violent I want to be clear that it was no physical. No one was harmed and nor could I even consider that. But it was violent in the sense that I acted so harshly towards evangelicalism and faith that I went ballistic against it. I burned all bridges and walked away form evangelicalism. I immersed myself in atheist culture even though I considered myself agnostic. The reality is that I was an atheist in my thinking. The issue that drove me the most was the problem of evil. When I developed the courage at the time to ask questions, engage some churches and more – really no one could respond and discuss the problem in response. My faith crisis lasted five years. I read, consumed, listened to and watched a lot of atheist material. Now in my case I came back slightly and remain on the edge. I worked out the problem of evil, though days like today with the shootings in Texas and Ohio bring it to the forefront again. But today I remain on the edge. In looking back my faith crisis and deconversion for five years was a gift. And today I remain grateful for what took place. I look at the world through a different lens. And I look at atheism, evangelicalism and more in a much different light. From my perspective I look at the big picture. And that I think is missing from other blogs. My experience led me to looking at things from that context. If you want to read more about what a faith crisis or deconversion feels like you can read the following posts, “Eagle Writes a Journal Entry Inspired from Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie on Grieving the Loss of Your Faith” and “What Does a Faith Crisis Feel Like?” Greg Marshall who is a friend of mine from my days in Campus Crusade in Milwaukee has also done pastoring in SE Wisconsin. He used part of my faith crisis and pushing away as part of his sermon. You can watch that above.
The Insecurity of Evangelicalism is on Display to the World
The real tragedy in this situation is how many evangelical Christians are responding to Josh Harris’s deconversion. Reading his Instagram posts and the glee and mocking some people display is very troubling. For some people evangelical Christianity is not a faith system grounded in love, its a system that can be used to increase suffering and pain in other people. Some evangelicals can use their position to tear down, question, or verbally ridicule others. The reason why this is I would suggest can be twofold. The first reason is that many evangelicals are deeply insecure about their faith. Its shallow, lacks substance and when situations like Josh Harris come around they are frightened. Its no different then the way some people had irrational fears about AIDS, or other diseases that afflict western civilization. It can almost be as if Josh Harris has such an illness and people react out of fear. They think that it can be contagious and they worry about his status impacting them. So they mock, belittle and ridicule in this sense because they are insecure. And in the process they withdraw. The second reason is that many evangelicals are privately angry that he is able to leave a system they want to leave but cannot. Maybe this is the case because of social status or family obligations or other reasons. Some evangelicals deep down would like to leave but cannot. Others are dealing with doubt and faith issues but they are in denial and they double down. So what they do in this situation is to attack him. Its no different than the pastor who attacks someone who is gay regularly and then later on it is learned that they are gay. There are some evangelicals who are closet atheists who don’t want to be evangelicals so they attack Josh Harris.
The reaction by many evangelicals is profoundly sad. Instead of reacting with compassion, love, grace or being willing to listen they go the other direction. Their behavior reveals a theological system that is diseased and troubled. Their faith can’t endure the storms or trials that exist in life. And the deconverison of someone is seen through a narrow lens. They also think in the short term, meaning they can’t picture where Josh Harris can be five or ten years out. All they can think about is the here and now. This by the way is why many evangelicals miserably fail when it comes to evangelizing or witnessing. Their patience is short, they can tolerate little and they can’t deal with difficult questions. For a watching world this behavior by evangelicals only confirms to them why evangelical Christianity and possibly in a bigger picture the greater Christian narrative should be rejected. The real tragedy is that faith and love could be on display, and instead its insecurity that is seen by the world. It takes a lot of talent to screw up like this repeatedly over and over, but only evangelicals can do so.
My Hope for the Person Reading this is that You Will Have a Faith Crisis…Here’s Why
As I get to the end of this post I want to turn the attention to you – the reader. And I want to leave you with my own personal desire. My hope is that you will experience a faith crisis and walk away from faith for a few years. Here is why I desire that to occur. If that takes place it will help you in the long run. It will remove you from the bubble that you are involved in, and force you to ask hard questions. It will refine you and shape you and make you more human. You will be more a part of humanity than you are right now. In the process you will also learn a lot about yourself. What you believe or don’t believe and why. You may not come back to the faith or you may but in a different way. Your perspective will be permanently altered and you will look at things forever different. A faith crisis can be healthy in that after you have gone through it you will be able to process and think about things you never previously did. Spending four or five years reading Neil Harris or Christopher Hitchens or science books by biologists or more will give you much to look at. You may hate me for saying this, and the reality is that this post will bother some people. But if more evangelicals had faith crisis and walked away for a while – I think the landscape would be much better. Being in the wilderness has its advantages. Not all who wonder are lost. And sometimes to find yourself you must become lost. I leave you with these parting words as I wish you well on your journey whatever it may be. If there is anyone out there who wants to tell their story of a faith crisis or deconversion this blog would be honored to do so.