Well, Adam, I could go through your latest mail point by point, I suppose, but I think it would be a bit of a waste of time and effort. Your original message to me was:
I wanted to ask you something, being completely serious and sincere. If you feel up to answering it I really would like to know your thought process on why is it that you doubt Christianity?
I’m not trying to belittle you or anything like that, I’m just curious as to what you found as “wrong” in it.
I’m sure any sincerity from me is wasted on you – you didn’t contact me to genuinely ask anything, but to proselytise. However, I’ll answer. It’s been a year or two since I put this into words.
Christianity is many things. Among them, it is a world-view: a map of the world as we find it, of life. It explains why things are the way they are. We see “the hand of God” and the opposition of the devil in the events of our lives, and in the broader world.
But after being a christian for a decade or three – the nonsense “prophecies”, the healings that don’t happen, the church and marriage breakups – you have to enrich your view of the world just a little, and admit that a heck of a lot that goes on in churches and around the world is just people being people. Good, bad, often stupid – people.
One day I had a simple realisation. It was not God’s plan that man should fall in the Garden of Eden. He gave us free will, and has to deal with the consequences of that. That is – omniscient, omnipotent God, by limiting his own power to make room for free will, is left playing catch-up.
With that realisation, I had to leave behind the usual christian conceit that absolutely every little thing that happens is a result of God’s or the Devil’s personal machinations (my mother, for instance, prays for parking spaces). Not everything that goes on is about us. Or me. A lot of what goes on isn’t intended to be about anything.
So, having found room for life being made, in part, of just … stuff – things that are neither good nor bad, God nor devil, christian nor unbeliver, an obvious question suggests itself: how much of what happens, how much of what I see around me, is just random stuff? Noise? I could start, obviously with people “moving in presumption”. But once the question is asked, it doesn’t go away. When someone prophecies, we understand that some of it will just be themselves. How much of it is just coming from themselves? How often? How much of what people experience in worship is just singing with a group that shares a common belief?
A christian friend of mine that I tried to explain this to answered: “that;s really sad – it tells me that your church was not seeing the miraculous”. Well … yeah. More and more, I saw less and less of the hand of God moving around, and more of people being people.
I was asked to give a little talk on the bible. So I went and investigated, read the Anglican confession of faith (well, that specific bit of it. It’s several volumes.) I was struck by “Yes! Yes! This is what I believe too!”. All well and good. But as an independent pentecostal, I had for years looked down on the denominational churches. Reading the confession of faith, however, I got an insight into what they must think of us and our vacuous happy-clappy churches (todays sermon: How Jesus wants your day to be nicer!).
But – where do you stop? Seeing how the anglicans could fairly regard themselves as being more securely grounded than us, I can also see how the catholics regard them, an the orthodox churches the roman catholics. And for that matter – how hindus view christendom.
Finally, one day, the fateful question: how would a person who did not believe at all view these churches? Us? Me? Now as I asked myself “How much of this person’s emotional prophesying is just themselves?”, “How much of this rah-rah sermon that we are going to ‘take this town’ for Jesus …”, another question presented itself: “What would a person who did not believe at all make of this – what I’m seeing right now?”
Remember that I said that Christianity was a map of the world. Oh, I knew that God really was speaking through the bible, that God really was shaping events around me, us, the world, I knew that he was active even if we couldn’t figure it out. But in asking “what would an atheist think?”, I began to build an atheistic map of the world. This went on a long time – it was not a sudden or emotional thing.
When you have two maps of a country that you are travelling in, that disagree with each other, eventually you’ll form an opinion on which one is better. All of the puzzles and difficulties that my christian map gave me – Why would God do this? How come things are the way they are? – my atheist map explained perfectly satisfactorily. No, God did not let the pastor’s wife die of cancer – people just get cancer and die, sometimes. The church went broke not because Satan attacked it, but because that other pastor was too young for the responsibility, and a meathead. The natural disaster happened because they live in an earthquake zone. Again and again, the atheist map made much more sense than the christian one, and explained the world better.
One day, years along the track, I said to myself out loud: “I just don’t believe it anymore, do I? This angels and demons stuff.”
And it was true. I simply didn’t.
Lot of water under the bridge since then, of course. Lot of revising my ideas about a lot of things. But I could not go back, now, to the confusing, confused nonsense I used to believe. I have found something better. Not happier, or more fun or satisfying. Just something that I am confident is true, a map with nothing to commend it but that it is accurate.