Monday, 13 September 2010

An open letter to people in my life

What I am about to say may well surprise some of you. It may even shock some of you. However, it is important to me that I am honest with you and that I don’t live a lie just to spare people’s feelings. Some of the things I have written here lately may have pointed in a certain direction; I write this to confirm or deny any suspicions.

No, I’m not coming out of the closet as a gay man, although explaining what I am about to sometimes feels like it. I was born heterosexual. Rather, I am coming out of the closet as an unbeliever. After more than twenty years of Christian belief, theological study and religious attention, I have examined the evidence for God and found it lacking. I now believe that no good argument for the existence of God has ever been established and therefore is something I cannot believe in.

This is not a decision that I have reached lightly. I didn’t suddenly wake up and think to myself, “I don’t think I’ll bother to believe any more.” It has taken me a long time to sift and decide. Trust me when I say that a lot of thinking, agonising and soul-searching went into this before I finally let go of my belief in God. I did not abandon my faith lightly and for no good reason.

Perhaps I need to clear up a few possible misconceptions at this point, and explain what doesn’t lie behind my shift into unbelief.

1. I am not an unbeliever because I am bitter at the church or its members. I have met many lovely people who confess Christian faith and belong to the church, and I have many fond memories of my time as part of that system. I was bitter once, but no more. Even if I was still bitter at the church, that would not have coloured my opinion about God. I remained a strong believer long after I left the institutional church.

2. I am not in rebellion against God, or angry at him. Indeed, I no longer believe such a being even exists. How can I be in rebellion against something that isn’t real?

3. I am not leaving my former faith behind in order to justify living a life of sin. My moral framework is just as strong as it always has been, if not stronger now that I do not get my morals by divine permission. I am not about to start taking illegal drugs or worshipping Satan now that I am an unbeliever.

Basically, I decided to question my beliefs and see which ones stood up to questioning and which ones didn’t. I thought initially that this would strengthen my faith, but as I began to see parts of it not holding up under scrutiny, I determined to follow the evidence honestly, no matter where it led. The search for truth and an examined life are two of the greatest pursuits of humanity, my parts in these struggles are very important to me. In the end it led me out of the Christian faith as more and more of what I believed failed to stand up to scrutiny.

So why was I a Christian in the first place? The simplest answer is that I was brought up in a nominally Christian family, in a nominally Christian culture. I was sent to Sunday School as a child, and the existence of God was just one of the unquestioned cultural beliefs I assimilated as a child. So was the truth of Christianity. An environment of critical thinking was encouraged by my parents, equipping me with skills and tools to challenge everything. That this led me to question religion is no fault of theirs and the decision rests with me.
I’m sure that if I had been born and raised in Saudi Arabia, I would have held the same unquestioning convictions about the truth of Islam and the existence of Allah. My belief in God and faith in Christ and Christianity was based not on evidence, but on indoctrination by those who had, in their turn, been indoctrinated with the same beliefs and assumptions.

When I actually tried to find proof of God’s existence, even though I tried all sorts of ways to justify my belief, I could find no actual evidence that any deity has ever existed. I asked myself why I don’t believe in Allah, Krishna, Zeus or Baal, and then applied the same logic to the god of the Bible. Ultimately I could find no evidence for any of them. Surely if there is an all-powerful God or group of God’s, there would be some clear evidence of his existence. Certainly if he is personally concerned with humanity and loves us, as the Bible claims, then he would make his existence obvious to us. He has not done so to me, and anecdotal evidence from other believers is flimsy and unreliable.

Then there is the question of prayer. Jesus said in the Bible that whatever we ask for, if we truly believe, God will give us. He also said that where two of us on earth agree about something we ask, it will be done by our Father in heaven. Well, I have prayed fervent, faithful prayers all my life, both alone and with others. I have prayed with faith in Jesus’ name. I have prayed for healings that have not happened, for ends to wars that continue to rage, and for many other things more important. Yet I have seen no results of these prayers beyond those that could be attributed to random chance. If there is a God, he is very good at ignoring prayer.

I have asked God many times to show himself to me if he is real, but he refuses. Yes, I was praying fervently, with faith and hope – I really thought God was real, and knew my Christian faith was true. Even now, were God to reveal himself to me in an unambiguous way, I would immediately consider belief and serve him. I’m not going to hold my breath in anticipation though.

Those of you who are Christians and know me from church or other things will no doubt be shocked, upset, surprised or disappointed by this news. If I have hurt or offended you in any way by this confession of unbelief, I am truly sorry. I am not your enemy, and I do not seek to de-convert you or turn you away from your faith if it works for you. I am happy to engage in discussion with you on this or any other matter, or just to spend time with you socially as a friend, but please understand that I have no desire to re-join your religion as I no longer share your beliefs. If you honestly take issue with anything I say or write please discuss it with me as I value everything you have to say.

To those of you whom I have tried to indoctrinate into Christianity, whose “souls” I have tried to save, I sincerely and humbly apologise. Please understand that I was doing what I sincerely thought was right at the time, however misguided I was.

Those of you who have already left religious faith behind, or never had it in the first place, may find all this a bit perplexing. To you religion may be a non-issue, but for someone coming out of strong religious faith into unbelief it is a hugely difficult, emotive, traumatic experience. To those of you with whom I have had discussions (sometimes until well into the early hours) about faith, unbelief and philosophy, I am grateful. Thanks for helping me to think these issues through, and thank you particularly for being patient and respectful while not trying to push me into believing your point of view. I sincerely hope to have many more conversations.

I am well aware that while some of you may applaud my decision to “come out” as an unbeliever, some of you will disapprove or even condemn me for it. However, to steal the words of Martin Luther and apply them to a context of which he would surely never have approved: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”


shreddakj said...

I went through the exact same thing in august last year at age 19, and even 'came out' as an atheist to my friends and family via a blog post + facebook. You should see some of the comments on that post, they're rather humorous in retrospect, but at the time I was quite fearful that people would come preaching at me and try to exorcise a demon out of me or something stupid.

heresmyopinion12 said...

Hey dude, thanks for commenting. I'm around the same age as you (23) so I totally know what it's like. I've found that New Zealand Christians aren't nearly as threatened by the buzz-word 'atheist' as our American fellows. Perhaps I was expecting some attack, or provoking it, but it never really came. All I got was the inevitable silent treatment from most of my Christian friends. I feel that I've learned a hell of a lot more about the world now I'm not religious. How'd you find the aftermath of 'coming out?

shreddakj said...

Well, besides the condescending comments from many of my Christian friends (many are now ex-friends), my Mother at first told me never to have children, but then later apologized for that.
I've had many great discussions with your cousin Ryan in the comments section of my blog. I think both of our positions have evolved greatly since we started discussing things in august last year.
All in all, it's been a very enlightening process.

heresmyopinion12 said...

Wow, that would have sucked coming from your mother. How do you know Ryan?

shreddakj said...

I grew up going to church with Ryan and was in a band with him for several years, and went to highschool with him.