Hi all. First post here. And I'm a Christian. Looking forward to being welcomed with rational politeness...! :)
Having been reading a number of forum discussions, it's clear many members here were formerly Christians (or at least attended church). For anyone in that category, did you in your time as a Christian/church attender have what would be described as a 'religious experience'? That could be anything from a 'sense' of God's presence in a church meeting (something many Christians would testify to and atheists would reject as deluded group-think resulting from psychological manipulation), to seemingly answered prayer, an experience of God 'speaking' etc.
Apologies if that doesn't make sense, though I think for those here who have been in churches - especially more charismatic churches - for any length of time will get what I'm asking.
Basically I'm interested in what you think was the cause of those experiences, and how they helped or hindered your deconversion.
I noticed, too, that Dan Barker's wife left him when he became an atheist. (I guess I'm assuming your wife left you and it wasn't the other way around.) At least with respect to Dan, I wonder how the Christian spouse justifies leaving their atheist spouse. Dan said the Bible teaches not to be "unequally yoked"; however, I think that applies before marriage (and possibly other types of relationships), since elsewhere Paul addresses those who are already married and find themselves married to a non-believer and tells them that they should stay with the non-believing spouse and attempt to win them over by their good deeds.
I'm not sure exactly how the "X" justified seeking a divorce. She was the one who initiated it. I suspect it had to do with the clause regarding the unbeliever being unwilling to live with the believing spouse. If the unbeliever wants to leave, let them leave is the way it goes. The believer is no longer "bound".
The passage to which you're referring deals, I believer, also primarily with those who are married and one spouse becomes a believer. So that the other spouse never was a believer to begin with. Paul had previously counseled them not to marry and unbeliever so this raised the obvious question, what about those who are already married. The question of a spouse who becomes apostate, who was a believer then rejects the faith may offer a loophole. Although there are wrinkles. Is the person still a believer but in rebellion? Was the person never a believer? Can one be a true believer and then become an unbeliever if being a true believer is the supernatural work of the Spirit and irreversible? What about those mentioned in Hebrews who have become apostate and can never be brought back to the faith (Hebrews 6:4-8).
The relationship was long dead before I revealed my unbelief. Part of the cause of the death of the relationship was my unbelief but it was not the only thing. One way or the other, by the time I revealed my unbelief there was no going back. There was no common ground or basis with which to work on the relationship. There was just nothing left because there really hadn't been much to begin with. I would coopt the parable of the seen that falls on thin soil. The plant sprang up quickly but when tribulation came it died. That was my marriage.
So, I expect she either played the apostate card or that I had essentially "left" and was refusing to "live with her" because I was not willing at that point to work on the relationship and make it what she wanted it to be even being "unequally" yoked. So, I was, in effect, refusing to "live with her".
However, I knew, from the beginning, when I began to question, that as soon as I reveal it, divorce was in the offing. I knew the spotlight of the church would be trained on me and I would be taken through a rigorous discipline and possibly thrown out of the church. I knew things would be demanded of me that I could not do and if I didn't do them, there would be consequences. So i sought to put them off and hand in a no man's land as long as I could until I thought perhaps things would either change or I could better control the consequences.
I knew as soon as I revealed my unbelief I would open Pandora's Box and once open, there was no closing it.
It is also the case that for many of the clergy in The Clergy Project, divorce is the eventual outcome of their marriage relationships. There are some who are fortunate and their spouse also comes on board. For many, perhaps most, they can count on a divorce and perhaps to lose contact with their children. It is a heavy price to pay and one of the reasons I stay undercover for so long. When my departure from faith (I hate to say, "losing my faith") began my children were still young, I wasn't making that much money and my spouse had been a "stay at home" mother for all our marriage.
I was looking at an horrendous divorce at that point if it had gone forward. When I did tell her of my unbelief, one of her first responses was, "I'll move back North Carolina and take the children". She didn't want me to tell the children there was no god. Later she said she was willing to live unequally yoked, but I think that was partly because she didn't at that time want to get divorced.
I'm just curious which Presbyterian denomination you came out of. My experience has been with the PCA and the OPC.
Fancy that!! I was ordained in the OPC from 1981 through 1997. I went to Westminster Theological Seminary from 1975 through 1980. What was your association with the PCA and OPC?
Well, I was a member of a PCA congregation, but I also occasionally attended an OPC congregation as well. I was a die-hard who listened to WTS podcasts, Ligonier, WSC, etc. To be honest, I went from Catholic to Lutheran to Presbyterian, and I still think the most biblically correct and logically consistent interpretation of the Bible is that of conservative Presbyterian/Reformed Christianity- if only the Bible really was the "Word of God."
I would agree. But then it's all wrong anyway.
RE: Got 'religious experience'?
The evening I spent in my '57 Chevy with the Preacher's daughter was as close to a 'religious experience' as I ever got. I recall she said, "Oh God!" a lot - does that count?
I suppose you could call this a religious experience - of sorts.
Though an agnostic at the time, I attended a Baptist Church, three times a week, for about 5 years. I attended for two reasons: 1) I wanted to listen carefully to whether the minister had anything to say that might convince me I was wrong; and 2) all the hottest girls from high school attended that church - The Pico First Baptist Church of Pico-Rivera, California.
The longer I attended church, the less sense the minister made, and the more I drew away from religion; and here's the "religious experience" that finally sealed the deal:
It was a Sunday evening service and the congregation had hired an itinerant evangelist. After presenting a movie that portrayed all of Jesus' "miracles" as gospel truth, the preacher feverishly exhorted people to come forward and give themselves to Christ - to be "saved." I found myself wondering: do you mean all these pious churchgoers have not already been saved? But I digress. Predictably, people sheepishly began streaming forward to stand in the all-encompassing embrace of this charismatic conjurer. Eventually, most of the congregation got up and walked forward, leaving me feeling somewhat isolated. Nevertheless, there was no way I was going to join the obedient flock.
About halfway back in the pews, a young woman pushed her little girl, about 3 years old, forward. The little girl cried - she didn't want to go. But the mother forcefully shoved her forward, and the frightened child, sobbing, walked up to the rear of the assembled adults. I got up, walked out, and this committed atheist has never set foot in any church since. That was nearly 50 years ago.
That was my "religious experience."
I was a very devout Presbyterian... brought up in the faith and took my confirmation with pride a year before I ended up losing my faith.
The reason for losing my faith is complicated and a long story. To get the whole story you'll have to visit my blog on TA. I must say that I'm impressed and grateful that your question is real, that you are truly curious about atheists and not here to preach to us... we have gotten far too many who do that.
As for "religious experiences"... yes... I did have some. I was under the belief that I was in direct conversation with Jesus. I could actually hear his voice in my head at times. I remember several times in church where I felt as if I was being lifted up. I was sure that the Holy Spirit was with me and I felt one with God.
I was a child during this time.
It was a bit before age 16 that the doubts began. I quashed them until they grew to such a strength that in February of 2005 my faith shattered like a stained-glass window. When I was forced to confront them... I found that the "nagging questions" were entirely reasonable... and had no real answers in my faith.
Especially... with regards to my communication with Jesus... I couldn't say for sure that that was really the voice of Jesus... or that it was my own mind disguising my internal thoughts as the voice of god.
When it came down to it... I eventually lost all faith by asking myself one question:
"Do I REALLY know that there is a god? Or do I believe only because I have been taught to do so and I WANT there to be a god?"
I was smart enough to know that just because you want something to be true... doesn't necessarily mean that it is.
When it came down to it... I could not say that I truly knew there was a god. When I was honest with myself I came to realize that I had never known god at all.
Hi Dennis - I was at a Dan Dennett lecture a few years ago when he mentioned that he was inviting ministers from all denominations to contact himself or Linda LaScola. At the time I think they had engaged with about 30 people. I had wondered how it had grown. Were you surprised to discover so many others like yourself? I would suspect that there are more. I personally know a Catholic priest who once confided in me that he no longer believed in a god but was at a loss as to what he should do. Not wanting to let people down was a major concern for him. I mentioned the project to him but as he as moved out of the country I am not sure if he went down that road. There are too many good people out there feeling trapped. There is no need to believe their good work is only worthwhile if it is done in the service of a god rather than mankind.
Hi all, thanks so much for all the responses - I've realised that I've opened up a conversation with dozens of others all at the same time so apologies for not replying to all your posts!
Dennis - I've just read your deconversion story plus all the comments. That sounds like an unbelievably tough experience. I'm glad that some members of your church remained supportive of you as a person though.
Colleen - I'd actually read that article 'When God talks back' a few days ago - a vicar I know had posted in on facebook! It makes interesting reading. Particularly so the sections about God-as-a-personal-friend. I happen to believe that myself - but not (I hope) in the sense that because God is my personal friend, that means he exists to serve my needs and make me feel good. I think human beings have a natural tendency to want the world to revolve around them, and so often faith gets bent to serve that desire - hence, for example, the prosperity gospel and claims that God never wants you to suffer a moment's pain, sickness or even mild inconvenience for the entirety of your life. This despite the Christian's claim to be following a God who (leaving aside all questions of the historicity of the gospels for the moment) lived a human life as a poor man and got brutally murdered at the end of it. Oh yes, and the people that Jesus annoyed most were the religious people, because he was hanging out with all the people that he shouldn't have been seen dead with, rather than waving placards protesting at their existence.
The most frustrating thing for me as a Christian in a number of your stories is the radical disconnect between the lives and attitudes of Christians and the life and attitude of Christ. Of course, for every finger I point there's more coming back my way, but still...
Dennis, in one of the comments on your story (by 'Jim Jones') he mentioned about religion being all about being an 'in' group defined almost solely as against the 'out' group. I don't know whether any of you have seen anything positive in Christianity (perhaps not!) but to my mind Christians are at their best when they are doing what they 'should' be doing, which is caring for the least, the poor and the broken, and not drawing up arbitrary behavioural boundary lines to define who's in and out.
Please don't misunderstand me as claiming that *only* Christians can care for those in need, I'm not that naive! It's just that that kind of behaviour - in my understanding anyway - is what should define Christianity. Sadly that is rarely the case.
Just to give an example, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts - I was fascinated to see this video last year on the Guardian website. The Guardian is a left-wing, liberal newspaper in the UK, not renowned for its love of religion. And yet they put up this 12 minute video about the work of a church in Liverpool, made by a self-described sceptical agnostic journalist. I'd be interested to know how many of you with church backgrounds were part of churches involved in this kind of work?
Apologies to any US viewers who struggle to understand the accents of the prostitutes featured in the film, the scouse accent is pretty impenetrable to most English people as well...