This entry was originally posted at my personal blog: RagingRev.com where the original comments and the response from the pastor can still be seen. As a side note I think it is important to say that this pastor and I now regularly have lunch together and are developing a very good friendship built on mutual respect and understanding.




I found out yesterday that a local pastor used me in an illustration recently in one of his sermons. This was brought about because the pastor had seen a conversation or two that I had been in with a friend of mine that attends his church - now, the pastor did keep me personally anonymous but I wanted to hear this for myself.

When I listened to this I expected to become angry and to write a letter or blog calling this guy out, this didn't actually happen though. What I felt, as I heard my story story simplified and the death of my god minimized into a decision to "Just give up" a flood of memories hit me as I remembered the great pain I felt for those years as my faith slowly died. All day I sat there reliving much of that pain - as if this wound from over 4 years ago now had been reopened. Just as one might still feel the sting of losing a parent or loved one years after the fact, there are times that are increasingly rare that I remember this long struggle.

Please understand that I don't share this in order to cause havoc in this man's life. He meant no harm and we have emailed each other now a few times and I found him to be both gracious and very apologetic....I think he understands my point of view at this time. I would like to share with you both his sermon and my response to him because I feel that it illustrates quite well that for an ex-christian this is rarely something taken lightly and one should never assume that this is the case.

The portion of his sermon where he talks about me starts at around the 20 minute mark - the full MP3 audio can be downloaded Here.

Below is my response.
Dr. Daws,

JG provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End - in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of JG's atheist friend - that friend being me.


I don't know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did...but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.

Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away - when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I'm going to do my best to explain it though. I'm going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.

Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they "quit" is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these - the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith - I don't know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty - weeping for his guidance.

No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him...I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. - I'd bet that you can't name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.

It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.

For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew. For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god. I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.

Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.

I did not endure those years because I quit. I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted. That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one. This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.

You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.



Thank you,
Matt Oxley

Views: 7

Tags: Christianity, atheism, conversion, dialog, doubt, ex-christian, pastor, struggle, suicide

Comment by John Siqueiros on February 6, 2011 at 11:08pm

Excellent essay, Matt. Thanks for sharing.

 

Yes, the simple answer is "yes, you did give up on your faith." So did I. Funny thing is, if a Christian minister hears you just "gave up" on faith in Buddha, or Joseph Smith, or L. Ron Hubbard, or Mohammed, or Vishnu, etc., that would not be a problem.

Comment by RevOxley on February 8, 2011 at 4:59am

@John - Thank you. I agree, if I were giving up on something that he didn't agree with it'd be a different story.

 

@Joseph - I'm glad that you found something in this that you recognized - I find it rare that people, even atheists, do. It was certainly the darkest, lonliest, and scariest time of my life and I don't care to return to it.

 

@Becky - He received this letter, and I believe, recognized his mistake. He didn't know me when he made the comments he made and so he was speaking from the position of ignorance...that's why I find it easy to forgive him and move on. He's gained some perspective and has been forced to think about the position I hold - that has always been one of my goals: to make people think about what they believe, why they believe it, and to understand why other people will reject it.

 

 

Thanks all for the kind comments.

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