Why Leave Church?

When I read John Loftus' comment about how no one joins or leaves the faith on epistemic reasons only, I remembered a story I heard a preacher tell once. It may or may not have been a true story, you know how easy anecdotes get passed around in sermons, but he said that a debate was held sometime in the 1800s concerning the legitimacy of Christianity. The convener was a Christian and he opened the platform up for critics to come forward and tell of their objections to, and problems with, the Church. Many came forward, so the story goes, to voice their criticisms for a few hours. After a time the convener then asked all those who had problems with Jesus Christ to come forward. Apparently no one came forward. The clock ticked on for some time and a silence gripped the hall. This, said the preacher I heard that day, is where people fall down in their faith. They focus on the imperfections of the church and take their eyes of the perfection of Jesus. Of course, were this story to happen today and were some of the more vocal critics of the faith invited, I expect it would have ended differently and I doubt the point the preacher was trying to make would have been so well illustrated. Nevertheless, I remember being quite impressed with the point he made that day and somewhere in that bought into what is a common idea amongst Christians: leaving the faith because of the Church, or because of our experiences with the Church, are not legitimate reasons to leave.

OK, so who says we can't leave the faith because of the misdeeds of the Church? It seems to me that the Church, both past and present, is a fairly good reason to leave.You can search online for a list of historical misdeeds of the Church. Christians and their institutions have most certainly been involved in gross acts of racism, torture, murder, and other heinous crimes. On a more personal level, I can honestly and accurately say that I have never felt, both before joining or since leaving, that I have ever been treated as badly as I was while in the Church. I think it has something to do with the Christian idealism that I was indoctrinated with that caused me to put aside a healthy amount of suspicion toward those who were supposedly my brothers and sisters. Perhaps this made me more vulnerable than I would have been otherwise. But I was told that these people were filled with God's Holy Spirit and were truly seeking to imitate Jesus. Was I wrong to let my guard down around them? It appears so.

We all know of the televangelists who fleece the flock, but what of that which is has now been termed spiritual abuse? What of those who have their self esteem crushed, their decision making skills diminished, their critical reasoning skills stunted? We're not talking here about cults. No, spiritual abuse is something Evangelicals admit goes on in their churches all the time. Authoritarianism, manipulation, guilt and shame, are, and have always been, rife in the Church. So is the Church really such a good place for anyone to be? More than that, where is the Christian God in all this? If the Church is truly his body, then why are so many people so badly damaged by it? Where' does the Christian God's responsibility lie in all this?

I think disillusionment with the Church was the starting point for many of us who have walked away. Why? Because the Church is where the gospel is supposedly lived and worked out. The Church is where the gospel rubber hits the road. For many of us, it was when we admitted how broken, defective and beyond repair the Church was that we began to question the basic tenets of the faith itself. It was then that we went on to explore why the Christian message doesn't work.

I would assert that those who say, 'one cannot leave the faith because of the Church,' have found a convenient way to ignore that which is blatantly obvious to anyone who cares to look: the Church is one of the main reasons why Christianity should be debunked.


Tommy said...

As I wrote on my own blog, it was my faith in Catholicism that eroded first. I thought it was silly that women and married men could not be priests. Why would a supreme being care if I ate meat on Fridays during Lent.

But Christianity itself fell out of favor for me because it struck me as ridiculous that a supreme being would condemn a person to an eternity of damnation in the afterlife for not accepting Jesus Christ. After all, millions of people lived and died who had never heard of Jesus because of geography and the accidents of history. If accepting Jesus was so vital to salvation, why would Jesus not appear to everyone simultaneously?

Then, when I read some of the texts of other religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, I saw that they contained many teachings that were similar to the best of what I thought Jesus and the Bible had to offer. I realized that the Bible did not have a monopoly on morality and that other civilizations developed moral systems while being totally ignorant of the Bible. I realized that moral truths were universal regardless of the source. That knocked the Bible down a few pegs in my eyes.

While I did not became an atheist immediately, I took a universalist view of humanity. Being decent and good was what mattered, not believing that fantastical things were true. If there was a God watching over and judging us, then it had to judge us by our conduct and not just our beliefs.

Jonathan P said...

Your arguments are interesting and I'm sure that you've considered many different aspects to this. Have you considered, however, that if you go into ANY organization people in general act in the despicable ways that you mentioned (rascism, torture, murder, causing others emotional hurt, authoritarianism, manipulation, guilt, shame). Is it Christianity, necessarily, that made people like this? I fail to see how it follows that people acting like people means that Christianity is what should be debunked.

And in response to Tommy's "other societies have also created moral systems apart from the Bible" it's funny because the Bible mentions that in Romans 2:13-15, that when they do things that are required by the law apart from the fact that someone told them, it demonstrates that the law was written on their hearts.

And in response to "moral truths were universal regardless of the Bible" I would not disagree with you one bit. In fact I would agree with you whole heartedly, but would ask you "Why do you think moral truths are universal?" Because humans are "oh so good"? Please.

And I find it interesting that you went from Catholicism to universality humanism... both which essentially believe the same thing. Don't believe me? Think about it; both put weight on the fact that you need to be good to be saved.

And your right... it isn't believing fantastical things that are true that matters; it's about believing that one can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

To return to Troy Waller's article then, that is why you can't simply debunk faith in Jesus Christ because of the church... because the church is not what you put your faith in.

It's interesting that you make the statement "the church is where the Gospel is supposed to be lived out." Are you saying that the Gospel preaches that people act in this negative way, because I would like to think that you at least understood the basic idea of the faith that you are trying to debunk (seeing as how the introduction to this blog states that all posters once called themselves Christians.)

John W. Loftus said...

I also think people convert to Christianity for psychological reasons as well. Tel me this, Christian, what were the initial reasons why you embraced the Christian faith? While I can't speak for you, I can say that the message itself was wonderful, that God would love me so much. It offers hope and faith and love. It also offers friendship, forgiveness, and peace. I did not study it out epistemically with a few years of college classes before I embraced it. I first embraced it, and then with the presumption that it was true, I studied to understanjd it. As Anslem said, "Faith seeks understanding."

There are exceptions to this. But this is the rule.

Tommy said...

Oh Jonathan, you so don't get it.

Catholicism is different because there is a hierarchy of celibate men (though maybe a few of them boink the church secretary or an altar boy on the side) that sets itself up as an intermediary between man and God.

Believing you can have a personal relationship with someone who may or may not have lived and died 2000 years ago is a fantastical thing. Again, a supreme being that requires us to believe such a thing is, well, to put it plainly, weird.

The Bible is not the word of God and Jesus was not the son of God because the Jews were not the chosen people of God. When you compare the ancient Israelites to their neighbors, by any measurable yardstick their neighbors, particularly Egypt, come out on top. In Genesis God tells Abraham that he would give them the land of Israel as their permanent possession for all eternity and that they would be a powerful nation. It seems that this God neglected to give them a land without any natural geographic barriers to repel invasion, and the Jews were frequently conquered by their neighbors. Thus, they did not permanently possess the land God gave them and they were not mighty and powerful. So there you have it, I just debunked the foundation of Christianity for you.

Troy Waller said...

Jonathan P wrote:

Have you considered, however, that if you go into ANY organization people in general act in the despicable ways that you mentioned (rascism, torture, murder, causing others emotional hurt, authoritarianism, manipulation, guilt, shame).

Of course. And that is my point. The Church is no different to other organisations throughout the world in that it is simply a collection of people. And once eternity, moral absolutes and the supposed representation of a deity, etc. are thrown into the mix, a whole new dimension is opened up. Christianity is now not just a another group of people but a religion, and one of many on our little planet. And the Church is hardly alone in its dysfunction as a religion.

I met a girl in Singapore once who told me her story as a fundamentalist Muslim who had walked away from her religion and thus family. I was still a believer at this stage but I could not escape from the obvious truth that struck me as she spoke. Had she said God instead of Allah, Jesus instead of Mohammed, Bible instead of Koran then the story would have been the same as that of so many ex-Christians. "Only the names had been changed." This incident had a profound impact on me.

So here's the crux. If the Church is God's holy people then we should expect better of them. Should we expect to see the same things as I saw in ex-Muslims? Should we expect to see the same amount (or more) of maniuplation, etc. than we see in schools, Rotary Clubs, etc? Because we see all that don't we?

Is it Christianity, necessarily, that made people like this? I fail to see how it follows that people acting like people means that Christianity is what should be debunked.

Well I think there are things in the religious mix that lends itself to people acting this way, yes. But is it only Christianity? No, of course not. Many religions are this way. But again, this makes me wonder, where is the work of God's Holy Spirit in this? The very fact that the Church is no different is evidence that the Church is no different to any other human constructed organisation or group.

that is why you can't simply debunk faith in Jesus Christ because of the church... because the church is not what you put your faith in.

No, I don't agree. This was something we addressed as Christian leaders. In conflict with society's individualism, The Church is a group, a whole. Biblically, there is no Christianity on earth without the Church. Your Bible teaches there are offices, roles, gifts etc. Jesus even calls the church his body and asked Paul why he persecuted 'me' (ie Jesus) when Paul obviously persecuted the Church. So there is no getting away from the fact that the Church is not an optional extra for your faith. It is deeply intertwined. God is supposedly at work in the Church.

It's interesting that you make the statement "the church is where the Gospel is supposed to be lived out." Are you saying that the Gospel preaches that people act in this negative way,

What I meant by that statement is that the Church is where people are supposedly trying to live by Christ's teachings, where the Holy Spirit dwells in people. So we should expect better things of this organisation of people as a whole. But as you said, we don't get that do we? We get the same ol' same ol'. But I would also add that the religious dynamic of the Church does lend itself to a rationale that allows further abuses. I mean, God eventually throws his enemies into an eternal spit roast. This is the model we have to emulate.

because I would like to think that you at least understood the basic idea of the faith that you are trying to debunk

Ha ha. After 16 years of it and 2 degrees, yeah, I get it.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan P,

Having read both Troy article and your comment, I 'd like to give a response.

You said that you "fail to see how it follows that people acting like people means that Christianity is what should be debunked." But I have to say one can literally do the same to any institution - "I fail to see how it follows that people acting like people means that KKK is what should be debunked," or "I fail to see how it follows that people acting like people means that Communism is what should be debunked." You haven't really said anything at all. The point is that an institution's legitimacy is opened for serious doubt when its actions and claims are inconsistent. That is, Christianity claims that Christians are born again and the Holy Ghost would fill the believers, etc., but Christians are shown to be no different that other people. Can you honestly say that this does not give a reason for it to be doubted? And if a Christian doubts the legitimacy of his religion, isn't he leaving his faith, because faith is not compatible with doubts? I do recognize there are extraordinary people who are(were) Christians, like Mother Theresa, but it does not exempt Chrisitianity from being doubted - all this has proved there are always good people in the midst of bad people, but this is just a fact of the matter that applies to Christians and Non-Christians.

This leads me back to your first point - you asked Troy that whether he has considered other organizations that had committed similar acts. I don't know if he does, but regardless I believe the answer is simple: The fact that both Christianity and other organizations have caused harm only means Christianity is not any different than any other organizations and we should be as critical to Christianity as we are critical to, for example, KKK.

And your quote from Roman only reinforces my opinion that St. Paul was a very lofty and irresponsible writer. That is, he presupposed that the Jewish laws were specially handed down to Jews by God, and then when he saw that the Jewish culture weren't so special comparing to other culture, he then arbitrarily took it as evidence that his assumption was correct. But as soon as one recognizes that Buddhism,Hinduism, Socratic religion, etc, precedes Christianity for at least 4-500 hundred years, Roman 2:13-15 appears too much to be a irresponsible rationalization that has no support.

I will skip the section where you addresses to Tommy's comment, instead I will comment on your point that "it's about believing that one can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. To return to Troy Waller's article then, that is why you can't simply debunk faith in Jesus Christ because of the church... because the church is not what you put your faith in."

First of all, you have to show what "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" means and support it, otherwise, again, you have said nothing. For example, if I claim that I have a personal relationship with George W. Bush, you would not believe me unless I give some very concrete evidences to support - Perhaps I have to get George to say my name during his next public address, since pictures are easily forged. I believe you get my point - there is a huge burden of proof to even claim that I have personal relationship with a physical, living and well-known human being, so I think it is fair to ask for a proof if anyone claims to have a personal relationship with a character whom we know through a book.

One may say that having a personal relationship with George W. Bush and having one with Jesus is different, but he must explain how different and support it. For example, I have heard Christianity saying that having a personal relationship with Jesus is means praying to him, worship him(through music,I suppose), and study his teaching, but is that even a plausible account for "personal relationship"? I can do the same to Socrates, but to claims that I have a personal relationship with Socrates is absurd. Worse yet, we can do the same to Santa Claus - a complete fictional character - we have books about him, we have songs about him, kids write letters to him, etc. But to insist that someone has a personal relationship Santa Claus is absurd. I hope you get my point.

It is very important to give a plausible account of "having personal relationship with Jesus" since, without it, your claim that "the church is not what you put your faith in" is totally empty and weak; because if a Christian cannot prove that he has a direct connection with Jesus, what he believes regarding Jesus comes primarily from the Church. In other words, his faith is in the Church because he merely believed in what the Church holds to be true. As a result, I think that Troy's point that "the Church is one of the main reasons why Christianity should be debunked" still holds.

adam s said...

I sometimes wonder if the churches i went to had been comprised of nice people and they had shown me kindness and maybe took notice of my abilities rather than the ass kissing suckups; if i would have remained a christian a little longer. I'm sure i would have gotten out eventually as i was always bothered by parts of the bible, but it would have been nice to have felt included. Bastards.

Anonymous said...

I used to refrain from direct criticism of the literary figure and alleged historical person of Jesus myself, until I read Bertrand Russell level his own well thought out critique, disputing the so called "perfection" of Jesus. Even this many years later, Bertrand Russell's writings on religious matters are quite persuasive to me. _Why I am not a Christian_ has a prominent place on my bookshelf.

Wendy said...

Just to comment one one of Jonathan's remarks that hasn't been dealt with yet: universal morality. It seems to me that Jonathan believes that the only reason humans follow similar standard of morality throughout the world is that they were imbued to us by a divine creator. There is a much simpler explanation.

What most humans call morality is simply a series of rules that ensure the survival of our species. All social animals have similar rules. Without these rules, this 'morality,' the species would eventually die out.

Let's take a pack of wolves as an example, since they are very social creatures. The Alpha male in the pack gets first dibs on everything-- including a mate and the food that the whole pack has worked together to catch. Why do the other wolves stand for this? Simply because they know that if they try anything stupid, they will either be killed or banished from the pack by the bigger and stronger Alpha male-- dropping their chances of survival and reproduction drastically. So in fact, these rules are followed out of a selfish desire to survive and breed.

Humanity is no different. If there were no rules-- if everyone could run amok killing and stealing from whoever they chose...our species would die. We realize, if only on a subconscious level that we need each other to survive. And so we have this 'social contract' with each other. And we act in ways that ensure the survival of the species, thus ensuring our own survival.

It was not until the dawn of religion that people took these rules for survival and deified them as 'morals.'

Jonathan P said...

My apologies that it has taken so long to respond. What with work and school, and with the excellent responses given, it's taken some time to work out an answer that doesn't wax pages long.

First of all, I'd actually like to apologize. Not only for myself, but if I may be so presumptious, for all the "Christians" that have failed to live up to the very real "higher expectations" that you mentioned Troy. You are correct, and it saddens me that you have encountered more of these hypocrtical Christians than the ones that truly live the way they are supposed to.

I say this because one of the reasons that I hold on to my faith with Christianity is for the exact same reason that you say it should be debunked - because of the behaviour of those around me. In the past few years, I have never met such a non-judgmental, loving, and forgiving group of people as the people with whom I went to Montreal with this past summer. It is because of their faith in Christ and therefore our desire to live as Christ did. (I'm sure you can pinpoint the assumptions in the above statement, I'll try and address those in a moment.)

It is for that reason that I feel that the examples that "anonymous" has brought up are irrelevant. Although I do understand the principle behind what you're saying, the examples you bring up don't make sense. The KKK was an organization created to blatantly live out racism. By your logic (organization being hypocritical giving a reason to debunk it), we should be defending the KKK because they were consistent with their core belief towards white supremacism. Christianity (and by extension the Church) however stands for values that I'm sure nobody denies to be negative ones. That leads me to ask the question, do you have a problem with Christ (who is the head of the Church) or with his followers, who are people - fallen, sinful, and prone to mistake?

Anonymous's further contribution to Troy's response did wonders to clarify the point (re: the fact that we put our faith in the church). So essentially you ask me what supports do I have for the idea that I have a personal relationship with Christ? I can accept your argument that one way is that we accept the testimony passed on to us from the church. This is where our line of thinking diverges, however, and where I would like to further extend the argument that I made above.

You point to the very real inadequacies of people that have failed to be representatives of Christ. I point to the mentors that I have had in my youth groups and small groups at church and through Christian organizations that have helped me grow, not only spiritually, but emotionally and intellectually. Both groups of people exist within the body of people that call themselves Christians - yet your arguments seem to implicitly assume that all Christians act like those in the former category. And as far as I know, the reason that these people have grown so strong emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically is because of their belief in Christ; while those that I know (and I know of what you mean when you say that you have never been hurt more by those that you called "brothers and sisters in Christ") that do such hurtful things do so when they fail to maintain their connection to Christ.

So my argument still holds as such - debunking Christianity does nothing to mitigate the existance of judgmental, hypocritical, hateful people because that is simply the way people are. However, what will happen is that you have just that many less people to look up to that will direct your growth in a productive manner.

Thank you for the discussion and for the thought provoking comments and remakrs. I am simply declaring my intention that I am no longer posting here... it drains too much of my time. Feel free to respond however, as I will read it and think about it.

And Mr. Loftus, I do have to apologize for my patronizing remark that this is "the worst attack on Christianity I have ever seen." There are some great minds here. I'm praying for all of you.

Jonathan P said...

If you would like to continue this discussion online, I'm open to it however. My email address is koreanpride.rage@gmail.com. My response time is kind of slow, but please feel free to comment anywhere you disagree and why.

Jonathan P said...

And by the way, after reading your why I made this site, John, I have to admit that my curiosity as to why so many intelligent people stand diametrically opposed to the same issue is just as strong.

Yet I wonder at how any productive discussion manages to continue when we disagree on the basic assumptions. (I was going to email this to you but couldn't find it anywhere. My apologies for hijacking this comment line in a different direction. Please, continue.)

Troy Waller said...

There is no doubt there are well meaning, 'good-hearted' people in the church. I have met many, and still continue friendship with some. I am not saying all Christians are bad or evil. That pretense would be just as easily 'debunked' by you and others. What I am saying, and you seem to agree with me, is that the church is populated like any another organisation with people, some great, some not so much.

But waht of my contentions,



Good luck and thanks for stopping by to visit us in the Ranks of the Damned. ;P

Anonymous said...

I'm almost on the verge of walking away from Christianity.

I have a hard time believing gays can't make it to heaven, people of other faith can't make it to heaven, and the inconsistencies of the bible. That and I believe that the bible is written to manipulate people.

The other thing that has damaged my faith is church. I've been attending the same church all my life. I've gone to a other churches and thought about switching, but I never did. I never switched because it was the same shit, just a different day. It was the same clicks and the same group of holier than thous. The church wanting money more money from its members. I wish the church would just cut back on expenses like a business would if it needed more money. Most of the time, the church needs money to build a bigger and better church. Nothing shows you have more faith than the church down the street, by having a bigger church.

There are 2 things that have recently made me think about walking away.

1. I tried to read the bible. I made it to the laws section and walked away realizing that the book is outdated.

2. I had some bad things happen in my life. I didn't find any comfort in the Christian cliches, "It is God's will", "just pray about it", and etc.

I'm also annoyed with Christian dating. I have Christian friends and they always try to set me up with some girl who is a "great christian". I'll ask what do we have in common and they'll say it doesn't matter and that I should go out with her because, she is a great Christian. I know it is hard to talk to some Christians, when you bring up your reasoning by using logic.