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.