Advice to People Who Leave the Fold

People email me from time to time asking for advice now that they no longer believe. I've written a chapter in my companion book on that topic, but for people who don't have that book this is where I'll place links below about this problem.

I'll begin with an actual email that's typical of the ones I receive:
Greetings. I know you must get tons of email everyday, and thus cannot respond to each one. I’m hoping just writing this will help. I’ll keep my story short. It is similar to yours in many ways, although I confess I did not go as deeply into the intellectual end of Christianity as you did, however I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. Certainly, at least, a thoughtful one... I was converted to Pentecostal Christianity in my teen years following a rocky childhood…

I pursued a calling in full time ministry for 9 years after going to Bible college for 4 years and being credentialed with the Assemblies of God. I was later ordained as well. Recently, due to some relatively minor occurrences, a floodgate of doubts has opened up to me in my faith. I had come across a couple of books that peaked my interest, such as Dawkins book “The God Delusion”. I am currently working my way through it. I’ve always contended what good is your faith if it can’t stand up to scrutiny? Well, mine isn’t standing up very well. It is not the outside sources warring on me (such as Dawkins book, or the anti-christian bias of our culture), as much as my own struggle with my beliefs and being honest to myself. I find I am tortured going to church now.

I’ll be honest. I’m scared. No, petrified. I feel like I’ve murdered someone and am trying to keep it a secret. My wife literally has no idea, and would / will come unglued when I finally bring the subject up. I’m scared of the response of my wife/kids/family, but also of the prospect of life without God. Yet I feel a strange sense of exhilaration as well, like a great burden may be soon lifted off my shoulders. This is what I experienced when I left the ministry.

As I said, I can’t even believe I’m writing you this email. I’ve read through much of your blog. Yet there are a couple of questions that I didn’t see addressed (perhaps they are in your book) that I think would be great for the average “joe” like me, who is really struggling in their faith.

1) What do I do now? How do I weed through all of the questions / struggles / problems going on in my head? Where do I start? How do I tell my family? How do I explain (there is no one simple answer)?

2) What would you say to the “guy on the street”? What I mean is this. I consider myself to be of average or slightly above average intelligence, with a higher motivation than most for understanding things (I enjoyed school). But what about the average guy that needs it boiled down in USA today fashion? Is there hope for this person, or do we merely leave them to struggle along with their faith? I REALLY appreciate your approach (not angry, bitter, condescending), like many other people who are anti-Christian.

I purchased your book today (linked through your site so you should get some commission), and I do intend to support the site. I know this gets a bit tricky, probably not wanting to take the Church approach of asking for donations, but I’m glad you have the option there. I still believe a workman is worth his wage. You are performing a great service, and I hope you are able to support yourself at some point through the service you provide. I am finding many of the stories and posts simply fascinating, and I’ve only scratched the surface. As I said, I’m very early in this journey, and not at all sure where it is going to take me. Either way, I’m glad you’ve made this site available. It is a Godsend (sorry, I just had to say that. I’ve a bit of a warped sense of humor).

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been in terms of the personal attacks you’ve had to endure. I am going to continue down this road, and your book seems to be the most “human” approach to the subject I’ve seen so far.

Best wishes to you, and thanks again.
Here is my typical response: 1) I don't know you or your family to be able to give specific advice on what to do now. But I know I would tell your family and friends when the time was right. I would break it to them slowly by asking questions or by telling them you are investigating into the new atheists and show them the books you're reading. After all, if your faith is true then it should withstand the arguments to the contrary. And I would ask them the questions that these books are asking whenever I could. [Actually for anyone who is secretly reading this Blog and/or these books I would tell my Christian friends up front about this, just in the slim case that you might actually lose your faith. I would inform people from the very beginning so they would not be that shocked if you do deconvert.]

2) To the "guy on the street" I’d say that Christianity doesn't make sense. That opens up the discussion. If they say you're not supposed to make sense of it but just believe, I say that advice doesn't make sense. ;-) Then I would tell them that if God exists he created us with our minds and if that's so we should use them. If God is a reasonable God then the truth should comport to reason. In fact, we are asked to love God with all of our minds (the greatest commandment). So if it doesn't make sense then there is a real problem for faith. I cannot do othewise but to use my mind. Such a faith should stand up to reason so by saying it's "not supposed to make sense" makes no sense. I cannot think otherwise.

Here are some similar links:

Some advice to those who leave Christianity.

Should I come out of the closet?.

I no longer believe: What do I tell my kids?.

Ed Owens' story.

Help me Convince my Brother, John!

Here's a link to a young man who feared the worse in telling his parent he no longer believed and found it to be just fine. They still love him--imagine that!

185 comments: