Sunday, September 27, 2015

How I Lost My Faith, Part 3

I've been thinking about how best to describe how I lost my faith.  Those that know be best will be aware of the doubts I've struggled with over the years, but how exactly did I come to finally give up my faith?  I thought I would start by posting a few entries from my journal around the time when all this happened.

October 15, 2014

P and I had a really good talk on Saturday.  I was able to tell her pretty much exactly what's been going on in my mind, and get here perspective too.

She is much more even-headed about all this than I expected.  I think she understands me pretty well.  She told me that she struggles with some of the intellectual issues with Christianity, but feels like she would never leave it because she feels a relationship with God.  So (like she said) that seems to be the big difference:  She has intellectual issues but has a relationship, and me with similar intellectual issues but my primary problem is a lack of relationship.

I asked her why she wasn't more angry about me not being that "good christian husband" that every church family expects the father to be, and she surprised me... She said that when she married me, that's not the expectation she had of me, and that my rejection of my faith was not something she saw as a rejection of our marriage.

Anyway, I feel much better now because I got a lot of this off my chest.  It's amazing how much better it makes me feel to have spoken with P and for her to know.  I told her that if she stays a Christian, then the worst I will ever be is a doubting Christian, and that my priority and defining role is as her husband.  No matter what, I'm committed to focusing on being her husband and friend.

I don't know what I'd do without her.

Friday, September 25, 2015

How I Lost My Faith, Part 2

I've been thinking about how best to describe how I lost my faith.  Those that know be best will be aware of the doubts I've struggled with over the years, but how exactly did I come to finally give up my faith?  I thought I would start by posting a few entries from my journal around the time when all this happened.

August 7, 2014

I'm really not sure what will come of all this.  I don't really see any good outcomes.  Either I live the life of a hypocrite and imposter my whole life, or I give my loved ones horrible amounts of pain and grief for the rest of their lives.

I'm pretty sure I can't raise truly christian kids if I don't believe it myself.  And not knowing where P stands on all this, it's hard to know what the future could look like.  No matter what, I will first and foremost be her husband, and the father of my kids.  So if she remains christian, I think I will need to remain a doubting christian.

I really feel truly alone in this.  Without anyone to talk about it with, it's hard to stay grounded.  I think I could eventually talk to P about it, but I want to be sensitive to how much of a painful subject this can be.  I sense that she is (or could be) somewhat close to where I am, but we haven't talked much about it.

I often (in my mind) compare this season of doubt to those in the past... In the past, my doubt was this terrible thing that I would seek out a solution to, at any cost.  I would search and read and do whatever I could to snuff it out...  But now, now I don't see it as anything that could possibly be fixed.  I've been through all the "fixes" and know so very well all the typical remedies one applies to help heal a "sick" person such as myself, and so I feel different this time, like there is no possibility of "healing".  I know that sounds defeated and can be self-fulfilling, but that's how I feel.   I have lived for so long (10+ years!) in this state of desperate desire to know God, to believe and trust him, but never felt as if he was ever there.  It's like (if he exists) he has totally shut me out from access to knowledge of him.  We as Christians are always saying that God desperately wants a relationship with us, but I have found that to not be true.  I've so many times reached out in desperation to him and heard absolutely nothing in return. 

The most I ever felt was a connection to worship music... I would come close to crying during particularly moving songs, but the same thing happens if the song is not a worship song.

So either he just is not there, or I have been left out, totally forbidden from a relationship with him.  But how then can I explain the experience of those who seem to have a genuine relationship?  The more I learn about confirmation bias, and the psychology of belief, the more explainable it becomes.  The existence of people who really believe in the existence of UFOs, or even YEC (in the face of contrary evidence) the more explicable a belief in God and relationship with him (even if he does not exist) becomes.

This is sad and scary and depressing and terrifying and I have no idea what to do about it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How I Lost My Faith, Part 1

I've been thinking about how best to describe how I lost my faith.  Those that know be best will be aware of the doubts I've struggled with over the years, but how exactly did I come to finally give up my faith?  I thought I would start by posting a few entries from my journal around the time when all this happened.

August 6, 2014

So I think I'm coming to the gradual realization that I don't believe in God.  It's either that I am losing my belief in God, or it was never there all along.  I think it's probably a little of both.

Yesterday at church I had to lead the 4th & 5th grade small group, and they were doing a "gospel presentation".  They had encouraged the kids to bring friends, and did an old-fashioned invitation.  I felt like an imposter and outsider the whole time.  I had to do a gospel recap when I got back to the classroom with the kids, and was able to do it fine, but had a really hard time emphasizing the immanency of a choice.  The kids director was in there with me, and she kept correcting me and adding to what I was saying.  When I got to the part about hell, I really struggled to "bring it home" and she jumped in and took over for me.  Anyway, I left church feeling like an outsider and an imposter for the first time in my life.

It's terrifying to think about acting on this.  The implications for my family are not pleasant.
P and I had a rare talk about this after church.  We're both very timid about staring this directly in the face.  She knows about my doubts and the struggles I've had with my faith over the years, and she even said at one point that it's becoming clear that I don't believe any of it.  That surprised me because she said it so calmly.  I know she seems to struggle with the same sorts of things, but in a very different way, so when she was calm about it, I think she either is in the same boat, or is hiding a log of emotion.  We need to talk more, but I'm terrified that it will hurt her, and I just don't want to do that.

At one point we were discussing what I should do about all this... Her response was "whatever causes our family the least amount to strife".  This surprised me, because it implies that she doesn't really care whats "under the hood" but just about preserving the status quo.  She later said she was mostly joking, but I need to remember to continually reassure her and consider her fears of change.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Glow Stick

Nine months ago, I was really struggling.  It was Christmas time, and I was in the depths of despair; I had been struggling with doubts about God, and this weight was almost unbearable for me.  I remember feeling a desperate need to connect with God - partly because he was feeling ever more distant, and partly to help dull the ever-present and increasingly sharp pangs of doubt that plagued my thoughts.  

It was a Sunday night, December 21.  My wife and I packed our three kids into the mini-van and headed out to our church to attend a Christmas service at our church in Holland, MI.  When we arrived, we split up: My wife to drop the baby off in the nursery, while I took the big kids to find a seat.  At the door to the auditorium, we were met by greeters with large baskets of glow sticks.  

"Don't crack them yet!" they told us as we each grabbed one.  "We'll all do it at the same time.  They'll let you know."  It would be a miracle if my kids made it 10 minutes... That glow stick was suddenly the most seductive temptation they had ever experienced.

The service was mostly worship; We sang several songs, some old hymns (which I love) and some newer ones.  That night was particularly difficult for me.  I remember feeling disconnected from everyone, even as we worshiped and sang some of my favorite Christmas songs.  I desperately desired connection with God.  The night seemed charged with energy and excitement, so my struggles to really feel a connection with God and my church seemed extremely out of place.

Near the end of the service, the worship leader began to speak:

"As we gather here tonight worshiping God for the amazing gift he has given us - Jesus Christ - Let us remember that those of us who have placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ - We have entered a very special relationship with God - He has given us something very special - a deposit - in our hearts.  This is the Holy Spirit, and through the Holy Spirit, God lights up our lives, in many many ways, so that our lives become an amazing light in this world.  We shine out into the world declaring God's love for the world!  So now take the glow sticks you were given at the door, crack them, and raise them high as a symbol of the special relationship we have with God, and as a symbol of the light we shine out into the world in this special time of year!"

The lights dimmed, and my kids cracked their glow sticks with gusto, relieved to finally realize what they had no doubt been obsessing with for almost an hour.  I cracked mine too, and soon the auditorium began to glow with the light of hundreds of blue lights.  As we began to sing the next song, I looked down at my glow stick, and what I saw changed my life forever.

My glow stick was defective.

As I eyed the tiny feeble glow that came from the bottom of my stick, my annoyance was quickly replaced with dismay as the symbolism sunk in.  Tears flooded my eyes as the implications of this event began filling my mind.  Then came the anger.

I know it's silly, but it's hard to overstate the impact this had on me in that moment.  There I stood, surrounded by a thousand glowing points of light, held high by a thousand worshiping souls.  Each person's blue light was a glaring representation of something they had, but was wholly unavailable to me: A relationship with God.

Why did this happen?  If God has any sort of influence in this world at all, why would he allow this particular glow stick to make it into my hands, on this particular night?  I could think of two reasons:

1) God really doesn't want a relationship with me.  Maybe the Calvinists are right; God chooses whom to draw near to him.  He doesn't want me.  Okay, God.  Thanks for the message.  I finally hear it loud and clear.

2) God wants us to "have faith" and this is one way I can do that.  But when I place myself in his place (by imagining how I feel about my own kids) it is clear that December 21, 2014 was a pretty critical night to get things right, and make sure the defective stick doesn't make it into Joe's hands.  Either God doesn't really care, or he's just a pretty big Jerk.

3) God isn't real.  

After some retrospection, I think it's safe to say that God and I parted ways that night.  It took me a couple more months to finally be honest with myself and admit that I didn't believe he existed.  But that was the night when I realized that if he does exist, he's not someone I want to be friends with.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Don't Believe in God

So it's been three and a half years since my last post.  There is a lot to say about these last few years; I am about a million light-years from where I was when I posted my last general update.  I am tempted to write an entire memoir explaining how I got to where I am now, but I think it might be best to say it right up front:

I no longer believe in God.  

I say this not with my head held high in arrogance in defiance, nor do I say it with head hanging in embarrassment.  I say it simply with the relatively recent understanding that God is not real, and all my efforts (on this blog and otherwise) were an attempt to convince myself that I actually believe the things I professed to believe.

Over the last several years, I have been practicing my faith in the absence of any deep and regular christian friendships (other than my wife), and this has allowed me to examine my own beliefs with much-reduced levels of peer-pressure.  As I saw my faith receding into my past, I began to identify my struggles with faith as (sometimes feeble, and sometimes quite effective) attempts to silence the inner voice that has always known the truth:

God is not and has never been real to me. 

This realization (which I have come to over the last several months) is simple, yet it opens up so many unanswered questions.  I'm tempted (as usual) to try to answer them all in this first post, but those are subjects for future posts.

Obviously I have exactly zero readers, so this post will go out into the ether without a sound.  But there's something so refreshing about it...  Now it's out.  Kinda. :)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Calvinism: A Conclusion

I'm currently reading through the books For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.  This post is one of a series of posts where I discuss the thoughts, impressions, and questions that surface during this study.  Click here for the first post in this series.

I'll never be a famous blogger.  In order to build a successful blog, I'd need to post every day, and that's something I'll never do.  (And even then I'd need to contend with my lack of actual writing talent!)  You see, the original purpose of this blog is to be my mental clearing house.  A place for me to scrape the metaphorical turd off the bottom of my shoe (hence the name of my blog) and keep walking.  For me, hitting "Publish post" is like flushing the toilet.

This is the reason I haven't been posting more in this series about Calvinism.  As I made my way through the remainder of Roger Olson's book,  Against Calvinism , there were less and less aspects of it I wanted to write about... As he took the five points of TULIP and discussed each one in depth, I found very little that compelled me to write.  I found it difficult to even make my way through the remainder of the book.  The reason is very simple: I was sold.  

Although I'll certainly give Horton's  For Calvinism  it's fair shot, I'll be honest and admit that the topic is off my radar.  My family has started going to an Arminian church, (independent, but historically Wesleyan) and I'm relatively at peace with this issue that has bothered me for a long time.

As I think through this whole issue, one thing has become clear: I've always been an Arminian.  My Reformed upbringing is not without affect: I can fall in line when needed, supplying the typical Calvinist answers to the common questions when the situation arises.  But deep down, the God I've always believed in is a God who has limited his own sovereignty to allow me the genuine choice between right and wrong, to believe in Him or not.  

Before anyone calls me a historical revisionist, take a look at four of my posts from 2008.  In my response to an essay by atheist Richard Carrier titled Why I am Not a Christian, I give my rebuttals to each of his arguments.  Without exception, the God I defend is the God revealed by Arminian theology.  Take a look at my own words from four years ago:

From my response to "God is Silent":

God took the ultimate risk: He gave us free will, and in doing so, took the risk that we would reject Him; that our choice would result in eternal separation from Him. 

From my response to "God is Inert":

Part of loving God is obeying Him. A lot of the evil in the world arises from human beings exercising their free will, disobeying God. Creatures that are free to love must be free to choose.

And in my response to "Christianity Predicts a Different Universe" I adopt Kenneth Miller's words as my own:

God's love and gift of freedom are genuine - so genuine that they include the power to choose evil and, if we wish, to freely send ourselves to Hell. -Kenneth Miller, in Finding Darwin's God [pp. 285-291]

I really struggled with those posts; Trying to clearly communicate why, even in the face of massive doubts, I believe that the Christian God is real.  Looking back has helped me see one reason why I've felt so out of place in my Calvinistic Baptist church:  For me, the god of Calvinism is indefensible, and I simply do not believe he exists.  I believe in a God who offers a choice between good and evil.  And I've believed in him all along.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"P" - Perseverance of the Saints: Summary and Thoughts

I'm currently reading through the books For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.  This post is one of a series of posts where I discuss the thoughts, impressions, and questions that surface during this study.  Click here for the first post in this series.

Olson finishes up his tour of Calvinism (by way of "TULIP") in chapter 3 by describing perseverance of the saints (the "P" in TULIP).  He defines it like this:

[A] truly elect person cannot ever be finally or fully lost because God will keep him or her from falling. (pp. 53)

I agree with Olson that this is by far the least objectionable doctrine in TULIP because it reflects little (if any) on the character of God.  I have often been puzzled by this doctrine, simply because it is completely self-fulfilling (at least from our perspective) and provides little comfort or utility in the life of a believer or non-believer.  Many examples can be given of "solid" Christians giving up their faith, and in these cases I often hear statements like "they either were not a genuine believer, or they will come back around eventually"...  In either case, the doctrine is useless and provides little comfort.

I'm sure some people disagree; Perhaps someone who is absolutely sure of their salvation might see this as assurance that this will never change.  But in that case, this assurance is only as sure as their belief that they are actually saved.  In other words, telling someone that they can never loose their salvation is only comforting in as much as that person is sure they are actually saved.  I've never seen this doctrine as adding anything to ones assurance that they'll end up in heaven someday.

Anyway, that end's Olson's tour of what he calls "Mere Calvinism", by way of the TULIP acrostic.