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I had nothing to gain from abandoning the Christian faith.  Where would I go anyway?  The Christian faith had been not only an emotional and spiritual shelter to me; as a preacher’s son and a preacher myself, preaching the gospel had been the main source of my living from infancy.  Atheism offered no reasonable answers.  Agnosticism doesn’t claim to have an answer (which is better than lying or making one up).  And the last thing that I wanted to do was leave one bookish religion with a hierarchy of religious “holy men” for another.  So where would I go?  Better yet, why would I go?  What would I gain from leaving the Christian faith?  There was no real benefit for me to leave “the faith”.  So I started studying apologetics (Christian “evidences”) more often.  I dreamed about writing a book someday about how there was no alternative to Christianity because I did not think that there was a reasonable alternative.  But the nagging feeling that something was wrong with my Christian faith would not leave me.

I grew up being heavily involved in the Church of Christ.  My father was a preacher for this self proclaimed nondenominational church.  It was a fellowship that believed the Bible was the inspired, infallible, inerrant, word of Yahweh.[1]  Every jot and tittle was Yahweh’s word to them, so it was to me, too.  Our fellowship was certain that we were right in our interpretation of the Bible and the “denominations” (a derogatory term in our minds that didn’t apply to us) were wrong.  Many of our members believed that people who attended other churches weren’t even really Christians.  Some members of our denomination even went as far to question the salvation of our sister churches that were considered too “liberal” for our liking.  Needless to say, I was a hardcore Bible-thumping Christian.  I was baptized at the age of ten, but just in case the first baptism didn’t take I was later re-baptized at the age of twenty.  I attended and was a member of conservative churches.  In these churches I was involved in teaching classes, fill-in preaching occasionally, and preaching in the prison ministry.  I felt so “called” to preach that I packed my family up and moved so that I could attend a conservative Bible college where I could earn a Bachelor of Arts in Bible.  I became a full-time preacher for over sixteen years.  The study of the Bible and its history was a big part of my life, spending thousands of dollars on education, books, and other tools to be a minister.  I was invested in ministry.  I was financially supported full-time by the church with an above average salary.  I was frequently invited to preach at other churches.  I traveled to foreign countries on several occasions to preach in campaigns.  I worked with great people.  I had amazing flexibility and freedom in my work week.  Life as a minister for me was great…except for a constant inner conflict that was going on in my faith.  Behind the sermons, the study, the smiles, and the hand shakes at church, was doubt in the very thing I was proclaiming as true.

No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be happy as a doubting minister of the gospel.  It felt dishonest and wrong for me to keep preaching, but I was so invested in the Christian religion that I felt like I had to stick it out.  I noticed my doubts would come and go.  I would push through the valleys of doubt and wait until I was back on the hill tops of faith.  “Besides,” I thought, “if I walked away from the faith I would have a degree that wouldn’t help me much in finding another job.  I would lose a salary that I most likely could not match elsewhere or even come close to.  And I’d likely be criticized abroad by my predominantly Christian family and friends.  How could I even face them?” I wondered.  What bothered me the most was the thought of telling my wife and kids.  I worried, “It’s possible that my wife, a devout Christian from a devout Christian family, would be terribly disappointed, hurt and ashamed of me.  My children who have all grown up in church hearing me preach and teach, hearing others preach and teach, would be shocked, confused, and possibly hurt by my decision to leave the Christian faith.”  So I stayed in it.  “If I gave up my faith, my life and my family’s life would not be better off,” at least I didn’t think so.  I believed that I had nothing to gain by leaving the Christian faith.  I became what John S. Compere calls, “publicly phony and privately cynical,”[2] which is a terrible way to live.

You’d think all the good reasons I had to believe the Bible would have been enough to get me to stop doubting.  “Just suppress the thought and ignore it all together.”  I tried.  I often thought to myself, “Push these questions aside.  Close your mind and your eyes to the things that make you doubt and just concentrate on the things that make you believe.”  But my time in the valley of doubt grew longer and deeper.  The hill tops of faith disappeared.  I just couldn’t do it any more.  I no longer doubted the Bible; I disbelieved the Bible.  And I couldn’t fake belief in the Bible as God’s word any more.  I began taking a serious look at my problems with the Bible.  This was the honest thing for me to do with God, the Bible, and myself.  As Thomas Paine wrote, “It is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself.  Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.”[3]  I could no longer be happy pretending to believe that the Christian Bible was God’s word to all mankind.

Christians advise people of other religious persuasions to think critically about their faith.  A Christian would encourage a Moslem to give a critical look at the Koran.  They tell Mormons, whom our fellowship believed was certainly hell bound, not to just concentrate on things that helped them believe The Book of Mormon but look into things that make them doubt it.  Christians encourage Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and Mormons, to question their faith, especially the things that cause them to doubt.  So I would do the same with Christianity.  Besides, the truth has nothing to fear.

I began a painful but exciting and rewarding journey to personal faith in God based upon my own experiences and observations, not merely on what people I don’t even know from two thousand years ago on another continent told me about Him in a collection of “holy books”.  I ascended to the hill tops of faith again and remained firmly, but this time it wasn’t faith in a book.  It was faith in the God over all creation.  This journey still continues today.  What began as a journey that appeared to be risky with everything to lose and nothing to gain has proven to be both exhilarating and liberating.  Sure, I will eventually have to leave a great job as a minister, disappoint a lot of people, and lose a few friends (my church membership will be revoked), but I’ve already gained a lot of wisdom and new acquaintances in my search.[4]  I enjoy life and the creation of God so much more already.  I’m not bound by the superstitions of times past in foreign lands.  I don’t fear hell and judgment by the jealous and wrathful Yahweh (Exodus 20:5, Nahum 1:2), who murders children.[5]  I get to be whom God created me to be; free to live and grow in every way.  I’ll even get an extra day off since I won’t have to go to church services on Sunday’s any more!

Dear friend, do not live in fear of the destination beyond death; rather enjoy the journey of life!  Trust the Creator of all life with what happens in this life and beyond.  You have everything to gain.

 

 

[1] I will refer to the biblical view of God by the tetragrammaton, “Yahweh” (YWHW), which is the name given to God in the Old Testament (Ex. 3:14).  I do this because I believe that Yahweh is a Jewish misrepresentation of God.

[2] John S. Compere, Ph.D., Towards the Light, pg. 31.

[3] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Chapter 1

[4] Thanks to the internet and social networking sites one can easily meet other ministers who gave up faith in the Bible.  There are several sites in particular for Deists where you can meet friendly people who believe in God but disbelieve in the “holy books”.  Former preachers, pastors, and priests, can also apply for membership in The Clergy Project for community and support during the difficult exodus from superstitious faiths.

[5] Consider the alleged global flood of Genesis 6-7 for just one of many examples of Yahweh killing or ordering the killing of children.

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