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Dealing with doubt – Part 6: The Day I Quit Believing

I have not talked about this publicly before. I have not bogged about it. I have not used it as a sermon illustration. And never spoken of it before while I was teaching. It took me long enough to tell my wife about what happened. Like so many other things, it takes some time to process. I am always timid about events such as these. I don’t really know how to take it. So often, the interpretation that you come up with about the meaning of your experiences turns on you and places mud in your face (or here in Oklahoma, red clay).

It was a Wednesday afternoon when it happened. There was no real reason for it that I know of. In fact, this event was about the furthest thing from my psychological barometer. I was about to teach my classes in The Theology Program. The day before, I had responded to someone who had left the faith, attempting to do my best to restore confidence in this lapsing believer. This was certainly not atypical. There were no lingering doubts that had been surfacing. No new arguments that I heard that made me pause. I had every reason to be as confident as ever in my faith in Christ and the Christian worldview. However, this day would be like none other I had ever experienced. It was the day I quit believing.

You must understand. I have never been an “unbeliever” in any sense. There is not a time in my life that I can remember not believing in Christ. Sure, there were those doubts. Doubts about many things. But the serious doubts always ran out of gas very quickly as they were murdered by a few silver bullets that pulled back the curtain of their weaknesses. But this time was different. It was not any simple doubt that I was experiencing, but unbelief.

Like so many other things, I can tell you where I was when it happened. When Angie died, I was driving with the family on 635 in Dallas. When my mother had her stroke, I was sitting on the loveseat eating cereal. When Will busted his head open, I was playing Spiderman upstairs by myself. When I quit believing, I was beginning to sit down on my couch at home. By the time I pulled my legs up beside me, the terrible and foreign realization came to my mind that I didn’t believe. I don’t know why, but as I began to think about God, Christ, prayer, and all those things that form the normal spiritual backdrop to my thoughts, they had been robbed of their primary fuel—belief. I simply did not believe. There was this sudden realization that it was all false. Covering my life like a dark coroners blanket was a new belief: the belief that my whole life I had fooled myself into believing in something that was not true. I did not believe that God was real.

First, there was a sudden sense of betrayal that overwhelmed my thoughts. This betrayal was concerning my former life: my upbringing, my church, my seminary, and all of those people who were my heroes in the faith. They had betrayed me. Well, not them directly, but their foolish commitment to something that was false. They caused me to be emotionally committed to something that was not true in reality.

Second, in panic and terrible fear, I tried to stop the spiritual bleeding. I knew there would be a scar from this injury unlike any I had ever seen and I need to recover as quickly as possible. So I began to think through what I would tell someone who came to me with this testimony of acute apostasy. My thoughts turned toward good theology and apologetics. I turned to the silver bullets that were normally on automatic pilot, but were strangely absent. So I forced it. I thought to myself “If God is not real, why is there something rather than nothing?” It did not work. Then I went into the prophecies of the Old Testament. How could they be there if God was not real? Finally, I went to the resurrection of Christ. How do I reject that without committing a thousand overrides to my intellect? However, none of them were effective in the slightest. Don’t get me wrong. It was not as if rival arguments were persuasive either. It was simply that I could not access rational thought at all. Everything was overwhelmed by this deep feeling that we believe these things only to make us feel better and have purpose. These feelings controlled, influenced, and short-circuited my ability to intellectually engage the issues.

This went on all day.

Emotionally, the former believer was fighting. I cried out to God saying, “Don’t do this to me. You can’t do this to me. I can’t take this type of trial. Whatever you are doing, stop!”

My kids came home from school and I looked at them in despair. I felt like they were rocks. Yes, that is right—rocks. My new affair with atheism, carried with it the sudden burden of ultimate meaninglessness. People were no different than the rocks if there is no God. Not one thing has claim to be more value than another. I wanted to die, but I was way too scared.

What are my wife and kids going to think? What about my ministry? I have to keep this a secret. These were my thoughts all day.

That night, I did not sleep at all. My wife knew there was something wrong, but she did not know how to respond since I was unwilling to express my fall. I went out to my car in the garage and sat by myself on the passenger side. I called out to God again: “No, not me. Not me. I am not going to be one of those who walk away from the faith. Please don’t let me. Do something. This hurts way too bad.” I began to ask for signs. I just wanted the Lord to do something. However, I knew that even if he did, the problem was not down that road. It was something different.

The next day nothing changed. I went to work (what else was I supposed to do?). I avoided everyone. I did not want to look anyone in the eyes, fearing that they would see my unbelief. But who cared, they were rocks as well. This went on the entire day.

There way no one to talk to. Who was I supposed to call? What was I supposed to say? Should I have called a board member and told them I have lost my faith? Should I call my pastor? I was simply too scared about what people would think. The only ones who I thought would understand where those who had walked a similar path away from God and never returned. I know a lot of these people, but that would have been waving the white flag, and I was not ready for that.

Somewhere deep down I believed that the Lord was taking me through this. Emotionally, I needed to hang on to this. There was that small and weakened part of me that that was playing tug-a-war with a giant.

The next morning after another sleepless long night(mare), I was driving to work praying. I said to the Lord, “Lord, if you are trying to teach me that you are the only one who holds the key to faith, I get it! I GET IT! Now stop. Test over. I fail. I cannot believe on my own. Faith is a gift. Please give it back.”

An hour later I was on the elliptical machine at the gym. I was hoping that some exercise would help. While sweating away, I was reading a book about faith. The book did not really help, it is just part of my memories because of what was about to happen. After 35 minutes of elevated heart rate, suddenly, in a moment of time, it was like I could access the part of my brain again that was responsible for belief. Like a foot is awakened due to renewed blood flow, I felt the same relief in my brain (odd to say, but it felt like the right side) and in my soul. One minute I did not believe, and the next I did. My faculties returned to me and my faith was completely restored as if it never left.

Since my “two days as an atheist” experience, I have had a lot of time to contemplate on what happened. I don’t have all the answers, but I am firm in my conviction that God was teaching me something through experience that I already believed in theory: Human effort is not ultimately responsible for faith, God is. In my ministry, I suppose this is important.

As I mentioned before, I had been discussing the reality of the Christian faith with someone who was a former Evangelical. This conversation was particularly frustrating for me as I could not figure out what the problem was. I felt as if I was saying all the right things. The arguments I was giving were extremely persuasive in my opinion. He knew enough. There was no more “silver bullets” for me to give. It exhausted me. There was nothing more I could do and I was mad about it. Through this experience, I think that God was letting me know who was ultimately in charge. He demonstrated to me more vividly than I would have ever desired that there is only so much I can do. It was like he said to me, “Michael, all the theology you teach is good and necessary, but don’t think it is the least bit effective without my presence. Ultimately, this is a spiritual battle. You are in the fight, but I have the weapons.

“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Rom. 9:16)

I think that it is important to mention in closing that I have come to find out that this is more common than you might think. In fact, I talked about this with a prominent Evangelical author and pastor (whose name I will not mention). This guy is the very last person I would have thought would have a story like this to tell. He has never spoken about his experience publicly, but he described the exact same experience, only his lasted for three months! I would not have made it that long.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    74 replies to "The Day I Quit Believing in God"

    • wanderer

      I forgot to add…you seem to have a hard time finding a reason for many of your experiences, but I hope you realize how valuable they are to all of us who read your blog. I enjoy reading your theological views but I think I’ve learned more reading about your doubts, depression, etc…

    • The 27th Comrade

      Yes, in a society that has been overly-rationalised, it is not unreasonable to have real doubts (and doubts that win) over whether or not other people’s minds, for example, really do exist (even though they certainly do). In such societies, everything has been subordinated to reason. But reason is way too limited to understand most things (the things that must be in place before reason itself can happen, such as God and minds; and also the exercise of reason is not the result of exercising reason).

      For this reason (heh) I feel that it is a huge, huge mistake (even heresy) for Christians to have overly tied faith to reason, as though Hebrews 11 is missing its first six verses. I tentatively note that with the exit of respect for Scripture from the Christian world came the situation where seminarians learnt more about (and from!) St. Thomas Aquinas than St. Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle of Grace!
      Of course, reason is in sync with what is true, and “God is” is also true; so we find sync between reason and belief in God. But to subject belief in God to reason is a bit wrong, in my rather haughty opinion.

      I don’t consider myself a Christian (for many, strange reasons), but I am glad to see that many believers from societies that went the way I consider to be at least misguided are in fact realising that God is the author and finisher (“polisher”) of our faith; not acrobatic apologetics arguments and Aristotelian logic. Thank your Father in Heaven for that (rather harsh) lesson.

    • Paul Wright

      My new affair with atheism, carried with it the sudden burden of ultimate meaninglessness. People were no different than the rocks if there is no God.

      But this isn’t well established (and, I think, not true). To take a leaf from William Lane Craig’s book, if you think it’s true, you think that the statements:
      1. There is no God.
      2. People are different from rocks.
      are incompatible. But I see no reason to think that: you’d need to introduce a third proposition and back that up, somehow.

      I agree with CMP and the Comrade that reason is insufficient to establish Christianity. Interestingly, Hume says as much in his famous work on miracles:

      “So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.”

    • Erlend

      Thank you. That was very helpful.

    • Jeff

      As a novice to theology and philosophy and reading this blog in general here are my unqualified observations.

      1. I can identify with what you went through first on a non-spiritual level. It is not unusual for someone in any career or vocation to be in the trenches of the battle, get weary and become inclined to leave the fight. I’d hazard to guess that many people experience this, some leave, some stay, some regain perspective after stepping away. I see what you went through on those terms very easy to understand.

      2. It must be particularly difficult when this happens to a pastor or a teacher because the responsibility they must feel for their students. Not to mention the amplification that might come if you have “people pleasing” tendencies (forgive the pop psychology). But in this case not only is your pleasing of people at stake but in your mind, your pleasing of God. Though I’m encouraged by stories in the Bible regarding God’s patience in these scenarios.

      3. On a spiritual level, assuming we are in a battle, you may have needed a break from that fight as well. I love the comments that are reminding folks whose battle it is. Your conclusion that the battle is God’s may very well be the lesson and remedy that God orchestrated for you. May you rest in Christ always.

      Finally … I see a number of abstract wrestling matches going on this blog site. Gross over simplification follows:

      A. Does God exist? (Observation, Intuition, Bible, Word of Mouth, other sources, all contribute to your possible beliefs).

      B. If God exists, Can he be known? (Bible – yes in the person of Jesus)

      C. If the plan can be known, is it good? (Bible – yes in the person of Jesus)

      D. If it’s good, does it include me? 😉 (Bible – maybe depending on your belief)

      E. Can I be certain I completely understand his full plan and all the details (probably not)

      It seems like you got stuck on “E” as we many or all often do.

      God Bless You and thanks for…

    • Jeff

      last comment was cut off … it was “thanks for pressing on”.

      Also missed a step that I wanted to communicate between B and C above.

      B2 – If he can be known, does he have a plan? (Bible – yes … this blog appears to be most focussed in this huge domain)

      Also for the very sensitive, I didn’t mean to infer any discount to the doctrine of the Trinity when in my short comment above I said “yes in the person of Jesus”). Just emphasizing the central message of the personal nature and importance of a relationship with Jesus in coming to know God fully.

      Cheers

    • Cadis

      There is no such animal as an Atheist. Atheists do not exist. That is one of the reasons those who have left the faith remain angry with Christianity..We as believing God do not have to defend his existence, because no one is able to deny his existence. Every self labeled , so-called Atheist knows that Christians believe they, Atheists, will be judged by their rejection of the clear undeniable truth of God’s existence and that God can be seen and things known about him through creation.. Even Michael continued to talk to God during his 2 days of “Atheism”. That is because he did not stop believing in God’s existence or even the belief that God is knowable. What Michael’s problem was for those 2 days, I can’t say. But for sure, I do know, he was never an Atheist 🙂 You either believe God or you don’t believe God but only a fool says in his heart there is no god.
      And not to add to scripture, but only to further a point. Only a fool says in his heart ..I cannot know this awesome, creating, providing god that brings life to my inanimate body and allows my living, breathing, self to proclaim aloud in public venues that he, God, cannot be known or even known if he exists … God is patient!…. See how easy that was to recognize about God.

    • Alex Jordan

      Dear Michael,

      Thank you for sharing your remarkable story. It reminds me that God sustains faith in Him, being of course the Author of our faith.

      John 3 seems very instructive in this whole area of the origin of belief. Jesus told Nicodemus that one had to be born again in order to see or enter the Kingdom of God, and rationally, Nicodemus couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Jesus likened the mystery of being born of the Spirit to the moving of the wind– you feel the effects but you can’t see it happening and you don’t know exactly how it happened.

      And Jesus goes on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “(John 3:11-12 ESV). We speak of what we know– faith seems to be experienced by those who have it–but how do they get it?

      Later in this chapter we see John the Baptist saying, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. (John 3:27 ESV)”

      And it is to be remembered that when Peter declared that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus pronounced that he had been given God’s blessing, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

      Peter’s ability to see Jesus as the Christ did not come from reasoning it out within himself, but was a gift of God.

      As you said it is truly helpful to those in ministry to know that it is God who makes faith come alive in the heart and that all our skill in presenting the gospel avails nothing if not accompanied by God’s working in those we minister to. But also your experience shows that we can never credit ourselves for faith– He not only is the Author but also the Finisher and the One who sustains faith.

      It is frightening to think that one is so utterly dependent upon God in this and…

    • Ken Pulliam

      CMP,

      Your honesty and transparency is refreshing and its the reason why I like to read your posts. I am not going to give you my opinion on your experience as it might not be appreciated but I will say this much. Your experience lasted 2 days and you mentioned someone else whose lasted 3 months. Mine has lasted now almost 14 years. It was terribly upsetting and emotionally traumatic for me for the first year or so but then it felt very liberating. As you know I am still interested in theology and the academic study of the Bible but I no longer believe that it is of divine origin.

    • Alex Jordan

      (continued from previous)

      that even after coming to faith, we continue to remain dependent on God to sustain our belief. And yet I suppose that we must understand this, otherwise after a while we’ll forget where our faith really originated from and be tempted to think of our faith as something we came up with and maintain by ourselves.

      God doesn’t leave any room for us to boast, does He? We can’t boast about something that is totally given to us from beginning to end. May all the praise for faith go to Him alone, as it should.

    • Seeking Disciple

      Thank you for sharing from your heart. I think all disciples of Jesus go through seasons of doubt. I don’t think these offend God as He is big enough and strong enough to draw us closer to Himself through these trials. Satan often uses doubts especially when we are under much stress. Satan feeds off fear and he spreads his lies even more so when we are in a time of turmoil in our lives.

      Thankfully the Holy Spirit is gracious and loving. He who drew us to Jesus (John 6:44) will remind us of God’s Word (John 14:26). The Spirit prays for us (Romans 8:26-27) and He will work in us that which is good and pleasing in the sight of God. I rejoice that when we are in Christ Jesus, He seals us unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30) and empowers us to be effective witnesses for Jesus’ kingdom (Acts 1:8).

    • The 27th Comrade

      @Paul Wright:
      What I can defend is not so much “If God doesn’t exist, people are rocks,” but rather that “If God doesn‘t exist, it is not necessarily true that people are not rocks.”
      That is, the only way anyone can affirm that a human is objectively a human is by affirming that that person’s being a human doesn’t depend on my (or your, or his) opinion, but on a certain immutable, transcendent opinion. And you can already see where one can sneak God in there (or, at least, His Opinion).

      Most such problem, where without God you have no morals, no value(s), no meaning, et cetera is precisely because anything begins to mean anything when there is no God so that all is God. There is nobody above everything to set its meaning and ground it. There will never be a way to say “That guy is a human being just like you!” without relying on what terminates in ultimate objectivity, independent of any other thing. God, in other words.

      Now, let’s get back to aborting these zygotes that are just a mass of organic molecules, anyway.
      What?

    • EricW

      So, maybe there is no God, and evolution created the God gene so by thinking they have a purpose in life and should live by a moral standard, people would ensure the safety and protection and propagation of the species – which is what the selfish gene is all about doing, eh? 😮

      I.e., our morality and meaning are programmed in us to ensure our survival. Life exists for its own sake, not some higher powers’ purpose(s). And our belief in and fear of judgment serve the same purpose and keep most of us from committing suicide, which would thwart the propagation thing.

      Or at least that’s one argument I think an atheist could make to counter some of the Christian arguments for God and against atheism. A contest between two unprovable theses?

      After all, there are some really crazy things going on in this ecosystem that developed for no apparent purpose other than to continue a species’ circle of life by any means necessary: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/process_snail/

    • Paul Wright

      @Comrade:

      I see no reason why, if there are moral facts independent of human opinions, they would have to be defined by the opinions of a (non-human) person. In fact, I find it strange that you refer to them as a person’s opinions and then describe them as objective: that doesn’t seem to be the usual meaning of the word “objective”, which usually means facts that are independent of anyone’s opinion. If God sets what is moral by his opinions, they seem arbitrary: God could make anything moral by fiat (some theists are prepared to bite that bullet, and you may be one of them, but you shouldn’t be surprised if other theists, not to mention atheists, disagree with you). If God’s opinions reference some other standard than himself, that standard is what defines moral facts.

      You’re about to say that the good is defined by God’s nature, so let me pre-empt that: if God is good because by nature he has certain qualities like love or justice, it is those qualities that define goodness. If God does exist, these qualities inhere in him, certainly, but any being which had those qualities would be good, regardless of whether such a being exists: the standard is still independent of God.

      because anything begins to mean anything when there is no God so that all is God.

      I’m confused by your statement that “all is God”. Are you a pantheist?

    • Pastor Seth Jones

      Dear Michael,
      Thank you for this transparent and honest story. I have to say I am impressed this was your first experience with real and pervasive unbelief. I gave being an atheist a really good shot and put on a brave show of it for a good 5 years. Now, I am a pastor of a solidly Christian church. But I would be lying if I said I believe all the time. In fact, unlike you, my situation is just the opposite – belief is my struggle, not unbelief. The only reason, outside the thoroughgoing grace of God, I believe, I think, is because I am mature enough to know my unbelief is not a permanent state and faith is something beyond whether or not I simply assent with my mind and thoughts. God’s love and God’s faith are deeper and more stable than my belief or unbelief. I have a pastor friend who says, there are many mornings when he wakes up and does not believe. He prays then and asks that he live his life in such a way as if he did in fact believe and that God show him again why to believe. He says he almost always goes to bed believing again, but if not, he knows God will provide. Thanks again!

    • Jeffrey

      This is a three-year-old memory that could be wrong, but I got the opposite impression from this post in one session in TTP.

      I thought you said something (in Intro to Theology?) about how when you struggled with doubt, you would go back to Isaiah 53. A prophecy that precise would have to be divine. Another argument may have specifically been named, too, but I don’t remember. I got the distinct impression that you reasoned your way out of doubt, for the reasons are good enough to warrant belief.

      Here, you seem to be saying the opposite, that your reasons are not even good enough for you. You seem to be showing understanding toward doubt and disbelief by admitting that apologetics is a sham.

      You also often write things like: “They can use all the pancake apologetics they want. But we (Christians) simply don’t need to. We have enough evidence for our faith to keep up from resorting to such things.” (April 4, 2010)

      So which way is it? Does rationality lead to the idea that Christianity is plausible, or does it not? If you are not a fideist, the fact that your arguments do not persuade you shows your position to be false. If you are a fideist, then admit it.

      As George Orwell describes doublethink, it is as if you are telling deliberate lies about the evidence for faith while genuinely believing in what you are saying at the same time.

    • mikespeir

      Good for you, Michael! Perhaps now you are better equipped to understand those of us who have had similar flashes of “revelation” as to our unbelief, but for whom the belief never returned.

    • The 27th Comrade

      @Paul Wright:
      Opinions can be objective. It is modernism that has forgotten that saying “That’s Your Opinion” doesn’t translate to “That’s Not Necessarily an Objective Truth.” After all, it is my opinion that the sky is blue.

      If God sets what is moral by his opinions, they seem arbitrary […]

      They are arbitrary. But that doesn’t make them any more subjective. After all, the potter’s decisions with the clay are irreducibly-arbitrary, but it doesn’t follow that the clay should hold its roundness (say) to be a subjective opinion.

      God could make anything moral by fiat (some theists are prepared to bite that bullet, and you may be one of them, but you shouldn’t be surprised if other theists, not to mention atheists, disagree with you).

      Those types who would disagree would likely also disagree when I tell them my name, or the definition of conjuctivitis, because “that was just created by fiat.” Or, for that matter, that murder is wrong, no matter how convenient, some sex practices are wrong, no matter how much I like them, because it was decreed by one who decree is immutable law, whose opinion is immutable truth.
      I don’t care that some people can’t stomach that: most truths are generally offensive.

      I’m confused by your statement that “all is God”. Are you a pantheist?

      No, I meant it in terms of “each one is his own God”. In that case, what I (as God) decree becomes law, and my (divine) opinion becomes truth; but the same applies to any other primate that can carry a thought. No meaning is grounded, in such a case, and “good” can mean mass murder, if I so will it.

    • The 27th Comrade

      @EricW:

      After all, there are some really crazy things going on in this ecosystem that developed for no apparent purpose other than to continue a species’ circle of life by any means necessary […]

      I see that the article found it necessary to say that this kind of thing would not happen on the account of an intelligently-designed universe, but directly follows from an unguided evolution. Essentially, “I know what God would allow, and this is not it.” I wonder why metaphysics and religious opinions of the order of G.W. Leibniz’ Theodicy end up at the very core of “scientific” theorising.

      At any rate, I know for certain that an intelligent designer could (and has, on two occassions) done something exactly like the article talks about. I mean the Unix utilities and system calls kill and nice. Or shall we conclude that Unix is the result of random mutation of its code and sysadmin selection, hence the apparent “lack of compassion” for the created entities?

      Linux is even worse, with its OOMKiller. By comparison, life is better; at least it is, on the whole, beautiful, and gets repaired in the end. Behold I make all things new.

    • Boz

      CMP said:
      I went out to my car in the garage and sat by myself on the passenger side. I called out to God again: “No, not me. Not me. I am not going to be one of those who walk away from the faith. Please don’t let me. Do something. This hurts way too bad.” I began to ask for signs.

      The next morning after another sleepless long night(mare), I was driving to work praying. I said to the Lord, “Lord, if you are trying to teach me that you are the only one who holds the key to faith, I get it! I GET IT! Now stop. Test over. I fail. I cannot believe on my own. Faith is a gift. Please give it back

      You’re not an atheist if you talk to a deity and expect a deity to hear you.

    • Ken Pulliam

      If belief is more of a feeling than it is an intellecutal matter, then it would make sense why reading and going over the apologetical arguments didn’t help. I have found Robert Burton’s,On Being Certain, a very interesting read. He is a neuroscientist. He maintains that being certain is a function of the right brain which is less analytical than the left brain.

    • Tony Whittaker

      Bless you for your honesty. I’m sure this sort of experience is far more common than anyone would imagine.

      The leader of a well-known UK mission agency many years ago went through a similar situation. Took about a year, I think, to reconnect. Meantime, he just sort of carried on regardless! And did a lot of wider reading and research into faith. Very possibly burnout played a part.

      Tony

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      Michael:

      Thank you for giving me permission to admit this, AND this is the first time I do this: I too have been through this, and was too scared to admit to other Christians. Again, thanks!!

    • Daniel Pulliam

      Thank you for sharing this. It has helped me more than you know.

    • Ken Pulliam

      Why do so many Christians deal with doubt? Is it because 1) the evidence for evangelical Christianity is very slim, 2) evangelical Christianity contradicts reason, or 3) the doctrines of evangelical Christianity are self-contradictory?

      Or is it because of 1) the devil, 2) sin in the life of the doubter, or 3) God testing you?

      In my particular case, I started out thinking it was one of the last set but eventually came to the conclusion that it was because of the first set.

      It just seems odd to me that so many Christians would struggle with doubt. People don’t struggle with whether George Washington was the first president of the US. People don’t struggle with other matters, yet a lot of Christians struggle with whether Christianity is really true. Could the reason be because its not true?

    • cherylu

      Ken,

      I think there is a vast difference between believing a simply historical fact like George Washington was the first president of the United States and believing in everything that Christianity claims. To me there is no comparision. And I am speaking from the perspective of one that is fully convinced that Christianity is true.

      After all, to believe that George Washington was the first president of this country requires no life commitments and it is not something that will totally and completely change your whole being if you accept it and commit yourself to it. Neither is George Washington’s life the story of a miraculous birth, a miraculous life, and a miraculous death and resurrection. And it is certain that no one claims George Washington was seen ascending into heaven or heard him claim he would come again in the same way! And George Washington made no claims of being God or that “He and the Father are one.”

    • Scott F

      I will second what Ken said in his first comment: I experienced my “fall” when I was 20 and it was very unsettling. I questioned everything. But, ya know, I came through it and have landed on my moral and existential feet. On the former, I can thank the church for transmitting humane moral teachings but for the later, I have had to learn to live with uncertainty.

      Many may recoil from uncertainty but I think we ALL live with it every time we cross the street or put food in our mouths: “Will I be hit by a beer truck or die of food poisoning?” I would hold acceptance of uncertainty as a sign of maturity whether you are secular or Christian.

      PS: Cadis – there are atheists, even in foxholes, and we are not “angry” at God

    • Ed Kratz

      Thanks for the comments folks.

      Ken Pulliam has posted something interesting at his site in line with my post: http://formerfundy.blogspot.com/2010/06/day-i-quit-believing-in-god-by-c.html#comments

      Thanks Ken.

    • Xander

      I never knew about God when I declared there wasn’t one. I went to several churches but never was taught the gospel. People would tell me the qualities of God but when I compared them to the people who claimed to follow Him I officially rejected the possibility of Him as they didn’t line up. I had no need to prove there was not a god as the people who claimed Him couldn’t even show Him in their day to day life. I never thought of people as rocks, but I know what you mean. There is no purpose for life with out some sort of god. If we just live and die then what does it matter what we do between birth and death. It really is rather depressing. I know people like to hold on to the idea of humanity, but it is man’s attempt to replace god with an emotional experience. Trying to give themselves a sense of purpose for life.

      I finally came to know God, but not before I practiced other religions. I am glad you were able to share your experience with others.

    • Scott F

      “what does it matter what we do between birth and death. ”

      I know it seems this way to many Christians but people seem to find plenty worth living for after losing “faith.” Perhaps we atheists are just finding rationalizations and hiding from the epistemological blackhole at the center of our souls, but I sure do like eating Bar-B-Q, watching my daughter learn to play piano or encountering some new bit of understanding of the universe within and without.

    • Jason DesLongchamp

      This was profound.

      I don’t want to sully that statement with trying to explain. Your post was very valuable to me, thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Paul Wright

      @Comrade: you have said that if there is no God, No meaning is grounded, in such a case, and “good” can mean mass murder, if I so will it.. But you’ve also said of God’s moral opinions that they are arbitrary. So I’m not sure how you think introducing a God provides some sort of “grounding”.

      As you apparently think that God chooses what is good, do you then think that if God said mass murder or child sacrifice was good, those things then would be good by virtue of God’s saying so? (That is the bullet that, as I mentioned, many people, whether theists or atheists, would find hard to bite.)

      If you do not think that, it seems you have some standard of morality which is independent of God’s existence. As you allude to, if God exists, God might know what is right, just as you know the sky is blue, but those standards would then exist (and the sky would be blue) whether or not God exists, which was my original point.

      If you do think that, I’d point out that I see no reason to prefer God’s opinion that mass murder and child sacrifice are good things over my opinion that they are bad.

      CMP, please tell us to take it elsewhere if you’re getting bored 🙂

    • Josh H.

      I’ve had these moments…but never two days. Wow. I’ve never talked about them either.

    • Paul Wright

      @Boz: I do think people who don’t believe in God might pray, though as you say, they probably won’t expect an answer.

      I’ve been doing Christian philosopher Tim Mawson’s experiment of praying to Whom It May Concern to reveal themselves. This was mentioned by Mawson on a podcast recently, and it seems an entirely reasonable thing for an atheist to try: after all, as Mawson says, if you try it and it doesn’t work, you’ve acquired further evidence for atheism.

      Mawson addresses the objection that an atheist cannot be sincere in such prayers with his example of someone who falls over a cliff, calling up into the fog for help: that person may not know whether there is anything there, but their request is sincere.

    • Xander

      @Scott: I never had faith at that stage of life, but you are right. Social aspects of life still go on when you realize you don’t believe in a god. We see socializing in animals, so it is a strange concept to think that all joys in life are over without God. I was referring more to the point that whether you watched you daughter learn to play piano or accidentally kill her best friend, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

    • Jason Dulle

      Michael,

      Given the inability of apologetics to “spark” faith in you during your 2 day stint as an unbeliever, what value do you see in apologetics now? This question is all the more pertinent given the fact that you are a Calvinist, for if the ability to believe is wholly dependent on God, then what good does it do to present evidence for the truth of the Christian gospel?

      Calvinists usually respond that God not only determines the end (who is elect), but also the means (apologetics, preaching, etc.). But I fail to see how evidential arguments could really be construed as “means” in a Calvinistic system. You could present 8 hours worth of evidential arguments to an unbeliever, but those arguments will fall on deaf ears until God regenerates their heart, allowing them to believe. If coming to faith is wholly a work of God, then I don’t see what difference it would have made if you were talking to them about basket-weaving for 8 hours. After all, nothing you say can cause or contribute to faith; only God can cause faith. So why engage elect-but-currently-unbelieving individuals with apologetics if the arguments can’t actually cause, or help cause anything?

      I’m not trying to start a debate on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I am just trying to figure out how a Calvinist makes sense of this, and to see how your experience has affected your view.

    • Cadis

      Jason,

      As a Calvinist I would say I don’t get involved so much in apologetics but from my heart I express what I have become. I am a new creation and like becoming a mother or father, for the first time, the natural response is to rejoice or share the experience..others should have this too! and when the baby keeps you up all night or the child grows up and does things that disappoints or frustrates …still..it is who you are… You are a mother or a father , a husband or a wife. In one day you became something different and you rejoice in that whether there are trials associated with this new persona does not matter..you still are! and cannot be anything else. How can I not proclaim to be a Christian when a Christian is what I am. I was born not of my will but I would never be anything else, not only would I not be anything else, I know what it is to be someone else and I could not go back..she is dead! Thank God!

      Not that I have not had similar moments and doubts as Michael, BTW I don’t know what back woods Christians you all hang with that deny they have moments of doubt like Michael has written about. I have been in and out of fundamentalist churches all my life and yes there are always some who are unreasonable but I’ve not met many who would not admit publically that they have doubted God’s existance for a moment , a day or a year. Two years might be pushing it.

      ScottF,
      Tell it to the judge.

    • Ed Kratz

      Jason,

      Thanks for the question. I have not changed any with regard to the value of persuasive arguments for the faith. In theory, I have always believed that arguments are unable to convince or bend the will. I don’t think you have to be a Calvinist to believe this.

      What has changed is that I have experienced what my theology purported. Therefore, I am convicted of it in a different way. I believe that God uses and necessitates rational thinking even though it is the Spirit that is responsible for activating our will’s ability to receive these things. It is not unlike evangelism in general. Our verbal presentation of the Gospel in an articulate way does not persuade people, but God does not work outside of the Gospel.

      When we begin to rely and trust too much in our arguments, that is when we need to change our thinking.

    • Gary Simmons

      Ultimately, you can’t argue with suffering.

    • Michael T.

      I always find the objections to the violence of the Old Testament interesting because they assume that we humans have more knowledge then we do (i.e. God motives and how thing would be different if he hadn’t ordered such a massacre). To me it’s basically the question of if you had perfect foreknowledge and knew with absolute inerrant certainty that a baby if allowed to live would become the next Hitler would you kill the baby?? Now no matter how you answer this question (yes or no) you must admit it creates a ethical dilemma and those who answered differently wouldn’t be monsters for doing so (at least I don’t think so).

    • teleologist

      Mine has lasted now almost 14 years. It was terribly upsetting and emotionally traumatic for me for the first year or so but then it felt very liberating.

      Ken Pulliam, I am curious. Were you delusional then when you thought you were a Christian or are you delusional now as an atheist?

    • The 27th Comrade

      @Boz:

      You’re not an atheist if you talk to a deity and expect a deity to hear you.

      Sad to hear that Nietzsche was not an atheist.

      @Paul Wright:

      If you do not think that, it seems you have some standard of morality which is independent of God’s existence.

      God never intended for His harsh punishment to be praised as a gentle cuddling. He calls it punishment—and we see it as bad—precisely because He thinks the same of it. Indeed, we detest the bad that even He allows or commands precisely because we agree with Him about the badness thereof. Our morality is a morality at all only insofar as it agrees with Him: that bad is bad because it is Bad.

      God never intended for His judgement to be thought of as good. He never meant for us to think of Hell as good, or of the Amalekites being slaughtered as anything but the very opposite of Grace. Only when we are spared while fully deserving of death (in Jesus) do we have the right to see God as good. Other than that, we are supposed to see bleakness, pain, and a need for redemption from the justice of a Holy God who rewards any and every sin with death.

    • The 27th Comrade

      @Paul Wright:

      But you’ve also said of God’s moral opinions that they are arbitrary. So I’m not sure how you think introducing a God provides some sort of “grounding”.

      Because God’s “arbitrary” is not like man’s arbitrary, just as the potter’s “arbitrary” is not like the clay’s “arbitrary” (to the clay’s eyes).
      This is the whole point. People who think that God’s opinion doesn’t exist (because they think He doesn’t exist) remain only with all opinions being ungrounded. If God’s opinion exists, then there is an opinion, however arbitrary to God, that is the objective truth. When we think that God’s arbitrary is like our arbitrary, it is because (like most modern sceptics) we have assumed that for an entity to exist (such as God), that entity must be as limited as we are (“physical”) and therefore also have opinions that have no grounding effect on what is true.

      As you apparently think that God chooses what is good, do you then think that if God said mass murder or child sacrifice was good, those things then would be good by virtue of God’s saying so?

      The real tragedy, for me, is not the death of humans, but the death of innocent humans, completely untainted (Jesus Christ). It’s horrifying that God felt it fitting to flay an innocent guy, for the sake of the guilty, Barabas being only the first of them.
      This is why God’s Grace is important to all understanding of everything. It’s Théodicée in God’s Own Hand.

      If He orders the massacre of the Amalekites, or designs Hell, there is ultimate virtue in it—such as the triumph of justice, or the display of His mercy as juxtaposed to the extremely-severe extents of His judgement—but which is primarily as the Grace: a parading of the insane extremes of Divine Mercy. Like the Hebrew, I say “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”

    • Wolf Paul

      Michael,

      I believe one way to put the reason for your experience was to rid you of the belief in “silver bullets”. Silver bullets being a magical device evidence a confidence in something other than God … and thus should have no place in evangelism, pastoral ministry or apologetics. Now I am pretty sure that you were not actually relying on magic, but still — as you indicated yourself, it was confidence in the soundness of your “silver bullet” argumentation rather than confidence in God, so good riddance to it.

      Thanks for sharing, about the depression stuff as well.

      Wolf

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      I found this booklet on doubt by Dr. Herb Vander Lugt very help-ful as well: http://www.rbc.org/uploadedfiles/Bible_Study/Discovery_Series/PDF/Why_Christians_Doubt.pdf

    • Paul Wright

      @Boz: as I may have mentioned, I’m doing Christian philosopher Tim Mawson’s “praying to Whom It May Concern” experiment (see Mawson’s recent podcast on Common Sense Atheism), and I assure you I’m an atheist 🙂 No results yet, I’ll keep you posted…

      @Comrade: I’m struggling to discern an argument in amongst your comments. Like my hero Bill Craig, I’ll point out that I’ve asked several questions to which you appear to be unable to give a direct answer.

      But, reading between the lines, it seems you are saying that what God says is good, is good. In which case, God could make literally anything good. My examples of mass murder and child sacrifice are merely things that most people think are not good: if you happen to think, as you apparently do, that mass murder and child sacrifice can be OK if done for the greater good, then imagine I used some other example of something you view as indubitably bad.

      In any case, I see no reason to think that “morality is defined by what God says it is” is true.

      On the point of objectivity, it is objectively true that I think that genocide is wrong. I’m not clear how you think this is not “grounded” if God does not exist: it is still a fact that I think genocide is wrong.

    • wm tanksley

      But, reading between the lines, it seems you are saying that what God says is good, is good.

      He used the expression “irreducibly arbitrary”, so I think you’re right. Of course, this is not the usual position taken in defense of Christianity. I don’t agree with him; I would say that morality is grounded in the nature of God, and is thus not arbitrary to God (although He could have created in a way to manifest it differently, since His creation is according to His own will).

      In which case, God could make literally anything good.

      This doesn’t directly follow from his position. If one accepts (for the sake of argument) that morality is arbitrary to God, it doesn’t follow that it can change with time — it may be fixed as part of creation, so that it will not possibly change without completely remaking creation.

      In any case, I see no reason to think that “morality is defined by what God says it is” is true.

      If God exists, by definition, then everything that exists is grounded in Him. Thus, morality is ultimately grounded in Him. (I admit that you don’t accept that critical “if God exists”.)

      On the point of objectivity, it is objectively true that I think that genocide is wrong. I’m not clear how you think this is not “grounded” if God does not exist: it is still a fact that I think genocide is wrong.

      Out of curiosity, can I distinguish this opinion from your taste for posting messages on reclaimingthemind.org? I suspect that you’ll someday decide to stop posting here (I plan to, any day now!); might you also someday decide that genocide is right? Does it matter?

      -Wm

    • Boz

      Paul Wright, do you expect a deity to hear your prayers?

    • The 27th Comrade

      @Paul Wright:
      There is no argument in my comments; they are slapped-together positions I take on things. What haven’t I answered to satisfactorily, that you asked?

      But, reading between the lines, it seems you are saying that what God says is good, is good. In which case, God could make literally anything good.

      The first is correct, the second not necessarily. God couldn’t make His judgement good; He hands it out as judgement precisely because it is His opinion (and, incidentally, mine and yours) that it’s bad.

      […] if you happen to think, as you apparently do, that mass murder and child sacrifice can be OK if done for the greater good […]

      They are not good or okay, regardless of the greater good that comes out of them. They may be bearable because of their final cause, they may justified, et cetera, but all this is done (“justified”, “seen in light of their final cause”) precisely because they are not good. They are bad precisely because God sees them as such; regardless of what Hitler (mass murder) or abortionists (child sacrifice) think. God’s opinion sets the standard. Is this clear this time?

      In any case, I see no reason to think that “morality is defined by what God says it is” is true.

      Like I said, it follows from the fact that there is only universal subjectivity (which is self-refuting), if there is no God.

      On the point of objectivity, it is objectively true that I think that genocide is wrong. I’m not clear how you think this is not “grounded” if God does not exist: it is still a fact that I think genocide is wrong.

      “We have no basis to judge as evil or wrong an evolved phenotype; given Orgel’s Second Rule and the fact that what survives is fit, no evolved phenotype—ie., nothing in biology—can be deemed immoral.”
      Do you, Paul Wright, have a refutation for that?

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