I received this email today. It is a story about a Christian, named Virginia who left the faith after 23 years.
Here it is along with my comments:
“Christianity thrives on human suffering and yearn for community. It was precisely under these circumstances that I committed myself to Christ at 19 years old, when my family got into serious trouble — father filed for bankruptcy, my parents separated.”
Yearn for community? This is what pushed her over the edge to become Christian 23 years ago? I yearn for community as well, but if we become Christians because of this, aren’t we setting ourselves up for a fall? Isn’t the circumstance that should cause us to become Christians the reality of our sin, the Cross, and the conviction of the resurrection of the God-man? Community may or may not be a continuous by-standard of our beliefs. It is the beliefs and trust that provide the genesis of our Christianity.
With all the yearning for care and love upon the utter shattering of my family, my high school pals who were Christians befriended me.
The illustration of need for community again.
I began fervently witnessing Christ, became a cell group leader on Bible study, witnessed to friends and relatives about Jesus and the salvation, using the tracts supplied from my church.
I was active in church and in my college years, also leaded evangelizing activities witnessing Jesus. However, I sensed in the entire ethos of this set of belief, some incompleteness.
I would imagine that the “incompleteness” comes from a rising realization of “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance describes a physiological condition where a person’s beliefs are in contradiction to other beliefs or the way they live. Often people’s habitual patterns do not harmonize with their intellectual convictions. In Christianity, it is often the case where people live according to a Christian worldview due to traditional bents without ever experiencing a true cognitive or intellectual conversion to such. This produces a dichotomous life of dissonance—inconsistency in their beliefs and practices. I would imagine that this is the case with Virginia.
It promised one being “new in Christ”, with Christ Lordship, a person should be filled with blissful joy and contentment. It was not the case, the blissful atmosphere common in Christian community were mainly externalized activities expressing contentment.
She begins to notice the cognitive dissonance of other Christians.
In the core, the person’s problem, their pains and hurts were never really addressed — the religious experience serves only to numb one’s sense.
What senses are numbed? The reality of pain, suffering, or evil? Pantheism, Christian Science, Scientology, and other Eastern Religions seek to rid themselves of the problem of pain, suffering, and evil by denying their reality, but Christianity should never do such. In fact, Christians should have the greatest realization of the problem of evil since it is through the Christian view of God and righteousness that evil can truly be called evil.
I gradually felt the sharp incongruity as I became more aware of the many contradictions within the Bible, and contradictions with contemporary social reality.
The dissonance begins to resolve itself as her subjective experience begins to whisper. Having no solid foundation, where do you expect Virginia to go? Back to the community and hope that it is the right one?
For example, the Bible prohibits woman from assuming any leadership role or ministerial role, yet I saw many women who are talented leaders and fine ministers.
Similarly, the way Genesis described the origins of life do not reconcile with clear scientific evidence.
Yet the most disturbing aspect of Christianity was its hypocrisy [emphasis mine]. As I got acquainted with church leadership, with larger circles of Christian, their behavior and methods of dealing with others is so unchristian — lies, deceits, double-talks, abusive use of powers etc. — all carried out under the veil of a smiling face uttering Jesus’ love.
Ouch! There it is again. Hypocrisy. I hate this. Christians often make the worst Christians, I know. But does this provide evidence that Christ did not raise from the dead? Does hypocrisy have a stranglehold on truth?
For years, I wrestled the issues, trying to find ways out by reading contemporary theological works from Karl Bart, Hans Kung etc. — I was overwhelmed with long elaboration of a set of belief attempting to “re-explain” the Bible — which raised more questions than answers — the Bible became so malleable that you don’t really needed it — just place any contemporary philosophical thought and slab the “God” label and that’s it.
Is the resurrection of Christ malleable? How? I understand that much of Christianity is shaped subjectively and culturally, but can’t this be seen as a strength as well? Just a thought since I don’t know the conditions of Virginia’s understanding of malleable.
I considered Catholicism, primarily due to its beautiful liturgy, yet I found myself avoiding the key question — Christianity started from a immutable assumption — we owe our existence to God and God is the one that give us life and meaning. We are not permitted to ask if God existed, this is something the Christian theologian referred to as stopping “infinite regression” — but is this the right place to stop?
We are not permitted to ask if God existed? I would think that such a proposition would cause me some trouble as well. Questions that are left unanswered or swept under the rug called “blind faith” are far too common in today’s Christianity. Virginia should have wrestled with these issues in Christianity 101. Unfortunately the void in her discipleship process was filled not with an honest engagement of the most important issues, but with the need for community which lead to a reliance on people, not truth. When truth asked for an audience, her only apologetic was a hypocritical community.
Attempt to use existing apologetic materials on the origins of life, creation etc. lead me to nowhere — for I read enough materials that clearly debunks ideas like Intelligent Design etc.
Clearly? It is these type of overstatements that come at the end of the departure process. Virginia was already on the way out. She leaves her old faith with an emotional conviction that is shrouded with a false sense of certainty. This is common among all of us, but such overstatements, in my opinion, reveal a stronger lever of uncertainty than certainty.
I finally asked the question: do our cosmos come to existence because of a creation ? My discovery tells me that, we simply cannot find evidence that our cosmos are created — Christians like the sound of a creation by God more and cannot bear the seemingly impersonal description of how matters/energy exchanges.
I look to atheist sites like infidel.org and books by Richard Dawkins — and there I realize that Christianity is the “gap” worshiper — whenever there’s something inexplicable, “God” is the default — the inconsistency of Christian’s approach to answer questions about scientific truth prove to be a very strong push factor that cause me to say no — I am not into superstition — no matter how Christians packaged their “scientific ideas” — that very assumption of God (requiring unquestioning faith) cannot be accepted — it leaves the ultimate core in the balance — we based our outlook of life, morality etc. on something that simply “accepted as truth”.
With the void of left, what does one expect? She believes in “blind leap Christianity.” But Christianity has never said that accepting something as truth is simple at all. Unfortunately, such is the discipleship process where we seek converts rather than disciples.
Moreover, on issues of morality, God is silent and permits so many flavours of understanding — hardly a sure way for basis of morality.
As I satisfied and convinced myself that God existence is so improbable, I announced my resignation from Christianity, and embraced atheism — only to my surprise that I can let go of the burden of defending a set of inconsistent ideas and be free to be a person of reason.
Such is the releasing from cognitive dissonance. In one sense, I have the mind to congratulate Virgina. If what she says is true, she was living under the presumptive faith of a Christianity that never was, but is often promoted. Would be that many would experience a “de-conversion” process that they might accept Christianity based on a foundation that is true to what it is all about. Being satisfied with people who live in such dissonance (even ourselves) is destructive.
What are your thoughts on Virginia’s “de-conversion”?