Sunday, April 16, 2006

Three-hanky atheism


In this post, a gentleman by the name of David Poehlein has been asking why anyone would spend their time discussing a belief they don't hold. He also did what many other Christian commenters have done here as well, dismissed our past faith.

I consider the following an open letter to all who do so.


Do you not notice how presumptuous you are being here?

You come into a forum in which the writers describe a gut-wrenching journey away from faith.

So, you come in and invalidate all of our experience.

You were no part of my journey. You don't know what it is like to see your faith slowly drained from you. To fight, kicking and screaming, to maintain it. To cry, pray, seek counsel, force yourself into a Church, pray some more, cry some more.

I am/was an ordained minister. From five-years-old until thirty, I believed that Jesus died for my sins and was the love of my life. Never, for one second, during all of that time could I have imagined that I would ever be anything other than a Christian.

I didn't want to leave the Church; I loved it. I loved preaching, singing, praying, teaching, the Bible, seminary, all of it. I stayed, for a while, even after my faith was gone, just because I couldn't imagine life without it. It was horrific.

And, then, you bop in here and flippantly dismiss everything I experienced. You say it was all a delusion. Well, pardon me for not running to embrace what you have to say.

I believed Jesus' words, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. . . And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Do you know how many times I lay face-down on my floor crying to heaven for God to fulfill this promise? Do you know how many times I screamed the prayer of that helpless father in Mark 9:24, "I do believe; help my unbelief"?


i) When they can’t make a rational case for infidelity, apostates resort to tearjerkers of the Love Story variety.

If they simply lost their faith, they’d have my sympathy.

But having turned their back on the church, they set fire to the church so that no one else can enter in. There is where my sympathy ends.

Loftus, Exbeliever, and all the rest, are the spiritual equivalent of Typhoid Mary.

Jesus had a very special penalty reserved for those who make it their business to undermine the faith of the faithful (Mt 18:6).

ii) We are also not conned by a transparent ploy. Note the cynical use which Exbeliever and others of his ilk make of their deconversion testimonials.

He tells us how horrific and gut-wrenching it was to lose his faith—thereby trying to elicit our sympathy.

And yet he’s using his deconversion story as a tool to persuade other professing believers to leave the faith as well.

But if it’s such a horrific and gut-wrenching ordeal, why is he so determined to make anyone else go through the same horrific and gut-wrenching experience? Is Exbeliever a sadist?

iii) Another cynical aspect of this tactic is the use of raw emotionalism to do the work of honest reasoning.

iv) No one has invalidated their experience. We fully validate their experience as nominal believers who became hardened apostates.

v) But if they are going to deploy their experience as a pretext for the rest of us to abandon the faith, then we are quite entitled to evaluate the quality of their experience. They are the ones putting it out for public consumption. They are the ones who use their experience as a weapon against the faith of the faithful.

vi) God didn’t break in any promise. God’s promises are made to believers, not unbelievers.

Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement. God has a few promises for unbelievers, too (e.g. Mt 25:41; Rev 14:11).

vii) Exbeliever also has a rather detachable notion of faith, as if saving faith is something you pray for—a free-floating resinous gum that sticks to whatever it comes into contact with.

But faith is faith in something. It takes an object.

If we begin to see our faith draining away, it isn’t simply a matter of needing to replenish our faith, like tanking up on gasoline.

Due to certain intellectual, moral, or emotional holes in the gas tank, we no longer see or feel the same way about the object of faith.

To address a crisis of faith or a loss of faith, that is what you need to address. You don’t pray for more faith.

What has changed is not your faith, but you. You have become alienated from the object of faith. You are now out of sync with the object of faith.

This can happen in many ways. A personal tragedy. A besetting sin. Intellectual unpreparedness. Watching a false expectation dashed.

The solution, if possible, is to readjust your heart, mind, or life to bring it back into alignment with the object of faith.

More faith in a leaky gas tank isn’t going to solve the problem. You need to plug the leak.

viii) Suppose I were presumptuous? Big deal!

From Exbeliever’s standpoint, those who are presumptuous and those who are not share a common oblivion. Once we’re pushing up the daisies, it never made a dime’s worth of difference to me or to you if I was presumptuous or not.

The fortuitous organization of atoms that was me, and the fortuitous organization of atoms that was you, are merely reorganized at death, to become the food of worms.

How is my fortuitous collocation of atoms, however presumptuous, inferior to yours?


Why don't you do this? Why don't you explain to us why your belief is true? Why don't you say something besides the dogma of your religion? Any Buddhist, Muslim, or believing Jew could do that. They could come in and spout their dogma. If your faith is "true," you should be able to explain why, right? Why don't you let that be your method instead of presuming to know us and simply dismiss what we have to say? We welcome your reasons. We welcome a rational defense of your faith. Try us, okay?


David is a layman, not a professional apologist. The church is comprised of members with differing gifts and callings. David is an RN who works with patients in critical condition. That’s a very admirable job—unlike Exbeliever who makes it his mission in life to spread the misery around.


  1. In my experience, some of these same people who claim to have wanted to remain Christians don't act like it. I remember a discussion I had last year with a man who claimed that he went through a lengthy struggle, with a lot of tears, before renouncing Christianity. Yet, this same man, when discussing the evidence for Christianity with me and with other people, would propose ridiculous theories to dismiss facts as banal as Mark's authorship of the gospel of Mark. People who claim to have had such a desire to remain Christian will argue for widespread memory loss, widespread hallucinations, and other absurdities in order to dismiss the supernatural elements of Christianity. When people with easy access to the web, libraries, and other resources argue that the early Jewish Christians derived their theology primarily from pagan mythology, suggest that the resurrection appearances of Christ were hallucinations, or claim that something like two-thirds of the authorship attributions of the New Testament books are incorrect, I don't get the impression that they've been struggling to remain Christian. I get the impression that they've been struggling to avoid Christianity.

    We should remember that there's no need to propose one explanation for an individual's experiences in leaving the Christian faith. A person can have a mixture of good and bad motives at one point in time or have good motives at one point followed by bad motives later. Good tears and good prayers can be followed by bad choices made with bad motives. Whatever good may have been involved in the process of leaving the Christian faith, the accompanying attempts to make an objective argument for abandoning the faith are bad. There is no good non-Christian explanation for something like the life of Jesus. The supernatural marks He left in the historical record are too deep to be erased with weak theories about hallucinations, the supposed gullibility of ancient people, etc.

    If people who go through the Bible drawing up lists of alleged Biblical errors would make as much of an effort to weigh the difficulties involved in coming up with theories to dismiss every supernatural element of Christianity, they would find that the latter far outweighs the former. But, at least with many of these people, their skepticism seems to be little more than a one-way street.

  2. I'm intrigued by your pointing out that David is a layman, and is thus excused from giving a full rational defense of the faith. (I don't actually mean to make that sound negative.) I've been under the vague impression that this is a requirement for everyone, and have only recently been partially corrected. Could you clarify--or point me to a post or article that clarifies--the layperson's (specifically laywoman's) role in giving a reason for the hope that s/he has?


    - A lurker/younger sister in the faith, who has been much encouraged by this blog

  3. Every Christian has an obligation to explain as best he can why he believes in God.

    This can be limited to the argument from experience--the person experience of God's grace in providence in your life and the lives of others you know.

    Some Christians exude a saintliness that is its own testimony.

    Not everyone has the same calling or aptitude. Not everyone is a philosopher or historian or scientist.

    So there's a distinction, not of gender, but of aptitude.

    There are some very bright, analytical women who can make a rational case for the faith.

    But there's also a reason why we have a division of labor in the church. Why everyone doesn't do the same thing.

    Go with your talent and training.