Some time ago, I stumbled upon a website called “Letters From Leavers“. It’s essentially a website setup by Christians that asked the question, “Why did you leave the church?” Presumably, they want to remedy the situation. Hopefully, they want to understand it, and maybe it will lead Christians to stop using the tired old excuses that people who leave Christianity want to live in sin, or had a bad experience with a leader in the church and misapplied their hurt by leaving the religion. There’s quite a few people that I know personally who left the church, and quite a few famous people, too. Michael Shermer comes to mind (he was a hard-core Christian Fundamentalist, now he runs Skeptic Magazine and speaks out against creationism, psychics, and blind religious faith). Admittedly, quite a few of the people had bad experiences with the church (power struggles, betrayal of trust when a pastor or priest was involved in sexual abuse of a child, etc). I never really thought “people behaving badly” was a particularly good reason to leave a religion (although, one would expect that Christians would behave better – I mean the New Testament does talk about all that “you are a new creation in Christ” stuff which doesn’t really appear to be true). I went ahead and submitted an article. I tried to keep it short – there are so many things I could talk about, but I left a very large part of those out. Here is the text:
I was raised in a Christian family, went to Christian school, and a Christian college. I didn’t have any bad experiences with the church, or with Christians, and I didn’t I didn’t stop believing because I saw hypocrisy in the church or among the televangelists. My interactions with Christians has been largely positive. The problem I had was with Christian theology, the question of whether Christianity was true, and the basis for belief in Christianity. My whole “losing faith in Christianity” took years.
I remember going to church when I was in high school (my parents, strong Christians, always took us to church every Sunday, and we usually went to “youth group” on Wednesday nights, too). I had been throughly convinced in the truth of Christianity, but late in high school, I started to have doubts about it. At church, people were speaking in tongues, there was faith healing (though the healing never quite seemed to “stick”), people “talked to God” (but I never saw any profound insight which might actually indicate that they were talking to a higher power), and I began to look out over the congregation and think that maybe everyone was just working themselves up into a religious frenzy. My parents would say, “The Lord was really moving today at church”, but I began to think that what I was seeing was not a spiritual phenomena, but a sociological one. As I learned more, I learned that these kinds of “spiritual” experiences happened in other religions, and especially in the Afro-Caribbean Voodoo ceremonies. These experiences, no matter how real they seemed, were not good evidence for Christianity.
People all over the world believe in their own particular religious traditions. Whether they are Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or some other religion, many of them are believing in the religion that they were raised to believe. Their social circles – their friends and family – likely believe in the same religion. Some of them devoutly following their false religions because they sincerely believe in those religions are true. They aren’t rejecting God, they’re just sincerely deceived. When they get to heaven, they’ll be shocked to find out the truth. Because they didn’t accept Jesus Christ, they will be doomed to eternity in hell. The whole thing seemed like a vastly unfair shell game – pick which religion has the Truth under it, and after they die, they’ll be punished or rewarded based on how well they *guessed*. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. God has the power to tell everyone about the truth of Christianity. These people would like to know the truth, and (according to Christianity) God wants to save them. So, why can’t God send angels to tell people the truth? Why can’t God manifest the truth of Christianity for all to see, thereby saving people from eternal torment? It’s well within God’s power to do so, yet He doesn’t do it. Christians may protest that God tells people the truth if they pray or that the evidence is available, but I don’t believe that. I was a Christian. I remember thinking about these issues when I was younger, when my faith was falling away. I prayed to God and ask God for answers, but more and more it seemed that I was talking to no one at all. I prayed for a sign, just so that I could know that the Christian God existed because I was starting to doubt. I just needed something to hold onto. Nothing ever happened. I had to seriously consider the possibility that perhaps I was the one believing in a false religion. Maybe no God answered because I was praying to a non-existent God.
Some Christians may argue that the threat of hell for unbelievers should drive Christians to missionary work – to make sure that people don’t die believing in a false religion, but no one can reach everyone, and we can’t go back in time to save those people who have already died. Further, there is the problem of authentication. If we tell someone about Jesus Christ, what evidence do we have to help them believe? If they fail to convert, can they really be blamed for not rejecting their traditional religion – the religion of their youth, their culture – when we don’t have anything to point to showing the clear truth of Christianity over their religion? God could remedy this situation, but He doesn’t. And those people in the Americas who lived between 30AD and 1500AD, they had no possibility of hearing the Christian gospel. All those people in all those years had the possibility of salvation in the sense that Jesus had already died, but until 1500AD there was no communication between the Old World and the New World. All those generations, probably numbering between 250 million and 500 million people, were doomed to hell from the moment they were born, despite the fact that salvation actually existed. God could have remedied the situation by sending angels to teach them about Christianity and salvation, but He didn’t. What a wonderful confirmation of the truth of Christianity it would’ve been if Europeans encountered Christians in the New World, their version of Christianity taught by angels. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, it seems that Christianity is just a religion passed between men, with no divine authentication.
What about the people who live in Saudi Arabia – where the government have banned the teaching of any religion except Islam? They will likely never hear any decent explanation of Christianity, and is it illegal to convert from Islam. Yet, those people are going to hell? Some Christians might “explain” that it is a demonic system, but that doesn’t mean that those people living under that system should go to hell. The Saudi government believes it is doing the population a favor by giving special rights to the “true religion”: Islam (which is actually a false religion). God could remedy this situation. He could show that Islam is not the true religion, he could show the people that He is the true God. Saudi Arabia could be changed if Christianity were authenticated and Islam refuted. But, that doesn’t happen, and those people have very little opportunity to hear or convert. Ultimately, millions of people are being sucked into hell because of it.
The more I looked around at the world, it seemed devoid of God. I remember being in college (a Christian college) when my friend Emily told me about her sister and brother-in-law. Emily thought the world of her brother-in-law. They were strong Christians, but one day a drunk driver hit their car killing him, but leaving Emily’s sister alive. Why? In some sense, it would’ve been more merciful for them both to survive or die (together in heaven). Instead, he died and she survived. I remember hearing how Emily’s sister tried to pickup the pieces of her life and find another godly man to marry. The last I heard (many years later), the sister was dating an overbearing Christian man, and the whole situation was bad. I just had to shake my head and think how God never seemed to actually do anything. Looking at the world and watching people’s experiences, I came to the conclusion that either God didn’t exist, or He simply didn’t care.
I remember when the tsunami hit in Southeast Asia a few years ago. Over one-hundred thousand people dead, many of them children. This was caused by a deep underground earthquake – a movement of the earth – the planet that God supposedly created. This was not some evil that mankind thrust upon their fellow man. It was caused by a problem in the planet. When that earthquake occurred, it took a few minutes before it hit Indonesia. Then it took another few hours before it his Sri Lanka, India, and East Africa, causing deaths in each location. If God is all knowing, not only did he knowingly create a planet that would convulse in a way that would kill hundreds of thousands, but he knew the tsunami would occur before it happened. After the earthquake occurred, and the deadly waves moved across the ocean, God knew that they would hit the shores, causing massive deaths. It’s hard for me to know that God saw all of this happening before and during this whole process and He didn’t do anything. God could’ve blocked the waves, He could have sent angels to warn people. If I had been in the position to know that this tsunami would happen, if I could’ve warned people before the waves hit, I would’ve been frantically warning people like crazy. I would’ve been screaming my lungs out, and if people still died I would’ve been crushed by the thought that maybe I could’ve done more, maybe I could’ve tried harder. But, God didn’t do that – He didn’t do anything, and more than that, He built this flawed planet. And after the disaster, God sees the results – the dead bodies, distraught parents, grieving families, confused orphans, the crushed lovers. Again, I am brought back to the thought that God doesn’t exist, or He simply doesn’t care. The tsunami, as terrible as it was, is nothing compared to eternal torment in hell. Yet, God fails to authenticate Christianity as the true religion. I don’t understand that – unless Christianity and all the religions that profess heaven and hell (including Islam) are simply false religions.
That is the reason I am not a Christian. The lack of authentication, the lack of divine action doesn’t make sense, and all the arguments and “evidence” for Christianity can be explained away as coincidence, rhetoric, psychology, or the simple desire to believe in a nice story that simply isn’t true. I can’t help but think that if Christianity were true, it would mean that billions of people will end up in eternal hell not out of rejection of God, but out of a God’s failure to authenticate Christianity as the true religion.
(Note: I realize that Mormons believe that Jesus Christ did go to the Americas to preach the gospel after his resurrection. Of course, there is nothing to substantiate this claim, and the Book of Mormon makes plenty of strange claims that have not held up to scrutiny.)