Losing my religion

The word “religion” can have different meanings. At its simplest, it means “belief in and worship of God or gods” (Oxford Dictionary). But more precisely, religion is often seen as a designated set of beliefs and rituals by which people relate to a god. Thus religion (implying dogma and restrictions) is often contrasted to spirituality (emphasising freedom and feelings).

Like many other people, I have lost my religion, or a large part of it. Many others have lost their faith in God as well, though I haven’t.

This movement is one of the stories of our times.

unkleE loses his religion

Although I wasn’t raised in a christian family, I was sent to Sunday School, went on to a church youth group, and committed myself to being a christian in my mid-teens. Because I was young, I more or less accepted what I was taught.

But I used to be an argumentative person, and I wanted to be sure that what I believed was true, and to be able to present my beliefs logically to non-believers. So I began questioning what I had been taught.

Life changes you too. Maturity came upon me late (if at all!), but experience nevertheless caused me to think again about much of what Protestant christians believe.

Early on, I lost much of my faith in the church as an institution, and in many of the staples of church life – church services, sermons, clergy and systematic theology.

Also early on, I came across anomalies in christian doctrine, notably:

  • the evangelical understanding of Jesus that didn’t fit very well with what the historians tell us, and wasn’t very well based even on the gospels; and
  • reading more about science (mainly cosmology, neuroscience, psychology and biology), plus history, archaeology, philosophy and people’s stories, led me to see flaws in other common christian beliefs. But the same reading reinforced my core beliefs in God, in the divine Jesus and in the way of life he modelled and called us to follow.

And so I came to where I am today, almost 74 years old, with a lot of religious dogma and ritual quite unrelated to me. My beliefs make me somewhat of an alien in almost any denomination. Yet my belief in Jesus has been much strengthened by my reading and life experience, and my commitment to follow him is as strong as ever. (You can read more about my journey in the links below.)

Not Robinson Crusoe

It turns out that I am not alone.

According to “Science Mike” McHargue, 40-50% of people will go through a major faith transition at some point in their life. This can include conversion from unbelief to belief, “deconversion” to non-belief, and a major change in beliefs.

It is no news that in the western world (primarily Europe, North America and Australia), younger generations are turning from religion in droves and church attendance has plummeted in the last 50 years. In some countries in Europe, the numbers are close to evenly split between the religious, the spiritual but not religious, and the atheists.

Different journeys, different destinations

It is easy to find online people’s stories of their faith transition experiences. As you’d expect, they turn out in many different ways. Of those who deconstruct their faith, some become atheists or agnostics, some move to a spiritual belief that isn’t exclusively christian, some reconstruct to liberal or progressive christianity (the two are different), and a few end up more or less back where they started.

At the same time, there are those who transition in the opposite direction, from unbelief to belief, or from a cultural or nominal belief to a stronger more personal belief.

More conservative christians often see deconstruction as a failure of faith, when in reality it often occurs because of a failure of conservative christianity to provide answers to some obvious questions.

Some obvious questions

Reading faith deconstruction and reconstruction accounts reveals a few common themes of problems not well answered by evangelical christianity:

  • Hell: even strong christians cannot easily reconcile belief in a just and loving God with the idea that finite sins will be punished with never-ending suffering and torment. Many research the Bible and find that it doesn’t teach what traditional christians have been led to believe.
  • Jesus: the Jesus of the gospels, concerned about the poor and oppressed, suspicious of wealth, espousing non-violence, critical of the religious leaders, and establishing the kingdom of God on earth, is far more interesting and attractive than the Jesus of the evangelical church. The idea of a penal substitutionary atonement is often rejected as barbaric.
  • The Bible: there are so many problems with the idea that the Bible is inerrant, that many christians can no longer believe it. Reconstruction almost always leads to a more realistic and evidence-based view of the Bible and how it conveys God’s revelation to us. The early parts of the Old Testament and the Canaanite genocide are particularly subject to deconstruction.
  • Social justice: reconstructed christians often take a greater interest in social justice and community welfare than they once did, and often take up more progressive views on social issues such as gay marriage and gender equality.
  • Church: many change churches (to something less dogmatic) or swap church for some other form of christian meeting, or give up on the organised church completely, at least for a while.

Of course the final conclusions vary a lot, and I don’t necessarily agree with how all people deconstruct and reconstruct their faith, but I am sympathetic to their need to come to a belief they can hold with integrity.

Deconstruction and reconstruction on this website

I have begun a new section on this website, Faith deconstruction, to address what I see as an important issue. I want to encourage those on this journey not to be daunted or distracted by negative comments from fellow believers, nor (on the other hand) to jettison any belief without prayer and careful consideration.

I have started with a few Deconstruction stories, to give the flavour of what is happening. I am planning pages to look at the main issues and offer some ideas about how we might reach a more truthful and satisfying faith.

Stay tuned!

Read more on this site

Deconstruction & reconstruction webpages

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Losing my religion

  1. Neil Rickert says:

    Welcome to the deconversion process.

    It took you about 50 years longer than it took me. But, whatever.

    I agree with a lot of what you write there:

    Early on, I lost much of my faith in the church as an institution

    Yes, that’s where it started for me. In particular, the church was riddled with hypocrisy. Early on, I considered giving up on Church.

    Then, on rereading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, it seemed more like a description of mass hysteria than of an actual resurrection. I was also troubled by being unable to find where Jesus had claimed to be God.

    All of these added up. Jesus was an inspiring person with a strong message. And I could have remained in the Church because of that message. But it was clear that the Church rejected that message, and was instead into authoritarian controlling of people. There was nothing left of Christianity that mattered.

    Yet my belief in Jesus has been much strengthened by my reading and life experience, and my commitment to follow him is as strong as ever.

    I still try to follow the moral principles that Jesus taught. No doubt, I fall way short of that. But the Church does not represent those principles.

    At least in the USA, Christianity has become a religion of conservative politics, love of money, racism and other such practices. And that’s a very poor fit to the teaching of Jesus.

    Like

  2. westofthebluemountains says:

    It’s very easy to lose faith in the church when you see powerful and wealthy Christians like politicians ignoring some of the main tenents of Christian teachings, like charity and fair treatment for those in need.

    That does not invalidate the teachings of Jesus, it just makes them stronger in my view.

    As for the Heaven and Hell pieces of the Bible, I think most of these things are used to control the masses as has been said. I doubt if even most Christian preachers believe these things any more.

    I still think it’s reasonable to believe in God, but there are different interpretations of what He is and what He means to us personally. If He is the ultimate Good in the universe, then He’s not going to send anyone to Hell, but will help them rise up the ladder of spiritual development.

    Other religions are worse, but that’s no consolation really.

    Is the dissolution of the Christian church a problem ? They have done some good things like orphanages etc but even these have been mismanaged. These days Catholic schools cater to high wealth families but they still expect an income from the taxpayer. Most of the hospitals they run are the same.

    I doubt if most church organisations are achieving worthwhile place in society these days, with the exception of the Salvos and a few others that work at the street level.

    Like

  3. clubschadenfreude says:

    unk, you’ve invented your own version of Christianty just like every other christian. You pick and choose what to believe, and you ignore the rest as inconvenient. You also are like so many Christians when they want to pretend they don’t have a religion, since they and their forebearers have made that term one to be disgusted by. You just run away from the problems you’ve created, and one more sect is born.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. unkleE says:

    Hi Neil, I too agree with some of what you have said, notably:

    “Jesus was an inspiring person with a strong message.”
    “in the USA, Christianity has become a religion of conservative politics, love of money, racism and other such practices. And that’s a very poor fit to the teaching of Jesus.”

    There is also much that I tend to agree, though I think you have over-stated:

    “the church was riddled with hypocrisy”
    “But the Church does not represent those principles.”
    “the Church rejected that message, and was instead into authoritarian controlling of people.”

    I think those statements are true of some or many churches, but are a bit harsh for others. But I can understand where you are coming from.

    Finally, there are two things I feel quite differently to you:

    “Welcome to the deconversion process.”

    There is no deconversion process with me. It has been gradual deconstruction and reconstruction, quite a different thing. I am almost 74, and have been a believer for more than 55 years. These processes have been going on almost all of that 55 years. If they were going to lead to deconversion, it would have happened before now.

    “the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, it seemed more like a description of mass hysteria than of an actual resurrection.”

    It doesn’t seem like that to me at all. “Mass hysteria” is defined by psychiatrists as “collective obsessional behavior”, it is characterised by 5 criteria, it is mostly experienced by women and it has clear medical symptoms. I don’t think the resurrections tories in the Bible fit much of that. They seem like normal people experiencing something unexpected and extraordinary.

    “I was also troubled by being unable to find where Jesus had claimed to be God.”

    This is your comment that I find most interesting, because it is generally accepted as true by most New Testament historians. If Jesus made claims to divinity, they are cryptic and implicit, though strong nevertheless. But very soon after his death and resurrection, the early christians were worshiping him alongside God, something quite amazing for fiercely monotheistic Jews, and it wasn’t long before their doctrine followed their worship. This seems to me to be pretty much what I’d expect – Jesus tended to leave others to work out who he was and what he was on about, and the early christian writings show a gradual growth in understanding of his divinity.

    Like

  5. unkleE says:

    Hi “West”, as usual, I agree with much of what you say and disgree with little.

    “It’s very easy to lose faith in the church when you see powerful and wealthy Christians like politicians ignoring some of the main tenets of Christian teachings, like charity and fair treatment for those in need.”

    It is a difficult one, because politicians aren’t the church. But christians tend to vote for conservative politicians who seem far from the teachings of Jesus, so that tends to reinforce your point a little.

    “Is the dissolution of the Christian church a problem ? They have done some good things like orphanages etc but even these have been mismanaged.”

    A lot of it has been well intentioned, but stolen generations of Aboriginal children (admittedly more a Government policy that a church one, but the churches were complicit) and child abuse certainly tarnish the good intentions. But what you say is probably less true of christian social welfare in poorer countries where organisations like World Vision and TEAR have a pretty good record.

    “I doubt if most church organisations are achieving worthwhile place in society these days, with the exception of the Salvos and a few others that work at the street level.”

    I agree.

    Like

  6. unkleE says:

    Hi “ClubSchadenfreude”

    “you’ve invented your own version of Christianty just like every other christian. You pick and choose what to believe”

    When I was much younger, I read an amusing article (maybe in the Readers Digest) where they showed how you could express the same thought in positive, neutral or negative terms. It went like this (this is the only one I can remember – and excuse the sexism, it was in the 50s or 60s!):

    I am a brilliant conversationalist, you talk too much, she is a gossip.

    So your comment suggested another one to me …

    I adjust my opinions according to the evidence, you are inconsistent, he invents his own version of reality and picks and chooses what to believe.

    So, yes, I plead guilty. I have chosen to change my beliefs as I learn more and have more evidence.

    So my question to you – do you not do the same?

    Like

  7. Neil Rickert says:

    I think those statements are true of some or many churches, but are a bit harsh for others.

    I actually agree with that.

    But very soon after his death and resurrection, the early christians were worshiping him alongside God, something quite amazing for fiercely monotheistic Jews, and it wasn’t long before their doctrine followed their worship.

    This is consistent with him being an inspiring person who developed a following.

    The early Christians were Jesus groupies. But most of the jewish people did not agree.

    Even today, we find some Elvis groupies.

    Like

  8. unkleE says:

    “This is consistent with him being an inspiring person who developed a following.”

    Yes, but that hardly qualifies as “mass hysteria”. I’m not arguing that you should believe in the resurrection, just that your description was extreme.

    Like

  9. unkleE says:

    Hi Neil,

    “It’s the description in the Gospels that is extreme — Matt 28, for example.”

    That is changing the subject a little I think – there is nothing that resembles “mass hysteria” there. There may be some embellishment by Matthew, which is a habit of his (assuming one author, which is doubtful) but that is a different question.

    Like

Please leave a comment - anonymous is OK, but please identify yourself with a username. An email address is needed if you want notification of new comments. Please be courteous and constructive - see the Comment policy (link in the footer).

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s