I used to be an evangelical Christian. On July 2nd, 1966, I got ’saved’. I literally came out – I got up out of my seat in front of family and friends at a Billy Graham rally at the age of 13, and decided to follow Jesus. That faith and commitment lasted for a long time, at least until 2000. I was a lay preacher, a pastoral counsellor, a church leader, and a Christian author. I was in hook, line, and sinker. However, over the past fifteen years I have slowly abandoned that faith.
Of course, I know that if my Christian friends were reading this they would say that I am trying too hard. That the fact that I am having to write about it just proves how insecure I am in my new atheism. I would argue that since so many of them ask me about what has happened to me I have had to think things through, for their benefit, and to make sense of the massive change for myself. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen in any neat, logical order, but it has happened, and what is written below is a poor attempt at an explanation after the event.
Although a degree of general unease and doubt had been happening over a number of years (Does God really answer prayers? He doesn’t seem to answer mine. What is the point of singing hymns? Why am I struggling to make a book written in a series of foreign cultures over thousands of years relevant to my life today? How long can I go on doing mental gymnastics about apparent inconsistencies?) the change really took off when I was ill for a year. During that time I spent a year virtually at home, unable to go out and face crowds, and certainly unable to go to church. To someone who had believed that my life would fall apart if I didn’t go to church, I discovered that I was actually enjoying the absence. I certainly wasn’t missing the two Sunday services, the leaders’ meeting on a Sunday afternoon, the midweek meeting, various other meetings with groups or individuals. I started to enjoy the freedom and realise that my faith was not helping my enjoyment of life or blood-pressure.
Over a number of years I had been doing more and more training as a counsellor which involved me in reading more about human beings in an attempt to understand them better. As this happened, I became more and more uneasy with the template for humanity that I had inherited from my Christian faith. If I was honest with myself, I knew how difficult (and superficial) change really was, and that neat Christian solutions to change often only tackled the surface, leaving deeper issues untouched. It no longer seemed good enough to exhort people (and myself) to stop doing things because they were wrong. I started to question the wrongness of some things, and certainly questioned the ability of people to stop despite the apparently available divine aid.
Because of my background in church I initially used to receive a lot of requests for counselling from people within the Christian community. As a counsellor I started to see more of the Christian underbelly. From within the Christian community I have personally come across ’senior’ Christians involved in multiple affairs, anal rape, child sex abuse, cottaging in the local toilets, visiting male and female prostitutes, physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse, wife beating, and bullying. Need I go on? I write this, not in judgement, but simply to make the point – if Christianity did work, and if it did significantly change people at a deep level, that wasn’t always apparent from some Christians. Their tragic experiences, and my own inner struggles and powerlessness, just confirmed my own doubts about efficacy.
As part of my counsellor training I did a 3 year course that forced me to confront a very difficult issue that I had been wanting to avoid. Up until this point I had taken an evangelical view of homosexuality. Homosexuality was wrong because the Bible said so. I was to be compassionate towards gays, but not condone their practice. That was easy as I didn’t personally know any gays. On my course, two of the three tutors were gay. During the three years I got to know them, deeply respect them, and grew increasingly confused and ashamed as I listened to their stories of their inner struggles. I also started to read up-to-date research on homosexuality (Wilson, G. and Rahman, Q. (2005) Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. London: Peter Owen) and concluded that I could no longer toe the party line. And if my party line was wrong on this, it could no longer be trusted and was probably wrong on lots of other things as well.
I know that many Christians would argue that I have rejected the package and that I should not necessarily reject Christ himself. At the moment I cannot see a meaningful way of separating the two.
Despite over 35 years of trying to make it work, I can now say that Jesus didn’t, and doesn’t work for me.
Did he work for you? Does he still do so? Tell me what you think.