Trying not to lose my religion

It is an insult to God to believe in God. For on the one hand it is to suppose that he has perpetrated acts of incalculable cruelty. On the other hand, it is to suppose that he has perversely given his human creatures an instrument – their intellect – which must inevitably lead them, if they are dispassionate and honest, to deny his existence. It is tempting to conclude that if he exists, it is the atheists and agnostics that he loves best, among those with any pretensions to education. For they are the ones who have taken him most seriously.

- Galen Strawson

An article in the recent issue of Psychology Today covers the topic of ministers who are losing their faith. Some of those profiled in the article only lost a belief in certain aspects of Christianity, while several went so far as to proclaim themselves atheists. Many of them feel trapped in their careers, because they have religious degrees, student loans, and children. They will often mold their sermons into a secular text in an attempt to avoid mentioning things that they no longer believe in.

Although I am not in a ministerial position, the article really hit a nerve. I’ve been struggling with my faith for quite some time and while I have some understanding of what a difficult process it is, I can’t imagine how much more trying it must be for someone in charge of a congregation.

I’ve been going to church for almost two years and yet it seems that my faith is weaker than it’s ever been. I’m not exactly sure where my belief system is headed, but I really thought that I would have more of an awareness of what it is that I believe in by this point in my life. It’s like I have two brains – one that so desperately wants to believe and one that just wants to challenge everything it learns.

A book by a prominent atheist Richard Dawkins was mentioned in the article and included a remark by the author promising that any believer who started reading his book would no longer believe when they finished. Something about that statement stirred my interest, but also scared me.

I’ve often heard the saying about knowledge being power, but I’m not sure that atheism is a subject that I want to delve into. It seems likely that my beliefs could be profoundly changed, and I’m not sure that I feel up to that right now. On the other hand, there are certain aspects of it that make more sense to me than the age-old explanations I’ve been hearing my entire life. It’s easier to understand why God doesn’t intervene when children in Kenya are being burned to death inside a church, for instance.

As I browsed through the religion section during a recent trip to the book store, I couldn’t help thinking back to the aforementioned book on atheism. After tracking down a clerk and asking where I might find books on that subject, I was pointed toward several writings on philosophy.

There, amid tomes on Karma and Taoism, I found a couple of small books proclaiming a belief in a higher power to be ludicrous. I flipped through them, trying to get an overview of the content, when a quote by French astronomer and author Camille Flammarion jumped off the page at me.

Men have had the vanity to pretend that the whole creation was made for them, while in reality the whole creation does not suspect their existence.

That statement seemed rather profound and even true, but it also made me feel a little lonely. I left the store without making a purchase – partly because I didn’t find the specific book I was looking for, but also because I’m just not sure if I want to open that can of worms.

I did find the atheist’s book online, but I decided to go with The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering The Truth That Could Change Everything by Christian author Brian McLaren instead. This way I can feed my “believer” brain without having a spiritual crisis in the process.

But that other book is on my Amazon wish list. And my “non-believer” brain is getting mighty hungry.

21 thoughts on “Trying not to lose my religion

  1. Wei-Hsien Wan says:

    Brian,

    Hey there. Just wanted you to know that someone’s reading.

    You seem to find yourself drawn towards the prospect of atheism, but can you say why? Is the drive motivated by personal experiences or intellectual concerns, or perhaps a combination of both? Either way, I don’t think these validate or invalidate your quest — but I’ve found it helpful in the past to at least identify why I ask the questions that I do about God, the world, life and the like.

    Haven’t read either Dawkins’ or McLaren’s book. Let me know what you think of McLaren when you’re done, will you?

    Your brother in Christ,
    W.H.

  2. Brian, I’m sending you huge hugs right now. I’m sorry you’re struggling, but I’m glad you’re thinking. It’s one of the things that I like the most about you– the fact that you’re so inquisitive, and that you question things. You never seem satisfied with taking things at face value, and you’re honest about what scares you.

    To me, it’s not God that’s scary. It’s not religious texts that are scary. It’s humankind’s interpretations and abuses of them that frightens me. People could believe that the planet is ruled by jumping beans, and I couldn’t care less.

    I have so many things I’d like to discuss with you, but
    I don’t have any advice for you– we all have to find our own answers. But I do understand, and I’m keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. @ Wei-Hsien Wan: That’s a hard question and not one that I can easily answer.

    I have a hard time with faith. If there is no evidence of something, then I’m reluctant to accept it as fact. I believe in God, but I’m interested in the arguments presented by the atheist community.

    I’ll definitely write a report about the McLaren book. I’m excited about reading it.

    @ MBMQ: Thank you. I’m not having a crisis or anything, just revealing that I’m interested in learning about another way of thinking. ;)

  4. Hi Brian! I’ve been thinking about this ever since you posted it.

    I have certainly gone through testings of my own faith. One thing I found was that the farther I “felt” away from God, the closer He was to me. He never leaves us nor foresakes us.

    Faith is about believing and THEN seeing. Not seeing and then believing. The latter is easy. No one said standing in your faith was easy.

    Blessing and many hugs to you!
    Formerly, FreeFromPT

  5. jimthomp87 says:

    Brian,

    I hope you enjoy the McLaren book. I’m reading it with a couple of guys and we get together each week at a local coffee shop to discuss it. We’re taking it a chapter at a time and one guy’s copy has some discussion questions in the back that we use as a “jumping off point”.

    BTW, I have found that losing my religion and losing my faith are two different things. I’ve also found there is a huge difference between believing in God and believing God.

    Keep asking your questions with an honest and open mind. The more I dig, wrestle and question (which is, at times, a very painful journey) the more convinced I am that God is for real.

    Love ya, man!

    JimT

  6. jimthomp87 says:

    Brian,

    I received a book for Christmas by a guy named Lee Strobel called “The Case for the Real Jesus”. Looks pretty interesting and he deals with some of the questions I’ve wrestled with–you may find it worth checking out.

    JimT

  7. @ freefromitall: Thank you for your kind and encouraging words! I like this:

    “One thing I found was that the farther I “felt” away from God, the closer He was to me.”

    I’ll try to keep that in mind.

    @ jimthomp87: That’s so cool that you’re reading the same book I just ordered! I am looking forward to reading it, as I’ve been interested in McLaren for some time. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in your discussions.

    Do you view Jesus as God, or as a messenger of God? I’m just curious. I love Christ, but he seems so completely different from the Deity that is often portrayed as vicious and unloving in the Old Testament.

  8. You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked the saying. It’s not an original (just my take on it). It comes from the book of Psalms (34:18) The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

  9. jimthomp87 says:

    FreeFromItAll,
    Love the Bible quote–what an encouraging thought!

    Brian,
    I look forward to you doing another “online book club” with the McLaren book where you share your insights and observations. When you did that with “If God is Love…” it generated some wonderful discussions.

    As far as my views… Yes, I believe Jesus is the unique son of God, the same substance as God, in a way that we are not. Although he was a man, he was fully God at the same time. I got a similar question from one of my son’s friends a few weeks ago. With his permission, I will post my response to him on my blog.

    There certainly do seem to be to be some differences between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus. And yet Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” I think of it as two sides to the same coin: God’s unflinching justice (OT) and God’s unflinching love (NT). He never compromises either aspect of his character.

    JimT

  10. jimthomp87 says:

    Brian,

    With the risk of monopolizing your blog and wearing out my welcome I just had a couple of more thoughts…

    That is an interesting quote at the top of your post. If God exists (and I believe he does), I imagine God feels it’s an insult not to believe Him :).

    I also disagree that our intellect inevitably leads objective and honest people to deny the existence of God. Being a person of faith does not automatically make one dishonest and/or ignorant. “Intellectual Christian” is not an oxymoron…(or simply a “moron”, as some would argue:)

    As far as the ministers losing their faith, I certainly sympathize with those who feel trapped, or who have a family to feed and loans to pay, but being a minister is not just “a job”.

    Doesn’t it seem disingenuous for a minister to continue to serve if he/she no longer believes in God? (I am not speaking about those ministers who struggle with their faith, but those who have abandoned it all together.) That would be like the President of the United States renouncing his citizenship but still wanting to stay in office.

    JimT

  11. @ jimthomp87:

    “God’s unflinching justice (OT) and God’s unflinching love (NT)”

    Those are the two sides that I can’t seem to reconcile. If we are created in God’s image, then it would stand to reason that we love in a similar fashion to God (although probably not as deeply). I could never torture someone for eternity, even if I didn’t love them. Some of the stories from the OT, like where it says that God sent his people in to destroy every living thing really bothers me.

  12. @ fightingwindmills: I looked it up and I love it. Here it is:

    when they said he could walk on water
    what it sounds like to me
    is he could float like a butterfly
    and sting like a bee
    literal people are scary, man
    literal people scare me
    out there trying to rid the world
    of its poetry
    while getting it wrong fundamentally
    down at the church of “look,
    it sez right here, see!”

  13. Poor Brian, imagine if this were a “real life” conversation:

    Brian’s recap: “Oh lawdy, sister Free and brother Jim stopped by today for a visit. We were just drinking tea and all I mentioned is that I am looking at a few books and getting a better feel for what I believe in and all of the sudden sister Free whips out her bible and brother Jim is preaching a sermon!”

    [Brian thinks to himself: I wish I would have spiked my tea.]

    Thanks for putting up with me Brian. As I said b4 I’ve experienced at least part of what you are experiencing and I have earned/fought for every ounce of faith I have and sometimes I just can’t let it go when someone with your heart is struggling. I hate to watch people in pain and I know for ME, that God is the answer. I hope you find that for you as well and can some day annoy the heck out of someone else about it. LOL

    Miss Windmills, girlfriend, I hope you find the same for you. *heart*

  14. Remember the story about the sinner in the temple ? He was an honest man – full of doubt – and honest with himself and God. He was the one Jesus made an example to follow.
    What then is the problem ? “Lord, I believe. Help me my unbelief.”
    That is the human condition – for which the remedy is prayer to a trusted listener; Or meditation if you want a non-religious analogue.

  15. @ FreeFromItAll: :lol:

    I don’t think either of you are “preachy” at all. I’m glad that people feel free to share their opinions and insight in this space.

    @ opit: I think of that story often. I need to pray much more than I do, but sometimes it feels like no one is listening.

  16. skelliot says:

    Hi Brian.

    I am the author of a skeptical/atheist blog called Skelliot’s Blog. I enjoyed your blog post but I am confused as to why all these posters are trying to push you back to your old devout christian ways.

    I am 20 years old and have at the lucky privilege of not being brought up in a religious family so unfortunately I cannot sympathize with you but I do have some empathy for you. My advice to you is to read as much as you can and look at the facts of life from an UNBIASED mind!

    Imagine you are an alien and you know nothing of human culture (god is a man made construction so an alien would look upon these beliefs with no bias.) , or the Earth for that matter. Read as much as you can about biology (look at the theories ,creation not being one of them), physics, theology (not just christian theology, be open minded) and philosophy.

    Remember, gods do not instill our morals and ideologies upon us! We have developed these morals and ideologies long before there was word of the christian god. I am an atheist and if people tell me I am amoral I would feel insulted, but at the same time I would know that I am not amoral.

    See how you feel and what you take on board as truth then! Instead of listening to people who actively need other people to believe in their god try thinking skeptically and opening your mind to the truth!

    I hope I have helped you slightly.

    Feel free to check out my blog also. Maybe you will learn a few things as I have from you. :)

    Skelliot.

  17. @ Skelliot: I definitely try to make up my own mind, but I also am willing to listen to the experiences and beliefs of people that I respect.

    Your alien explanation makes quite a bit of sense. I also agree that atheist does not equal amoral. We all have reputations and codes that we conduct our lives by, whether or not we are believers.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views!

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