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Leaving Church: Right and wrong questions

March 23, 2012

I have been reading several blog posts about the reasons young people are leaving the Church – a question that is a constant and troublesome companion for many Christian ministers. Some good food for thought on this issue can be found here.

Having also gone through a period of leaving the Church, staying away and coming back, I had intended to weigh in with my own post on the reasons why. But while reading Christian Piatt’s fine article “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church,” I became fascinated by the detailed comments left below the article, and the many commenters who felt compelled to share their stories of leaving Christianity – and their strong intention of never returning.

Common to many of the comments is a final arrival at the conviction that the only things that are real are what can be proven as fact. Everything else is silliness, primitive belief, superstition, or worse.  The Age of Reason did away with God, as did dismissal of concerns over heaven and hell. One commenter writes, “Honestly and diligently studying history, science, psychology, mythology, and ethics, may not ever demonstrate that a god of some sort doesn’t exist, but they demonstrate with near certainty that every proposed version of “god” ever proposed by any religion, including Christianity, is man-made.”

I am not really sure whether those who consider themselves a part of this group are statistically a large number, but anecdotally, they show up a lot on the Web. And their numbers appear to be growing. You can read plenty of similar testimony from ex-Christians here.

As someone who continues to struggle with issues of faith, reason and religion, my first reaction is to confess that the Church that now wants these folks to come home has done a lot of work over the centuries to push them out.  We need to seek forgiveness. It cannot be missed that a great many of the “de-converted” come from fundamentalist backgrounds.  I find that I have wrestled with many of the same issues they have, though for some reason or another, we are now at different places.  Many say they were taught that the Bible was literally dictated by God, and that was that. Then, at some point, they encountered the difficult parts: the rapes, the murders, slavery, use of the Bible as a weapon to demonize, destroy, marginalize.  They cannot see a good God in that book. They raise questions, and their questions are dismissed. Or worse yet, they are told they just need more faith.

 

Of course, not only should their questions be asked, there is a problem if we are not asking them. Why would a moral person not be troubled by all the God-ordained bloodshed in the Bible? The Church is to blame for not acknowledging that it doesn’t hold all the answers, and that the answers it does provide may not ever be completely satisfying.  Faith does not mean giving up your doubts. (We really messed up on that one.)

But, for me, the other issue here is the tendency of the “de-converted” to ask the wrong questions. These are the demands to the Church to “Prove it! Or I will not believe!”  These are not bad questions; they are simply the wrong ones. The Church, again, is to blame, along with the prevalence of Enlightenment thinking applied to every possible area. “Magic isn’t real,” one commenter writes. “It never was.” The idea is that nothing is true or real unless it can be proven. Then of course you have the Kirk Cameron crowd who cannot accept scientific discovery because of the apparent fear that if a thread is pulled from the Bible, the whole thing falls apart.

The Bible was never written to be a science or history textbook. The writers did not understand “facts” according to Enlightenment thinking. They didn’t know about evolution. They encountered a difficult world and struggled to understand how God was involved in it. Does it really matter if there was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz? Or, might it be more important that there are timeless truths within the story that have something to teach us today?

Asking the Church to prove what cannot be proven is the wrong question. It assumes that only what is proven is real. That, it seems to me, is the construction of a very limited reality. If God is sovereign over all things, God gave us science and reason and the inner struggle to find what is greater than what we can see and determine with our own eyes.  Could it be that God is found within that struggle?

God is not confined to religion — never has been, never will be. Truth is not confined only to the Bible, either, though I believe it to be uniquely inspired by God. It’s not a textbook. The people who wrote it didn’t know all we know today. And, for me, that’s part of what makes it such a treasure. It is amazing that we still wrestle with these ancient words. I call that wrestling faith. But my faith is not in the pages of a book. The writers of the Bible would call that idolatry. My faith is reserved for what inspired the book.

It is interesting to me that fundamentalists and the New Atheists both seem to be strongly driven by a need for certainty. I deal with that a lot, too.  What would happen if more of us embraced the uncertainty? Could it be that God is found in the uncertain, rather than the certain?

So far, I have only found the kind of love that Jesus talks about in Jesus himself. Perhaps I could seek that love through science, but I think I would be asking science the wrong question, the question it is not equipped to answer.  My struggle continues.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Daniece Wickwire permalink
    April 5, 2012 7:21 pm

    I agree they want irrevocable proof that the stories in the Bible happened just as stated or to prove that what we believe isn’t “fairy tales”. I cannot explain using just science and reason why I believe what I do, I just do. That is what “faith” is all about. Using the bible, Hebrews 11:1, Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

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