What Does it Take to Leave Christianity?

Don’t worry. Satan’s not in any pain. He’s just hangin’ out.
Image found here.

Author’s Note: There’s some strong language in this post.

I see this question get asked in different forms on mostly skeptics’ blogs, but occasionally it gets asked (often rhetorically) on Christian blogs too. Often it seems kind of weird, like people discussing how to get laid. This analogy is especially relevant when people ask what it’ll take to do this to a specific person. One might as well ask, “What will it take to fuck him/her/them?” The person who can answer sometimes even frequents the comment thread, which I can only imagine makes things more awkward.

Every time I got presented with it as a Christian, I never entertained it.
Discussions about this always made me nervous when I believed. The closest it ever came to getting me to think about leaving my faith was when I wondered if Christians sound just as sleazy when they talk about winning souls (hint: it does). Just like everything else that kept me in the faith, directly questioning it never magically persuaded me to question in reality.

At the end of my faith, I was the only person responsible for leaving it. This makes sense, after all, because I’m the only person that cultivated it in the first place. Imaginary walls belong to the imagination. I cannot stress this fact enough. Even when people are cajoled into looking at biblical errors (for example), the people actually have to go and do the looking. Nobody could look for me, and I couldn’t look for anyone else.

What did it take for me to start looking?
Thinking about an answer is complicated. I was afraid to look, and I spent a good time ignoring that. Summoning up the courage to finally accept that I didn’t believe took months after going through a severe period of psychological trauma. The trauma still affects me years later. So I can say that I didn’t just up and decide to quit Christianity cold turkey.

No, I had to actually deal with a threshold question in all of its vulgar glory: why the fuck does it matter?

In too many discussions between skeptics and Christians, this question gets hinted at without ever getting approached. I mean, the answer’s a bit embarrassing when talking about something like Pascal’s wager. Pascal is dead, the wager is stupid, and it’s been hashed and rehashed into the ground. Nobody really benefits from talking about the wager. At best, it’s boring as hell. Most apologetics fall into the same category.

This is because it doesn’t fucking matter if these issues get settled. For a lot of people, they can function kind of believing something is out there watching over them. They don’t give two shits about justifying it under rigorous philosophical scrutiny. To them and their friends, it’s an occasional topic of interest at three in the morning after downing a case of beer. Only on the rarest of occasions do they think heavily about this, and most often they can’t get past not really caring.

For someone like me, I was only slightly different. I was personally invested in my faith enough to keep it, including avoiding church atmospheres that would have killed it. But I also cultivated an aura of indifference to skepticism about it. Live and let live wasn’t just a personal philosophy, it’s what kept me from strangling my faith and leaving it in the gutter where it belonged. Thus, I became blind to the things that hurt myself (like doctrines of sin), and I played up qualities I believed were admirable (like treating other people with dignity and courtesy).

But really, does it matter that people change their beliefs about deities?
The answer to that question will be different depending upon the person answering it. People who equate civility with respect will probably say that it doesn’t matter at all, that we all just need to hug it out. Some people who think that sharing the same belief or lack of belief will probably say that it always matters at all times, because [insert some emotionally evocative thought here, like terrorism or scandalous TV].

As you might be able to guess, I’m not a fan of either end of the spectrum. I left religion to get away from petty and petulant demands that people share my point of view or else. The world didn’t change when I left Christianity, so I can’t really expect it to change when anyone else does.

Instead, I think the answer relies on context. Some people might instinctively feel that something is wrong with their faith, but they’re too afraid to ask about it. They’re not going to say anything, but they will watch and listen. I was once one of those people. As it turned out, I had to keep quiet about my questions because I knew that one skeptic chuckling derisively at my stupidity would have thrust me back into belief. Here’s a scarier thought: I might even have gone off the really deep end before becoming completely undone.

People who are unaware of anything harmful have no reason to change a belief. This is true for any belief. Religion is no exception. Regardless of one’s point of view, one cannot forcibly change the belief of another. Even if you could, it would end up being more of an Orwellian nightmare than anything else. That, and trying to force someone to change a belief can end up causing more harm for no reason whatsoever.

This is why I don’t try to persuade anyone to leave their faith.
If someone is already asking, I’m more than happy to offer any help I can. If someone isn’t asking, I’m not going to force myself on them. Getting to the point of me wanting out of Christianity hurt. Part of that pain was because I didn’t fully want to look at my faith. I would have seized on any excuse to look away.

And yeah, I understand that plenty of people will find excuses to justify doing otherwise. Some people like getting yelled at, I suppose. For people who suffer in silence, yelling and carrying on isn’t going to help.

People are more important than the beliefs they hold. It doesn’t mean we all should hang out together and sing folk songs from the 60’s. But it does mean that maybe people should get cut some slack every once in a while. Even today, the world can be a shitty place. Sometimes people just need some acceptance without any strings attached.

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19 thoughts on “What Does it Take to Leave Christianity?

  1. I can understand what you are saying I think. I do not think it fair to just badger people about their faith. But what about people of faith who are publicly saying a false narrative? Say someone is pushing false histories, do we not have a responsibility to speak up? Hugs

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s a good point you raise. I think that the rebuttal of a false narrative or harmful idea can be separated from a rebuttal of religion itself. Looking at it in this way, I’m saying that including a rebuttal of religion in every discussion is inefficient at best and counterproductive at worst.

      What it boils down to is a value between being persuasive and obtaining conformity. Let’s take the Westboro Baptists for example. Technically their underlying faith is the cause for their speech against gay people and near military funerals. Making the argument against the faith will trigger all Christians to defend some of that church’s views. However, making the argument against their hate speech gets Christians to think twice about the consequences of thinking homosexuality is a sin.

      While some people might not find it ideal, I think it’s better to influence people to cause less harm with their beliefs than to try to get them to conform to mine. If Christianity dropped its beliefs on sin and just became some personal expression of treating people ethically, I’d rather deal with that than its current form.

      In sum, you can speak up against wrongdoing without necessarily making a case against religion in general. Ideally, you can use a wrongdoer to convince other members of the larger group that they shouldn’t adopt the wrongdoer’s beliefs. In that way, you can mitigate harm more productively than if you try to include the underlying faith.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Gotcha. The main thrust of my point to Scottie is that obtaining conformity with regards to religious views isn’t dependent upon being persuasive on other grounds. So I’m giving more preference to being persuasive over getting conformity if the two issues conflict with each other.

        The sentence about Christianity was intended to be more of a “if I had to make a decision between one or the other” kind of deal. I didn’t articulate it very well.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You have such a great sense of humour, SB. I appreciate it. The ‘getting laid’ analogy was perfect, by the way – I snorted! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Yes, well, it’s all well and good when you think of it, I guess. Letting others think whatever the hell they want to – the old, ‘live and let live’ philosophy I suppose works most of the time. Problem is, there are people who use their religious beliefs as an explanation for bigotry and assorted nastiness. And they actually feel that theirs are the correct ways of thinking and behaving in the world. I think that in these cases (and we’re talking specifically about fundagelicals here) it is our responsibility as intelligent conversationalists to point out the error in their thinking. You know what, though? I have arrived at the place in my life that I don’t think it hurts to point out to any believer that, in fact, it is all nonsense. After all, it means that person is operating daily believing that there’s something – outside their own consciousness and thinking power – that has some sort of power. It’s rather bizarre, when you really give it a good think.
    Food for thought, I guess. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Carmen!

      Yeah, I didn’t really include my thinking on Christians who invite disaster (JB is a good example of that, I think). People who throw their rocks in a glass house can’t complain when a shard gets in their foot.

      And really I’m not saying that belief is too sacred to be challenged. I’m saying that sometimes direct challenges can be counterproductive. Some people are looking for an invitation to examine their beliefs rather than a push.

      Putting it differently, I think that it’s more productive to show Christians why a belief might be nonsense rather than flat out telling them. While I might not be able to change their entire view, I hope that I’d get them to think about how they might hurt people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • While I admire your diplomacy (and I know I’ve told you this before), I think sometimes the ‘blunt force’ comment works on some people – at the very least, it might get them to sit up and take notice. I have seen it in action. . . and I also think that some of the fundamentalists just don’t even seem to realize that there’s anyone who actually has a less-rigid outlook. For them, blunt comments might kick-start a deeper awareness process.
        At the very least, as a reader, I get a real kick out of some of the tell-it-like-it-is commenters. You probably know exactly to whom I’m referring. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 3 people

      • I get who you’re talking about. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        But take my conversation with UnkleE, for example. It’s not about me being diplomatic or nice or direct or anything. Rather, it’s about presenting a simple alternative view of divine revelation, and showing how confusing belief in divine revelation can get.

        If one single Christian reads it and thinks that I might be onto something, it’s worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I did state my position pretty strongly. However, I can’t say that all people feel negatively towards direct challenges. I recall a couple people on Ark’s blog thanking him for challenging them on their faith views. While I disagree with that approach, I can’t tell people they’re wrong about how they feel.

        Like

  3. Your points are well-made, Sirius. For me, I cringe when I see how religion (esp. Christianity since I live in the states) tries to worm its way into the populace-at-large through various and sundry means. I tend to lean towards the “live and let live” philosophy … so long as it doesn’t intrude on how I choose to live my own life .. or others of like mind.

    Of course the problem is, believers are commanded by their “leader” to bring everyone into the fold … even when those people are kicking and screaming in defiance … because it’s “for their own good.” As a result, I think many feel the necessity to “fight back” … even though it may be a lost cause.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I feel the necessity to fight back too, Nan. Sometimes I worry that it might be a vestige of my old faith, and at other times I feel like I’m not being persuasive enough. Most likely it boils down to a matter of taste. My education is in trying to convince people I’m right, so I’m probably being hard on my own thinking.

      Keeping the public secular is a big concern, and I’m always looking for the best way to convince people of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pascal’s Wager always felt like coercion and manipulation to me.. I first encountered it when I still considered myself a “believer,” but when I began to stray from any actual organized religion.. But the Wager felt like it was guilting me into just “settling” for religion “just in case.” It was a very unsettling feeling…

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I was a Christian, I always viewed the Wager with a shrug like it made sense – without looking too far into it. It took getting it thrown at me after leaving Christianity for me to realize how bad it is. And there are different reasons people can not like it.

      Did you study the Wager much when you were a Christian? I don’t know if I would have made the same realization as you if I looked at it harder.

      Like

      • I can’t say I ever really studied it per se.. Just kinda stumbled upon it one day (one of my religious friends had it in his old-school Facebook bio or something). And it just struck me as sneaky and almost desperate… “Praise God! What do you have to lose? If we’re wrong, you lose nothing.. But you SHOULD just in case, because if YOU’RE wrong…” To me it sounds like it is making an insincere attempt to come off as actually entertaining the possibility that believers may be wrong. but it’s not. It’s a sneaky “hard sell” of why everyone should accept Jesus and it just always rubbed me the wrong way.

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      • The problem with the wager as I see it (apart from the silly notion that you should believe “just in case”) is that it doesn’t help in choosing which religion is the “right” one to follow.

        Liked by 2 people

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