Conclusion

 

Personal Experience (A Personal Testimony Concluded…)

 

Where the rubber really meets the road though, is in the personal experience of god. It's where Christians return to, and what they rely on. For some, it's where they started - their initial conversion testimony: the impacting change god made in their lives; a mystical incident; some deep down assurance of being loved; a vision; a feeling of faith that holds them firm with certainty that they can not explain. For others, they talk of life to the full, with some even claiming it should be exciting and fulfilling because we are doing exactly what we were created for. Whilst a more mature Christian might agree this is over-egging the pudding - and by contrast describe long, dark nights of the soul -  they generally share the view that god should be discernible in some way. There should be something, some difference, some upside, some presence, some help, some insight, some peace. Something.

If that's someone's experience, then fine. It has not been mine. Having imbibed Christianity from a young age, it had been my life. It was woven into my being, but for me there had not been a defining, dramatic conversion. It is fair to say I knew no “before” but I had, what I considered to be, a personal relationship with the Christian god through Jesus and there was nothing more normal to me than that. I could hardly conceive how people functioned without it.

During my deconstruction, eventually I had to take a cold hard look at this aspect of my belief, and my overall feeling on the matter boiled down to this; How most unremarkable this 'walk' with the Lord was. How completely underwhelming this supposed supernatural, life-to-the-full experience had been. How completely hidden this deity had been despite purporting to desire deep connection.

Aside from a few coincidences which I dutifully counted as 'hits' and therefore answers to prayers; a mentally and emotionally satisfying and coherent worldview (one, created by god but that was broken and in need of redemption); and occasional verses that resonated with a situation or feelings, I found very little trace of a divine Being peppering my life. The character flaws I had prayed for over decades were still very much there; I didn't seem capable of discerning God's will, I just had 'hunches' much like secular folk. The fruits of the spirits were not overflowing in me or other Christians; rather, I was assailed by anxiety, depression and fear as much as the next terrified little humanoid. There was no peace in the storm, there was Xanax. I was not moving in a supernatural world setting the captives free and healing the sick, we were all going to therapy and doctors as much as the next person. There was no getting to know God more deeply, but there was learning to wait more patiently, for longer periods of time, in silence. There was no God in your hour of need, just the sound of crickets, but hanging on, despite all this was passed-off as increasing faith. There is no god-shaped hole in unbelievers hearts as Justin's advert on the podcast promises, there's just silence accompanied by the acute understanding of our own demise, and the horror and beauty of life which drives us, as meaning-making mammals, to create stories and build frameworks. Deep doesn't cry out to deep, it cries out to empty, deep space.

Ultimately, my prayers went unanswered, and questions were increasingly filed under 'mystery'. 'Knowing God' became synonymous with trusting this Being, but on increasingly less evidence. Reluctantly, and with great struggle, I eventually had to concede that, despite trying, there was no “personal relationship” with God. I had tried but found it lacking and I could hardly see the point, much less muster up the enthusiasm anymore.

I stopped communicating.

Staggeringly nothing happened, or rather, the exact same things that had always happened continued to happen. For example, when I was searching for my answers and my head was in turmoil, I would come across just the right bit of information, a podcast or a story which 'spoke' to me profoundly. Other people’s deconversion experiences and atheist logic resonated strongly with me. I was vibrating in harmony with this new found secular, and humanist view. It was uncanny. And, coincidences of good things happening, which I would have in the past attributed to God intervening, happened just as much as before, yet without prayer. Life, essentially, carried on.

Going further, and rebuilding my worldview, I stumbled across quite unexpected upsides. I found that meditation worked better for processing anger, or working on compassion. Dropping biblical doctrines had an almost immediate effect on my attitude to others. My former prejudices and judgements fell away and I saw more beauty in the diversity of human nature and culture. The amazingness of us even being on earth has given me goosebumps, awe and gratitude. Realising that life is highly valuable, precisely because it is finite, made me live more fully. Since I'd always assumed I'd live forever, what was the hurry to do anything? Fully realising that all we possess and all we're certain of is now, this very moment rather than a potential afterlife, was truly motivating. Free of the totalitarian thought-police operated by the Christian God, I could now think for myself and without shame. Trying not to be part of this world as Christians are admonished to do, holding each thought captive and leaning not on my own understanding had got me nowhere. Without the need to define people into heaven-bound and hell-bound, I saw people as people in all their humanity, and this I have found to be a far richer experience. Besides, it is a strange being indeed that lives with the belief most people will burn in hell and that humanity is essentially depraved. It takes a special kind of compartmentalisation to hold that view, and it numbs your compassion. It has to, or you would go insane.

Deconstruction has been empowering; I am responsible for me, my faults and actions, both good and bad. There is no spiritual cavalry coming to save the day. I have to make amends and own my mistakes - not cast them off to someone else. I no longer give my agency away to God's supposed will and lose swathes of time trying to work out what that might be.

Issues that plague the church disappear instantly. For instance, there is no good reason to deny LGBTQI people their rights, nor any reason that we feel we should comment on their lives. None.

But mostly, I am free from the cocaine of certainty. The infighting between doctrine and wrestling with the text to make sense of it, often only to elevate you over your fellow believer to help you cling to your beliefs, is utterly pointless. I now make no claim to having the truth. I am on a journey in this life, that's all, and this has made me more inquisitive, open to exploring and alive.

Changes - good changes - have happened and without a so-called relationship with God and also very much out of the Christian context. The brand new world view I am coming to terms with is euphoric and I feel like a new creation.

Now and Then

 

De-conversion has been a process and may continue to be. I never set out to walk this route, but I am glad I have. I have moved my theist slider towards a more progressive and liberal Christianity until I popped right off the end. I gave God collapsed on me, I gave him CPR for as long as I could.

The last god I believed in was rather nice. Not so much because that’s what I was seeing from Christians and the Bible, but that's the construction and theology I had to adopt to make Him tenable. He was a woman-friendly, gay-affirming version who was pretty relaxed about “sin” and believed in rehabilitation rather than wiping people out. He was totally comfortable with where I was. The problem was that this increasingly self-fashioned Christianity ends up looking nothing like the original. It seemed hardly worth the bother.

If I've learnt anything from the experience, it is that I am not qualified for the job of evaluating this religion and its claims. I don't have the theological training, the language expertise in Greek or Hebrew, and I have neither evolutionary biologist nor cosmological background. I don't have sufficient historical information that I can evaluate on how much Christianity copies from other religions, or just how much neuroscience can explain spiritual phenomena. Needless to say, it's a minefield with the added difficulty of the credibility of the sources and the cognitive bias present in almost everything.

And that, that in itself, is enough to discredit it. Surely God would not have made the matter so hard that reasonably intelligent, truth-seeking people end up on either side of the fence and it's just down to chance as to whether you can make the leap of faith or not? It seems it is. For that reason alone, I find it therefore quite improbable that this particular god exists.

I have landed in the agnostic camp. These claims may be true, it's impossible to tell. I suspect, even my still giving the matter airtime is a byproduct of being born in a Christian setting. I don't suffer the same concern with Islam. I can only conclude if a god exists, he is not bothered about testing us on this point. He can't be, or he'd have done a better job with His PR.

Essentially, it's not that hard is it? If the message of Jesus, of life, is love then why not make that clear? It need not be long. It could go something like this.

Love and help each other as best you can. Love is the entire point.

This would have been a lot easier not to misinterpret. There'd be no need for homosexual hating Christians, no need for different sects, no need to in-fight. No need to burn supposed witches, hold crusades, terrify young children with the notion of hell, set up separate schools, deny science, have the Vatican, have TV evangelists. There would be no need to do all manner of atrocities because my god is right and my view is infallible.

That said, I'm not an anti-theist. In many ways I would like there to be a Supreme Being. A benevolent one all the better. I can accept I would be disposed to being in awe of such a Being. I could well have transgressed his standards, in fact, quite undoubtedly.

I am a non-resistant unbeliever.

The moral teachings of Jesus I can accept: Do good unto others, forgive, love unconditionally, help the sick and poor. A better message I can not find by which to live life, it jives perfectly with secular humanism. But there are others good sayings and other good ideas and people.

I want there to be justice, but also mercy in the world. I want the unremorseful paedophile dealt with, but where possible rehabilitated. I believe that education, medication and therapy are the key to this, not faith.

I accept that there are things we do not understand, that people have mystical experiences which naturalism may not answer. I am quite happy for them. I have not had one.

I have a hope that maybe this life is not all there is. That would be nice, but it's not a fact claim.

In some ways, isn't the aforementioned some sort of faith?

“God” whatever the word means, for me is best explained by Mike McHargue's quote. He was a guest on Unbelievable? who'd been a Christian, de-converted but has reconverted back to some extent, though for most evangelicals he would be considered quite the heretic. He came to a point where he kept a basic belief that God is, “at the very least, the forces that created and sustained the universe”. This is not an anthropomorphic view of God, in fact nothing of the kind, and it is quite possibly saying nothing. It remains undefined and is possibly just a “placeholder” for now, but I like it.

And, in all this, if the God of the Christian bible exists, he's not been in touch. I have not felt the god-shaped hole it was said I have been created with. This can only mean He isn't in the slightest bit concerned about my journey or, that it’s just OK not to have it all figured out, or He doesn’t exist.

Either ways, I hold it all with an open hand; the journey is itself its own reward. I am not worried in the least. The door is open and Yahweh's got my number, but to date, He has not called.

 

+++

 

 

 


 

Conclusion

 

Personal Experience (A Personal Testimony Concluded…)

 

Where the rubber really meets the road though, is in the personal experience of god. It's where Christians return to, and what they rely on. For some, it's where they started - their initial conversion testimony: the impacting change god made in their lives; a mystical incident; some deep down assurance of being loved; a vision; a feeling of faith that holds them firm with certainty that they can not explain. For others, they talk of life to the full, with some even claiming it should be exciting and fulfilling because we are doing exactly what we were created for. Whilst a more mature Christian might agree this is over-egging the pudding - and by contrast describe long, dark nights of the soul -  they generally share the view that god should be discernible in some way. There should be something, some difference, some upside, some presence, some help, some insight, some peace. Something.

If that's someone's experience, then fine. It has not been mine. Having imbibed Christianity from a young age, it had been my life. It was woven into my being, but for me there had not been a defining, dramatic conversion. It is fair to say I knew no “before” but I had, what I considered to be, a personal relationship with the Christian god through Jesus and there was nothing more normal to me than that. I could hardly conceive how people functioned without it.

During my deconstruction, eventually I had to take a cold hard look at this aspect of my belief, and my overall feeling on the matter boiled down to this; How most unremarkable this 'walk' with the Lord was. How completely underwhelming this supposed supernatural, life-to-the-full experience had been. How completely hidden this deity had been despite purporting to desire deep connection.

Aside from a few coincidences which I dutifully counted as 'hits' and therefore answers to prayers; a mentally and emotionally satisfying and coherent worldview (one, created by god but that was broken and in need of redemption); and occasional verses that resonated with a situation or feelings, I found very little trace of a divine Being peppering my life. The character flaws I had prayed for over decades were still very much there; I didn't seem capable of discerning God's will, I just had 'hunches' much like secular folk. The fruits of the spirits were not overflowing in me or other Christians; rather, I was assailed by anxiety, depression and fear as much as the next terrified little humanoid. There was no peace in the storm, there was Xanax. I was not moving in a supernatural world setting the captives free and healing the sick, we were all going to therapy and doctors as much as the next person. There was no getting to know God more deeply, but there was learning to wait more patiently, for longer periods of time, in silence. There was no God in your hour of need, just the sound of crickets, but hanging on, despite all this was passed-off as increasing faith. There is no god-shaped hole in unbelievers hearts as Justin's advert on the podcast promises, there's just silence accompanied by the acute understanding of our own demise, and the horror and beauty of life which drives us, as meaning-making mammals, to create stories and build frameworks. Deep doesn't cry out to deep, it cries out to empty, deep space.

Ultimately, my prayers went unanswered, and questions were increasingly filed under 'mystery'. 'Knowing God' became synonymous with trusting this Being, but on increasingly less evidence. Reluctantly, and with great struggle, I eventually had to concede that, despite trying, there was no “personal relationship” with God. I had tried but found it lacking and I could hardly see the point, much less muster up the enthusiasm anymore.

I stopped communicating.

Staggeringly nothing happened, or rather, the exact same things that had always happened continued to happen. For example, when I was searching for my answers and my head was in turmoil, I would come across just the right bit of information, a podcast or a story which 'spoke' to me profoundly. Other people’s deconversion experiences and atheist logic resonated strongly with me. I was vibrating in harmony with this new found secular, and humanist view. It was uncanny. And, coincidences of good things happening, which I would have in the past attributed to God intervening, happened just as much as before, yet without prayer. Life, essentially, carried on.

Going further, and rebuilding my worldview, I stumbled across quite unexpected upsides. I found that meditation worked better for processing anger, or working on compassion. Dropping biblical doctrines had an almost immediate effect on my attitude to others. My former prejudices and judgements fell away and I saw more beauty in the diversity of human nature and culture. The amazingness of us even being on earth has given me goosebumps, awe and gratitude. Realising that life is highly valuable, precisely because it is finite, made me live more fully. Since I'd always assumed I'd live forever, what was the hurry to do anything? Fully realising that all we possess and all we're certain of is now, this very moment rather than a potential afterlife, was truly motivating. Free of the totalitarian thought-police operated by the Christian God, I could now think for myself and without shame. Trying not to be part of this world as Christians are admonished to do, holding each thought captive and leaning not on my own understanding had got me nowhere. Without the need to define people into heaven-bound and hell-bound, I saw people as people in all their humanity, and this I have found to be a far richer experience. Besides, it is a strange being indeed that lives with the belief most people will burn in hell and that humanity is essentially depraved. It takes a special kind of compartmentalisation to hold that view, and it numbs your compassion. It has to, or you would go insane.

Deconstruction has been empowering; I am responsible for me, my faults and actions, both good and bad. There is no spiritual cavalry coming to save the day. I have to make amends and own my mistakes - not cast them off to someone else. I no longer give my agency away to God's supposed will and lose swathes of time trying to work out what that might be.

Issues that plague the church disappear instantly. For instance, there is no good reason to deny LGBTQI people their rights, nor any reason that we feel we should comment on their lives. None.

But mostly, I am free from the cocaine of certainty. The infighting between doctrine and wrestling with the text to make sense of it, often only to elevate you over your fellow believer to help you cling to your beliefs, is utterly pointless. I now make no claim to having the truth. I am on a journey in this life, that's all, and this has made me more inquisitive, open to exploring and alive.

Changes - good changes - have happened and without a so-called relationship with God and also very much out of the Christian context. The brand new world view I am coming to terms with is euphoric and I feel like a new creation.

Now and Then

 

De-conversion has been a process and may continue to be. I never set out to walk this route, but I am glad I have. I have moved my theist slider towards a more progressive and liberal Christianity until I popped right off the end. I gave God collapsed on me, I gave him CPR for as long as I could.

The last god I believed in was rather nice. Not so much because that’s what I was seeing from Christians and the Bible, but that's the construction and theology I had to adopt to make Him tenable. He was a woman-friendly, gay-affirming version who was pretty relaxed about “sin” and believed in rehabilitation rather than wiping people out. He was totally comfortable with where I was. The problem was that this increasingly self-fashioned Christianity ends up looking nothing like the original. It seemed hardly worth the bother.

If I've learnt anything from the experience, it is that I am not qualified for the job of evaluating this religion and its claims. I don't have the theological training, the language expertise in Greek or Hebrew, and I have neither evolutionary biologist nor cosmological background. I don't have sufficient historical information that I can evaluate on how much Christianity copies from other religions, or just how much neuroscience can explain spiritual phenomena. Needless to say, it's a minefield with the added difficulty of the credibility of the sources and the cognitive bias present in almost everything.

And that, that in itself, is enough to discredit it. Surely God would not have made the matter so hard that reasonably intelligent, truth-seeking people end up on either side of the fence and it's just down to chance as to whether you can make the leap of faith or not? It seems it is. For that reason alone, I find it therefore quite improbable that this particular god exists.

I have landed in the agnostic camp. These claims may be true, it's impossible to tell. I suspect, even my still giving the matter airtime is a byproduct of being born in a Christian setting. I don't suffer the same concern with Islam. I can only conclude if a god exists, he is not bothered about testing us on this point. He can't be, or he'd have done a better job with His PR.

Essentially, it's not that hard is it? If the message of Jesus, of life, is love then why not make that clear? It need not be long. It could go something like this.

Love and help each other as best you can. Love is the entire point.

This would have been a lot easier not to misinterpret. There'd be no need for homosexual hating Christians, no need for different sects, no need to in-fight. No need to burn supposed witches, hold crusades, terrify young children with the notion of hell, set up separate schools, deny science, have the Vatican, have TV evangelists. There would be no need to do all manner of atrocities because my god is right and my view is infallible.

That said, I'm not an anti-theist. In many ways I would like there to be a Supreme Being. A benevolent one all the better. I can accept I would be disposed to being in awe of such a Being. I could well have transgressed his standards, in fact, quite undoubtedly.

I am a non-resistant unbeliever.

The moral teachings of Jesus I can accept: Do good unto others, forgive, love unconditionally, help the sick and poor. A better message I can not find by which to live life, it jives perfectly with secular humanism. But there are others good sayings and other good ideas and people.

I want there to be justice, but also mercy in the world. I want the unremorseful paedophile dealt with, but where possible rehabilitated. I believe that education, medication and therapy are the key to this, not faith.

I accept that there are things we do not understand, that people have mystical experiences which naturalism may not answer. I am quite happy for them. I have not had one.

I have a hope that maybe this life is not all there is. That would be nice, but it's not a fact claim.

In some ways, isn't the aforementioned some sort of faith?

“God” whatever the word means, for me is best explained by Mike McHargue's quote. He was a guest on Unbelievable? who'd been a Christian, de-converted but has reconverted back to some extent, though for most evangelicals he would be considered quite the heretic. He came to a point where he kept a basic belief that God is, “at the very least, the forces that created and sustained the universe”. This is not an anthropomorphic view of God, in fact nothing of the kind, and it is quite possibly saying nothing. It remains undefined and is possibly just a “placeholder” for now, but I like it.

And, in all this, if the God of the Christian bible exists, he's not been in touch. I have not felt the god-shaped hole it was said I have been created with. This can only mean He isn't in the slightest bit concerned about my journey or, that it’s just OK not to have it all figured out, or He doesn’t exist.

Either ways, I hold it all with an open hand; the journey is itself its own reward. I am not worried in the least. The door is open and Yahweh's got my number, but to date, He has not called.

 

+++