Continuing to blog through this book: Walking Away from Faith (Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief) by Ruth Tucker. InterVarsity Press, 2002. * part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6
I hope to finish this series up in 2 or 3 more posts. The last section of the book looks at actual stories of people who have walked away from faith. It presents both sides – people who have walked away, and people who walked away but returned to faith.
Believers often assume that a post-faith life must be unhappy and hopeless. While this may be the case for some (one person described their life without faith as “utterly without meaning”), many others describe their post-faith life as more content and happy. With one clarification, the initial break from their faith was indeed difficult. Families and church communities are profoundly affected when one of their own walks away and begins a life of unbelief. But after this initial period, many claim a sense of peace that they’d never had before. Some Christians may see this as a facade, and perhaps it could be for some, yet we can’t assume that they are all putting on a front!
Indeed, my agnostic friend that I sometimes mention in posts, has told me in a puzzled way that she is less anxious and more at peace without faith. She has shared this with me in a genuinely perplexed way. Isn’t faith suppose to have the opposite effect? One person Tucker refers to in the book says that faith brought them more problems than answers, and they feel tremendous relief, “saved” if you will, without their faith. After leaving faith, another person said this:
…the greatest benefit I discovered was the disappearance of a spiritual barrier for me between people. When I had strong religion…I was in a “spiritually superior state.” Now I see Christians just as people with a mistaken belief…I now see us all as vulnerable human beings full of hopes and fears and psychological tangle.
I see this as a really sad commentary for us as believers! Shouldn’t that quote be reversed? That our faith makes us humble, vulnerable, and we just see people as people! Yet too often believers do come across as in a spiritually superior state, and we are more full of judgment than grace.
Instead of being offended or dismissive or threatened by people who walk away from faith, we need to carefully listen to their stories. Some who have walked away from faith were in a faith community that was not authentic Christianity. For example, my agnostic friend was raised in a very legalistic and harsh church environment. As believers, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions: What is it about Christianity, as represented in my culture, that makes it so unappealing to so many people? Why are unbelievers not attracted to my church? What is unattractive about me as Christian? – Note: these questions are not about watering down Christianity to make it more appealing, but about Christians being more forthright about their shortcomings. We need to thoughtfully consider critique, rather than immediately going on the defense. Maybe, just maybe, there is some truth in critique that we lack humility, are unkind, don’t listen, are quick to judge, etc!
This made me think of a post I wrote on the now cancelled TV show “Good Christian Bitches” and the Christian response of outrage. My take was that there should be more humility and less outrage. On a social network site where I posted it…most Christians did not like what I wrote. But I got a e-mail from an unbeliever who said they really liked the post because it was very honest and real. Hmm…but I’m getting off topic.
Christians who begin to struggle with doubts often don’t find any “support” in the Christian community. As mentioned, Christians are too often dismissive or threatened. Tucker references a former believer who only found support while in the midst of their struggle from unbelievers on the internet. Tucker remarks:
Why, I ask, did he have to go outside the community of faith for support? How differently things might have ended if their support group had been not unbelievers on the internet but believers in the flesh – believers who know that a community of faith which wholly trusts in God’s sovereign grace need not be threatened by unbelief.
Well, I guess that’s it for this post. In the next one, I’ll look at how some who returned to their faith reconciled their faith and doubt. Part 8: here.