Hello, I Am a New Ex-Christian

by James

The ex-tian mailing list is an electronic support group for ex-Christians. This is my letter of introduction to the group. Generic references have been substituted for names to protect the privacy of others involved.

Contents

Main Letter

To: ex-tian@infidels.org
From:
James [e-mail address deleted]
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Let me de-lurk and introduce myself...
Attachment:
Date: 11/3/97 8:01 PM

Let me de-lurk and introduce myself. My name is James , age 37, residing in Mesquite, Texas, a suburban city of Dallas. I deconverted just before Christmas last year. Prior to my deconversion, I had been a fundamentalist/evangelical believer for 23 years. I lost faith as the result of a thorough personal study of the Bible, supplemented with evangelical apologetic works. I came into disbelief quite apart from the influence of skeptical literature. In fact, I discovered serious skeptical literature only after my deconversion.

My wife followed me into disbelief only a few short (but tense) weeks after I came out to her, with the aid of skeptical literature which I found on the Secular Web and brought to her. If I had known about the skeptical literature before, my own deconversion would have been reduced from a years-long process to a weeks-long process.

We have three children. One is an infant, age 1, and will have the advantage of being raised without superstition. The others, ages 9 and 6, we raised to love Jesus, and we have not revealed our unbelief to them for fear of traumatizing them. We have embarked on a slow process of teaching them to think for themselves, and we intend to slowly but surely help them draw their own conclusions about Christianity, gods, etc. as their minds grow and develop and become capable of critical thinking.

I've been lurking on this list for several months, starting soon after my deconversion. I have chosen to de-lurk at this time because my wife and I have just this weekend come out about our unbelief to her family, quite suddenly and by accident -- [a relative] happened to see my copy of George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, which I had left a little too poorly hidden. My wife and I had intended to come out slowly by dropping hints over a long period of time, and we had already started dropping them, so when she spotted the book she immediately put two and two together. The poor thing was so shocked she couldn't speak, and she nearly threw up. She had to leave, and she cried all the way home. My wife and I had been dreading our coming out, and with good reason. It's wrenching to the extended family.

Well, as you can imagine, word spread literally overnight to the rest of the family [identifying descriptors omitted]. I was subjected to a "helpful, caring" chat with [another relative] the next day, in which I had the opportunity to remove all doubt about our positive status as unbelievers, assuring him, civilly, but in no uncertain terms, that we are not just going through a time of questioning. [By the way, I spent some years leading Bible studies, and I find it is much easier to defend unbelief now than it was to defend belief then. Has anyone else had the same experience?] Later that same day [still another relative] called and said he probably would not stay at our home with us when they come for Christmas, because "this is serious, and action must be taken." [Some other relatives] invited them to stay at their home so that they could go to church together during their stay. The family [identifying descriptors omitted] are all angry with me for "leading [my wife] astray," and cannot comprehend that I purposely did not try to badger or even persuade her to my point of view, but that she came to her own decision.

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to start a dialog on the Ex-tian list so that introductions would be already done, should I have need to ask for advice.

By way of further introduction, I am including below a short document that I wrote for myself shortly after my deconversion and the day before I came out to my wife. Disclaimers: 1) The document was written solely for my own use and I never intended to share it with anyone else, and so it is cryptic. I will happily answer your questions, should you see something that looks interesting but incomprehensible. 2) Please remember that the document is a shapshot in time. I have progressed beyond many of the concerns I had expressed then. In fact, as I reread it myself, I find it fascinating that things that seemed all-important to me then seem much less important or even naive to me now. With those two disclaimers, enjoy...

Best regards,
James

Attachment 1:

Some Elements of My Deconversion

12/31/96

  • The church teaches doctrine in conflict with the Bible
    • Not drinking alcohol (holdover from prohibition)
    • Tithing for Christians Keeping the sabbath
  • The church teaches extra-biblical myths and imposes extra-biblical requirements
    • Personal relationship with God/Jesus Christ
    • Obtaining special guidance from God (marriage, job, pledge amounts)
    • Giving will ensure financial well-being
    • Making budgetary pledges
    • Necessity of having a "quiet time"
    • Necessity of "journaling"
    • Necessity of belonging to an "accountability group"
  • Some teachings are conveniently tautological
    • Must pray the will of God for an answer
    • Must believe and obey the Bible to understand the Bible
    • The Bible is the Word of God; therefore, it is true
  • The church tends to ignore controversial teachings in the Bible
    • Speaking in tongues
    • Baptism for the dead
    • Women must wear head coverings
    • Doctrine of hell
    • Sons of God in Genesis 6
    • Necessity of poverty to follow Jesus (Luke 14:33)
    • Many of Jesus's teachings are not understood by the church
  • The church's practice is guided by cultural movements
    • Separating children from families and age-grading them
    • Self-help theology
    • Acceptance of competition
    • Service of women in the church
    • Style of music
    • Architecture of the buildings
  • The church has been on the tail-end of positive social movements
    • Eradication of Nazism
    • Abolition of slavery
    • Women's suffrage
    • Civil rights for African Americans
    • Women's opportunities for service
  • The Bible is unclear or vague on major issues
    • Abortion
    • Divorce
    • War
    • Church discipline
    • Debt
    • Pædobaptism
    • Soteriology (including justness of substitutionary sacrifice)
    • Christology (for example, trinitarian theology)
    • Satanology
    • Angelology
    • Nature of the afterlife
    • Eschatology
    • Fundamentals of the faith
    • Standing of Jewish believers in relation to the Law
  • The Bible is inconsistent on major issues
    • The nature and existence of the afterlife
    • The efficacy of works of the Law with regard to salvation
    • The distinction between soul and spirit
  • Progressive revelation does not explain biblical theological development
    • Large theological gap between Old and New Testaments
    • Greek influence on Israel's late Old Testament theology
    • Differences between Jesus and Paul in the New Testament
    • Differences between Paul and James in the New Testament
  • The Bible records scientifically impossible events as factual
    • The creation narrative
    • Noah's deluge
    • Solid dome over the sky
    • Earth supported by a foundation
    • The popular answers from the church have been nonsense
    • None of the more rational answers survives scrutiny
  • Shortcomings of the prophecies
    • Many Old Testament prophecies are too vague to be tested
    • Many Old Testament prophecies are yet unfulfilled
    • Prophecies were not written prior to the events forecasted
    • Mosaic injunction is ignored in the canon (Jonah vs Deut 18:20-22)
    • Prophecies about Jesus in New Testament are not messianic prophecies
    • Jesus does not fit the Messiah described by the Old Testament
    • New testament prophecy is largely incomprehensible
  • There are contradictions throughout the Bible
    • Staff or no staff? (Mk 6:8/Lk 9:3)
    • Healing of centurion's servant
    • Three days and three nights?
    • Day of crucifixion?
    • Post-resurrection events (Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24, Jn 20-21, Acts 1:3-12, 1 Cor 15:3-8)
    • Sovereignty of God? (2 Peter 3:9)
    • Big "etc."
    • This Bible is not "the Word of God"
  • Problems with the Canon
    • The canon is disputed by the church
    • There is no objective basis behind the canon
    • Jude quotes the non-canonical Book of Enoch as scripture
  • Problems with authorship and transmission of the autographs
    • Many books of the Bible have no statement of authorship
    • Some books in the canon are pseudepigraphical (lie about authorship)
    • Both Israel and the church altered the texts
    • The church also conflated the text
  • Problems with interpretation
    • No single hermeneutic is adequate for interpretation
    • The meanings of words and phrases have been lost
    • Cultural references have been lost
    • Many books and passages admit multiple interpretations
    • New Testament authors were free and loose in their interpretations
  • Fundamental problems with every systematic theology
    • Covenant theology muddles distinctions between Israel and the church
    • Calvinistic reformed theology stumbles at the existence of evil
    • Dispensational theology is too hopelessly complex to be credible
    • Arianism destroys the sovereignty of God
    • Roman Catholic theology introduces unbiblical and irrational ideas
    • The Bible neither presents, nor lends itself to systematic theology
  • The only hypothesis that fits all the data:
    • The Bible is not the actual Word of God
    • The Bible is a human creation, arising through natural social processes
    • The theology in the Bible is not immutable, but has changed over time
  • Therefore:
    • The Bible does not address every issue for which we need a word from God
    • The Bible is not a sufficient or reliable guide for living
    • The Bible, being inconsistent, is unsuitable as final arbiter in disputes
    • The Bible is a false witness, presenting fiction as truth
    • The Bible is not trustworthy in its statements concerning the supernatural
  • However:
    • Many of the greatest writings of all time were selected for the canon
    • The Bible contains useful human wisdom (human nature hasn't changed)
    • The Bible contains profound history of dealings with the human condition
    • The Bible is an excellent primary source for studying ancient history
    • The stories in the Bible are engaging for children and adults alike
    • The literary character of the Bible is intricate and worthy of study

Attachment 2:

Where To From Here?

1. I must withdraw from teaching the Bible in any evangelical church. However, I may engage in informal discussions, and introduce issues in other Bible studies when I sit as a student.

2. I have spent 23 years seeking answers in the evangelical church, without success. Therefore it seems advantageous to withdraw from the church and spend my time more productively. The evangelical church is hypocritical, because it claims to have the truth, but it systematically ignores, denies, and covers up the serious rational challenges to its dogma.

3. I reject outright the leap of faith required to find a place in liberal churches. They, in my opinion, are engaging in institutionalized self-delusion.

4. How will I tell my wife? How will I tell my children? How will I continue to teach my children the Bible? Do I tell them at all, or just back out slowly? Is it possible to back out slowly?

5. Where will I find a like-minded community to belong to? Will it be possible to stay on at [name of church deleted]? Do I even want to? Ever since I left the university I have missed intellectual company. Can I reenter intellectual society now?

6. How will I fulfill my personal need for ritual and worship? Does it make sense for me to continue with personal devotions? On what basis? Introspection?

7. How do I deal with the despair of modern man, that there is no metaphysical purpose in life and no hope for anything beyond this life?

 

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