An Exchange with my Former Pastor

by James

Following is a series of exchanges between myself and my former pastor after my deconversion from Christianity. Names have been replaced with initials to protect the privacy of the others involved.

Contents

Letter to My Former Pastor After Learning That a Relative Had Told Him of Our Deconversion

To: RO
From: James
Cc: [relatives]
Bcc:
Subject: To confirm the news of our loss of faith...
Attachment:
Date: 12/4/97 10:34 AM

RO,

Last night I learned that [a relative] called you and told you that Alison and I have lost faith. Let me confirm that it's true that we have indeed lost faith. I had intended to inform you myself at a time of my own choosing, because I did not want you to be in the dark indefinitely about whatever must have happened to us.

Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to anticipate some questions you may have, so I will do so now.

First, the reason we lost faith is simply that we came to the conclusion that the Christian religion is false. I came to this conclusion, quite contrary to my own wish, after years of sincere and thorough study of the Bible and evangelical apologists. Alison followed me into unbelief soon after I lost faith, because of her long and intimate familiarity with my comprehensive knowledge of the Bible and my ability to make sense of it and defend it, which I had demonstrated over the years while leading my small group Bible study. When I told her that I had lost faith because of the serious and foundational fallacies of the Bible, she knew that my new position had to be well grounded in fact, because nothing else would have caused me to change. She knows that there is no secret persistent sin, or angry defiance against God, or unpleasant experience with the church behind my loss of faith. She had seen me struggle to resist coming to this conclusion, but the contrary evidence overwhelmed my intellect, and, if I may paraphrase Josh McDowell, my heart cannot worship what my mind cannot accept. There is much more that could be said here, but I want to be brief. If you inquire, I will be glad to fill in the story with more detail.

Second, neither the members of my small group nor anyone else at [name of church deleted] know that we have lost faith. When I lost faith, I simply told my small group that leading the Bible study had become too stressful, and that I would not be leading it anymore -- the truth, but not the whole truth. We did not reveal our loss of faith for two reasons. First, we did not want news of our unbelief to get back to the children. We decided that it would be too traumatic to tell the children, since we had raised them to love Jesus. Instead we are teaching them to think critically and helping them come to their own conclusions as they are ready. Second, I did not want to shake the faith of my small group members, especially while we ourselves were in the throes of coping with the collapse of our entire worldview. So, since no one knows, you will not need to do any damage control with my former small group members.

Third, I release you from any bond of confidentiality that [my relative] may have placed on you when he spoke with you. Although we don't make a point of telling people, Alison and I do not mind any longer if other people know that we have lost faith, so long as we have some reasonable confidence that the news will not get back to the children prematurely. You may mention or discuss the matter with others at your own discretion. I believe you will agree with us that it is important to protect the children, and I trust that your own good judgment will keep you from mentioning our loss of faith in contexts where it would be carried back to our children.

Fourth, you may take our names off the church roll at your leisure. We received a call from [a church deacon] shortly after we stopped coming to church, and I believe we told him we were taking a break from church to reevaluate our beliefs and to spend more time together as a family. Of course, we no longer expect to come back, and so our names can come off the roll. We are not in a hurry for you to do this, however, as it makes little difference to us whether we are on the roll, although it is probably abhorrent to you to keep atheists on the church roll any longer than absolutely necessary.

Fifth, we harbor no animosity toward you or the church in general. Some church leaders, whose power of reason is strong enough that they should know better, are culpable for misleading or deceiving people, because they immorally teach dogmas whose truth they recognize to be uncertain. I regard most church leaders, however, simply as victims of the Christian delusion. I believe the Delusion commandeers the leader's rational faculties and shields itself from the light of reason. I regard myself as formerly a victim of the Delusion, and I regard you as still a victim of the Delusion. If I regarded you as undeluded, then I would have animosity toward you for knowingly manipulating people with falsehoods. I hope that the impact of my loss of faith will put a chink in the armor of your Delusion, and ultimately liberate you from its repressive control. After the difficult transition period, life really is better this side of Christianity.

Finally, I regret that we left the church without a word, especially after having worked with you in various ways to make [name of church deleted] successful. But from our point of view, we had no other choice. How could we possibly have asked you for pastoral support to figure out how to live without faith?! And the relationships we had cultivated in our small group were exactly antithetical to the kind of relationships we would have needed to support us through this loss. Your duty and theirs would have been to shepherd us back into the fold, and so we had to struggle through the loss of faith on our own. In this limited sense, loss of faith is harder than the loss of a loved one, since there is no support of (believing) friends or family to carry one through a loss of faith.

Although the news has reached you earlier than I would have chosen, I am glad that you now know why we left. It has bothered me that we left you uninformed about the nature of our departure. In any case, I hope that our relationship can remain cordial, although obviously it must be on different terms than before.

James

My Former Pastor's Reply

To: James
From: RO
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: RO's reply to my letter...
Attachment:
Date: 12/6/97 1:49 AM

Dear James,

You have not had a "Loss of faith". You have believed a lie (Romans).

You are a smart man James, but you are not smarter than Jesus!

Even if you reject Jesus as deity he was by all historical accounts the most profound and wise teacher who has lived. He taught that you should fear God.

You are a smart man, but not likely any smarter than King David, King Solomon, Moses, the Apostle Paul, and other historical figures who were smart enough to believe in God.

You are not a novelty James. Even Nebuchadnezzar had a battle with pride and the false belief that there is no God. He returned to his senses.

You are a smart man, but you are not omnipresent. Therefore, you cannot KNOW there is no God somewhere in the universe..can you? (be logical!). Therefore you cannot be an Athiest..no honest, rational, logical person would ever claim omnipresence except God himself. You are not really ready to make such an irrational claim as Atheism are you James?

At best James, you might qualify as Agnostic.

I'm sure deep in your heart is a wound painful enough to cause you to need to believe the lie that there is no God. Perhaps it eases a struggle over death; your own, or someone you love or loved?

God is merciful James. You will never be able to explain all his ways, but nothing but sorrow is in front of you on this road. Tragically you are not alone. Innocent people are being led by you. You are a smart man, but you are jumping out of an airplane with no parachute and dragging others with you. How will you compensate your children and your wife in eternity for your error?

This is no scientific game James. You are culpable before an almighty God.

You are a smart man. Seek wisdom. Don't be the fool who has said in his heart that there is no God! Unbelief is an earthly sport. Carl Sagan became a believer the second he entered into eternity. Behind every agnostic is a conflict with God. You are a smart man James, but you are not smarter than God. Humble yourself under his mighty hand!

You have embraced a belief that defies that God is. You have become a believer in the religion of unbelief. Your position changes nothing in the universe, heaven, or hell. It is self-defeating. Call out to God for deliverance from Satan's greatest and oldest deception James!

I will count it a privilege and an act of friendship to help you back when you are ready. I miss you and your family.

In fear and hope,
RO

p.s. I appreciate your actions toward [name of church deleted] people. Please continue that behavior. As the Shepherd of this flock I would count it as a personal attack for you to influence even one [name of church deleted] sheep toward your unbelief. I would be assertive and passionate in my contact with you. I trust this is a non-issue. RO

My Response To My Former Pastor

To: RO
From: James
Cc: [relatives]
Bcc:
Subject: I am a "smart man"
Attachment:
Date: 12/9/97 1:24 PM

RO,

I am copying this reply to [my relatives]. I myself have nothing to gain by expending time to reply to your message, but I do have something to gain if I can use my reply to illustrate to [my relatives] that your position is indefensible.

From: RO , on 12/6/97 1:49 AM:
To: James

Dear James,

You have not had a "Loss of faith". You have believed a lie (Romans).

In your theology, either I was never a "true believer" in the first place, or I am still a true believer, but I have erred. This is a fine theology until one actually experiences the unmentioned third option: I was a true believer, but I lost faith because the FAITH ITSELF was in error. Those who know me best also know that this option does exist and hence that Paul must have been wrong.

By the way, there ought to be room in your theology for people who truly fall away. The writer of Hebrews contradicts Paul and acknowledges that believers really can fall away.

You are a smart man James, but you are not smarter than Jesus!

Your theme throughout your message about my being a "smart man" is irrelevant to the question of whether Christianity is true or false. The problems with Christianity are plain enough that anyone of average intelligence can see them, if they will only look. Even if someone does not see them through the rose-colored glasses of interpretation provided by the church, it does not take above-average intelligence to understand the problems when someone else points them out.

In fact, intelligence actually hindered me from discovering the problems in Christianity, because I could think of so many more ways to rationalize the problems than many people could.

As to the intelligence of Jesus, he himself misquoted Old Testament scripture, attributed the Pentateuch to Moses when it could not possibly have been written by Moses, and got the details wrong in the Old Testament story of David and the showbread. It is odd how the Son of God could have made such errors, isn't it?

Even if you reject Jesus as deity he was by all historical accounts the most profound and wise teacher who has lived. He taught that you should fear God.

This is an unsubstantiated statement that you are repeating from the evangelical apologists. The "all historical accounts" that you speak of are essentially nothing more than the four gospels, and these are so problematic that they discredit themselves. As to Jesus being "the most profound and wise teacher who has lived," this has been convincingly discredited. I can give you a reference if you care to read the opposing view.

You are a smart man, but not likely any smarter than King David, King Solomon, Moses, the Apostle Paul, and other historical figures who were smart enough to believe in God.

The modern Age of Reason didn't start until about three hundred years ago. Until then most of the western world, except some educated Greeks, was mired in superstition. The question of God's existence would hardly have even occurred to them.

For a thousand years after Aristotle, people believed that an iron object would fall faster than a wooden object of the same shape and size. It wasn't until Galileo that this easily refuted belief was overturned, because he was willing to examine it and test it. This shows that "time-tested" beliefs may not necessarily have been tested at all. Actually I wonder how many people did test this before Galileo, but the prevailing culture dismissed the truth, preferring to believe what it had always believed, not unlike what is happening with Christianity in our age.

David, Solomon, Moses, and Paul also believed the world was flat and that the sky was a solid dome of transparent material holding an ocean of water up off the earth (reference available upon request). Shall I believe that, too? You have committed the fallacy of arguing from authority, and I have shown why it is absurd to do this.

You are not a novelty James. Even Nebuchadnezzar had a battle with pride and the false belief that there is no God. He returned to his senses.

No, I am not a novelty, but if I looked only at the examples the church gives me, I might be excused for thinking that I am novel. The church conveniently ignores the stories of people who have reasoned their way out of Christianity. If their criticisms are touched on at all, it is in parody. Why doesn't the church study the serious critics of Christianity and refute them in Sunday School? Surely if Christianity can really hold up to the challenge, this would be a way to bring more of the "wise" into the church, of whom Paul says there are so few. Why is not only your church, but the church universal, ignoring this unsaved population? But I know why -- the ignorant and the credulous are easier to convert.

You believe that I, like Nebuchadnezzar, have a problem with pride, and that is undoubtedly the reason you keep calling me a smart man. On the contrary, I came to disbelief in all humility, against my own wish. Succumbing to the contradictions, inconsistencies, and incoherencies of the faith has nothing to do with pride.

You are a smart man, but you are not omnipresent. Therefore, you cannot KNOW there is no God somewhere in the universe..can you? (be logical!). Therefore you cannot be an Athiest..no honest, rational, logical person would ever claim omnipresence except God himself. You are not really ready to make such an irrational claim as Atheism are you James?

You believe the Christian apologists too readily. There are many things wrong with what you say here. Let me point out two.

First, you load too much meaning onto the word "atheist." The word literally means "without theism." An atheist, that is, a person who is not possessed of a belief in a god, does not necessarily make the assertion that "I know there is no god," although some do. I myself am an atheist because I am not possessed of a belief in a god. My belief in God evaporated when I lost faith, through study of the Bible. However, I do not assert that "I know there is no god." That goes beyond logic, as you say. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to defend some assertion about my atheism, I would assert something like, "It is so unlikely that a god exists, that for all practical purposes I can live my life as if no god does exist. Practically speaking, then, I can actually believe that there is no god, even though I cannot demonstrate beyond all possible doubt that no god exists."

I hope from this explanation that you can see that agnosticism (literally "without knowledge") overlaps atheism, and that the two are not two distinct categories, as you have assumed. A person can be both an agnostic and an atheist at the same time. That is, a person can hold the position that we have no knowledge of a god, and the same person, simultaneously, can be unpossessed of a belief in a god.

Second, lack of belief in a god does not require omnipresence. It is simply a state of mind of a person. Now, I would agree with you that to assert truthfully that no god of any kind exists would require omnipresence, and, I might add, omniscience. However, it is possible to assert truthfully that the CHRISTIAN GOD does not exist, with no need of omnipresence or omniscience. This is because the characteristics alleged of the Christian God make it an incoherent concept. Without going into lengthy detail here (but I can give you a reference upon request), I will just say that the Christian God is like a square circle. Any reasonable person, without being omnipresent or omniscient, can assert truthfully and confidently that a square circle does not exist anywhere in the universe.

At best James, you might qualify as Agnostic. I'm sure deep in your heart is a wound painful enough to cause you to need to believe the lie that there is no God. Perhaps it eases a struggle over death; your own, or someone you love or loved?

Why can't Christians simply accept the fact that sincere believers can reject the faith based on purely intellectual examination? I was perfectly content and comfortable believing Christianity. It was losing faith that put me in the uncomfortable position. When I first lost faith, I actually believed that I would live the rest of my life in existential despair, but I had to disbelieve despite the consequences because the intellectual bankruptcy of Christianity was so profound. The alleged existential despair of unbelievers is also, I have discovered, a lie of the apologists to keep believers tame.

God is merciful James. You will never be able to explain all his ways, but

I never required an explanation of all God's ways. I do require an explanation of all the blatant contradictions, inconsistencies, and incoherencies of the Christian faith. If Christianity were not so thoroughly discredited, I would still be a believer. Your entire message begs the question of the accuracy of the Bible. You'll never convince me of the truth of the Bible by ignoring its problems.

nothing but sorrow is in front of you on this road. Tragically you are not alone. Innocent people are being led by you. You are a smart man, but you are jumping out of an airplane with no parachute and dragging others with you. How will you compensate your children and your wife in eternity for your error?

So, I can snatch Alison and the kids out of God's hand? You credit me with too much power.

I'm not indoctrinating any of them. It is the church that indoctrinates. I am doing nothing worse than expecting them to examine the evidence for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Of course, you know that the church could never survive this way. That is why it resorts to indoctrination of children, and the younger the better. After all, the church has to get to them before they are capable of critical thinking.

This is no scientific game James. You are culpable before an almighty God.

This statement makes an appeal to fear. Although it has become unfashionable to talk about Hell, Christianity is indeed a religion based on fear. Jesus's only unique contribution to religion was the invention of Hell. Before Jesus, the Jewish faith viewed death as a rest and a comfort to look forward to after this weary life. It is as if a sadistic God, in the initial creation, had mistakenly left this loophole, and so he sent Jesus to take away even the hope of a final peace in death by threatening the living with Hell after death.

You are a smart man. Seek wisdom.

I sought wisdom in the Bible, believing that God's Word must be wise. And there IS some wisdom in the Bible, human wisdom, because human nature has not changed over the course of history. But when I found and confirmed contradictions, inconsistencies, and incoherencies in major doctrines, including soteriology, I found it impossible to trust the Book on its own authority alone. You or I could write a better Bible.

Don't be the fool who has said in his heart that there is no God

I've already addressed the assertion that "there is no God." However, the foolishness of it is not saying it in your heart. If there is a foolishness, it is saying it out loud in front of you believers, as I have done. It's almost more trouble than it's worth.

Unbelief is an earthly sport. Carl Sagan became a believer the second he entered into eternity.

Do you care to prove this unsubstantiated assertion? And it's OK with me if you write plainly and say "Hell" instead of "eternity." Softening the "gospel" (literally "good news") of Hell keeps contemporary people in the pews, but I can see right through it.

Behind every agnostic is a conflict with God. You are a smart man James, but you are not smarter than God. Humble yourself under his mighty hand!

I have as much conflict with Yahweh, the ancient Hebrew tribal war god, as I do with Allah, Thor, Zeus, Brahma, Mithras, Isis, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, or any of the thousands of other gods created by the mind of man.

By the way, you are only one god away from being an atheist yourself. If you'll only give up belief in Yahweh, as you have given up all these other gods, you'll be without a belief in a god.

Maybe you would like to tell me why you believe in this one last god, and deny the rest? Maybe you would like to explain to me and [my relatives] why your belief in Yahweh has nothing to do with the culture that you grew up in; that if you had been born Arab you nevertheless would have believed in the Jewish god Yahweh, and not Allah, for example.

After all, I need to know which god to humble myself to. If I had to lay bets on eternity, I would have to cast my lot with the god of Islam. His hell is worse and his heaven is better than that of the Christian god. According to ALLAH anyone who says that Jesus is the son of God is damned, but according to YAHWEH, anyone who does NOT accept Jesus as the son of God is damned, so I cannot accept both religions, as they are incompatible. Tell me which god is the right one. I really need to know. And give me some solid reasons, please. After all, it's your word against Allah's; you are a smart man, RO, but not as smart as Allah.

You have embraced a belief that defies that God is. You have become a believer in the religion of unbelief. Your position changes nothing in the universe, heaven, or hell. It is self-defeating. Call out to God for deliverance from Satan's greatest and oldest deception James!

More unsubstantiated assertions. My sarcasm above will answer this as well. Why don't you give me some reasons to believe these things, instead of making bald assertions? Surely the Holy Spirit speaking through you can't be outwitted by a mere human speaking reasonably, can it?

I will count it a privilege and an act of friendship to help you back when you are ready. I miss you and your family.

It is impossible for me to believe again, knowing what I know. If you see me coming back, you will instantly know that I have lost my ability to reason.

However, we miss [name of church deleted], too. The loss of a church family was the hardest part for Alison.

It's too bad that Christianity is too narrow to extend fellowship to former believers who have rejected the faith based on knowledge of the faith. Is [name of church deleted] really a "church for the unchurched," proud that even an atheist ([name omitted]) could work the sound board and feel a part of things? Then extend the hand of fellowship to Alison and me, and invite me to disclose my reasons for unbelief with anyone who asks. Give your congregation the chance to reach out to me in Christian love and reconvert me. The church accepts people "Just As I Am," as the hymn goes, but only so long as they are ignorant and credulous enough not to ask embarrassing questions, I suppose?

In fear and hope,
RO

p.s. I appreciate your actions toward [name of church deleted] people. Please continue that behavior. As the Shepherd of this flock I would count it as a personal attack for you to influence even one [name of church deleted] sheep toward your unbelief. I would be assertive and passionate in my contact with you. I trust this is a non-issue.

RO

"Sheep" is an apt word. You know as well as I do that there is no way these people can sustain faith in the face of reason, and that is why you feel you must protect them. As long as you can keep them ignorant, they will be your "sheep," but if you allow them to be exposed to reasonable criticisms of Christianity you know that they will begin to think for themselves and become the freethinking people they were meant to be, and then you will lose all control.

We have our own reasons for not revealing our loss of faith to [name of church deleted] people, and so I don't expect that we will clash on this, although it is possible that our unbelief could come out by accident as it did with our extended family.

However, I take your statement as a threat of blackmail. What you are really saying, in plainer terms, is "keep quiet or I will defame you." I've seen you do it before. You're very good at it, and it is ugly. Remember, early on I myself stood up in the congregation and backed you up the first time I saw you shun someone out of the church. My comments and initiative turned that meeting in your favor and could very well have prevented a schism. Ironic, isn't it?

James

PS I don't envy you in the position I have left you in. If you DO answer my challenges, you will be inviting me to recite even more challenges to the absurdities of Christianity, with [my relatives] looking on, particularly if you keep spouting the sophistries of the Christian apologists. If you DON'T answer my challenges, then you leave them wondering whether Christianity really is indefensible. And if you make some excuse to cut off the dialog, you disobey the inspired Word of God, which enjoins you to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect....," (1 Peter 3:15). I have expressly asked you to give a reason, and you are obligated by your own Holy Book to answer. Don't have time? The inspired Word of God leaves no room for this excuse since you are to "be prepared IN SEASON AND OUT OF SEASON; correct, rebuke and encourage--with GREAT PATIENCE and CAREFUL INSTRUCTION." (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV). See, the Bible leaves no middle ground. It forces believers to act one way or another, to be hot or cold, but not lukewarm. It is in the same way that the unrelenting Bible forced me away from the faith. So, what are you going to do?

Don't bother trying to switch our conversion off e-mail to the phone. I want our exchanges written out for all to see. This medium is not at all like preaching from the pulpit, where no one has the opportunity to hold you to account for your statements, is it? I am in the position of strength. My position is relatively straightforward to defend, while yours is impossible to defend reasonably, even with the help and support of an omniscient God indwelling you. And I have nothing to lose, because, unlike believers, I am willing to follow truth wherever it may lead, as I demonstrated when I left the faith that I loved. If the truth leads me back to the Christian faith, then so be it. You, on the other hand, have an entire worldview (read, "delusion") and a livelihood to lose if you follow the truth.

So, what are you going to do?

An Aside to Relatives About the Exchange with My Former Pastor

To: [relatives]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: What I expect RO to do...
Attachment: Date: 12/11/97 8:56 AM

[Names omitted],

Now that I have backed RO into a corner, I wouldn't be surprised if he calls you. He may send an e-mail, but he will probably use the phone instead. He will probably offer you some perspective from which to view my disbelief, likely saying that I am rebelling against God because of some hidden inner conflict, and/or that Satan is attacking me. He will probably offer you some words of hope that God is in control and that He will eventually bring me back around. He may predict tragedy and sorrow for me, maybe quoting the scripture that says God chastens whom he loves just as a father chastens his children. He may even suggest that you pray that God would bring that chastening upon me in order to turn me back. Such things are not unheard of in evangelical circles. He will probably pray with you over the phone, and he will certainly encourage you to be in constant prayer for me and my family.

If RO calls you, he will likely tell you that I am misunderstanding and misusing scripture, and that there is really nothing behind the challenges I have raised. He may say that I am raising the issues only to hide behind them, because the real issue is some emotional or spiritual conflict, and he may use the word "smokescreen." He may assure you that all the questions I have raised have answers, and if you seem troubled by my challenges he might even refer you to some apologetic books. He will likely offer you some high-sounding but vacuous assurances that, yes, Christianity is indeed true.

What he probably WON'T do is to answer the challenges I have raised, at least not in a serious way. If he does try to "answer" some of my challenges, ask yourselves why he is answering only to you and not to me. Does he know that I will expose his "answers" and show they are absurd?

You see, ministers tend to avoid discussing whether Christianity is TRUE or FALSE, because they know they cannot defend the truth of Christianity. Instead, they ASSUME that Christianity true and carry their listeners along on this assumption. I expect RO, as I would expect most evangelical ministers, to avoid talking about whether Christianity is TRUE, and instead to try to turn your focus onto hypothetical emotional conflicts, or attacks of Satan, or character flaws in ME. If he does this, ask yourselves whether weaknesses in me, even if true, have any bearing at all on whether Christianity is true. I think you can agree with me that even if I were a murderous, lying , cheating scoundrel, the challenges to Christianity that I have raised stand on their own merit and deserve serious answers.

The net effect of his call will be that he will have gotten himself off the hook, and won't have to answer my challenges, because he will have persuaded you that my challenges to the truth of Christianity are not the real issue. He will be taking advantage of the fact that as believers you are already inclined to accept his explanation and perspective.

If you read this message before he calls, may I suggest that you not accept his explanation and perspective at face value? Instead, may I suggest that you tell him you would like to see him respond to ME by e-mail with serious answers to my challenges relevant to the question of whether Christianity is true of false? If you do, then watch for him to subtly discount the validity of your request, probably by rehashing some of what he has already told you. But do you think it is really too much to ask of an ordained minister of the gospel, trained at seminary, to defend the truth of Christianity? Why not press for an answer? And why would a trained minister avoid answering, anyway, if the truth of Christianity could be defended?

James

An Aside From My Former Pastor To My Relatives

To: [my relatives], James
From: RO
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Encouragement
Attachment:
Date: 12/12/97 10:57 AM

Dear [names omitted],

My heart breaks with you over the circumstances with James. Make no mistake, James is wholly culpable for the direction of his family.

James is rejecting God because God has not acted nor communicated to us in ways that James feels is reasonable. I have no doubt that James is angry with God. I suspect long ago James felt conflicted over incidents in his life that he felt a loving God should not/would not have allowed to happen. You may know him well enough to suspicion such life experiences. Whatever his reasons, James is at war with the God he preaches (now) does not exist. That's a no-win conflict for James.

My encouragement to you is simply to continue to pray for James, Alison, and the kids. James will continue to use "reason" as his moral high-ground. He wants to debate. I suggest that this level of deception is conquered only by fasting and prayer. He already has and is familiar with the truth of God's word.

Because James has requested a defense of my belief in God and Christianity (separate issues) I am sending him a video debate entitled, Atheism Versus Christianity. I am sending you a copy as well. Also, I will be sending some follow-up questions and answers on paper that were not covered in the debate.

In the final analysis James is already firmly rooted in his deception. God can and is willing to deliver him, but James must turn to God. James is not simply a victim. He has willingly taken up an argument against God as creator. He is like a kid waving his finger in the face of God yelling, "prove it! I dare you!". The fact is God has and is proving that he exists (Romans 1).

Again, I hurt deeply with you and will pray for God's miraculous and undeniable intervention. I fear for James sincerely. He does not realize what he's doing.

I will be satisfied to send James the information I've referred to. I will get those materials out as soon as possible. James will likely keep trying to bully me into a debate. God's not asked me to play that part. I feel no compunction or desire to do so. I am sick over this. My battle tactics on behalf of James and Alison (other than sending this initial material) will be with acts of wisdom and prayer.

In God's Strength,
RO

P.S. By the way, the "shunning" of the member James is referring to was over a married man who fondled a teenage girl in our church. He worked with our youth. He admitted it to me in private, but later denied it in public to spare his marriage. I obeyed the biblical guidelines in that entire matter. I just wanted you know that.

My Reply to My Former Pastor's Aside

To: [relatives], RO
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: re: Encouragement
Attachment:
Date: 12/12/97 2:34 PM

From: RO , on 12/12/97 10:57 AM
To: [my relatives], James

Dear [names omitted],

My heart breaks with you over the circumstances with James. Make no mistake, James is wholly culpable for the direction of his family.

Responsible, yes, but I have nothing for which to be culpable. If I continued to teach them a religion that I now know to be false, then I would be culpable.

James is rejecting God because God has not acted nor communicated to us in ways that James feels is reasonable.

Well, it is more than this. The alleged communications extant from God are UNreasonable. It is only because Christians are told by ministers, parents and others whom they trust, that the Bible is God's Word that they are willing to overlook the problems in it and convince themselves that they just don't have enough knowledge of their own to understand what God means. The real problems with the Bible are, in this way, transformed into problems of the reader so that the reader blames himself or herself, when the Bible is really to blame.

But what sense does it make for God to endow us with reason, and then expect us to believe an inconsistent, contradictory, incoherent revelation?

I have no doubt that James is angry with God.

You may have no doubt, but it is not true. I covered this in my previous message. And who are YOU to tell ME what I feel, contradicting my own description of what I feel or don't feel? Your entire interaction with me has been condescending, very unbecoming for a minister of God.

I suspect long ago James felt conflicted over incidents in his life that he felt a loving God should not/would not have allowed to happen. You may know him well enough to suspicion such life experiences.

This is a theme that you wrote in your first letter to me, also, [name of relative omitted]. It's not true, but I'll grant for the moment that it is, for the sake of argument. Let me ask you, then, if I am angry with God because there has been some conflict in my past, what bearing does this have on the question of whether Christianity is true? It has no bearing at all. The question of whether Christianity is true stands totally independent of my very existence, much less any conflict or anger I might have. Even if I had never been born, the question of whether Christianity is true or false still stands.

Whatever his reasons,

I told you the reasons very clearly in my earlier messages. But you have no choice but to deny that my reasons are valid because the foundation of your religion would crumble if you accepted them as true.

James is at war with the God he preaches (now) does not exist. That's a no-win conflict for James.

False. I'm not at war with a phantom god. I am defending myself against the scorn of [my relatives] by demonstrating to them that my unbelief is reasonable.

By the way, [names of relatives omitted], I am content for you to remain in your belief. I only want you to have a reason to respect me again, and I'm trying to give you that reason by letting you see that I have come to my own personal unbelief competently, not as a whim or in emotional reaction to something in my past experience.

And, in case there is any question in anyone's mind, I am also content to remain in my UNbelief. If you think I am experiencing any internal struggle because of it, you are mistaken. I can't say it any plainer than this.

My encouragement to you is simply to continue to pray for James, Alison, and the kids. James will continue to use "reason" as his moral high-ground.

Well, I'll give you this, RO -- you're not spouting the sophistries of the Christian apologists now -- you're going exactly contrary to them. The apologists make a career out of attempting to show that Christianity is REASONABLE. It was Josh McDowell himself who said, if I may paraphrase, "My heart cannot worship what my mind cannot accept."

Let me ask you all a question. I am willing to return to Christianity if it can be shown to be reasonable. I'm not asking anyone to show that Christianity is TRUE, but only REASONABLE (but you will not have done this if you leave my challenges unanswered). But is any one of YOU willing to leave Christianity if I can show that it is UNREASONABLE? Until you become willing to do this, then it is unfair to even ask me to return to Christianity, because you expect me to take all the risk for the outcome of testing the truthfulness of Christianity. Furthermore, if you are unwilling to do this, then you are being IRRATIONAL, by definition. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but you need to see the difference between following the truth no matter where it leads, as contrasted with making all the evidence fit a pre-conceived notion, which the human mind, being very flexible in this regard, can do.

So, RO, go ahead and disparage reason in a backhanded way. I, on the other hand, will disparage irrationality plainly and clearly.

He wants to debate.

No, I am not looking for a debate. Look at my response to your last paragraph below for an explanation of what I have done, because I have accomplished what I set out to do. Do you see it yet?

I suggest that this level of deception is conquered only by fasting and prayer. He already has and is familiar with the truth of God's word.

Well, not quite. I'm already familiar with the FALLACIES of "God's Word," and that's why anyone who wants to maintain his or her own faith must retreat to fasting and prayer, and telling oneself that James is "deceived." Engaging oneself in a sincere debate over the fallacies of "God's Word" will almost certainly lead to the loss of one's own faith.

Because James has requested a defense of my belief in God and Christianity (separate issues) I am sending him a video debate entitled, Atheism Versus Christianity. I am sending you a copy as well.

A debate! Let me guess -- you picked one in which the atheist made a poor showing and lost the debate. Debates are good for raising issues in a lively and entertaining way to get people to begin thinking for themselves, but they are no good at all for establishing truth. This is because the outcome of a debate usually depends much more on the skill and preparation of the debater than the subject matter under debate.

[Name of relative omitted], my previous offer to you still stands. I'll watch this video if you read or watch something of my choosing. If you agree to my condition, then I'll hunt down a transcript or a videotape or an audiotape of a debate in which the atheist won. They're not too hard to find.

And, RO, don't accuse me of being unwilling to watch the video. I am willing, but I have to get something of value in exchange, tit for tat. That's fair, especially since I spent 23 years reading and listening and looking at the pro-Christian materials exclusively. If this videotape is "different" from the rest and "really" answers the issues, then it will be a simple matter to get me to view it. [Name of relative omitted] only has to read or view or listen to one item of my choosing.

Also, I will be sending some follow-up questions and answers on paper that were not covered in the debate.

I hope they cover MY challenges that I raised in my previous messages. For 23 years I let the Christian church set the agenda and dance all around the real issues without ever addressing them directly. Now I'M setting the agenda.

In the final analysis James is already firmly rooted in his deception.

"Deception" again. Say it enough and [my relatives] will believe it. The "firmly rooted" part is right. I methodically studied the Bible and church doctrine for 23 years, and so I am intimate with the problems.

God can and is willing to deliver him, but James must turn to God.

Which, being translated, means that I must accept God not only without reason, but contrary to reason.

Begging the question is an elementary logical fallacy, but theism and Christianity depend on it for their existence.

James is not simply a victim.

Correct. I am not a victim. I used to be a victim of the Christian delusion, but not anymore.

RO, I have raised a number of serious issues which you obviously can't answer, not because of any deficiency on your part, but because they are unanswerable. I still do not hold any animosity toward you, despite my tough talk. If you open up your Bible one day and find that your faith has evaporated, like I did, I offer myself as a friend to help you deal with it. I promise not to expose your unbelief unless you give the word, and I know how to put you in contact with people and resources that can ease the transition away from a life of faith. Right now you think it can never happen, and perhaps you never will lose faith, but if you do, look me up.

He has willingly taken up an argument against God as creator. He is like a kid waving his finger in the face of God yelling, "prove it! I dare you!".

This is not my attitude at all, as you will see when I explain below what I have done.

The fact is God has and is proving that he exists (Romans 1).

Referencing the Bible as proof begs the question -- again.

Again, I hurt deeply with you

Yes, all of us have hurt deeply. Christianity takes such a grip on people's lives, that it is very hurtful indeed to discover that it is a false religion, or to lose a friend or family member to rationality.

A more sensible religion would scorn people only for misdeeds, not misbeliefs. If I had kept my unbelief secret and kept up with going through all the Christian motions, no one would have seen any difference in me, and all would be well even though I disbelieved. But, because I have acknowledged my unbelief openly, I am branded immoral with no evidence at all of any other misdeed. Incredible! This religion rewards you for keeping up a lie and punishes you for telling the truth!

and will pray for God's miraculous and undeniable intervention.

Miracles have their own problems, but there's no use clogging up the works with a critique of miracles at this time. Let me just say that if I were to come back to faith, your assumption of its being miraculous is unjustified. My return would easily be explained, as I said previously, by my losing my ability to reason, which could happen through brain damage from a car accident or by natural senility, for example.

I fear for James sincerely. He does not realize what he's doing.

I remained a Christian for 23 years because I DID realize the consequences. If Hell were real, anyone would be a fool to dismiss the only Entity who could keep him out of it. Despite the fact that Christians don't talk much about Hell anymore, the fear of it still keeps many people in the faith, as it did me. It took a boatload of solid evidence to move me beyond that fear into disbelief. It was the fear of Hell that kept me from leaving the faith on only a few inconsistencies, but, as I said in my previous message, I found that the intellectual bankruptcy of Christianity, including the doctrine of Hell, was pandemic and profound. That discovery completely liberated me from any residual fear of Hell. And the weight of the evidence I have collected as a result of fearing Hell makes my present position unassailable to those who would presume to turn me back.

I will be satisfied to send James the information I've referred to. I will get those materials out as soon as possible. [Note: RO has never sent this material. -JLB] James will likely keep trying to bully me into a debate. God's not asked me to play that part. I feel no compunction or desire to do so. I am sick over this. My battle tactics on behalf of James and Alison (other than sending this initial material) will be with acts of wisdom and prayer.

OK, let me explain why I'm not interested in a debate. I have already accomplished what I set out to do, which was to show that you are unwilling to defend the truth of Christianity. You are willing enough to defend Christianity under the ASSUMPTION that it is true, but you are not willing to defend the question of whether Christianity itself is really TRUE or FALSE.

I don't need a debate, because I've already won what I was after. You gave it to me on a silver platter when you said, "God's not asked me to play that part," (how convenient for you) and, "I feel no compunction or desire to do so." Sorry to rub it in, but I don't want [my relatives] to miss the significance of what has happened here. You, an ordained minister of the gospel, trained at seminary, "feel no compunction or desire" to defend the truth of Christianity, not even to retrieve a lost sheep strayed from your own congregation!

As for "bullying" you, my taunts to you were measured to get YOU to respond, not to shake my finger at God. I needed some kind of response from you to draw this exchange to a resolution for [my relatives'] sake.

AND THE RESOLUTION IS THIS, THAT MY CHALLENGES TO CHRISTIANITY STAND UNANSWERED.

It's not your fault, though, RO, as the many challenges to Christianity are unanswerable. You've done the only thing you could do, which was to extract yourself from a losing battle. You got yourself off the hook for more abuse, and did some damage control with [my believing relatives] on your way out. No doubt, God will take care of the rest, yes?

In God's Strength,
RO

P.S.
By the way, the "shunning" of the member James is referring to was over a married man who fondled a teenage girl in our church. He worked with our youth. He admitted it to me in private, but later denied it in public to spare his marriage. I obeyed the biblical guidelines in that entire matter. I just wanted you know that.

True, but irrelevant to the point I was making in my previous message, which was that you threatened me with blackmail. Worse yet, the "biblical guidelines" induce you to do so, an example of the "absolute standards of biblical morality."

A Second Aside to Relatives From Myself About the Exchange with My Former Pastor

To: [relatives]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: RO's next message...
Attachment:
Date: 12/12/97 3:16 PM

[Names of relatives omitted],

I believe RO will probably send you another message (but he won't send me a copy this time) to try to control the "damage" I have done as much as he can. I won't go through and speculate on what he will say this time (although I wasn't too far off last time, was I?), except for one thing. He will likely tell you that you have no responsibility to read anything I select for you. If he says this, he is right, and I will tell you myself -- you do not have that responsibility. However, that is still my condition for getting me to view RO's videotape, or to read any of the books you sent. This is the only leverage I have with you, and so I must use it. Nevertheless, my condition is quite fair and not unreasonable.

James

Postscript

There has been no further communication from my former pastor. And the only thing my relatives had to say about this exchange was that I was too hard on him!

This makes me think of my dissertation defense. I had to defend it against much more probing challenges than those I have presented to RO. The professors have a responsibility to see that they do not graduate unqualified professionals. Yet, the subject of my dissertation is "only temporal" where RO deals in the eternal. With eternity at stake, how is it possible to be too hard on one who would presume to prescribe for me a path to eternal life, over against the threat of eternal damnation? If someone makes claims bearing on one's eternal destiny, but he or she cannot defend those claims, does it not make sense to hold a skeptical view of those claims, and to presume that the person making the claims is speaking beyond the scope of their knowledge? Is is not foolish to accept such claims uncritically without challenge, especially if the person bringing such claims is unequal to their defense?

Our society is too polite toward holy men. We defer to them and render undeserved credibility to them. The fact is, the ones who are presumptuous enough to be "sure" of their knowledge of the supernatural can demonstrate nothing of it, and the ones who are too wise to be so presumptuous are habitually ambiguous in what they teach so that they can slip out of the tight grasp of scrutiny. We need to demand of holy men that they be precise and explicit in what they teach, and that they bring demonstration of what they say, if they would earn our attention. Otherwise, what they say does not qualify as knowledge (it actually qualifies as anti-knowledge), and they themselves amount to nothing more than waggling tongues which do not deserve to be listened to. We would never hold any other professional in high esteem for vacuous, unsubstantial, undemonstrable gibberish, as we do holy men. It's time to stop granting them privileged and deferential status, until they demonstrate real knowledge that stands up to scrutiny and produce something of value and substance, as we demand of other professionals.

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