Deconversion stories from The Skeptical Review
Ransom L. Webster
You asked for permission to use my original letter in the winter 1995 issue of TSR. You certainly do have my permission. If its publication could lend courage or support to even one other person, pastor, missionary or spouse, then I would want it printed in bold letters.
May I take this opportunity to relate to you just a bit more of my--that is, our--story? You might find it interesting.
Both my wife Virginia and I were raised in conservative Christian homes during the '40s and '50s. Charles Fuller's Old-Fashioned Revival Hour was a regular in both our homes, as were the broadcasts of Donald Grey Barnhouse and many others. We met in our first year at college (the former National Bible Institute, renamed Shelton College; this eventually became one of the strongholds of Carl McIntire, founder of the American Council of Christian Churches) and have been together ever since. I graduated from Gordon Theological Seminary (now Gordon-Conwell) in Wenham, MA, and served churches in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations, all strictly evangelical/ fundamentalist.
During those years, I always preached the standard gospel message of the "necessity of the new birth," based on the foundation of an "inerrant" Bible. I gave altar calls, held evangelistic and missionary conferences, sent the young people to Christian camps, etc., etc. But despite all this, which of course included an active personal prayer life, I became more and more concerned about the truth and validity of what I was doing and what I was saying.
To help quiet my ever-growing uneasiness, I decided to return to formal studies, eventually graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia, PA) with a Th. M. degree. Two years later, I again returned to the books, entering the Ph.D. program of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln ("Big Red" territory). My major was ancient history; my hopes were to find a way to bolster my sagging faith. (Yes, I was serving a church at the time.) I became a "teaching fellow" and was well on my way to a degree, but time began to run out in the sense that I was losing in the faith department faster than I was gaining in the doubt department.
More knowledge--knowledge about the Bible and Christian history and other religions, etc.--only made the situation worse for me; now I could clearly see the fallacies, problems, cover-ups, denials, inconsistencies, exaggerations, and misrepresentations, which at one time I only suspected existed. To her eternal credit, it was my wife who had the guts to say, "This is crazy; you can stay in the church if you want, but count me out." Without her, I fear it would have taken me twice as long to do what needed to be done years earlier: I resigned never to pastor another church again. And--I want it clearly understood--not only did I resign from my particular church, but we also left the entire Christian system behind.
Have we ever regretted this decision? Never. Not once. I admit, for a while, we didn't know what, if anything, to do about beliefs, or god, and such things. But this should not be mistaken for sorrow for leaving either the pastorate or the "faith." We have never, at any time, been sorry. We feel free, unburdened, relieved... and happier than we have ever felt in our entire lives. The initial concern that god would "get us" for this is gone. Now, together we explore ideas, seek new realms, experience wisdom previously lost to us. We look at social, political and spiritual issues in an entirely new way, invariably diametrically opposed to our old "Christian" views.
As we consider the condition of the evangelical church of today, see their tactics, listen to their "logic," understand their agenda, hear their rationalizations, we are indeed glad that no longer are we caught up in this mindset, which once so powerfully "had us."
Well, I'm not finished expressing myself by a longshot, but I'll stop, appreciative of this opportunity to have my say. There's a lot more to relate, about our present "beliefs," and what we are endeavoring to do, but I know you're a busy man. If you would like to hear more some time I'll be happy to comply. In the meantime, we do wish you success in your work. We feel a close kinship to people like you and are glad someone is doing something to refute the claims of that so-called "mighty army."
One final question: do you know of anyone who is seeking to help former preachers and missionaries and their spouses on an emotional or psychological level through a support network or newsletter or something? ...I'm thinking of former Christian workers only, not lay people.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Webster sent an earlier letter in which he said that he had been a fundamentalist preacher for 20 years and now "shudder[s] at those days and the amount of energy spent leading so many people astray." Although his second letter was much longer, I couldn't resist publishing it instead of his first. Again, we have personal testimony of the happiness and intense satisfaction that comes from breaking the shackles that enslave the mind to religious superstition and nonsense. In my debates, the opposition continually charges that I have nothing to offer but doom and despair, but those who have been down the same road I have traveled consistently testify to the tremendous joy and relief that accompany abandonment of the ridiculous belief system that Christian fundamentalism represents.
Although I am pleased to publish this ex-preacher's story, there is really nothing new in it. Long-time subscribers to TSR will remember similar letters that we have published, and they all tell essentially the same story. A preacher begins to study higher criticism, world history, religious history, philosophy, etc., and eventually, he begins to see that he has been misled. Christianity is not a unique religion that God revealed in the first century but only a patchwork of pagan beliefs fraught with "fallacies, problems, cover-ups, denials, inconsistencies, exaggerations, misrepresentations," and many other flaws that Mr. Webster didn't mention.
Each letter like his makes me wonder how many more fundamentalist preachers are out there wallowing in misery, who want to get out but don't know how. If by chance any read this and want whatever assistance I can give, please be assured that your letters will be held strictly confidential. I have been where you are, so I know what you are going through.
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