In my previous post, I talked about the difficulty of being stuck in limbo by doubts that could not be resolved. Here is a list of some of the books that helped me out of that trap. They are the books that I wish I had read earlier (though I’m not sure I would have accepted their message earlier).

Why I believed

After years of doubt, Why I believed was the first book by a former believer I had ever read, and it was wonderful. Ken Daniels had been a missionary translator and came from a Christian denomination very different from the Christadelphians. However, his story was well told and contained many personal experiences I could identify with, and it encouraged me to continue to question and explore.

As a missionary translator, Ken’s doubts had to be dealt with much more publicly than mine were, and he shows his integrity throughout. In a world where “angry atheists” are quickly dismissed, he remains calm and methodical. He shows that the path to unbelief can be painful, but that he was compelled to follow it by an honest evaluation of the facts.

It had been a struggle even convincing myself to read it, and I was still closely enough tied to the Bible that some of it was challenging. But the advantage of reading a book rather than a collection of blog posts was that I couldn’t just dismiss it as one or two awkward points to answer later. By the end I realised that even if I managed to discount 50% of it there was still too much in it to be dismissed (I suspect if I read it again now I would agree with more of it).

One of the most valuable reminders from the book was that being a well-read Christadelphian Bible student wasn’t enough. I didn’t know as much about textual criticism, Biblical interpretation, or other competing religions as I thought I did. And there was a whole world of ideas out there about living a purposeful and ethical life without God that I was totally ignorant of.

The book changed my view of religion, and was the beginning of the end for my faith. It paved the way for me to systematically investigate my doubts, gain closure, and begin to build a new life. And most of that from two simple principles:

  1. Don’t just read things that support your point of view.

  2. Apply the same standards to evaluating your own beliefs as you do to evaluating the beliefs of others. Don’t give your beliefs a free pass, whether you grew up with them or not.

In retrospect, they seem obvious, but they were exactly what I wasn’t doing. Instead, I had been privileging the Bible and Christian faith in spite of not really believing them. I would encourage doubters and believers alike to consider these two principles, whether or not they read this book.

Available on Amazon here (all proceeds go to charity), or freely available online here.

Unbelievable

Unbelievable is a personal memoir of one Christadelphian’s journey to unbelief, short but filled with valuable insights. As a memoir, it has some similarities to Why I believed, but it addresses specific areas of Christadelphian teaching and speaks more to what life looks like after leaving Christadelphia. It also draws on Rob’s professional expertise (statistics and forecasting) when discussing probabilities, prophecies, and miraculous healings.

I had known Rob as a believer, followed his Bible Musings blog, and knew many of the same people, so this account felt real in a way few others did. But my favourite section was the letters section, in which he published some of the correspondence from believers and unbelievers he received after quitting. Though the letters are all anonymous, I almost certainly know some of the writers, and definitely recognise the sentiments. And in his responses he talks freely about his new life philosophy and the choices he made in a way that was incredibly helpful to someone who had not yet made the leap. Much of it would be relevant to any Christian doubter, though I’m sure there is some that only makes sense to a Christadelphian.

In retrospect, one of the most valuable things I took from this book was the importance of intellectual honesty. I was part of a close-knit religious community, and to me leaving felt like betraying everyone, while keeping doubts to myself felt like deceiving people. I still sometimes think about this with guilt, and it is hard to seize the moral high ground while feeling like a traitor. In this book, Rob’s integrity shone through, and reminded me that I was right to leave, whatever it felt like. For example:

Like it or not, I am an unbeliever because the evidence strongly suggests that the Bible is a book written entirely by men thousands of years ago, and that God (if he or she exists at all) has no personal interactions with human beings.

I took many notes, read it more than once, and since it became available online I’ve referred back to it many times. It may be less relevant for non-Christadelphians, but it’s an easy read with useful content and I would still recommend it.

Available on Amazon here, or freely available online here.

Why Evolution is True

Many facing serious doubts have already been forced to accept some form of theistic evolution, and so may not learn a lot from this book. But for me it was really eye-opening. I was aware of some of the pieces in it, but it wove all the different points into a beautiful and compelling picture that I was lacking. And given evolution is one area of science that believers (including the former me) love to dismiss, it was helpful that it explained why many creationist talking points failed.

It gives evidence from a wide range of areas: embryology, biogeographical distribution, the fossil record, genetics, the new species originating today (both in the lab and in the wild), and several other areas. It demonstrates why we would expect to see the evidence we do see, and what that evidence shows. It also shows some of the predictions made in advance that were confirmed by later fossil discoveries, reproduced in the lab, or explored through various simulations.

Sapiens

I didn’t read this book until months after I quit, but to someone brought up on the Garden of Eden and a worldwide flood it made a refreshing change. Not only did it give a fascinating story of key breakthroughs that made us what we are today, but it was willing to acknowledge the parts of that history that are less certain. Where the previous book tells the story of life in all its diversity, this book tells the grand story of human history sweepingly and elegantly. It reminds us of where we’ve come from, shows us where we are now, and speculates on what the future might look like.

In the absence of a God or an ancient holy book to guide us, that gives a lot to think about. For better or for worse, the future of humanity and the world as we know it lies with us. Throughout history, humanity has bent the surounding environment to suit itself - but can we keep doing that?

Some fiction

I believe that sometimes fiction can help deliver a serious message when non-fiction can’t. These books didn’t have the same impact on me as the non-fiction books I’ve recommended, but I would recommend them to any doubter interested in fiction.

Probably the book most directly relevant to counter-apologetics is Bob Seidensticker’s Cross Examined. It does have a lot of religious debate, and you could be forgiven for believing some of the content has migrated from his blog of the same name. But it also has real characters with their own particular struggles and quirks, and it helpfully portrays the process of doubts formed against a believer’s will.

I preferred Bob’s Modern Christmas Carol, which was shorter but spoke much more directly to the process I had gone through. Its protaganist, Nathan, is a seemingly successful televangelist who has been struggling for many years with a folder of hard questions about Christianity that no-one can answer. And I’m sure it struck home because I’ve been in exactly the same boat. I continued to preach, and as far as I know preach effectively, while struggling with doubts that should have been crippling. And, like for Nathan, that set up internal conflicts that fellow believers seemed unable to understand, let alone address. I read this book twice in six months, which is a major recommendation since I have so many unread books that I rarely re-read anything.

Sometimes, fundamentalism makes an easy target, but as I moved along the spectrum towards moderate Christianity and then to unbelief I found a few stories helpful in encouraging tolerance and showing fundamentalism’s weaknesses.

I particularly loved John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, set in a post-nuclear dystopian society. Religion has sprung up to control mutations and maintain purity. “Norms” are created in the image of God, while mutants deviating from the image are “blasphemies hateful in the sight of God”. The protaganist has to learn to reconcile the extreme scriptural texts and teachings with the real life “blasphemies” he meets, in a journey that bore many similarities to my own encounters with “the world”.

Similarly, Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky deals with a fundamentalist religion that has sprung up aboard a generational rocket-ship. Here too the protagonist has to shed his simple religious world-view, learn about reality, and tolerate those outside his group.

My final fiction recommendation is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I read it in the months leading up to quitting, and found it both enjoyable and helpful. It doesn’t directly address religion, but it showed me some interesting things about certain religious ideas, and prompted me to re-evaluate some of my pre-conceptions. When facing loss of purpose I found some of its discussion of death and of beauty in the universe particularly helpful (and one day I’ll try to write more about this). But be warned: It is very long, and I’ve heard some criticisms of the methods of rationality it proposes. I recommend the rationality parts of the book more for “thinking about thinking” than as a system to be unquestioningly adopted.

Other resources

The internet is full of perspectives on religion and on leaving religion. For Christadelphians, I found Steve Pryde’s Ex-Christadelphian Voice of Reason thought-provoking and relevant. He is also now the editor of Ex-Christadelphians.

One other source I have found particularly helpful is the Patheos non-religious channel. Each blog has a different focus and a different community of commenters. I didn’t come across the site till after I quit, but I continue to learn from the articles and from fellow commenters. And for a doubter that’s not in the open, pseudonyms are common, so it’s possible to discuss and explore the evidence without giving anything away.

I would recommend Bob’s Cross Examined for its discussion of apologetic arguments. When I came to it, I found that he had many of the same arguments as I did, but had fleshed them out better (though they may have meant more to me because I had to work them out myself). It is sometimes over-simplistic, so I suspect it would have put me off if I had read it early in the doubt process.

Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie has many helpful articles from a skeptic and former Christian living in the Bible Belt. Like Ken Daniels, I feel Neil truly understands the difficulty of leaving a life-long Christianity in a way that many don’t.

Final thoughts

I can only really write this post for someone like me, and I’m not sure how many people are so afflicted. Facing doubts head-on is painful, and so I spent a long time miserable because I refused to face those doubts. Eventually, though, facing the doubts was worth it because I found closure and am back to living a life that makes sense again.

In this article, I’ve listed some books that helped me, but ultimately those are just details. I would encourage anyone facing serious doubts to consider the two principles I found most helpful:

  1. Don’t just read things that support your point of view.

  2. Apply the same standards to evaluating your own beliefs as you do to evaluating the beliefs of others. Don’t give your beliefs a free pass, whether you grew up with them or not.

It’s a difficult process, and I’m not suggesting anything will be solved overnight. Take the time needed to address doubts - but don’t spend the time avoiding those doubts. There is no need to come to the same conclusion as me, but ultimately I think having a firm foundation you can rely on is better than constant uncertainty.

One final caution: I know that in the past I dismissed entire arguments if I could find one weak point. I’m sure I would have dismissed some of these books the same way. However, that just meant longer in uncertainty, since I didn’t really believe, but still resisted unbelief.

And I won’t be offended if no-one takes my advice, since I remember the time when I wouldn’t have taken it.