I haven’t been asked this question directly, but I’ve had hints of it and seen others asked it. Those who ask it are in essence saying: OK, great. You had serious doubts, then you quit. And now you’re happier as a result. But it’s all over. Why do you keep dwelling on past experiences? Can’t you just move on?
I find it curious that those with the strongest faith think they know best how people should handle losing their faith. But I think the question is actually a silencing tactic. Believers find it inconvenient when former believers write about their experiences and what they have learned, so they want to shut it off as soon as possible. And, in case this post doesn’t make it clear, I object to the idea of being silenced.
I have already moved on
This blog may feel like half of it talks about religion, but that doesn’t mean I’m feeling a gaping hole in my life or wanting to return to religion. I have taken control of my life as best I can, and live a life that is free of any gods. I don’t pray, and I don’t read the Bible regularly. My Wednesday nights and weekends are filled with other things (hiking, for example).
When I write about experiences from a couple of years ago, it often feels like I am talking about a different person. So much that was once second nature no longer makes sense. Why? Because I’ve moved on.
The spectrum of moving on
However, the question makes “moving on” sound so much easier than it is. Some things, like not attending church at prescribed times, are easy. But moving on is a spectrum, not a single decision point, and I have doubtless moved further in some areas than others.
Anyone who thinks leaving a life-long faith is just a matter of flicking a few switches and choosing not to believe is deluding themselves. My former religion continues to affect my life, and moving on does not mean forgetting those experiences or denying that they existed and affected me.
I spent my entire life building a worldview based on faith and my personal understanding of the Bible. It gave me a lot of my moral values, and it also affected how I spent my time and who I associated with. Those things have made me who I am today, and can’t just be lightly discarded. I’m sure some of them will continue to affect me for the rest of my life.
Sometimes I find that the answers I had no longer work. But there is no simple audit I can do to discover and root out all the questionable consequences of core beliefs that I’ve always held. Even when I do find unspoken assumptions that I no longer accept, it’s not always clear what to replace them with. It takes time to work through, and this blog is one of the places I work through it.
Writing helps me to understand myself: To understand how I used to look at the world and at religion, why I changed my view, and why the difference is important. Sharing it makes me take the effort to make my reasoning more rigorous, which usually helps me to understand it better.
But there is more to it than that. In my journey I was helped (and continue to be helped) by reading the experiences of others. I want to be able to do the same. I have learned so many things that are completely different from what I was brought up believing, and I’d like to share some of them.
So, if there are any Christadelphians who find my speaking out inconvenient, just be aware that there may be people in your midst that I can help and you can’t. I remained silent when processing doubts because it was clear that the answers I was hearing from other believers didn’t help. I’m probably not the only one.
Family and friends
The majority of my family and many of my friends are still Christadelphians. Some of them I discuss the Christadelphian world with. Other times I hear about Christadelphian doings second or third hand. It’s handy to know what’s going on in the Christadelphian world so I can understand what they are going through.
This also makes me care about the current teachings in Melbourne Christadelphia. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think the Bible itself is a bad foundation for religion or for life. However, some Christadelphian interpretations of the Bible are more defensible than others, and some will affect my friends and family more than others. As I’ve written before, I remain concerned that many of my peers will be forced to take sides in a future split not of their making. I don’t want that to happen, and this has sometimes led me to give my opinion of different Christadelphian teachings.
Contact with friends and family also means I am exposed to the Bible and to problematic reasoning. Sometimes it is based on “the Bible says this”, other times it is just a brand of social conservatism commonly held by Christians. Some of that influence makes its way into discussion here.
It would be much easier to “move on” if I completely cut off family and friends and started with a clean slate. But why would I want to do that? I have already lost contact with many, with only occasional news of people getting engaged, or married, or having children. I imagine over the years I will lose contact with more, but why would I want to encourage that?
I get the impression that some believers are quick to attribute motives to unbelievers, particularly if they feel threatened. And if unbelievers are already considered untrustworthy and “worldly”, it’s not hard to consider options like:
- We are bitter and twisted by our tragic fall from grace.
- We know we’re doing the wrong thing, but lack a proper moral code and so don’t care.
- We want to gain converts for our own (non-)religious group (I’ve already discussed this one here).
- We keep talking about it because we secretly see the religion is right and want to come back. It’s probably pride or fear of change or something that prevents our return.
I’m not making any of these up: I’ve heard each of them, some of them many times. And if it’s not already clear, none of these reasons drive me to write about my religious experiences.
But it’s immoral!
Some have suggested it would be terribly wrong for me to lead others away from religion, since I might be causing them to lose their chance at eternal life. This seems to be a form of Pascal’s Wager, and comes with all the problems associated with it. Believers assume that their particular brand of eternal life is true, so I can understand why they might think it wrong to lead others astray (Jesus even talked about this).
What I’m not sure of is why they think I should agree with them. I don’t believe the evidence points to eternal life, so I have no reason to believe my actions will cause anyone to lose eternal life. I can just as easily argue that it would be morally wrong for me to keep others in the dark “for their own good”.
But there’s a bigger problem with this: It is attributing to me a power that I don’t have (or want). Here’s the deal: I publish my writings on the vast sea called “the Internet”. People have the freedom to choose whether they read them or not. I try to make them as accurate as I can, but I want readers to make up their own mind, not just accept my writings as gospel.
I don’t even expect my writings to have a big impact on fervent believers. As I’ve said before, as a believer I was perfectly able to reject problems others found with my religion. It was only when I started finding problems with it for myself that I started to acknowledge they might have a point.
Perhaps an analogy would help. I took my bachelor degree at the University of Melbourne, one of Australia’s oldest and most prominent universities.
I enjoyed the four years I spent there, and I learned a lot that I still use today. I also appreciate its history and architecture better now I have experienced some of its English influences. But it’s nine years since I completed my university degree and left the life of a student. I’ve been back to a few alumni events (in fact, I was there earlier this week), but it’s no longer part of my everyday life
However, I still sometimes talk about university days with co-workers, friends, and family. Is that because I secretly long to be back at the dear old school? No, it’s not. There are some things I miss about university life, but there are plenty of things that I prefer about the world of full-time work. However, sometimes I talk about things I learned from university, things that are still relevant today. And it’s useful to be able to share experiences when talking with friends and family members who are currently at university.
Earlier this year I had dinner with a few friends I hadn’t seen since Uni days. We talked about the things we had in common, and that included our experiences in Uni and how things there had changed since we left. But I don’t think any of us wanted to return to life as a full-time student.
Here’s the thing: With Uni, no-one says “Why can’t you just move on?” It’s clear that it is a thing of the past, but it’s also clear that it’s an influence on the present. I view my former religion as the same: a thing of the past, but an influence on the present.
Here’s how to silence me
There will probably come a time when I write about religion less than I do now. But that will be when I feel the time is right, not because someone else wants to tell me the right way to move on.
There is a better way to silence me: all you need to do is demonstrate I’m wrong. You are welcome to disagree with my arguments or to question the facts I present. What’s more, you are welcome to tell me where you disagree, and I will consider it (though if I’ve heard it before I may appear to reject it out of hand).
What you are not entitled to do is to question my motives for writing or to try to stop me from writing. Play the ball, not the man. I do not accept any rule, written or unwritten, that only religious people are allowed to write about religion.
Finally, though, if my writings annoy you too much, you’re probably not part of my target audience. Feel free to stop reading and move on. But you don’t get to judge whether these writings are helpful for me or for my target audience.