After a number of years outside the Christian fold, I recently had an email from someone I knew at university. We both graduated in 1984, have families, careers and work in education. So far so, much in common. What we no longer share is an earnest evangelical faith.
Christian Union: we prayed together, we performed in street missions together and on one occasion went to the Edinburgh Festival at our own expense to put on a show about the life of Jesus. Things changed.
Although I wouldn't say I'm 'angry with God' - to be angry with a non-existent being is rather pointless - I do still get angry with those who promote a conservative brand of Christianity. Speaking to some mutual friends who attended a recent reunion, I learned that this particular individual still professes very similar beliefs to the ones he had at college. Various comments in his email confirmed this, and I responded as follows:
I’m interested to hear that your son is planning to work with an Oasis team in the near future. From this I conclude that you and your family are still committed to a fairly evangelical form of Christianity. If we were to meet up in the future it seems only fair to warn you that my religious convictions have altered quite dramatically in the years since I left university.
In the autumn of 1996 my wife was pregnant and on the 1st October she went into labour. When we got to the hospital it soon became evident that things were going wrong – the medics couldn’t find a heartbeat in the infant and had to deliver as fast as possible – it was all I could do to remain standing and keep telling my wife that I loved her, all the time praying that things would work out. An hour later I was cradling the corpse of my firstborn child. She had been stillborn at 40 weeks.
14 years on, I would describe that day as the one when I first walked out on the idea of God, but my ‘relationship with Christ’, imagined or not, had been the basis of my life for over 20 years. It was rather like a marriage and what followed was a long and messy divorce. I tried going back to church on several occasions, even leading various groups within it, but it was no good. The conviction had gone. Five years ago I began calling myself an atheist.
I am convinced that God I worshipped at university is a fiction. I am prepared to concede that some people have extraordinary experiences which seem hard to account for without invoking God. I can live with that. What I cannot live with is the notion of an interventionist God who permits the holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and countless other everyday tragedies such as the one I experienced 14 years ago. There was nothing particularly unusual about my pain, but for my wife and me it was almost unendurable. If the Christian God really does exist and has the power to intervene but chooses not to on the grounds of ‘free-will’, he is an amoral bully who merits our contempt. If the best he can do is share our pain in the shape of Christ crucified I am not impressed – what kind of entity responds to suffering by torturing his own child to death?
If you’d still like to keep in touch after reading the above, fine, but as I now believe we have one life, it seems more important than ever to conduct relationships on the basis of honesty.
All the best
Although I stand by everything I said, I can't help asking myself the question 'What did he do to deserve that?' I guess what I was trying to do was force him to accomodate my experience of God's absence within his world view, but From his point of view I suspect it read like an almighty 'Fuck you!' This seems like a rather over-the-top response to a perfectly civil message from him. Did I have the right to rub his face in the grimmer realities of my life?
I'd be interested to know what people think.
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