5/23/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy John Shores ~
It has been five years since I left Christianity.
My own personal struggle can best be defined as a search for "understanding why." Why did I believe the Christian story? Why did I leave? Why didn't I see the truth sooner? This seems to be a common path for people like me who are trying to cope with a whole new reality.
What I recognized in myself, though, was that I really wasn't looking for an answer to "why." I was looking for someone to blame for not having seen the truth sooner.
So, I sought for the answer to this question instead. What I discovered was surprising.
Where the Blame Does Not Lie
"Christian doctrine" is not the problem. I know this sounds astounding, but that's the long and the short of it.
Here is why.
Religious doctrine has no power of its own. As Reza Aslan said in a recent interview:
There's this misconception that people derive their values from their scriptures. And the truth is that it's more often the case that people insert their values into their scriptures.
In this country, not two hundred years ago both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their viewpoints, they used the same verses to do so.
I think this is a truth that is easy to overlook. When we feel aggrieved and angry, we want to assign blame and there is no easier target then The Bible and the works of Christian theologians. But these are not worthy targets.
We can see this in our own experiences. A person gravitates toward a religion that supports what they already think and feel. A liberal Christian uses the same Bible to support his or her humanistic worldview as the Westborough Baptist Church uses to support their bigotry.
There is nothing transformative about the Bible or so-called "Christian" ideas. A human being holds an idea and then looks for those passages in the Bible (or Koran...) that support that idea.
Christianity did not ruin my life. Nor was it the cause of the abuses that I suffered. It was merely an implement. To blame Christianity is like blaming the belt that Dad used to beat me. The belt was designed to hold one's britches up. It was not designed as an assault weapon. The fact that it was used to inflict pain was not the fault of the belt.
Where Does the Blame Lie?
So who or what is to blame for the experiences that I suffered in the name of Christianity?
I think the primary blame falls to human biology.
We are social animals who need to belong to a group. Validation of our ideas and thoughts is of great importance to us. (That's why we are all here on this site, isn't it?)
Once I realized this, I began to recognize just how much bullshit I was willing to swallow so that I could remain "in good standing" (for want of a better phrase) among the people in my church.
There were many times that I thought "This ain't right" but rather than using that as a foundation for independent thinking, I would instead go on a journey to find sources that agreed with the thing that I struggled against so that I could find some way of making it "OK" to believe it. I held the position that I was wrong and the group was right.
Sad to say, I wasn't as interested in Truth as I was interested in Belonging.
Two other characteristics of human beings also have an impact on this:
- We are wired to recognize authority
- We imitate others
When I first left the faith, I was tempted to blame my parents for failing me somehow. Upon reflection, however, I don't know that this is really fair. They were happy in their faith and remained so for life. Is it reasonable to expect that they would to teach me how to think independently when they did not know how to do so themselves? Is it realistic for me to demand that they should have presented me with other options?
Even if they had not been particularly happy in their beliefs, going against the herd is contrary to human nature. I don't know that I would be holding any moral high ground by laying at their feet the accusation that they failed to break away from the herd.
Actually, I Am to Blame
I am grateful that I live in a time and place where breaking away from Christianity is not a solo experience.If I'm being honest, I don't know how long I would have lasted on this journey if I didn't have a group like this one to help me. If I lived in the seventeenth century Europe, I am pretty confident that I would have the stones to walk away from Christianity, even if it didn't carry with it the threat of physical torture. I still feel the need to belong somewhere, after all.
I am grateful that I live in a time and place where breaking away from Christianity is not a solo experience. Unlike previous generations, questioning religious belief is a very big topic for mine. There are many sources out there to help people who want to look at Christianity from a non-theist viewpoint. Heck! There are even open debates between non-theists and theists going around.
If anyone is to blame for the decades I spent as a Christian as an adult, it is I. It is my own failure that I did not give any credence to the opponents of theism. It is my fault that I never looked at my faith objectively until I was completely disillusioned.
No matter how loud the voices on either side of the discussion, ultimately I am responsible for thinking and making decisions for myself.
Knowing this, I find it difficult to lay blame elsewhere. And in searching my own motives, I find that the only possible net impact of trying to lay blame anywhere else only serves for me to fuel the angst and distress that I first felt after leaving the faith.
I have no desire to be at odds with other people simply because of their declared belief system. Rather, I am finding that an individual can only be won to my way of thinking when I treat them respectfully and demonstrate that I am a good person.
Personal interactions between theists and atheists are the means by which theism will die away.
Groups clash. Individuals can find common ground. Attacking a group is not only a complete waste of effort but it is unhealthy for each of us. The path to healing, either as individuals or as a society, is not found is blaming and attacking one another. It is found in accepting the role that we played in keeping ourselves bound to the Christian herd and allowing ourselves to move forward with greater understanding and empathy for those who have not yet become brave enough to question their own faith.