How do I leave Christianity without hurting anyone?

apologia Says:

Well, I can’t believe that I am writing to an Atheist website for insight. You see, I’ve been a theist my whole life, although for the most part that was by default because I was not a part of any faith community.
My belief in intelligent design extrapolates naturally to a creator(s), ergo; God!
I have flirted with various religions at different times, particularly when they seemed to offer answers to my deepest questions. Unfortunately, when my questions became too awkward, I was generally told that I had been given the answer and must accept it by faith – not a very critical form of deliberation.
Eventually, I stumbled upon some very learned, contemporary Christian apologists and my path to Christ was gradually laid. These ’scholars’ were very convincing in their arguments for Christianity and after commiting to that faith I was soon immersed in learning and teaching (at the lay-level).
I even taught a course on how to debate with atheists. This was done with the assumption that their objection to theism was either philosophically or scientifically based. I tell you this because I don’t want to come across as a gullible nutcase (as many Christians are perceived by those outside the faith). My primary instruction in the atheist course was to tell those attending to put away their Bibles because they might as well bring a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for all the credibility it will carry with an atheist.
Well, that’s enough history, where I am now (philosophically) is what is germain. The answer in a nutshell is that I am still a theist but my faith in the Bible as ‘inspired’ and my belief in the claims of Christianity are unravelling at an alarming rate. The problem is that I am still active (spiritually, socially, etc) within the faith.
A group of us who were teachers and lay leaders within the church split away because of the institutional church’s lack of motivation to do the social work required – taking care of the disenfrancized, etc. As a result we formed a house church with no leader, denominational affiliation, established doctrine or theology, etc. We each naturally take leadership in areas where our talents lie. Despite what the institutional church members who oppose us believe (and there are many) it works beautifully and we are making a difference in our community. The trouble is that I now feel like a fraud due to my ever-widening disconnect with the Christian theistic position.
So here’s the $64.000 question – how do I gently break away without damaging a lot of people?
As a teacher I was very effective in rationalizing the faith of others so that they grew in confidence. My change of perspective has the potential to effect a lot of people, including my wife.
Please don’t offer platitudes such as be true to your conscience, because I know that’s what I should do – and damn the consequences – but I just can’t. I need to find a way to do it gently. Your insight will be greatly appreciated.
p.s. I came here because it would be impossible to get realistic advice from a Christian forum.

10 Responses to How do I leave Christianity without hurting anyone?

  1. Durzal says:

    The position you find yourself in, is not your fault.

    The problem lies, if I interpret your text correctly, is the rather archaic claims and beliefs of some groups in Christianity that don’t really have any place in in a modern society.

    In England some clergymen will only marry couples who don’t live together while some don’t care, there are other examples of the churches hugely divided opinion on such issues including gay marriage, evolution and women bishops.
    (So they can’t all be right)

    The point is the church has to change with the times.(like you have)
    I have no problem with someone believing in God(its not my business) however I find some theist’s inability to adapt to new information and understanding frustrating.

    Bashing Evolution is idiotic, its no longer doubted by anyone with any sense.
    Persecuting Gays is idiotic(and cruel) as homosexuality is not something people choose.
    (I’ll finish my rant here)

    I wouldn’t worry about your unravelling belief in some of the more nonsensical claims of the church.
    To believe in God you DO NOT have to persecute gays, spurn facts like evolution or in anyway swallow nonsense that makes no sense to you.

    *** You are NOT betraying your faith by using your common sense. ***

    Your change in perspective doesn’t need to be publicised.(if some cant handle different opinions, don’t tell them) You don’t have to necessarily break away (especially if it is going to cause you social problems) you can be a moderating factor in an otherwise fundamentalist environment and very slowly break away if you feel you have too.

    Its upsetting to me that a good person who works for the good of their community and does their best to be a good person everyday has to worry about having a differing opinion.

    If you find yourself in difficult times because of this, remember what this soulless atheist heathen says
    “It is not your fault”

  2. The Atheist says:

    apologia

    I remember how distressed and disoriented, and frankly how scared I felt when I first realized that what I believed qualified me as an “atheist”. I imagine you must have felt the same way as you reached your conclusions about the Bible the claims of Christianity.

    I broke away from religion at a fairly young age and I was pretty brutal about it. It wasn’t that I had no regard for my previous friendships or no regard for the feelings of others, I was just too immature to know how to handle those issues. So I can’t tell you what I did right, but I can tell you what I wish in retrospect that I would have done.

    I wish I had had frank conversations with my friends – not about how our beliefs about God had grown apart, and not about who was right or wrong, but about how insincere I felt when I participated in religious activities, and how I hoped we could remain friends even if we no longer shared the bond of religious fellowship. To be honest, I think if I had done this most all of my religious friends would have just dumped me, or would have contentiously argued with me about my new beliefs. But at least I would have given them the opportunity to remain friends and I would have allowed them to make their own decision. And who knows, some of us might have remained friends. For me, true friendship should be based on honesty, understanding, and loyalty. If you don’t come clean with your friends, then you don’t give them the opportunity to be true friends.

    Now having said all that, it’s not necessarily the case that you have to feel insincere about the worship with your friends just because your beliefs have changed. You might enjoy the fellowship and ceremony even if you no longer buy into the theology. If that’s the case, you still might want to let your friends know how you feel about it but you don’t necessary have to drop out of the group. Dr. Robert Price is an example of someone who does this and is quite open about it. He was once a Baptist minister and later became a member of the Jesus Seminar (I’m guessing you might be familiar with the Jesus Seminar research from your earlier experience with debating atheists). Yet Dr. Price is a member of the Episcopal Church and attends services regularly simply because he enjoys it.

    Your thoughts?

  3. tea says:

    You have to follow your own path.

  4. Sam says:

    We are all born atheists and everyone is an atheist in regards to one or more of the gods of religions other than their own. Some of us have never been convinced that any gods are real. I haven’t in all my 52 years and I was raised by xians! Apologia, you are just now discovering the extent of your critical thinking skills and I suspect will eventually become comfortable admitting, if not embracing the fact, that you are a full-on atheist. That said, to answer your question about how to leave Xianity without hurting anyone, believe me, it can’t be done. I live in the Bible Belt Buckle of the good ol’ USA and being “out of the closet” as a proud atheist is (albeit personally liberating) a great burden for my loved ones, many of whom literally believe I will be suffering in hellfire for all eternity. This includes my husband, my kids, grandkids, father and siblings. The only thing I can honestly say to try to assuage those irrational fears of theirs which I hope not only comforts them but makes them think is this: “I don’t believe in hell so you don’t have to worry about me going there. If your idea of hell is to be without gods, well, look at me. I’m perfectly happy, well-loved, and fulfilled in every way. If this is hell, it’s ok with me.” The resulting cognitive dissonance they experience usually grants me an albeit temporary reprieve from their heartfelt attempts to “save” me. Mostly in response to their concerns for my eternal soul, I simply say “Thanks for loving me and I love you, too.”

  5. Sam says:

    We are all born atheists and everyone is an atheist in regards to one or more of the gods of religions other than their own. Some of us have never been convinced that any gods are real. I haven’t in all my 52 years and I was raised by xians! Apologia, you are just now discovering the extent of your critical thinking skills and I suspect will eventually become comfortable admitting, if not embracing the fact, that you are a full-on atheist. That said, to answer your question about how to leave Xianity without hurting anyone, believe me, it can’t be done. I live in the Bible Belt Buckle of the good ol’ USA and being “out of the closet” as a proud atheist is (albeit personally liberating) a great burden for my loved ones, many of whom literally believe I will be suffering in hellfire for all eternity. This includes my husband, my kids, grandkids, father and siblings. The only thing I can honestly say to try to assuage those irrational fears of theirs which I hope not only comforts them but makes them think is this: “I don’t believe in hell so you don’t have to worry about me going there. If your idea of hell is to be without gods, well, look at me. I’m perfectly happy, well-loved, and fulfilled in every way. If this is hell, it’s ok with me.” The resulting cognitive dissonance they experience usually grants me an albeit temporary reprieve from their heartfelt attempts to “save” me. Mostly in response to their concerns for my eternal soul, I simply say “Thanks for loving me and I love you, too.”

  6. Christian says:

    I think it’s unfortunate you feel you cannot ask advice from fellow Christians before running to atheists. If I understand what you’re saying, you are still a believer, but you disagree with the church you were once a member of. I personally dislike most institutionalized churches I’ve attended as well, but if I had a question concerning my faith unravelling, I would ask a like-minded believer for support. If you think other Christians have never experienced losing faith, you are sorely mistaken. Despite what I imagine an atheist would be quick to tell you, we are not all gullible nutcases for overcoming our faltering faith either. I’ll say a prayer for you.

  7. AthiestAussie says:

    It seems to me that your main problem is a very valid concern that when a teacher changes their mind, their students lose one of the foundations of their own beliefs.

    Many of them will probably respond aggressively – they will feel betrayed and may take it as a personal affront. Likewise, some of your former peers will take your step away from their dogma as a personal affront. Many may refuse further social interaction with you. You must recognise that those people are acting defensively.

    I’d recommend you start by explaining what you *are* doing, so that they can see that you’re doing what you believe to be God’s work. Devoting your life to charity is not at odds with the important parts of Christianity as I understand it.

    Maybe go with the idea that you’re following in the footsteps of Jesus by breaking away from the established organisation and directly helping the people who need help.

    I get the impression you’re still a believer, so make it clear that it’s just the church structure you’re rejecting, not God or Christianity in general.

    However, you are rejecting their way of life, so you cannot avoid upsetting people and you will lose some friends.

    It’s no comfort, but anyone you lose out of this isn’t truly your friend.

    Then we’ll see you again in a couple of years when you’ve worked out that you don’t need the God/Jesus part at all :)

  8. Mercy says:

    I recently deconverted from xianity and so I feel I know how difficult this change of beliefs is for you. It is wonderful that you are wanting to be compassionate and gentle with the people you care about and you should absolutely be as kind as possible. As for doing it without hurting anyone, unfortunately there are no guarantees…

    I would (and did) start with the people who are closest to you (your wife and other co-leaders, friends etc…) It really depends on what you want or need them to know about you. You may want to begin just by stepping down from some of the teaching and leadership positions you are in. Surely everyone will understand if you say you need a break or that you are on a journey (which you are) and you need some time to process what is going on for you.

    As I found my own beliefs changing I found reading was very helpful. You may find reading “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris and “Biblical Nonsense” by Dr. Jason Long helpful as you try to put your new beliefs into words.

    As for going to an Atheist site, I totally understand. Throughout my changing beliefs I tried numerous times to engage a variety of xtian family members and friends in a discussion and none of them were willing – at all. The only person who was willing to have a frank discussion with me was my friend the atheist.

    As your beleifs settle (or maybe you already feel settled with your new way of thinking) you will most likely find that you want to share your new way of thinking. Not everyone will need to know everything. You may want to start a conversation with, “My beleifs have been shifting recently” and see where the conversation goes from there.

    Best wishes to you. ~Mercy

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this discussion. I am a now a theist, having been a Christian all my life, first as a Catholic, and then as an Evangelical. I am also gay.

    You can imagine how difficult breaking all this will be to my very Catholic parents, and the rest of my family, which is very Christian: we have 3 baptist pastors and 1 evangelical pastor among us.

    I will take it very slowly, starting with my current pastor and brother-in-law.

  10. The Atheist says:

    I think you are wise to take it very slowly and gently, carefully feeling out the situation as you go. I hope it goes well!

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