Seven or eight months ago, I abandoned Christianity, after being a Christian for many years. It was a decision that cost me dearly. Four close friends have exiled me from their lives, and two others can no longer see me due to their family’s intolerance. This all happened, not quite because I abandoned Christianity, but because I chose to speak out publicly about my reasons for doing so. Let’s not mince words: I expressed opinions that were anti-Christian.
Looking back, having learned a lot since my decision, I not only stand by it, but my stance has been greatly reinforced. There is not a single thing that lures me back to Christianity except the slight nagging fear of having made the wrong decision. I am fully aware that I am literally betting my life and soul that I’ve made the right choice. I take it very seriously, and only a fool wouldn’t.
In choosing to speak against Christianity, I caused great offense to some people, and it occurs to me now that I don’t think I ever made it clear why I was compelled to say the things I said. It could appear that I am full of venom, but that’s not the case.
When the teachings of Christianity tell me that I am going to hell, that provokes a response from me. I can either accept the Christian claim or reject it, and that rejection can take one of two forms:
1. I shrug my shoulders, walk away, and hope that hell doesn’t really exist.
2. I investigate the claim (with as little bias as possible) to be sure that I’ve made the right decision.
Response 1 would drive me mad, as I would end up constantly living in fear of being wrong. I would have to know for sure, just to put my mind at ease – or equally to lead me to embrace Christianity, should evidence present itself.
So I’ve done my homework. In fact, I’ve done twenty years of it; my relationship with Christianity goes way back. And now I don’t think Christianity is true. I don’t think there is such a place as hell. I don’t think people are damned until they discover “the way.” And I’m betting my life on it. What choice do I have? The choice between doing what I think it right, or giving in to an unjustified threat.
In saying such things, I realise I’m being very anti-Christian, but the thing I need to throw back at the Christians is this: you provoked it. I’m not trying to shift responsibility. What I’m saying is, you can’t threaten somebody and expect them to have no reaction to your threat. You can’t ask me to play Response 1, and simply say, “Gee, I hope what you’re saying isn’t true,” and nothing more.
Okay, maybe you won’t deny me the right to think what I choose to think, as long as I keep it to myself and don’t cause offense. That’s unfair for two very clear reasons.
Firstly, you’re saying you would prefer to relate to a false version of me, a politically correct projection that suits you but is nothing more than an illusion. What kind of a relationship is that? Wouldn’t you prefer me to be honest? Wouldn’t you prefer to know what I really think?
Secondly, you are expressing hypocritical double standards. How can you deny someone the right to say what they think is true (even when it offends), when you give yourself the right to express what you think is true (even when it offends)? If you’ve got the balls to say, “Buddy, you’re going to hell,” then I’ve got the balls to say, “No I’m not, and here’s why.” How can you be intolerant to criticism when you claim the right to criticise everyone else?
I don’t want to tar all Christians with the same brush. Some of my friends are Christians, and they’re still my friends, and we still have intelligent discussions without getting angry. My experience of losing friends has made me see that Christians are divided into two camps. I’m not sure what to call these groups, but I’ll wager the words “moderate” and “fundamentalist” are close labels. They are groups of mind and not of location, although I would say that certain churches fuel the fundamentalist mindset, whereas others fuel the moderate mindset.
I think the driving force behind the fundamentalist mindset is the ideal “I want to do God’s will. Whatever God says, I will do, and it doesn’t matter what you think or even what I think, only what God says.” This is rooted in an understanding of the supremacy of God and the perfection of the religious teachings. It sounds fine on the surface, until you try to put it into practice in a world full of differing beliefs. You give yourself permission to slam everyone else’s beliefs and you get angry at them for slamming your beliefs, but you still think that’s fair because you’re the one’s who’s on God’s side. The trouble is, often the opposition believes the same thing about themselves. This, I think, is the root cause of religious conflict, whether that conflict is as insignificant as an abandoned friendship or as devastating as a war.
The moderate Christian realises that when he gives himself permission to criticise someone else’s beliefs he must allow them to criticise his. This is nothing more than basic fair play, the understanding that we’re all equal. We don’t all start out with the same beliefs, so how can we live life with the constant expectation that everyone will see things the same way, accept as sacred the same things that we hold sacred? Ultimately, it is as simple as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This principle is recognised by athiest and Christian alike as the most beneficial way to relate to people, and the very fact that it is in the Bible should give the fundamentalist Christians pause to reconsider their tyrannical stance on the world around them.
I have my own imperfections and personal failures to deal with, too. I’ve been known to get a little upset at times – like when a fundamentalist makes snide remarks at me, or calls me stupid, or insinuates that I have some malevolent agenda. I don’t react well to character assassination. Understandable, you might think, but I should learn to simply accept the criticism without complaint. If that’s how a person feels about me, then I would rather have that raw honesty come out than have the experience of polite dishonesty or hidden fury. Let me have the truth, even if it stings. Mind you, the same fundamentalist will be completely mystified why I don’t feel any attraction to the sort of spirituality that leads him to express himself the way he does.
To the Christians who have stood by me, I’m glad of your continued friendship. I know you think I’m going to hell. That doesn’t bother me, because you have every right to believe what you want to believe. To those who are too offended by me to remain friends, I wish it wasn’t so, and I hope this essay helps you to understand why I’ve gone about things the way I have.
Bottom line: you can’t threaten somebody and expect them to take it lying down.