“Why do you believe?”
It was this question that ultimately ended it all. And it happened at a youth group retreat.
Late last year, I was roped into volunteering with the high school youth group at the church we attended at the time. I guess they were in desperate need of leaders and had some weird idea that husbands and wives should “serve in ministry together.” Mostly, I just wanted to play some dodgeball and watch some movies with these kids, not serve as some sort of pseudo-pastor. Anyway, near the end of the school year, we had a retreat. I was a little apprehensive about going, but again, I thought it would be a chance to have some fun and hang out with the kids.
The weekend consisted of a number of sessions intended to instruct the kids on how to approach the subject of difficult topics (read: homosexuality, other religions/the non-religious, science, you know the “big” issues) with their friends and families. Of course, it was really just very amateur apologetics presented by a fairly well-spoken and very charismatic guy (isn’t it always?). We watched a couple of different videos, but the one that I remember the most vividly was on by The Thinking Atheist, a phenomenal resource, I would later discover. This was the video:
I honestly do not remember the lesson we were supposed to take from this video, nor the ensuing discussion about it. All I remember is thinking “That guy in the video really made a lot of sense,” and I know that was not the lesson we were supposed to glean.
We eventually made our way to smaller discussion groups where we were supposed to go around the circle and answer a couple of questions. That was the moment. The beginning of the end. The final question was “Why are you a christian?”
I froze. There was nothing I could think of. Absolutely nothing. My mind went blank. I was a leader. I was supposed to have an answer to this question. A real, honest-to-god answer. A good one. Luckily, I was the last person to go, so I had plenty of time while the kids, who obviously had no real answer either, waxed eloquently about the mystery of the universe, how science always corroborates the bible, how god has comforted them. Some stories truly were heartfelt. Others were obviously just a string of lines taught some time in sunday school or their christian elementary school. Even the youth pastor himself had a very weird non-answer.
As I scrambled for anything to say to hide my doubt, I remembered C.S. Lewis, an author that I used to highly respect and admire for his intellectual (albeit misguided) approach to religion. In one of his books called “Surprised by Joy” he describes experiences he had, which he called joy, that were ultimately a sudden and overwhelming sense of awe and longing for something “other” or “elsewhere,” which he naturally interpreted as a longing for “god’s kingdom.” I vividly remember having very much the same experiences on occasion. So I described that feeling and tacked onto the end: god is really the only thing that fits that longing.
I knew, even then, that I was full of shit. God wasn’t the only thing that could fit that longing, it was just what they all wanted, needed, to hear. In reality, I could only come to one answer to the question: I don’t believe in god. I didn’t freeze simply because I was put on the spot, I froze because I had no good answer anymore. The only logical conclusion that could be made from this realization was that I am no longer actually a christian.
In his fantastic series of videos about his deconversion (the first of which can be found here), Evid3nc3 suggests that the deconversion process requires the breaking down of a web of concepts about god, which ultimately leads to the rejecting of the concept altogether. Here is the point in the series where he described this process:
Throughout the recent years, many of the various concepts I had surrounding the central concept of god has been systematically dismantled. I go into much deeper detail into these specific things in my first post “My Personal Exodus,” but I will touch on a few of them here.
Many years ago I had given up the concept of the bible as the literal word of god, and more recently had begun to question its authenticity and reliability as a whole. Likewise, I had completely discarded the concept of prayer, which was the most evident and impactful stage of my deconversion. Since moving to a new, more conservative, town, I also began to feel disillusioned with the church, both as an institution and as a community. The breaking down of these peripheral concepts had finally exposed the central concept of god to questioning.
Thus, a question which was supposed to bolster ones faith proved to be the catalyst for apostasy. How’s that for divine planning?