This post is the first in my series on doubt. You can see the whole series here.
I get the same email a few times each day. Sometimes I get it a half dozen times, other times a hundred or more. The sender is always different, and it's almost never anyone I've met. Sometimes this email is four sentences, and other times it's four pages. There are never any pictures. Over the last year, I've gotten this email thousands of times.
This email is where someone tells me that they don't believe in God anymore. I call these emails "I once was found, but now I'm lost" messages.
Most of the people who email me have never told anyone their secret. A lot of them attend churches, some of them are leaders–even pastors. They come from all denominational backgrounds, and 75% or more are men.
My email writers often miss God, and fear what this loss of faith will mean in their families, communities, and churches. They are in the closet, pretending to believe something they don't for the sake of peace. The constant acting drains them, and they often email me because they can't do it anymore.
But even as they lose their belief and relationship with God, they fear what science has to say about death, purpose, and the meaning of life. They grieve anew for lost loved ones they expected to see in heaven, and they wonder why life matters at all if our Universe will one day be nothing but cold and void.
I get that. I pretended to believe in God for two years. I know what it's like to be a church leader who doesn't believe. Coming out to my wife was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The fear new and near apostates feel is warranted. The people closest to you will be shocked to see you drop a belief that was once part of your core identity.
The people who email me don't email me looking for answers in atheism though. I am a former atheist, who is once again a believer in God and a follower of Christ. I get messages from people who once believed in God, and want to believe in God, but can not believe in God.
They don't believe in God anymore because there is no scientific evidence that God exists.
Or, because there are a lot of contradictions between the Bible and science.
Or, because the Bible is historically inaccurate.
Or, because someone at church hurt them.
Or, molested them.
Or, told them that it was a sin to be gay, but then they met a gay person who became their friend.
Or, because they are gay and they don't believe a loving God would have done this to them.
Or, because they realized that prayers never get answered with miracles.
Or, most common, a spiritual leader or mentor had a massive moral failure, like a pastor cheating on his wife.
The root of their doubt is some combination of intellectual and emotional factors that make it impossible for them to believe what they once did.
So let's talk about Doubt. Let's get this all out in the open. Let's admit that most of the ways people explain God seem silly and ancient in the face of modern science. Let's also acknowledge that skeptics have some really exceptional arguments against faith.
While we're at it, we can admit that the Bible says some really freaky stuff and that the Church has done some really evil things.
Finally, let me tell you that you aren't wicked, lazy, stupid, broken, proud, or evil for having questions and doubts. You don't doubt because you are a bad person, or because your life is full of sin. You aren't in league with the devil. For many people, the road to doubt begins with Bible study.
Now the bad news: it's probably impossible to go back. Whatever you've learned that shattered your old worldview cannot be unlearned. If you want to know God again, the answer is not nostalgia or looking back.
The answer is moving forward. For many people, the deconstruction that happens in unbelief knocks enough boxes out of the way that they can experience God in a new and fresh way. You may not ever understand God the way you once did, but that's ok.
I'm a Christian turned atheist turned follower of Christ. My journey with God has been powerful and exciting. I can tell you from my own experience that you can know God again if you want to, and you can be a part of Christian community if you want the Church in your life. You can serve again.
And you can do all that without turning off your brain and denying what science has to say about the world. There is one thing I've learned, more than any other, that helps me live an exciting life of purpose.
The story of science is the story of God.
Over the coming weeks, I'm going to write a series about belief, doubt, and the power of uncertainty. These are the topics I'm working on, but please contact me if there is a topic you want to cover that isn't listed below.
- Belief in God isn't crazy or bad.
- Science shows us that spirituality and religion have real benefits to people–and society.
- The power of uncertainty, and why people hate it.
- The meaning of life.
- What happens when we die?
- Who or what is God and the limits of human understanding.
- Is the Bible the Word of God?
- Is Jesus the Son of God?
That should be enough to get us started. If you'd like to follow along with this discussion as it happens, just bookmark this page–everything I post in this series will show up there.
Let's do this.