Monday, January 03, 2011

Wrestling with Christianity

It is hard to be wrong.

A mixed up conglomerate of pride, fear, discomfort and uncertainty. The idea that what you’ve thought for so long was true…was not. Some ideas being wrong can be pretty painless—perhaps you only had the idea for a short period; perhaps you were not that committed to it in the first place.

Other ideas can be so gut-wrenching it takes years to disentangle oneself. For some deconverts, we invested our entirety for decades—enveloping every relationship, every moment, every effort, every essence we could pour into a idea regarding the divinity of Jesus and/or the inspiration of certain writing. The creeds and dogmas carefully studied and either discarded or embraced.

The people we choose to associate with, (and not), to date, marry and even divorce. The way we raised our children; the way we talked. Who we talked to; what we talked about.

And then one day we learn it is wrong. It wasn’t what we thought it was. Changing not just what we believe, but like an ever-growing avalanche, the snowball begins to play havoc with our studies, wreck our socialization, destroy our connections, and even decimate our marriages.

It effects everything—Every. Single. Thing.

That is hard.

You don’t want it to; you want the relationships to continue. You want some of it to remain true. You want…something…to show for all the energy invested. Who wants to say, “I spent the last 38 years learning the wrong thing”?

I link to Like a Child--a person struggling with having been wrong. Just like me. She made this comment on another blog:
I received an email from someone a few days ago that broke my heart, b/c she is facing the same battle i dealt with months ago...panic sttacks, loneliness, trying to figure out what church to switch to in the fundamentalist bible belt south. She should not feel so alone. There should be somewhere she can go locally, to find a welcoming christian community
I find the progression fascinating. Only a few months ago, Like a Child was the one with panic attacks. And I was empathetically feeling terrible I cannot do anything about it. And a few years ago, I was the one with panic attacks and another deconvert wished they could do something about it. And so on. We progress.

Yet as we do, we find it so hard to release Christianity.

Both Like a Child and DoOrDoNot call themselves ”Agnostic Christians” --yet each wonders how long they will retain the “Christian” part of that label before lapsing to only “Agnostic.” (Again, a route equally traveled by myself.)

We can’t believe we were that wrong. Or at least I couldn’t—there must have been something there! How could we have believed it so deeply—so thoroughly—and it be wrong?

It’s like some puzzle where a person has to remove a ring from an object made of steel and wood. We wrestled with it and strove with it and did everything we possibly could to remove that ring and become firmly convinced (along with everyone we knew) the ring couldn’t possibly be removed. And then one day, someone comes along and removes the ring. At first we think it a trick—they cut the ring, or they bent the object or they did something against the rules, and it really still can’t be removed. Yet more and more we see people removing the ring. And we start to try some things we never tried before, and all of a sudden the ring is in a different position than it ever has been before.

And all of a sudden we see how it is possible….just maybe…that the ring could feasible be removed. We reach a point (or at least I did) where we wonder whether we would remove the ring, even if we saw how. Because it would tear our world apart.

I would be wrong.

Yet the not-knowing was worse; what if the ring could be removed? Could I live with that knowledge without trying to apply it?

All our friends are rejecting our new found position. They want nothing to do with discussing it--they want nothing to do with us. They are comfortable with what they believe. They are very UNcomfortable continuing to relate to us.

In retrospect, I did everything I could to hold on to Christianity. Even if I lost the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, perhaps I could hold on to inspiration. Losing inspiration, I could still hold on to Jesus. Losing Jesus, I could hold on to God. Losing God, I could hold on to Christian friends. Losing Christian friends, I could hold on to Christian Family.

I tried holding on to beliefs, when I should have realized I was wrong. I tried going to church, when I should have walked away. I constantly wrestled because I didn’t want to be THAT wrong!

I had a great holiday season. I spent time with family who didn’t care whether I was an atheist, or Buddhist or…whatever. It didn’t matter. And we still laughed and ate, and stayed out too late.

I spent time with friends who don’t know (and don’t care) about my atheistic belief. They may be Christians; they may not. We enjoy each other for who we are—not for believing the right things or holding to the right dogmas.

And I can look back at 38 years of being wrong and be thankful it made me who I am today. I don’t have to wrestle with Christianity. I was a Christian; I am not now. *shrug* There is nothing to wrestle with.

Like a variety of choices, knowing what I know now, I would obviously do it different. Isn’t that true of all humanity? It now firmly resides as one of those choices.

There are always twinges, of course. I continue to study Christian claims which requires just enough empathy to occasionally give me a moment of hesitation. One doesn’t remove almost four decades of living overnight!

Yet I find more comfort than fear in those tugs. It means I don’t have a lock on ALL TRUTH. It means I can walk away not knowing and not wrestle either.


  1. Wow! Tough journey. My advice? Buckle up. You're just getting started.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, what wonderful writing. So many of us have gone through this long and difficult journey only to come out on the other end as stronger people. I am proud that I am now a critical thinker and that I question what others try to preach at me.

  3. Thanks for the link. It is reassuring to know people understand my struggles and don't think me insane or discontent for even struggling over this, because oftentimes I look at my struggles and think why? - when no one is actually ill (consequence of being married to a physician and hearing stories of actual suffering). I would call you my friend, as I think you already know, irregardless of where I stand theologically. In fact, my husband and I have recently been able to reconnect with his brother, who deconverted years ago, as the result of my struggles. I know I should be very thankful that my husband is willing to stick it out no matter where I lean at the moment....although the marriage road was very bumpy at times.

  4. Very interesting stuff. Extremely different from my own experiences. I've never made such an enormous cognitive switch; I've made a few major switches in my life, a couple of them ideological (e.g. becoming a communist) but none of them caused me the kind of distress Dagood or others report.

    I would speculate that being brought up as a skeptic has given me more mental flexibility. (Note that flexibility is most definitely not intelligence or wisdom. I hope I can claim superiority in the former without being seen as claiming the same superiority in the latter.)

    I was taught (and learned on my own) to have confidence in the process, not any particular conclusion. So, for example, abandoning republican capitalism for democratic communism didn't cause any major stress. The switch emerged from the process of critical thinking; my "primary loyalty" to the process of skeptical inquiry has remained unchanged.

    Even my atheism is subordinate to my skepticism. If I were to discover tomorrow that skeptical inquiry revealed the superiority of belief in some God, I would change my beliefs, and I wouldn't feel that I was losing a core component of my personality or worldview.

    I think giving up skepticism might cause the kind of distress experienced by those writing here. But perhaps not. The skeptical mindset, I suspect, gives so much flexibility of thought that even abandoning skepticism (for reasons I'm presently unable to imagine) might not cause all that much stress.

    I don't mean at all to be dismissive of the experiences related here. They are obviously real and distressing. I present my own experiences merely by way of contrast.

  5. DagoodS,
    You're right. Being wrong is hard. Fear of being wrong has resulted in my current inability to choose a side, so to speak. I don't want to accept atheism in case it's not true, but I don't want to maintain Christian beliefs if they're not true. If I didn't care so much about what is true, I wouldn't be in this predicament.

    As you rightly point out, there are consequences to leaving Christianity. So, the question of right/wrong is not the only one to consider. How much is one willing to give up for the sake of what is true? Fortunately, I think my consequences would be slightly less drastic than yours, but I can't be sure. My husband and several friends have proven more open to discussions than I would have thought. However, I've also not called myself an atheist, so I'm not sure what havoc using that term might cause.

    On the one hand, I feel ridiculous that I've been in this process for 2 years. How could it take me so long to feel I've reached some sort of conclusion? On the other hand, there is still so much I need to read and think more about. I'm not one who makes decisions quickly anyway, esp. not one's with significant consequences. Also, I see people who have become quite comfortable maintaining a state of agnosticism, with no expectations for "arriving" at any particular conclusions.

    The biggest problems I think I would face on a personal level would be the reactions of my mom and sister and concerns over my boys. I hate the idea of disappointing my mom, I feel guilt every time she talks about how proud of me she is and calls me a wonderful Christian mom. I also fear she would be the one with panic attacks, worrying constantly about the eternal destiny of me and my family. I hate making her miserable. Also, as a mom myself, the last thing I want to do is make a decision that will harm my children. What if I'm wrong and there is a hell that I send my children to because I taught them that Jesus was not the salvation of mankind? I am torn between not wanting to scare my boys with stories conceived of by ancient men to scare people into obedience but also not wanting to fail to teach something they need to know for their eternal salvation. Having children makes this so much more complicated. Then, of course, I have to negotiate with my husband what I tell my boys. He's shown some flexibility, but I have gotten looks when he thought I was about to dismiss something from the Bible that he obviously still believed.

    It's interesting to know that even you still stop to reconsider something about Christianity from time to time.

    I liked your analogy of the ring. So very apt. Some days I do think the ring really can't be removed, but other days I think it so obviously can be moved that I don't understand why any of us ever thought it couldn't be. Adopting such conradictory beliefs makes me crazy some days. It's amazing that my perspective can change so drastically, on a fairly regular basis. That may be the part I find most frustrating. Some weeks I feel guilty if I don't take my kids to church all 3 times, other weeks I cringe internally when my oldest son talks about wanting to be a Christian. I would really love to not be so inconsistent in my reactions. It makes me feel very flakey.

    It must make you thankful to be raised as a skeptic when you read these type of posts. I think being raised as a liberal rather than conservative Christian would also give one more flexibility and innoculate one somewhat against such an anguished faith crisis. They focus less on correct doctrine and more on the process of living.

  6. Like a Child,

    You are welcome. I am (thankfully) past those points of constant turmoil, and past the point of more turmoil than not. It is wonderful to fit in one’s skin. I partly wanted to write this to encourage those still struggling. Not so much a “Don’t worry it gets better.” Rather a “it’s a real struggle, don’t expect to simply throw off Christianity and the baggage like last year’s fashions.”

  7. The Barefoot Bum,

    You do not come across offensive at all. No worries mate.

    And surprisingly I don’t envy you the skeptical background. Do I wish I had the same? Sure. I wish my parents were billionaires. I wish for many things—but I am also intelligent enough (barely) to understand I wouldn’t be the same person BUT for the background I have. Warts, silks and all.

    And I am happy to be where I am.

    I like this type of blog entry, on the rare occasion, to remind us of the Zoes, and Vinnys and Barefoots and Like a Childs and DoOrDoNots—some of us have similar backgrounds. Some of us do not. A reminder to you all we are different as much as we landed on the same square. As much a reminder to me of the difference.

  8. DoOrDoNot.

    I do not envy you two years. I do not.

    Although I see nothing “ridiculous” about it. Wrestling with Christianity is hard. I confess, at times I wondered if I deconverted TOO easy. Was only 6 – 9 months enough? Does that show how shallow my faith was? Maybe a “real” Christian would have struggled longer. I assure you, I’ve been oft accused of not “sticking it out” long enough. One wonders, of course, what “long enough” is.

    Maybe two years shows you to be the better believer!

    Dave Armstrong stated something to me that struck a nerve. For all he gets wrong—this one he got right. He said something like, “If I had met you 10 years ago, I would have predicted you would deconvert.” I think he is right. I always was the one questioning. The one who wanted to see the other side; hear the other argument; to see if there was another possibility.

    I played the Devil’s advocate in Sunday School. I knew the alternate verses; the alternate doctrines. The only difference--I was playing Christian vs. Christian. Once I truly embraced Christian vs. Skeptic…Christianity took a walloping. Because I already knew the soft underbelly of Christianity.

    I understand your fear with your mother. Because of our past relationship, I expected my family to engage in discussions with me. I was surprised by the silence. Curiously, the one who was the most supportive was my mother-in-law. (How is that for striking at stereotypes?) She would prefer me a Christian, obviously, but supported my decision to change based upon evidence.

    I can’t help you with the kids. Hell was one of the last Christian doctrines to pry from my mind. What a terrible consequence to get wrong! After living with the fear for decades…yet another difficult concept to wrestle out. But once it was gone—it was gone! I have no fear of hell, none at all. The idea even seems a bit laughable, if you can believe it. Eternal torment for “others” who don’t subscribe to MY doctrine? Really?

    It becomes patently obvious for what it is—an empty threat to bolster one’s own self-identity.

    You aren’t flaky; you are human.

  9. I appreciate this post. I'm at the point of actually investigating a local meeting of atheists. I have no idea what to expect or how I'll feel going. One huge realization for me has been that Christianity and church has been my whole life. I know very few people who are not Christians.

    I tried posting some questions re Christianity on Facebook and everybody that posted disagreed with what I said. I realized over and over again that everybody that's ever been in my life for the most part are dedicated Christians.

    So that leaves me with no one to talk with. They all disagree. They don't want to discuss. In their minds, there is nothing to discuss.

  10. Life itself can be a wrestling match. We like what is familiar and hold onto things that are detrimental because of that ring of familiarity. It's true of religion, but just as true in many other areas of life.

  11. DagoodS,
    I want to let you know how much I appreciate this post. It really did affirm the difficulty of the process, which is a help. I always enjoy opportunities to feel normal! :)

    It's funny, you mentioned spending 38 years learning the wrong thing. I use to think how lucky I was to be born into a family who taught me all the right things about God. I wondered how and why I hit the jackpot, when nearly every one else was going to hell (there aren't many people in the history of the world who attended a church of Christ.) Of course, I see things a bit differently now! Now I'm one of billons of people who haven't been taught the right thing. That is statistically much more likely. It's hard to feel too badly about that.

    In retrospect, I should have probably seen this coming for myself, just as in your case. I remember having occasional doubts back in college and grad school. I felt relief at having a secular career as opposed to being a missionary, despite feeling very strongly at times that I should be out in the field. I dismissed these feelings, but now I realize how aware a part of me was that I didn't quite believe Christianity and didn't want to make a career out of it, only to reject it later.

  12. My comment disappeared. I think I hit the wrong button. But just to quickly try again. I too had someone tell me that they could have predicted long ago that I would leave the faith. And that it was because I had a wrong presupposition in my head. The comment was arrogant of course, but also felt a little too personal and disturbing to me. It wasn't a compliment like, "You were an intelligent, serious child, so you'll figure out eventually that it's all mostly crap and you'll stop blaming yourself that it's not working." No, he meant that I've come to the wrong conclusion (agnostism) because I had this internal flaw from way back.

  13. Happy New Year!

    And then one day we learn it is wrong . . . And then one day, someone comes along and removes the ring.

    How can you change such a massive belief-structure in "one day"? And (not to beat a dead horse, but . . . ) how do you switch in one day without deciding to all of a sudden reverse your premises upon which your prior belief-system was built? In one fell swoop you have to reject many scores of individual Christian tenets. That occurs at the presuppositional level.

    You're again making my argument about the primacy of premises over against particular evidences. The latter play a very important role, but when the rubber meets the road, and one converts to Christianity or deconverts away from it, premises are always primary.

    That's how the atheist can all of a sudden adopt a whole new set of atheist assumptions and beliefs following from them. It's a switch from one to the other because you put on a set of new glasses; a new filter, and you see "everything" differently with them on.

  14. I've also responded to yet another failed example of yours, of alleged Bible contradictions:

    Joseph of Arimathea: Atheist "DagoodS" Fallaciously Asserts Alleged Biblical "Contradictions" (Lousy Atheist Exegesis Example #5672)

    You keep making flimsy arguments of this sort and I'll be more than happy to show how the reasoning fails. Perhaps one day you'll try another tack in opposing Christianity and the Bible. This one ain't workin' very well. :-)

  15. Thanks for this article, DaGoodS. Glad to read you had an excellent Christmas Holiday. I had a great Christmas with family and new friends, who also did not give a rip one way or another about what I did or did not believe. Several of those people were Spanish Catholic Priests, who I found were lovely people - and yes, they knew I was a non-believer.

    Yes, leaving Christianity was difficult, but I am thankful for the process of leaving that I experienced. After the fear, the crying, the uncertainty, the arguments with RoseMary (wife), and even those with friends and family (I never experienced panic attacks - belief in Hell was one of the first things I shed myself of), I do believe a better, and more mature person came out on the other end.

    I attended Catholic Mass a total of 14 times over the Christmas Holidays (a long story in itself - worthy of at least a few long blogs articles), and I kept asking myself, why these throngs of people continued to believe, and what it was exactly that they were believing. I suppose some part of me is still clinging on to Christianity, even 3 or 4 years after I bagged the whole thing. I guess I am still trying to see if there is something in the whole grand tradition that is worth clinging on to. As I observed the throngs of people who attended each mass with me, they obviously were numb to anything said during the homily, oblivious to any Scripture reading, and uncaring about any origins or reasoning behind their beliefs and traditions. What exactly do these people believe, if anything?

    It became evident that I left Christianity because I took Christianity seriously.

  16. Dave Armstrong,

    This blog entry was not about you, not for you, not to you.

    Therefore (unsurprisingly) you completely misunderstand it, and once again fail to support your claim regarding predisposition changing before evidence convinces.

    I’ll give you a hint: It is our predisposition towards Christianity—emotional, intellectual, familial, societal, or environmental or a combination of these—that causes us to wrestle with it. If we weren’t predisposed toward it, we wouldn’t have to wrestle!

  17. He Is Sailing,

    I couldn’t do 14 masses. I just…couldn’t. What you describe would cause my head to explode. The combination of rote anti-intellectualism and blind acquiescence would eventually force me out of the pew and into the lobby for the remainder of the service.

    So start writing some blogs…hint, hint. *grin*

    Your last sentence is worth its weight in gold

  18. What an awesome post! I like it because it almost feels as if you time-travelled to those earlier stages of your de-conversion and expressed the pain experienced at the time, and oh so well.

    As for me, it was excruciatingly painful. I just didn't want to lose my faith that had held me up during so many years of distress and suffering. Yes, my faith held me up, not the object of my faith. The glassed with which I saw the situations and how I interpreted the events helped me carry on.

    Once I lost my faith, I had to see reality for what it was: shitty.

    So, at the same time I lost my feel-good drug, I had to experience the pain of all those years during which I had ignored the suffering. It was awful. I feel like throwing up just thinking about it.

    Thanks for the post.

    ** Lorena

  19. This blog entry was not about you, not for you, not to you.

    Never said it was. If I am not supposed to comment on your blog unless the post under which I comment is "about" or "for" or "to" me, just let me know! I don't see anyone else here held to such an absurd standard.

    Therefore (unsurprisingly) you completely misunderstand it, and once again fail to support your claim regarding predisposition changing before evidence convinces.

    And just as unsurprisingly you miss my entire point. Who said I was trying to support my claim? I was asking you to explain your view, but you took a pass, obfuscated, and engaged in obscurantism.

  20. DaGoodS says:

    I couldn’t do 14 masses. I just…couldn’t. What you describe would cause my head to explode. The combination of rote anti-intellectualism and blind acquiescence would eventually force me out of the pew and into the lobby for the remainder of the service.

    Actually DaGoodS, there was one mass where I did just that. I visited several catholic churches in the days before Christmas for the ‘Simbang Gabi’ ritual, that is popular in Philippines. It just got to be a bit unbearable one particular morning, at the Church of Mary of Good Council, so I went outside during the Mass to clear my head. The particular church I went to was open-air with no lobby, but several hundred people sitting outside in folding chairs listening, from loudspeakers, to the miracle of the Mass that was occurring inside. Fortunately, I had a video camera with me that particular morning, and recorded some interesting things that **might** wind up on YouTube. Yes, I must write about my adventures over the Christmas Holidays. I am firing up my old blogsite now and dusting out the cobwebs. Stay tuned.

  21. "I received an email from someone a few days ago that broke my heart, b/c she is facing the same battle i dealt with months ago...panic sttacks, loneliness, trying to figure out what church to switch to in the fundamentalist bible belt south. She should not feel so alone. There should be somewhere she can go locally, to find a welcoming christian community"

    That post is about me, I think. I felt so alone in my doubts and have found such a nice and compassionate online community. There is no one here I feel comfortable sharing these doubts with. Teetering on the edge of agnosticism with only fundamentalist evangelical friends is very difficult to say the least. I've followed your blog and actually found HeIsSailing's blog first. I would certainly like to pick the brains of folks who are farther along in their journey than I. I actually ended up in a psychiatrist's office today....I now have drugs, halleluah!lol

  22. D'Ma,
    I feel your pain. The online community does make a difference, doesn't it? Hope those drugs kick in quickly for you :)

  23. D’Ma,

    You are free to ask whatever you want. I probably hope I can help more than I actually can.
    The closest I wrote regarding the struggle was here. (Odd to read HeIsSailing’s comment within that entry.) Alas, I never know what to say.

    I could tell you, “Don’t worry, it gets better” (and it does). But what good is that? Like telling a person who has just broken a bone, “Don’t worry, eventually the pain will go away.” Something we all know; but did the pain diminish even the slightest by my stating the obvious? Nope…not a bit.

    Finding local people who could relate was impossible. My sole recourse was sharing on-line. I was fortunate to “reside” in one forum where I could argue out my theistic angst, and “reside” in another where I felt safe to be with friends going through similar questions. Unfortunately, as the internet goes, both forums have basically disappeared.

    I became even more fortunate to associate with a local group who studies the Bible from a non-theistic perspective—the group contains deconverts I relate with. We laugh and joke, and empathize with our respective positions.

    And, finally, I am truly blessed to acquire a new set of friends (difficult to do at age 40!), where the relationships are growing and my position on predestination doesn’t even come up, let alone eliminate our friendship.

    I am glad you are wisely seeking professional help. This is NOT re-painting a room, or changing one’s hairstyle. There are elements within Christianity so deeply rooted, they need to be discussed and dealt with by people in the know.

    If there is anything I could say, it is this—welcome. There are more of us than most think, and we enjoy the discussion, and will encourage you to find your path, regardless where it takes you.

  24. DagoodS,

    Thank you so much for the welcome. I come from a very fundamentalist background and had never given science much of thought. I was trying to witness to someone and they began to ask me a lot of questions I didn't have the answers to. I figured if I was gonna speak intelligently I would have to know a bit about these things. I'd never given evolution the least bit of consideration as it was "a tool of the devil". Once I started to look into that one thing just led to another. At this point I'm having a really hard time separating my emotions from my intellect(not that there's all that much of it). This is a very difficult thing to be certain.

    I noticed that HeIsSailing said hell was one of the first things he let go of. How did he do that?

    Small town South Georgia isn't exactly the place to be when you have these kinds of questions and doubts.

  25. Hi D'Ma. My, that very old comment of mine that DaGoodS pointed to was written when I was still a Christian. These blog posts and comments are a bit like time capsules, are they not?

    D'Ma, I also came from a very Fundamentalist background. Actually, I was raised in some sort of Pentacostal/Assemblies of God denomination but in a bit of a cult-like atmosphere, then devoted myself to Calvary Chapel for several years. I dumped Fundamentalism years ago, but still considered myself a Christian for a very long time before ditching it all together. Yet, even though I had ditched Fundamentalism, it was very difficult to leave the Christian Faith which I knew to be false.

    So in that way, I definitely understand what you are expereincing, and I wish you much strength, D'Ma.

    So how did I dispense of the belief in Hell? A long story, but one of the major events that removed that belief was an episode that occured some 18-20 years ago, in which I tried to witness Christianity to my recently de-converted mother. I was in such fear and pain for her soul, that I used to cry during my prayers to God, that she would once again see the light of His Salvation. I cried because I loved her, and did not want her to be damned. So... .. I preached to her, as lovingly as I could - and she, just as lovingly, mocked me, and made me feel like an inept buffoon, and made me realize what an absurd, childish, rediculous belief HELL is.

    It is harsh, but you know D'Ma, sometimes mockery works. I am not a religion hater, nor evangelize my non-belief very much, but I can say that I truly, with all my gut, HATE the poisonous doctine of Hell. I sincerely hope that you to are able to remove yourself of that truly loathsome superstition.

    If you want some reading material, here is my 3-part rant about the belief in Hell that I wrote long ago - maybe you will find them helpful:

    I hope this goes through the spam filter - sorry DaGoodS, I have forgotten all my HTML skills.

  26. HeIsSailing:

    I read your 3-part rant about the belief in Hell and I did find them helpful. I know what my logical mind is telling me but there are some things planted so deep within it's hard to separate the emotional stuff from what you know. I believe it's called cognitive dissonance and I have lots of it. I know it isn't rational, but then again fears rarely are. No matter how many times I tell myself this makes no sense I still find it hard to let go of it.

    I do have a couple of questions that maybe someone here can help answer. 1.)If an angel appeared to both Mary and Joseph to tell them that she was carrying Emmanuel, why did she and his brothers think he was crazy? 2.) If God is Sovereign why would He need for the Jews(His chosen people) to reject Him in order to include us dirty old gentiles? Why couldn't He include us by some other means?

  27. D’Ma,

    Let me answer your first question regarding the angels’ announcements and Jesus’ family.

    Keep in mind two things:

    1) The writers were using sources, and to some extent felt compelled to abide by that source. Either because the community expected it or the writer relied upon it. Matthew used Mark; Luke used Matthew and Mark.

    2) The writers had agendas—they were writing to certain recipients, and those communities had expectations, as well as the writer’s own agenda to inform the community.

    Mark, the first gospel, displays certain themes. One strong theme is the rejection of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is rejected by the religious leaders, rejected by his own disciples, and rejected by the entire Judean community. Mark also includes, as part of the rejection cycle, Jesus’ own family’s rejection. (Although it is not necessarily clear Mark 3:31 relates back to 3:21)

    At this point, in Mark, Jesus’ family disappears from the scene. Only in later Gospels do they re-appear in subsequent scenes..

    Matthew’s gospel also displays certain themes, including fulfillment of prophecy and comparison to Jesus as great a prophet as Moses. Since Mark didn’t have a birth narrative, Matthew is free to make one up with the Angels (speaking only to Joseph, a man), and Magi, and Kingly jealously, and Visions, and escape to Egypt. However, once we reach Jesus’ Baptism, Matthew follows Mark’s Gospel (changing what Matthew doesn’t like).

    Luke also has certain themes—only being a generally more favorable disposition toward women. Not caring for Matthew’s grandiose birth, Luke humbles it up a bit (removing that silly non-historical Slaughter of the Innocents), and having the angel talk to the more appropriate Mary. (Not Joseph.) Again, Luke follows (roughly) the chronology of Mark/Matthew after Jesus’ Baptism.

    This is simply a conflict of different writers’ agendas.

  28. In either case wouldn't it be odd that later in the gospels Jesus' family thinks he's gone mad if they'd been told all about Jesus being the Son of God?

  29. I hope my questions don't come across as being too elementary. I've done enough reading and researching to find out that the gospel accounts and the Bible in general are not necessarily as inerrant and inspired as I had once held them to be. I'm doing some outside reading about the various issues wrapped up in this to hopefully help me frame my questions a bit better.

    It's just that I've been entrenched in this for more than 20 years, having stuck my head in the sand on many of my questions. I guess I thought if I closed my eyes they'd go away.

    As I stand back and look at it the whole thing seems to make less and less sense to me.

  30. HeIsSailing,
    I read the articles you referenced that you wrote on hell. I see why DagoodS has been encouraging you to blog again. Although hell is a "hot" topic that really gets folks discussing online, I haven't found too many posts like yours that really address the problems with accepting the doctrine. Coincidentally, I just began blogging about my experiencing with belief in hell in an effort to help me work through it. I can reject it more intellectually than emotionally at this point. Anyway, I'll definitely link to those articles of yours in a future post of mine. I look forward to more of your thoughts.

  31. DoorDoNot,
    Thank you for reading my old blog articles! Oh Dear, I wrote those articles so long ago, that I forgot most of what I said. I have been out of the blogging world for quite some time, and only occassionally visit again to read my favorite blogs, and sometimes raise a stink with certain Christian apologists.

    warning - shameless plug follows:

    Lately, however, my brain has been screaming for a creative outlet. DaGoodS here has done me the great honor of adding a link to my new blog on his sidebar. Not much there yet, and I plan on writing about much more than my religious experiences. But check it out if you wish!

  32. You now have at least two sidebar links. :-)

  33. D’Ma,

    It is not that your questions are elementary—you may be asking the wrong person. *grin* I feel no obligation to align the accounts in the Gospels, or provide rational explanations; I won’t even bother attempting to present what some Christian may say. (Because 90% of the other “Christians” will jump in and tell me I am incorrect, and “True Christians” (c) do not agree with my statement.)

    I enjoy immense relief in not having to align such accounts—they were writings made by various individuals with varying purposes and simplest solution is there was no intention to write actual history, or to align one with the other. Mark wanted to present Jesus one way, which entailed people thinking he was crazy, and Jesus replacing his family (who may also have thought him crazy.) Matthew wanted to present other aspects of Jesus. If Matthew doesn’t align with Mark—that’s expected and usual.

    I have yet to see a consistent method to determine what is historical about Jesus and what is not.

    As to your second question on God’s sovereignty …beats me *shrug*. The bizarreness of the God hypothesis, is how humans put limitations on such a creature in one statement and then remove them in the next. He must be just; but he can also be merciful. Resulting in…what, exactly? A God that can do anything, near as I can tell. So why talk about his “having” to be one way, when one creates a loophole the same size as obligation, allowing him to do whatever he wants. God truly can have his cake and eat it too!

    God has to be immaterial, because our universe is material. God has to be timeless, because we have time. O.K., got it—we have it, so God doesn’t. But then the same person says God has personality because we have personality. Huh? I thought I was just told, “If we have it, God doesn’t” and then I am immediately informed, “If we have it, God must have it as well.”

    Which is it?

    In the end, we face the simple conclusion—the God hypothesis is utterly, totally and completely unverifiable. You can say anything, everything and nothing about God and it could, could not, might and might not be true. We have no way of verifying any claim. It is rendered meaningless by its inability to be defined.

  34. HeIsSailing,

    I checked out your blog. Love it! Glad you dusted it off. :~) By the way, thanks for the links to your posts on hell. Like DoOrDoNot I understand some things intellectually that I have not been able to let sink into my heart just yet.

    Much like another blogger my journey into doubt started with a very innocent question. I thought surely there was an answer to it, but when I googled it I was so shocked at what I found. That doubt led to more doubts and here I am with way more questions than answers. I feel like I've been on the Batman roller coaster at Six Flags!

  35. DagoodS,

    Actually that was the answer I thought you would most likely give and ultimately the conclusion I've come to. See the thing is, I'm not nearly as certain there is a God as I was even a month ago. But if there is a God I think that just about every culture and every religion has worked out a way to make Him in our image the way we think He should be and if there is something that seems unanswerable then "God is sovereign and can do what He wants to do".

  36. Dma,

    I've been wanting to respond to this thread but have been out of town. Plus, i feel like i have hit another rough patch emotionally...i just want things to end...the sadness, the questioning. Agnostic christianity is harder than i thought, but i am not ready to give up my consideration of christianity for several what could be classified as emotional and subjective reasons. My thoughts are very dynamic so i cannot answer your questions in any fashion that wouldn't embarrass me, intellectually. The best i can offer is compassion and empathy. The best comfort i have been given thus far is from doubters themselves....both verified that aspects of my struggles were not imagined. Dagood, in a comment a few months ago, said, to paraphrase, i cry with you b/c i understand. Dagood, do you have the quote? And some thoughts expressed by christian bloggers like cliff at outside the box have also challenged me intellectually, not to give up just
    yet. And most of the time, i just dont want to make a decision (i am decision-averse in many other areas of life)...and so i've really resonated with doordonot's progression.

  37. Like a Child,

    I first began seriously questioning my Christian Faith about 5 years ago, and since that time it has been a constant process of learning, questioning, and growth. I still attend church on occassion, I still contemplate on the supernatural (mostly due to my reading of various Christian Mystics), but I don't believe in such a thing as a personal or transcendent God. At least, not most of the time.

    I think that it is not necessary to stop questioning and settle on some firm philosophical or theological ground, just to give yourself a label - be it Atheist, Calvinist, or whatever. I personally don't tag myself with these labels because I constantly find myself veering in, out and around all sorts of beliefs - questioning, wondering, pondering.

    And I am satisfied with the fact that I will probably never settle on firm ground! To me it is a constant search, one that I take more or less seriously depending on my mood.

    It seems only natural with the kinds of questions that we ask in these blogs, questions or unseen and transcendent matters, questions to which we can never know the answers, that my beliefs and convictions will always be in a state of flux. I know many would find it very confusing and even scary, but I have learned to be at peace with it.

    I wish you peace, no matter where you wind up.

  38. Like A Child,

    I know exactly what you mean. I have so many emotional entanglements that won't allow me to just walk away. My intellect tells me one thing, but my emotions say something different. Having found a few people online that share my doubts and questions has been quite helpful. Like HeIsSailing I hope at some point to just be at peace with not having to have a label.

    I found myself at an Episcopal Church this past Sunday. I found the congregation friendly, though I didn't know anyone there. The music was uplifting. Having come from a Baptist Church I wasn't at all familiar with the liturgy, but that didn't seem to matter. I didn't partake in communion because I'm so conflicted. I felt very much on the outside looking in. I watched those around me raising their hands, closing their eyes, and wondered "do I really even believe this anymore". It was a very strange feeling for someone who has been so sure of everything.

  39. HeIsSailing
    "I constantly find myself veering in, out and around all sorts of beliefs - questioning, wondering, pondering."

    I love that quote. That's definitely where I am. Learning to be at peace with that is a gift. Sometimes I am, and sometimes I'm like Like A Child, I just want to figure it all out and slap a label on myself.

    Like A Child,
    I'm "decision-averse" myself, though making a decision would be welcome if I could do it. If I'm honest with myself, I can see that the trajectory I'm on doesn't end with maintaining Christianity. However, I still feel the need to keep studying and reading, just in case there is something I haven't considered yet, or some impressive evidence I'm missing. Though I'd like my decision to be an intellectual one, I don't think it can be entirely that for me.And I actually think it makes better sense for me to integrate all the ways I come to conclusions: intellect, emotions, intuition. I think that's the way we typically make our decisions. And the truth is, Christianity does make an appeal to our emotions and experiences(at least the forms with which you and I have some familiarity.) Therefore, I think it's unfair to discount our emotions and experiences if they don't support Christianity. For example, I would think that Christians would look radically different in behavior from others, given the indwelling of the holy spirit, but what I see indicates that there's often no difference between Christians and non-Christians. Now of course I can point to a wealth of examples where people do change in lovely ways when they become Christians and where Christians do great charity work. But then I can also point to Christians who are destructive because of their beliefs. We are expected to take positive experiences as evidence and discount negative experiences.

  40. Regarding labels. For me, it was a personal thing. I needed to intellectually sort out where I was at. It was for my sake. I came down on,

    Agnostic: I don't know.

    Atheistic: Because I do not actively worship &/or believe in a "God."

    However, I have never been set-in-concrete since leaving the faith &/or the church and I aspire to never be set-in-concrete again, as was the case at one time with my conservative evangelical days.

    As I write this comment I see that intellectually, I'm an Agnostic Atheist.

    Emotionally, I'm an Apathetic Agnostic Atheist. I'm a tripple-A. *grin* All that means is, I think I'm as about at peace in my journey as I've ever been.

    I do know now though, that I'll never stop reading, writing and talking about this topic.

  41. about the panic attacks.
    i never had panic attacks, but i was diagnosed coincidentally shortly after leaving christianity with a mild anxiety disorder.
    id had it my whole life, ie-it wasnt caused by leaving christianity, but the medication i was given, celexa, worked wonders.
    its only anecdotal of course but i have
    become convinced that people who
    tell this story your story
    like a childs story my story
    are to no small degree dealing with a
    medical condition which is
    greatly helped by medication