You’re Only Fooling Yourself: What Unbelievers Have to Convince Themselves Of

Lies, Damned Lies, and Hard Truths

What better a way to begin the new year than by examining claims made by an atheist, specifically in regard to the reasons why someone might leave the faith, such as those made in this fairly recent article over on Medium.

The article by a woman named Kayla Jo, who identifies herself as an “exvangelical” is titled “5 Lies About Why Christians Walk Away From Church” begins,

“All my life I was given ABSOLUTE reasons for why Christians walk away from the church. And being the trusting person that I was, I believed them. I mean, what child doesn’t believe everything they’re told from a trusted adult. Especially when those trusted adults believe what they’re telling you themselves.

Indeed, there are things that parents and adults will often tell children that can sometimes be understood in absolute terms often because the child may not understand the nuance of certain facts. As one grows up and begins to understand that the reasons behind events that occur in life they begin to see that things aren’t necessarily so black and white, but that fact doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that are absolutes. Kayla continues,

“As I grew into adulthood, and well into my 30’s, I still believed the lies I’m about to expose about why a Christian walks away from church.

As someone who had to walk away from the church for a while because of certain facts that I don’t like to discuss here, but that is different from what she says about “losing faith”. As I explain here, you can’t “lose” something that you never really had to begin with, but let’s just walk through what she calls “lies” and see if they actually work or not.

The first “lie” that Kayla wants to “expose” is “You just want to sin/aka you’re a prodigal.

“We were always told that the reasons Christians fall away and leave the faith is because there is sin in their life that they are caught up in. They give into their flesh and want to pursue a lifestyle of sin, and they cannot do this without guilt if they are committed to being a Christian.

Real short rebuttal for this one: yes.

The Apostle Paul grieved over someone who he had once counted as a believer and a friend who loved the world more than he loved Christ. More than likely you know someone who, for a moment, professed faith but left to run headlong into his or her personal desires. Kayla insists that this was not her reason, but that doesn’t make the statement a lie, that just means that it isn’t apply to her specific case. But then there’s a simple fact that gets overlooked: the life lived apart from God, apart from his grace and mercy, a life that has not been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, is—by its nature—a sinful life. The conscious rejection of the goodness of God is to desire to sin.

The second that Kayla wants to expose is, “You’re mad at God,” as she writes,

“This makes sense to a Christian, because if God is sovereign and in control of all things, and he put something in your life you don’t like…

And the contrary can be true, it’s not something that God “puts” into a person’s life, but something that God is seen as “taking”. I have known people who went from what appeared to be being on fire for God to having a seething hatred for God over the loss of a child or they felt that God had denied them something that they deserved (obvious problem). She says,

“…when I eventually realized that the God I had been worshiping up until the moment “he” left me was not coming back…a piece of me died. My heart was crushed. My spirit sunk. My mind spun looking for answers and identity. I felt life-less. This was anything but anger with God. I couldn’t even find God.

Now, just think about that for a moment, then think about these words, spoken by Jesus as he hung, dying, on a Roman cross,

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The inherent confusion of the crowd upon hearing this is expressed in Matthew’s account as they are under the impression that Jesus is calling after the great prophet Elijah. The last recorded words of Jesus in Matthew prior to his resurrection are the opening stanza of an ancient hymn of Israelite worship about a person seemingly abandoned by God who keeps the faith, not because of God’s closeness, but because of who God is. Kayla, to borrow a popular lyric, “lost that lovin’ feeling” and walked away. I’m sorry, Kayla, but you’re affirming the very reason that you’re denying.

A third lie that Kayla wants to expose is, “You’re bitter and angry at the church, because somebody hurt you.”

She writes,

““They’re not happy people — they’re angry — that’s why they leave the church. They were hurt by people in the church and so they don’t want to be around them anymore.”

This was not true for me either. I didn’t expect anybody to be perfect. I was harder on myself than anybody else. I gave everybody else more “freedom in Christ” than I gave myself, because I was taught to not do ANYTHING to be a stumbling block to my Christian brother — which pretty much limits everything you do…because you’re not supposed to offend ANYBODY.

I’m sorry, that last little bit about, “not offending anybody” seems to play on some ambiguity because while believers are supposed to allow for freedom in the joints, the reality of the church is built on offending people with truth. While there’s no strictness in clothes, diet, or ceremony, there are things which are not to be permitted, but called out, and practitioners disciplined for but that’s a community distinction and not a personal one. Now, I can anecdotally cite several instances where specific instances actually prompted people to not only leave the church, but in some cases actually deny the faith once professed. Agains, such may not be the case in Kayla’s case, but it can be the deciding factor in some.

The fourth “lie” that Kayla mentions is, “Their parents weren’t truly committed and genuine enough in living out their faith,” of which she writes,

“Holy Crap that’s a lot of pressure to put on a parent. And goes to show more performance-based fundamentalism.

Yeah, I will agree, provisionally. She continues,

“When an individual has strayed from the faith they grew up with, I’ve heard on more than one occasion, “I wonder where their parents went wrong…they seemed to be good parents.”

Let’s just be honest, the tendency of humans to try to rationalize the motives and justifications of others is something that we have to accept. When we see people, especially young people who were raised in seemingly good homes suddenly, not only abandon the faith, but become hostile to it, the tendency is to blame the parents. Is that fair? Of course not! It is something that simply happens. She continues,

“The anecdote for raising children who grew up to be Christian adults was to be real and genuine about your faith, not just a Sunday Christian. It was/is assumed sometimes that when an individual leaves the faith, their parents weren’t following Christ enough.

I think that there’s two problems here that while related, are somewhat disconnected. The first is that parents have a direct impact on their children both while at home and while away from home. Let’s just disconnect this from a religious setting for a moment and put it just into a moral realm: parents can raise a child in such a way that, while approved externally by society, turn the children into horrible people, be they thieves or just mean in general. The second is that children are not pot roasts, and the family isn’t a crock pot, that you throw kids into with good ingredients, cook for 18 years, and get a perfect dish. I’ve known people who came from the best situations, had the finest of everything and were just awful bastards, and have known people who came from terrible families who were deprived and neglected, who are the most loving and generous.

See also: Evolution, Adam, and Bad Reasons for Leaving the Faith

Kayla’s experience seems to be one that stems from a fundamentalist/literalist tradition, because she writes,

“…in my case, late in my 30’s, while I was exploring different interpretations of the Bible, I realized that there were other options out there. That maybe my faith wasn’t as black and white as I thought. That maybe other people had right answers too.

I was fortunate to be brought up in a family that saw the faith as being dynamic versus being static, and that all truth, regardless of the source or topic was ultimately God’s truth, which is something that I’ve tried to pass onto my kids, but not all parents, whether believers or not does this. Can parents, because of rigid, works-based, literalist fundamentalism cause their children to walk away from the faith? Yes. Can well-meaning parents, who give their children too much freedom wreck their children’s lives? Yes. We have to avoid simplistic thinking about these situations, and—at the same time—recognize that children are individuals and sometimes there are unintended consequences to our actions.

Coming to the last one, Kayla claims the statement, “You weren’t really saved to begin with,” is the fifth and final lie.

“When fundamentalists witness somebody leaving the faith and not returning, they have no way to reconcile or make sense of that in their mind, other than claiming “they went out from us because they were not of us.” In other words, “well, they left the faith and didn’t come back because they were never really Christians in the first place.”

The question is, why do they say that? Because it’s true. You may not like it, but to deny it means that you are lying to yourself.

She continues,

“You know how Paul said things like he was the best of the best?

Yeah, specifically when it came to his religious behavior as a Jew, before he was saved. It’s only after he was saved that he saw his previous life as…well…garbage, empty, worthless. At the end of his life, Paul wound up calling himself the “foremost of sinners”. Paul could check off all the religious boxes, and all that meant—he later realized—was that he would suffer greater condemnation because of it. Kayla makes it clear that she was under the assumption that her religious activities were purely Christian: reading the Bible, praying, going, doing, “No risk was too great of a sacrifice for my God. Christians don’t get more genuine than what I passionately lived…

Guess what Kayla? It didn’t mean that you were saved. She writes,

“I can’t say I fully understand exactly what caused my faith to spontaneously disappear without my permission.

Well, I can: You didn’t have any to begin with.

Now, I also want to make a careful distinction here between two facts, because I’ve seen this happen, but it’s a distinction that has to be made. There’s a lot of unnecessary activity that goes on in the modern church that people confuse with serving the Lord. And as a result of that, people can suffer from burnout. This fact is real. There are people who get so involved with doing things that they can actually injure themselves. People doing otherwise good things can self-destruct. This can either be self-imposed by the person themselves or, it can be imposed by others simply taking advantage of someones talents and drive and overloading them by taking advantage of them. And I have seen people burnout from activities, but not deny the faith. The key feature here is that there are those who have no faith and are engaging in fake-it-to-make-it, and then there’s true believers who simply exhaust themselves.

Kayla is still trapped in her fundamentalist mindset, she’s just stuck on the flip-side of it. She tries to argue that she didn’t leave because of these reasons, and that because these reasons don’t apply to her specific situation that they are “lies”. The problem is that they aren’t “lies”, ultimately they are excuses that all hinge on the final fact: if a person leaves the faith, it’s because they never had it to begin with.