Lack of Fit
The gap between the world of the Bible and the modern world is too problematic for many former Christians to maintain.
When I say that some former believers leave the faith due to a lack of fit, what I mean is that their faith no longer fits their world. Phil Zuckerman refers to it as Acquired Incredulity Syndrome or AIS. The word "incredulity" means "unable to believe." AIS is the inability to believe that is acquired over time as Christians run into more and more problems with their worldview. It isn't the result of one or two crisis events but it's a death by a thousand cuts. I describe two of the more prominent ones below.
One of those cuts is that the biblical story feels so out of place in the modern world. In the picture above, we see a person straining to bridge the gap between two sides of a crevasse. On the one side is the worldview of the Bible, complete with giants, dragons, and talking snakes. On the other side is the modern world which is comprised of space travel, quantum physics, and artificial intelligence. A
question that is asked by many young people living as Christians in the modern world is: can I continue to live in both worlds?
Imagine you are a student at UCLA in a biology class where you have been studying the scientific evidence for evolution. The evidence is persuasive because it's being taught by a Ph.D. and you know that all the smart people in the world of biology accept the theory as the true account for the variation of species that populate our planet. You have been presented with transitional fossils, study phylogenetic trees, and been exposed to the genetic evidence for evolution. You have also studied the history of evolution, beginning with Charles Darwin up through Richard Dawkins. It all seems so mature, and so "adult" compared to the story of two naked people in a garden and a talking snake that the Bible tells. You can't help but feel that the Adam and Eve story was good for our ancient ancestors who didn't know about mutations and natural selection but is unsatisfying for moderns. You wonder if we as a species have come of age and no longer need such myths.
The above scenario can be repeated in other academic areas of study as well. Anthropology, psychology, and comparative religious studies all can chip away at the faith of believers. Not because the bible and modern scholarship are always incompatible (in some cases they are) but because of the powerful and deadly combination of a one-sided academic presentation and a faith built on faulty presuppositions.
The incongruity between the biblical story and the modern world isn't restricted to those who go to college. It can and does happen to all different kinds of believers. If you have a cell phone, watch a SpaceX launch, or take antidepressants, and you go to church, believe Samson was strong because he had long hair, and that Jesus is going to come back on a flying horse, you will feel the tension between what can seem to be incompatible worlds.
A second kind of cut that deconverts point to is moving from an actor in the play to a critic in the audience. What I mean by that is, when the Christian worldview was unquestionably true, it was easy for former believers to live out their role in the story of the Bible. Before they became self-reflective, encountered other faiths, or were exposed to the criticisms of Christianity, former believers played their part without thinking too much about the play or storyline. They just accepted it. But when they did encounter objections they began to look around the stage and ask questions about the costumes, props, and the point of the story. Eventually, they found themselves in the audience, no longer playing a role in the story but being the story critic.
The critic begins to ask questions about the author and the story such as:
Why did God bother to create anything? Isn't he above the need to create? Was he needy?
If God is totally sovereign and predestined everything isn't this just a melodrama for his pleasure?
Why would God put the tree in the garden if he knew what was going to happen?
Did God script everything out in eternity past so that he would offer himself so that he could be worshipped by his creation? Isn't that a bit narcissistic?
Why does God care so much about the minutia of daily life in the O.T.?
Why does he seem so angry and vindictive? My father is a kinder being than God.
Why did God create so many people that he has either determined would go to Hell or that he knew would go there on their own accord?
Why all the drama? Couldn't God have just saved Adam and Eve somehow without Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the rest of the biblical story?
Why the sacrifice of Jesus? God sets the rules and he knew that Adam and Eve would sin, so why not avoid the whole mess of the crucifixion by having different rules for the forgiveness of sin?
The Objection Summarized
The actor turned critic's review of the story:
All in all, when considered in its totality, the biblical story is ridiculous. It is melodrama beneath educated, morally mature, modern people. It is not anything we should expect from a divine being who is supposedly the creator of quantum mechanics, responsible for the fine-tuning of the laws of the universe, and the originator of time and space. The biblical story sounds like what you would expect from ancient people telling a story to explain who they are. Complete with all the petty commands and trivial prohibitions one would expect from ancient tribal people. When we step back and look at the biblical narrative we have to admit that it's a movie that isn't worthy of the price of admission; our intellectual integrity.
In short, individuals walk away from the faith when they can no longer manage to straddle the world of the Bible and the modern world. They can no longer bring themselves to believe the Bible is the true story of reality. The story it tells becomes literally unbelievable and the result is deconversion.