Poor Preparation Part #4
Painfully prepared disciples are prone to crises of faith. By painfully prepared I simply mean hurt by judgmentalism and it's frequent companion hypocrisy.
Losing faith is always about coming to the conclusion that Christianity is no longer true. In other words, deconversion is a cognitive process. It is about no longer believing the claims of the Bible. But for some, perhaps many former believers, their loss of faith didn't start out as cognitive. Instead it started out as experiential or even emotional.
If Christianity is true one of the implications is that it should produce Christians. Christians - or Christlike ones - are those who not only believe certain claims about Jesus, but put his teachings into practice. Furthermore, they are supposedly empowered to do so by the indwelling Spirit of God. Therefore, if someone is a Christian their life should be increasingly marked by the characteristics of Jesus.
Of course this raises the question, "What characteristics is Jesus noted for?". The answer to that question is, like many things about Jesus paradoxical. But the apostle John summed it up this way: Jesus was filled with grace and truth. As such, his followers should be characterized by those things as well. However, in the case of deconversion narratives it seems that large numbers of former believers experienced a graceless Christianity that mistook judgment and criticism for standing up for truth.
Communities that are particularly "good" at producing deconverts are characterized by a zeal for the "truth" and a lack of genuine grace. I put the word "truth" in quotes because I intend to communicate that it is not really the truth that they have a zeal for as much as it is their community's unique perspective on a number of secondary and tertiary issues. Believing that holding to the truth is of the utmost importance and mistaking their personal convictions for biblical dogma, such communities can be quick to criticize, question and condemn others for not meeting their standards. This often leads to resentment, if not disillusionment with Christianity itself. I have had more than a few former believers ask me "If Christians are to be like Jesus and Jesus was gracious, patient, kind and loving as he spoke the truth, then why were his followers so mean spirited, impatient, unkind and unloving to me when they spoke the "truth"? It's a fair question.
Underlying the question is the assumption that if Christianity is true then it should produce people that look like Jesus. When this doesn't happen and instead it seems to produce negative, critical, legalistic, and judgmental people it's not hard to see how the following conclusion can be reached.
"If Christianity is true it should make people more Christlike. It does not make people more Christlike. Therefore, Christianity is not true."
"If Christianity is true and this is the kind of people it produces then I don't even want to be a Christian"
I imagine that in your mind you have already come up with some very logical responses to the above arguments. Certainly there are some problems with the way that some former believers have arrived at their conclusions. Moreover, sometimes even the most balanced and gracious believers can be mistaken for intolerant, graceless legalists. Such is the problem of subjective perception, a problem that is only compounded by a culture that says any truth claims (no matter how graciously expressed) are inherently oppressive.
And yet the horror stories of the way many former Christians were treated by their Christian communities are shocking. Is there any doubt that such treatment opens the door to reevaluating the truth claims of Christianity? After all, it was Jesus who said "By this shall all men know you are my disciples if you love one another."