• Do Christians exist?

    I was a Christian for 17 years.  During those years, nobody ever said to me “I don’t think you’re really a Christian”.  A lot of Christians knew me very well.  If anyone suspected anything, they never said it.

    But I’m not a Christian now.  Many of my friends still are, and some of them find my case a little confusing.  Mostly guided by certain biblical passages I won’t list here, many people have simply concluded that, despite appearances, I must never have been a Christian at all.

    So, Was I ever really a Christian?

    My answer to this question proves that I still sometimes think like a theologian:

    Yes………

    ………and No.

    Before I explain my answers, let me just say that I’ve actually given up on trying to convince people I was really a Christian, and I’m not going to try again here.  If I convinced one Christian my faith was genuine, the guy next to him would probably disagree.  The thing is, there are so many different answers to the question, What is a Christian?

    Since leaving the fold, I have been much more interested in hearing how Christians describe their religion and what it takes to be a true believer.  I’ve asked dozens of Christians, and received dozens of contrasting answers.  In fact, if I took any one Christian’s definition of Christianity as authoritative, most Christians would not really be Christians at all!  In particular, my definition of Christianity would clash in at least one small detail with virtually any other person’s definition.

    When I was a Christian, this didn’t seem to matter.  I often debated minor points of theology with other Christians.  Eventually, when we dropped the issue, we’d think about how great it was that God accepted us despite our differences, though I’m sure we both went away convinced the other guy was misguided.

    But now I find that the slightest difference in the interpretation of a verse or doctrine is enough to bring out that triumphant and seemingly all-important conclusion:  I knew it!  You were never really a Christian at all!

    So, Was I ever really a Christian?

    First let me explain why I might answer No.  In my former life, one of the most crucial elements of my definition of a Christian was Someone that has a real relationship with Jesus.  Since I no longer believe that the God of the Bible is a real being, and that it is not possible to have a real relationship with Jesus, I now believe that I was never a Christian according to that definition.  While I certainly used to believe I had real experiences of the God of the Bible, I am now of the opinion that such experiences were delusional and explainable by psychology.  But here’s the catch.  I now believe that nobody is a Christian according to that definition.

    Needless to say, my current understanding of Christianity has a very slight modification built into that key sentence.  Now I would insert a couple of crucial words, and speak of Someone that thinks they have a real relationship with Jesus.  With this understanding, of course I was a Christian, and nobody could dispute this apart from accusing me of not even knowing what I used to believe.  Furthermore, under this new definition, I now recognise many Christians I would not have recognised before.

    So to the Christians that have accused me of never being a Christian at all: I can only agree with you insofar as I do not think you are a Christian yourself.

    But I think there is an even bigger problem for these Christians.  How could you ever know that you were a true Christian?  I was utterly convinced that I would never leave the faith, so certainty is no indication of your future.  If it was truly the case that no real Christian could ever leave the faith, you could only be sure that you were truly a Christian if you had already died!

    Category: ApostasyChristianity

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    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Thanks for this post, RF. As a Christian I, like other Christians, was confused by ex-believers and would sometimes wonder if they had ever truly been Christians. I would think, “If they knew the living God as I do, how could they have ever walked away from him?” However, like you, I’ve found many Christians who don’t simply wonder about the experience of the ex-believer but outright judge that anyone who left the faith could never have been a *real* Christian. Of course, there are plenty of verses that challenge their “once saved, always saved” beliefs, but they are happy to explain these ones away. I know that those who knew me well as a Christian would have a terribly difficult time convincing themselves that I never was one, but there are those willing to push on with what feels like lying to oneself because it fits the doctrines they’ve been taught they must adhere to. Advocates of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine like the security it offers them, but in reality it offers them even less security because you are right that by their own claims, they could never know if they are truly Christian themselves!

    • im-skeptical

      Perhaps a bit off your topic, but when I have made some point to Christians in another forum (it was about God as a moral agent), I was castigated for not understanding their view of God. They insisted that under the view of Classical Theism (which, they say is the majority view, and the official position of the Catholic church), God is not a moral agent, he’s nothing like that Jehovah guy in the bible, and that we atheists just don’t understand what God really is. They make the same criticism of people like Dawkins, Loftus, and Carr. What I think they don’t understand is that most atheists came out of a religious background, and the Christian God we speak of is the one we grew up with. The same one we learned about in Sunday school or that we read about in the bible, who ordered the killing of babies, etc. And I still think this is the God that most Christians believe in.

      • Gandolf

        Hi im-skeptical.

        As far as i can figure it so far, Classical Theism, almost seems like the Christian classic “get out of jail free” card , as is often used in the monopoly game.

        But the argument seems to go something like this. Very many different types human beings,even when separated by vast seas, have all had some sort of belief in Gods , deities or some sort of supernatural being ,Then this belief is so common. Therefore this means such a being must also obviously exist.

        Yet we can understand that if the ancient humans , all lacking in knowledge , all happen to have much the same type brains . And have all experienced some of the same types of very strange phenomena that they also had no better way to try and understand , as in the killer earthquakes , lightning bolts and tsunami and suchlike.

        Then why wouldn’t we ? also have good enough reason, to also fully expect that so many different types of people , might also have still all come to some very same conclusions too . In all thinking that Gods maybe must exist .

        • Reasonably Faithless

          One of the theories I’ve read in a few places is that it is our Hyperactive Agent Detection that does this. We evolved to instinctively assume a rustle in the grass was caused by a creature (that might want to eat us). Better to have a lot of false positives than the occasional false negative (the first of which could lead to our demise). So it’s only natural for humans to think lightening, rain, earthquakes, etc were caused by some agent. And it doesn’t take much brain power to extrapolate that such an agent must be amazing in power, etc etc.

    • DRC

      Great post!
      This issue of how to deal with non-Christians is a real difficulty for Christians. Christianity taps into a few common areas of our brain which make us believe in essentialism (the feeling that we can group people/things by their properties) and binary opposition (there are only 2 types of people: Christians and non-Christians).

      Christians are taught the idea that all Christians have an essential essence (called the Holy Spirit) that makes them part of the in-group, and everyone else is in the out-group. This view has difficulty with the fact that people switch groups all the time! Because people can change, there cannot be an essential essence which is indelibly attached to each individual before birth.

    • Copyleft

      There is a subcategory of believers who maintain that anyone who leaves the faith was ‘never really a Christian to begin with,’ therefore there’s no such thing as an ex-Christian. Only “ex-pretenders.” It’s a classic example of defending the in-group identity by denying the existence of anyone who defies it.

      These people, when pressed, generally start denouncing large swaths of believers–Catholics, Mormons, pro-choice Christians, etc.–as “also not True Christians.” In the end, the category of “true Christian” winds up being “me and the folks I respect at my church.” Everybody else is an apostate or heretic.

      I wonder how often the True Christians and True Scotsmen get together for drinks.

    • Gandolf

      I agree its a great post. I also agree with all you said here. Including the bit about, what makes a true Christian. So many Christians , must think other Christians are really not Christians at all. That’s why we would have this need of so many different Christian dominations. and sects and suchlike. As an atheist standing on the sideline watching them fight over it, can sadly sometimes be much like watching a bit of biffo , going down in some school yard.

    • Rizdek

      I’m probably one of those who, despite being raised in a Christian home attending a Christian church throughout my childhood/teen years and attending a Christian college, probably never really was a Christian. Oh, I had all the morality down, I was a good boy. Moral behavior has never been a problem. But the “heart-felt inspiration, the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the personal relationship with Jesus?…nada. I never felt like when I prayed I was actually talking TO anyone. I ‘went forward” occasionally to seek renewal of my relationship w said Jesus, but each time, never felt there was reciprocation…the lights weren’t on AND no one was home. So, I never felt this “god-shaped” hole, this emptiness, that others allude to, in my life when I finally admitted I was an atheist. All that happened was a lot of contorted and dissonant ideas and dogma simply melted away.

    • Ruth Mawbey

      Only just saw this post, so here’s my thoughts. Romans 10:9 gives a fairly simple description of a Christian – “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. As to whether you were a Christian previously, I don’t know. I’d like to say that you weren’t because I can’t understand how someone who knew God could start ignoring Him, but in reality only yourself and God can truly judge what was in your heart at the time. However I do wonder if you have answered your own question. As an atheist you now describe your previous feelings of faith/belief as being a delusion explainable by psychology. If you can so easily dismiss the God of this world, did you ever really know Him?

      • Great to hear from you, Ruth. Your comment touches on a few things…

        According to Romans 10:9, if “is saved” is synonymous with “is a Christian”, then yes I was a Christian. I did indeed believe with all my heart in the Lordship of Jesus, that he was raised from the dead, and all the rest! I never began to “ignore God” though – I simply started to wonder if Christianity was true. I already believed that many religions were false, and that many sincere people (millions or maybe even billions of them) honestly believed they had had convincing, life changing experiences that validated their (false) beliefs. I had to be honest and face the possibility that I might have been like them. I had to put aside the temptation to say “but I just know I’m right” because I knew that others had this convincing feeling of rightness even though they were wrong. And, when I came to investigate things more seriously than I ever had before, I came to the realisation that there really were no reasons to believe in Christianity that should convince someone that was not already thoroughly convinced of the truth of Christianity. I *really* didn’t want to think that. I had absolutely no desire to stop believing that (among other things) I would live forever, spending the rest of my days with the creator of the universe. But honestly compelled me to that decision.

        I did actually address this next point of yours already in my post:

        “However I do wonder if you have answered your own question. As an atheist you now describe your previous feelings of faith/belief as being a delusion explainable by psychology. If you can so easily dismiss the God of this world, did you ever really know Him?”

        But to reiterate, I *thought* I knew God, and I thought others knew him. I now think I did not know him – but only to the same extent that I think you do not know him either (just like you presumably think the Canaanites did not really know Baal). I think I was every bit as much a Christian as anyone ever can be – but I don’t think that to *really be* a Christian means (or includes in its meaning) to have a genuine experience with the God of Christianity, because I don’t believe the God of Christianity exists. Likewise, if someone told you that to be a true Baal worshiper, you must have had a real encounter with Baal, then I guess you’d conclude that (according to that definition) there is no such thing as a true Baal worshiper!

        Let me know if anything doesn’t make sense.