The Mind Matters (or, not everyone leaves Christianity because Christians are jerks)

Why do people leave the Christian faith?  The answer often given is that there is some fault in the Christian community:

Christians are judgmental.

Christians are old-fashioned.  

Christians are not nice.

Christians are anti-everything

Certainly it is true that many people become disillusioned with faith because of bad experiences with Christians.

But not everybody.

I am reading a very challenging book called Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary.  The author, Kenneth Daniels, grew up in a strict, fundamentalist Christian church and spent years on the mission field in Africa before leaving the faith and becoming an atheist (for the record, Daniels prefers the term humanist).

Early in the book Daniels says more or less what I just said above: many people fault the Christian community for why Christians leave the faith.  But he says that for him it was the Christian community which kept him in the faith for so long.  Long after he no longer believed in the claims of Christianity he hung on because the community was so vital to his life:

I must emphasize again I have no ax to grind against Christians as people, even if I do not accept their beliefs. The most wonderful people I know are Christians. I have often heard believers assert that ex-Christians leave the faith primarily because of disappointments with the Christian community and not because of any deficiency in the gospel itself. Precisely the opposite was true for me: my desire to stay in fellowship with believers long served as an obstacle to my decision to leave the faith” (9-10).

Eventually Daniels had to be true to what he had come to believe and he left the church.  For Daniels it was about nothing other than the pursuit of truth: he no longer believed in Jesus, the Bible or God.  This book is completely focused on why he no longer believes and covers a lot of ground from the reliability of the Bible, miracles, hell and much more.

Books like this and people like Daniels should remind us that the mind matters.  We cannot leave behind thinking through the hard issues of faith.  If we offer a surface-level, shallow faith to the world we run the risk of losing the deep thinkers among us.

Having great music and fun programs that appeal to people’s desire for community and emotional attachment is a good thing.  But it cannot be the only thing.  Because sooner or later people begin to ask the hard questions and if they get no answers, or worse if they get shallow answers with little thought, they will drift away.

In my opinion, Daniels book is more challenging then those of the “new atheists” like Dawkins and Harris.  Daniels writes with kindness and knowledge as a former insider.  He does not hesitate to challenge faith where he sees it as illogical, which is most of the book, but the tone throughout is much friendlier then the so-called angry atheists.   Perhaps the new atheists can be brushed off as some guys who are just angry, Daniels and those like him cannot be brushed off as easily.

I think Daniel’s book should be read by Christians, especially pastors.  No matter what happens, it can only be good for our soul to allow our faith to be stretched by engaging the works of those who have left it.  I have appreciated works by Christian apologists, but I believe my faith is made stronger by reading well-thought out attacks on the faith.

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17 thoughts on “The Mind Matters (or, not everyone leaves Christianity because Christians are jerks)

  1. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Are you correlating deep thinking with faith? You sound like you are afraid of deep thinkers leaving the faith. Why would they, if the deep thinking would give them great faith? You sound like you are trying to read their material to prevent other deep thinkers from leaving. While if they have so much faith why are they leaving in the first place. Maybe faith doesn’t come from the deep thinking but the heart. In the depth of your being. Having a connection with the heart of God, the Spirit living in us. Sometimes no matter how much we think in our own power, we can’t figure things out til the Spirit reveals it to us. Sorry, this is just my opinion. Thank you for giving me something to think about.
    Blessings,
    Gail

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I am not correlating deep thinking with faith nor am I afraid deep thinkers will leave the faith. What I was trying to say is more along the lines that many churches seem (to me, in my opinion, so maybe I am wrong) to be very focused on image. A lot of effort is put into great music and a good looking stage with all the bells and whistles. Along those lines, I read a lot of talk about why people leave the faith. A lot of it tends to focus on Christianity having an image problem. So the goal appears to be to create friendly churches and loving communities.

      Those things are super-important. My point was that in the process of that, we cannot forget to love God with all our mind. The author, Kenneth Daniels, said the thing that held him in the faith longest was the community, he left because he found it no longer true. We have a responsibility to give an answer, as best we can, to all who ask (1 Peter 3:15 I believe). I agree that faith doesn’t come from deep thinking, it comes from the depth of your being and having a connection with God. But in this post I am thinking about people who desire that depth and connection with God but do not have it. Maybe they want it but they have serious questions. Friendly Christians and emotional worship experiences are not going to win them. Are we ready to offer answers to their tough questions?

      I was challenged by Daniels’ book for that reason. If we are to be “all things to all people” as Paul says (1 Cor 9) we need to pursue the tough questions.

      1. Maybe you love with your mind, as you just said above, but don’t ever forget to love with your heart also. I think people are looking for genuine people to pour Gods love on them and accept them for just who they are. We show the love of Christ and let the Holy Spirit clean them up. There are so many hurting people. If we spend time interceding for the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts of the people to receive, they will be drew in by the spirit. We have to believe it will happen. This will not be in our power, so we cannot take glory, but in His power and for His glory. Our small church is praying for a great move and I believe that God will do it, so He will get the glory He is due. God Bless.

      2. Haha, on my good days I love God with all my heart and mind. I wish those days were more often 🙂

        I agree 100% The thing is, there is no one-size-fit-all way to love people. Some people need a shoulder to cry on, some people literally need food and drink, some people need an answer to a tough question. Whatever we do – from freeing slaves to studying philosophy – should be surrounded in prayer.

        Thanks for your response! Very encouraging.

  2. The “just angry” thing is a cop-out. Much like the Christians-are-mean theme. Sooner or later, you have to deal with the ideas at hand. It isn’t that personal attitudes are irrelevant, but too often folks use them as an excuse to dodge harder questions.

    1. I agree. I mean, I am sure many have had truly bad experiences with religion and want no part of it. But I believe some do use it as a cop-out, as you said. That is why I found this book so challenging, he almost bends over backwards to say how kind the Christians were but htere came a point when he could no longer doge the harder questions, as you say.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Very thought provoking blog. I understand your point about deep thinkers, but the Christian life is so much easier than that. Really human logic and reason have no place when we are trying to understand God. The best thing is to allow love to be your guiding point and the Holy Spirit. His ways are not our ways. There is no way we can even think ourselves into understanding God. When we understand that God is outside of the box is when we know that we serve a great big God that can do anything and is not limited by human understanding. Great blog.

    1. Thanks for the reply!

      I think the challenge from Daniels’ book is that statements like “logic and reason have no place when we are trying to understand God” sound like a cop out. So the atheists or skeptics point out two Bible verses that seem to contradict or point out how people who pray die from cancer just as often as those who do not or whatever. I think we owe them a decent answer. I say that recognizing that you cannot argue anybody into belief in God. I guess for me, maybe faith does not need to be fully rational, but it should not be irrational either.

      We Christians have a heritage of great thinkers from Origen and Augustine to Aquinas and Karl Barth. Maybe my bigger point is, why aren’t we known for being great thinkers today?

      And yes, I realize that is not really the goal of our faith.

      Good response. I really appreciate it.

  4. Dave,

    I appreciate your sympathetic mention of my story, even if you don’t share my conclusions. I respect those like you who can disagree agreeably.

    Sincerely,

    Ken Daniels, author of Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary

    1. Hey hey! I am flattered that the author of the book noticed this post. Your book was well-written and very challenging. Not sure if you’re on Goodreads, but I reviewed the book on there if you want to read it. Thanks again for stopping by and for encouraging all of us, Christians and humanists, to pursue truth.

      1. Wow Dave. I can really feel the love in your response. That would really encourage someone to come back to Christ. I don’t know the book but if you post a review of a book, the author should be given his respect, especially if he served as a missionary for years) I am assuming from the title). Don’t you think God loves him very much and it would have been a opportunity for you to swallow some pride and show some of Christs love. Just my opinion. God bless you Ken Daniels and may you find your Way.
        Gail

      1. Nothing to be sorry about. From reading his book, I am sure Mr. Daniels appreciates your blessing even if he is not a Christian.

        I do want to say that, in my opinion, it is important that we Christians are genuinely kind to others. By “genuinely” I mean that we are not just kind in a manipulative way. For the record, (and in case. Mr. Daniels returns to this site), I did not just say nice things about his book in an effort to trick him back into faith (as if that would work anyway!). In other words, if you asked me I would say that it would be fantastic if Mr. Daniels, or anyone, came to follow Christ. But it is also important to respect others enough to give them the space to figure it out on their own. If there really is a God and if that God really does love people and if people are sincerely pursuing truth then I have hope they (we) will find it.

  5. Dave,

    Thanks for your (mostly) fair review of my book on goodreads. At the risk of boring your readers, I just wanted to add a couple points of clarification. Regarding your observation, “He also shares a story of an apparent healing of a woman he knew and why he was skeptical of it but he did not talk to her after it I noted in the margin, why didn’t he just call her and ask about it?” This purported healing had happened around 15 years before I wrote the book, and we had long lost contact with the lady involved. But after I wrote the book, at the prompting of another reader who inquired about it, I did end up contacting the church (a Bible church) to find out the pastor’s take on the situation. He informed me that the lady (a King James only advocate) had become divisive and had left the church, and in the pastor’s opinion, it had all been an act, or at least, he didn’t consider her to be trustworthy.

    As for this statement, “Some of his points could have been excised, such as when he talked of being attacked for leaving faith and his main example was a person he barely knew (did not know at all? I can’t recall) posting on an internet chat board”–I had known this friend from college, and we both attended the same Baptist church in Longview, Texas. Granted, he was never the closest of friends, but we did have several conversations about theology (he was a Calvinist, and I was undecided on Calvinism at the time) before I deconverted, and he did, as indicated in part of the quotation, generously support us in the purchase of a vehicle for use on the mission field. I included the Internet exchange because of his mention of wanting to send me a loaded gun, an example of pointed opposition from a former friend. But you have a point: my closer friends and family didn’t speak to me (or about me, as far as I know) in this way, yet the suspicion and “praying for you” remarks hurt more than my former friend’s comments on the internet, precisely because my closer friends and family are closer to me, and their relationship means more to me. I’ve been fortunate that my wife, at least, has faithfully loved me and avoided antagonizing me (like the spouses of some of the other readers I’ve heard from), even though we don’t see eye to eye. So all in all, I’ve had a less bumpy ride than I might have expected.

    You’re right that I haven’t engaged Nietzsche or Camus; I guess I just never was drawn to them for some reason. I did read Camus’ “The Stranger” while learning French and found it shocking as a believer; I don’t know what I would think of it if I were to re-read it now. I have a stronger interest in science at this point than in philosophy; maybe in the future I’ll read more philosophy to get up to speed.

    I can understand how you personally find naturalistic meaning and morality to be problematic, but I would venture that it looks more problematic from the outside looking in than from the inside looking out. It’s somewhat parallel to the challenge that believers sometimes offer to unbelievers to experience Jesus, to taste and see that he’s good, even though religion might appear unattractive from the outside. I’ve found that the transition to naturalism was personally difficult, but once you’re in the water, it doesn’t feel as cold as you thought it might. But it seems to me that whether it feels cold or not is beside the point. For me, the point is whether naturalism is true or not, even if I (for the sake of argument) personally end up experiencing a loss of meaning or an objective moral compass.

    Anyway, thanks again for the review and for your civil tone, which stands in stark contrast to another recent review from a believer at http://www.amazon.com/review/R2CUEXB34XDEF/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B003UNLMRY&nodeID=&tag=&linkCode=

    Best wishes,

    Ken

    1. Thanks again for a good reply. And thanks for the clarification. I enjoy Goodreads, but I rarely go back and review a book as thoroughly as I should (hence my one comment about not being sure if what I remembered was exactly correct). I often make lots of notes and comments, but spending hours sifting through them all and writing an in-depth book review…holy cow, not going to happen! Of course, if I knew the author was going to read it 🙂

      I think pursuit of truth is the key thing. As a Christian, especially in light of Rob Bell’s book from last year Love Wins (which if you are not familiar with that’s okay, he basically questions hell) I sincerely wonder if most follow Christ out of fear of hell or because it is true. I read Acts and Peter and Paul tell people to believe because Jesus is risen, not because God is going to smack them if they don’t (this is not to deny some form of hell, it is just not as important to them as it is to many of us today).

      So, for the record, I do think Jesus really did rise from the dead (though I do question many other parts of Christianity). I enjoy, and feel comfortable, having conversations with people like you because I figure if you’re pursuing truth…and if God/Jesus/Christianity really is true…then, well, then that’s a good start. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. To me, if Jesus really is truth what is the harm in giving people, any and all people, space to pursue that truth?

      Again, I really enjoy chatting.

  6. The key to true Christianity is Christ, not Christians. We are a poor representation of the Call. Unfortunately most of us are the unthinking, unloving, bigoted, zealots that the world makes us out to be. As Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

    As a scientist and believer, I thank God for the mind he gave me and it’s the fact that the glory of the heavens scream of Him that helps me believe. There is so much evidence for faith (Cosmic Constant, DNA, Precambrian Explosion, lack of transitional species, etc.), but unfortunately we see what we want to see. Keep the faith and your good work.

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