2015 can only be better…

It’s that traditional time of the year to look forward to the exciting unknown of a New Year and to reflect on positives of the year just past. Well, to be honest, I’d really rather forget the last 12 months, but I’ve got enough reminders day to day which simply prevent that from happening.

How would I sum up 2014? In a word, crap. I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes as my almost life-long obesity issues continued. A loved one received a “very little we can do” prognosis to chronic pain and faces a future of simply managing it rather than living. And I finally accepted my Christian faith had gone and that much of my life was not going to be the same from now on.

I appreciate I’m perhaps bordering on the melodramatic, but it was a year of change, and not much of it positive. All I can say is that I hope it has laid the foundations on which I hope 2015 will be built. My health and weight issues are not going to disappear overnight, but I have been studying a lot to try and find the best way of dealing with them. And differently, this year I’m relying on myself, not a deity. When you pray for things like personal behaviour and health, as I did for many years, you wonder what God has to lose by not helping the way you’re asking, nay begging, Him to! There’s an expectation that things you find difficult will somehow magically become possible if you ask with enough conviction.

Scripture has us covered, though, on why we don’t always get the help we want. Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians of how he asked God 3 times to remove his much debated “thorn in the flesh”. But since he was forced to live with it, he then exhorts the rest of us to take joy in our suffering and allow God’s strength to be revealed through our weaknesses. These days, I don’t get that theology at all, but there was a time when my failings and weaknesses made me feel super pious. I will admit I did find it difficult to thank God for them.

So I’m now acutely aware that my health is my problem. My weight and exercise goals are mine to set and achieve. There is a large body of knowledge I can look to for ideas and inspiration and a family I can turn to for support to help me along the way. I don’t believe that consulting or pleading with God to assist will make that much of a difference.

I haven’t mentioned it up until now, and I’ll probably go into more detail at some stage, but I’ve had issues with depression in the recent past, and given the events of the past year, I’m finding it difficult to rouse any strong sense of optimism. Perhaps being more level-headed is a pragmatic stance to take. We’ll see over the coming weeks…

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Setting the Scene

By way of introduction, I want to lay out where I’ve been and where I am in terms of faith.

It’s almost Christmas in December 2014, and we’re coming up to 3 years since I began the journey of leaving my Christian faith. I’ll be 36 in a couple of weeks and that faith has been at the very core of “me” since I was, I reckon, about 9 years old. I was raised to be a Christian and encouraged to attend almost everything I could (in terms of church meetings) as I was growing up.

I was never a Christian who could recount the exact day and hour when I knelt and prayed to be saved. As I listened to testimony after testimony of those who could, I always felt a mixture of jealousy and disappointment. I wanted my special moment, but I just had to vaguely settle on “around the age of 9”. I have a sneaky suspicion I would have made a commitment before that time but I now hold that it was that age before I truly understood what it meant.

I lived my faith to the full. I prayed. I read. I learned. I defended. I argued. It maybe didn’t influence my behaviour very much during my early teens and there are plenty of things from that time that I look back on with shame. But as I matured, so did my faith.

I was never employed by a church or church-related organisation, but I’ve been a leader and been in charge of various groups, as a volunteer, since I was 16. Most of my life – outside of work – has had some sort of connection with church since that time. I’ll go into more detail about these subjects in later posts.

But things are very different for me these days. Whilst there has not been one, single occurrence which “flipped the switch” of faith for me, I believe I can pinpoint two particular experiences which started the ball rolling.

The Giant’s Causeway

I live in Northern Ireland. There’ll be much more about that later, too, but a few years ago we had a massive controversy about the narration system provided for attendees to the new Giant’s Causeway Visitor’s Centre. It featured a single line which hinted that Creationism was viewed by some as a viable explanation of how we had come to be. The scientific community and a large number of the general population were apoplectic over this and demanded it be removed to prevent any suggestion of Creationism being either scientific or viable.

For most of my Christian life, I was an ardent Creationist. I fully believed it had a solid scientific basis and I consumed the works of AiG and The Creation Institute in bulk to ensure I knew the evidence and could put it across well. I argued about this subject for years in discussions and on internet forums, trying to do so in with as much credibility as I could muster.

Whilst I think the episode with the Giant’s Causeway was frankly ridiculous and a little embarrassing, it did kick-start some serious thinking for me. I began to read more – and differently – around the Creation vs. Evolution subject and I began to slowly shift my views. I still clung on to many of my other Christian beliefs, and I spent a lot of time praying that I would continue to learn what I needed to so I could maintain my Creationist viewpoint. Or, at the very least, I could reconcile Christianity with some variation of evolution. But my “faith” in that explanation of our history as a world and as a people was beginning to wane.

The Bible in a Year

Almost 3 years ago, I realised that even though I had been a Christian for over 20 years, I had never actually read all of the Bible. I carried a bit of remorse about that, but I set out to rectify it as a New Year’s resolution, and one I was determined to stick to more than any ever before. From the perspective of being a Christian, it was one of the worst things I ever set out to do.

I followed a reading plan which meant I wasn’t just reading from start to finish – I was reading different parts every day. I was a firm believer in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture and felt sure that this would grow my faith and bring me closer to understanding the person of God and allowing Him a bigger role in my life.

But instead of that, I began to come across things, for myself, that I had always put down to “haters gonna hate”. Contradictions. Repetitions. Inconsistencies. Scandalous passages presenting a God of apparent madness. Instructions which made no sense – then nor now. I occasionally look back on the notes I took and the passages I highlighted, and it’s interesting how few of them are taught from our pulpits, books or theology courses.

I had heard the arguments for how these things where in the Bible, but in my ignorance, I had taken them as “attacks of Satan” and always explained them away as people not understanding the nuances and holistic narrative of the Bible and how it was one big, joined up, sensible story rather than a series of individual written constructs. I began to think “Wait… what if there is more to these accusations than I have ever considered?”

I made it to mid-April following the reading plan before I made a conscious decision to stop for fear of where continuing would lead me.

A Sobering Thought

A conclusion I settled on from these particular episodes was that the vast, vast majority of the general population “know” things because they have been told what to think, not because they have any direct experience of it. We are all products of what we see and hear and we all have a tendency to surround ourselves with input and resources which tell us what we want.

Scientifically, there are barely any of us involved in experimentation of study to give us a truly accurate understanding of biological evolution and its components and predictions. So we rely on the words of others. For many, that will be the likes of news reports and articles or TV documentaries. In Christian circles, it’ll be what advocates of Creationism tell us, including all the straw men that have been the very core of the Creationist argument since it became mainstream. But we need to know both sides of the argument, review the evidence and try to make an informed decision about what is truth.

In theological terms, our knowledge comes from what is preached from our pulpits, and rarely from the depths of our own studies. I recall how I spent so much time reading around the Bible rather than actually reading it. I read books which interpreted Scripture for me and I attended services and listened to preachers who would confirm my beliefs and challenge me in ways I found acceptable.

I decided that I needed to make my own decisions about what I believed, and that meant becoming much more critical and cynical and thinking much more deeply about the things I professed; to understand how much basis they actually had and whether I could truly consider them factual and reliable. It meant being open to consume evidence from different sources. It meant really getting to the crux of things I had only scratched the surface of in the past (for fear of what I might find if I went any further).

And where has this brought me? In simple terms, I am no longer a Christian. I no longer believe that the Protestant, Christian Bible I once thought so much of has a basis in factual history. I do not believe that all of the stories recounted in it are true and the personalities presented in it are the personalities our theology has made them to be. I do not believe the God of Christianity is a character I’d want to be associated with and the “system”, described in the Bible, of this world and an after-world of either eternal pleasure or eternal torment makes no sense whatsoever.

I am an apostate. I am a de-convert. I am an ex-Christian. Call me what you will, but I am not who I used to be.