More often than not I’ve seen a recurring narrative among the deconverted regarding a severe lack of critical examination. Should we strive to avoid testing our faith, or would doing so make it all the more secure?
Countless articles and books detailing testimonies of deconversion have surfaced since the publication of Dawkin’s The God Delusion. Despite expecting a diverse array of stories and personal journeys, many of these testimonies are often so similar to one another you could hardly tell a book by John Loftus or Dan Barker apart if not for their names on the covers. Tekton TV made note of the recurring arguments and complaints in his hilarious parody of a cooking show.
Read any number of published biographies and it becomes clear that the people who wrote them never once tested their faith. They either clung to doubt that developed slowly over time or else dived head first at the first claim of a Biblical contradiction. Both parties are guilty of avoiding any serious critical examination in their early stages, but a good amount of guilt is to be shouldered by the fundamentalists they were surrounded by.
Critical examination is quite taboo in mainstream Christian circles. We’re taught not to question the pastor or anything the Bible tells us. Any issues we find are to be swept under the rug of faith, never to be brought out into the light for fear of unbelief. We’re told that doubt was a sin before we even had a chance to look for an answer. It’s little wonder then that we see these deconversion stories place so much blame on Christians. Yet that’s only half the problem. Non-believers who deconvert don’t truly de-convert. Time and time again they see things the same way a fundamentalist Christian sees them. Prayer? It was a magic request to get anything we desired. Hermeneutics? Everything was the literal Word of God meant for you personally. This is why they’re known as fundy atheists in apologetic circles. The only change we see is an outrage.
Is it right to taboo critical thinking towards Christianity? As we’ll see, it’s absolutely not. There’s a vast amount of Biblical evidence to suggest that honest questions and doubts are to be celebrated. It has been noted many times over that Biblical faith is the act of trusting in something we already know to be true, so doubt, in the sense of something sinful, would be denying or turning away from what we know to be true. It’s what the critics ironically call “faith,” choosing to believe something despite the evidence.
So what of honest questions? Let’s take a look at some Biblical evidence where God honours such doubts.
Genesis 15 finds Abraham asking, “….how will I KNOW that this future will happen?” God responds by making a legal covenant, a lawful promise that God cannot break. We see no rebuke here.
God commands a strict prophetic test in Deuteronomy 18 regarding false prophets and teachers,
“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
The Lord made clear that prophecies were to be evidence based. If a prophet ever got something wrong he was not to be seen as a prophet of God.
In Joshua three, we see Joshua setting up miraculous criteria in advance for assuring that God was among the Israelites as they carried the Ark of the Covenant. Again, we see an evidence-based response to doubt.
When John the Baptist sends his disciples to determine if Jesus really was the messiah, Jesus responded by pointing to the miracles He had performed in messianic context i.e. by pointing to His recreation of OT events. John never got a rebuke.
Consider also Thomas’s request to see and touch Jesus after the Resurrection. We see Jesus allowing Him to touch His hands and His side as opposed to rebuking his doubt.
There are many other examples of evidence-based tests and answers throughout the Bible. We simply have no ground to refuse or shrug off honest skepticism. There are doubts we’ve all struggled with. It would be dishonest of me to say I’m no longer wrestling with doubts or questions.
Turning back to our examination of atheist biographies, it’s clear this avoidance of critical thinking is lacking here too. How can I say that when their entire movement is said to be founded on logic and reason? For the sole reason that we never see the struggle. Although I tend to avoid lack of belief definitions for atheism as I feel it’s entirely irrelevant, there’s a good amount of truth to their claim. Why wrestle with doubt if we can sweep it under the rug and treat it as taboo? If an atheist doubts his stance after reading an answer either a scholar or apologist has given, shame on him. He isn’t meant to be questioning his atheism, he’s meant to be questioning the Christians. Atheism is not something that can be questioned or critically examined. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.
The bottom line is everyone struggles with some kind of doubt. To deny that is to deny thought itself. Claiming the lack of belief is nothing but an easy way to keep doubt from the spotlight. We see the entire fruit basket of fundamentalism carried over to these biographies and deconversion narratives. All this is to highlight the importance of sound teaching within the church. There are good answers out there that easily satisfy our intellectual need, and even if there are some we haven’t found yet, that’s ok. I don’t have the answer to everything and I doubt I ever will. But I’m doing my best, and I should be ashamed if I’m doing anything less. To the question below, we should all strive to make the answer a confident “Yes!”
“….when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)