In all eras of church history there have been defectors from the faith. It was not until recent years, however, that “movements” have become increasingly popular. Nowadays, one can easily find blogs and videos by people who have renounced their Christian faith and are “living it up” in a state of luxurious unbelief. While this may seem shocking to many, one only needs to point back to the New Testament epistles to put it all into perspective. Paul and Peter warned that in the last days (i.e., the days immediately preceding Christ’s second coming) this would all be happening (1 Timothy 4: 1; 2 Peter 2: 1).
I’ve watched a few of these ex-Christian videos, and tried to understand the reasons why people would renounce Christianity. In many cases, I find that they may have over-intellectualized their Christian journey to the point of attrition. If you over-intellectualize anything, even a visit to the barber’s, you are bound run into trouble. One guy was studying to be a pastor, and ended up taking courses in Hebrew, Greek, systematic theology, hermeneutics, etc., but his teachers also slipped in some classes on philosophy, science, etc. Another person just got fed up with what they deemed to be the inconsistencies of Christian teaching. Another had a bad church-experience. And so on, and so forth. What I get from this is that if there is a “reason” for leaving Christianity, there could be a reason for remaining as well. But that’s a remark by the way.
Regardless, the great majority of these folks seem to have a similar background story. They all got bit by the churchianity bug and for a while thought that religion was the best thing since sliced bread. But it couldn’t hold them for long. My question is: was their faith genuine to begin with? Did they really understand the whole significance of Christ’s atoning work on the Cross? Did they perhaps confuse Christianity with churchianity? I can’t get into anyone’s mind and see what their thought processes were. However, I can venture an answer and say that I don’t believe anyone can leave “the faith” after having truly believed. If you leave it, it’s because your faith was never genuine.
That may sound like a generic answer, or even a “cop out,” but I think it hits the mark. One needs the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to believe anyhow. There is a surface-belief that equates to mental assent to propositions laid down. Here I use the term “proposition” in the sense that John Stuart Mill used it. “A proposition [..] is a portion of discourse in which a predicate is affirmed or denied of a subject” (Mill’s System Of Logic). The statement that Christ died on the Cross for our sins and was raised again on the third day, is a proposition. But it’s how one accepts that proposition that determines what kind of faith we are dealing with.
I also developed a hunch that a lot of these ex-Christian folk were leaving in droves because maybe, just maybe.. the world and its ways was too good to resist. I mean, let’s face it. The flesh can prove a very strong incentive against the abstemiousness and moderation of Christianity. It’s like someone on a diet trying to cut back on cookies and junk food when the bag of chips and cookie jar are just a few steps away. No amount of good resolutions will effectively keep them on the wagon unless they experience a radical change in their attitude regarding food in general. Merely assenting to the proposition that junk food is bad for you will not keep your resolutions going strong.
Why anyone should live a clean moral life if there is no God, is a question more fundamental and profound than Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be?” If there is no superior Being to whom I am morally accountable, why can’t I live it up? “If there be no God, what harm is it to party and drink and do drugs and have multiple sex partners? Who am I hurting but myself? True, I may have issues with depression and feel degraded about myself most of the time. But am I really hurting anyone beyond myself? Even if I take it a step further, and only hurt the people who hurt me, I am just exacting justice as it needs to be measured out… right?”
Of course, I would reply that if you are doing all those things then you actually NEED a morally superior being to help you find the right path. For lack of a god, you’d best move to Silicon Valley and hire a certified “Life Coach,” for you can’t go it alone. To think that humanity, with all of its quirks and qualms and abuses has been left in the dark without even a nightlight, is to be the essential pessimist in the equation. When it comes to behavior that we know is wrong, it is no longer a question of mental assent to propositions. It is a matter of internal evidence. It sounds stupid, but we know because we know. If you are thirsty, you grab a glass of water. You don’t need ‘scientific proof’ that water is necessary to maintain life to make you drink it. The proof is your being thirsty enough to crave water.
Christ told the woman of Samaria: “Whoseover drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4: 14). Whereas mankind thinks in terms of physical need, Christ is telling us that He came to fulfill our spiritual needs. Even if the Bible were a mere human writing (as atheists suppose), it presupposes that mankind has spiritual needs that must be met. So the point is clear. Faith-appropriation of Christ’s atoning work on the Cross and His physical bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven fulfill this need. But one must be effectually called of the Father before one can really exercise true faith (cf. John 6: 44, 65). We are not “pulling a fast one” on ex-Christians when we claim that their belief was not genuine. The Bible says so.
The ex-Christian atheist movement is growing because of the way humanity is wired. As often as society re-shuffles its configuration, people re-adjust themselves to new social norms and expectations. It you do away with noise ordinances, people will start blaring their stereos. But that doesn’t mean the ordinances were not right to begin with. Obviously, there is a “monkey see, monkey do” aspect to it as well. “If everyone else is doing it, why can’t I??” It is a very few indeed who pause to think of the path they are going down. Most of the time we just go with the flow or follow the crowd. It takes a brave sort of person to look at where he or she is standing and ask if it is the RIGHT way, no matter what other people may be doing?
The ex-Christian atheists seem to be claiming to have done this. They are claiming to have attained a “higher perspective” and now are free from the shackles that once held them down. Like Francis Bacon said, a little philosophy has inclined their minds to atheism. However, the “depth of philosophy” needed to bring their minds back to religion is lacking. Whether or not we can ever get some of these wanderers back on the right path is not a question to be answered here. The question is, whether the road they are on will get them a better outcome than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?