What it means to be a Christian

 and why I am no longer one

Like many Americans, I was raised as a Christian (specifically, Catholic), but over the past 10 or so years, my doubts grew until I no longer felt that I could honestly call myself a Christian.  If you, like me, have doubts about the religious story you’ve been raised to believe, you may be asking, “When did you decide that you weren’t a Christian anymore?” or “Why would you want to not be one?”

The answer to the first question came to me in church, of all places. At the time, I had many of the usual doubts about the Christian story:

  • “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
  • “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
  • “If God is omnipotent, why does he rely on heaven and hell to get people to behave?  Can’t he just make it happen without the reward/punishment system?”
  • “If God is thought to have made the universe (because something cannot spring out of nothing), how did God spring out of nothing?”
  • “Why should I believe that God created man in his image when we know evolution is true?”
  • “Why should I pray to God if he’s going to do whatever his will is anyway?”
  • “If God has feelings that he cannot control (jealousy, anger, etc.), then is he really omnipotent?”
  • “If God knows all, then doesn’t he already know that I doubt he exists…?”

I was honest with myself about all these doubts, and if there were a God, he would know that I believed there were too many holes in the Christian story for full credible acceptance.  Then it came time during mass to recite the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

one in Being with the Father.

Through Him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation

He came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

For our sake

He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

He suffered, died, and was buried.

On the third day

He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures;

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son

He is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

 Instead of reciting it verbatim like I usually did, I looked at each line carefully, examining and honestly asking myself if this is what I truly believed.  Did I really believe in heaven?  Is there any real evidence for places such as heaven or hell?  Did I literally believe Jesus came down from heaven and was born of a virgin?  Did I really believe that God created man, knowing what I knew about the simple truth of evolution by natural selection?  The honest answer to myself was that I didn’t really believe much of the creed.  I was not being truthful to myself when I spoke the words “We believe.”

 So why did I stop calling myself a Christian?  Well, this creed, in my mind and in the opinion of the church, is exactly what it means to be a Christian.  If you follow this link, it leads to the Vatican’s website with the creed under the heading: “THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH”.  Also, another church website describes the Nicene Creed as “the profession of the Christian Faith common to the Catholic Church, to all the Eastern Churches separated from Rome, and to many of the Protestant denominations today”.  To literally believe this Creed and that the words of the Bible are absolute truth is to profess to be of the Christian faith, and I couldn’t continue saying “We believe” when I honestly knew that I had such doubt.

Many people that were raised Christian, and even some atheists I’ve talked to, will disagree with me on this point.  For example, some will say that one need not agree that the Bible is literally the word of God (“He has spoken through the Prophets”) to be a Christian, you just have to promote peace, like Jesus taught.  You just have to feel love in the world.  You just have to appreciate both the simplicity and complexity in life.  You just have to feel like there is something greater than yourself in this world.  You just have to feel like there is meaning to our lives.

The church disagrees.  Those thoughts do not make one a Christian.  They just make you a hopeful, inspired, good person.  As an atheist, I have all of those thoughts, but obviously I’m not a Christian.

To address the next usual question: “well, why would you want to not be a Christian?”  I don’t get to choose whether the Christian story (or any other religion’s story for that matter) is true, therefore what I want is immaterial.  For more in depth thoughts, I defer to my previous two posts.  On my post on bias, I point out that it is inappropriate to ignore facts such as evolution or to ignore untrue, contradictory, or particularly savage passages in the Bible because you want to believe the Bible is true and you want to be a Christian.

Again, if you’re thinking “Who cares? So I want to be a Christian even though its claims are far-fetched.  I know it’s probably not true, but it just makes me happy, so what’s the harm in that?” I elaborate on that in my first post.

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10 thoughts on “What it means to be a Christian

  1. Gregory Philips says:

    So I am a Christian. I was raised Orthodox (very similar to Catholic) but now I basically consider myself Christian. And being a conservative Christian who takes the Bible literally for the most part (the Bible tends to be literal when it comes to commands and rules but more figurative when it comes to things like prophecy. And I do take the Bible stories of miracles literally).

    The reason I still am a practising Christian is because there were a series of instances and incidents where I have experienced the presence of God in my life. I can talk more about them at another time. But in a nutshell those experiences convinced me of the Presence of God and Jesus. Given those experiences, I am someone who has to take the Bible literally because I believe it is God’s word (written through various authors).

    I doubt I can say anything that would convince you of it otherwise, so I think its simpler if I addressed your questions based on my experiences and faith. If interested will do so sometime.

    • sarchila says:

      Hey Gregory. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’m glad you’re thinking about this, and you’re right. Probably nothing you say would convince me otherwise, but keep in mind, this isn’t about me. I’m not writing these posts to get people to try to convince ME that christianity or islam or zoroastrianism or any other religion is the right religion. I am just trying to provide food for thought so people can ask themselves these questions, and I’m glad you have thought about my points and are able to emphatically answer these questions to yourself. But many others do not ask tough questions of their belief system for fear that they may lose their faith. I am just encouraging them to not stop asking questions.

  2. Ward says:

    I learned from Andy Stanley that people are not Christian because they have all their questions answered. The choice to follow Christ is personal and some questions will not be answered until we see God face to face. But, many people have valid questions and we should do our best to answer them.
    I think you listed some valid questions. I’m no expert but here is my best attempt to answer your questions.

    1. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
    The Bible discusses this topic extensively. Job was the most righteous man on Earth and suffered terribly. Psalm 73 speaks of the struggle of a man who devoted his life to God and experienced pain. Then, He saw the wicked experiencing prosperity. We will not understand God’s ways in this life but Christians choose to trust that He is just and good.
    Christians believe that God sent Jesus to die for our sins because He loved us so. This demonstrates His justness and goodness. As you grow to understand how much God loves us, it is easier to trust His goodness in the midst of trials.

    2. “If God is omnipotent, why does he rely on heaven and hell to get people to behave? Can’t he just make it happen without the reward/punishment system?”
    Once you have children you will reward and punish them because you love them and don’t want them to turn out like brats. Both mice and men are wired to react to reward and punishment. I don’t know why creation is this way instead of another way. In the life of the believer, God uses all things for His purposes and He works in many ways. I don’t really understand why it would be negative for God to reward and punishment.

    3. “If God is thought to have made the universe (because something cannot spring out of nothing), how did God spring out of nothing?”
    God is eternal. The universe is not eternal. Something eternal had to create what is finite. If there is no God then the universe must have come from something else eternal that has not been revealed to us.

    4. “Why should I believe that God created man in his image when we know evolution is true?”
    Evolution began with the belief that there is no God and developed a scientific system too support that belief. Some of the science may be very good and I’m not arguing that everything evolution claims is untrue. I believe God intervened at a point in history and created man in His image. That makes us different from apes and donkeys. Evolution holds that God could not have intervened in the process because it begins with the idea there is no God. That is circular logic.

    5. “Why should I pray to God if he’s going to do whatever his will is anyway?”
    I’m sure some Christians believe this but I have never heard a Christian say that before. I’m a conservative evangelical and a popular saying in my circle is “prayer changes things”. I’ve always believed that if you chose to pray things would be different than if you chose not to pray. I do not see this as a challenge to His sovereignty nor do I believe we can force God to do what we want Him to do.

    6. “If God has feelings that he cannot control (jealousy, anger, etc.), then is he really omnipotent?”
    God righteously feels jealous, angry, etc. but He is not out of control. You were probably thinking of the Hulk. Omnipotent means having unlimited power. The Hulk is strong but luckily he is not omnipotent. Otherwise, the Marvel Universe would have been destroyed in Hulk issue #1.

    7. “If God knows all, then doesn’t he already know that I doubt he exists…?”
    Yes, God knows but He is patient and gracious.

  3. Ward says:

    Interesting article Santiago. I agree that “just feeling love in the world” doesn’t make someone a Christian. However, I don’t think you have to believe every word of the Bible or Nicene Creed to be a Christian (although I do). A Christian must believe and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    A Christian must believe that God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins and that He rose again. If you struggle to believe that Jesus really turned water into wine you can still be a Christian.

    However, just believing the Nicene Creed does not make you a Christian. The demons believe in God –and shudder (James 2:19). You have to believe and accept the gospel. You have to accept that you’re a sinner and accept the pardon for you sins. It is both belief and response to belief that determines who we are.

    I think the Nicene Creed is very beautiful but it is too bad it doesn’t speak of how we should respond to our belief. It would be nice if there was one more paragraph that said something like “because I believe I will love my neighbor.”

    I believe that on Easter almost 2,000 years ago He arose from the grace in victory over sin. Happy Easter! I hope my response has been a blessing to you. God bless you.

    Best Regards,
    Ward

    • sarchila says:

      Hey Ward. Thanks for checking back and commenting! I was finally able to watch that video you posted by Andy Stanley. It was very interesting in that it was a window into the thought process of a believer, and I now better understand where you and a lot of Christians I encounter are coming from. But I would still urge you and others to keep asking tough questions and not let your curiosities and doubts shrink completely. They are very important. I will expound on this more in another post, but the video also made me sad because it was an open admission that doubts and curiosities that could be satisfied by science are placed on the backburner because they shrink and somehow don’t matter anymore when you are in love with God (so to speak). One of the greatest things about the human species is our curiosity for knowledge and understanding. I worry that being “in love with God” kills much of that necessary curiosity to understand the world around us.

      It is also a bit evident in your inaccurate description of evolution. Evolution is a simple and elegant truth of how every species on earth came to be, not just humans. It is not circular logic to believe that it is a likely possibility for how humans came to be. I fear that your hesitation to accept this truth for its own merit stems from an inaccurate portrayal of evolution as trying to support a belief of no God, and a shrinking in your own personal curiosity to gain complete understanding due to your faith.

      • Ward says:

        I agree that curiosity is a great human trait but I feel like my love for God has increased it. Since devoting my life to God, we sold our house and are living off our savings to devote more time to studying as I get my Masters in Media and Communication from Dallas Theological Seminary.

        I’m learning more about how things got to be the way they are (origin), the purpose of creation (meaning) and how to live in response (morality / ethics). I have more passion to know and understand these things since I devoted my life to God so in my life I think it has increased my curiosity.

        I enjoy learning and apologetics which is perhaps why I’ve enjoyed your blog. Although it is true that questions “shrink to the background” in my faith. For me, they are more an enjoyable side hobby to my faith, which is more based on relationship.

      • sarchila says:

        Do you also plan to study the scientific theories about the origin of the earth and theories for how morality could have evolved as an adaptive trait in the human brain? These are some really interesting scientific discussions in which you might be really interested! In my opinion, there’s really nothing more awe-inspiring than studying the science of the brain, space, and other frontiers of human understanding. 🙂

  4. Jamie says:

    Hey Santiago!

    I love that you are writing this blog. I think it is awesome that you’re thinking deeply about your religion and not just claiming to be a Christian to avoid the conversation like I used to do. To me, the stories of the Bible can sound outlandish at times… a talking donkey?

    That being said, I do believe them now. What it took for me was a relationship with Jesus. It started as a prayer that He would help me with my doubt (Mark 9:24), and reveal Himself to me. He got a hold of my heart and I was baptized as a public profession of faith. I read the Bible through chronologically and it was as if I saw it through a whole new lens of understanding (Acts 2:38).

    I agree with you that we should keep asking the tough questions, but I also feel that my faith is at a point now that I believe we will all know the answers to all the tough questions, but not until we see Him face to face because His thoughts are higher than ours (1 Cor 13:12).

    One of the main things that has strengthened my faith is the discovery that God still speaks…and that He would speak to a wretch like me.

    On the subject of shrinking personal curiosity to gain understanding due to faith, I think my desire to gain a complete understanding of creation, intelligent design – science in general – has increased since coming to faith because I see it as a glimpse of His glory, Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Kelvin, Faraday, Newton, Pascal, Descartes, & Galileo are a few of the famous Christian scientists that give me encouragement.

    Please consider praying about your unbelief; asking God to open your eyes and reveal Himself to you (2 Cor 3:15-17). I think it would be key to be open minded if you do pray this prayer – that Jesus could have come to earth, been sacrificed on a cross for our sins, and rose on the third day. I will be praying that He will do this for you.

    Much love, Jamie 🙂

    The verses so you don’t have to look them up…

    Mark 9:24 “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!””

    Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    1 Cor 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

    2 Cor 3:15-17 “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

    • sarchila says:

      Hey Jamie!
      Thanks for writing out the verses, haha. I didn’t have them on hand…

      A couple of comments… As I wrote to Gregory above, I don’t want people to take this blog as a debate between me and the reader (e.g. me telling the reader, “I want you to believe X or Y”), I hope for this blog to spark internal conversations, internal questioning, internal debate. Why do I say I believe? Is it to explain phenomena I don’t yet understand? Is it to be happy? Is it because I feel that it would be bad of me to not believe?

      These are the types of internal questions I hope to promote. I appreciate your call for me to pray about my unbelief because I know you don’t mean ill by it and because you mention that your faith “started as a prayer that He would help me with my doubt”, but that is the exact mentality I wish to avoid: that is, the mentality that unbelief is bad or shameful or something that you need help overcoming. This feels like a subtle way of shaming people into obedience toward religious doctrine, and my goal for the blog is to empower people to realize that their doubt and their questions are not something with which one should “struggle”. They should be embraced. The desire to understand the world around us, understand physics, understand the science of the brain, of emotion, of reward and inspiration, as well as evil and selfishness; this is what set us humans apart from other animals throughout evolution [specifically in our pre-frontal cortex, if we want to get specific about it… 🙂 ]. I wouldn’t want people to feel shameful for that…

      • Jamie says:

        Hey Santiago!

        I do believe that my joy comes from the Lord, but mostly because it has been revealed to me through His grace.

        I’m glad you know that I didn’t mean ill by discussing prayer for unbelief…so sorry if it came across any other way! I think where we differ in opinions is that I believe we do need help overcoming unbelief. I don’t intend to make anyone feel ashamed. It’s God’s job to reveal Himself.

        Enjoying the dialog, Jamie 🙂

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