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.
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.