Satan’s Fork

It’s pretty much a given that whenever someone leaves the church, Christians look for reasons why, often finding ways to blame or discredit that person, much like the tendency to say that atheists believe in God really, they’re just rebelling against Him. That’s bad in itself – in fact, it’s shocking – but I’ve been thinking about this and anticipating the sort of things people will say to/about me, and I suddenly realised something.

If you leave the church in difficult circumstances, like a bereavement or hardship, it’s common for people to say that you’re blaming God for your troubles. Maybe that’s fair enough, although given that it’s intended as a criticism it would be better if the people saying it had a decent answer to the problem of evil, but what about the alternatives?

When I was a young, enthusiastic evangelical at university, it was very common to talk of people rejecting God because they were comfortable, well-off and had no need of Him, maybe because it’s something students rarely have to worry about. That made perfect sense to me, just as it made sense to say that people rejected God because of loss, suffering or some other difficulty. But I never connected those beliefs or noticed anything wrong with them.

Morton’s Plastic Spork never quite achieved the same level of fame

You’ll have noticed that it’s possible to disregard anyone by this method. As with Morton’s Fork, you’re damned either way, literally in this case. Either you’re acting like a spoilt child because you didn’t get your own way, or you’re running away in case God (it’s never just the church’s own idiosyncratic opinion) tells you to live a less comfortable life. If necessary, you can safely be dismissed as having selfish personal reasons, whatever your situation.

That’s just a single issue, and there are other things which are said (often quietly, in sorrow, or for prayer) about people who leave the faith, possibly to maintain the fiction that anyone who examines the evidence objectively will obviously be a Christian. But I find the contrast between the extremes and the similarity of the reaction particularly revealing in this case.

It would be nice if the church showed an interest in why people really leave, instead of searching for reasons why their departure is a reflection on them rather than the church. Some do, including my current (ex?) church, but not all that many. I was never an extremist or fundamentalist, but not so long ago, I’d have gladly criticised people leaving the church for one or other of these reasons.

I can’t imagine it’s easy when someone you know and like leaves the church, but from either a Christian or simply a human perspective, I don’t like the way understandable disappointment and possible confusion can be turned into personal criticism.

So when someone criticises an ex-church member, ask yourself why the criticism was necessary, and whether it has any validity. I suspect that in many cases, it’s a reflex action to look for reasons why someone left the church as a sort of defence mechanism against things that have the capacity to cause doubts.

Photo by L.Marie, used under Attribution License


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

9 responses to “Satan’s Fork”

  1. jonnyscaramanga says :

    Similar to my post on the war on reason, this is a situation where the Christian reasoning leaves no valid option for someone wanting to leave (or not start attending) church. I can’t imagine any circumstances under which believers would say, “He’s left the faith for completely valid reasons.” And that’s understandable, because they’re looking to defend their own faith. People get support for their beliefs by hanging around with other people who believe the same, and if someone rejects that, it’s threatening.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I’ve got to question that. A lot of the time there’s that reaction, sure – that’s why I wrote this. It’s certainly true at the conservative end of the spectrum, but I’ve walked away from my shack without much difficulty, and my vicar (who, as I said, is a great guy) entirely understands my position. Or at least, he says he does. I suppose I can’t be absolutely certain that he isn’t lying.

      Credit where credit’s due – it was a very easy church to leave. That would horrify a lot of people, but I think it’s great.

  2. Heretic Husband says :

    My former pastor once said that people who leave Christianity usually leave because, essentially, they want to sin and don’t want to hear that it’s wrong (i.e they want to have an affair or something).

    Right. Because no one has EVER had a logical objection to Christianity…

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      That’s it – the common idea that if you were just completely honest with yourself, you’d realise it all makes sense.

      At least he said “usually” – be grateful for small mercies.

      • Joan Bailey says :

        Jonnyscaramanga: to state:

        ‘I can’t imagine any circumstances under which believers would say, “He’s left the faith for completely valid reasons.” And that’s understandable, because they’re looking to defend their own faith. People get support for their beliefs by hanging around with other people who believe the same, and if someone rejects that, it’s threatening.’

        seems to me to be something of a failure of the imagination.

        Of course it is possible for Christians to accept that people leave Christianity for valid reasons. Even if they think differently. Your statement that this could never be the case seems symptomatic of a mindset which finds it comfortable to paint every Christian as a narrow evangelical or a poor wee saddo who requires the support of a group at every turn and is rude and dismissive of other’s genuine opinions when they differ from theirs. Of course, members of a Christian fellowship who lost a member, would miss the fellowship of that person but for you to state categorically that not one of them would feel the decision to leave was valid seems gross.

        It’s completely clear to me, as a Christian, from reading this blog why RA has to move away from the church, Maybe it’s time to re-imagine your narrow stereotypical views of how every Christian thinks, If being a Christian was all about defending one’s position, I’d have ceased to be one years ago. I thought it a lot more to do with loving God and respecting and supporting one’s ‘neighbours’ in a way one would expect to be supported oneself.

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        Having already challenged Jonny on his claim, I think I should stick up for him at this point. His experience of Christianity is very strongly weighted towards the extreme fundamentalist end of the spectrum, at least if his excellent blog’s anything to go by. In that context, it’s hardly surprising if his expectations are that Christians will have very rigid, defensive positions when they encounter any sort of challenge.

        There’s a difficulty in knowing how to make statements about others’ beliefs, as I’ve said in some of my recent posts, but there’s also the question of exposure. If you haven’t had any serious contact with moderate or liberal Christians, the volume of noise from the conservative wing will convince you that they all think like this.

        Let’s not turn this into a personal argument, but simply say that his experience may be rather one-dimensional. Jonny, would you agree with this?

      • Joan Barleycorn says :

        Apologies if I got a bit fired up. I just think faith has to be meaningful and deeply felt, though not necessarily literal. If it ceases to be so and can no longer be accepted as having authenticity on any level then how can an individual hang on to it? I do realise that fundies of the ‘God Channel’ persuasion wouldn’t agree with me but please, Jonny, don’t tar us all with the same brush.

  3. Joan Barleycorn says :

    Note: Joan Barleycorn is a user name for Joan Bailey. Different devices (servers) seem to automatically select a different name when I use wordpress. (Just in case of confusion/misunderstanding.)

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