by James Buckner
Frequently I receive email messages concerning this web site. Regretably, most are from conservative Christians informing me that I was never a true believer or that I haven't ever read the Bible all the way through or that I never really tried to understand the Bible fairly or that I never really searched for the answers that are out there; or pitying me for having lost sight of the greatest blessing ever given to me, or even gleefully condemning me to an eternity in hell. Some are from Christians and people of other faiths who genuinely respect my struggles and write a kind message wishing me well -- these are like a breath of fresh air.
But many of the messages I receive are from Christians undergoing the same kinds of struggles with their faith that I experienced with mine. They often ask me for advice and resources to help them through their own struggles. Advice I'm hesistant to give -- the best I can do is share my own experience, which is largely contained in this web site, and to tell them how I see things. But I'm not at all hesistant to pass along resources for information. That is what this page is for.
Following you'll find a list of resources that have been most helpful to me in my own struggle, and the ones I believe should be the most insightful for people of evangelical/fundamentalist backgrounds. I have no intention of trying to present a "complete" list, as I wish to keep it concise enough not to be overwhelming. My list assumes that one is willing to read widely and deeply to work through the struggle, and that education is the best way to cope during the long period of anxious transition it takes to regain one's footing while leaving the faith, and so I present materials for self-education.
Some people will need professional help to work through acute emotional trauma associated with leaving their faith or other collateral issues. I am not qualified to counsel people in such situations, and, unfortunately, I do not at this time know of professional help even to recommend. If I find something suitable, I will add a reference to this web site.
I welcome suggestions for other additions to this page. If there is a resource out there that other people have found particularly helpful, I do not want to neglect it.
Furthermore, let me say that this page is not an effort to deconvert faithful believers. I'm putting this page together as a resource for the many people who already find themselves in the throes of a deconversion experience, however they may have come to it. I have no personal stake in the outcome of someone's struggle, and, to be candid, I am rather indifferent to the outcome, whether it be for someone to exit the faith or to return to it. Having said that, it will nevertheless be apparent that the resources I list are one-sided, biased toward leaving the faith. This is partly the result of my own experience of finding material that was meaningful to me during my crisis of faith, and partly because there are many sites on the web devoted to maintaining faith and banishing doubts, and I need not repeat them here.
Finally, I do encourage anyone struggling with their faith to read on both sides of the issue, just as I did. Otherwise there is always a nagging doubt that there is some critical piece of information out there that your reading has not encountered. So, check out the resources on this site that interest you, and check out the resources of Christian apologetic sites as well. If the issue is as important to you as it was to me, you will not want to leave any stone unturned to find answers. I believe that anyone who truly wants to find answers will be able to, and it is through the process of resolving the unresolved issues of faith that one will dissolve away the anxiety of being between worldviews.
Many conservative Christians who find themselves leaving the faith have no idea that there are many other people who share similar experiences and have left the faith before them. It is quite an encouragement to find that there are others in the same predicament, and more than only a few. Here are some internet resources for connecting with other people through an email list, and for reading the experiences of other people who have already traveled this path.
The ex-tian email list
The ex-tian mailing list is an on-line support group for ex-Christians. You will find other people who have recently left Christianity. Many are working through bitter feelings, so sometimes messages can be abbrasive, but it is the best resource on the internet for interacting with other people who have recently lost faith. I am uncertain whether the list is still operated through the Secular Web server that I link to here. If the subscription does not take, then search ex-tian on the Topica email group site, where I know the group is mirrored.
Click on "Websites and testimonies of those who have left the faith" in the frame at left to find stories of people who have left Christianity.
More stories of people who have left the faith.
Stories of fundamentalists who left the faith.
The Ex-Christian Web
Web sites of ex-Christians.
Many times, someone who is doubting the veracity of the conservative Christian faith still has a lingering fear of hell. "After all," someone worries, "what if hell really exists and I'm on my way there?" My recommended approach is to hit the issue head on, and here's how I recommend doing it.
First, read Christendom Astray from the Bible, by Robert Roberts. This book is considered unorthodox or heretical by the mainstream of conservative Christianity, and the group promoting it would be considered a cult by them as well. I personally do not believe or endorse the theology described therein. However, the book makes some astute observations about the interpretation of the Bible, including a criticism of the way the orthodox doctrine of hell is drawn from the biblical texts.
After reading Christendom Astray, then go back and reread the Bible from beginning to end, paying special attention to every passage having anything to do with hell, and the proper interpretation of the passage. I realize my recommendation requires a lot of reading, but, speaking from personal experience, it is worth it. Lingering fears about hell cause much anxiety in people who have recently left the faith. This procedure will cure it. It took me a year to go through this process, but my fear of hell completely disintegrated and it has never returned. It can't return -- I know too much now to take it seriously again.
Among conservative Christians, the Bible is highly reverenced as being the inerrant Word of God, sufficient to lead one to a saving faith in Christ and to guide one's conduct throughout life. Gilded leatherbound editions, perhaps presented as gifts at turning points in one's life, weekly Bible studies in reverent groups, and personal daily devotions to look for God's messages to us, cause the book to take on the characteristics of a religious icon or even a talisman. Even after leaving the faith it is hard to shake the idea, at least on an emotional level, that the Bible is somehow peculiarly worthy of adoration and devotion. The Bible is a worthy book, or more accurately, a collection of books, but not in the same sense as conservative Christians are taught to believe. The idea that it is the very Word of God, inspired word by word and consistent through and through, can hold over after leaving the faith and cause doubt and anxiety.
This may not be troublesome to some people who have left the faith, but for those to whom it is, the only effective way I know of to overcome it is to educate oneself about the absurdities, contradictions, and inconsistencies in the Bible. This may take a little reading, or a lot, depending on how troubling the issue is to someone.
There are many selections to choose from. Unfortunately, there is much bad material available, unconvincing to people trained in evangelical/fundamentalist ways of thinking, as well as good solid material that approaches the subject from a point of view that will be understood from the evangelical/fundamentalist point of view. Here is a selection of reading that speaks powerfully to the evangelical/fundamentalist point of view.
The errancy email list
This email list is devoted solely to exposing the errancy of the Bible through debates with inerrantists. An excellent source for ongoing errancy debates.
The Skeptical Review, edited by Farrell
This is a bimonthly periodical devoted to exposing the errancy of the Bible through articles and debates with inerrantists. This is the best contemporary material I know of on the inerrancy issue.
Is It God's Word? by Joseph Wheless
This is the best, most thorough source I know ennumerating the absurdities, errors, and contradictions in the Bible. But be prepared for a long read, and be ready to cross-reference your Bible to see if what he says is actually there. The Christian apologists have not successfully answered his criticisms, and haven't even attempted to answer many of them.
Christianity, by Joseph Wheless
Another well-researched and impressive work of Joseph Wheless, laying out, by examples and by principles, how much of the Bible, as well as other Christian beliefs and writings, were forged from contemporaneous, uninspired, sources.
The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine
Paine, a deist, and an American patriot who wrote the tract, Common Sense, that created the popular outrage necessary to wage the American Revolution, powerfully exposes the Bible as being incompatible with reasoned living.
Some Mistakes of Moses, by Robert Ingersoll
Ingersoll makes a detailed critique of the pentateuch, pointing out impossibilities and showing that it is absurd to believe that one must accept these scriptures in order to be moral.
Conservative Christianity provides the believer with a coherent worldview through which to understand and interpret the events of life, human history, belief and unbelief, and all manner of conceptualizing. When one loses faith, one suddenly no longer knows how to deal with the world because one no longer knows up from down or left from right or forward from backward. How does one get one's bearings anew?
Depending upon how much of one's worldview was set by one's former faith, it can seem an overwhelming task to get right-side-up again. Every detail of life and activity, science and philosophy has to be reexamined and slotted back into a different compartment, like reorganizing a huge closet.
Again, my recommendation is to tackle the problem directly. If your understanding of the meaning of life and the nature of politics is troubling you, read philosophy. Philosophers have been trying to make sense of the world and of life for many centuries, and they have made quite a lot of progress. Read both the ancient and the modern philosophers, including the ones your conservative Christian leaders shied you away from, such as the secular humanist writers.
If you're troubled by the conservative Christian view of history and feel the need to broaden your views, read history. If you want to learn the aspects of church history your church never mentioned, read Joseph McCabe's The Story of Religious Controversy.
If you don't know how to reconcile evolution with your new view of the world, read enough evolutionary biology to answer your questions. The Talk.Origins Archive is a good place to start.
If you don't know where to turn to satisfy a need for ritual and worship consider reading alternative religions for other views of ultimate things.
If you feel a need to understand what was happening to you in your former faith community, read Robert M. Price's Beyond Born Again, a gentle eye-opener. If you feel bitter and want to commiserate in the company of good reason, read Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, by Dan Barker.
If you find yourself wanting to hang on to Christianity, but you cannot reconcile your thinking to certain articles of faith, then read liberal Christian scholars, such as Robert W. Funk's Honest to Jesus, Burton L. Mack's Who Wrote the New Testament, and John Shelby Spong's Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. The figure of Jesus drawn from a critical examination of the ancient texts is quite attractive, even to an unbeliever like me. Certainly it is possible to admire and reverence the historical Jesus and the religion he stood for -- the man and the religion taught nowadays differ markedly from the genuine article.
Dealing with a believing spouse is by far the most difficult issue of leaving the faith for many people. Unfortunately, I do not know of any resources that address this. My recommendation is to join an e-mail support group for ex-Christians and ask for advice there. Some people may need professional counseling, but even that can be problematic, since there may be a disagreement about whether to see a Christian counselor or a secular counselor.
It is easier to say what not to do rather than what to do. It is usually a bad idea to try to deconvert one's spouse, especially with reasoned arguments. Most people seem to believe for emotional or social reasons, not for rational arguments. Attempts to deconvert will only drive a wedge between the two of you and take you even farther apart.
Probably one of the best ways to approach the situation is to affirm and reaffirm to one's spouse that you yourself are struggling emotionally and socially with the situation, that you have not suddenly become an evil person, but that you are trying to work through this thing that has happened to you. It is probably also a good idea to let your spouse know you do not intend to leave her or him over this issue, but that your desire is to work out ways of handling it without breaking up the marriage or the family. It is also probably a good idea to tell your spouse you do not intend to try to undermine her or his faith, although you will share truthfully the issues you have with the faith as you two have the chance to discuss what has happened.
I believe there will have to be give-and-take on both sides, especially when one spouse is strongly anti-Christian and the other is a strong Christian believer. Neither of you will be entirely satisfied. HOWEVER, I know of many couples who do make their marriage and family work. It can be done.
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