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14 Years Of "oops"


Anselan
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I am going to give this anti-testimony in the form of a letter I have drafted (but not yet sent!) to my former Youth Pastor, from many years ago. Please read, and also let me know your thoughts on whether you think it is a good idea for me to actually send him the letter, or whether it would just be cruel/disrespectful.

 

Dear NAMEREMOVED,

 

I hope you won't think it presumptuous of me to write you such a long message as this - out of the blue! - but for some reason I feel compelled to share with you that I have decided to leave Christianity behind for good. I know this is probably not a pleasant thing to discuss, and I don't want to put you in a difficult situation, but for some reason I just feel I need to share it.

 

When I last saw you a few weeks ago, you reminded me of that time we first chatted in your Cortina at the beachfront, so many years ago. What a long way I have come since then! I am sorry you had to deal with such an intense and rather depressed teenager - I probably gave you a hard time. When I signed up for Confirmation classes, as you know I did it because I thought I would put Christianity to the test - and at the time I thought I would be able to reject it for good.

 

What followed, as you know, was a fairly "dramatic" conversion. Although perhaps it was less dramatic than I wanted it to be. Looking back on it all, it is obvious that, being raised in a Christian family, I experienced my early loss of faith as an overwhelmingly negative thing. I had very little contact with any real alternative. I was probably longing to return to the comfort of these beliefs all along.

 

Nicky Gumbel and his apologetics, that did it for me. He made it sound all so clear and reasonable. And so off I went, down the long and winding road…

 

In the years since then, I have been through all sorts of permutations of Christian affiliation and belief. I've been in mainstream "moderate" Christian churches (Methodist, obviously, and also Presbyterian), fundamentalist ones (a brief membership of His People) and evangelical/pentecostal (Assemblies of God in Grahamstown and Joburg, as well as New Frontiers here as well). I have worked on full-time church staffs twice in my life, served "faithfully" in worship teams and media/creative teams, attended and led Bible Studies and Cell Groups, prayed, talked in tongues, read the Bible over and over and read everything I could find to deepen my understanding of this faith. Recently, I ventured into some radically liberal versions of Christianity with the likes of Borg, Crossan and Spong, who pretty much reject all of the supernatural elements of Christianity. Finally, I reached a point where I just didn't think there was anything worth believing at all.

 

I've always had a difficult relationship with the Bible, and ultimately the longer I studied it the less respect I felt for it. I now think of it as a quaint and interesting collection of ancient religious fiction, but I cannot bring myself to treat it much more seriously than that. I've become quite opposed to its outdated morals and its inaccurate portrayals of human nature, too. I feel like I've read too many books that are just better.

 

I've also struggled endlessly with this "relationship" with "God" throughout my Christian life. This is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world (it's what we were "created" for) and yet no other "relationship" in my life has been so fraught with wishful thinking, disillusionment, frustration and doubt. And I just can't reconcile the world I see with the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and all-loving God.

 

Ultimately, I feel so relieved that I can now finally say, with confidence, that I feel no reason to believe in any God at all. This time, it is an immensely liberating realization, although I am also humbled to admit that I was mistaken for so many years, and had often stood in judgement of those who did not believe as I did. The existence of Life itself on the shell of this lovely but isolated planet is a marvelous thing, and that I can share in a part of it for my brief years is a real privilege. Life seems to me bittersweet, it contains immense suffering and sorrow, but it also has so much delight, and I am grateful to be here. What happens after death I do not know, nor, I think, does anyone else. I am sad to leave behind the community of the church, which is the one thing I will probably miss the most, but I feel that ultimately I must only live whatever I feel to be true, even if there are costs to that.

 

Having a child of my own really brought things into sharp focus. I knew that I could not, with a good conscience, lead him to be exposed to beliefs for which there is no evidence. If he wants to become a Christian (or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or whatever) one day, then that is his choice. But I want him to find his own way, and I want him to live free of fear, and free of submission to any authority other than Reason and his own conscience. I cannot speak for anyone else, but for myself I can honestly now say I would have been better off without Christianity.

 

I sincerely, *sincerely*, mean no disrespect whatsoever to what you do as a pastor and minister. You were an enormously positive influence on my life, and I'm sure you continue to do that for others to this day, especially young people. The following is merely my opinion, so please take it as such: I found it was good to have a role model as a young person; it was good to talk about morals and be taught self-discipline; it was good to be provided a positive community; it was good to be encouraged to do good in the world. On the other hand, because of Christianity I believed all sorts of things that are contrary to an intellectually honest description of the world (science, history, psychology, etc.); I felt needless guilt because of the doctrine of Original Sin; my behavior within relationships was frequently clouded because of guilt; I suffered needless "struggles" with "doubt" and "sin"; I was opened up to being led astray by "charismatic" or "wise" "men of God" over and over again; I became judgmental because of the belief that I was "saved" while others were not, no matter how much Grace was used to sugarcoat this belief; and I suffered needless and immature pain wondering why God was "allowing" suffering in my own and others' lives, rather than facing up to reality as it is… And so on. Christianity doesn't usually set out to do this, and of course one can moderate and adapt it endlessly to mitigate these sorts of results, reduce the cognitive dissonance, smooth off the edges of the incoherent beliefs… but I have just found it simpler (and, for me, more honest) to reject it altogether.

 

I do hope we can still remain friends.

 

Regards,

MYREALNAME

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That's pretty heavy. Thanks for sharing and welcome to ex-c! In order to help you answer your question, I have a couple questions for you. How often do you have contact with this person, and do you really want to maintain a relationship with him/her? It seems like you used to be very close but not so much anymore, would that be accurate? Maybe you need to send the letter more for your closure than to address a deep religious topic as one friend to another.

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All that may clear up your reasoning in your own mind, but to send it to a former Christian mentor is to invite debate. I'd just drop it and move on to a normal life and normal friends. You can't possibly have a good reason for leaving the faith in the eyes of a believer.

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If the letter won't cause serious repurcussions and if it makes you feel better to give you a sense of closure, then if it was me I would send it. I can identify with everything you were saying in the letter - I'm sure many people on this forum can. How will the pastor take the letter when he reads it?

 

I quite like Buddha's advice - assuming my reference is correct.

 

"When telling the truth ask yourself 3 questions - Is it kind? Is it necessary? Does it improve upon the silence?"

 

It doesn't necessarily have to satisfy all 3 conditions, just the most important one, I suppose. If something is necessary, it may not be kind. But you've already stated in the letter that you sincerely (x2) mean no disrespect, so I don't think you're being unkind to someone who clearly played an important role in your formative years. You want to honour your past but move on - is that fair to say?

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Thanks, everyone. I really am in two minds about sending it. It felt good to write it, for my own sense of closure perhaps, but I really don't know if it would be helpful, or even right, to actually send it to him. I haven't had much close contact for a long time, although we've kept in touch over the years.

 

I feel sort of bad writing such a thing to a person who earns their living off being a minister and pastor, you know what I mean? Seems cruel, even if what I'm saying is true...

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Thanks, everyone. I really am in two minds about sending it. It felt good to write it, for my own sense of closure perhaps, but I really don't know if it would be helpful, or even right, to actually send it to him. I haven't had much close contact for a long time, although we've kept in touch over the years.

 

I feel sort of bad writing such a thing to a person who earns their living off being a minister and pastor, you know what I mean? Seems cruel, even if what I'm saying is true...

 

Pretty sure he has heard this kind of thing before.

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I read nothing in your letter which was cruel and rather than disrespect, I read a very respectful letter. So I don't think your concern for being neither cruel nor disrespectful should weigh into your decision about whether to send it. I think what should be the deciding factor are your reasons for wanting to send it. If it is for closure, then perhaps just having written it accomplishes that. If you want to send it to let him know that you don't want to hear any of his religious talk anymore, then you may accomplish that or you may accomplish just the opposite - he may feel compelled to contact you to explain how wrong you are. If it is because he meant a lot in your life and you want to be truthful with him and express why you have rejected what he taught you, then consider what is the point of that.

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So at the present time this individual sounds like more of an aquaintenance than a close friend. That being said if you really feel like sending the letter I would, and this is just my opinion, remove all the reasons why you left the faith and just make it a statement that this is what you are doing and you have a clear conscience about it. By adding reasons why you are just adding fuel for debate which you may or may not be ready for.

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So at the present time this individual sounds like more of an aquaintenance than a close friend. That being said if you really feel like sending the letter I would, and this is just my opinion, remove all the reasons why you left the faith and just make it a statement that this is what you are doing and you have a clear conscience about it. By adding reasons why you are just adding fuel for debate which you may or may not be ready for.

 

Heh. Well, I'm more than ready for a debate, but I don't really feel like debating with him. He's not really the debating type, I don't think.

 

Oh well, I enjoyed writing the letter. I can't think of too many good reasons to actually send it to him.

 

Except for the part of me that wonders if he hasn't struggled with doubts of his own. Who hasn't? And it could actually be helpful to him. On the other hand, he will probably see it as a threat, since he earns his livelihood preaching and so on, so...

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Pastors are well versed in all the problems of the bible. Thats how they get around them so easily. You're not going to make him aware of anything he isn't aware of.

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All that may clear up your reasoning in your own mind, but to send it to a former Christian mentor is to invite debate. I'd just drop it and move on to a normal life and normal friends. You can't possibly have a good reason for leaving the faith in the eyes of a believer.

 

This ^^.

 

Your mentor may take this letter as an invitation to do their duty and bring you (harass you) back into their clutches.

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Thanks, everyone. I really am in two minds about sending it. It felt good to write it, for my own sense of closure perhaps, but I really don't know if it would be helpful, or even right, to actually send it to him. I haven't had much close contact for a long time, although we've kept in touch over the years.

 

I feel sort of bad writing such a thing to a person who earns their living off being a minister and pastor, you know what I mean? Seems cruel, even if what I'm saying is true...

 

Sounds like you've made up your mind. Maybe writing the letter was enough?

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Realize that your motivations not to send it sound a little like you are protecting him. You do still care at least a little about what he thinks. As a minister he has heard all this before; it's part of the job.

 

You could send it and then ignore his response, if there is any. That may be the way to go. Or read it after many months have gone by.

 

Now we are all on pins and needles waiting to hear what you decide to do ... :-)

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