How do you tell your Evangelical Relatives that you no longer Believe in God?

Yesterday, I and my family spent the afternoon with some of my evangelical Christian relatives from a distant city whom we had not seen for quite some time.  The last we had spoken I was a “gung-ho” evangelist for conservative Lutheranism, attempting to convert them to the “correct” version of Christianity.  So if the subject of religion/faith came up, how was I going to tell them that I was no longer a conservative Lutheran; a conservative Christian; a Christian…period?

It would be awkward.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might be surprised to learn that I had no interest in bringing up my deconversion from Christianity with these relatives.  I usually love a good debate (argument) over religion or politics, but not with these people.  Not on this subject.  I knew it would hurt them.  I knew that they genuinely care about me and the knowledge that I have “rejected Jesus” would be shocking and painful for them to hear.

Our visit remained off the topic of religion for several hours, but after a pause in the conversation, my cousin asked, “So how are things with your (Lutheran) church?”

There was silence.  I could feel the tension in the air as both my father and my wife cringed and both thought to themselves, “Oh boy, here it comes!”

My father tried to play defense for me and said, “Gary isn’t going to church right now.”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“It’s probably best we don’t talk about it,” I said.

But that answer left too much hanging in the air.  They needed an explanation. 

So I said, “I’m now an agnostic.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“On what basis have you made that decision?”, they politely asked with obvious disappointment in their eyes.

And from there I tried to explain why after over forty years of being a Christian I had “abandoned” Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.  I explained why I had found their evangelicalism, the religion of my childhood, so frustrating and disappointing.  “It is based so much on what one feels,” I said.  “In evangelical churches I was repeatedly told that if I was a true believer I would feel Jesus “move” me, “lead” me, “guide” me.  I would hear an inner voice speak to me.  But I never had the emotional highs that everyone else around me seemed to always be having.  I never heard a voice.   I became tired of the emotional roller-coaster of attempting to feel the presence of Jesus to confirm my eternal security, my salvation, and left evangelicalism.”

“That is why I loved conservative Lutheranism!” I explained.  “My assurance of salvation was no longer dependent on how I felt but upon the objective act of God:  his seal of salvation at my Baptism.  Like Luther, I could look to my baptism as absolute proof of my salvation, not look to how I felt about my faith at the moment!

I was very happy and content as a confessional (conservative) Lutheran. 

But then one day in early 2014, while surfing the internet, I came across the blog of an ex-fundamentalist Baptist pastor who had become an atheist.  I decided that all this man needed was to be pointed to the “correct” version of Christianity (conservative Lutheranism) and then he would abandon atheism and come back to Jesus Christ.  I decided I would bring this “lost sheep” back to Jesus.

Four months later…I was an agnostic.”

“But why?” they said.  “What did this man say that changed your mind?”

I then explained that this atheist ex-preacher had pointed me to the books of NT scholar Bart Ehrman.  “You’ve heard of Bart Ehrman, haven’t you?” I asked.

No.  They had never heard of him.  (Evidence to me that they had never seriously questioned or examined the veracity of their belief system.)

“Well, Bart Ehrman is a former evangelical turned agnostic NT scholar who has written several books on the New Testament.  For instance, in reading his books, I found out that the existing manuscripts of the Bible contain many scribal alterations and additions.  We as evangelicals have been taught that God preserved his Word.  How is it then possible that God allowed his Word, the Bible which we have on our night stands, to contain passages that the original authors never wrote?”

“That is not true!  You need to read _________ and __________ (evangelical) NT scholars and they will give you the correct information!”  they said.  “You shouldn’t just accept the word of a few skeptical scholars.”

“But I have read the books of Christian scholars.  I read the entire 800 plus page book of NT Wright on the Resurrection.  I have read both sides and bottom line the evidence for the pivotal claims of evangelical and conservative Christianity, the inerrancy of the Bible and the historicity of the Resurrection, are based on false assumptions and little if any real evidence.”

“I think the problem is that Lutheranism didn’t teach you correctly about salvation…” interrupted my cousin.

“But I became a Christian when I was still a Baptist/evangelical.  I believed in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and asked him to be the Lord of my life prior to being baptized.  I was born again.  But, now I no longer believe.”

“Then you never truly believed,” responded another cousin.  “It is impossible to be saved and then not believe.  You were either never saved to begin with or one day before you die, you will return to the Faith.”

“But I really did, sincerely and with all my heart, believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, repented of all my sins, and called on Him to be the Lord of my life!” I protested.

“No.  You obviously didn’t really believe,” they agreed.

How do you prove to someone else that you really believed something?  It’s impossible.   (I was back to my original issue with evangelicalism:  The act of salvation is internal and subjective.)

And how could I present to them all the evidence against the veracity of the supernatural claims of Christianity that I had learned over the last two years in one brief conversation?  I couldn’t.  So we agreed to not talk about it further.  We agreed to go back to “pleasantries”.  But the mood had changed.  They told me that they loved me and that they would be praying for me.  I told them that I loved them and that I very much appreciated their concern.

Shortly thereafter, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

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34 thoughts on “How do you tell your Evangelical Relatives that you no longer Believe in God?

  1. Absolutely, Bruce.

    Dear Readers: Bruce is the ex-fundamentalist Baptist pastor turned atheist whom I mention in the above post.

    With the help of Bruce, “DagoodS”, and other online former Christians, I slowly and painfully came to the realization that my cherished conservative Christian belief system is no more true than the stories in a child's fairy tale book. Invisible friends do not exist. Devils do not exist. Gods do not exist. We humans make our own destiny.

    Thanks again, Bruce!

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  2. Hi Gary, the short answer to your question – which I'm sure you know the answer to – is that You can't “prove” to them with any satisfaction, that you were ever “truly” “sincere”. It's effectively a trick question that you can only “win”/prove it if you do exactly what they want – go to church/believe.

    You could always respond with, you'll “believe” when they can prove god exists – as you know, they cannot … no more than you can prove that you were sincere … and around it goes …

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  3. Hi Robert,

    My evangelical family blames my deconversion on Lutheranism. My Lutheran friends and former pastor blame it on evangelicalism/fundamentalism. Catholics I've talked to online blame it on Protestantism and “sola scriptura”. No one ever wants to admit that it is CHRISTIANITY itself that was the cause of my deconversion.

    After looking at my belief system with an open mind, I realized that Christianity itself is a fairy tale. Fairy tales are not real. Virgins are never impregnated by ghosts, even if they are “holy” ghosts. Beings do not walk on water. Three day brain-dead beings do not walk out of their graves, eat broiled fish sandwiches, and later fly off into outer space.

    THAT is why I abandoned my faith.

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  4. You sure didn't know much about the real Christianity. Sounds like you made most of it up, esp about the Lutheran beliefs. Your understanding of it is so poor it is no wonder you feel the way you do. As a side note, you didn't say this but…LCMS does not believe in 'once saved always saved'. They also do not believe baptism is a 'get out hell free' card as you seem to think they do

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  5. Where did I say that Lutherans believe in “OSAS” and that baptism is a “get out of hell free card”??

    Lutheranism teaches that a true believer can lose his salvation by outright rejection of Jesus or by ongoing willful sinning, and, if he/she dies in that state, will be damned to Hell for all eternity.

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  6. Reread my comment Gary. Somehow you have an issue with not understanding stuff. I never said you said Lutherans believe in OSAS did I?? I said “As a side note, you didn't say this but…”. I sure can see why you have had so much trouble with understanding the things of God. Good grief. It was just a comment I made.

    You did say about what you did believe “Like Luther, I could look to my baptism as absolute proof of my salvation, not look to how I felt about my faith at the moment” and I made a comment concerning that. Do you even remember what you write?

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  7. Here are your exact words:

    “As a side note, you didn't say this but…LCMS does not believe in 'once saved always saved'. They also do not believe baptism is a 'get out hell free' card as you seem to think they do.”

    Please point out where I have been wrong about Lutheran teaching.

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  8. Hi Gary,

    Many Christians refuse to admit that there subjective certainty about the existence of God based on a so-called personal experience is not objective(inter subjective testable) evidence for the existence of God. If they would admit this, and that they could be wrong, then why be so shocked by your departure? Can't people change their minds based on evidence?

    I understand why people don't want to come out. They may be afraid that their loved ones, relatives and close friends may reject them. This often occurs. Such ones that quote bible passages to say that you were never genuine need to examine whether their view that the bible is the Word of God has any validity.

    Thanks for this post Gary and your courage.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

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  9. I said you DIDN”T say it. I just made a comment because of what the post said about others commenting to you. But you are so self centered all you can see is yourself.

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  10. You: “They (Lutherans) also do not believe baptism is a 'get out hell free' card as you seem to think they do.”

    Where did I say or infer that Lutherans believe that Baptism is a “get out of Hell free” card (a form of Once Saved, Always Saved)?

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  11. You said it. Whatever. Baptism is not a form of OSAS tho. Your thinking that it is, is what I mean when I say you do not understand what Christianity is. I am done commenting on this. You don't get it and trying to explain to you seems to be hopeless and a waste of time.

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  12. You have been making these same allegations for TWO years, yet you never provide the evidence to back up your allegations.

    You are behaving like a typical cult member.

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  13. I don't convert people. I talk to them, ask questions, suggest books to read. All of us choose certain paths to walk as we journey through this life. Unlike many religious sects, people such as myself do not use coercion (fear) to win people over to our cause. I “preach” open and honest scientific inquiry and intelluctual pursuit, knowing that if people follow this path they will end up exactly where they need to be.

    I would love to talk to you. You can contact me via my blog.

    Bruce

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  14. I would add that I am currently corresponding with several pastors/evangelists/missionaries who are having doubts about Christianity. While I would never seek to convert anyone, I do understand that my writing does influence people, as does my willingness to patiently listen to him.

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  15. You are absolutely correct, Bruce. There is a very big difference between the “evangelism” of atheists/agnostics and that of Christians. We non-theists do not threaten anyone with eternal torture for rejecting our worldview.

    I did not include it in my story above, but I will now. At the end of my conversation with my relatives above, my cousin pointed out the eternal consequences of my rejection of Jesus and that he hoped that before I died I would reconsider my decision.

    That doesn't sound too threatening on the surface, but for anyone raised Christian the message is very clear: If you die without TRULY making Jesus your Lord and Savior, you will suffer unspeakable torment in Hell, forever!

    Christians can talk all day long about their loving, compassionate Savior, but the truth is that their Savior tortures people, forever, for refusing to love him and obey him. No sane, decent parent on the planet would do that to their child.

    If the Christian “Savior” exists, he is a monster; a disgusting, immoral, evil, mass-murdering, monster.

    Thank goodness he does not exist!

    Thank you, Bruce (and DagoodS), for helping me to see that!

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  16. 1) “The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity” by Andreas J. Köstenberger & Michael J. Kruger – https://www.amazon.com/Heresy-Orthodoxy-Contemporary-Understanding-Christianity/dp/1433501430/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471410033&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=orthodoxy+response+bart+ehrman

    2) “Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus'” by Timothy Paul Jones – https://www.amazon.com/Misquoting-Truth-Guide-Fallacies-Ehrmans/dp/0830834478

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  17. Gary and Bruce, I CHALLENGE you to read the two works listed below (Amazon link also included).

    I read Bart D. Ehrman way before he was the darling of the liberals and agnostics. I even have his autograph on one of his books, and started reading his PhD. dissertation made into book for public readership (“Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures”).

    ONE thing that stood out from his writtings is that he is an evangelical Agnostic, and he will only tell you the story on one side of the coin, always bringing up doubting questions, and never letting you on the evidence or thoughts that weaken his doubts.

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  18. I spent most of my life studying theology, including non-Evangelical authors. It's been years since I have read or heard a new argument about the veracity of the Biblical text and the core doctrines of Christianity. Let's assume that Ehrman is wrong about everything. This would in no way affect my decision to deconvert. What Ehrman did was crack open the door for me, allowing me to then critically look at the core beliefs of Christianity. I came to the conclusion that doctrines such as original sin, blood atonement, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence,and the miracles of Jesus — including his resurrection from the dead — cannot be intellectually or rationally sustained. Simply put, Christianity doesn't make sense. Add to this the problem of evil and suffering and the fact that many Christians are assholes, why I can't think of one good reason why I would ever become a Christian again.

    I am not sure what response you thought your “challenge” might bring from me, but I am at a place in life where I think I have thoroughly investigated the claims of Chrstianity. and unless there is some astounding new evidence brought to light in the future, I have no reason/need/desire to pick through the garbage can called Christianty.

    Life is short.

    Bruce

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  19. Hi Inga,

    Thank you for your comment. I would encourage you to read the following books:

    The Gospel of Matthew
    The Gospel of Mark
    The Gospel of Luke
    The Gospel of John

    Specifically, I recommend that you read these four books IN PARALLEL beginning at the point in the story where Jesus enters Jerusalem just prior to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

    I believe that if you read these four books in parallel, the evidence will be overwhelming, that a god had nothing to do with the writing of these books. There are too many discrepancies and downright contradictions to believe that most of the events in this story ever happened.

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  20. @Bruce I'm sorry to hear other Xtian acted as a-holes. I guess the old Adam is a mighty force in some 😉 I am not sure that your tone of “garbage can called Christianity” is helping any.

    For starters, I am not dillusional about the challenge of the two books. They will definitely not change your mind. I found that they were good sources cracking at the foundation of Ehrman/Bauer hypothosis and textual criticism.

    Second, if you challenged Gary to read Ehrman, I owe him, to challenge you, to read the weaknesses in Ehrman's argumentations.

    Cheers from Denmark.

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  21. I have two books by different authors who have tried to harmonize the Scriptures from beginning to end.

    Have you ever heard of the Diatessaron (mid 2nd century) ?

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  22. I am indifferent towards liberal Christianity. However, any form of Christianity that posits everyone is either saves/lost, headed for heaven/hell is psychologically harmful. This kind of thinking is rooted in the false notion that everyone is inherently sinful and I need of fixing. The evil that flows from this kind of thinking is substantial.

    I stand by my garbage can analogy.

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  23. You assume I am unaware of the weaknesses in Ehrman's arguments. Here's what I know. No reputable scholar disagrees with Ehrman's evidence. They object to his conclusions, not his evidence. And they object to his conclusions because accepting them burns EvangelicalChristianity to the ground.

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  24. Christians have been trying to harmonize the gospel since the second century. 1,900 years …and the narratives still contradict each other. There is nothing Christian scholars can say to fix this problem.

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  25. I came from a traditional Southern Baptist home. Grandfather and father served as Chairman of the Deacons. Mother taught Sunday School & other church classes for 65 yrs, and her mother did the same. We went to every church service, visitation, camp meeting, and so forth. Heard and participated in many discussions of what true Christianity was and which among us was or was not likely to be a “real” Christian because of our particular beliefs and/or actions.

    My confusion began when I realized I had been taught the inerrancy of the Bible, yet my devout family members refused to address any questions I had about difficult passages or inconsistencies. I was told to “just to believe because it was the word of God and our puny brains cannot fathom His reasons, His knowledge.” I was told salvation depended on my belief and declaration of my desire to “follow Jesus.” I was also told salvation did not depend on my emotions or feelings, that this was where faith and trust come in. That God is God. Yet a pastor and congregation do everything possible to stir up the feelings of the unconverted. Feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness, and inadequacy.

    Also, I was told not to preach the Gospel message to people straight out of the Bible, but to tell them about my own conversion experience, and what it has “meant” to me. Because if I simply quoted Scripture it would probably turn them away.

    What?

    And from that point I became aware that Christianity has NOT meant anything to me, except as a way to get the approval of my family and friends. The Christian epiphanies or highs were short-lived, but then you had to get back to the realities of everyday life. Like a sexual climax. It carries no guarantees, it doesn’t mean you are loved or cherished, and it is just a biological & biochemical event that stimulates the brain’s pleasure center. It’s nice while it is happening, sure. But to base your whole life on the pursuit of “highs”? That would be unhealthy. Christianity is an untenable and unhealthy way of existence to me.

    I believe many, many practicing Christians just hang in there because it is easier to go along with the party line than to face their peers and say, “Hey, I don’t believe this anymore.” That’s what I’m doing right now, but I am really being false to myself. I’m regurgitating what I’ve heard a million times from other Christians and what I’ve read in the Bible. But I know it’s a lie.

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    1. Wow. What a testimony, my friend.

      Keep investigating. Keep reading. The day will come when you will have the strength and the courage to leave…and never turn back. Just below the surface of Christianity’s attractive veneer of “Jesus loves you and wants to give you a mansion in the sky” is an ugly, fear-based, superstitious belief system.

      Like

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