There is no easy way to say this, so I suppose it would be fairest to simply rip the Band-Aid off. I have lost my faith.
Some friends and family members already know this. A few others seem to suspect such a thing has happened, judging by the occasional probing questions: I still go to church, don’t I? Do I still pray?
When I look up at the night sky, I do think God created this, right?
The honest answer to all of those questions is no. Over the last year or so, my once-bold Christian faith has gradually transformed into cautious skepticism.
Even before I began writing for the Faith Walk column, I already had done away with aspects of my faith that I could not rationalize or saw as immoral, such as biblical infallibility and the doctrine of eternal hell. But I still thought the overarching message of the Bible was true. These were subtle adjustments to the faith that I had grown up in, not seismic shifts.
I can narrow it down to two related issues: the problem of evil and the problem of suffering. In short, after seeing the wickedness of the world, I could no longer justify my belief in God as I knew him. I saw a world where an all-powerful deity allowed widows to starve, children to die of cancer, and innocent God seemed to respond with eerie silence much too often. People do not tolerate authority figures who see evil, can stop it, but then do nothing.
But God seemed to be the exception to this rule. Once I realized that God, supposedly all-powerful, refused to help when he should have been able to, I began to wonder why we cared so much about God when God seemed to care so little about us.
In the words of the oft-quoted Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.”
The idea of a malevolent God seemed silly, and it is something I would rather not consider anyway. That left me with the idea of a feeble God, which I attempted to believe in for some time. It was comforting — even if unhelpful — to believe God wanted to stop all the pain and suffering but couldn’t. But then, to return to the previous quote, “why call him God?”
And so my belief in the God I thought I knew was lost.
“That’s fine,” I can imagine some saying. “But why must you publish it in the paper?” The answer is simple: There are millions of people out there who have also lost their faith. I know several personally.
Many have been shunned by their religious family members. Others are too terrified to even mention that they no longer believe in God and sadly choose to feign belief to pacify others.
My point in writing this has not been to “de-convert” anyone. I have no problem with someone believing — or not believing — whatever they want, so long as no one is being harmed. My point is to raise awareness to the oft-stigmatized fact that people lose their faith all the time. If it can happen to a future pastor who writes in the Faith section, it can happen to anyone willing to examine their doubts. I only ask that my opinions and right to not participate in religion be respected.
Thankfully, my own loss of faith has been well-received so far. No one has threatened hellfire. No one has rudely claimed that my faith “was never real to begin with.” In fact, most have simply been curious and ask sincere questions of me, eager to see my point of view. I ask that others like me be treated with similar kindness.
That can speak louder than even the best of sermons.
Brandon Bender, the last of the 2013-14 class of Faith Walkers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The 2014-15 group of writers will begin next Saturday.