Need Some Help on Your Way Out of Faith?

Wise counsel from a former evangelical preacher

It’s a possibility I’ve suggested quite often: Christians exist on a scale. There are the 10’s, those whose commitment to Christ appears utterly unshakable: evangelicals, fundamentalists, determined professional apologists. At the other end, there are those who deserve a rating of 1, the very occasional churchgoers, who are perhaps already at the take-it-or-leave stage. Those who merit a 5 rating are beset by doubts, and can identify with the man conversing with Jesus in Mark 9: “I believe, help my unbelief!” They want to stay on board, but curiosity drives doubts, or they’ve been hit hard by life—so it isn’t easy.


Surveys have shown that Christianity has been losing ground in the last couple of decades. Those who disavow any religious affiliation (the “nones”) have been on the increase. Most of those who have abandoned Christianity are probably from the lower end of the scale (the 1-to-5 ranking), but even among the 10s there are those who have been jarred/shocked out of their faith. Famous examples include John Loftus, Dan Barker, and Tim Sledge, all of whom have authored several books (clicking on their names takes you to their Amazon Author pages) explaining exactly why/how the Christian faith has been falsified: how it fails to make sense. 


Tim Sledge’s newest book has just been released: Leaving Faith: Holding On, Letting Go, Looking Back, Moving Forward. It is Book One in a planned series, Deconversion Survival Guide. This new book

is designed to help folks cope with the intense emotions that can accompany deconversion. Most of the books published by Loftus, Barker, and Sledge invite readers to engage in the complex issues that Christianity presents; they expose the profound incoherencies of Christian theology, e.g., Loftus’ God and Horrendous Suffering, and Barker’s God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction. Sledge’s Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith, provides a detailed description of his adventures within the church that would eventually bring him to make an exit. One of his books qualifies as a slam dunkFour Disturbing Questions with One Simply Answer: Breaking the Spell of Christian Belief. Here he brilliantly exposes four of the most glaring examples of incoherent theology.


But the new book, Leaving Faith, is a different kind of adventure: he presents 100 readings—a page for each—that trace the emotional realities people face as they come to terms with the untruth of the Christian faith so often imposed upon them as children. Sledge had read the whole Bible at age 9, and decided to be a minister when he was 16. 


“I thought I would be a minister until the day I died. But I stopped being a pastor when I was 48. I ended all activity as a Christian speaker and writer at the age of 54. When I walked away from my faith six years later, I had been a Christian for 50 years. I didn’t stop believing because I felt hurt, angry, or discouraged. I stopped believing when I finally scrutinized everything I had read, seen, and experienced and found the evidence for faith unconvincing” Leaving Faith, p. iii.


But the unconvincing nature of faith can take a long time to sink in. As Sledge describes his experiences as a minister in Goodbye Jesus, he admits that he set aside—he developed a technique for ignoring—things that were a threat to his faith:  


“…whenever I saw or experienced something, anything, that I couldn’t explain and that might be a cause for doubting my beliefs, I filed it away—like a legal brief containing evidence that needed to be disproved. I placed it in a back-of-mind mental storage spot for exceptions to the rule of faith. I did not intend to permanently ignore the disturbing evidence I observed. I kept thinking that with more education, more knowledge, and more experience, I would eventually be able to explain each troubling exception” (Goodbye Jesus, Chapter 14).


A mental storage spot for exceptions to the rule of faith. Sledge was smart enough to know that items that threatened faith would have to be dealt with at some point—and he notes quite a few times when he placed items in that mental storage spot. I suspect, however, that most of the faithful can’t be bothered: they shut their eyes and move on—assuming that their trusted clergy would have explanations. A couple of days after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami had killed more than 200,000 people, a devout Christian friend noted how very horrible it was. “Yes,” I responded, “it looks like God overslept again.” There was a look of horrified panic on his face, because obviously he too had wondered how his god could have been so negligent; but he didn’t want a mental storage spot that would require revisiting challenges to his faith. 


But Sledge found it impossible to ignore all those items that had piled up for review later. The readings in Leaving Faith provide insight into what he faced. I’ll quote just a few:


“Leaving faith is something you do but also something that happens to you. It’s about no longer believing a list of propositions, but it also concerns your place in society, your relationships with friends, and possibly your level of connection with family members. Leaving faith impacts your sense of purpose, how you determine your values, and how you view death. No wonder it is so hard to let go.”


“Despite ample capacity for critical thinking, when it came to religious beliefs, my reasoning was constrained by a short leash. Had you asked me if that leash was in place, my answer would have been no. I was under the magic spell of faith.”


“Although reality is not a choice in a cafeteria line, religion makes it easy to treat it that way and to say day-after-day: ‘I’ll have the my-tribe-knows-best, don’t-want-to-look-at-the-evidence casserole.’”


 “When I was a Christian I despised Christopher Hitchens and hated John Lennon’s ‘Imagine There’s No Heaven’ song. Now I’m amazed at the depth of Hitchens’ brilliance and ‘No Hell below us Above us only sky’ rings true. I changed, and as Lennon sang, ‘I’m not the only one.’”    


Indeed, Christopher Hitchens is one of the reasons Sledge isn’t the only one. His 2007 book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, has more than 9,000 reviewer ratings on Amazon, 77% being 5 stars, and still enjoys a high sales ranking. This book provided a big boost to the atheist publishing boom that’s been going strong for a couple of decades now. It should be no surprise that Christianity has been losing ground among those with “ample capacity for critical thinking.” 


A few days ago I came across a December 2022 article by Brandon Flanery on Baptist Global News site: I asked people why they’re leaving Christianity, and here’s what I heard. He had surveyed about 1,200 ex-Christians, and topping the list of reasons for leaving the faith: antagonism toward gay people.  “…they ultimately started doubting Christianity when they were told they couldn’t support their queer friends and family. Unable to rectify their love of LGBTQ people with the church, they chose LGBTQ acceptance.” Gay people have come out of the closet in amazing numbers in the last few decades, and they do not conform at all to the depraved, monster stereotypes that the church has preached.  


The second reason was the behavior of Christians themselves. The article quotes from Sheldon Vanauken’s book, A Severe Mercy:


“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians — when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”


The third reason, which is hardly a surprise, is the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump: “For many respondents, politics is what finally motivated them to leave Christianity. Specifically, many referenced the election of Donald Trump and the support he received from the evangelical community. In fact, the name ‘Trump’ was mentioned 81 times in the survey responses as a key reason someone left Christianity.


This article goes on to describe the rewards for those who leave the church, but it also confirms that there is so much anguish and stress for the folks who—for a variety of reasons—cut the ties with their Christian upbringing. This is precisely what Tim Sledge addresses in Leaving Faith. What comes across especially in this book is Sledge’s empathy for those who finally notice that Christianity fails on so many levels. 


Anyone who picks up the major books by Loftus, Barker, Hitchens, or Sledge knows that they will find much food for thought, requiring substantial study time. Reading Leaving Faith, start to finish, requires a couple of hours at most. But with the benefit of a lot of food for thought, and I’ll wrap up with one of Sledge’s readings, and how true it is! Number 61, titled, Endless Confusion


“Even with three theological degrees, developing a coherent personal theology was like trying to assemble an odd assortment of pieces from different puzzles. I can now admit why this was true. The Bible contains a menagerie of ideas about God, ethics, and life, ensuring endless confusion over right beliefs and actions. The Bible is often self-contradictory, beyond comprehension, and impossible to obey.”





David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 


His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.


The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here

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