In my experience, there’s one thing that is seldom, if ever, discussed in Evangelical Christian circles: doubt. If mentioned at all, it’s said with a disapproving tone and usually accompanied with a head shake that is supposed to convey genuine sadness and grief over “that poor backslider” who had “such a strong relationship with Jesus”, but usually is just a poor justification for judgement and isolation for those who are either seriously struggling with fundamental beliefs or who have left the faith and are slowly publicizing it to friends, family, and other members of their community. The first time I questioned anything I had been previously taught, I was a 16-year-old junior in high school. The question that burned in my mind all semester was this: “Is the relationship I have with God really mine or am I just blindly following the religion of my parents?” Naturally, more questions followed as I got older. “If the creation story is to be taken literally (as in 7-day, 24-hour periods) then what about dinosaurs and fossils?” “Do people who profess to be Christians still go to Heaven if they abuse other people?” and so on.
In my teenage and college years, I inherently knew that I was not supposed to ask the kinds of questions I was pondering over, for if I did, I would be met with blank stares or worse, dismissal. “Why are you asking me that? Shouldn’t you know the answer, by now? I mean, after all, you have such a strong relationship with God.” What they were really saying with their questions was this: “If you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t have questions or doubts.” That “strong relationship” I supposedly had was demonstrated by passionate worship displays, at least at church, hence their assumptions. Take note: A convincing outward display of worship often masks a troubled and conflicted inner soul. After engaging in religious practice and church routine for so long, it’s hard to decipher what’s genuine or counterfeit and people, I have found, will hold you to your past in unexpected ways.
For example, until mid-April, I had been apart of a Christian group on Facebook that discussed mainly things related to apologetics and defending the faith. One night, I wrote a post in which I expressed serious doubt (I almost didn’t post it because I feared the reaction of the group). A lively discussion ensued afterward, in which most members of the group were helpful, as they were empathetic and tried to understand where I was coming from. One person, in particular, was a rude brute who bluntly stated, to the best of my memory, “If you are doubting whether you believe in God, then you never knew God at all. You need to repent and beg the Father for forgiveness.” I have never wanted to punch someone in the face so much as I did that night. When I woke up the next morning, one of the admins messaged me and told me I was kicked out of the group for lack of belief. My heart was shattered because that was the only place I could ask questions and receive actual answers instead of weak Christian platitudes that serve no purpose than to drive me, and others in the same and similar position, into further doubt and isolation.
Similarly, I recently emailed an old mentor I had back when I attended a Christian university and told her that I was wrestling with God still but was, primarily, an agnostic. Her response saddened and angered me all at once. Here is an excerpt of her words: “You are a cynic because your faith has been by-passed by disappointment and suffering. And then compound cynicism with SELF-PITY and you are laying in the dark pretty hopeless…I sure hope that someday you will put away childish behavior and begin the journey of a consistent, daily growing relationship with Jesus IN HIS WORD!” So, basically, what she told me was to grow a pair of balls because shit happens and life is unfair and to read the Bible because Jesus is awesome. This woman had made a huge impact on me spiritually as a college sophomore but as I read her email yesterday, I wanted nothing more than to cry because she doesn’t understand where I am right now; she’s operating based on who I was and that hurts.
The problem with this type of rhetoric is that it does more harm than good. If a person doubting is classified as “childish behavior” where does that put David, who was “a man after God’s own heart” and writer of many Psalms that start off with “God where are you? Why are you forgetting me?” Where does that theology put Thomas, and hell, even Jesus? It baffles me, truly it does. How do evangelical Christians expect former Christians and nonbelievers to engage them if they can’t even ask questions? Maybe instead of bashing us for asking and doubting, they can come alongside us and be patient as we struggle to figure out our beliefs, regardless if we (re)convert or not.
Thank you for sharing. I recently wrote something about this problem in the church:
It’s not just high school and college kids that are struggling with doubts and questions. What two Christian artists can tell us about the state of the church and Christianity:
John Mark McMillan
This musician, “…has stated in interviews that he had difficulty in finishing his newest, titled Mercury & Lightning, due to a crisis of faith that required him to deconstruct his faith and then reconstruct it.”
In the BadChristian Podcast #304 (found https://soundcloud.com/bcpod): He discussed a period of time when he was questioning God, struggling with faith- faith life crisis, how Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) pressures Christian artists to use specific words, sounds, lyrics in their songs, how to be a popular CCM artist, musician has to remember that people want to hear what they want to hear and they don’t really want to be challenged, how he felt like he had or had to have all the answers to life but now, is more empathetic.
In Podcast #410, he further discusses how doubt can allow one to see yourself in new way and other people too-those who also doubt and are of different beliefs. He explains how now he sees and practices Christianity as a discipline, how every one you meet has something to teach you, how it’s okay to not have all answers and to not know everything about God or life.
Michael Gungor and his wife Lisa have discussed their spiritual doubts and journey and how their church (and many Christians) have reacted.
In the interview, The Evolving Faith of Lisa Gungor by Tyler Huckabee, Lisa says: ‘“We went to this very wild, charismatic church, and the church was exciting and the way of Jesus was revolutionary to me. And I had little questions, but you weren’t really allowed to ask them.”
And for a long time, that didn’t bother her. Or at the very least, she didn’t know it bothered her. But not long after she and her now-husband started dating, the questions became harder for either of them to ignore.
“I think when we’re not allowed to ask these questions it creates this tension in our faith,” she says. “When you finally are able to ask them, it collapses. Our whole lives revolved around [Christianity]. And it was wonderful that as we began to travel more, those questions that we both had from a young age just kept gnawing at us, and we started digging to the bottom of them. In the tribe we were born into, these questions weren’t really allowed. Doubt was the opposition of faith. And so [if you doubt], you’re seen as a bad person. So, I felt like I was a bad person for questioning. That made this perspective shift really difficult and painful. We ended up getting kicked out of the ‘Church’ for some of the beliefs that we had.”’ (https://relevantmagazine.com/issues/issue-94/the-evolving-faith-of-lisa-gungor)
See also: https://relevantmagazine.com/current/why-are-people-so-upset-about-what-gungor-said; https://relevantmagazine.com/issues/issue-94/the-evolving-faith-of-lisa-gungor/; BadChristian Podcast # 26, 110, 262, 301 at https://soundcloud.com/bcpod; https://world.wng.org/2014/08/gungor_drifts_from_biblical_orthodoxy; https://www-christianpost-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.christianpost.com/amp/gungor-i-dont-believe-in-god-anymore-227508/?usqp=mq331AQECAFYAQ%3D%3D&_js_v=0.1#referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&_tf=From%20%251%24s
I am convinced that everyone doubts to some extent (Christians and non-Christians) but few actually admit it. Christians; however, seem to be pressured by other Christians and churches to not have any questions or doubts. Many are being told that, “God is good and everything is awesome, so if you don’t believe this all the time, then something is wrong with you. You really don’t believe or you are not mature in your faith like you should be.” And if you do have doubts and questions, then you need to leave the church.
In my experience, metal bands seem more open and willing (and free) to talk about and address these issues and struggles that no one else wants to.
You won’t hear about these issues on pop radio, Christian or secular. Instead, what you will mostly hear is thinks like, “God is good and everything is awesome”. However, for some reason the metal genre tends to address these deeper issues that most Christian bands and churches avoid. Most “Christian” songs and sermons today promote (intentionally or not) that we should just ignore our true feelings .
A lot of Christian music comes off like: “God is good and everything is awesome, so if you don’t believe this all the time, then something is wrong with you. You really don’t believe (are not a Christian) or you are not mature in your faith like you should be.”
Contrast this with bands like Convictions
From an interview: ““We were really drawn to being in a Christian band because we feel there is a message that isn’t being portrayed in the scene. Lots of Christian bands give a message that kind of just preaches to the choir,” says guitarist Josh Canode. “Not that there is anything wrong with that, but we wanted to do something different that everyone can relate to; talk about touchy subjects that Christian bands don’t talk about and show people that they aren’t the only ones who go through really rough issues in life. We are imperfect people, and we want that to show in our music. As a band, we want to be as real and honest as possible, and never fake.” “Through our lyrics you can see it’s not easy. We’re just like everyone else, living in the same kind of world everyone else is but we know through our convictions we can find hope in Jesus.”
I totally feel you. I am in the midst of that. Glad to know I’m not alone
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is a very good post on a frustrating topic. I am often told to “try harder,” or that I’m “giving up too easy.” That after years of sincere Bible study, prayer, and seeking. For years I sincerely believed in everything I was taught and every word of the Bible, and I believed any fault was with me. But I just can’t anymore.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Dave, for your reply. It’s good to know I’m not alone and I’m sorry for the panic attacks. I know they suck.
“Is the relationship I have with God really mine or am I just blindly following the religion of my parents?”… I took pause at that because I remember feeling this way many years ago.
I also questioned many things religious when I was younger. “The Lord Works In Mysterious ways”, “Only God Knows”, “God has other plans…”, I seem to remember once my mother told me to talk to a priest 🙂 While I was on the fence, a friend made comments about an atheist friend of mine which made me pause to wonder why this religious friend of mine had an issue with someone who had a different belief. On a similar note, I seem to remember my mom being very adamant near my “Confirmation” that I had to be a Catholic… she was very flustered when my brother dated a “Jehovah Witness”…and later married her. I was then told I could be any religion but had to have religion.
I honestly think some people just don’t know what to say. or may feel slightly “flustered” when you start questioning what THEY believe. In my life, my transition away from religion has been made difficult by others at times but ultimately it is my conscious that tells me to believe whatever I want. It’s not up to others to make that decision for me.
I read your blog about Panic/Anxiety attacks. It’s been some time since my last but experiencing them was the scariest time of my life. I think my first one was when I was walking at a street fair. I had to find a place to sit down. Someone got me a drink, I felt out of sorts (I thought I was going to pass out, totally unaware it was panic/anxiety). I was at work a few days later, I ate lunch at my desk and suddenly I felt I was outside of myself looking in. I couldn’t swallow the food in my mouth, I kind of… scared? (no sure if that was the right word). I had to have my wife pick me up at work. I know on more than one occasion, my chest hurt. I had a bunch of tests done (Heart Rate Monitor, Stress Tests, Nuclear Stress Test) my Cardiologist couldn’t find any issues. This 70-something year old cardiologist told me I was going to live a long time, lol.
I went to the supermarket one day and started feeling the same way again. Ugh! What is wrong with me! I had to go outside and it seemed to subside. I would walk around my neighborhood and I started feeling this way again! and again! I started wondering whether it was stress? panic? Not too long after, I was at “Target” and I felt it coming on and I decided to walk all around the store until I could defeat it. I really didn’t defeat it but it gave me a sense of control.
I went to my cardiologist and then my regular doctor to report my findings and was placed on an SSRI medication. (Another story for another day) but I just wanted to get through it and I think I started weening myself off after a year of starting the medication.
I still had panic/anxiety from time to time but I learned more about it and accepted the fact that I had to deal with it and worked on ways to take back control when they started. I didn’t call it meditation at the time but that was pretty much what it was. Controlling my breathing and thoughts.
Years later, I still had them occasionally. I could be in my car and this panic would hit me, the scariest times was driving on the Interstate. Once I had to pull over… err, more than once I had to pull over actually. I just had to tell myself it was okay… it’s okay… it’s okay.
While I don’t follow any particular religion, but do enjoy learning the history of religions, I am particularly fond of Buddhist Philosophy. based on my mention above about doing my own ‘meditation’, I started going to Buddhist Meditation and through learning the philosophies.. I’ve really been able to silence that crazy mind of mine 🙂
In religion and in life, you are NOT alone. 🙂
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks for writing this Dylan! I am so sorry, and you are not alone – sadly, many who go through doubt experience similar as you. There is a real problem in conservative Christian culture that this reaction is so common. It reveals something unfortunate about Christians who are so threatened by mere questions. Underneath they must be really insecure in their faith. When I first started blogging 7 years ago, faith and doubt was a focus of my blog. I even named my blog Enough Light from a Blaise Pascal quote – “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” In 2013, I had a 9 part series entitled “Walking away from faith” based on a book. I plan to reblog it sometime, as I am surprised how often I see in my blog stats that someone has read all 9 parts!! This is highly, highly unusual. If you have a 2-part post, most people only read part one! So, people reading all 9 parts shows how concerning this issue is. I love Jude 1:22, which says “be merciful to those who doubt.” Sadly, too many Christians show no mercy. http://biblehub.com/jude/1-22.htm
LikeLiked by 1 person
Dear Dylan, I can certainly relate to your situation. How frustrating it is that people are so afraid to talk about doubt and the fight with unbelief! I read a book that you may like. It’s called From faking it to finding grace, by Connie Cavanaugh. She experienced the dry doubting faith that many of us struggle with but are to afraid to talk about due to the reaction of our christian friends. Think you may like it, if you can order it somewhere.
LikeLiked by 1 person