I read a lot of blogs. Shocking, I know. However, you may be surprised to find a section on my reading list that is quite unlike the rest. This section I have labeled “Anti-theology” (yes, it comes right after the “Theology” section) and it’s filled with sites like exChristian.net, De-Conversion.com, and What God Has Made Crooked.
Why? Because I learned a long time ago that the people worth listening to the most are generally your harshest critics because their criticisms usually contain some bit of truth worth pondering.
However, one of the most recurring themes I’ve run across when listening to and reading “de-conversion testimonies” has been the notion that the person who “de-converted” was, at one time, a “true believer”.
I’ve heard this more times than I can count so, in an effort to consolidate an answer to this oft-used phrase I want to spend some time on the whole notion that someone could be a “true” or “devout” believer in Christ one day (after years, decades in some cases. I’ve even read many testimonies from former deacons, pastors, even apologists!) and a “died again” heathen the next.
So here’s my simple response to those who claim to have been true believers:
No you weren’t.
Lets back up a second and examine why you claim to have been a “true believer” in the first place.
My guess is that your beliefs weren’t based on intellectual conviction of facts. My guess is that they were shaped more by your environment and the influence of those around you more than they were by your sincere efforts to study and understand what Christianity teaches and what the alternatives are (such as the paradox of infinite regression).
Whatever it was, your beliefs probably weren’t based on facts, since facts are required for a belief to have warrant (among a few other factors). In short, this is simply an epistemological issue, not a theological one in the vein of the “no true Scotsman fallacy“.
Oh you can choose to accept or reject Christ all you want. You can even claim to have been a Christian at one point and not at another point. In fact, I claim to have been a proponent of several incompatible religious and philosophical systems at one point or another in my past. I am merely taking exception with your assertion that you were a “true believer” or that “true believers” require blind faith as opposed to evidence1.
For example, you are obviously a “true believer” now in the theory of Darwinian evolution2 and I imagine you base your belief on what you deem as credible facts and evidence, not blind faith.
Some people3 do base their beliefs on blind faith, however we wouldn’t call them “true believers” no matter what they claimed to believe. We may call them fanatics and passionate, but we all know that fanaticism and passion can only get you so far before you are forced to rationalize and harmonize your belief with the rest of your life.
“True belief” requires much more than intense feelings, a deep desire, encouragement from others, a conducive environment, etc. “True belief” can only come from evidence, argument, and clear reasoning on a subject. That’s why “true belief” endures even when everything else (environment, people, etc.) is against it.
Or, as John so eloquently put it:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. -1 John 2:19