Sunday, December 16, 2012

Losing Faith

Losing faith was a long process.  For 20 years I built a structure with many moving parts.  When combined, the structure could defend itself from any attack - the attack of other religions, of liberals, of abortion lovers, of doubt itself.  This faith that I had, that we as a group of Christians had, was impenetrable.  Within those walls dwelled certainty.  Certainty that we were loved by the creator of everything, that our faith granted us the keys to heaven, and the certainty that everyone else was wrong.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten clarity on why this loss of faith has been so painful for me.  From the beginning of my upbringing in the Baptist church, it was never enough to leave faith alone.  Faith always came with justification.  Everything we believed came with a reason why it was true.  Whether it be believing in creation (we can prove this through science!), the flood (science again), the life of Jesus (there are x number of manuscripts from the Bible, which is waaaaay more than any other book), etc.. it wasn’t ever just about believing these things were true.  It was about KNOWING they were true.  People like Josh McDowell and Randy Alcorn wrote books giving kids the “answers” to all the questions they might face from their heathen friends.  I memorized all these answers, forged them with my faith, and proceeded to try to convince the unbelievers that they were wrong.

Faith, by definition, does not involve the known.  It involves the believed, things past the point of evidence and proof.  The parts of my religious experience that I mourn to this day are the parts that truly were faith.  I miss the emotion that comes with believing Jesus was speaking to me directly.  I miss the feeling of purpose that came with an undeniable place in this world.  I miss the connection my relationship with Christ gave me with my mom.  In many ways, I miss Jesus.

By tying rationalization to faith so strongly, the church unknowingly made it quite easy to start tearing down the faith structure.  Once I was smarter than the people leading youth group, and their answers turned to some form of “you just have to have faith,” it wasn’t good enough.  I’d never had to just “have faith” before - there was always a reason to believe.  I didn’t think my faith was built on fairy tales and wishful thinking, I thought it was built on solid evidence, or at least, was more likely to be true than not.  When the evidence I thought was there turned out to be either made-up, driven by bad logic, or intentionally misleading, I took my structure apart, piece by piece, until there was nothing left.

What lingers, what keeps me from being content with the dreary conclusions of atheism are the remnant feelings of true faith that I want to so badly to hang on to.  To feel connected to the creator of everything, to feel like I have a purpose, to feel a guiding hand.  As a father, I feel like I owe it to my daughter to never be content with what I think at any given moment.  Thanks to some indoctrination by her daycare lady, Taylor really wants me to believe in God, and in Jesus.  We’ve been attending a Quaker meeting for a few months, and she enjoys the Sunday school there.  Last week she asked me right after church, “dad, do you believe in Jesus now?”  I told her I don’t, but she can if she wants to.  After all, I know exactly what it feels like.

I discovered an album by one of my favorite musicians, David Bazan.  His path is very similar to mine.  He wrote an album about losing faith, and this song has been with me this week:

In Stitches, by David Bazan

my body bangs and twitches
some brown liquor wets my tongue
my fingers find the stitches
firmly back and forth they run

i need no other memory
of the bits of me i left
when all this lethal drinking
is to hopefully forget
about you

i might as well admit it
like i even have a choice
the crew have killed the captain
but they still can hear his voice

a shadow on the water
a whisper in the wind
on long walks with my daughter
who is lately full of questions
about you

when job asked you question
you responded "who are you
to challenge your creator?"
well if that one part is true

it makes you sound defensive
like you had not thought it through
enough to have an answer
like you might have bit off
more than you could chew


  1. Hi Ryan,
    I've likewise had trouble reconciling any non-rational forms of knowing (eg. non-scientific) with rational knowledge. It's really hard to believe that both ways of knowing exist, separate from the other, or that a single brain could effectively use both ways of knowing without exploding, or at least sounding fickle and wacky.

    Like you, I explored mystical elements of this or that religion, looking for--I think--magic. But for every magical discovery, I felt compelled to crosscheck it with my rational brain. I didn't/don't, however, feel the need to crosscheck my rational discoveries with my magical discoveries, and I wish I did. This would allow me to believe that "faith" is more than a compiling of evidence. But, IMO, so far that's all it is.

    For a moment, I thought I could get on board with Derrick Jensen, as he explored alternate ways of knowing (in contrast to science) in pursuit of his "destroy civilization" ambition. (See "A Language Older Than Words," for starters.) I agree with plenty of his conclusions, but still don't see how I can have faith in anything that isn't accompanied by empirical evidence. Sadface.

    Thanks for the blog!

  2. You say that "faith by definition does not involve the known." I think that is a mistake. Faith is based on the known. How do you know your wife will be faithful? She has a track record of being faithful. When she promises something, you believe her. It's not a random choice to believe something unknown. You believe her because you know her character from past experience. I'd say the same thing about the things we are asked to believe in the Bible. God has a track record of faithfulness. We extrapolate.

  3. Thanks for both your comments.

    Re: what Anonymous said - what you're saying seems to be begging the question, in my opinion. Faith is based on a track record, God has a track record, therefore faith is based on that track record. The existence of God is assumed, not shown. Any assumptions I make about my wife's behavior is based on direct experience with her on the same plane of existence. God doesn't have that luxury. To extrapolate anything about God or the Bible, I'd first need to believe he/she/it exists, and the the Bible has anything to do with his/her/its existence. I believe none of these things, so there's little for me to extrapolate without first establishing Gods' existence.

  4. I see your point. If you don't have a starting point of experience with a person or entity, there is nothing to extrapolate from or to. Still, "faith" is often misconstrued to mean believing something with no factual basis. In some of the Psalms, King David is in despair, and he reminds himself of God's works in the past, and on that basis gains courage. Paul encourages Christians to look to the events of Jesus' life (especially the resurrection, which many of them were witness to) as a foundation for confidence in their future. So in these cases, faith is based on fact. But without the foundation of facts or solid belief in facts, faith makes no sense. Right?

  5. Yes, I think that's right. Thanks for reading, aunt Debbie!