Is it just that I had the wrong image of god?

Atheism, Deconversion, Philosophy

Tripp Fuller, a progressive theologian, recently put into words on the God Debacle an evasive tactic I used to be guilty of and something I have heard over and over again now that I am an atheist.

When talking to non-believers you spend a lot of time distancing yourself from other Christians. “You don’t understand, I am not like the other 99% of Christians. I am different.” * Paraphrased quote

I think Tripp was mocking this position not espousing it. It was a communally self-aware statement so I will not disparage him. But what I used to mean when I said it is “Don’t judge me by all the horrible things other Christians have said. I am different, I know about grace.” I did not want to own the baggage that came with associating with the “cultural” Christianity one sees on TV. I certainly wasn’t a legalistic, moralistic, hell fire and brimstone Christian and I didn’t want to have to defend those who were. “Don’t you want to hear about my version of Christianity?”

Christians tend to slice up the world into smaller and smaller slices. Theists and atheists. Christians and followers of other religions. Protestants and Catholics. Bible believers and liberal theologians. Baptists and Pentecostals. My specific denomination. My specific church. My specific beliefs. I am the 1% remnant who really understands the gospel.

If you ask 100 Christians what Christianity is all about, you will get 100 different answers. There is no arbiter of truth between faith positions. One might say, “the bible is the arbiter.” But Christians are using the same bible and coming up with conflicting belief systems.

Here is a subtler version of the evasion expressed by Andy Stanley while on the Life After God Podcast with Ryan Bell describing having listened to deconversion stories:

I am so glad that you let go of that view of god …

The thing that drove this person away from faith wasn’t even an actual part of the Christian faith.

What he means is the version of god or Christianity someone believed in was incorrect: god as authoritarian, capricious and vindictive. Of course a person would choose not to believe in that god. The implication: “If only they believed in the version of god that I do, they would be spiritually satisfied.”

I am ashamed to say I used to use this tack. A lot. Here is the problem with that argument. I believed in the version of god Andy does. I was a “Grace Junkie.” I wasn’t interested in scaring the hell out of people I wanted to share god’s loving grace. I have read Andy’s books! I could have written similar books with as much passion and conviction. But for one problem. When one takes in the whole bible, not just cherry picking the “good” grace filled parts, the inescapable truth is that the god of the bible is authoritarian, capricious and vindictive. The version of god in the bible when read without grace colored glasses is a monster.

I became an atheist not because I had a terrible image of god and not because of some tragic hurt against me. I became an atheist because as soon as I began to use the same level of scrutiny on my faith (which included reading the bible as whole) as I did with others it did not hold up.

What I have come to understand is that followers of religions do need to own the baggage of their chosen faith. If one’s religious ancient text leads some people to do terrible things to other people one does not get to ignore those parts of the ancient text. There is no arbiter of truth between faith positions because faith positions are not based on evidence. If one’s own sense of ethics prohibits one from accepting the whole of one’s ancient text, then the ancient text and the god(s) it purports should be abandoned.

* I am paraphrasing from memory. My apologies to Tripp. Please correct me if I got this wrong or misrepresented the idea.

5 thoughts on “Is it just that I had the wrong image of god?

  1. Why not interpret the old testament the way God says to do it. As a Christian I believe Jesus was God and he often explained how we should understand the old testament.

    Atheists often say they have read the bible and even know it better than Christians but I almost never hear them mention those parts.


  2. I so get this. I could simply write “ditto” to be honest. Oh that once so self-assured me! I was “born again”, baptised in the Holy Spirit – evidenced by tongues and gifts” at a Word of Faith church – we knew God and His Word – how we KNEW we had the fullness of God! How we pitied everyone else! The euphoria of those days! But of course it was just that – froth, hype, effervescent self-delusion and – yes – deceit. Subsequently – through disillusionment and an early process of re-evaluation of what it meant to be a Christian, to be human – I survived a brief period of legalistic Pentecostalism, on to a L’Abri sort of evangelicalism, to the Baptists, awakening gradually in the process to other expressions of Christianity – to Anglicanism, progressive Christianity, reading Catholic thinkers like Rahner; then Bonhoeffer, and Caputo and Rollins. But all the while this problematic God of the Bible was there – or at least I could feel his absence, a kind of haunting, the smell of that inexplicably volatile and violent tribal god, Yahweh.
    In deconstructing my faith I see I was peeling away masks from the face of God, each time finding a different mask beneath the previous one. Endless layers. The God of Power (of the Faith Movement) was torn away and finally – mask after mask – I found Tillich’s “Ground of Being”. But was I not guilty of what every other Christian was doing – looking for a face of God which I could finally recognise?
    Now I ask myself – who was the Jesus I thought I loved, and whom I thought loved me? Was it all in my imagination, was I deceived by preachers and their scriptures and their god? I think I WAS deceived by Christianity’s promises. Finally – as Peter Rollins describes in The Divine Magician – I discovered there is nothing behind the Temple curtain. An empty room. It’s a devastating discovery – belief is shattered, the shards cut – but less devastating than continuing in an illusion. Still I ask: who was this Jesus I loved, conversed with, prayed to, talked to like a friend, worshiped? This un-resurrected Jew, un-ascended teacher of truth?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s