Thoughts from a doubting Christadelphian

Dare to doubt
By "Doubter"

John: I thought you might want to publish this. If not, it was still useful writing down the thoughts that have been running through my head for a long time. Yours, "Doubter"

Why I Doubted

This blog seems aimed at intellectuals.  It presents a balanced diet of intellectual reasons for unbelief, counters to intellectual reasons for belief, and good, old-fashioned ridicule.  That was how I interacted with it.
  
When Corky was running it, I used to occasionally stop by and correct bias and misreadings of scripture. John Bedson was the same: one hole, one wrong assumption, and I could dismiss the entire argument without touching my faith. I could have argued the apologetics all day without needing to change my mind.

So what changed?  

I couldn't see God's hand at work in my life. I couldn't feel his presence, and prayer never felt like it got anywhere (not even when asking God to help me to pray). Fellow believers talked about giving a decision "prayerful consideration", and I realised I had no idea what that meant.

When people told me to remember everything God had done for me, I had no specific examples to fall back on. Eventually I gave up private prayer, followed by daily Bible readings.  

Apologetics kept me going, particularly appreciation of the design of the world. But slowly, the doubts increased. I began to see flaws in my arguments, and sense in opposing arguments. 

But those intellectual arguments didn't start the doubt. It was realising I couldn't see and feel an invisible God working in my life like everyone around me could. No amount of intellectual brilliance or knowledge of the Bible could compensate for that.

Family and friends still hold me to the group. In my ecclesia, I am involved in hymns, prayers, and Bible reading. I can even speak if I choose my topic carefully. I may show less enthusiasm and more doubt, but no-one seems to have noticed. 

If I can fake it, how many others are like me? It would be sad if the confident sounding brothers and sisters who drove me to doubt actually struggle with the same hidden doubts.

Maybe abandoning private prayer was the worst thing I could have done.  Maybe if I committed myself to a strong course of prayer, reading, and looking for fulfilled prayer all the right emotions would come back. That has worked in the past, but never for long. 

Intellectual arguments can easily be worked round or ignored. Emotional issues are harder to ignore, and struggling with them reduces the motivation to ignore competing intellectual arguments.

21 comments:

  1. In my opinion people don't convert for intellectual reasons, nor do they deconvert for intellectual reasons. The entire thing is driven purely by emotion. The reasoning for both conversion and deconversion follow the emotional lead.

    Most of our decision making works that way. You purchase a new car, or marry a certain partner or support a certain sports team etc. for mostly emotional reasons.

    Generally speaking, we humans use reason to justify decisions that we have taken for emotional reasons. We are not rational thinkers, mostly we are merely rationalising thinkers. There is a huge difference between the two.

    Rational thinking leads to truth and reality. Rationalising thinking leads to praying to invisible people in the sky and thinking that Putin is going to invade Israel. Rationalising thinking leads to Christadelphianism.

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  2. Doubter writes "how many others are like me?"
    A friend (ex-CD) went to a CD`s funeral recently, and many of the Cd`s there confided that they were "fringe" Cd`s only. Only time will tell whether they "come out", but it seems likely that many will.

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  3. Hi Doubter

    This can be a very disconcerting time to doubt the things that have been taught to you as "truth" for so many years from so many trusted sources.

    Although not Christadelphian, I HIGHLY recommend this series - call From Theism to Atheism by a YouTuber called Evid3nc3. I like the way it carries on a conversation & is non confrontational - very sensitively done. I think it may refer to hell now & then, so ignore those parts - the main thing is that he explained the process he went through - very well produced.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dwno5iettvU

    Kind regards

    Scott

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    1. I eventually got around to watching this. It's certainly interesting, as I find most personal stories are interesting. Also as with other stories, I find there are some things that I strongly identify with, and some things that are completely different from what I've thought and experienced. It takes all sorts to make a world.

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  4. There was a time when I realised that I could not tell the difference between praying and merely talking to myself. I realised that the world looked and worked exactly the same even if there was no one listening. I still looked for answers and convinced myself that events in my life were "providence".

    Then I realised that I was the one choosing which events were "answers from God". I was the one choosing what God was apparently telling me through scripture. I was doing the whole thing. I couldn't tell the difference between God really working in my life, and me just selectively interpreting events and messages as "God working in my life". Perhaps there was no difference.

    If I was the one who ultimately decided which bits were "God speaking to me" and if I was the one who ultimately interpreted "what God was trying to tell me", then how could I know I wasn't just fooling myself?

    The answer: I couldn't.

    Every time I prayed after that, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was just talking to myself. Over time, I came to see that that was very likely all that was going on. Then I began to see that all of the things in the world that I had previously attributed to God made just as much sense without a god. The attribution was again just me making assumptions about the world.

    People told me "that's why you need faith", and they quoted Heb 11:6 to me.

    But then I wondered "what is faith and why is it so important?". If there was no evidence, and if there was no way to know, then how was this faith distinguishable from self-deception?

    It wasn't long before I discovered the answer.

    It isn't.

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  5. Doubter: At some stage in your deconversion you are going to have to face up the the issue of intellectual honesty. Are you being honest with your fellow Christadelphians and family giving Christadelphian talks when you have serious doubts about God, the Bible and the BASF?

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  6. Hi Doubter. I managed to fake it for some years. It was probably easier for me being female, also I was able to be myself at home as my husband isn't CD. I could've probably carried on indefinitely but I quite suddenly found that I just felt too ridiculous pretending and too irritated by everyone else who were just carrying on, not questioning the faith and pushing it onto their children. Also I had a sneaking feeling that I wasn't the only one to feel like this. I thought if I left maybe it would give others the confidence to.
    I can't say it was easy leaving. I know it upset a lot of people including family members, but l can't understate how liberating and life changing it has been for me. It is great to develop my own ideas and opinions on things and take part in things like voting and campaigning. I feel like I have only just started my life.
    The problem with Christadelphia is that it's an all or nothing religion. There is no way that you can question or debate things honestly and openly. You either accept all of it or you have to leave. Better to do it on your terms than theirs.

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  7. It seems to me that "Doubter" has already become an Ex-Cristadelphian. He has realised that there is no "God" working in his life. Sooner or later that dawns on most of us. It is no surprise that his brethren and sisters have not notice. As long as he keeps his head down, and goes through the motions, they will be fine with that. I would ask him to look to himself and ask, why oh why, am I standing up and telling lies for something I do not believe in? That is what Christadelphian fear is making him do. Lie to himself and his family.
    Faking it is easy. A brother I once knew closely was up there on the platform with Paul Billington, spouting his prophetic wisdom just weeks before he left his wife and child for his lover, he was as full of crap as ever while doing the dirty on his closest family, let alone lying to his audience, he had been faking for YEARS.

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  8. The pressure to conform and avoid upsetting your family and friends is a very powerful form of control over the waverers. I know of at least three CDs who are merely going through the motions, in order to avoid rocking the boat and losing their circle of friends and social life. I spoke to one very recently who told me that it was much easier to go along with the madness than it was to leave and upset their spouse and children who are all committed to the ecclesia.

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  9. Thanks for the comments, recommendations, and links. I’m sure there are other doubters round, but none have confided in me – maybe my shield is too good for them to trust me. That would also be sad.

    This article was written at a particular time with a particular goal (“It’s not all about intellectual understanding”). The “where I’m at now” was an after-thought and I’m sure it will change in future. But as it is a journey that has taken years I don’t expect any final step to be taken in days.

    Re intellectual honesty / telling lies: I think about those things frequently. I do think there’s a difference between having doubts about the religion and having moral failings, though there may be parallels in living a lie. I still feel I have a lot in common with other Christadelphians, so it’s not a complete deception. There are also times when I genuinely believe what I’m saying, even if I look back later and think “What did I just say?” Much of the culture is ingrained in me and comes out in the most unexpected ways.

    Geri, for me sometimes work is a haven. It’s a long time since I tried to convert any of my co-workers (not that I was good at it). They are happy with me being a friendly, reliable person, not a religious nut.

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  10. I claim this as mine. I wanted to keep it separate from "Jakarta Jack" so I could keep that voice positive and so the discussion could be about my thoughts rather than who the writer was. However, as it turned out, just having forced myself to put the thoughts into writing probably made Jakarta Jack more negative as well. Thanks once again for the thoughts here.

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    1. Given your constructive criticism of the typical approach used by this website, do you have any suggestions for how to better reach believers who might be looking for answers?

      I realise that everyone is different and any attempt to deconvert people via a medium like this will probably be futile because that's not how beliefs work, and that's not how deconversion works.

      But still I wonder if there's anything that would be worthwhile for a medium like this. It's certainly beneficial to give the more curious Christadelphians a glimpse at some other views and hopefully a window into a wider world beyond their community, but I think the general tone of this website has been its main drawback, and I include myself in that criticism. It's actually really difficult to have constructive and perhaps even mutually informative discussions with people who hold different views on religion etc. However I think it's worth trying.

      Personally I don't see myself as trying to destroy people's faith. Deconversion is a path to greater freedom. I also see a lot of benefit in encouraging critical thinking. But that's difficult to do in practice.

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  11. Steve,
    I realise your "do you have any suggestions" was primarily for JJ to reply. So please forgive me for putting in my two-pennyworth.
    As this is an EX-Christadelphian site, any curious Christadelphians dropping in should be able to read and understand what Ex-Christadelphians think now, the thought paths they have taken to get to being Ex-Christadelphian, and any replies that Christadelphians have felt they should make in reply.
    Further than that, an ongoing rummage amongst the glaring (to us Ex-Christadelphians) biblical errors and areas of doubtful meaning might be useful to air to provoke discussion and to provoke those Christadelphians who are having honest doubts about their beliefs to give serious examination to the computer software in their brains, which was possibly installed from their early years and then reinforced through childhood and continued as they grew older, which may need to be updated.
    I don`t think that the main purpose of this blog should be to deconvert Christadelphians. That has to come from within a Christadelphian, not from an external harangue.

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  12. It's a good question, and I don't think there is a lot that can be done. I don't think this site can provide deconversions on demand, nor should it: that's a personal thing. There are various aspects of my journey and things that I learned that I would like to write down and share at some point. Some have already been shared in this post and in various comments over the years. But I can't imagine they will have any influence except on people who have already taken some of the steps I took.

    In principle, people should be able to look at the facts and come to conclusions just based on the facts. In practice, as we know, this doesn't really happen. The pre-conceptions we approach a discussion with really affect the outcome. Simple pre-conceptions like "God exists", "The Bible is an accurate record of his message", and "There aren't really contradictions in the Bible - they just show we need to work harder to understand it". Or on the other side "If God exists, we should see some evidence" and "If the Bible was written by humans it probably contains errors, and could well contain contradictions". What changed for me was that I suddenly realised there might be problems with my pre-conceptions, and then slowly started questioning them (I still catch myself making snap judgements based on pre-conceptions that I then realise are inconsistent). The sudden realisation was not caused by this site, and I'm not sure it can be. The slow questioning of them was helped by articles and discussions on this site, on Steve's site, and reading a number of other books and sources. But before all that, I had to be receptive to the fact that I might be wrong and that I did need to investigate further.

    I have said before that one of the key things this site provided me is a place where I felt safe to discuss (semi-)anonymously. That discussion wasn't usually about agreement, but disagreement, and sometimes heated disagreement (a genuine seeker more thin-skinned than me might have left long ago). I think it is only likely to provide discussion like that if there are new articles - the old articles present facts, but do not generally promote discussion. Some of my most interesting times here were when John was very active, and I think at that point I was well into the "not seeing God's hand at work", while still maintaining a fair degree of faith in the Bible and rejecting most arguments here.

    But have I got a magic bullet? No, I don't, and I can't assume my path is typical anyway. If anything, I'd say present the facts (preferably not in a dismissive way), encourage discussion (somehow) and leave God to do the rest. :)

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    1. We are attempting to teach critical thinking skills to superstitious Christadelphian fideists who are in the grip of a group delusion mostly rooted in obsessive and repressive childhood indoctrination. We are trying to connect them with objective reality knowing that if they accept our call they will almost certainly end their family, marital and social structures and end up with many years of emotional trauma and possibly depression.

      Perhaps we should chose an easier task, like flying to the Moon in a spaceship made out of recycled soda bottles?

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    2. I can accept that it's extremely unlikely that I would deconvert anyone. I don't know if I ever visited this site when I was a believer and I doubt it would have changed anything if I did.

      But what really bothers me is how few Christadelphians even see the value in engaging in discussions with those who have left. I can understand them wanting to be respectful and giving people space, but when those like us are reaching out for conversations with them, why are they silent?

      Even when we invite Christadelphians to show us where we've gone wrong, to point out what we might have missed, to help us understand or to see what they see, it just gets completely ignored.

      That leads me to think that either Christadelphians aren't interested in demonstrating to others that their beliefs are true, or they don't have any answers.

      In my offline experience I have found that most Christadelphians prefer not to openly discuss what they believe. I don't know why that is.

      When I set up my blog, I never expected it to become very popular. In fact it has been a lot more popular than I expected. But the thing that still amazes me is that I know Christadelphians are reading my blog (I've had second-hand feedback from various sources), but they won't engage in discussions with me. Perhaps they, like us, feel that there's no point. But I can say that we've all changed our minds on it one more time than many of them have.

      Even if we don't change minds right away, surely the discussion is still valuable, no?

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    3. Steve, I think the answer again is preconceptions. Believers know we've made a mistake somewhere, so the only possible approach is to try and bring us back. Maybe that requires bravery? Or maybe it requires skill and seems ineffective? I know from experience on both sides that it's particularly frustrating when something makes perfect sense to me, but the person I'm talking to starts from such a different starting point that I can't even begin to persuade them.

      However, it might just be an instance of the 1% rule. People who contribute heavily (like you or me) are a very small percentage of the overall population. That's not specific to Christadelphians - it's the internet generally.

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    4. //Steve, I think the answer again is preconceptions. Believers know we've made a mistake somewhere, so the only possible approach is to try and bring us back.//

      But they haven't done even that in my case. When I was disfellowshipped, that was the last I heard from the ABs involved, besides my then-father-in-law, who carried on as if nothing had happened (that sounds bad but it actually made it much easier to maintain the relationship without further complications).

      //the person I'm talking to starts from such a different starting point that I can't even begin to persuade them//

      Isn't that just the start of a separate discussion? Persuasion takes a long time and is a skill in its own right (one I've yet to master), but in the short term it is possible (so I'm told) to have people change their position on a specific thing, or reduce their certainty on a belief they were previously certain about. And as always, the goal is not to do that specifically, but simply to help people to think more critically and reason better. If they can do the same in return, it's a win-win.

      Unfortunately it seems that so few people really value such things, which I find really strange especially in a community that declares that it has "the truth".

      As a Christadelphian I once tried the "you just start with different assumptions" tactic with someone online, and they replied that most of their assumptions are testable and have been tested. In that particular context, I was then given evidence that the various radioactive isotopes decay at a known rate, and that that rate has been constant for at least the past hundred thousand years. That changed my perspective instantly, because suddenly I realised that my accusation of "you just start with different (unfounded) assumptions" was wrong. Maybe I'm weird in that I will change my mind when faced with good evidence. But I think that characteristic in itself provides a better framework for life.

      I guess you could say I believe in belief revision.

      The thing that still puzzles me is what it was that brought about the change in my thinking where I really wanted to know, and I was prepared to risk being wrong in order to determine the truth. Just the mindset that says, "I am not sure my beliefs are in fact true - so how would I go about finding out for sure?" Probably the only major influences I can think of that brought about this change for me were the fact I was getting older and starting to think more seriously about life, and also my job as a software test developer. Thinking of ways to falsify a piece of software is a good way to develop critical thinking skills, and these definitely changed the way I approached other areas of my life as well.

      Put simply, I started to ask a very different set of questions about my belief system. I'm still not entirely certain why.

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    5. Yeah, I had similar times where I realised that things which I had assumed and been told had equivalent explanatory power actually didn't. Common design vs common ancestry being the one that comes most obviously to mind. But, even if you are the type of person who will respond to that, you still need to come into contact with the evidence, and my experience is that that typically won't happen unless you go looking for it. Or at least won't happen in enough areas to make a difference. I came across a few interesting facts by chance years ago, but I filed them away in a "to be investigated later" drawer, because there wasn't enough of them to outweigh my confidence in my existing beliefs or to push me to investigate further. As for what triggered me looking harder at my beliefs, that too is somewhat gradual and hard to know. But for a while not even disbelieving the existence of God was enough to push me into it...

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  13. John,
    just in case we make no difference at all to Christadelphians reading this blog, I`ve started to save up my Soda Bottles.
    Steve,
    //surely the discussion is still valuable,no?//
    Yes.

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