Several years ago, when I was still a Christian, I read a blog post about the “once saved, always saved” doctrine of Christianity. As a dutifully active Christian blogger myself, I left a comment with my approval and this sentence: I’m pretty sure in the security of my faith.
Even mere months before my deconversion I was saying similar things, if only to myself. I’ll always be a Christian. There’s nothing that could convince me I’m wrong. It’s too important. We all know how that turned out.
That comment of mine came to my attention again recently when someone happened to “like” it, and then posted a comment in response to someone else who shared their deconversion story on the same article. I find this very amusing, since my comment is undoubtedly seen as the words of a true Christian. So let’s look at how this person who liked my comment responded to a story of leaving Christianity that is quite similar to my own.
First, the ex-Christian said, “I stopped going to church because I didn’t ‘feel’ God inside me and he didn’t seem to listen when I prayed.” The response begins with, “Your religious experience was all self generated as you stated in your autobiography. You yourself stated you didn’t feel God in you and He didn’t seem to answer prayer. You showed no sincere desire to live to please God and the choices you made about church revolved around others and not the truth of the Word of God.” The author of the blog also chimed in, saying things like, “If someone is truly a Christian, they do some serious investigation and research (which isn’t hard to find) and discover that everything you said about God and his word in your comment isn’t true.”
Here’s why I’m writing about this: my own story of deconversion is similar to the story told by the ex-Christian here, except that I did “feel god” and some of my prayers did seem to be listened to. When I set out on a serious search for the truth, I discovered the opposite of what the blog author claimed I would find. I found that the things the ex-Christian in this story said are quite true, and I realized that despite how genuinely I believed, my religious experience was certainly self-generated…as is anyone’s.
So how would these people react to my history of being a Christian according to their own criteria, now that I’ve discovered the religion isn’t true? I’m sure they would come up with some sort of tortuous argument of dismissal and continue to claim I couldn’t have been a real Christian, despite the fact that I had all the experiences and belief and faith that they hold up as evidence of real Christians. After all, the person who liked my comment finished theirs with this: “The fact that you are denying the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ proves that you are an apostate and that you have contrived with your godless mind to repudiate the truth of the Scriptures and the work of God in the hearts and lives of His children. Praise God He is well able to defend us from your pernicious ways and preserve us for all eternity.”
The simple act of deconverting is enough to prove that we were never Christians at all, and that our intention is to harm people–the definition of pernicious. Wonderful. This is why it’s so hard to have reasonable discussions with many religious people. Their supposed proof rests on unsubstantiated claims about the inner thoughts and desires of people they often know almost nothing about.
The “once saved, always saved” doctrine requires such arrogant and hateful dismissal of the experiences of others because that’s the only way to reconcile the existence of people like me with their beliefs. I know this not because I’m making unfounded claims about the motivations of people I don’t know, but because I was once one of them. These Christians have probably never been where I am, because if they were I doubt they would say such stupid things. But I’ve been where they are. I saw the arguments through their eyes for years. I lived it from the inside, and I was completely serious about it.
I was a real Christian. I had all the experiences, all the belief, all the faith, until I embarked on the most honest search for truth that I was capable of. At the beginning of it I had no doubt that I would remain a Christian; I simply wanted to find out which version of Christianity was the most consistent with the evidence. I did not willfully undermine my faith. I was dragged out of it against my will, all the while deeply afraid and fighting to stay.
The simple truth is that I cannot believe lies just because I want to, when I already know they’re false. Maybe some Christians can, and maybe that’s what really makes you a “true Christian”.