Are You an Ex-Christian?

Whether using the label “Ex-Christian,” “Post-Christian,” “Non-Christian Christian,” “Outsider,” or whatever else, many of us have grown up in Christianity, and have grown tired of it. Maybe we now call ourselves atheist or agnostic, or have just moved over to another religion or non-religion, but my qualifier here is that we once called ourselves Christian and now we don’t, or at least hesitate to. I’d love to know why you don’t.

For me, I am not anti-Christian. But technically I cannot call myself Christian simply because I no longer meet the traditional criteria, which for ages has been disputed but seems to be essentially agreed upon. Some say that a Christian is defined, just as it was in the first century, as simply someone who follows the teachings of Jesus, “The Christ.” Easy enough, right?

Well, that last little part of his name is where things get tricky, and that’s why Christians who try to lure people in with the simple definition are not being honest with themselves and others. Because “the Christ” for most went from simply meaning “anointed one” to “The Messiah” or the only true Son of God by whose name all things in Heaven and Earth are unified and in whose name one must believe in order to obtain eternal life, or for that matter, in order to obtain a truly whole life here on Earth…and the list of associated belief  requirements goes on and on, and I won’t get into the arguments thrown about from each and every perspective on that. But that’s one criterion that has become a sticking point for me, technically speaking…and it’s just one example of some of the things by which most people agree to define a Christian. And most of these things are mentioned in the Christian Creeds, like the 12 doctrinal items of the Apostle’s Creed.

And I have difficulty with these items, so I prefer to call myself agnostic regarding these points. (For more explanation see my FAQ and Definitions pages.)

But rather than wallow in the technical aspects, I want to focus on the fact that, for many who prefer not to call themselves Christian, it’s more of a personal issue…meaning, dealing with people. Some…no, many have been really hurt by those professing to be Christian. Some have been turned off, to put it mildly, by the hypocrisy or other behavioral factors of Christians. Gandhi, for example, said he “would probably be a Christian if [he] had never met one.”

For me, I was the Christian that turned me off. I was the one that “hurt” me. I was the hypocrite. And I did not want to be that anymore.

Of course, I feel that I was not really hypocritical in the typical sense. I was sincere in my faith, and I honestly tried hard to be genuine in the way I lived out my faith (I still do). But the word hypocrite comes from the Greek plays during which the actors wore masks to portray their characters. I look back and see that I was playing a role, (method acting maybe, because I was deeply sincere), and when it came to certain things, I was not being true to myself. And that ended up causing me serious internal, existential conflict.

And I can say that relieving myself of the burden of belief freed me to really pursue God in deep honesty. Today I feel that I am true to myself and true to that “still, small voice” inside me moreso than when I was living the life of a model Christian. And while some areas of my life are definitely not easier, today I am more content and peaceful than I have ever been.

***

I still consider myself a Christian in the sense that I follow the teachings of Jesus, but I also cannot call myself a “Christian” because I do not necessarily believe all the doctrines I’m supposed to. So that makes me an outsider, or, what might be more apt, a “non-Christian Christian.” That’s a term I heard recently by a guy interviewed in the just-published DVB (DVD + book) called The Outsider Interviews, (trailer here) by Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter, and Craig Spinks. The work was inspired by the book UnChristian, by Barna Research Group president David Kinnaman.

A few years ago I reviewed unChristian and was thoroughly pleased. While the Barna Group occasionally has been criticized, David Kinnaman is a good guy and his book, citing numerous statistics from in-depth surveys, really woke up some Christians to the reality that there’s good reason why some people hate them. And Outsider Interviews puts a face to the statistical evidence. It interviews atheists, agnostics, other “outsiders,” as well as young Christians who tend to agree somewhat with outsiders. And while the language is geared toward Christians, the authors have done an impressive job at letting outsiders speak for themselves, unfiltered, about why they don’t want anything to do with Christianity, or at least Christians. So I highly recommend it.

***

Anyway, what’s your story? Are you an ex-Christian? Why?

Or maybe you’d like to be an ex-Christian. Well, consider this your anti-altar call: (cue soft piano…)

With all heads bowed and every eye closed, how many of you tonight would say, “You know, Dave, I wish I could free myself of always trying to believe the right thing, but I’m afraid I’ll go to hell, and I’m afraid I’ll be an outcast.” If that’s you, could you just raise your hand right now? With no one looking around, if that’s you and you’ve raised your hand, I want you to just stand to your feet and don’t be ashamed; be honest with yourself… (Can we play that last song again, Tim? That’s right, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”) Let’s all just sing that right now as we stand together…Join with me… I have spoke with the tongues of angels. I have held the hand of the devil… But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….I believe in the Kingdom come/Then all the colors will bleed into one…But yes I’m still running…You broke the bonds/And you loosed the chains/Carried the cross of my shame/You know I believe it…But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….

As I often say, You are not alone.

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19 Responses

  1. What people think a Christian is and what a Christian is are radically different things. I present the following post as a token of understanding. Though we deal with this subject with words, there is a power beyond words which clarifies the truth.

    http://buttermilk80.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/the-gift-of-god-in-christ-jesus/

    By His Grace.

  2. I’ma christian but not legalistic and there’s the HUGE difference.i grew up studying the bible but at the same time never threw away all my vhs tapes and R movies and my 80’s rock cd’s and vinyl///of course the church calls me a sinner for this.i still read and pray daily and am considered charasmatic or some might say non denominational.i can’t attend church for all the legalism that’s spewed from the pulpit.according to the church.it doesn’t matter how spiritual i am,if i listen to areosmith ona daily basis i’m a target for satan,yada yada yada..legalism makes me sick and maks me wanna pyuke..i’m actually very lonely because any of the friends i had that were christians all became the typical type of legalist..they nly listen to christian music and watch channels like TBN the movies they watch are always religious themed so many of those movies are years old even/.and these are christians in their 30’s and 20’s..all of them have gotten married to people equally as legalistic as THEY are or got married then became legalistic together(nothing like teamwork i guess).in regard to dating,the females in church aren’t interested in me at all as i’m not legalistic.they say i’m not as ‘committed’ as they are.as though being legalsitic makes them more spiritual than i..whata crock..the church has become very much a den of self righteousness..i admit i’m lonely but i know thre’s a god and christ is real.but i just feel like i see things in reality and the legalist bunch are in bondage to the law and don’t even realise it.very sad!btw,long live the 80’s!!it rocks

  3. Where to begin? For starters I was raised in a christian home, but have yet to have any moment in my life where I felt “different” after asking Jesus into my heart. On top of this, I feel like the vast majority of the other youth at my church simply hasn’t seen as much of the goings-on in the world as I have, so they are extremely hard to relate to. In general, I feel like I’m different than the majority of church-goers… I have gone through supposed “phases” where I seeked God, but after looking back I see that I was doing that simply to try and gain approval. I don’t know that I have EVER completely believed in God, which seems to be the issue. While I have survived many crazy experiences throughout my life, I have yet to actually feel God “work” in my life. The pastor, or many christian people will tell you life will be harder after you become a christian because Satan will be making your life harder. I would like to disagree. Your life becomes harder if you are a christian because you become more judgemental and, put quite simply, harder to relate to. A good way to “test” a church is to where an outfit that doesn’t conform to their standards, and see how they react. For example, not long before I simply gave up on christianity I wore a jersey, some jean shorts and some high tops to youth group. Because I am white and went to a conservative church, I got ALOT of “what the hell are you wearing” looks, simpky for wearing what I felt like wearing that day. Needless to say I wasn’t feeling the supposed christian “love”.

  4. I like the handle,”non religious” or “former religious dude” cause i can UFC knock out a bunch of religions at the same time, lol. Although i was catholic, i don’t see many occasions to say i’ m a former catholic, maybe i’ m embarrassed. Hec, coming from a small city of catholic acadiens has made me feel guilt ridden cause of the fact that religion has played so much in the cajun identity. Maybe i’m wrong. With more and more role models in our society having a normal life in america, i’ll feel much more confident to speak about it in unusual settings with Dinosaure attitudes. Salut

  5. I’m grateful for blogs and sites like these. It looks like people are starting to wake up and realize that organized, legalistic religion isn’t working.
    I spent 20 years as a Charismatic Christian, then 10 more years as a bitter disillusioned agnostic.
    Now I choose to simply be a Seeker with my Elder Brother Jesus as my gentle, and patient guide.
    blessed be!

  6. I was 18 years a pentecostal pastor, now I am a practicing agnostic, and professional counselor. I never felt better, and more free.

  7. Ex-Christian? Yes….in deed and in practice. Though I still believe in the “way”, I’m through with the narrow mindedness associated with “Bible believin'” churches. God cannot and must not be thrown into this small box. Jesus was inclusive…while Christians (from my experience) are exclusive. Jesus was God in man. He was saying God is in ALL of us…whether you have said the “sinners prayer” or not.

    So now I spend less time trying to convert people to my religion…and more time honoring the holy one who resides in every person no matter their belief system.

  8. I am an ex-Christian. I used to be only ex-religious, not going to church and differentiating between the Bible’s teachings and Christianity’s teachings. Sadly, after studying the Bible in formal education for many years, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t believe that it is any more divinely inspired than my journal.
    Christianity is a religion. It may be a relationship as well, but it is still a religion. If you don’t want to be associated with Christianity, don’t call yourself a Christian. It’s just confusing.
    I am definitely singing Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For along with you.

  9. I was never a Christian. Neither was Jesus. I only thought I was a Christian. Christianity never tasted good to me but I kept eating it like everyone else. After I puked up all the twists of the Bible and preachers I felt better but I was hungry. I recalled how Jesus went among nature to meditate and commune with the creator. I then went among nature and found what Jesus was trying to tell me; “you don’t need a church or preacher to commune with the creator. The creator is within you.” Now I am whole. Now the light shines. We are all connected.

  10. When I read posts like this it offers me hope and touches me in the deepest part of my soul. Thank you. I, too, am an ‘ex-Christian’ in the sense that you write. I, too, questioned things about my faith and traditions (back in the 70’s and 80’s) and were told that I was “backslidden.” I remember teaching a Sunday School class back in the late 80’s and shared how important I thought transparency was in order to gain intimacy and friendships. And that we as Christians are so busy trying to show we’re spiritual and godly that we stop being real to one another, and, therefore, do not develop real friendships. Then I shared my own doubts about my faith…. only to be nailed to the cross after that, if you know what I mean. Eventually, I came to realize that everything that I loved about me (including my doubts) was everything that the “church” rejected. So I left. And have never returned. Miss the community, corporate worship. But during those times I came across Micah 6:8 and knew that it was all about being just, and merciful, and humility. My journey has been mostly alone, with very few companions along the way, and its been lonely. But then every once in a while… I read a post like this… and I feel hope. So thank you, and keep writing!

  11. This is awesome. Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been really struggling with “post-christianity” for a couple of years now. Too difficult to talk about with family and Christian friends. Thought I was the only one. Glad to see I’m not. I talked with a pastor about it and he just told me I was never a “real” christian if I have doubts and questions about the Bible. Pissed me off and made me feel bad about it at the same time. I’ve come to realize that belief is more about one’s desire to believe than the rational, objective truth of any religion. Lots of confirmation bias going on – http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/

  12. Another thought I’ve had is “What if the answer for me is not to stop calling myself a Christian, simply because of the way people perceive the meaning of that word — and instead intentionally identify myself as a Christian…and live a life that embodies what it ought to mean, so as to change the perception of what it means?” — not to show anyone up, or set myself up as “the right kind of Christian” — that has been part of the problem all along. I’m not sure about labels anyway.

  13. Yeah, I have difficulty labelling myself. “Post christian” is one that I sometimes use. Agnostic is another one.

    For me, I am “ex” christian in the sense that I am ex the church, the christianese way of thinking, the cultural assumptions. I do not necessarily want to be ex God, or even ex Jesus. So ironically, I could be both an ex christian, and a christian. But I never call myself christian, as the word has too much cultural baggage these days, carrying associations of “bigot” and “unthinking” that I just don’t like.

    I’m trying to work it out, partly through my online writing. I also think that it’s a lifelong path, I may change again as I have changed before. And there’s no shame in that.

  14. Good stuff. J & I had a rather intense conversation about this just last night. (I swear you’re reading my mail!)

    If the culmination of all the law & prophets is “love God & love others” and we know the definition of love . . . then everything else we’ve done in the name of Christianity is bondage & legalism. But we say we’ve been set free. It boggles the mind, really.

  15. […] Are You an Ex-Christian? « The Agnostic Pentecostal […]

  16. I was raised catholic and went to catholic schools my whole life (not so much for the religious fact, but for their good education). So ORU was a big shock to me…not only for being “catholic”, but also for being born in Brazil where african religious faith and catholic faith are part of our culture, so religion was never a label.
    In school, religion classes were not based so much on church doctrines but on Jesus teachings (respect, compassion, sharing, forgiving, kind…) so that was always may way to see religion, since I don´t agree with a lot of the church doctrine.
    Hypocrisy, that´s what I saw at ORU and inside the catholic church…I´m not an atheist, but I don´t believe in the Church as an institution, so I don´t know how to call myself…my faith has no labels.
    I met so many ORU friends on facebook, and I was so happy to see many of them get ou of the bubble…they have their own faith based on their own hearts and Consciousness and not because something was imposed to them as a rule they must follow (or else they will go to hell).

    “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”
    Dalai Lama

    “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
    Dalai Lama

    Thanks Dave, for another grat post!

  17. (stands sheepishly, and moves toward the anti-altar up front…)

    Hi Dave. Thanks so much for posting this. I’ve been a non-Christian Christian for a few years now, and the pain is still fresh. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

    Here’s a link to when I “came out”: http://canopenerboy.blogspot.com/2008/02/why-i-might-say-im-not-christian.html

    ~ Keith

  18. Honestly I’m embarrassed by the Standard American Christian (at least in the charismatic, fundamentalist stream), and don’t want to be aligned with that kind of stuff. As a homeschool mom, I’m constantly in contact with small-minded, fear-driven, self-righteous Standard American Christians….I spent a couple years apologizing to non-christians for the stupidity and judgement of the Church. Very freeing.

    I totally resonate with your experience of feeling more peaceful and content on the other side. I’m slowly letting go of the self-hatred and dehumanizing effects the Church taught me to embrace. I only feel a *wee* bit guilty for not taking my boys on Sunday mornings….hoping to tamp that down in this next season of life, perhaps by visiting a ‘peace church’ or the Congregational Church in my town. I do see value in community and ritual that helps disconnect us from the everyday, turn down the ‘me-meter’ a bit, and puts us in touch with a wider world both spiritually and physically.

    I just haven’t found that place yet….not sure it exists in my conservative neck of the woods. Blogs are all well and good, but you can’t bring me a casserole when I’ve had a family puking-fest for a week, KWIM? I’m at a point where I need to find a Christian community where I can love and be loved, serve and be served, without having to sign on a dotted line and plug my ears thru sermons. I can’t afford a country club. 🙂

    peace.

  19. thanks, dave. really good one.

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