From Reflections from the Other Side: My reasons for leaving Christianity
The mark of a person’s intellectual honesty is that they actually care about what is true—not what they feel is true or want to be true. I was raised as a Christian, but as I got older, I realized that I had never really questioned my faith. I set out to learn more about the alleged problems with Christianity, and I was astounded by the diversity and depth of the criticisms I found. Because I cared about truth, I didn’t resort to excuses and rationalizing when I reached the conclusion that Christianity is false. I embraced that verdict, and I don’t regret doing so in the least.
I formulated this list of 40 questions in order to express why don’t I think fundamentalist Christianity is a tenable position. It covers four basic topics: introspection, doctrine, errancy and morality. Not all of the questions are meant as direct objections to Christianity: some are meant to encourage critical thought over dogmatic thinking. I urge you to go through and answer them with an open mind—with an attitude that truth is important even if it doesn’t align with your wishes. Even if these questions don’t change your views, I sincerely hope that you will emerge from this experience with a more contemplative, critical approach to your faith.
Part 1: Introspection
1. Your religion makes some truly extraordinary claims about the world. Do you have any strong, verifiable evidence to back them up? If not, why believe?
2. Many adherents of other religions believe just as strongly as you do. They may even cite many of the same reasons for belief that you do, and cite reasons for not believing in your religion that mirror your reasons for not believing in theirs. Do these parallels concern you?
3. Religious people overwhelmingly follow the religion of their parents, their surrounding culture or both. If this applies to you, don’t you find it suspiciously convenient that you seemingly stumbled upon the right religion purely by chance, out of thousands of potential options?
4. Have you ever done any serious investigation of these thousands of other religions— open-mindedly rather than merely to prove them wrong? If not, why not?
5. If faith is a reliable pathway to truth, why does it lead people to such inconsistent conclusions? Why does it result in so many thousands of religions, and even thousands of conflicting Christian sects?
6. Meditating Zen Buddhists feel a state of transcendent bliss and oneness with the universe, and their brain activity looks the same as that of Franciscan nuns communing with God. “Religious” experiences also occur in other religious adherents, in users of drugs like psylocybin mushrooms and even temporal lobe epileptics. Why would God give us brains that could be so easily fooled by false religious experiences—and how do you know your experiences aren’t among them?
7. What specific evidence would convince you that Christianity is false? If there is none, does it concern you that if Christianity is false, you would have no way of knowing it?
8. Would you notice any changes in the world if God suddenly disappeared from existence? If so, what would you notice? If not, does it concern you that a world in which God exists is indistinguishable from one where he doesn’t?
9. Just a few thousand years ago, God supposedly performed incredible, widely seen miracles even in the presence of unbelievers: the plagues of Egypt (Ex. 7–12), Elijah calling down a pillar of fire (1 Kings 18:20–40), resurrection of the saints at Jesus’ death (Matt. 27:51–53), etc. Doesn’t it seem suspicious to you that broadly verifiable miracles like these don’t happen anymore?
10. You may expect God to have a positive impact on the world. But both good and bad things are bound to happen even if God doesn’t exist. If you credit God for the good things that happen and never blame him for the bad, all without any sort of evidence, isn’t your expectation self-fulfilling?
11. God is often said to answer prayer in three ways: “Yes,” “No” and “Wait.” But if God’s responses are so vague, how could you distinguish them from the results of prayer to any other god?
Part 2: Doctrine
12. The core of Christianity seems fundamentally unjust: In what courtroom would temporarily punishing one innocent man be an acceptable substitute for endlessly punishing billions of guilty people?
13. This core seems not only unjust, but patently illogical: God (the Father) has another part of God (the Son) killed to save humanity from being punished… by God. Why couldn’t God just decide to forgive us without killing Jesus?
14. Our salvation depends on belief in an event that occurred at a specific time and place. This makes it impossible for most humans who’ve ever lived—those who lived before Jesus, human zygotes (two thirds of which abort spontaneously before birth), the mentally disabled, people in remote parts of the world—to even know of it. Why would a system of salvation devised by an omniscient God look so inefficient and poorly conceived?
15. What happens to unborn babies and children who die before they can accept Jesus? If they go to hell, how is this consistent with a God of love? If they go to heaven, doesn’t this undermine their free will to choose or reject God’s gift of salvation?
16. God is supposedly a single being. But in what sense can the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be considered one and the same God when they have different wills (Luke 22:41–42), different knowledge (Mark 13:32) and different levels of authority (John 14:28; 1 Cor. 11:3)?
17. We would expect a perfectly wise, good God to have a composed, even-handed personality. Yet God brags that he’ll make Israel’s enemies eat their own children and grow drunk with their own blood (Isa. 49:26; Jer. 19:9), he delights in animal sacrifice (Lev. 1:1–9), he’s so jealous of other gods that “Jealous” is his very name (Ex. 34:12–16), and Moses has to calm his fury to keep him from killing his own people (Ex. 32:1–14; Num. 16:41–55). Does this sound like a transcendent deity or a vindictive tribal leader invented by a barbaric Iron Age culture?
18. Frontotemporal dementia can alter one’s entire worldview, including one’s religion, and severing connections between the two brain hemispheres reveals that they respond independently and hold different desires and beliefs. In one case, a brain’s right hemisphere professed theism, and the left, atheism. How do you explain the concept of the soul in light of such phenomena? Do these souls go to heaven or hell?
19. In Mark 16:15–18, Jesus lists several signs that “will follow those who believe,” including handling snakes and drinking poison with no ill effects. (Note: Please do not attempt this.) The few who try this generally fail unless they take special precautions, like ingesting poison in small, harmless amounts. Why is this? (If you believe the ending of Mark is a forgery, as most scholars do, why would God allow it into the Bible?)
20. God already has a perfect plan for the world. If we pray for something that’s already in that plan, the prayer is redundant. If we pray for something that’s not in that plan, the prayer is futile. What, then, is the point of asking for things in prayer?
21. If God made the universe for us, we would expect a hospitable, human-scaled universe. But the universe is billions of light-years across, composed mostly of dark energy and filled with black holes, cosmic radiation and the vacuum of space. Why is the universe so full of vast, uninhabitable emptiness?
22. If God wants everyone to believe in him, why doesn’t he provide enough evidence to nonbelievers—many of whom have earnestly sought him—for them to believe? Note that this would not be “forcing” them to believe any more than providing evidence for Christians forced them to believe. If God knows what exactly what evidence it would take, why doesn’t he provide it?
Part 3: Errancy
Note: The following questions assume that you believe the Bible to be the literal, inerrant and inspired word of God.
23. The Genesis creation story directly conflicts with evolution. Endogenous retroviruses— remains of viruses embedded in the genome millions of years ago—appear at the same place in human and other primate genomes. We’ve found many key transitional fossils like Tiktaalik (fish to tetrapods), Archaeopteryx (dinosaurs to birds) and Homo habilis (human ancestors). Atavisms like teeth in chickens, legs in whales and tails in humans sometimes reappear as relics of evolutionary history. Can creationism offer a better explanation for this and other evidence?
24. Biblical genealogies imply that the universe is about 6,000 years old instead of 13.75 billion. This is disproved by data from tree rings, ice layering, coral reefs, lunar craters, continental drift, distant starlight, human civilizations and more. As another example, scientists have traced back the orbits of the Baptistina asteroid family and found that they were formed by a collision that occurred 80 million years ago. Can the young earth view offer a better explanation for this and other evidence?
25. If 2 million Israelites resided as slaves in Egypt, wandered in the desert for 40 years and conquered a host of rival nations, we would expect to find massive, widespread archaeological evidence—but we don’t. Instead, excavations have revealed the Israelites as a relatively small Canaanite tribe whose “conquered” cities were often uninhabited at the purported conquest date (e.g. Jericho was already in ruins a century earlier). How can inerrantists account for this?
26. Careful study of the Bible reveals many internal contradictions. For instance, Matthew 2:1–20 says Jesus was born a few years before Herod the Great died in 4 BC. Yet Luke 2:1–2 says Jesus was born during the Census of Quirinius, which occurred in 6 AD—well after Herod’s death. Why do the two gospels contradict each other?
27. The Bible contains several instances of failed prophecy. For example, Ezekiel 26 prophesies that King Nebuchadnezzar would utterly destroy the city of Tyre, and it would never be rebuilt. But not only did he never destroy Tyre, but the city is still standing even today. Why did Ezekiel, a divinely inspired prophet, make such a serious error?
28. Jesus repeatedly said he would return to earth before the disciples and the rest of that generation had died (Matt. 10:23, 24:34; Mark 9:1, 14:61–62). The New Testament writers said his return was imminent and would not be delayed (1 Cor. 7:29–31; Heb. 10:36–37; 1 John 2:18). So why hasn’t Jesus returned after almost 2,000 years?
Part 4: Morality
Note: The following questions assume that you believe your God to be all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good.
29. Is whatever God does good by definition, or does he merely follow some outside standard of goodness? If the former, God would be good even if he did everything that we now call evil, so does it even mean anything to call God “good”? If the latter, shouldn’t we judge him according to that standard?
30. Why is there so much manmade evil in the world? The most common response is that God values our capacity to freely choose between goodness and sin. But in heaven, a place supposedly free from sin, people would presumably have free will. If God is capable of somehow allowing these two conditions to coexist, why not do the same on earth and prevent tremendous suffering?
31. Why does God allow naturally occurring evils like floods, earthquakes, wildfires, famine, hurricanes, pestilence and disease? If these phenomena are a punishment for human sin, why are they doled out indiscriminately? For example, why is it that about 17,000 children starve to death every day?
32. The animal kingdom thrives on suffering and death. Many billions of animals have suffered tremendous pain over the millennia simply to maintain the balance of nature. Why must they suffer through no fault of their own?
33. The billions of people who don’t believe that Jesus died for their sins will supposedly suffer everlasting punishment in hell. Take a moment to really think about the gravity of a punishment that has no end. How is God justified in carrying out this punishment? Why is it that any sin, however small, is so heinous that it must be met with infinite suffering?
34. Scriptural ambiguity has resulted in countless conflicting Christian sects, often with violent results. There’s even widespread disagreement over what’s needed for salvation. By making the Bible more clear or just appearing to Christians directly, God could have prevented copious bloodshed and millions being sent to hell for choosing the wrong sect. So why didn’t he?
35. In the Bible, God directly sanctions permanent slavery (Lev. 25:44–46), as well as the beating of slaves to within an inch of their life (Ex. 21:20–21). There’s even a loophole allowing Israelites to use emotional blackmail to permanently enslave entire families (Ex. 21:2–6). Is this the same God that you believe to be the personification of love?
36. In the Bible, God bemoans the idea of female leadership (Isa. 3:12), says through his servant Paul that women are to be silent and submissive in church (1 Cor. 14:34–35; 1 Tim. 2:11–14), and sanctions the forced marriage and rape of female captives by the very men who had just slaughtered their families (Deut. 21:10–14). Is this consistent with a perfectly just God?
37. In the Bible, God instructs the Israelites that the penalty for gay sex is death (Lev. 20:13), and rains fire on Sodom, Gomorrah and the surrounding cities for sexual immorality including homosexuality (Gen. 19:24–25; Jude 1:7). Why did God deem homosexual acts a crime worthy of death?
38. In the Bible, God kills approximately 25 million people. He kills millions of innocent animals and children in Noah’s Flood (Gen. 7:21–23), the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex. 12:29–30) and countless others. Do you believe that in every last case, killing was the best possible course of action?
39. In Deuteronomy 13:6–10, God says that if an Israelite’s loved one came to them suggesting serving other gods, the Israelite was to help stone that loved one to death—a slow, gruesome, agonizing fate. Imagine that you and your dearest loved one were Israelites, and they suggested worshipping some other god. Would you aid in killing them, or would you defy your God’s monstrous command?
40. If you see all of the above passages as perfectly good and just, would you still see them that way if you had read them in the Quran?
If any of these questions have challenged your beliefs, I urge you not to just push them out of your thoughts—nor should you simply choose the least implausible of a group of far-fetched Christian explanations. Seek the truth with an open mind, look at arguments from both sides carefully and critically, and change your views according to what you discover. Whether you continue in your faith or start a new path as a non believer, I think you’ll find that intellectual honesty is always the best policy.