17  You made me cry

In contrast to the letters in the previous chapter, most of the messages I received expressed sadness, love and friendship, for which I am deeply grateful.

I have very few comments on these. What can I say? I feel sad too. I have stayed in touch with most of these writers, and they remain dear friends even though we no longer have a shared faith.

Message 4

Just read your latest blog post … firstly wanted to say that I love and respect you and always will regardless of what you call yourself now But secondly you made me cry today … and for that you need a clip over the ears! Waaaah. Ok, end of telling off. Love to you and Leanne … tough times ahead probably for you both and the family. Thinking of you xxx<

Message 5

I have just read through your blog Rob and feel so sad and emotional. You have always been so special to me all your life and especially your enthusiasm for making the scriptures live. I am aware you have done much soul searching about changing your way of life but I do want you to know how much you are in my heart. I will always love you both … I know we shall grieve the loss for a long time but will have many happy memories of the journey we have shared with you.

Message 6

Thank you for writing down some of your thoughts to help us understand why you no longer feel you can be part of us in Jesus. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your journey to authenticity. We hope that as you continue your journey you will find your way back to your spiritual base, your true home, in your own time. Although you may not feel part of us at this time, you share so much “family” values like integrity, truthfulness and kindness. You are still our brother, and loved, and respected for all you are, and in your good work in Jesus in the past. You do not need a “label” of believer, non-believer, etc. You are Rob and that is good enough for us.

The couple who wrote this remain good friends, and I appreciate the genuine love they have shown me. However, like many people who wrote to me, this message assumes that my “true home” is part of the church, and that somehow I have become lost and I just need to “find my way back”. I wish my readers would try to grapple with the evidence in a meaningful way, rather than immediately assume that they are correct and I have simply gone astray. My true home is wherever the truth lies.

Message 7

Recently I read your computer blog and felt so much for you. As you stated, 95% of your social life was Christadelphians and I wondered who would “walk beside you” now. I experienced a very painful disapproval/disfellowship many years ago, so I appreciate the pain of aloneness in courage and separation you may feel just now. Whatever direction you take from here, be wise, cautious and hasten slowly. Your fellow traveller and cousin in life’s journey.

“Hasten slowly” was good advice that I have tried to follow. It is now more than two years since I rejected my former beliefs, and I have not joined any other groups, made any other life-changing decisions, and only recently have I started to give away most of my large collection of biblical and theological books. I wanted to be sure that I was comfortable with the decision first.

Message 8

I am sad to hear that you have left the Christadelphian community, but sadder still to hear that you now consider yourself an unbeliever. There have been many times when I have considered, is there a God? Not so much in the academic sense but more so in the emotional sense. I can only wonder that in your research examining the beliefs of our community you have forgotten that there are many things that God has not revealed to us nor will reveal until He is ready to do so, presumably at the return of His Son to this earth.

The problem you are now facing is that if you do not accept the reality of God, then you will not find Him in creation, in prophecy, in the lives of people, or the book that He has caused to be written.

In pursuing research to give credence to belief, I think you have forgotten about faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.

I am not an academic and struggle at times to come to terms with my lot in life, but one thing I know, that without God and His Son I would be most miserable. I encourage you to continue to search for the truth, but bear in mind that the truth will not be found in the ways of mankind.

This letter was from a friend who has suffered deep personal tragedy, and his faith has been a support and comfort to him during the times of darkness and despair. This, perhaps, is the greatest benefit of faith — it gives people hope when there seems to be no hope, and alleviates the misery in times of suffering.

However, I find it odd that one has to “accept the reality of God” before it is possible to find him. Faith becomes self-supporting with circular logic. Parents use the same argument at Christmas — “Santa won’t come if you don’t believe in him” — to encourage their children to pretend to believe in a charade.

Message 9

Although I don’t know the reasons for your decision I really empathise with you because I have felt similar doubts over the years. The prime reason I am still around is the support of those I love and who love me within our church. They reflect the character of a God I sometimes struggle to see.

Rob, you have ministered to so many over the years, why not let them support and love you for a while. Don’t cut yourself off but just come and let us nurture you for a change. I don’t even mean in a “religious” way but purely as good and faithful friends.

Our practice of the gospel has many flaws but, leaving aside the multitude of questions that arise from our particular take on Jesus’ teachings, the overriding feature of ‘love above all else’ is so worthwhile if only in a secular way.

Forgive my ramblings but, spooky as it may seem, I sat down to write to you last night (before I knew about your letter) but couldn’t find the right words. I’m still not sure I have but please accept them with all the love and goodwill that I can muster.

I’m not good at listening but will try if you ever want to unload.

God be with you.

I was touched by this message, not just because it was from a dear friend, but because it showed genuine empathy and understanding. Many people stay in a church because of the support and social network it provides, and because their friends are there. For many years I think I was unwilling to seriously consider the evidence for Christianity because I did not want to give up the benefits and enjoyment that came from being part of a religious community full of people I genuinely like.

“Love above all else” is a great creed to live by, regardless of one’s religious persuasion. Many Christians claim this as a specifically Christian tenet, or at least one that requires some kind of religious support. But in reality, many unbelievers and atheists would agree. Love underpins the values and morals of almost everyone, as I discussed in Chapter 15.

Message 10

Hi Rob, So sorry that life’s journey has taken you through some challenging times. I can only imagine what you must have been going through these last few months, especially when it was only in May that we got to spend the weekend with you. Just know that we value your friendship and appreciate your honesty and courage.

This letter was from one of the organizers of a Bible study weekend that I spoke at a few months before my resignation. That weekend was difficult for me and I wanted to pull out several times leading up to it, but I didn’t want to let anyone down. Then I felt such a fraud while I was there. On the other hand, my wife and I had a lovely time with some wonderful people. So it was a very mixed weekend for us — we really enjoyed it, but by that stage I knew it was probably the end of the road for me. As it turned out, it was my last Bible study weekend.

Message 11

wanted to drop you an email to let you know how much your decision is affecting me personally. You are a friend, part of my history … Lots of interwoven stories, some good and some bad.

I have always admired your intellectualism and your wisdom, the way you research and then share those thoughts with the wider community. You have a graciousness that doesn’t intimidate even the simplest person which is quite astounding. Intellectuals are famous for coming across as quite arrogant beings at times. Selfishly I also feel very sad that I won’t get to hear you expound on those thoughts any more. There have been tears in my eyes.

I wonder about your perspectives on faith and worry that you might have missed the point because you are so focussed on your evidence based research.

To me faith is not intellectual or based on intensive research. If Christianity was going to only appeal to those with high IQ or those that have access to research resources, then faith was never going to be in the picture and I think that’s probably the challenge for people like yourself, that they can accept the “simple” message that the gospel offers.

I understand and respect your decision though it’s caused me great angst and ultimately to re-evaluate my own beliefs and where I sit in the “whole” of our wider community.

You will beat me hands-down for any evidence based arguments I put up so I hope you realise that’s not the thrust of my message here. My simple message is one of a faith that provides hope and a trust that God has my life sorted as indeed as the creator He has all life in His hands. I hope you can respect that.

It seems that people have a lot of different reasons for believing. For this friend, it sounds like belief flows at least partly because of the hope it provides, and the meaning it creates. Some people believe because those they trust tell them to do so. For others, it arises through experiences they cannot otherwise explain. For some, it just feels right. For me, belief in anything comes because I think there is sufficient evidence. I don’t believe the Quran because I don’t think there is any evidence. I used to believe in the Bible because I did think there was sufficient evidence, but then I changed my mind. I do not expect other people to have the same approach to belief, and for those who are happy believing for other reasons, I respect that.

Message 12

We have been terribly saddened by your announcement last week. There will no doubt be many, who are much closer to you personally, who have already had communication with you, so please don’t feel compelled in that context to acknowledge this additional one.

There is some irony in what follows. We have enjoyed over many years your studies, your writing, your graciousness, humour, love. The “Way of Life” was something that became “staple” for us in helping others to understand God and His ways while on mission work, and you helped us at that time to make use of it. Your earlier work on “Learn to Read the Bible Effectively” notes was also ground breaking. Because we still use these tools, that you’ve provided, we wonder what has happened to the dear brother in faith, who gave many others, “reasons to believe” and increased the faith of others? They were so simple, they still are. For fishermen, farmers, carpenters—they are easily understood, but so too, for lecturers, surgeons, engineers. They will continue to be used effectively in bringing others to faith in the grace of God and the companionship of His Son.

I have mixed feelings about my books being used for proselytising. The Way of Life involved several contributors, and I do not feel that I can withdraw it from circulation when other authors are involved.

Yes, my works provided some easily accessible “reasons to believe” — cherry-picked evidence to bolster the faith of those wanting reassurance. They were written sincerely, as I too was fooled by confirmation bias. I wanted to find support for my beliefs, and I was prepared to overlook the problems. This book is partly intended to correct the record.

Message 13

We have been friends for just about as long as I can remember, and I hope and pray we will remain so to the end of our days. You are a person I have always admired for your honesty, so even though I feel tremendously sad about the decisions you have made, I see your honest spirit shining through, and am happy to be friends with a man who follows his conscience and beliefs (… or non-beliefs!) with such openness. Some live a life of hypocrisy in order to remain comfortable with their friends and family. You have chosen the harder road of being totally honest and risking losing many many life long friends. Thank you for being an honest man, not a hypocrite.

Thank you for saying so.