21  What now?

A few of my correspondents wondered about my future. What would I do now I was no longer writing books and giving talks about the Bible? Would I start an atheist crusade with the same energy and enthusiasm I once gave to my preaching? Others wrote to me a few months after I had resigned, asking how I was getting on.

Message 23

I know that you feel as though you have had an epiphany and that you can finally see the ‘truth’ clearly, but from my very simple perspective, it looks more like you have been blinded as a result of your intelligence … that you have had your nose in the books so long that you have forgotten to look up and see the evidence of God all around you. No one would question that you are a very intellectually smart man but from what you have written it just seems as though you have over-analysed everything way too much and have put all your trust into your own ‘wisdom’, yet not in your heart. You set out to justify your faith in God (and obviously failed because it made you an unbeliever), yet faith in God is one of those things we can’t justify, it just is.

Christadelphia is not perfect and unfortunately one of our biggest flaws is that we too often put our favourite speakers on pedestals. We look up to them and we idolise them. This will be true of you too Rob. There would be many people out there who would look up to you and listen to all your views because you are an intelligent man. I know you intend to throw yourself into disproving the Bible soon using all your new-found “unbeliever energy”, but can I suggest that you sit on it for a bit? You’ve just started this new path in your life so I realise that you’re pumped and want to change the world, but you really need to take a minute to think about the fall-out.

Think about it this way. If we Christo’s are wrong and there is no God and we don’t wake up after we die … then who cares? Have we hurt anyone by giving up our Sundays to go to Church every week? People can choose for themselves — it really shouldn’t matter to you! But if you go ahead and write your book and condemn our faith and try and prove to people that God doesn’t exist then all you’re achieving is killing hope in those that would be guided by you. You may think that you are giving them the gift of freedom or whatever, but really you are taking something wonderful away from them. And like I said, if we’re wrong then there’s no harm done … but if you are wrong then the damage you could do to other people is insurmountable. Do you want to be responsible for taking people away from their faith?

Rob, please look into your own reasons for wanting to disprove the Bible and the existence of God. Is it to convince yourself more? Is it to draw people away from their belief in God so that you aren’t so lonely on the “outside”? I really want to challenge you to take a year off … to get your nose out of the books and to stop over-analysing and over-thinking everything and try and take a new perspective. You’ve already chosen a new life for yourself, so maybe give yourself 12 months of “chill-out” time. No reading … no writing … Just spending more quality time with your family (I hate study for that reason alone — it takes time away from family) and go and see if a world without God is what you want it to be. I personally couldn’t go a day without talking to him and would feel helpless and depressed if I didn’t have Him in my life! Please just try and hold back on your crusade for a bit. You may feel differently again in another year.

So many unfounded assumptions and confident assertions about how I feel and what I intend to do. And this person has never even met me!

I’ve given myself two years before writing this book. There was lots of “chill-out” time and I’ve hardly written or read anything about the Bible, faith, or belief. I have spent a lot of time with my family. I never intended to be on a crusade, and I have no plans of starting one now.

When writing my blog, I had no intention of disproving the Bible, or the existence of God. Quite the contrary. I wanted to explore the evidence for God, and for the Bible, and was somewhat surprised when I found it so limited.

I did not write this book to persuade my Christadelphian friends to give up their faith. I wrote it to explain to my friends why I left, and why I think it is important to have faith supported by evidence. If they choose to continue to believe, that’s fine with me. If my writings lead people to re-examine, and ultimately lose their faith, that is their choice.

It is now more two years since I stopped believing, and I’m more convinced than ever that I made the right choice. I am only sorry that I did not realise my mistake earlier.

Message 24

I guess I would be interested to learn about your experiences since resigning in part because our oldest daughter has lost her faith. We’ve known this was coming for some time, but because she lives [elsewhere], we don’t get many opportunities for face-to-face communication. However, during a recent visit she and I had a long talk and she told me that she has no faith any more. She doesn’t rule out the possibility of God, so I guess she is an agnostic. But she doesn’t feel that she has any capacity for belief. This has been very hard for us and has led to a lot of tears. But we are trying to maintain a good relationship with our daughter, even though one thing that connected us is no longer there.

This was part of my response:

The main issue is time. The Christadelphian community spends a great deal of time together, and tends to fill all available evenings, weekends and vacations with activities. This has two effects on the community — it provides ready opportunity for regular interactions with other Christadelphians which strengthens the community bonds, and it prevents opportunity for interaction with non-Christadelphians, even family members. So if you want to maintain good relations with ex- or non-Christadelphians, I think the community needs to spend less time together and more time fostering interactions outside the community. That is probably a recipe for a healthier community as well.

A second issue is expectation of change. I have noticed that many Christadelphians seem to think that I would change in some way. I think they believe their own propaganda — namely that values and morals are a consequence of holding the true doctrines, so if you lose your faith you are destined to become a heinous sinner. I don’t believe there is a nexus between belief and morality. As long as the belief that morals flow from doctrine is maintained, there is a barrier to interactions with non/ex-Christadelphians.

You say that one thing that connected you with your daughter is no longer there. That’s true for me too. My parents and most of the wider family are Christadelphians, and I no longer have the link of a common faith with them. Predictably, I don’t really think that is so important any more. They have also been exceptionally supportive, regardless of whether they agree with my change of heart. Perhaps there was some fear that my loss of faith would cause a rift in the family, but no such thing has occurred. Family bonds should be stronger and deeper than that.

Spend time with your daughter and do fun things together. I’m sure you’ll find the relationship is not so reliant on a common faith as you imagine.

Message 25

This was a very long and eloquent email, and I’ve broken it into sections in order to respond to various points raised. Unfortunately, some of the eloquence is lost in the break-up.

I received your email more than 6 months ago now, and have returned to thinking about it many times since. It’s still the most unexpected personal news I’ve heard in a while — and that in a pretty strong field, it has to be said!

I was quite startled, and most certainly taken by surprise, at receiving your note. I awaited your final Musings post, and was intrigued to find that you had come to conclusions on a range of topics that we had discussed previously, and on which you had (or had at least valiantly attempted to!) provided sufficient reason to me to come to the opposite conclusion.

I remember coming to your house once upon a time with 33 (I think) questions, which to my mind were very difficult, and which you and Leanne made a fine fist of answering. I can’t locate the list now, but I do recall that quite a few coincided with questions that you have addressed yourself in your blog over recent years.

So it has taken me a while to collect my thoughts about your news. I suppose also that you were most likely overwhelmed with correspondence of varied and exotic flavours at the time, if the comments online are anything to go by. In any case, here is mine, and if you have baskets into which these are mentally sorted, I hope it lands at least a little way away from the nuttiest end.

I tried for many years to answer the sort of questions this person raised, both to myself and to people who came to me with doubts. But over time I began to feel that my answers were desperate attempts to paper over the cracks in the evidence, rather than satisfactorily resolving the issues.

First of all, I think you are very brave. As you pointed out, voluntarily leaving a community in which you have spent your entire life is a big deal. Leaving it on the basis of a push factor, viz a viz no longer being convinced of some of the key tenets, as opposed to the pull factor of a “better option” of some sort, and thus not having the welcoming bosom of any other kind of community or interest group to land upon, is a very big deal indeed. And as other commentators have noted, Christadelphia is a “High Commitment” community, accentuating the contrast between life in and life out. So, hats off to you for having the courage of your lack of conviction.

It doesn’t seem courageous to me. I feel that I had no choice — I could not continue to attend religious services that are based on mythology and archaic cultural conventions, feeling like I was a fraud. Once I decided I didn’t believe, I tried fronting up for a few months and I felt terrible. It was even worse giving study weekends. For a while I was planning a quiet fade into the back row, but even turning up was too hard. There is no room in the Christadelphian world for people who do not believe, or who are unwilling to fake belief.

Secondly, I am impressed by the certitude that underpins this bravery. While I can relate to your doubts, and I can relate to your questioning, and I can certainly relate to your impulse for exploration and re-examination, I find it a little harder to relate to the apparent conclusiveness of your lack of belief. I have found myself for a long time in a place where it is very difficult to believe some of the things which we might be supposed to believe, but neither can I believe in the completeness of an alternative proposition in its entirety. So I am intrigued and impressed by the certitude of the conclusion upon which you have taken such difficult action, particularly as it is a conclusion of absence rather than a conviction of presence. I appreciate your distinction between “agnostic” and “unbeliever”, but to land upon either and act upon it is admirable boldness.

I was in a position of doubt for a long time — a few years. But it suddenly struck me that there just wasn’t enough evidence to justify belief. It is not that I’m certain about athiesm. But I’m fairly certain that the Bible is uninspired, and that the key Christian doctrines are false. Perhaps there’s a God. Who knows? But if there is, he/she/it isn’t bothering to communicate with me, so there isn’t much point worrying about it. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life spending enormous energy on something I don’t believe. So I figured I better leave rather than hang around. If I had stayed a cultural and attending Christadelphian, but without the belief, I would have found it too difficult to maintain the lie and lack of authenticity. There are plenty of people who do that, but it’s not something I am prepared to do.

Thirdly, I think you are an enormous loss to the Christadelphian community, and in my opinion, to thinking religiously-inclined people of all persuasions. My state of equilibrium is helped to be maintained by the existence of that minority of people who are willing to honestly confront and answer the difficult questions, and you have been one of those people. Furthermore, you were one who publicly set out to do so by means of your prolific output, which will be missed by me, and I imagine by many others besides. You mentioned your quest to encourage reform within the Christadelphian community, which in my opinion is both noble and necessary, and also exceedingly difficult. Your departure will set back that cause, both in the loss of your immediate influence, and sadly also because I fear some will use you as an example of where asking too many difficult questions will lead. None of which is a reason for you to not follow your own conclusions, but it is a sad day for the community.

I imagine my leaving might seem like a sad day for the community if you want the community to survive, at least in its current form.

Frankly, I think the Christadelphian community cannot survive, except in its most extreme form. There are now too many educated members, and too much available information, for the mythology to continue to have any power. Even now it is apparent that many members remain part of the community for cultural and social reasons, rather than because of a deep-seated conviction of the truth of the core doctrines. But the culture does not have a sufficient hold on its members for it to be easily passed on to subsequent generations. Extreme Christadelphianism is likely to survive longer, simply because the cultural entrapment is so much stronger.

Fourthly, and somewhat related, is the question of what it means to be part of the community. [Someone] … said to me once that it was the best life one could have, and even if none of it was true it would still be the best. Having experienced some of your trajectory, and having considered and examined life outside the community, I understand his point. It is both the warm embrace of many good-hearted people, and in almost literal terms a family, given the continued progression of Christadelphia (at least in the Anglosphere) from a self-selecting group of believers towards an ethno-religious group with deep family ties. In that context, I really do wonder how many people fully understand, and/or fully believe, what might be considered to be the central tenets. There is an argument for membership of the community in its own right, specifics of belief aside. And if you did not have the certitude that I think you have, I would argue that you were fully within your rights to benefit from that membership for whatever period of time you wished, while allowing your new conclusions to ferment. It is your family at least as much as it is a group of believers with specific ideas, and in being a family it should be there for you even in these times.

True, but being a Christadelphian does not come without cost. It is almost mandatory to attend at least weekly, and to go through the process of worship, to give public prayers (if you are male), to publicly profess or at least infer belief in the Bible, and so on. While I believed, I was more than happy to do those things; in fact, I welcomed them. But once I stopped believing, to continue to do them was to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. The cost in staying a Christadelphian was my authenticity and my honesty. I was not prepared to trade that.

On the other hand, leaving has come at a cost too. Previously I interacted with hundreds of other Christadelphians at multiple church activities every week, at regular Bible camps, at conferences in Australia and overseas. Now my life is much less social. While I have retained a few Christadelphian friends, inevitably I have not heard from most people since I left. I have not attempted to contact them either. Our lives have drifted apart as we have taken different roads.

One of the great benefits of a church community is that it provides a support network in times of trouble. I have seen this work wonderfully when people have been sick, or injured, or in some other difficulties. My support network is much smaller now, and is yet to be tested.

Fifthly, I remember saying to you that I thought maybe faith and reason were a continuum, and that therefore one was necessarily a trade-off for the other. You did a good job of convincing me that this is not the case, and that they are in fact different dimensions. Which got me thinking about your use of the word “unbeliever”, and whether there is a difference between faith and belief? You talked a lot in your note about conclusions reached by reason. Then you talked about how these conclusions equate to a lack of belief. I think you use the word faith interchangeably with belief in your post, but you don’t really talk about faith in the context of faith in God, faith in Jesus, and such like. I wonder if the two things are actually quite different, and while I would tend to come at “faith” in the same way as you on the basis that there are intellectual underpinnings that make it plausible, I suspect many people come at it from a very different angle which is simpler and perhaps closer to “pure faith”. But that is not to say that coming to faith from the direction of reason makes the faith itself any different, and you surely had faith. So I am curious whether, having reasoned that you do not intellectually believe in certain Christadelphian (or Christian) precepts, does it automatically follow that faith also recedes?

I always held the position that faith was underpinned by evidence. I certainly had faith, and I believed that it was supported by some evidence. I now feel like the evidence I imagined was there was nowhere near as strong as I thought it was. Through a heavy dose of confirmation bias, and by deliberately ignoring the problems I knew were there, I was able to convince myself for a long time. Then for some reason I tried to re-evaluate the evidence as dispassionately as possible and for the first time faced up to the difficulties and acknowledged the lack of any convincing evidence. Without evidence, I have no faith.

I realise that a lot of people (perhaps most people) never think about the evidence and are happy to just go along with an inherited faith. But that is so contrary to the way I think about everything, that I couldn’t really do it.

Sixthly, I’m sure I told you many times that inspiration cannot mean what most Christadelphians say it means! And I still agree with your new conclusion on the subject! But I still do not have a compelling alternative conclusion, so my state of equilibrium continues. I have not as yet found this position to be an insurmountable barrier to anything, neither have I found the orthodox Christadelphian position to solve any great problems in its own right!

I guess I did eventually find a compelling alternative conclusion. Namely, that the Bible is a purely human book, reflecting the limited world view of an ancient tribal religion, and the perspective of an uneducated Canaanite people.

That is not to say there is no wisdom or beauty in its words. I love some of the meditative Psalms, the feisty reformist writings of prophets such as Amos, the introspection of Ecclesiastes, and some of the counter-cultural teaching of Jesus. But that does not make it inspired, just inspiring.

Finally, I do not believe in a bunch of other things that I am probably supposed to. However, I do still believe that without a God it is difficult to make much sense of life. I don’t believe it for the reason that mountains are spectacular, or tigers are beautiful, although the sheer complexity of living organisms and natural ecosystems is something for which I would struggle to accept an explanation that does not involve enormous external intelligence. I believe it for sociological reasons, because I find that most of the arguments for anything sociological are grounded upon principles which I do not believe can intrinsically exist without a source of morality that is not relative. I follow the social and political dialogue of the day quite closely, and I just cannot see a way for to make it all add up without that external reference point.

I do not buy the argument that morality and faith are linked. There are countless examples of faithful people doing despicable things and unbelievers acting with extraordinary love, compassion and selflessness. My moral outlook is the same as it ever was because it stems from my humanity, not from my religious belief.1. I do not agree that people naturally behave in a selfish manner without a religious brake to modify their behaviour.

Besides, the Bible has many examples of God, and his people, acting in appalling ways that should be considered immoral by any measure. These incidents are conveniently overlooked in what passes for “Christian morality”, which is really just common human decency given a religious justification.

I still follow that thought with another that says if God is out there, and our sociological progress is dependent upon something that he has instilled within us that is not evident in other creatures, then he probably wants us to know something about him or at least try to do so. Again, spectacular mountains and beautiful tigers go some way, but I find the sociological aspects more compelling. And for me, between the almost unbelievable story of the Jews, and the behaviour of people when they act in a way that would just not be “natural” in a purely physical world, I cannot refute that there is something there to believe, and which therefore stands in opposition to my lack of belief. I don’t know if this is the end of a journey for you, or the beginning of another, but either way I wish the best for it. I hope you will find other important questions to muse upon, and share those musings with the world. And I hope we will see you again before too long.

I guess the real question for me is the last one raised here — can one make sense of life without a God? That is probably the most uncertain part of it all for me. I don’t know, but I’m trying it out. I have used God as an external reference point all my life, so it is rather different making sense of the world without that. Ask me in five years and I might have an answer.

  1. The one exception to this concerns sexuality as discussed in Chapter 15.↩︎