Pulling On The Threads Of A Sweater

When I was a Christian, I was all in. I didn’t dabble a little to see if I liked the taste. There was no middle ground. There was no dipping of toes to test the water. Once I found what I once believed was the truth, I was hooked. I found my life’s purpose and I was in it for the long haul…or so I thought.

I read a news article yesterday about a popular Christian singer losing his faith. I found his honesty quite refreshing. His admission is just one of many deconverts. He is just one more of the ever-increasing number of people who have rejected the stories they have been fed for so long. In fact, his story is a lot like mine, except for the musical talent, fortune and fame. His name is Jonathan Steingard. He was the lead singer for the band Hawk Nelson. He joined the band in 2004 as a guitarist and took over lead vocals in 2012. After years of touring and spreading the gospel, he shocked his fans with an announcement on May 20th, 2020. This was taken from People.com:

“After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life — I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”

He added this:

“The last few words of that sentence were hard to write. I still find myself wanting to soften that statement by wording it differently or less specifically- but it wouldn’t be as true.”

The part about growing up in a Christian home is something I can relate to. I was raised to believe. I lived my life as someone who believed by attending church, praying regularly and getting into the Bible. I genuinely felt that I had a relationship with Jesus, simply by believing that I did. There was no back and forth conversations with him, just me talking. There was no answer to any of my prayers. There was nothing on this earth that I could point to as evidence for God at all. It was a belief and I was sure I was right.

When he reflected on the statement: “I am now finding that I no longer believe in God,” he said this:

“The process of getting to that sentence has been several years in the making. It didn’t happen overnight or all of a sudden. It’s been more like pulling on the threads of a sweater, and one day discovering that there was no more sweater left.”

Does this sound familiar to any of you who have denconverted? It is all too familiar to me. It is how it happens for most of us. It’s not a sudden, impulsive decision. It usually happens slowly, a little at a time. A doubt here or a doubt there. After a while, nothing adds up and you are left with no choice but to walk away.

“I have been terrified to be honest about this publicly for quite some time, because of all that I thought I would lose.”

Again, Jonathan and I felt exactly the same. I was terrified of the consequences of losing my faith. What would my friends and family think of me? What about my coworkers who knew me as the “Christian guy”? What about my hope? My future? My afterlife? Was there ever one to begin with? All of these questions swirled in my mind for the longest time.

“Processing this quietly felt right when I simply had doubts, but once they solidified into a genuine point of view, it began to feel dishonest not to talk about it.”

This is an important line here from his statement. He had doubts like most Christians (possibly all of them if they were being totally honest) and he had to deal with each and every one of them. Nagging doubts, for a believer, are signs of weak faith. If you are a true believer, the doubts are supposed to go away as a result of growing closer to God. Persistent doubts are a problem for believers. That’s why so many people walk away from it all. As Jonathan stated, referring to his doubts, “they solidified into a genuine point of view.” That is a death blow to someone’s faith.

He made this admission about hiding the truth of his unbelief for as long as he did:

“The band isn’t playing shows or making new music at the moment, and we’ve found other work and careers to focus on for the time being. In order to make sure I’m able to keep providing for my family, that had to be the case before I could be totally honest.

He hid the fact that he was no longer a Christian until he was financially stable enough to do so. He put on the mask of a Christian singer while knowing full well the man behind the mask was not that person anymore. When talking about making sure he could keep providing for his family and not being fully honest, he added this:

“…and that fact is one of the issues I have with the church and Christian culture in general.”

It sounds to me like he was saying that the church and Christians in general hide their true feelings in order to take home a paycheck. I know this to be the case for many Christians from the numerous stories (testimonies) of former believers from several different sources. One great source of stories from former pastors can be found here, at the Clergy Project. Money rules the day and people will sacrifice almost everything, including their integrity, to get it.

So why did he become a Christian in the first place? The same reason I did and the same reason so many other people do:

“Everyone I was close to believed in God, accepted Jesus into their hearts, prayed for signs and wonders, and participated in church, youth groups, conferences, and ministry. So I did too. When you grow up in a community that holds a shared belief, and that shared belief is so incredibly central to everything, you simply adopt it.”

It’s the old herd mentality reasoning again. If everyone is doing something, it just feels right to join in. To do anything contrary to the herd feels wrong, even if it isn’t. Like many of us, he questioned everything. He tried to reconcile his faith with the reality of the world around him:

“There were things that just didn’t make sense to me. If God is all loving, and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can he not do anything about it? Does he choose not to? Is the evil in the world a result of his desire to give us free will? OK then, what about famine and disease and floods and all the suffering that isn’t caused by humans and our free will?”

Like a good Christian, he went to the Bible for answers to these questions. And like so many of us, the Bible led him away from belief, not towards:

“Suffice it to say that when I began to believe that the Bible was simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am – that was when my belief in God truly began to unravel. Once I found that I didn’t believe the Bible was the Perfect Word of God – it didn’t take long to realize that I was no longer sure he was there at all.”

The Bible is a book of words written by man. Period. Unless there is something tangible outside of the Bible that can corroborate the stories of miracles and magic within, it will remain just a storybook. So far, reality contradicts the Bible at every turn. The stories within reflect a world of magic and mystery. The real world is nothing like that.

He battled depression due to his loss of faith. I had a hard time with it too. It takes some time to recover from a lifetime of religion. But it can be done:

“I feel like I’ve mostly emerged from that dark place now – because I’ve discovered that life really does go on.”

And finally, this last statement is one I could have written myself. It is how I felt when I came to terms with the reality that I no longer believe in the stories I was raised to believe in:

“I am open to the idea that God is there. I’d prefer it if he was. I suspect if he is there, he is very different than what I was taught. Stepping away from belief in God has felt like a loss in some ways-but it’s felt like freedom in others. I am not sure how much this will rock the boat. I don’t know if this will surprise anyone. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve finally worked up the courage to tell my story. To share my deepest truth. And that feels like freedom too.

I know that this is just the story of one man, but it is nearly identical to the story of all who have left the faith. I think that if more people could work up the courage to admit they don’t believe, religion would look very different than it does today. There are so many people going through the motions and putting on their masks of piety, all the while not believing a word of it.

Just be honest. Be honest with yourself and be honest with those around you. You may lose some people who you feel are close to you, but you’ll feel better in the long run when you are no longer living a lie. If your sweater is unraveling and you can’t stop it, there is a reason for that. Platitudes and Bible quotes are merely patches that won’t last. Soon, the threads will begin to pull again.

Don’t be afraid to toss that old sweater out and find something that actually fits you.

22 thoughts on “Pulling On The Threads Of A Sweater

  1. Good write up, Ben. Yes, very familiar too. Unfortunately, religion is not for the curious. In fact, curiosity is the enemy of faith. I remember first pulling on that thread when I learned the Gospels weren’t written by “Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.” It opened up a world of questions for me, each one taking me another step in to the process of understanding. And yes, it’s hard. It’s not easy to just give up on something you’ve been nurtured to believe from your very beginning and something in which so many – all in fact – around you also believe. But if you’re curious……

    Personally, I wouldn’t give up the search for anything now. I have found it so much more gratifying than belief in something for which there is just no evidence. Learning about how the entire Christian episode rolled out through history has been an eye-opening and mind-altering experience that I continue to this day. It has helped me understand a lot; about myself and those closest to me, and about others around me and in the world at large.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “… curiosity is the enemy of faith.”

      That says it all, doesn’t it? If you just go with what you’ve been taught and never question things, you can believe just about anything, no matter how absurd it may be. However, once you start to question things, it all falls apart. The questions we ask when it comes to religion cannot be satisfactorily answered by religion. The questions that relate to the inconsistencies and errors of the Bible cannot be answered by the Bible. That just leads to more questions and more doubt. At some point, evidence needs to be inserted into the equation or nothing adds up.

      Searching for truth and finding truth is far more rewarding than being told something’s is true when deep down you know that it couldn’t possibly be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly, Ben. That’s the result of answering questions about dogma with more dogma. It’s an endless cycle of nonsense until you realize you have to step outside of the “believer-bubble” in order to get a response that makes sense.

        And the truth shall set you free……

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    2. And what happens when it works in the opposite direction? When someone who didn’t believe was curious and then found God? With all due respect to people in the article/thread, the faith in religion being described here is very elementary and childish and does not at all reflect a mature faith.

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      1. You need to read Ben’s earlier posts before he left the faith. I think you will find he was a VERY mature Christian. And I can say this with authority because I was a believer for over 15 years myself. Fortunately, both Ben and I and scores of others discovered the “childishness” you mention is actually a quality of believing in something that doesn’t exist.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t believe that is true. I can speak for myself and many other atheists that lost their faith as a direct result of bible study and research. I believe Ben would say the same. The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not stand up to scrutiny in any way. I can tell you I am much more fluent on the Bible than many – even most – of my Christian/Catholic friends that don’t ever seem to know anything about the Bible. What kind of faith is that? When you invest so much of your life in something you don’t much if anything about? What kind of faith is that? I would suggest that is the “childish faith.” No?

        Liked by 2 people

      3. As Nan and RaPaR already mentioned, most people who have left “the faith” have done so after searching for the truth. I will speak only for myself now when I tell you that when I first started to realize I no longer believed, it broke my heart. It was like the death of a loved one. It took years to overcome it. I prayed relentlessly and with conviction. I trusted the Bible when it said that God listens and is near to the brokenhearted. I trusted that Jesus would hear my prayers and bring me back to the faith I once had. But there was nothing but silence. Looking back, it was always silence even though in the moment I could have sworn God was answering my prayers and comforting me. He was not.

        Everyone who sincerely believes in God and the Bible also sincerely thinks that they will never stop believing. The ones who stop believing never truly believed to begin with. They are weak or misguided, right? Those who hold that sincere belief are convinced they are right and nothing will ever convince them otherwise. I know this because that was me. I was right. God was real. Jesus loved me. No one could convince me otherwise. However, the silence that followed my prayers time and time again left me confused, hurt and wondering what I was doing wrong. I searched the scriptures and couldn’t see anything wrong with my worship technique, the desires of my heart or anything else. The only thing I found that was missing was God. There was no father. There was no son. There was no holy ghost. There was only me. The answers to my prayers promised in the Bible did not come. I called God. He never picked up the phone.

        I began to research the history of the Bible and not just read the book with my blinders on that shielded me from the outside world. I found that the book whose words were “breathed into it” by God had man’s fingerprints all over it but absolutely no trace of the divine. I found that there was just no evidence whatsoever of any god in this life, let alone the Hebrew god.

        There is a reason the Bible says to have “faith like a child.” Who else on this earth is more gullible, easily manipulated and controlled by fear than a child? Children blindly trust those in authority, even when they are being lied to time and again. Children will then spread those lies as truth because they believe in them with all of their heart. The word “Faith” should only be used when there is some reliability behind it. I have faith that my car will start because I have evidence it has started before. I have faith that I will wake up in the morning because I have many times before. I have faith that if I get cut, I will bleed because it has happened before. None of these things are guaranteed to happen but I have a reasonable expectation that they will happen based on evidence. Faith in God has no evidence to back it up, only belief. There is nothing but blind faith based on zero experiences. That is not reasonable. In fact, that is the definition of unreasonable. Mature faith? No. Mature faith would be believing only in things that are reasonable because evidence suggests they are real.

        The singers I referenced in this post had faith like yours once. So did the other commenters who responded. So did I. None of us believed our faith would waver, let alone be lost. But it happened nonetheless. We have lost the ability to believe in a god based on only words and no evidence. It wasn’t by choice and it wasn’t due to lack of effort to believe. It was due to the evidence or lack thereof. We realized we were wrong, accepted it, and moved on. That’s what it means to mature.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I’ll play along and answer your question. You asked what happens when someone who didn’t believe, but was curious, finds God. Simple. They don’t. They just think they did. I don’t have any good reason to believe that anyone “finds God.” People only feel like they find God but have nothing to show for it. If people found God, wouldn’t they be able to show that to others? Couldn’t they use that to convert the nonbelievers? There is no evidence of finding God whatsoever. There has never been anything concrete. Just beliefs. There are only feelings of finding God, nothing more.

        So I have a couple of questions for you. What is your evidence of God beyond a feeling or “personal experiences”? Personal experiences and personal revelations are not evidence. They merely convince you of something and make you believe. How does that translate into something others can see and benefit from? What can you show others to prove God’s existence? When you “found God” how did you know that you did beyond just a feeling? Faith is a feeling, not proof or evidence.

        Maybe we took the bait, but now it’s your turn to answer and have a mature conversation. If you have the answers, please enlighten the rest of us. I would believe in an instant based on good solid evidence. Not a feeling. Not faith. So please demonstrate God’s existence without resorting to blind faith. I have an open mind but I have to be shown something, not just told about it.

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      5. You don’t have an open mind. You specifically said that people who found God only think they did. You will accept no answer. Any evidence that you were shown you would dismiss. You are as attached to your lack of beliefs as you say others are attached to their belief. You have no hard, tangible evidence that God doesn’t exist, you have only an absence of what you would accept as evidence. You have nothing but “feelings” yourself.

        I’m also confused why you want me to discuss my evidence for God? Where did I mention my own beliefs?

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      6. Okay, I will try to explain this to you the best I can.

        I do, in fact, have an open mind. I think I know myself far better than strangers do. I am more than willing to believe in something that can be proven to exist. Whoever says they would reject God based on actual evidence of his existence is not interested in being honest. If there was evidence then that would justify a belief in a god.

        Even though you do not know me, you claim to know an awful lot about me. You know that I “will accept no answer.” You know that “any evidence that I was shown I would dismiss.” You know I am “attached to my lack of beliefs.” None of this is true of course, but you assert that these things are true of me. If God exists, great. Show me. I would think that if you had actual evidence, you would present it instead of saying someone else would reject it and instead offer nothing in its place. That’s not how evidence works. Evidence is the same for one as it is for another. What’s true for you is true for everyone. If it isn’t, then it isn’t evidence after all. We’d be back to just feelings again. If it is the truth, anyone who rejected it would be a fool. So what evidence is there for God? You say I would reject it but do you realize I spent nearly 40 years of my life believing in God? Do you realize that I didn’t want to let that belief die? Do you realize that I am still willing to believe that a god exists that loves me and wants to have a relationship with me? I look back at my life of belief and realize that I had nothing but words to go on for my belief. I had no relationship even though I wanted one. Where is God when we pray? He is silent. Silence that we have to interpret is not a relationship.

        I do not have to prove that God doesn’t exist. I never once made that claim. I said that people believe God exists. I said that they feel that he does. I never said he does not exist. I said that people haven’t found him. And they haven’t…or at least they haven’t been able to demonstrate it. Finding God would be huge news and people would line up to see him. I know I would. There’s a huge difference between believing in something and being able to prove something. Finding God implies a physical, tangible, shareable experience. To my knowledge, that has never happened with any god outside of a book.

        “You have no hard, tangible evidence that God doesn’t exist.”

        Nope. I never said I did. What I said was there is no evidence that he does exist. I am not convinced he does. That doesn’t mean I said he doesn’t. I just haven’t seen it yet. Saying I am not convinced that God exists isn’t a “feeling” like faith is. I am saying that I don’t see any evidence of God. Show me some and I’ll believe. When you say that nothing would convince me, that shows me that you have no evidence after all. If you did, you would share it. And if you do have some and won’t share it, why not? Wouldn’t converting the nonbeliever be a good thing? Let me be the judge of what I would and would not accept. If you don’t want to share what you have, then this conversation is rather pointless, isn’t it? Stopping by to say that we who are unconvinced are wrong and are set in our ways doesn’t benefit anyone. It just pits one side against the other and nothing is accomplished. Was that your intent?

        As far as your confusion about “Where did I mention my own beliefs?” let me remind you of your own words:

        “..the faith in religion being described here is very elementary and childish and does not at all reflect a mature faith.”

        If you don’t believe in this statement yourself, it is a rather odd thing to say to someone else. Any rational person would have to believe that the writer of such words believed in them as well. Do you believe your own words or not? If so, then that’s where you mentioned your beliefs. If you do not believe in them, then you shared them for some reason that is beyond my comprehension. So which is it?

        Look, I cannot prove God doesn’t exist any more than you can prove he does. I have no desire to make that claim and I never once claimed he does not exist. There may very well be a creator that we cannot see. Who knows? There’s no evidence of one, other than people’s interpretation of the world around them. Looking around and seeing “evidence of creation” isn’t in any way actual evidence of creation. I could say that I see evidence of witches creating the world based on the same things the believers of God see, but that doesn’t make it so. Again, I never claimed God didn’t exist, merely that I have yet to be convinced of it since losing my faith a few years back. You seem to believe he does exist. I don’t see the harm of showing how you came to that conclusion. If your reasoning is solid, then it should convince others and that is the whole point of being a believer, is it not? It is not enough just to believe, but to get others to believe as well. Keeping the key to belief all to yourself while saying I wouldn’t accept it is rather cruel in my opinion.

        So again, what is the evidence of God existence? It’s a simple question if you truly know the answer. If you don’t have the answer, then why do you still believe?

        One more thing: Why is God’s existence up for debate anyway? Obvious evidence of God would be easy for all to see, yet more and more people do not believe. Why is that? Why would God rely on believers to convince the nonbelievers, especially when nearly all of them assert that no evidence would convince the nonbeliever anyway and is just a waste of time? Why not actually prove his own existence to those who are willing to see him? People like me. Seems like a rather poor system set up by a supposedly all-knowing being to me. I actually am very open to believing that there is more to this life than just what I can see with my own two eyes. I just have no good reason to believe it. If it’s true, show me how I can know that. Or are you telling me that I am unworthy of knowing the truth? Did God place you in charge of deciding who hears the truth and who does not?

        Liked by 2 people

      7. I am sorry that I struck a nerve, but I did read everything you wrote because you took the time to write it out, so thank you for that. I worry that someone must have hurt you in the past and I am sorry if I triggered something.

        We could go back and forth about evidence and what each of us might find acceptable, but I have a feeling it could be endless. At the end of the day, humans have theoretical minds, and at some point we must select what view of life most resonates with us. And for the record, I do not believe you are”unworthy” of the truth by any means.

        I don’t want to offend further, so I shall move on now. I appreciate your taking the time to write thoughtful replies.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw this band years ago at a Christian music festival here in New Hampshire. This was back when they had a different lead singer. Punk-pop music was never my style, but the message was right on point with what I believed in back then so I enjoyed it.

      You are right, Christian bands are popular and also big business. The same thing happened about a year ago to a member of Hillsong, one of the most well-known and popular Christian bands. A singer/songwriter for the band renounced his faith. Marty Sampson posted this on Instagram:

      “Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.”

      He also said this:

      “I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God.”

      The entire story can be read here:
      https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2019/august/im-genuinely-losing-my-faith-hillsong-worship-leader-rejects-christian-beliefs

      I used to be a diehard Christian music fan. That’s all I listened to for the longest time. It helped me stay focused on what I believed in and it reinforced my faith. I listened to some of my old CDs a little while ago just out of curiosity as it had been a few years and it shocked me to hear how many times the Christian singers sang about nagging doubts, the feeling that God wasn’t there and how their prayers consistently went unanswered. They always came around to saying they would believe anyway and life’s a test from God, blah blah blah, but the lyrics speak for themselves. Believers have a hard time believing. Period. That’s a huge problem for religion. The entire foundation of it is built on faith and belief, not truth and evidence.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ben, this is a great statement: Believers have a hard time believing.

        Of course most of them will deny-deny-deny, but this is primarily the reason why scores of them argue so fervently about what they believe. They need/require that reinforcement.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow I didn’t realize Marty Sampson left. When I was a Christian I grew up listening to Hillsong. I had some of their CDs and church would often play their songs. Back then you don’t even consider that these singers would have doubts… but someone leaving was bound to happen at some point. He should start a new band, although I don’t kmow how that is going to work out for him now.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I wonder how many people in that industry are actual believers and how many are doing it for the money. I’m sure there are others who don’t believe all that they preach but are afraid to come out and move on to something else. Some of the singers of Christian music are unbelievably talented and would do well in secular music, but who knows if any of them would ever try it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Some of them would have a lot to lose by being honest. Making a transition to secular music would be hard too. Your former fans see you as a traitor and non-Christians barely know who you are.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The other ridiculous argument believers like Hety Eliot like to make is “you have no evidence that God doesn’t exist” which always make me laugh. They can’t prove that he does exist so they throw that on the laps of the atheists. What he fails to realize is that we HAVE looked at the evidence and have found it wanting. As sapient beings, we’ve processed this information (most likely, endlessly) and have drawn rational and reasonable conclusions, e.g., that it was conceived, written, edited, redacted, interpolated, etc. entirely by men.

    Believers don’t do that. They are already hobbled in the argument because they go into it with a preconceived notion; i.e., that God does exist. They try and find with minor, minuscule defects in the atheists argument as if that might make their argument more salable.

    It doesn’t work.

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