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.