Wednesday, March 07, 2007

LISTEN.

It might benefit you to read this letter

I used to be a Christian. I’m now an agnostic atheist.

The story of how I got from there to here is a long one. It has a large cast of characters, spans some three decades, and is set in a variety of locations, both exotic and mundane. The plot wanders a bit, but some overarching themes emerge when looking at the whole picture. I am the playwright and the storyteller.

And I’m not going to tell you my story.

I am not going to reveal the details. I am not going to tell you the names of the dramatis personae, nor describe the roles they played. I am not going to tell you how long I was a Christian, or how I became an atheist. I am not going to tell you the plotline, or talk about the common threads and themes I’ve noticed along the way.

Do you know why?

Of course you don’t. So I will tell you.

I am not going to tell you my story for the simple reason that you will not listen.

Oh, I know that you will read the words on the page, you will gain perhaps a superficial understanding of the chain of events, you will perhaps remember some of the more unusual names, or pick out particular problems or issues that just stand out to you, for one reason or another — but when all is said and done, you will form in your mind your own List of Reasons Why I Left. They will be based not on what I have said here, but on what your religion has told you, and on what you believe. If you are a typical believer (and you are; don’t imagine that you are somehow above average in the understanding department), you will likely choose one or more Real Reasons Why She Left from the following list:

  1. Someone in the church hurt her.
  2. She was/is angry at God.
  3. She wasn’t raised in the church.
  4. She was raised in the wrong church.
  5. She was never a Real Christian(tm) to begin with.
  6. She was/is looking at the behavior of bad believers and judging the entire faith on those bad people, who of course aren’t really TrueChristians(tm) anyway, since if they were they wouldn’t be acting that way.
  7. She’s read her Bible, but she didn’t understand it properly.
  8. She didn’t pray hard enough.
  9. She left because she just wants to live in her sin.
  10. She’s just rejecting her inadequate parental figures.
  11. God has given her plenty of answers to her endless questions, she just doesn’t like them.
  12. She hates God.
  13. Etc.

I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some other things to add to the list on your own. The point that I am making is that you will look right past what I myself am telling you, about my own life - my own experiences, thoughts, feelings, and so on - and ignore it, in favor of your own judgments. You will simply dismiss what I have to say, because it will not align with what your church, your Bible, your pastor, and your ego tells you. I am the highest authority on my own life: and you will not realize or believe this.

How do I know all this? I know it because of two things.

First: I have yet to meet a Christian who did not do this.

Seriously. I abhor painting a group with a broad brush the way that I am in this post, but truth is: Christians, you’ve earned it. Some of you have been more stubborn about it than others, some have been more gentle; but every single one of you gives me at least a deer-in-the-headlights look of utter confusion. And I can tell you’re not really listening. It’s too much of a struggle.

Second: I used to be a Christian — and I did exactly the same thing. Like you, I was taught that apostates and nonbelievers were deceived by a power far greater than they will ever understand. Like you, I was taught to pity them. I was taught that nonbelievers had empty, meaningless lives. And I was encouraged to evangelize them.

Yes - just like you, I had an ulterior motive: to lead people to Jesus. Teach them the Truth(tm). Show them the Bible. It’s one of Christianity’s dirty little secrets: every interaction you have with another human being is a chance for spreading the Word. I know as well as you do that getting to know someone simply because you like them as a person takes a back seat to getting to know them so you can slip some witnessing into the exchange without their noticing. The difference between us is that I’m willing to admit it. If this offends you, don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about: remember, I used to be in the club, too. I know the secret handshake. I still have the decoder ring, even.

So if there is nothing else that you take from this post, take just this: do you really want to understand why people leave your religion?

Then just LISTEN.

3 comments:

Rock in the Grass said...

Hi Dave
yes - we Christians are very good at telling people what to do/think/pray/desire, but are very bad at listening!
Peace bro'.
PG

robbie said...

To the female who wrote the letter, my heart goes out to you ,you are right christians doent always listen but then who does you reasons for leaving christanity are youres maybe you could open up about them ,i myself have come to know the lord our god very personally i have no hidden agenda i want evey one to be in the kingdom.following christ is costly most peole want to point out youre flaws youre shortcomings
where as i know god uses our weakness i will pray for you even though i dont know youre name i feel youre plight knowing jesus is nt about saying im right or youre wrong its about love, mercy,and relationship ,forgiving others and yourself .Not about scoring points on some spiritual recruitment drive
who are the true believers who are the fakes?I love the lord I love talking about my lord he has been so good to me i wish you could know jesus the way i do i pray you will in time try not to be so down on all christians you cant have possibly met them all God has not turned his back on you and if you will return to him he will return to you bless you .

Mitch said...

Robbie,
I am sure you say what you do with a heart of good, but what you state is exactly what she abhors. You have not Listened. You have forced your own agenda/ issues/ thoughts/ views onto her and this is what she is sick of and what has turned her away. People need to be able to just listen, be still and take on board what the other is trying to get across and not try and influence them with what you assume is right. Have you never felt like turning your back when people keep on at you that you should feel this way or that way, that they have an ownership on your life. Where is the freedom of choice, to really speak how you feel without someone coming out hurt, we keep so much bottled up, unsaid, laking in love (love hurts!!).
I ask you to print off her letter and your reply and look at it neutraly. Reflect on what you have wrote in context to what she complains about. She does not need people to tell her about Jesus or the Bible because she knows already, she wants people to be people, genuine and honest, not striking up a dialogue based on Christianity but on humanity. You could have just said I will pray for you and this would have spoken volumes more.
Less talking, more listening and you will get to know people on a deeper level that you did not expect or imagine. Peace in Him xxx

 

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