Responses to Leaving The Faith – Andrew Hackman

Andrew Hackman is a blogger on matters of religion, politics and education.  He was a Christian for at least 26 years, but recently left the faith. I’ve watched as he documented his path on his own blog and invited him to write a guest editorial for mine.  He has been an elementary teacher for 20 years, performs in local theater, and lives with his wife and two children in Salt Lake City.  You can find his blog here, where he says of himself, “I am an ex-evangelical, post-Christian, hopeful agnostic. I believe loving our family, neighbors, and enemies is the only way to bring peace to this world.”

Responses to Leaving The Faith

I have recently left my Christian faith of 26+ years. This actually generated much less hub-bub than I anticipated; I deduce that most of my Christian friends considered my move from heretic to agnostic to actually be a step up.

I follow the Facebook pages and blogs of a number of other folks who have left their faith, and I have noticed some patterns. Whether it is from a slice of Christendom, or some other religion, reactions from the faithful are similar and tend to fall into certain categories. I will attempt to label some here.

* You’ll Get Yours! – These folks take it personally that you have left the faith. Their commentary toward you is one of frustration and anger. They tend to do a lot of “mind reading”, in that they are always telling you what your feelings and motivations are. It is usually not long before they are threatening you with Hell. The level of snarkiness in these conversations can get pretty high.

* I Pity You – This person repeatedly states how sorry they are for you now that you have left the faith. They regret that you got caught up with the wrong people or church, and that this has made you hurt and bitter. If you just knew the God/Jesus they know… you would never have left. These conversations can actually get pretty snarky too, but the delivery is always done with a touch of concern.

* You Must Be In Sin – When people in this camp hear of someone leaving their faith, they assume the person is engaging in -or wants to engage in- sinful activity; or that the “self-less” life of the faith was too hard. Somehow, in some way, the fault rests with the person who left the faith. What this believer can never consider is that the person left the faith because they found it to be untrue. They cannot process that possibility, so there must be more to the story…

* You Were Never One Of Us – It does not matter if you were Pastor of a megachurch… if you are no longer in the faith, then you were never really of it. This sometimes causes the believer to start talking to you as if it were your first day in Sunday school. Once, after paragraphs of theological conversation, a believer finally put it together that I had left the faith. His next line to me was, “You need to read John 3:16! It is so radical! It will really blow your mind!” It was as if the previous half hour of discussion hadn’t occurred and my 26 years in the faith had been erased.

* You Are Still One Of Us – I get this one a fair amount and it really doesn’t bother me too much. To this person I am “the son who said no, but still went and did the will of the Father”. Someone who is committed to doing good, loving others, and seeking justice still -in their mind -falls under the umbrella of Christian. However, I would contend that neither Christianity nor any other religion has the market on those attributes; so I could just as well be a Buddhist… or an Atheist.

* I Wish You Well – This person is your true friend. They are by your side and are glad of any journey that causes you to grow as a person. If they have to decide between their faith and a friend, they will always side with the friend… even if they choose to remain in their faith. If you are a person of faith, do you see yourself in any of the above categories? If you have left your faith, are there ways in which you would modify these categories or add to them?

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19 thoughts on “Responses to Leaving The Faith – Andrew Hackman

  1. Excellent… and I found myself on the receiving end of every one of these categories.
    My personal experience (5 years after leaving the faith) is that “friends” behave differently than they do on Facebook.

    No surprise there, I know, but what did surprise me was that the one’s that remained silent on Social Network were actually stewing their cold shoulder to me in person too.

    People leave faith for different reasons – my reason was logical. So there was no “pain” to speak of when I left… but frankly the pain inflicted by my “friends” once I left was a bit harsh.

  2. Very interesting, thanks. I’m still the friendly neighbourhood heretic, standing on the edge of the church making snarky comments, and to be honest, actually getting up and leaving for real feels like a huge and daunting step to take, however much it seems like the obvious outcome of my beliefs.

    I’m definitely going to be spending some time at your blog, Andrew.

  3. i missed the, “i love you no matter what you believe, don’t believe or do” people.

    i’m sorry if you’ve not encountered many of those 😦 it’s seems they more rare 😦

    i love your quote about loving our neighbors, and i’m assuming by your thoughtful post it means the christians that fall into those categories you mentioned as they too, like all of us want and need love.

    i wish you the best in your life’s journey andrew! 🙂 thanks for sharing and try if you can (i’m guessing you do) try to love those that feel “left behind” in your journey, and encourage other “exers” to do the same. there’s not a lot of that which only seems to make the problem worse.

    a response of “wow, thank you for caring so much about me that you’d share your thoughts about what i am doing” can really go a long way. if love does “hope all things” perhaps all of the people on those lists above.

    btw. to answer your question, i have seen myself in all the categories at one time in my journey. all with good reason it seemed at the time.

    thanks again for your post, i love HOPEFUL AGNOSTIC…. as a christian, i know it’s the HOPE that lies within us… none of us really know for SURE… 🙂

  4. Another comment I get somewhat frequently is along the lines that the fact that I am no longer a believer indicates fulfillment of the scripture that talks about the great falling away (see 2 Thes. 2:3-12). This is still one more way of marginalizing unbelievers (we are simply statistics in fulfillment of the scriptures, not really having left for valid reason). It is of course also yet another way religion has of protecting itself from being falsified, since even those who leave for justifiable reason (lack of evidence, biblical error and contradiction, and all the other legitimate reasons people have) are alleged to be further “proof” that the religion is true!

  5. I have personally never heard these to my face, makes me think they are praying for me behind my back though. I would hope to fall into the category ” You were never one of us”

    I have heard these though when spoken of other Leavers by believers.

  6. I find it very difficult to remain close with anyone who is a fervent believer. While the few old friends I have here that are christian and I can be polite, we have such radically different world views now that it’s kind of hard to find anything substantive to talk about. When the conversation seems to turn toward how we live in such a sinful age and the devil lurks around every corner, it’s hard to find common ground. I have a very hard time not wanting to point out the faulty lines of reasoning when these topics come up (and they often do). Anyone else have this experience?

    • Yep, I find this one of the hardest parts. I blog here and there about leaving the faith, and I find that it is difficult not to say things in a way that wouldn’t be offensive to the Christians I know.

  7. “What this believer can never consider is that the person left the faith because they found it to be untrue. They cannot process that possibility, so there must be more to the story…”

    This, more than anything, expresses what happens to me over and over when I talk to Christians, even those who have known me my whole life. I’ve used almost the exact same words to describe it. There is something revealing here about a deeper psychology I want to understand, when I figure it out I will let you know 😉

    • Therein lies the crux of my dilemma as well. The frequent response of “who hurt you” is often times met with a blank stare from me when I JUST got finished laying out why I no longer believe.

      Just recently, a friend who is well versed in the scriptures (as am I), ultimately concluded (paraphrasing) “you know the truth and one day you will return to it… or God will further harden your heart”

      Even tho he prides himself as being a critical thinker, I found this type of response indicative the common emotional response… in a way

  8. Part of life (at least for some) is leaving tribes. I’ve had to do it a couple of times. I was just reminded of this yesterday when in the course of a conversation, a person interjected some points of view from my old clan. That’s a very tricky place to be. The guy was simply parroting some “talking points” he read on the internet. But at the same time he was speaking the language of those I determined not to align with. I didn’t want to leave him with the illusion that I still subscribed to such perspectives, but I also didn’t want to come off as jaded or angry although, if I am honest, I am probably a tad jaded. 🙂 What Andrew describes above is the price of doing something different. Moving on to another place causes relational seismic activity. I often have to remind myself that when people question my motives, or say something that’s just dumb, to try not to overly process it…its just people being people.

    My family (immediate and extended) culture is one of very little spiritual imprint. When we gather for family events it can be down right hilarious. On my family side I’ve got an ex-con nephew, a gay uncle, a lesbian cousin, and a cousin who is an ex-hippie burnout . To gather at my wife’s means we will be hanging out with gang and ex-gang members, a meth user and a drug-dealer or two. Mixed in between are plenty of hardworking people who are doing their best to be good parents and folks who are contributing members of society. We are the only Christians. So how do we do it with so many different worldviews and lifestyles? We just love. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything. But we don’t come into those settings looking for debates or conflict. There has to be some level of respect in our life interactions or we will ultimately end up tearing people to shreds.

    So I casually wonder: Will Andrew, who lives in a city known for its ubiquitous religious culture be driven crazy by all that he encounters? I lived in Utah for 3 years…I know the landscape! (Go Jazz!) Will he finally come to the place where he feels like he will have to move on to “escape the madness”? Or will he be more irenic in his approach, choosing to live an integrated part of the community…not necessarily agreeing with everything, but respecting with the same respect he hopes to receive? When we left Utah, we left all sorts of friends behind: Christians, Mormons, Jack-Mormons, agnostics, and so on. Thankful for our time there!

    One last note: I found the interchange between the “Brothers Hackman” on Joe’s very interesting and engaging. I can’t remember which bro it was, but I related to his story of drifting off at one stage of life, doing my his thing, charting his own course. My own faith walk has not been a consistent trajectory, but one that was marked by a season of blazing my own trail. I don’t regret that time, although I do regret some of my decisions. It was a time I learned a lot that I brought back into my journey. I heard much of the stuff Andrew described in this blog posting. Most Christians probably won’t agree my time off the trail was a good thing, but I felt that I had to break away from the tribe in order to find my own footing for this life. In the immortal words of one S. Hindalong: “Shovel go deep, heart be true…chase the kangaroo!”

    Just some thoughts on a Monday morning. Back to the many tasks at hand…

  9. Martin – Cold shoulder is definitely a category I have experienced… I think there are two reasons for it. One is anger or contempt… and sometimes, I think people just don’t know what to say and they feel uncomfortable.

    Recovering – It is interesting to me what passes for heresy… heh, it doesn’t take much… which makes it damn fun to poke at. 🙂

    Carla – I think the last category includes the I love you folks. I do try to be patient with those left behind, but I do find my sensitivity to Christianeese has skyrocketed… but I am trying.

    Amy – Yeah, I am having to learn to navigate those waters. I find the difficulty is that the believer does not recognize that they are erroneously holding their position out as the default position. Therefore, they feel their endless interjections of theism are natural… whereas any notion to the contrary is antagonistic.

    Prpl – Yes! That issue is a doctrinal thesis waiting to happen.

    Kurt – It is interesting, but I have a lot of patience for my Mormon friends when it comes to their self-focused proclamations and exclusivity … whereas my boiling point is reached quickly when my evangelical friends talk and act in similar fashion. I can’t stand at a clear objective place to decide if there is a difference in approach or whether I am just over-sensitized because of my history in evangelicalism. All that to say, I don’t agree with Mormon theology, but I enjoy a lot of aspects of the culture.

    Hey, and thanks to everyone for reading and commenting!

  10. Great list! I also know Andrew — awesome guy. I left the Mormon just recently and just published a similar list on my blog of the responses I’d received. In addition to the ones listed here, I also received many responses that were complimentary, or people who felt like they wished they could leave, but were bound by culture, family obligations, or a dominant spouse. Also those who were inspired by what I wrote and impressed to study things further.

  11. @Andrew: After we moved to Utah it was not uncommon for folks from California to check in and ask, “How you holding up with those Mormons?” There was always a measure of concern that it must be really hard for us to be living in such “hostile territory.” I had to tell them that we actually LIKE our friends and neighbors. Sure, we were different in some distinct ways, but we SHARED the community. My son-in-law is a BYU grad…wrap your head around that!

    Regarding your reaction to evangelicals: I am much “touchier” and sensitive with those from within my own tribe than those from outside. Evangelicalism is not monolithic, and there some veins that utterly frustrate and embarrass me. I’m sure my brand of how I approach Christianity puts some off as well. I’ve really have to work hard on keeping my eyes on the path before me…which can be difficult when their are rocks being tossed from both sides…

  12. This post has brought me a great deal of comfort on my own journey through life. Thanks Ojo. Been a fan since my youth- I as well have become a hopeful agnostic and finding my way through this. Much Appreication

  13. Pingback: Episode 005: My Brother’s Journey To Atheism (Pt.2) – Beyond The Pale

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