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How can you become a Christian if you don't believe in God?

(65 Posts)
GoldenWondering Wed 20-Jul-16 20:25:20

I probably haven't phrased my question very well. What I don't understand is how people suddenly become Christians. Do they feel something or is it something they decide to become? I have never once felt anything in several decades of churchgoing. Could I force myself to believe in this? There is nobody IRL I could ask. I have a friend who is a Christian and she said you would feel something but I don't want to ask her anything at the moment because she might pressurise me and I wouldn't be able to cope.

AcrossthePond55 Wed 20-Jul-16 20:32:25

I'll try to respond, but keep in mind that people's experiences are different.

I've always believed, it's just a part of me. But there are times I've felt the presence of God more profoundly that others.

It is a feeling. No one just says "OK, today I'm going to be a Christian' for no reason other than deciding to be one. The heart of Christianity is faith. Faith is belief. How it comes to you can differ. Some people experience a profound spiritual awakening, others a small feeling with a realization of the presence of God. However they experience it, the 'followup' is deciding to live a Christian life according to your conscience and your relationship with God.

Greenyogagirl Wed 20-Jul-16 20:39:11

My friend is Christian, he was bought up in a Christian house, rebelled but realised he wanted God in his life. He says it's something you have to put your faith into and he can feel Gods presence.
I'm Buddhist and it's not something I chose or was bought up as, it was lots of things throughout my life that gave me my beliefs and it just makes sense to me as I'm sure Christianity just makes sense to my friend.
I don't think you can force yourself to believe in something (I wish I could, church goers always seem happy and social!) if you feel you need something, research different religions and see if any make sense to you X

Is this a question about conversion?

My own story was of having an experience which could be described as an encounter with the divine which challenged me to go and find out about Christianity. I started going to church to try and make sense of that experience and I kept asking lots of questions about why and how and why does it mean and I'm still doing that 30 years later.

So I didn't go from unbelief to belief overnight but if I had bothered to note the date I could tell you when I started on my adult journey of faith. For most people the start of the journey seems to be more subtle and gradual. Very few people have a Saul on the rod to Damascus experience but it does happen.

Dutchcourage Fri 22-Jul-16 07:28:46

I would think that new people joining Christianity wouldn't automatically believe straight away. They may take an interest in the teachings, feel something is missing from their lives, need the support a corrigation can give, many reasons why they would want to join this specific community. Then through further teachings I suppose they would start to follow and believe in the scriptures.

AcrossthePond55 Fri 22-Jul-16 14:15:27

The thing is Dutch that you don't 'join Christianity' by simply attending or joining a church, or by taking an interest in its teachings. You don't become one even by simply following the tenets of the faith. You become a Christian by a belief in God, acceptance of Christ as His son, and acceptance of Christ's sacrifice for our salvation.

I do believe some people come to faith through seeking because something is missing in their lives, or even out of despair. But it's the sincere belief that makes them Christians.

GoldenWondering Fri 22-Jul-16 16:59:47

Thank you for the replies so far. I am still not really understanding how you go from non-belief to belief. I never believed in any of it as a young child, even when I was too young to question any of it. Since then I have built up so much resentment at being made to go to church, that I may be resisting it. I just think it is odd that I have had to do this most of my life and it still seems completely alien to me.

My friend says I would have felt something by now if I was going to. My mum said she could see the evil in me when I was born and that's why.

It is a question about conversion. I am currently what I would describe as actively atheist and have been all my adult life.

I can't get my head round the concept of believing in it. To me it would be like not believing in gravity. Is it possible for me to choose to believe it or will something just happen or not happen to me. I'm sorry for all these questions and they probably sound very stupid but this whole matter of religion is ruling my life and ruining my life.

GoldenWondering Fri 22-Jul-16 17:03:23

Sorry, posted too soon.

Why has this not happened to me? Is it really possible it is the evil in me or is that just my mum being nasty?The people at church were absolutely furious the last time I admitted I didn't believe. I am too scared to mention it to anyone. When I post these threads people sometimes advise me to have a nice chat with somebody at church but that ain't gonna be happening.

Sorry to answer a question with a question but how is religion ruling and ruining your life? That might help get a handle on how to answer your question. I suspect we mean different things by belief and God so I'm trying not to confuse.

Inthepalemoonlight Fri 22-Jul-16 17:19:11

Have you thought about why you want to believe in something you don't believe in. Maybe I'm misunderstanding but are you trying to trick yourself into believing in something you think is false? Why? To please others?
Also, your mum told you there is evil in you? That says a lot about her and nothing about you. It does not sound like she has a loving Christian attitude to me. Do not start thinking you are evil because your mother says it.

GoldenWondering Fri 22-Jul-16 17:29:19

Going to church is ruining my life. I thought it might be better if I believed in it.

I can't see me ever believing in it tbh but I want to know how I am supposed to make the mental shift from actively disbelieving to believing. I've listened to all these testimonies and a lot of them are from people with addictions or who have found themselves in prison. They come to the church to speak and it is so weird for me to listen to because if anybody in the church was known to be an alcoholic or a criminal they would be ostracised by the congregation. Does something really bad have to happen in your life for you to convert?

Tuo Fri 22-Jul-16 17:37:58

Oh Golden - I'm sorry that you've had such bad experiences. No wonder you feel so nervous about engaging with religion, given the experiences that you've had. Your questions are far from stupid, though I'm not sure if I can help at all.

Cards on the table: I'm a Christian. I was brought up as a Christian (though in a 'turn up on Sundays and then never mention it the rest of the week' kind of way). I wandered away from it in my teens and stayed away till I was in my 40s (though I was always agnostic rather than actively atheist). I came back about 6 years ago and am now very involved in my church, although the rest of my family is atheist/agnostic. I remain liberal, feminist, open-minded: my faith supports my being those things rather than contradicts them. I believe in science.

I would like to advise you to talk to someone IRL about this, but it sounds as if the church you've had most contact with isn't the right place for that. I do not believe that anyone is 'born evil' and I am truly horrified that your mum would say that to you. So, no, it is not anything that could be described as 'evil' that's keeping you from believing. I am going to make a few guesses based on the little that you've said already, and forgive me if they are wildly off-the-mark, I'm making assumptions but only in a desire to help if I can... So, it sounds to me as if what might be standing in your way is fear. Your own mum has defined you as 'evil', your church has responded with anger (rather than understanding and support) to your admission of doubt and a lack of faith, your friend has implied that it's too late for you to 'feel something' and believe. Is this the kind of church that also tells you that you will go to Hell for your lack of belief? Are you afraid that if you accept even for a moment that God might exist, then he will judge you, find you to be 'evil', and condemn you? I'm just guessing here, but fear would be a very legitimate and real reason not to 'feel it'....

Have you ever considered trying a different kind of church? I can tell you for sure that if you rocked up at my church and said that you were having difficulty believing in God, people would be supportive, would share their own experiences (as people have done on this thread) of coming to God, quickly or slowly, easily or painfully, would understand that it's difficult and, yes, counterintuitive. No-one would judge you, I promise. How would you feel about just trying to meet God in a different place from where you've been looking for him up till now? That needn't be in a church at all - it might be in nature or just in a quiet place where you feel safe - or it might be in a church and with a group of people who worship in a different way from what you've been used to and who are happy to meet you where you are.

To answer your initial question, I do honestly believe that it's possible to 'fake it till you make it' to some extent. As I said, I was never an out-and-out atheist - I always felt that there was something, but I couldn't make it add up to an actual belief in the tenets of Christianity. I started going to church because I wanted to see what would happen if, instead of dismissing that something, I nurtured it. So I went to church and I joined in with the bits that I felt comfortable with and ignored the bits I didn't feel comfortable with and just listened and tried to be receptive. And I'd love to tell you that God spoke to me in a big crash of thunder and flash of light, but that's not what happened. Instead, what happened was that I heard things that made sense to me. I received advice that seemed to speak to where I was right there and then. I met people who lived out the idea of loving their neighbours and who seemed to want to be neighbours to me. Having felt isolated for some time in the place where I lived, I found myself in a community. And alongside that I found myself able to join in more with the words of the services, feeling more comfortable and less ill-at-ease, less worried that someone would be able to tell that I wasn't really a Christian and would judge me for it and ask me to leave. Eventually I found I was able to say the whole of the Creed and to feel OK about it. But this was a grradual process - it probably took about 6 months at least and during a lot of that time I felt like a total fraud. Something made me persist, though, and I'm glad it did. I would add that I prayed throughout that time. At the start I felt like a fraud praying too, so I would just tell myself that I was 'gathering my thoughts', and I'd only use well-worn tried and trusted prayers (mostly the Lord's Prayer) rather than my own words. Somehow repeating words learned years ago, like a sort of mantra, didn't feel as personal as having to formulate my own 'address to God'... and then gradually I added a snippet of a prayer that I'd learned at school, asking God to help me to 'know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly'. I think that I used this a bit like a plea for help... kind of 'If you're there, help me to know that you're there...'. And he both did and didn't - no great signs from heaven, but, yes, in the end (but I did have to work at it) I did 'feel something'.

This is just my perspective, and an atheist would doubtless tell you that you don't feel anything because there is nothing to feel. However, you are clearly not comfortable with just walking away from the whole 'religion thing' and forgetting about it. It's obviously preying on your mind, so if my experience can be of any help, I'm happy to have shared it with you. I truly wish you well in your search and hope that you find peace of mind and happiness.

AcrossthePond55 Fri 22-Jul-16 17:39:30

Of course you aren't nasty or evil! What horrible things to say to another human being! But your mum sure is, and your church is too if they indeed got 'furious' with you. And if they hold themselves out as Christians I can see why you've got a mental/emotional 'block' against things of a spiritual nature.

Here's the thing. If you're trying to fully understand why someone finds faith or analyze the feelings involved in that discovery, I'm sorry, it's just never going to happen. That's part of the whole thing. That it's individual and intangible. Sort of one of those "I know what it is, but I can't explain it to you" and "You won't understand it until you experience it yourself". Rather like falling in love or childbirth! Each experience is unique to the person who experienced it. Two mums can discuss their respective childbirth experiences, but they will never fully understand what the other went through. Just as two people fall in love for different things and experience their love in different ways.

A question. Is it just Christianity and God as known to Christians that puzzles you or do you feel the same about any spiritual conversion (i.e. Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc)?

And your friend is wrong. There is no one that God can't reach and no timeline for finding faith. I've had faith since I was a child and it's just gotten stronger as I've gotten older, but I know people who haven't believed until they were in their 50s and 60s. And you certainly don't have to go to church to be a Christian.

Golden, are you sure you want to keep going to that church? It doesn't seem to me as if they're contributing to your well being. And if you are seeking faith, I don't think you'll find it there. TBH, I was raised as a 'hard shell' Baptist and stopped going to our family church when I was 14 (in defiance of my parents) because the people there were so judgmental and hypocritical. And they preached a God of vengeance and anger. I believed in a God of acceptance and love. My parents left when I was a young adult for the same reasons I had.

As far as it not happening to you, do you want it to? It's not going to happen unless you are open to it, really deep down in your soul. It's a giving up of your life and your beliefs of what you think life is and accepting God's will for your life and a belief that he will lead you to where you're supposed to be. You have to be willing to believe and accept that.

Tuo Fri 22-Jul-16 17:43:15

I cross-posted with about 5 people there, sorry! Slow typist!

AcrossthePond55 Fri 22-Jul-16 17:45:30

Tuo sounds as if we're saying pretty much the same thing!

peachpudding Fri 22-Jul-16 17:50:22

You can't choose your beliefs. You can pretend to believe, you can say you believe, you might want to believe and you might even act like you believe but you can never choose to believe in something and will always know you are living a lie.

Sounds to me the indoctrination you were subjected to in the past never managed to brainwash you. Your rational brain was probably to intelligent. Unfortunately your mother/church has managed to plant ideas of guilt in you, which is a very common tactic of religions and cults. The church community probably plays such a big part in your families life that you can't imagine leaving it.

But you either accept going to church even though its ruining your life or you start the journey of living a life that isn't dependant on the church. Yes it might be scary but for the sake of your sanity admit your beliefs and dont accept those that say there is something wrong with you. Its normal not to believe a god. Billions of us do it every day and have happy fulfilled lives.

RoseDeGambrinus Fri 22-Jul-16 17:54:19

You say 'going to church is ruining your life'. What would happen if you stopped going? I'm getting the feeling that there are people in your life pressuring you to do things you're not comfortable with, sorry if I'm wrong.

straightouttacompton Fri 22-Jul-16 17:54:55

I think a lot of people 'suspend their disbelief' because they like and enjoy the perceived benefits of being part of a Church. The moral framework, the social and community aspects.

I know quite a few people in the LDS Church who I suspect don't really believe a lot of the more fantastical aspects/teachings of the religion but love being part of the LDS Church so they don't think too much about the origins of the religion.

Viewofhedges Fri 22-Jul-16 17:56:49

What your mum has said to you is horrible. People aren't 'born evil'. That's just a callous and cruel thing to say. In fact it's probably abusive (and I've rarely used that term.)

I don't believe in any religion now but went to a very Christian school and ended up reading Theology at university as I wanted to think about belief after a few years of fervent belief in my teens. I don't believe now, and would describe myself as a humanist. I just can't believe. I don't think that makes me 'wrong' or 'evil' but it's simply my own position - even though my conditioning sometimes makes it feel weird to say it out loud like I'll get struck down or something!'

It sounds like the church you're currently going to is very lacking in Christian compassion. There's a lot more of that in the posts above.

Tuo Fri 22-Jul-16 18:23:16

AcrossThePond - great minds wink

Atenco Fri 22-Jul-16 18:36:58

Ay AcrossthePond55, always so well worth a read.

Maybe you could occupy yourself with reading about different religions and belief systems. You could even find out about the viewpoints of the different Christian churches. I belong to another religion now, but the church I went to as a Christian was much more accepting than the one you go to, I think.

But is perfectly valid to just not go to church.

GoldenWondering Fri 22-Jul-16 18:55:20

Thank you for all your detailed replies. I am going to take some time to digest everything. I am feeling very down at the moment, which probably comes across on the thread. I have another question and I am going to start another thread because it isn't really related, but I don't want anyone to think I am spamming the boards with stupid questions.

HerRoyalNotness Fri 22-Jul-16 19:03:49

For me personally, I thought if I just kept at it, kept going to church, associating with congregation, praying, it would just come, the faith. I'd talk to people at church who just seemed to have a certain glow about them and in the words they spoke and wonder why I didn't.

I decided, as I couldn't fully commit, I was just going through the motions, to not go anymoreZ. The weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I feel less stressed overall, no pressure on me.

You can certainly live a Christian inspired life without belief in God. Jesus had many good teachings that help us lead a good and satisfactory life. I'd start there and see how you get on.

AcrossthePond55 Fri 22-Jul-16 20:21:01

Golden, do you mind if I ask how old you are? You say you are basically forced to attend this church with your family, but if you are an adult (which is sounds like you are) and independent then (again, if I may ask) why do you do go?

Would it help you at all if you worked towards independence from your family? A job and and perhaps a different place to live? Do you have friends outside the church?

OutwiththeOutCrowd Sat 23-Jul-16 15:59:01

Golden, in my opinion, the short answer to your question is that it's not possible to be a Christian if you don't believe in God. However – and this is crucial – it is possible to be a Yeshuan – a believer in the moral teachings of the man Jesus – whether you believe in God or not.

The fragmentary evidence available suggests that the early Jewish Christians did not subscribe to the view of Jesus as divine saviour later adopted by the Church but saw him more as a teacher and visionary. Throughout history, many thoughtful people have found solace and inspiration in a similar more naturalistic conception of Jesus. They have found it perfectly feasible to be a Yeshuan without being a Christian.

Putting your original question to one side, though, I was most struck by how cowed by Christianity and Christians you seem. And I feel that it’s important for you to know that, whatever you have heard or are hearing from those around you, you do have intrinsic value, whether you are a Christian or not.

Not believing the narrative of a particular religion does not make you a bad person.

If you take nothing else away from this post, I would like you to find a way to hold onto that one simple important truth.

Yes, non-Christians are described as morally tainted in the Bible. But then, Gentiles are described in similar terms in the Torah, as are non-Muslims in the Quran. In fact, being of later inception, the Quran is able to proclaim the moral failings of Jews and Christians explicitly!

It seems to me that the Abrahamic faiths, as described by their holy books, provide incomplete moral systems for today’s world, a world in which people of all faiths and none are expected to live side by side and not be ‘religionist’.

Nowadays, most liberal Christians quietly ignore the parts of the Bible that describe non-Christians as being more immoral than Christians. But there remains in some more conservative circles a vestigial belief in the moral superiority of Christians, of the intrinsic superiority of the Christian moral code over other such codes – and, unfortunately, Golden you seem to be living in a community that continues to espouse such old-fashioned views.

I hope that by looking at the best known Abrahamic belief systems as a whole, though, it becomes clearer that these attitudes are just remnants of a tribal mentality that shuns those outside the belief tribe, probably out of fear and ignorance of other ways of being.

If you have a yearning to explore your spiritual side, and that desire seems to be directing you towards some form of Christianity, then I think you should feel free to investigate further on your own terms and in your own way.

On the other hand, if you feel no pull towards Christianity whatsoever and are trying to force yourself into it because others are telling you being a non-believer means being immoral, I think you should again feel free to reject this sort of emotional blackmail and stay where you are as an atheist, knowing there is nothing intrinsically wicked in that stance.

Not all ancient writings are tribal in spirit, and I’d like to end with some beautiful, inclusive words written by the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius that knock spots off some of the more narrow-minded assertions found in the Abrahamic holy books:

Constantly think of the Universe as one living creature, embracing one being and one soul; how all is absorbed into the one consciousness of this living creature; how it compasses all things with a single purpose, and how all things work together to cause all that comes to pass, and their wonderful web and texture.

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