Recently George Perdikis, former co-founder of the Christian rock group Newsboys, has unfolded the story of how he went from being a Christian from one of the most popular Christian-rock groups to being an atheist. This stirred up a natural curiosity for me for the two reasons: one, I grew up in a Christian home listening to the Newsboys, and two, that I struggled with believing in God throughout high school and early into college. Testimonies by former Christians are a natural curiosity in the same manner that testimonies from people who were of former faiths/non-faiths are. The question of interest is—what happened? From Perdikis view, it seems that he has deliberately left a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader in order to ease our curiosity. In all fairness, life is complicated. It is difficult to deduce from a mere article all of the reasons why someone might reject theism in favor for atheism. However, given the clues that Perdikis has left behind for us, there is one particular theme that stands out in many other cases of those who have left theism for atheism.
The Enlightenment changed the world that we live in. The forecast was that as humanity reaches new heights of technological achievement, that God would slowly be pushed off of his throne in favor of reason. The neo-atheist movement that experienced reanimation in the 21st century did much to reelect the proposition that faith—of any sort—was both irrational and dangerous. Undoubtably, much of the success of the New Atheist movement is likely attributed to the events of 9/11. Books like The God Delusion and God is not Great merely played on the heartstrings of an already vulnerable Western world. As the shrill of this movement begins to stagnate, we must still ask ourselves the question of whether atheism is truly the face of the rational human being. It is my personal belief, and the thesis of this post, that atheism is not embraced for intellectual reasons; on the contrary it is typically embraced for emotional reasons.
Taking a look at Perdikis article, several statements stood out as clues as to why he has reject Christianity. Perdikis cites former bandmate Peter Fuller’s parents as being an influence on the band. “As fundamentalist Christians, the only acceptable form of music was the kind that worshipped God. Bill and Rosalie were like second parents to me and, for that reason, I never questioned their advice.” Perhaps one of the conspicuous problems with much of the New Atheist movement has been their propensity to launch attacks against “fundamentalist Christians.” This is a serious miscalculation of the religious landscape, considering that it should be well-established by now that you don’t weigh the value of a group by their fundamentalists (might I add that this also means that, as Christians, we do not judge all atheists on the principles of their fundamentalist atheist counterparts. Not all atheists are anti-theists. I’ve met many respectable atheists in my short lifetime.) I believe Perdikis’ encounter with fundamentalist Christianity to be partially responsible for this next comment that he “always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity.” It goes without saying that there appears to be a swarm of misconceptions about Christianity in this last comment. It is likely that this is in part the result of fundamentalist influence that is typically very much about rule keeping. On the contrary, one of the beautiful marks of Christianity is that it is not a belief system that is focused on rules. It is a love relationship. Certainly there are unspoken rules when it comes to friendship, and romantic relationships. I have a wife whom I love, therefore there are certain things that I am eager to do to show that love. I will not, for instance, run away with another woman. A person in a love relationship does not exit that relationship because there are too many rules involved. Rules are followed for the purpose of maintaining and existing within a meaningful relationship with that person. Unfortunately, many people miss this idea about God as well—who is a person.
“There seems to be more ego and narcissism amongst Christian musicians than their secular counterpart,” Perdikis says. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is more narcissism within these Christian circles, it is true that many people who are considered to be Christian leaders are narcissistic. Pastors, missionaries, worship leads, you name it—there is not a person safe from the virus egocentrism. This is where the call to accountability within the church often fails. However, narcissism is not the direct result of being a Christian. Perdikis did not necessarily say that this was the case, though this seems to attribute to his rejection of theism. However, I would agree with him that the prevalence of ego within the Christian community is a major turnoff; but not a good enough reason to turn from Christianity.
“Recently, the Newsboys were featured in the movie God’s Not Dead. The movie demonstrated the pervasive attitude of Christians. They demonized everyone while giving a pass to their own particular brand of Christianity, making themselves look like fluffy white angels with perfect, synchronized lives.” I have to partially agree with him on this point (though perhaps I would not use the word “pervasive”.) This was the biggest problem that I had with the movie as a Christian; which is precisely why I’ve been reserved to recommend it. I have no further comment to make, because we really shot ourselves in the foot on this one.
“The truth is — from someone who knows what went on then and what goes on now — the Newsboys aren’t as holy as they profess. Instead of wearing a mask of ‘righteousness,’ they should acknowledge that they are struggling as much as everyone else.” All Christians struggle deeply. Righteousness is granted by God through Christ, and it finds its fountain nowhere else. Unfortunately many people are turned off by the self-righteousness of Christians; who could blame them? William Lane Craig makes the profound statement at the end of his book Reasonable Faith that the best Christian apologetic is the life that Christians live. I would agree that if we, as Christians, lived the life that we are called to live, that people would be more included inquiring about our differences. Needless to say, we cannot defend ourselves against the charges made against our community for self-righteousness. After all, our self-righteousness was never the result of being too Christian but not being Christian enough. However, despite the many flaws of the Christian community, this is not a reason enough to reject Christianity.
Again and again it seemed apparent to me that Perdikis rejection of Christianity was not intellectual, but emotional. He cites several authors he had been reading from the pop-atheist world (Dawkins, Krauss, etc.) as a bleak hint towards the problem between religion and science [a false dichotomy, I might add]; yet we should all know by now that these men are the equivalent of evangelists for atheism. He cites the divorce of his wife and the resulting turn to human psychology as perhaps playing a role in the dissolving his faith. But in the end, there is not intellectual argument against God that holds much weight. Neither cosmology, nor psychology, nor biology, nor philosophy, nor history, nor archaeology, nor morality, is able to speak out loudly against God. It is unfortunate, but it seems to be true—the problem many people have with God is the problem of pain. Pain caused by death, divorce, the church, Christians, illness, disorder, and whatever else under the sun that causes us to cry out and question the existence of God. I have been there too. These reasons are not intellectual; they are emotional; but they are reasons, none the less. Be careful how you approach those who reject Christianity. There is always a story. And though I personally believe that atheism is not embraced on intellectual grounds, but rather emotional grounds, that only strengthens our need to show love to our atheists. Pray for Perdikis.