Some Quick Reflections on My Life Among Evangelicals

I did it. I survived my experience at a right-wing, evangelical Christian university. As of this past Saturday, I am no longer an undergrad student. I find my mind full of swirling thoughts about the whole experience, and I’m not sure if I can coherently put those thoughts to words. Regardless, I shall try.

#1: I chuckle to myself when I ponder the irony involved in my heading off to a Christian school in order to better understand my faith only to reject faith altogether. I can’t help but speculate that had I attended a state school I would most likely still be a person of faith. Living among Christians really pushed me to challenge the claims made by people of faith in ways that I doubt I would have elsewhere. I am glad for the experience, really. Had I gone to school elsewhere or nowhere at all, I would likely have indulged in a complacent faith for much of my life. Attending that particular school sparked a desire to learn about the truth-claims of my faith that allowed me to see the internal inconsistencies of religious belief. Beyond that, it was really a formative experience. I was forced to learn how to maneuver through a sub-culture in which I was part of a staunch minority. The intellectual and emotional lessons I learned as a result will certainly help me later in life.

#2: In hindsight I am absolutely certain that Christians simply cannot live in compliance with the tenets of their faith. For the past year I’ve always found some humor in many of the lyrics of songs sung during chapel services. “You’re the only one I need,” “My life is in You,” “This world is empty, pale, and cold compared to knowing You my Lord.” It is almost hilarious the claims made by Christians-and these kinds of claims are by far not limited to a few emotional songs-in comparison to the lives lived by Christians. I have never witnessed a Christian who has been able to purge him/herself of so-called worldly pursuits in favor of a more devoted faith. Walking through my Christian campus, I would see students clad in the same clothes as college age persons elsewhere. I always wanted to ask if Jesus would be willing to waste the extra $30 for the shirt at Abercrombie or American Eagle. Students at my school spent much of their time playing sports, watching YouTube, going to the movies, and a variety of other typical activities. There is nothing inherently wrong by these activities. However, you would think these students who are by and large convinced that 85% of the world is destined for the pits of hell would find more productive things to do with their time.

#3: Christianity (and other religious faith) is not necessarily bad. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is a justification for religious belief; however, there are Christians who are prompted by their faith to do great works of justice just as their are Christians who are prompted by their faith to commit great atrocities. Religious belief seems to me to be nothing more than a sociological phenomenon stemming from that desire to be a part of something bigger and a desire for eternal life. It’s existence is morally neutral. Ultimately, I think truth trumps non-truth every time, but there is no reason for me to believe that an abandonment of faith in the world will suddenly create an international utopia.

#4: I am ready to put struggles of faith behind me. At no time since the publication of my de-conversion to those at my school did I intellectually question the decision to abandon faith. From time to time, however, I would find myself drawn to the story of it all. A God who created each of us, cares about us deeply, a powerful enemy in Satan, a cosmic struggle for the souls of the world in which each individual may take part, certainty in the triumph of good over evil at the end of days, an eternity in paradise with a personal and benevolent God. The story can really be compelling emotionally. But the extent to which it is compelling is no greater than any other religious metanarrative. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and countless others carry with them the same sense of inclusion and purpose. That is no way to choose which truth-claim to follow. Despite those psychological reasons to continue in faith (I have even from time to time considered joining a church for social reasons and faking faith), I am content in the great mysteries of the universe. I am content not holding to an unsubstantiated claim to absolute truth. I am ready to go on with my life in other settings where religious faith is peripheral.

#5: Christian communities are not the “real world.” One of the ongoing jokes among students at my school was that we lived in a “bubble.” A favorite professor of mine often countered that our school was “closer to reality than the fallen world on the outside.” I respectfully disagree. Some of the social phenomena I experienced at the school seem to be absolutely ridiculous. The degree to which people hone in on behaviors such as course language and the imbibing of alcoholic beverage is almost absurd. Use the word “fuck” in front of many of my friends from school and you will be met with utter shock, make a flippant remark about all of the individuals burning for all eternity and hell and you may very well incite rounds of laughter. Announce that you frequent the local bars to have a few drinks after a long day of work and you will find yourself the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, participate in gossip about which Christians are worse than others and you’ll find yourself right at home. It’s absurd the degree of certainty and assurance with which the students at that school will condemn certain behaviors as “sinful” and embrace others without pause. Further, I fear most of these people are completely unprepared to engage the outside world. Lest they remain in overwhelmingly Christian communities, these people are going to fall apart. I truly am concerned for the futures of my friends who fit the stereotypes of Christian home-schoolers; there is no way they are going to have an easy transition into the real world.


20 Responses to “Some Quick Reflections on My Life Among Evangelicals”

  1. Adam J. Coffman Says:

    Greetings. I stumbled upon your blog from the WordPress homepage. Great thoughts. I also graduated from a Christian university. It actually ended up taking me nine years to get through it all… they expelled me for awhile, and I spent some time studying abroad, etc.. Anyway, I just wanted to say that all of your observations are exactly what I experienced as well; I hated chapel at my school. I think God hated it too. I’m still a follower of Christ, and in the end all the adversity strengthened my faith, but I can testify that you’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to Christian schools in general. Take care.

  2. Adam,

    Welcome, and thanks for the comment! I know where you are coming from (I spent 3 of my 4 years at my school as a devoted, if skeptical, Christian). It seems almost tragic that evangelical universities tend to alienate anyone who does not fit into the mold of the ideal evangelical (and I have found these people often tend to have the most rich faith of any of the students).

    Also, I’ve always hated chapel, too. One semester I racked up $180 in chapel fines–yes, we were fined if we did not attend enough chapel services.

    Best wishes,


  3. Derek Rishmawy Says:

    First off, nice to have you back and congratulations. Its quite an accomplishment and you should feel proud that you made it.

    Secondly, I agree with an enormous amount of your observations and even a number of your conclusions. But, I have to say that a number of your observations are susceptible to quite different interpretations and are easily and yet sadly quite compatible with the truth of Christianity. Namely Christian hypocrisy and stupidity. Yet, reading the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul, ought disabuse one of any notions that Christian “perfection” is ever actually perfectly attained or that we ought to expect it in this life. This is because it is an eschatological reality. We live in the “now, but not yet” of the kingdom of God and so some of the effects begin now, but will not be fully consummated until Christ’s return. So Christ begins to change us now, but we’ll still need work until he comes back. Also, sanctification is a process. It takes time and effort to grow in holines. Unfortunately, Evangelicals have lost a solid theology of Spiritual discipline and sanctification which results in the almost entirely indistinguishable and irrelevant lives so many of them live. Its like Chesterton said, “Its not that Christianity has been tried and wanting, it’s that its never been tried.” (I’m sure you’ve already heard some of this to a degree and it doesn’t answer everything you’ve said, but I would argue that this shows that Christianity itself can coherently account for why there are lame Christians and it indeed expects them to be there. Note: this isn’t to minimize the wrongness of it.)

    Coming to an earlier comment you made. You talked about how you likely would have stayed a Christian at a state school and that going to an evangelical school probably did the trick. I agree with you. But, I think your reasoning as to why is wrong. You seem to think that going to state school would have left your faith unchallenged and that it would have been easier to hold on and ignore all the “inconsistencies” and all that. Or maybe you would have been able to appeal to some martyr narrative and block out the big, bad world that way. I have to tell you, from actual experience as one of like 3 Christians in the Philosophy program at the Universtity of California, Irvine, and pretty much the only one who spoke up, that you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Going to state school, being surrounded and challenged for 3 years running by my fellow-students and Professors about my faith, its “inconsistencies”, improbabilities, intolerance, etc., I have had to look at this thing backwards and forwards and actually deal with it out in the real world and not the “bubble” where you did. (Believe me, many hours were spent in conversation and such on every conceivable subject.) I have to say, this has actually made my faith stronger and more complex and less complacent than it would have been if I’d have gone with a bunch of my friends to Christian school where so much of it is taken for granted, because everybody believes.

    Honestly, I think that’s part of what killed it for you. You were dealing with Christianity in the bubble. Christianity is next to useless in the bubble, surrounded by smug, self-righteous church kids. The “Cost of Discipleship” is a lot cheaper and a bit of a let-down when no-one is charging you anything. The radicality of the Gospel seems rather domestic when its simply taken for granted. I gotta say, based off my own experiences, state school didn’t strengthen my faith because it left it alone, untouched and preserved. It strengthened it because it actually challenged it and I got to see the Gospel at work in the real world, competing and challenging and playing itself out against other dominant ideologies in the lives of student for whom it was not simply a given. Anyway, that’s me.

    (By the way, you’re right about your friends. I too fear for some of my friends who simply don’t know what’s going to hit them out there in the real world.)

    Another note: Please don’t be a reductionist in your analysis of religion. It is a sociological phenomenon to be sure. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it is “merely” a sociological phenomenon. Everybody believes in something, yes, and it probably is to a great degree rooted in some widely shared desire to belong or something. That being said, different people do believe different and definite things. There is content to the phenomenon and it does matter. It cannot be simply written off or explained away sociologically. The ideas and beliefs themselves must be dealt with on their own terms.

    Final note: I truly do think you should read some Plantinga when it comes to faith, rationality and justification. I recommend most of the articles in “Faith and Rationality” and any of his works on the notion of warrant. I think your reliance on Clifford’s ethics of belief is ill-advised and in any case, it is simply wrong to compare Christianity’s truth-claims to the other religions. It is far more susceptible to investigation and argument, even if you’re excluding the empirical or historical kind.

    Best wishes on your new life.


  4. Congratulations on your graduation (and loss of faith). My father went through the exact same thing in the Christian college that he went to. He used to tell me stories about the experience that I found (and find) shocking, but I never quite appreciated the sheer insanity of the situation until rather recently.

    My father has been chased by the ghost of his old faith ever since, and so raised his own children without ever telling us what to believe. I can’t thank him enough for that. I appreciate your story, and again extend my congratulations.

  5. Derek,

    I’m glad I didn’t lose you during my hiatus. I have come to value your insights, as opposed to mine as they are.

    But, I think your reasoning as to why is wrong. You seem to think that going to state school would have left your faith unchallenged and that it would have been easier to hold on and ignore all the “inconsistencies” and all that.

    A clarification here: I doubt that I would have abandoned faith at a state school because (and I’m being very speculative here) I never would have found myself in the philosophy program. I enjoy philosophy, but my interests and passions lay elsewhere. Had I not come to a Christian school as a religion major and ended up jaded with that program, I would not have resorted to studying philosophy to find my answers. It’s more the chain of events that sparked certain thought processes than the location itself that led to my de-conversion from faith.

    Christianity is next to useless in the bubble, surrounded by smug, self-righteous church kids. The “Cost of Discipleship” is a lot cheaper and a bit of a let-down when no-one is charging you anything.

    What I find to be interesting is not that I think my friends from my Christian school are really all that smug, at least compared to those I know elsewhere. They are not “bad,” they simply are not “good” in comparison. I have never, in my entire life, met a professing Christian who exhibited character traits that were different or better than their non-Christian counterparts. It’s not that they’re worse, it’s that they are the same. And that is not in line with biblical commands.


    Thanks! And thanks for stopping by. Don’t get me wrong though, I have valued many of my experiences at my Christian university. Despite some of the absurd sociological phenomena and requirements, many of my closest friends attended the same school. It was a formative experience, and there was as much good as bad. I just happened to reject the truth claims of faith while I was in attendance.

    Best wishes.


  6. Derek Rishmawy Says:

    Yeah, you didn’t lose me. These conversations are fun and you’re a very reasonable guy.

    Thanks for the clarification on your de-conversion path, thing. Oh, by the way, the Chesterton quote was actually, “Its not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, its that it’s never been tried.” I noticed that I had forgotten a couple of words in my last post.

    Umm, on the difference between Christians and non-Christians, yeah, I can see where you’re coming from. Often-times there is little to no distinction between the two behaviorally. One thing that has helped me think about that is something C.S. Lewis talks about in Mere Christianity. I would write it out, but that would take forever and I’d screw it up, so I’ll just refer you to chapte 10 of the third section called “Nice People or New Men.” I think it to be one of the most helpful chapters in the whole book and that’s saying something. If you do not own a copy, let me know, I’ll get your address from you in some way, buy you a copy or send you one of my extras.

  7. Of course I own a copy of ‘Mere Christianity.’ Also, I’m working my way through ‘After Virtue’ by McGrath right now.

    Another clarification: I don’t mean to invalidate the behavior of all Christians. I only mean to imply that while there are Christians who do good because of their faith and Christians who do bad because of their faith, they would more likely than not do good/bad regardless of their faith (or at least would be as likely to arrive at the same types of behaviors–charity to the poor, etc.–in other circumstances).

  8. Derek Rishmawy Says:

    I figured as much since you went to Christian college. I have met some kids who’ve made it through Christian college without reading it. Amazing.

    I hope you enjoy “After Virtue.” Its about as “exciting” as a philosophy book can get.

  9. Ahem. MacIntyre. Not McGrath. My degree is obviously useless. 😉

  10. I am curious, what Christian school would teach that Christians are defined by their works? I hope you will consider Derek’s words. Christianity is not something you try for a while to see if it fits. If you put your faith hope and trust in Jesus, then that is where it will stay. He is that faithful.

    In the love of Christ,


  11. Derek Rishmawy Says:

    Hahahaha! I thought something looked funny but I figured Alister plus “Mc- or Mac-something.” Actually, they share some similarities intellectually in that they are both former atheists/communists. Only, MacIntyre converted much later and to Catholicism while McGrath is uber-Protestant.

  12. Melvin,

    A.) The school doesn’t teach that Christians are defined by their works, and I’m not sure exactly what you are referencing. Though to quote your Scripture, “faith without works is dead.” B.) I assure you I didn’t “try on Christianity to see if it fits,” I was a dedicated Christian for roughly eight years of my life.


    Ha yeah. At least they are similar. This is the problem of me blogging when I’m sleepy.

  13. If that were all it said about faith and works, then you would have a point. However, as you were a “dedicated Christian” for roughly eight years I need not tell the more God has to say about faith and works in His Word.

    Becoming a Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ requires commitment. We are instructed to count the cost beforehand. As an illustration of commitment, think of a typical bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken was involved in the making of the breakfast. The pig was committed.

    You were an involved member of the Christian community for roughly eight years. You can’t say you gave up your life (your life not your own) and that it was Christ that lived in you. Else, you would not now be separated from Christ. He would not allow that (Romans 8 and 1 John 2: 19).

    It sounds as though you tried to know Christ through your works “dedicated” and not through your heart “surrendered”.

    In the love of Christ,

  14. Melvin,

    You are not the first, nor will you be the last (much to my dismay) to suggest that I was never “truly” a Christian. It’s an interesting, and somewhat infuriating, line of reasoning. I would agree on one point: Christ never lived in me. This is not a result, however, of how I or you spin the way in which I lived my life as a Christian. Rather, Christ did not live in me because Jesus died 2,000 years ago.

    I’m sure we could argue back and forth for hours about what the Bible has to say about this and a number of other subjects. I’m not sure how that would be fruitful, though. I invite you to continue to believe that I was a Christian bent on working my way into heaven, though this is not the case.

    Let’s make a deal. I won’t invalidate your faith, you don’t invalidate my former faith. We’ll both get along.


  15. Derek Rishmawy Says:

    Mel, I really, really, don’t think you’re in any position to do some kind of faith analysis of CTC and its awfully arrogant and presumptuous of you to try. Only God knows the heart and so only God knows what went on or is going on in CTC’s heart at this moment. You have no idea whether or not the Holy Spirit is still inside of him, only quenched for the moment, or whatever. You just don’t know and acting like you do is singularly unhelpful.

    Also, I have never heard CTC say anywhere that he believed that Christians were saved by good works or anything like that. I’ve heard him talk about Christian’s faith driving them to do good works, (which is perfectly Biblical mind you), and so on. So, really, go ahead and read what he actually says, and read more than one of his blogs before you go trying in a smug little two-paragraph comment trying analyze, rebut, and convert him, “in the love of Christ.”

    CTC: Note, my disagreement with Mel does not mean I don’t think you shouldn’t come back and play for the Jesus team. 🙂

  16. CTC: Note, my disagreement with Mel does not mean I don’t think you shouldn’t come back and play for the Jesus team.

    I literally laughed out loud there.

    I’m quite alright with playing a game of religious Red Rover on the blogosphere. Chances are, I’m not going to come play for the Jesus team, and you are not going to come play for the non-Jesus team. But hey, we can both try, right? 😛

  17. I know you young men have been to college and they have convinced you that this is all so complicated. It is not. It is simple. It is difficult; but it is simple. My four year old son figured it out.

    What is more, it is urgent. It is life or death. CTC does not have time for me to be polite. Was Jesus smug when He looked at the rich young ruler, loved him, and told him of the one thing he lacked? Take up the cross and follow Jesus! Was Paul smug when he presumed to introduce the men of Athens to the One they worshiped without knowing? Was Peter smug when he told the teachers of the law: “Nor is there salvation in any other…”?

    CTC wrote:

    “I chuckle to myself when I ponder the irony involved in my heading off to a Christian school in order to better understand my faith only to reject faith altogether.”

    The Bible is clear on this (1 John 4: 3 among others). CTC himself knows that the Spirit of God was not and is not in him. He admits it.

    If I am wrong in the fine details as to why, it is unimportant. The fact is, he did not accept Christ as his personal savior and invite Him into his heart. Because, if he had, then Jesus would be there now and CTC would know it.

    Lastly, this is no game we are playing. There are no teams at play where we shake each others hands after the contest. There are two kingdoms. There is life and there is death. Derek, we are ambasitors for life and that life is in the Son. Grow up and get serious for today is the day of salvation.

    And yes, in the love of Christ I place these facts square in your face.


  18. Derek Rishmawy Says:

    Mel, among the other things that I would like to say, first off, the whole “team” comment was meant to be a humorous tension-easer between friends. That’s what CTC and I have sort of become over the last few weeks that we’ve taken to talk, argue, and get to know each other. I’m sorry for joking, but then again, we’re just a couple of kids fresh out of college who need to “grow up,” so maybe you’ll cut us some slack on that one.

    Here’s the thing Mel, CTC knows “the facts” likely just as well as you or I know them. He exhibits a quality understanding of the relevant issues at hand and he knows the Bible better than many of my believing friends and maybe even you or I. (And if you say otherwise, without knowing any better you’re just being prideful.) Now, I think he happens to draw erroneous conclusions and is overall wrong and so I argue with him at various points and try to point that out. But I don’t take him for a spiritual idiot either. I get things wrong with him too, but if he sets me straight on a point of his experience, I try my best to respect him on it and not try to force him into some pre-packaged notion of what lapsed Christians “really were” before they walked away. Now, the fact of the matter is, it does no good to come in here, pontificate on his spiritual state past, present and future, just so you can feel like you’ve done your religious duty and let this pagan unbeliever know that judgment is coming. (Note: I don’t think Jesus, Peter, and Paul were smug at all in those cases. That being said, you, to the best of my knowledge, are not Jesus, Peter, and Paul and ought to take time pondering that point.)

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I know this is serious. That’s why I pray and its one of the reasons why I try to engage with CTC as faithfully as possible. (And because I enjoy talking with him.) But the fact of the matter is that I trust God to sort this out. As for “the time” that CTC has. I’m pretty sure that God’s not going to take him out of this world any time sooner than it would take for CTC to come back around if its the case that he will come back around. Its not like Jesus would go to the trouble to die, rise again and all that just for him to let someone be separated from him just because of a few days difference.

    I’m sorry if I have been unnecessarily harsh or disrespectful towards you Mel. God is still working on my pride mightily and so I still screw up and I probably did at some point in this response. (Problem is, I don’t know where.) But, I had to express my disagreement with you at this point in defense of CTC.


  19. Derek, I hope God gives CTC 100 more years but I have no say in the mater. I do know that He will come giving the same notice as the thief in the night gives. Will CTC be ready? I don’t know. I know that he has been told and therefore will have no excuse. I also know spreading the Gospel was not left up to Paul, Peter, or even Jesus Himself. I have been given a commission. I have told CTC the truth. You are his friend. I hope you will continue to influence him for the Kingdom. I take nothing away from what you have done.

    However, CTC’s published testimony is misleading. The lost reader might be lead to believe CTC’s alleged call to Jesus went with no response. I maintain this to be impossible. That is why I entered this blog to make comment. The Word is clear on the subject and I come to battle with the full armor of God. Jesus hears every call and is faithful to save. “Whomsoever, calls on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” CTC, I pray to God Almighty that you will humble yourself, surrender unconditionally, and make this call to Jesus. He stands ready to deliver you.

    In the love of Christ,


  20. I think the several of the comments you made were very interesting:

    ” I have never, in my entire life, met a professing Christian who exhibited character traits that were different or better than their non-Christian counterparts.”

    “Christians simply cannot live in compliance with the tenets of their faith. ”

    “I have never witnessed a Christian who has been able to purge him/herself of so-called worldly pursuits in favor of a more devoted faith. Walking through my Christian campus, I would see students clad in the same clothes as college age persons elsewhere. I always wanted to ask if Jesus would be willing to waste the extra $30 for the shirt at Abercrombie or American Eagle. Students at my school spent much of their time playing sports, watching YouTube, going to the movies, and a variety of other typical activities. ”

    First I would ask, how many different types of churches have you attended? I too am disillusioned with the evangelical church in America, for these very same reasons. Outside of church, place a group of professing evangelicals into a gathering of non-Christians, and it’d be very, very, very difficult to distinguish between the two. Which runs contrary to a lot of the focus of the Bible on maintaining a “separate people” clearly set apart from the world.

    However, my disillusionment with the evangelical world and the hypocrisy of many professing Christians today, thankfully didn’t leave me running from Christianity, because so much of what I found in the Bible was meaningful to me. Instead, I started searching for people who actually did follow the Bible. And let me tell you, it’s been an awesome adventure. I remember the first time I stepped into a church full of people actively seeking to conform themselves to the image of Christ.. well, it just blew me away. I found this reality in a Charity church, ( a “denomination” along the lines of a Mennonite/Amish practice, but with a Baptist mix, is the best way to describe it) which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I believe there are many other churches out there that have that focus.

    I guess there are other reasons why someone would “de-covert” from Christianity- but if the main reason has to do with the hypocrisy of people to live out their faith- and the disillusionment which comes with being surrounded by those people- well, my encouragement would be to seek out an authentic faith. Because it IS out there. If it’s the Bible itself that’s the main problem- well then, we’ll have to agree to disagree I guess.

    If you have some time, you might find this sermon somewhat interesting, addressing the very points you raised, it’s a sermon by a minister, Paul Washer, to a gathering of Christian teens, it’s a little long, about an hour, but if you have the time/interest, I would recommend it. It goes along with chapter 7 in Matthew, specifically, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” At first the audience is really responsive, cheering at what they see as Washer’s condemnation of the “world,” and he says to them, “I don’t know why you’re clapping. I’m talking about YOU.” Ya, well anyway it’s a good sermon on hypocrisy and the state of the evangelical movement today.

    And also, as a complete sidenote, in reference to some of the discussion occuring above, a lot of evangelicals believe in a doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” and it’s precisely from this line of reasoning that they make the claim that those who were once Christians who are now not, really actually were never Christians to begin with. It’s a sad belief, because it invalidates what probably was a very real faith to you, and it comes off so very judgemental. Which is something that we should all refrain from.

    Because I believe salvation can be lost, (not just in a backslidden state, but actually lost), it’s entirely possible that you once were a dedicated follower of the Lord, and for some reason you became separated from Him, and now you are no longer a Christian. I would still encourage you to find your way back to Him, because He’s still there, waiting with open arms for YOU personally, but it’s your choice, just as it was your choice to once accept Him and then to “de-convert.”

    All right, I’m getting off my soapbox.

    In Him,

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