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I don't know if this is a "good" question for Christianity Stack Exchange, but it's weighing heavily on my mind, and this seems as good a place as any. So here goes.

I grew up as a Christian child in a church-going Christian family. This faith feels like home to me. Yet with each passing year of my adult life, I find it increasingly difficult to believe that it’s true.

I was taught that God is working in the world every day. But surely, if an infinitely powerful being who wants things to be better did so much as lift a finger in that pursuit, the world would be fixed instantly. Yet it clearly isn’t.

I was taught that God loves everyone, and wants each and every person to come to him. Yet when I and others like me try to look objectively at our daily lives, we see no sign of him. And yet there are still people in the world who have heard very little, if anything, about him.

I was taught that the Bible is true, and yet some of its most central teachings are nonsensical at best, and horrifying at worst. Why is he angry at us for being imperfect, when he himself created us that way? Why would he punish us so brutally as a result? And why would he order the slaughter of massive populations of people, specifying that even the most vulnerable individuals should not be spared?

For these reasons and others, I think if I heard about Christianity for the first time as an adult, it would seem fundamentally and hopelessly flawed. But the people I trust most in my life simply accept these issues as tolerable mysteries, and apologists try to explain them away with mental gymnastics that never quite seem to work.

I realize I’ve brought up a number of issues here that atheists and apologists like to address separately. I don’t really know what kind of response I’m expecting. I guess the TL;DR here is that when I look at reality, and look at Christianity, they don’t really seem compatible. And if there’s anyone who’s interested in a frank discussion with a jaded quasi-believer, I’d be grateful.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! I encourage you to take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. This could border on pastoral advice, which this is not the place for. Plus, this is not a discussion board like Reddit. I believe if you edit your "question" to fit in line with the site guidelines it could be an answerable question.
    – agarza
    Oct 14, 2022 at 22:01
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    I don't expect anyone to be able to answer your questions just in a few paragraphs. But I strongly recommend you to check Bible Project channel on YouTube (youtube.com/channel/UCVfwlh9XpX2Y_tQfjeln9QA) and explore their many vidos. Often times what you learned abot the Bible is different that what it realy teaches. Oct 14, 2022 at 22:32
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    A lot of your concerns seem to focus on what's commonly named "The Problem of Pain". On that subject, C.S. Lewis has an enlightening book by the same title that I would highly recommend. It's not an easy problem to grasp, but when you understand the nature of sin and the necessities for free will, there is an answer.
    – Matthew
    Oct 15, 2022 at 1:05
  • Welcome to being skeptical. I would hope you'd listen to what atheists as well as apologists have to say on the issue (this platform is very much focused on presenting the views of believers only - you're welcome to @ me in chat if you'd like a different perspective and some further resources). Although it seems like you empathise with the skeptical atheist perspective quite well already.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 15, 2022 at 13:30
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    "and yet some of its most central teachings are nonsensical at best, and horrifying at worst" I'm pretty sure every objection you are thinking of has been asked and answered on C SE. If not, post a question about that specific issue. Oct 15, 2022 at 17:02

7 Answers 7

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"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

-- Isaiah 55: 8-9

The simple answer here is, it's a mistake to attempt to judge the works of God by the criteria of the mortal world. Instead, to see clearly we need to endeavor to view the world from God's eternal perspective. And the most significant point about the eternal perspective is that it is eternal, not confined to the realm of mortality as our perspective is.

I was taught that God is working in the world every day. But surely, if an infinitely powerful being who wants things to be better did so much as lift a finger in that pursuit, the world would be fixed instantly. Yet it clearly isn’t.

This is a well-known issue in theology known as "the problem of evil." There are many valid answers to it, such as:

  • as so much evil and suffering is caused by the choices that people make, to eradicate evil and suffering would require the eradication of free will, which would be an even greater evil.
  • God's benevolence, being eternal in nature, exists in a scope that transcends mortality and promises happiness to the faithful eventually, not right now
  • God understands that without trials and difficulties, we have no way to grow and learn
  • at no point were we ever promised a life of comfort by God. On the contrary, Jesus explicitly said "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, emphasis added)

I was taught that God loves everyone, and wants each and every person to come to him. Yet when I and others like me try to look objectively at our daily lives, we see no sign of him.

Again, this is something we are explicitly warned against doing:

1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.

2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.

3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

-- Matthew 16: 1-4

And again,

5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.

6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

-- 2 Corinthians 5:5-7

Mark 16:17 tells us the proper order of things: signs shall follow (not precede!) them that believe. This principle is brilliant in the way it taps into basic human psychology. Anyone who's spent any amount of time on Internet forums will understand this principle. How many times have you seen someone who demands proof of something they don't want to accept, and then, no matter how many times people actually offer solid evidence, they still refuse to accept it, finding one way or another to rationalize their denial in the face of mounting evidence that they're wrong?

The Lord tells us to avoid that trap altogether: walk by faith, not by sight, and the signs (proof) will follow your belief. And anyone who's learned to live by faith can tell you just how true this principle is. When you open your heart to God and begin endeavoring to live right, that's when you see miracles occurring in your life.

I was taught that the Bible is true, and yet some of its most central teachings are nonsensical at best, and horrifying at worst.

From a mortal perspective, or an eternal one?

Why is he angry at us for being imperfect, when he himself created us that way?

He's not. Nowhere in any book of the Scriptures does it say that. What it says is that his anger comes from the refusal to turn to him and repent, and seek to improve upon our imperfect state with the assistance he freely offers.

Why would he punish us so brutally as a result?

As the poet said, "no man is an island." Our choices have ramifications far beyond what we can see. If we truly understood the totality of the harm that many things that we consider innocuous end up causing, I suspect we would not consider God's punishment for those choices "brutal" at all!

And why would he order the slaughter of massive populations of people, specifying that even the most vulnerable individuals should not be spared?

Again, this looks far less horrifying when the student of history has an understanding of the cultural practices of the populations involved. When a civilization has become so corrupt and degraded that there is no chance for a person born among them to live a righteous life, what is worse? To allow more children to be born into a terrible certainty of a life of evil, or to have compassion on future generations by removing their would-be oppressors and corruptors?

I can definitely understand how these questions could trouble a person. But the answers do exist, and the eternal perspective is the key to nearly every last one of them. If you can look beyond this world, if you can accept that this life is not all that there is, but merely a step along a much longer journey, then the things that happen in this world -- things that seem dark and terrible when taken out of context -- are revealed as perfectly sensible acts of love and compassion from a loving Father who sees and understands far more than we can.

Christianity absolutely does match reality. It's just that there's far more to reality than we can easily observe.

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    "How many times have you seen someone who demands proof...?" Every single time I try to debate with someone who rejects Genesis as historical. 😉 Which, getting back to the topic, brings to mind Romans 1:20. Imagine the frustration you feel when dealing with such a person; that's how God feels about unrepentant sinners. (Also, God did not create us imperfect; it was our choice to disobey.)
    – Matthew
    Oct 15, 2022 at 1:55
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    I appreciate your very detailed response. Unfortunately, I've heard most of your points before in one form or another. I've always felt that focusing on the eternal perspective severely devalues the suffering of people in the here and now. And I think it's unfair to lump all proof-seeking people into one category. Some demand proof in an accusatory way, seeking to win an argument. Others, like me, honestly want to return to the faith, but fail to see any compelling reasons to do so.
    – Megalogue
    Oct 15, 2022 at 13:42
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    "focusing on the eternal perspective severely devalues the suffering of people in the here and now" Well, yes, that's the point. When the scope of eternity is considered, whatever suffering we experience here and now significantly dwindles in comparison. As it says in the bible: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?" Mark 8:36‭-‬37 ESV Oct 15, 2022 at 19:48
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    @Megalogue "Devaluing" that suffering isn't necessarily a bad thing. I remember a friend of mine talking about her experience in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. She and her husband had a family member who was in one of the towers, and they didn't know what happened to them. They were in a room together with a whole bunch of other people in a similar situation, and they realized that just about everyone ese was completely falling apart with the fear. But they weren't, because they knew that even if their family member was dead, that they weren't gone. It brought them very-needed comfort.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Oct 16, 2022 at 1:22
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Based on your comments, the suffering humanity faces on Earth is misaligned with your intuition of what a world ruled by a loving God should look like. Your feelings are completely valid, and there's a reason we instinctually recognize that misalignment.

I'll answer your questions in an order that I think best addresses the roots of the problem.

Why is he angry at us for being imperfect, when he himself created us that way?

As noted throughout Genesis 1, God created a perfect world that he called "good." But like the angels, he gave humanity the free will to choose whether they were to be his allies or enemies. If we accept the premise that humans truly have the free choice to select God or to select evil, then we don't have to struggle with the notion that God created evil creatures. We aren't computer programs in God's simulation—he has given us sovereignty over our own choices.

But surely, if an infinitely powerful being who wants things to be better did so much as lift a finger in that pursuit, the world would be fixed instantly. Yet it clearly isn’t.

You're right, the world is corrupt and broken. Mark 7:21–23 tells us

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

We know that evil comes from man. Even if we were to accept that God took no part in this Earth's affairs, we could likely agree that man is the source of his own trouble. Then we must resolve the question: "If God is involved in Earth's affairs, why do we still have evil?"

To answer that question, we have to understand the alternatives. Assume God did wipe out all evil. What would that look like? Would he change the hearts of man by force, undoing his original good by giving us the ability to choose? Is it loving to remove what makes us human and to eradicate our distinction from complex, biological programs? What kind of ally would mankind be, and what kind of relationship would we have if our ability to choose God were taken from us? We'd be as personal to God as the rocks of the Earth—just another created object.

Should we instead expect God to intervene in every situation? To that end, we should only expect to see divine assistance to those who have declared themselves allies of God, and live out that vow. It wouldn't make sense for God to rescue those who have declared through sin that they desire nothing to do with him. Sin is the great separator, and as noted in Romans 3:23,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

That also addresses what I imagine is another point of contention. Is it fair for God to punish mankind when every one of us has fallen short? Is it right for our default state to be separated from God? Jesus' disciples asked a similar question in Matthew 19:25–26, when they observed just how difficult it is for mankind to overcome his Earthly sinfulness and choose to align himself with God:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Emphasis Mine]

Humanity lives in a fallen state by default because we've violated what we instinctually know to be right. Even those things we consider "minor" sins sets us apart from the unfathomable perfection of an infinite God. The fact that we intuitively balk at the idea of being punished for an infraction as small as an unkind word to a brother or sister isn't a reflection that God is obscenely angry. Rather, it reflects our own corruption and demonstrates that we truly don't understand just how serious sin is. We're immediately separated by an unending gulf between God's righteousness and our own sinfulness.

To our perspective, the length of suffering seems unbearable. But God wants to give each of us a chance to align our lives with him before mankind is subject to justice for its evil. Peter discusses this longing in 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

But again, why don't we see God intervene in the lives of believers? This is a premise I disagree with. I've seen God move wonders in my personal life, and mature believers will likely tell the same story. The longer I've lived by "faith" (walking along in obedience to God's will and trusting his direction for my life), the more I've seen him move in ways I could not achieve on my own. To answer the root of the question: Why don't we see God move in this world? We do. Humans want to see an end to this suffering and experience the grand finale of God. And scripture tells us that in the end, we will see the removal of evil. But in this present age, God is continuing to work through the lives of his people, giving them perseverance, strength, and hope. As Paul notes in Romans 8:18,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

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  • Welcome to Christianity.SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Oct 15, 2022 at 17:49
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“Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as they were from creation’s beginning.”

The natural desire for God to fix of this world is something that Peter speaks about in 2 Peter Chapter 3 (verse 4 quoted above). Because already in that time the injustice and suffering in the world made it look as if there is no God. But later in the chapter he answers with:

9 Jehovah is not slow concerning his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire anyone to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance. [2 Peter 3:9 (NWT)]

The injustice and suffering in this world are not a direct punishment of God. It are the conseqences of the actions of humans around us and "time and unexpected events" [Ecclesiastes 9:11]. In a way, the mess in this world empirically proofs that people are unable to create a sustainable just society without God's guidance. If we realize that despite good intentions, we can not fix this world ourselves, if we repent our mistakes, ask God for his guidance, and try to imitate Jesus by living according to God's principles, God will appreciate this and eventually there will be better times:

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Revelation 21:3-6 (NIV)]

That will be the time in which the Words of Jesus will come true:

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:4,5 (NIV)]

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In my thinking, I've come to reverse the problem of evil. Let's say the problem of evil is indeed compelling, and it's hard to see how an all powerful, all loving God can let the world go the way it's going. Fine, let's assume such a being doesn't exist. However, I'm left with a lot of puzzles:

  1. It's hard to explain many things in the world without belief in some kind of all powerful, intelligent creator: existence of the universe, existence of the earth that can support a vast array of life, intricately constructed life forms encoded in an extremely concise digital code, self aware cognitive beings, said beings placed in just the right circumstances to be aware of this list. Sure, many people are satisfied with the random variation, natural selection, infinite chances explanation. However, I at least find this sort of explanation falls short from the mathematical perspective. Math itself is also very hard to explain as the product of randomness and selection.

  2. Many things are good, and the good things vastly outnumber the bad things, if we count every second of goodness and compare to every second of badness, and the good things are the reason why the bad things are considered bad. Plus, these good things don't seem to be random, or just my own subjective interpretation of brute reality. By point #1, they are extremely fine tuned to not just support life in general, but specifically cognitive, self aware beings.

  3. It's very obvious these cognitive, self aware beings can purposefully mess up the good things, not only for others, but also for themselves, in direct opposition to their own self interest. This seems inexplicable compared to every other kind of life form we know of. Something is incredibly wrong with these beings.

  4. These beings have tried many, many different ways of dealing with what seems an intractable propensity to self harm, and none have ever worked.

So, the question I am left with is of all the different possible explanations for these problems out there, what makes the most sense? Merely saying the God of Christianity doesn't exist seems to make these problems even more difficult to explain. That doesn't mean Christianity or the Bible are true, but it does mean they aren't the core cognitive dissonance I am facing in my perceived reality. So, while there are many things in the Bible, Christianity, and life in general I don't understand, and perhaps may be outright false, rejecting the big picture does not make things make more sense to me.

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  • Why do you say you've "reversed" the problem of evil? You've just dismissed it in favour of other things you think are hard to explain without the existence of a god (which plenty of people would disagree with, especially if you dig past the surface to understand how those things actually work).
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 15, 2022 at 21:32
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    The problem seems to be: A) whence comes good, which seems to exist objectively throughout the universe and especially on earth, yet has no natural explanation? and B) whence comes the evil will, which appears to have no natural precedent or cause, yet is extremely prevalent in the human population? For me, the non existence of God introduces these two problems, which is the opposite of the traditional problem of evil being used to disprove the existence of God. I don't find that dismissing the existence of God makes these things any easier to deal with or explain.
    – yters
    Oct 15, 2022 at 23:43
  • "Good" and "evil" are concepts we made up, roughly to describe wanting to help others (behaviour that is selected for through evolution, since it helps your species / "tribe" survive) and people wanting to harm others (which usually involves wanting to harm or not caring about those outside your "tribe": another beneficial trait to select for, and there are also outliers of people who indiscriminately want to harm others, which can be explained through random mutations and trauma or other environmental factors).
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 16, 2022 at 0:06
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Christianity had better not match reality, otherwise it is doomed to failure.

Ecclesiastes is attributed to Solomon, which according to the Bible, was the wisest man to ever live, excepting Jesus, called in Matthew, "something greater than Solomon". Ecclesiastes describes life "under the sun", which is all the reality that we can sense. Solomon looked hard at the world and concluded that, on its terms, this world is meaningless. The rich do not enjoy their wealth but the poor sometimes enjoy their lot, but then a poor man saves a city yet is forgotten afterwards.

Job lamented that the wicked get what the righteous deserve and vice versa. He suffered despite being the most righteous man on earth.

Job and Solomon described reality perfectly. What sets them apart is that they didn't stop with reality. They sought something beyond our reality.

Solomon said that the race does not go to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or food to the wise. He said that the heart of the wise in the House of Mourning but the heart of fools is in the House of Feasting.

Your question mentions that you know people who hold onto a faith that they cannot clearly articulate. Why should this surprise you? In Acts, the authorities were baffled:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

The first technologically advanced people mentioned in the Bible were wicked descendants of Lamech and Cain, as recorded in Genesis 4. They mastered making tools, working with metal, animal husbandry, musical instruments, and architecture. God has made a point of doing things that do not make sense and using the weak, the foolish and the small to humble the great.

One story that only made sense to me years after I read it was this:

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

As a new Christian, I was asked to memorize some verses at the end of Galatians 2. I did not understand what the words meant, yet complied. Less than two months later, I was delivered from the fear of death. It was decades before I made the connection between the two events. You do not need to understand how the seed works for it to benefit you. After all, do you know how the vaccines were manufactured that you consent to have injected into your arm? Do you know how the Javascript code in your browser communicates over HTTP and TCP and fiberoptic lines and reaches a SQL database with data stored on a spinning hard disk made of metal mined using mammoth trucks from mountains on the other side of the world?

If the world is so messed up and has been so for so long, the solution must be unimaginably complex. Can mountains of explanation improve upon a child's humble faith?

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This asks far too many questions to answer all at once (and it might be closed or deleted because of that).
But I'll try to summarize the main points and briefly respond to them.

The question assumes:

  • God is trying to save the world during this present age.
  • God wants to call everyone now.
  • God punishes individuals for not following him.
  • God punished and destroyed whole nations for not following him.
  • The God of the Hebrew scriptures is much harsher than Jesus.
  • People that aren't saved will spend eternity being tortured.

That's not unreasonable though, as these ideas are commonly taught by many mainstream Christian denominations.

But none of that is taught by the Bible itself, which says:

  • God allows Satan to be the current god of this world.
  • God is calling only a few select individuals to be saved during this age.
  • God loves and rewards sinners that repent.
  • God did eliminate nations, but because they were incorrigible and badly influenced others.
  • The God of the Hebrew scriptures was Jesus.
  • People that aren't saved during this current age (almost everyone) will be offered salvation at the end of the Millennium.

See my answer to How do Christians justify lack of God's intervention during events where neonates get killed? for more details.

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  • I appreciate your very focused response to my very unfocused "question." I have to say that it seems bold to claim a better understanding of the Bible than such large swaths of people. And while Satan being the current god of this world would explain a lot, I think it would reflect very poorly on God himself. Assuming he can defeat Satan at any time, it's hard to see why he would allow his supposedly precious creations to be ruled by such a cruel being for any duration.
    – Megalogue
    Oct 15, 2022 at 13:49
  • @Megalogue, Revelation 12:9 says "… called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world …". God is neither fighting against Satan nor trying to defeat him, and yes, it would make God look bad if he were. God created the whole universe, so he could instantly destroy Satan, but that's not his plan yet. Satan serves a purpose by broadcasting fear and hatred, creating a world in which only a few elect will be able, with God's help, to resist. We get a demonstration of what happens when man does not follow God's way, and the saints will have proven worthy to serve and rule in the Kingdom. Oct 15, 2022 at 14:31
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One of the things that is perhaps difficult to dispose of when moving away from a Christian foundation is the purported essential value of "belief" and "truth". In Christianity, that you believe in a particular set of core tenets is claimed to be absolutely crucial to your faith and is what everything in your life (and your "afterlife") is supposed to center around. Outside of Christianity, this single-minded focus that your entire life revolves around holding a particular belief is no longer necessary, but perhaps requires some personal meditation on your part to come to grips with.

So, for an Atheist (and for many other world religions, actually), whether or not you (or those close to you) happen to believe in something that is true, or false, or neither, or both, is simply not usually that big of a deal. If my neighbors believe that a large dose of salt will help their garden grow, I feel some moral obligation to disabuse them of this notion, but, if they really insist on it, then /shrug, they'll figure it out on their own. And even if they don't figure it out on their own, a failed garden is not an eternity in hell, so, still, /shrug. I feel the same way for my Christian neighbors and family. If they are inclined to be Christian, and I not, well /shrug. If they want me to go the the local church (read: community center) on some particular Sunday and have lunch later. Well (sigh), but, also, /shrug. If it makes them happy, it's just not that big of a deal.

The point is that, as a Christian, when "the people you trust most in your life" seem to be engaged in religious reasoning that you find "fundamentally and hopelessly flawed", you rightly view this as a huge deal, because from your POV they are making a gigantic mistake that they will regret for the rest of eternity. As an Atheist, you realize that the "fundamentally and hopelessly flawed" reasoning of your loved ones is just run-of-the-mill hopelessly flawed reasoning that 99% of humanity is engaged in in some way or another. It's just /shrug.

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