Frank is about to climb Mount Everest and knows he is risking his life to do so. On the way to base camp, he stops to pray at a temple where he meets a monk. With an air of mysticism, the monk predicts that Frank will make it to the summit and descend safely, but warns, “There is one thing you must do. You must wear this magic coat I am giving you. This coat will not only keep you warm, it will empower you to make it to the top. It will give you courage, endurance, and protection. Only with this coat will you succeed. Without it, you will surely die on the mountain.”
Frank is mesmerized by the words of the monk. He leaves a generous offering and dons the magic coat—a coat that looks like any other but has hidden powers. Soon, Frank is trudging upward with other climbers, one of whom is wearing a coat just like his. The climber asks Frank where he got his coat and upon learning it was from the monk, laughs and asks, “How much did you give him for your magic coat?”
The laughing climber explains that the monk is a shrewd salesman who has learned that he gets paid the most for a coat when he boasts of its powers, gives it away, and asks for nothing in return. He tells Frank that many of the climbers who donned these magic coats have died on the mountain. Successfully climbing the world’s highest peak is not about wearing a magic garment. It’s about conditioning, timing, good decisions, endurance, and luck—but you do need protection from the cold.
As much as Frank wants to take off the coat and fling it into the nearest crevasse, he needs it to survive the chill of the wind. He doesn’t need the coat to be magic—he just needs it to keep him warm. He doesn’t stop wearing the coat because it is all he has.
Once faith becomes the way you cope with challenges, pain, and problems, once a community of faith becomes your support system, and once you have disavowed all other avenues for finding meaning, it’s hard to disconnect. It’s hard to take off the magic coat.
Even a broken belief system can be hard to leave, especially when learned during formative childhood years. Its inconsistencies can be tolerated when you are linked to a community that keeps reminding you that: “Leaving us would be the worst thing you could ever do.”
It’s easy to hold on to a distorted lens for making sense of life when you see no meaningful alternatives. Proofs of the illogical nature of faith, arguments that science makes more sense than religion, and the idea that a true God would reveal himself more clearly will not be likely to sway a person who is finding some semblance of comfort and connectedness in a community of faith.
I was a committed Christian for five decades. I held on until life events pushed me onto the diving board of disbelief. Once I gave up on church, my self-imposed thought cage began to crumble, and the disintegration of my faith began.
How did it feel to make such a radical change after all those years? I felt angry, ashamed, and profoundly sad.
I felt angry at the religious system that pulled me in when I was a child and robbed me of a more rational process of selecting my vocation—I sensed a call to be a preacher when I was 16. I felt angry at myself for leading others down the same path. I felt angry at the faith that taught me never to question and provided answers that didn’t address life’s complexity.
I felt ashamed. How could I have gone for years convinced of so many things that are obviously illogical and untrue?
And yet I missed the warmth of Christian fellowship that feels like forever, but vanishes in the wind when you walk away from it. I was profoundly sad in my awareness that I no longer had a tribe.
It took years for me to inch my way to the end of that diving board, abandon my magic coat, and take the long plunge into a skeptical, rational, and reasoned approach to the world. But I found the new waters to be cleansing and refreshing. I was released from believing in a system that does not make sense, and ironically, I became more able to understand, love, and accept humanity in a fundamentally “more Christian” way. Eventually, I found a new fellowship of warmth, encouragement, and acceptance—it’s called Oasis.
And it’s that sense of a connected community that is one of the greatest gifts Oasis offers.
The quality and strength of our community may be more compelling than our logical arguments against faith. We are myth busters, but not just in the sense of rational arguments. We live out the message that secular people can be committed to the best and highest in life, and they can help each other through life.
When someone is thinking about leaving faith, it helps if they have a place to go.
--adapted from Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith Copyright © 2018 by Tim Sledge. All Rights Reserved
Tim Sledge shares insights for growth on his Moving Truths website and his latest book is A Meta-Spiritual Handbook: How to Be Spiritual without Religion, Faith or God.