Reading the Rachel Held Evans piece "15 Reasons I Left Church" (and considering related reflections via Slacktivist) reminded me, once again, that my testimony runs the other way. I left the Church. I didn't come back. But...
There wasn't anything the church did that drove me away; there wasn't any unpleasantness. In fact, the church I grew up in was - within the limits of human social groups - friendly, encouraging, and supportive. Scare tactics were almost non-existent; there was a sort of unstated understanding that we do the best we can and trust in God to forgive us when we fall short. There wasn't any conflict with science; Genesis, read poetically, was compatible enough with what we understand of the origins of the universe and human life.
And despite this, despite being raised in a distinctly Christian environment, despite having no particular complaints with the church or the faith (honestly, I'm still far more irritated about some of the things the Boy Scouts put me through), there came a time when I simply couldn't believe, any longer, the things that I'd been taught as a child. Things that had seemed so marvelous and compelling - that Jesus would willingly die on the cross, to save all of us - just didn't make sense to me anymore. And I went back and forth with that for a few years, and then tried to explore other things for a few years after that, and eventually concluded that I just don't have it in me to believe. I am, basically, a materialist; which makes me functionally an atheist. And I don't feel that as any particular loss.
If my life were a fairy tale, I'd be the boy who ignored the warnings and stepped off the path - only I wasn't punished for it; I found that the forest wasn't so scary once you were in it, and the wolves and boggles were often friendly, and the simple act of exploration was tremendously rewarding. And I lived happily ever after, or as close as anyone ever does.
I don't know how to square that with the Rachel Held Evans piece. Relationships are complicated, and she's talking about why she left a particular relationship - and, in her follow-up post, why she came back. Those thoughts seem to invite a certain focus on how to keep people from leaving, and how to bring them back after they've left... and that's not a focus I can share. I'm not interested in coming back, and I doubt I ever will be.
So on the one hand, I don't really have a counterpoint for these sorts of reflections - I don't have anything against people finding their way back to Christianity, or finding their way to religious beliefs of any sort, really; at least, as long as those beliefs aren't actively harmful. I don't want to offer my experience as some sort of opposition to anyone trying to rekindle their faith, or even just looking to see if such a thing is possible. But on the other hand, I do think it's pertinent to point out that sometimes the reasons why people leave the Church don't reflect any particular failure on the part of that person or the Church, either one. Sometimes relationships just don't work out. It isn't always something that can be, or should be, fixed.
And if I'm wrong, and there is a God out there, and if He's anything like he was described to me long ago, then He understands that...