The Faith Trick

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by Neil Godfrey

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself.

Writing about the “tongues trick” reminded me of another “awakening” I had towards the end of my religious life.

I had been thinking a lot about the New Testament instructions that tell us how good works are the “natural” consequence of faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, yet at the same time we are not saved by works. Works are the fruit of our salvation (or “promise” of salvation if that’s what a particular church taught), not its cause.

But I had to admit to myself that often I was wanting to do “the right thing” because, I believed, it was required of me and if I failed to do it I would be condemned. (Of course I could repent and be forgiven but that led to an endless cycle of always doing “the right thing” for mixed motives, partly to avoid judgment. But that’s not what the “good works are the fruit of being saved” message was about.

God’s grace was supposed to transform us, change our nature, so that we wanted to good works entirely as a result of his grace. There was no more judgment or fear to be involved. No stick, no carrot. Only a boost of energy to want to do the right thing “naturally” because of God’s grace. Like a child running off and just being “naturally good” for a little while after being given a big hug and an ice-cream.

So I prayed again, and came to understand that the one who loved and accepted me was the greatest being in the universe, etc, and that such a being “totally accepted me”. That’s grace, forgiveness, acceptance.

Filled with such an awareness I could not help but be awed into humility and totally thankful. Gratitude was so strong it spawned tears of joy and humility.

With such an awareness, with that sort of deep faith in Christ, my inner being, my thoughts and desires, were all changed. I was at peace. Joyful. I wanted only to do good and life a life of good works. All fear of judgment and need for “effort” was gone. The “fruits of the spirit” really were “fruits”, results, the outcome, the “works of/from faith”.

Then it hit me. It was not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit that was responsible for any of my changed “born again” life. It was all me. It was my belief in being accepted and forgiven that was the cause of my “new” and “transformed” person.

Okay, my faith was in Christ, but it dawned on me that I could have exactly the same faith relationship with a totem pole if I had a different set of holy books or teachings, and the results would be exactly the same.

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself. And that’s where my newfound confidence and peace and joy was coming from. Also where my desire to simply be kind to others, with no need to dwell on wrongs, was coming from.

So I began to think. Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?




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Neil Godfrey

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6 thoughts on “The Faith Trick”

  1. Thank you for sharing this very personal information Neil.

    I have made an observation if you would permit it. I notice that the “good works in God’s grace” teaching is very specifically a Pauline canon. I don’t think this was the teaching of Jesus at all.

    Would you blame Paul for your departure from faith?

    1. My post was addressing “the faith trick”. I was not addressing my whole story of deconversion from religion, as I have done elsewhere. The context of this post was a follow on from “the tongues trick”. I am used to religious people looking for threads to pick to identify why someone left the faith in order to demonstrate their reasons were invalid or they had the wrong understanding of faith to begin with, etc etc etc. Yeh, that’s what the Bible teaches: they went out from us because they were not of us, etc. I “was there” for many years myself. It’s all bullshit, a defence mechanism, trapped in circular reasoning and cognitive dissonance.

      No, Paul was not to blame for anything that happened to me. And it is certainly nonsense to think that I ceased to believe in God and the Bible because of what I discovered about either the “tongues trick” or the “faith trick”.

  2. One of the most difficult aspects of my leaving the faith have been the loss of social relations in those believing communities I was playing an active part in. I have also lost lots of employment opportunities in that community and being able to continue teaching in various colleges, seminaries, and universities.

    One thing that bothers me quite a bit is the constant barage of criticisms that why would I still engage in the extensive study of ancient texts both as a student and scholar of these scriptures without having any belief.

    Why would you continue studying if you have given up the faith? Since I no longer have a professorship or pastorate some of my family and friends express disappointment in me that I “didn’t continue ” with it and so look like it was all a waste of time. I am almost 65 and it is tough to get jobs given my skills. Before I got sick I was transferring my skills to other contexts and I was doing fairly well. Now it is tougher given age and health, but I am not going to crawl into a turtle shell and isolate myself from this world that I have invested a lot in and love in many respects.

    Many others insult me as well if conversations turn to religion and the bible. I am even told I am going to a deeper place in hell since I educated many in the faith and now still trying to educate them re; these texts.

    eg. “Marty, if you would have stayed in the faith you would be employed, etc. etc. and perhaps you wouldn’t have the health issues you do (I suffer from serious autoimmune problems and have to take meds that are sometimes worse than the health conditions).”

    One jerk of a Christian indicated to me that if i would return to Jesus he would heal me. I turned to him and said “You don’t know me nor Jesus so how can you make such a statement.” I’ve even had crazy charismatics try to cast demons of “intellect” and “skepticism” out of me in restaurant discussions!! That’s how nuts it is out there.

    Some have said…We trusted you one time, but why should we trust you now about the bible and theology etc. now?

    A couple of years ago I even approached pastors in my city if they wanted to learn Hebrew and Greek and I would not teach theology or belief, just the languages. They said No . They were too scared to hire me, even at a part-time level, even though my competencies in these fields were clearly evident to them and by rumor.

    In their minds now I am sola non gratia in their eyes.

    Not to mention all the times I have to be careful in raising any religious objection among friends and acquaintances. It sucks big time and I sometimes feel like I am walking on eggshells. And as they pool their ignorance together in a given setting (like lay bible studies)they simply dismiss my comments as mere opinion!!! It outrages me!

    It is very tough and I have to watch my stress levels since it will affect my health….I have been doing better over the last 5 years I was diagnosed.

    Throughout all of this I have had to work hard on keeping my integrity at many points with family and friends and not cave in under criticism and insults and terror threats of hell and even the carrot of rewards in heaven if I came back to the faith.

    So at the present time I try to keep myself busy working on some writing I never had the time to do while teaching and preaching, etc.

    I am sick and tired of Christians bitching about how they are being persecuted by guys like me when I ask tough questions or make some important criticisms re faith issues. They are not being persecuted.. Many of them get flak because they act like real assholes with their smug religion.

    I am discovering that those who are agnostic-atheist on a spectrum are the ones who may well be the persecuted in the future given the changes in the courts and more and more fundamentalism creeping into the government, etc.

    In any case my friends let us keep our heads and hearts about us and keep following the virtues of truth, goodness, beauty, love and other helpful and healing virtues, not matter how tough it gets.


    Marty Lewadny

  3. Yes, Neil, I am surrounded by them where I live. I live in a senior type complex and it is full of RC’s and Evangelical Fundies…. I may well have to move away next year given the flood of those who love to spout off propanda.

    btw sometime I will share a few things about the “tongue-speaking ” stuff. And share a bit of my journey and experiences in that.

    I found your comments quite to the point and indeed the case in most cases, but not all, and it is the “very different” experiences that are interesting, where no tricks , psychological or otherwise are necessarily present. Plus , bottom line we are dealing with a very intense phenomenological mystical experience and Paul was really into tongue-speaking despite moderns who want to reinterpret Paul to say he really wasn’t into such stuff , which is just plain false and an attempt to dismiss the texts and the experiences.

    All very interesting..plus it is so interesting hearing your own stories and thoughts about this…


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