Last time we met up, we talked about a post written by Ron Tewson (archive) about dealing with doubt. In its first paragraph, he talks about being a Christian because his god gives him shiny things all the time. But then, he brings up a number of reasons why Christians might doubt that their god exists. These reasons include hypocrisy of Christians themselves, having no evidence whatsoever to support his belief that his god is the one giving him the shiny things, and never having seen his god or heard him speak with his own eyes and ears. 

All of those reasons are perfectly legitimate. Any one of them would be all anybody’d need to know to reject his religious claims. But now, Tewson is about to tell us why he continues to spend his limited years and resources on a religion whose truth claims are either impossible to verify or contradicted constantly by reality. Indeed, the next part of his post will tell us what really holds him fast in a religion full of false claims. It’s not the truth holding him there. It’s something far more powerful. And we’ll learn what it is today.

(Holiday note: I’m taking now to at least next Tuesday off to be with family for the holidays! I’ll run a post either way to let you know.)

(This post first went live on Patreon on 12/21/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too!)

Ron Tewson makes his choice about doubt

In his post, Tewson laments that very often, his god doesn’t shower him with shiny things after all:

Like many others, I, too, have experienced frustration, disappointment, and even anger at the seeming silence of God. Life’s not going as I think it should, and the darkness keeps getting darker. It is very disorienting. . .

Yes, of course he finds those experiences “very disorienting.” If most of his reason for being evangelical is, in fact, getting shiny things from his god, then it must be very disorienting indeed when the shower of shiny things pauses for any length of time. That’s a contradiction to his assertion in the first part of the post when he tells us that his god has done “many things that go on in my life.” We have no idea what those “things” might be, of course. But they’re clearly things that Tewson believes happened only because his god stretched forth his hand and made them happen through magic.

These experiences are “very disorienting” for another very good reason, too. They are direct contradictions to the sales pitches that evangelicals make to dazzled marks. As we’ll see in a minute here, evangelicals make claims of divine intervention constantly. They use these claims as come-ons to potential new recruits. But these claims also act as retention offers to anyone who starts to doubt that any gods are doing anything for anybody.

Once Tewson finds himself disoriented, then, he must figure out a way to get himself back into the groove of belief. And he does it through making a deliberate choice about belief and faith.

It is very disorienting, and it’s in times like these I have to make a choice: will I go with faith or doubt?

Yes. And obviously, he goes with faith over doubt. 

Faith and doubt as choices that people deliberately make

In truth, faith and doubt are not choices. They are simply elements of everyone’s faith pools.

A faith pool exists for every belief that a person has. This pool represents a claim or a set of claims, like those that make up Christianity itself. If the belief is very minor, it won’t be a very large pool or involve a lot of claims. But if it’s major, then it’ll be a really big pool representing a whole bunch of related claims, and it’ll have lots of faucets feeding water into it.

These faucets represent the various reasons that bolster the belief. They don’t need to be truly valid reasons, only reasons that the person believes are valid. If these faucets pour enough water into the pool, then faith in the pool’s claims sparks to life. This happens whether or not the person involved wants to believe. 

Contradictions to the belief’s claims become drains taking the pool’s water away. If the pool’s drains offset those faucets enough by draining the pool to a sufficiently low enough level, then faith and belief wither away and die—again, on their own.

Doubt arises when someone notices those contradictions. Tewson himself has doubts because he’s noticed his tribe’s overall hypocrisy and his claims’ overall lack of veracity. He can’t help but have those doubts. He’s noticed these contradictions, and there’s no real or valid answer to them within his religion.

So he’ll need to deal with them in some other way.

That is the choice he’s making here. He’s not choosing to believe or not believe. He’s merely choosing to assuage his cognitive dissonance over doubt in some way that won’t actually confront those contradictions, but will instead leave his faith pool full.

Many evangelicals like to believe that faith and doubt are choices people make

Tewson is just parroting the evangelical party line here, of course. As we saw last week, he’s enamored of apologetics hucksters like Frank Turek and Sean McDowell. And one of the major premises in that end of Christianity is that belief, faith, and doubt are choices that people make.

For most evangelicals, decision theology guides their ideas about faith. This centuries-old idea holds that people must make individual decisions to accept the so-called free gift of salvation. If they do not make that choice, then Jesus consigns their ghosts to eternal torture forever after they die. Their safety from Hell is only assured if they continue to choose to obey their god.

One evangelical site, (archive), tells us how this choice works, sort of:

Belief itself is not a choice. [. . .] However, someone can indirectly choose to resist coming to faith by grace in several ways, such as by: 1) not listening to what you tell them about grace; 2) making sure he only reads or listens to works-salvation teachers; 3) ignoring the passages in Scripture about grace; 4) maybe ignoring Scripture altogether; 5) choosing to attend a works-salvation church, etc. There are many choices someone can make that will shield him from the evidence for grace. In that way, he can actively, but indirectly, choose not to believe.

So it’s not a choice, but kinda it totally is a choice. However, another poster on that site (archive) comes a bit closer to what I’m saying here today: that belief arises on its own when someone receives what they believe is valid support for a claim.

Meanwhile, another evangelical over at (archive) thinks evangelicals don’t focus nearly enough on belief being 100% a conscious choice:

Faith, or belief, can only be rewarded if it’s something we’ve chosen. You don’t reward your child for finishing their homework if you did it for them. Faith can’t be rewarded if it simply falls on us from above. Belief is something we muster, set ourselves to, and practice. Especially when the “data” before us seems to argue against it. Our faith in God is our most precious possession, and God is committed to deepening and strengthening it.

(And Calvinists, of course, generally think that salvation is predestined (archive) and that humans have no choice at all in the matter. If the evil and sadistic god of Calvinists decided at the beginning of time itself that a particular person would be going to Hell, then that’s where that person goesno matter how they might try to please him during life.)

And both viewpoints only came about after Christianity became ever-so-slightly less mandatory. Once people gained the ability to choose what flavor of the religion they wanted to follow and obey in the wake of the Reformation of the 16th century, all these theological ideas flowed forth. Before that, nobody had a choice about being Christian or following any particular flavor of it that made the most sense to them, so laypeople didn’t seem to get nearly as wrapped up in doctrinal squabbling and theological nattering as evangelicals routinely do today.

I also think evangelicals love the idea of faith as a choice because that lets their god off the hook for sending non-believers to Hell. But we’ll talk about that some other time.

The false dilemma of faith and doubt

And as I’ve heard many times within evangelicalism, only two options are open to believers about faith and doubt. Tewson parrots that party line as well:

What I’ve learned is that faith and doubt are both necessary for life to work. If I never doubt, I’ll end up falling for anything. But if I never have faith, I’ll live in a perpetual state of despair and get frozen in time. There are very few decisions any of us can make with absolute certainty because we lack the time and horsepower to process everything about everything. At some point we must choose to exercise faith — even in the shadow of doubt — and only time will determine if we made the right choice.

It’s interesting that Tewson accepts that there are times when someone must doubt a claim, and times when someone accepts a claim in faith. He just doesn’t understand what really supports a claim.

Tewson also offers us an interesting false dilemma here about being in “a perpetual state of despair” if one lives entirely without faith. I’m not sure anybody even could live entirely without faith. But what we can live without is faith for no good reason, as one finds in Christians.

Yes, it’s true that often, people accept or reject claims without having 100% complete and total proof of them. Often, we can only come close enough to be certain one way or the other. For example, I don’t really need to spend a lot of time figuring out if scientists’ claims about the Sun are true. Still, I have complete faith that it will rise in the morning. Nor do I need to know every single thing my husband is thinking about to have complete faith that he loves me. These are two claims that I’ve had enough confirmation of that I can accept them in faith now.

Also, did you catch that subtle threat of Hell at the tail end of that quote? I sure did. And I suspect his readers sure do. To be evangelical is to live in fear. One of their biggest fears involves making the wrong choices. Still, this was a much more subtle jab than I’m used to seeing from evangelicals. Tewson probably picked up that little trick from one of his apologetics heroes.

And a false equivalence to make his claims sound ever so slightly more valid

As well, Tewson sets up a very dishonest false equivalence:

I’m choosing faith over doubt because even in my darkness, the sun has always risen again.

He’s falsely equating his religious claims to claims about the Sun rising in the morning. They are nothing alike. However, comparing Christianity to the Sun clearly makes Christianity seem more real to him.

Earlier, he pulled the same stunt with the story of his monitor replacement, as we saw last time:

I often find myself doubting — questioning — before and after making a decision. The other day I had to purchase a computer monitor because mine was done. I searched the web for endorsements, only to find a plethora of differing opinions. I talked with a few friends, prayed, and then made a choice. Today, it’s connected and working just fine. My doubt didn’t disqualify me from making a choice but instead drove me to investigate, process, question, and then move forward with my doubts to a conclusion.

The real-world decisions we make about monitors aren’t anything like what Christians demand people make about their god. In the case of monitors and husbands and the Sun, those are all real. And so we can assess them using real-world facts and past real-world experience. We can predict future outcomes based on those real-world measures.

No Christian has a single real-world fact or past real-world experience with a single supernatural agent they claim exists. That especially includes their god. Tewson has this weaksauce well gyarsh, Shaggy, we all gotta go on faith SOMETIMES! But it fails right out of the gate. He just wants us to put his religious claims on the same shelf as claims about real-world things that actually exist. And they just don’t go on the same shelf.

It’d be far more valid and honest to compare a Christian’s religious claims to those about Bigfoot rather than computer monitors. Both the Christian god and Bigfoot are purely fictitious. Christians have just had a lot more time to pump up claims about their imaginary god. On the other hand, Bigfoot believers have reality TV shows:

They even have a video of Bigfoot hurpling around.

Well, I don’t know about you. I’m convinced. (/s)

And now, at last, we learn what really fills Ron Tewson’s faith pool and erases his doubt

At the very end of the post, Tewson negates everything he’s written up until this point:

I’m choosing faith over doubt because even in my darkness, the sun has always risen again. And I’m choosing faith in a loving God over faith in luck or coincidence because while one gives me an inner sense of hope and peace, the other leaves me cold and at the mercy of a big, lifeless nothing.

It’s a no-brainer.

Let’s ignore the additional false equivalence. It’s just there to soothe him and readers of a like mind. (His faith in Christianity is, again, nothing whatsoever like his faith that the Sun will rise again. The Sun is real. Nothing in Christianity is real.)

Here’s the real reason why he’s wasting his finite lifetime and resources on a set of false claims. And why he’s trying to persuade other evangelicals to keep doing the same:

He thinks “one gives me an inner sense of hope and peace, the other leaves me cold and at the mercy of a big, lifeless nothing.”

That’s it.

That’s why he’s there.

And for him and other evangelicals like him, it really is a “no-brainer.”

He’s been taught that Christianity is the only way to find an “inner sense of hope and peace.” At the same time, he’s been taught that rejection of Christianity “leaves me cold and at the mercy of a big, lifeless nothing.”

In his little universe, there’s no other way things can work out. If he leaves Christianity, he loses all the shiny things. That’s bad enough as it is! Worse, though, he also puts himself in harm’s way with nothing to protect him.

For an evangelical, losing perks is already bad. But facing greater risks and harms? That’s absolutely unthinkable.

That’s enough right there to send Ron Tewson and evangelicals like him scurrying away at warp speed from any potential sources of doubt.

The risk-averse evangelical mind

An evangelical fretted in May 2020 (archive) about evangelicals’ new early-pandemic habit of wishing each other “Stay safe” instead of “goodbye.” Of the new farewell, he writes:

This worries me, because Christians have never focused on safety. Our safety comes from Jesus, not the world. Christians focus on being faithful, serving our neighbor and loving our God.

But he’s wrong. Christians have focused on safety for quite a long time (or at least, what they perceived as safety).

Conservatives in general are extremely risk-averse. And few groups are more conservative than evangelicals. Interestingly, this rule doesn’t tend to hold completely true in investing. One interesting 2010 paper draws a line between “pure risk,” meaning stuff like car accidents and illnesses that only bring bad results, and “speculative risk,” which can bring both good and bad results (like gambling). Its writer suggests that very religious people might be very averse to pure risk, but way more accepting of speculative.

Either way, this aversion to risk-taking seems to show up most often in those who believe in an afterlife (archive), which also describes evangelicals.

And evangelicals themselves have noticed their own tendency toward risk aversion. One site tries to exhort evangelicals to start taking more risks in evangelism (all emphases from originals, as always):

Far from being bad for us, taking risks is actually good for the soul, necessary to a healthy learning process, and vital for innovation in all social contexts. Risk aversion, when it becomes part of the culture of church, will result in a stifling status quo that will resist anything, including God, that comes along to disturb it. . . We do well to consider that Jesus is always “dangerous” to our all-too-human penchant for safety and security. He is a Lord—how else could it be otherwise? [“Risk Aversion and Dangerous Dreamers,” 2016; archive. Yes, that last bit sounds like an Aslan reference.]

And Barna Group is right on hand to chastise church leaders for it. This time, evangelicals’ risk aversion is chasing off all the yungpepple.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective. A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. [“Why Young Christians Leave Church,” Barna Group, 2017; archive]

It’s a serious problem within Christianity. One evangelism group, Lausanne, complains about exactly that regarding the few places and groups on Earth that haven’t yet been pestered to death by missionaries:

Yet, many Christians are risk averse and are not willing to go to these people. It may also be true that other Christians are perhaps foolhardy. [“THE RISK OF REACHING THE UNREACHED: FINDING THE BALANCE BETWEEN SAFETY AND COMPASSION,” Lausanne Movement, 2019; archive]

Their writer then goes on to laboriously retell all the risks taken by missionaries in Christianity’s earliest myths. Another evangelical, Joel Carini (archive), even blames risk aversion for evangelicals’ overall “ineffectiveness.”

And finally, one evangelical at InterVarsity (archive) understands the relationship of risk aversion to a sense of having control:

A major aspect of the search for safety centers on control. The idea is that the more we can control a situation, the safer we can make it. We want to influence the outcomes as much as possible. The concept of entering a situation and not being in charge is, for some of us, a completely overwhelming thought.

He concedes that the sense of control is largely illusory. But he also suggests evangelicals magically hand their need for control, along with their risk aversion, to Jesus “as an offering,” so he’s not much further along than the rest of the tribe.

No Jesus, know peace; know Jesus, no peace

Forget the shit-tier and childish apologetics that evangelicals like Ron Tewson think are awesome supports for Christian claims. Forget the anecdotes about mysterious “things that have gone on in my life.”

Here is the source of the water in Ron Tewson’s faith pool:

  • Safety, even if it can’t be predicted with any reliability.
  • Control, even if it’s vicarious and imagined and lost constantly.
  • Protection, even if he can’t ever count on it, ever.
  • Avoiding the overwhelming terror his tribal leaders have put into him about what life outside of Christianity is like

That’s what keeps Ron Tewson’s butt solidly planted in its church pew.

He will never consider that plenty of heathens feel “hope and peace.” Or that plenty of evangelicals just like him don’t feel “hope and peace.” Plenty of evangelicals even routinely feel “cold and at the mercy of a big, lifeless nothing.”

Heck, by the time I deconverted I had developed an absolutely scorching case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complete with anxiety and panic attacks. I also had a serious problem with anger management and a solid case of codependence. I believed almost exactly what Ron Tewson believes, and I was as fervent as any evangelical would want to see in a tribemate. But my faith not only didn’t help those conditions, it made them considerably worse. 

I only recovered after deconversion and thanks to real-world therapy and a little while on medication. One of the hardest steps to healing was, in fact, recognizing when I was angry or hurt or stressed out. I’d been trained to ignore and hand-wave away those feelings so well that I couldn’t even recognize them in myself at first! Years later, I’d discover a lot of ex-Christians have much the same ex-timony. So now, I don’t believe any evangelical who claims to feel “hope and peace” unless I know them well, and even then I consider them as having those feelings despite their religious beliefs, not because of them!

No, Tewson’s religion is completely and entirely superfluous to feelings of hope and peace. Its absence or presence has nothing to do, either, with feelings of “cold[ness]” or of being “at the mercy of a big, lifeless nothing.” Evangelicals complain about those negative emotions all the time. Their leaders address those emotions all the time, too!

Just as I found in my own situation, the only answer evangelicalism has to these complaints—and has ever had—is to try to ignore them or magic them away by Jesusing the Jesus-Jesus. That doesn’t work, for the same reason that Christians can’t adequately address any of the serious contradictions to their claims, and why they must constantly address depression and feelings of emptiness in the flocks.

But evangelicals don’t ever examine exactly why they’re in the religion, much less how exactly they chase doubt out of their minds

A long time ago, a Christian took exception to something I’d said about his religion. I’d written a post about Christianity’s false promise of rebirth, and he didn’t really like what I had to say there. I no longer remember exactly how our engagement went, just that he wrote a huge response post trying to make his religion’s claims sound better. It went about as well as Ron Tewson’s attempt here. At the end, though, I remember that I told this other Christian that it was obvious that he was Christian because he was absolutely terrified of Hell. He liked that observation even less than the original Easter post. 

As far as I know, though, that guy remained Christian. Sure, I’d made him uncomfortable. Very, in fact. But his terror of Hell was just too powerful and overwhelming to allow him to examine his beliefs in a more rational light. Everything he thought bolstered his faith simply provided him with a veneer of plausible deniability. All the blahblah he offered in that response post was an excuse, a poor rationalization, for holding his beliefs, that’s all. At the very end, all he had to offer was a threat of Hell to me and our community for rejecting his religion.

And that is what told us his actual reason for being Christian.

Watch the end of these sorts of engagements. The biggest weapon a Christian pulls out is always the last one before they retreat. They’ll feint at first with the lovey-dovey Jesus horseshit, sure. They’ll stumble along with their apologetics routines that they’ve learned from their leaders. None of that’s what actually converted them or holds them in Christianity. They learned to parrot these lines well after their conversions. But they think it does sometimes to others, so it’s worth a shot.

When they sense their marks aren’t buying that sweetsy-syrupy stuff, they’ll start playing bigger and bigger cards. Seriously, just watch them in action. It’s like an inverse pyramid. They always start with a Gish gallop of lovey-dovey reasons and then proceed along to more and more personal—and more and more contradictory to the party line—reasons.

Finally, they’ll play the one card that actually holds them fast in their own faith. Almost always, this is Hell. Whatever it might be, it won’t sound good. It won’t make them look good, either. They know it’ll make their god look evil, or else make them look gullible. They know it won’t make a lick of sense when stacked against all the other lovey-dovey and logical-sounding blahblah they’ve already used to sell their religion. It is, rather, a reason marked by primal fear and cruelty. And it’s what converted them and holds them there.

Here’s the kicker:

They’ll run down this inverse-pyramid list of reasons without even realizing it. When the final big gun comes out, they don’t ever realize what it signifies about them or their religion.

What really banishes an evangelical’s doubt

That’s what we’ve seen here, almost eight years later.

Ron Tewson is just as terrified of Hell as his fellow evangelicals, which we know because he offered a threat about it in a post that is—at least as far as he knows—guaranteed to be read only by evangelicals on a site frequented only by evangelicals. Any stray heathens visiting the site are either people like me who use the site to illustrate why Christianity’s claims are all false, or else they’ve wandered in while just a light switch flip away from conversion. Had Tewson been writing for our benefit, he’d likely have ladled on the threats more thickly and obviously. As it is, he only needs to allude to Hell. His audience will catch it just fine.

They will also nod along to his tribalistic description of heathenism. Oh, those poor widdle heathens! Sob some crocodile tears for those poor widdle hopeless, lost, unsafe, unprotected heathens! 

None of them will wonder if heathens really feel that way or go through life like that. Their Dear Leaders say we do, and that’s good enough. The same goes for his tribalistic assertion that only his particular quirky li’l take on Christianity can possibly provide a feeling of “hope and peace.” It’s not true in the least, but the tribe learned this rhetoric decades ago. Hearing it said again only makes them more sure that their false beliefs are true.

That’s all we’re gonna get out of Ron Tewson. Look again at the last card he played in his post. This is his biggest gun:

I’m choosing faith over doubt because even in my darkness, the sun has always risen again. And I’m choosing faith in a loving God over faith in luck or coincidence because while one gives me an inner sense of hope and peace, the other leaves me cold and at the mercy of a big, lifeless nothing.

It’s a no-brainer.

It might not have been Hell that converted him or that holds him there now. But it’s still fear in the form of a set of false claims about both evangelicalism and life as a non-Christian. Even if all his apologetics fails to persuade, even if his logical fallacies and false equivalences fail to hit the mark, even if he can’t possibly hope to address the causes he has to doubt his claims, this one last thing has always done the trick.

Like evangelicals as a group, he is too frightened to explore reality’s many contradictions to his claims. Such an exploration represents far too much risk to his beliefs. He’s already lost too many faucets to all those contradictions. And the pool’s drains are already too wide. They already swallow all too much water. No, he must protect the few faucets still feeding water into the pool.

But he can’t do it with reality. Reality has never played well with religious claims.

Instead, he must use thought stoppers, logical fallacies, and false assertions about life both inside and outside of Christianity. 

Like the others as well, Tewson doesn’t even realize what he’s told us about himself, either. I guarantee it. Self-awareness and introspection are also risky endeavors in evangelicalism. If he’s already soothed his own doubts with the piss-poor tools at his disposal, he’s going to rest securely in thinking he’s well and truly inspired everybody.

As that one evangelical said, the choice isn’t really to believe or not to believe something. Rather, the choice involves deliberately avoiding sources of doubt and immersing oneself in those piss-poor tools’ use so nothing too troubling can rise to their awareness. And yes, this is a form of antiprocess! Tewson is literally revealing how he avoids processing or even recognizing painful contradictions to his beliefs!

antiprocess shield in operation | roll to disbelieve

I makeded dis.

No. None of that disturbs him. His veneer looks smooth and polished

That’s all that matters to him and his audience.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.


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