If you're going to become an atheist, don't do it for stupid reasons

The lead singer of Order of Elijah has declared himself to be an atheist.

I'll be honest, I'd never heard of the Order of Elijah. And no, it's not a secret society like the Freemasons, it's a Missouri metalcore group that played the Christian circuit for a while.

I'll be honest, I have no idea what metalcore is.

I do know though that lead singer Shannon Low has come out as an atheist, and his fans aren't happy. He told Patheos they'd been ripping his posters off their walls and breaking their CDs in half, as well as writing "vulgar" messages and deleting their music.

Low writes about his journey away from faith in a long Facebook post. People do lose their religion, for all sorts of reasons. In this case I think it's sad. Low seems to have lost his faith because he was presented with a version of Christianity that is pretty unattractive and frankly very hard to believe.

And I wondered how many other people were wrestling with the same sort of issues, perhaps thinking the same thoughts as Low. To a degree, I don't have a problem with the fact that people stop believing. It's a shame, but if it's not there, it's not there, and I leave it to God. I have a huge problem when people say things because they're foolish and unthinking that put unnecessary stumbling-blocks in the way of faith. I think they'll be judged very harshly for it.

Low writes about his divorce and his struggles with alcohol, and how his church helped him through it. But he was challenged by reading a story in the Bible about God sending two bears to maul children who made fun of Elijah's baldness. So, he says, "I began asking some questions and found each person had a different apologetic answer for this story. Some said 'You don't understand, calling someone bald back then was horrible.' or 'You need to realise these children were heretics and needed to die so their seed didn't spread." He also comes across Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, and "an ocean of relentlessly cruel stories".

He discovered the earliest Gospel wasn't written until 50 years after Jesus died and that Paul never read any of them. He read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. He's appalled by the pastors calling gay people "abominations" and by money-grubbing ministers "making millions with feel-good sermons". Why, he asks, would God sentence two-thirds of the world to hell for being born in the wrong culture? Oh, and instead of trying to pray his alcoholism away, he got treatment for it. In the end, he says, he accepted that he had "shed his faith like a cocoon" in an experience that was "scary yet liberating, confusing yet simple".

Here's the question. What did his pastors, his Christian friends, his Christian culture, think they were doing? Why had he never been educated in the faith? Why was he allowed to go to church Sunday by Sunday without ever being made to think, so that these basic difficulties were allowed to strike him with such catastrophic force, amplified by the awful platitudes and thoughtless nostrums of the people he went to for help?

Most of all – and this is why these questions are worth asking – how many other people are in the same position?

Maybe, of course, his church did address these questions and he just wasn't listening. In his Facebook post we have a very one-sided account. But The God Delusion has sold millions of copies. There are lots of people like Low, who think it's wonderful.

So here, for the record, is what he ought to have been told.

Most of those stories of violence in the Old Testament weren't told as examples to follow, but examples to avoid. If pastors preach on the story of Jephthah they shouldn't justify his actions, they should say why he was wrong.

Others are harder, but they reflect the times. We should be prepared to interrogate expressions like "God said". God does not command genocide. Life then was as precious to him as life now.

Gay people are not abominations. Pastors shouldn't make millions out of sermons. We know Paul didn't read the Gospels. They are based on eyewitness reports. Richard Dawkins isn't good on religion. If a Christian is telling you your alcoholism can be cured by prayer, assume they're wrong.

Outside a particular sub-culture that's suspicious of biblical criticism, prone to simplistic explanations and unwilling to face hard questions, Christians know all this and have done for years.

Low's experience of Christianity must have been good, at one level. He met some nice people and felt loved and supported. The tragedy for him – and others like him – is that he wasn't given the tools to make intellectual sense of his faith, when they're so readily available.

In Matthew 18:6 Jesus says: "If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." We can do that by failing to live up to our responsibility to think, and to encourage others to think, before it's too late.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods