My de-conversion from fundamentalism was unsurprisingly a significant event in my life, but there were some few surprises worth commenting on. I submit four here for your consideration. Since very few self-identify as “fundamentalist,” note that when I use the word, I’m merely distinguishing between casual believers and evangelicals who tend to view the Bible as a literal and historical source of Truth.
Surprise #1: People don’t want to know why (not really).
As a Christian, I took it for granted that my unbelieving friends quizzed me regularly on my faith. It seemed only natural to me that they should want to know why I believed as I did. After all, I was interested in what my opponents had to say and insisted on hearing it from their own mouths. Yet perhaps only one in twenty close acquaintances who regularly (and not insincerely) told me they loved me, cried with me in prolonged embraces during prayer, and called me “brother” has bothered to inquire into my departure. I have a number of pet-explanations for this, but I think mostly it’s a combination of their feeling personally hurt and betrayed (leaving a church can feel like leaving a family) and their nagging desire to remain on the proper course in their own faith. As it turns out, they needn’t fear my influence over them or their children, thanks to a dispiriting but consistent trend: attempts to inform the uninterested are almost always wasted.
I’m fairly convinced that believers are in general much less curious about other worldviews than their skeptical counterparts. This point is almost self-evident in that exposure to other ideas is the best and perhaps only antidote to faith. A broad education tends almost inexorably to undermine fundamentalist religious belief. We know this because the results are in: the more educated a person is, the less likely he is to be a fundamentalist, or very religious at all. There is no need to offer or take offense at this, since a given fundamentalist might be very educated. It does, however, reveal a powerful trend, namely that education which is not engineered specifically to sustain faith is typically corrosive to it. Curiosity drives education, so naturally, it is in the believer’s best interest, if he wishes to remain a believer, to be selectively curious. Any information I have which stands to undermine his faith should therefore bypass his curiosity.
Surprise #2: Emotional bonds with other believers were not unconditional but predicated on our common faith.
I still vividly recall the looks of concern a missed church service would earn me. The sidelong “missed you Sunday night” paired with an appraising look that was not quite accusatory. If they missed me so badly after a service or two, it stands to reason that they must miss me dearly now. If they do, they are concealing their grief remarkably well. I have received, if I’m not mistaken, a total of zero messages checking in on me, making sure I’m all right. Perhaps they don’t ask because, well, of course I’m not all right! I’m no longer in communion with the Lord, have condemned myself to enjoy him no longer in this life or the next. I may even be destined to suffer eternity alone and in terror. All the more reason to, you know, check in, or so I initially thought – but I was wrong to blame them for reasons I’ll discuss later.
They are doing what makes sense to them in the present, just like the rest of us. When we tearfully exchanged loving sentiments all those years ago, we really felt it at the time. Cathartic experiences have a way of bringing any two people together, but like most quick-drying adhesives, they prove less strong and lasting than those that slowly solidify over time. As for my family with whom both quick and slow bonds had formed, it is likely all the more difficult for them to confront me, now an outsider, regarding beliefs they have no interest in defending to outsiders. Faith can be a hard sell as it is, let alone to those of us who know where the bodies are buried.
Surprise: #3: For reasons I could not have predicted, it’s hard to be around my old church family.
My wife stopped attending services prior to me. We shared the same thoughts, but I felt the greater sense of obligation to the church. One doesn’t choose to stop believing overnight. In fact, belief is less of a choice than many believers suppose. I was a Christian not because it made my life more satisfying but because I thought Christianity depicted the world truly and accurately. As the evidence against this belief rolled in, there was no helping it: my credulity waned. No amount of Christian apologetics, prayer, and especially no amount of Bible reading was sufficient to reverse the trend. Yet I initially failed to confront the fact that I no longer believed.
We don’t admit to others what we can’t admit to ourselves, so as straightforward as I pride myself on being, I fizzled my way out of the church. First I dislodged myself from the music ministry without providing an explanation. My attendance suffered. I initially supplied lame excuses but eventually stopped accounting for my absences. Then one unremarkable Sunday, I attended my last service.
Excepting my father and one meeting with my old pastor a few months later, I have not had any open discussions with my religious family or friends on the topic of my leaving the church. I’m now a cross-breed between the black sheep and the elephant in the room. I have trouble attending family events, and I’m more to blame for this than my family who probably don’t realize or intend the subtext they pack into their words or the resentment their eyes betray. They would likely describe their behavior quite differently than I would and generally overestimate the degree to which they are motivated by compassion and concern, as so many of us do.
I’m only occasionally offended they don’t reach out to me, and that the few of them with whom I do correspond are typically only doing so in response to me. The cause for offense on these rare occasions is rooted in the knowledge that they believe I’m in danger of eternal punishment. If you think I’m on the brink of hell and that you have the truth that could save me, I assume you’d at least try to help if you cared. For a loved one, nothing would stop me – not even the belief that my attempts would likely be futile. And how on earth should you predict futile attempts when you believe the Spirit of the Living God literally resides within you and can speak through you?
In those moments, I’m simply forgetting something: they don’t actually worry for my eternal soul, bless them. They haven’t really grappled with the prospect of my wailing and gnashing my teeth through the endless eons, hurling belated apologies into an unhearing void. To assume as much is comical. They more or less rest in the knowledge that I am in error and will be put to proper correction some glad day. I confess I’m occasionally envious of those privileged to savor such a wishful prospect.
The truth is that I’m not in their world anymore, and they know it. They don’t know how to “save” me any more than I know how to earn their interest. But by being outnumbered, I’m the one who is out of place. Their views are edifying and mine contrary. They offend righteously and I intolerantly. The “religious talk” and in-jokes which endear them to one another have quite a different effect on me.
When I was a Christian, I was taught to avoid “religious talk” because it could make some feel excluded. As an unbeliever, such talk irritates me for an entirely different reason: it serves as a constant reminder that their beliefs are perpetually and systematically reinforced, a practice which runs so counter to my values that I cannot help feeling appalled. I fear there is no direct parallel to illustrate this for a believer, for whom enduring foul language or blasphemy is a petty irritation by comparison. Watching helplessly as people I care about imprison themselves in self-affirming thought patterns is not easy, and I doubt whether it ever will be.
Surprise #4: Believers often assume the worst of me.
…which is understandable to an extent. I’m after all a self-professed enemy to most of their cherished beliefs about the world. I expected sensitivity to this but was caught off guard by the hypersensitivity I received. I might have predicted this too, had I dedicated more thought to it.
Skeptics attempt to distance themselves from their ideas to evaluate them as disinterestedly and impartially as possible. Most true believers do this seldom or never, which means to attack their views is really to attack them on a personal level. There is therefore often no polite way to criticize those tenets of Christianity, both factual and ethical, which are frankly ill-conceived and unsupported. Even on those happy occasions when there is a polite way to reprove them, it can be hard to “take the high road” when others’ interests are at stake.
As a recent example, my home state of Minnesota nearly approved a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, and some of my family members broadcasted their support for this. On such occasions, I just cannot resist the temptation to intervene on behalf of those whose rights are threatened. I make no apology for this, but one consequence is regrettable: everything I say on the topic of Christianity is taken to be derisive and condescending, which is hardly fair but very understandable. My advice to a recent de-convert is to make your target, the bad idea, clear and to go out of your way to cushion the blow to the believer. It may seem odd, but when you tell a person one of their religious beliefs is misinformed, they are often positive you are calling them stupid. Take the time to remind them in indirect ways that you are no smarter than they are (you aren’t) and, for that matter, no smarter now than when you believed. Now you just happen to have some additional information to share, if they’re interested. Don’t get too excited (see surprise #1) because they probably aren’t.
I’ve learned quite a bit over the past few years, and I’m much happier for it. I didn’t choose to “lose my faith” to free myself from religion (or choose to lose it at all), but freedom has turned out to be a most agreeable perk. The freedom – not merely from petty obligation but to do good for its own sake, under no threat of punishment – is the easy part. Managing or failing to manage relationships has been a persistent challenge. Like any social challenge, blame is a poor ingredient for success, as is dwelling excessively on past offenses. After all, honest religious people are victims of bad ideas as well as perpetrators, and those who would call them hypocrites for falling short of perfection have it exactly backwards. The fact is that there is no God to fill them with his love or guide their steps, speak through them or offer them insight, so their reliance on his assistance is, apart from any incidental confidence it confers, mostly a handicap. They deserve genuine, non-patronizing empathy for this. I’ve been in their position, after all, and was not saved by any exceptional quality I possess. I was saved by some additional information and a vague willingness to attend to the available evidence in spite of my beliefs. It could be that genuine empathy is a sensible starting point to arouse such a willingness in others.
First, loved this article!!! Was in agreement big time with what one experiences when they have a deconversion from religion.
My questions are….. It sounds as though you reject the god that the so called Christians worship although you do not mention whether or not yiu have thought about Jesus…..NOT the “Jesus” that mainstream Christians say is he…….. Rather I mean the Jesus who is ONLY light, life, love, truth, and spirit… And has absolutely NO connection with darkness, death, hate, lies, or condemnations.
First of all, thank you for your comment. The Jesus you describe sounds a little like a Jesus you invented. The Jesus described in the Bible, whatever his good qualities, promises condemnation and judgement. He is the very person who introduced the concept of everlasting torture, the most brutal concept in all of scripture.
I’m not sure how familiar you are with Pentecostals, but they are very Jesus-centered. I did everything in the name of Jesus. I was baptized in his name in water and (I sincerely believed) in spirit. I spoke in tongues as (again, I believed) his spirit gave utterance. I called him the “lover of my soul.” I was a very serious Christian, and I loved Jesus.
I didn’t change my position because Christians are hypocrites or because something bad happened to me or because I wanted to indulge in “sin” without being held accountable. I stopped believing because I learned more about the world and about human brains, and the facts did not comport with my faith claims. I’m happy to answer any specific questions you have about that!
🙂 good answer. I will be your good friend, when and if you hear me. I would like to start by saying…. Don’t even get me started on eternal conscious torment. Haha! That is the biggest flipping lie in Christianity! Jesus never ever ever said or invented such a thing. It’s all about HOW you were told to read the Bible. We were brainwashed as kids. I was too. I grew up to reject hell, because I found “brains” too. 🙂
Hell was a concept invented by men and then superimposed over the biblical texts so that wrathful kinds can see nothing else but that when they read it now. especially since it has been translated INTO the texts. King James version was the first version to change numerous different words into one word (hell). Before that translation, there was Sheol, Hades, tartoros, and gehenna. Sheol was Hebrew for grave. And it meant just that… Death, the grave. People back then were far less speculative about the afterlife than we are today. They believed that whether you were good or bad, regardless, it’s the grave that swallowed you at the end. They didn’t speak of a hell, as we were taught about it today. They spoke and referred to “the grave”.
For example David said, if I make my bed in the grave you are there.
They didn’t associate two different places to which you may go after death. They spoke unanimously of the grave.
The new testament Greek word Hades, is equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol. Now people believed in a resurrection of souls and in a judgement, but they believed that would occur here…. Earth… Not in some mystical afterlife place. So they once asked Jesus…. this woman was married and when her husband died, she remarried his brother. AFTER THE RESURRECTION, whose then will she be?”
So there were questions of justice and questions of the future and belief in a resurrection, but no belief in “hell” as we know it, up until this point.
Then Jesus would say things like, this girl you all think is dead, she is not dead, but she is sleeping.
He wanted to change our viewpoints on what death means to us. …Lessen its permanence in our minds.
So Jesus used different words entirely, than the masses, so that he could differentiate his understandings of things from theirs. When people asked him about death and judgment, Jesus answered them with a new explaination/ new word..kind of like when he differentiated between death and sleep. Jesus said evildoers will not escape “gehenna”. Gehenna, back then, was a place in which they burned trash continually outside of town.
So wrathful minds have taken Jesus words literally and taken that description to mean that people will go to a trash bin and burn in fire forever. But that’s so ridiculous!
In revelation (ch20), it teaches that death and Hades will give up their dead to be judged/ have their works judged. THEN death (the thing without the ppl) will be thrown into the lake of fire. The second death. Then there will be no more tears. No more death. no more sorrow. Etc.
But the judgment is explained better in corinthians.(1cor 3).. It teaches that at the judgment the works shall be judged and the works …the gold and silver shall remain, and the wood, hay and stubble shall be burned away, BUT THE MAN [person] HIMSELF will be saved. I swear to you it’s in the Bible… But if you were never shown the good stuff and only taught the shitty stuff that Christians tell one another about God you will miss it.
Also important to know, that Jesus taught gehenna to a wrathful bunch that so greatly feared that God was a pansy who would let injustice into the kingdom of life. They wanted death for the enemies. they could only hear in terms of death. But…
Jesus, by his work on the cross and resurrection, defeated the FEAR of the power of death in us, so we could see his teachings in the future with fresh eyes and find salvation and freedom from our sin and lose the desire to keep harming one another.
Hebrews 2 says…”14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might DESTROY the ONE WHO HAS the power of death, that is, the DEVIL 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Jesus wanted them to know that what destroys us, He will take care of…. It will burn forever. Injustice will not survive.
But people will survive. Jesus taught this relentlessly.
Throughout the old testament, fire is spoken of as restorative and not destructive. Fire is used as an analogy. So, for people back in that day to automatically think that (by Gehenna) God meant peoples body’s will burn forever is a long shot. Rather, the idea of eternal conscious torment was invented in the middle ages by politically/ religiously positioned powers.
May I share an interesting viewpoint about how people can read writings with VERY different eyes from one another?……
“Verbal Plenary” or “Progressive Vision” of Biblical Inspiration?
One of the problems within modern evangelicalism is the age old battle in the differing views of inspiration. While there may be hesitancy to enter this mine-field of discussion, this is an important matter in which every follower of Jesus should make thinking decisions. There are serious ramifications as to personal peace and serious issues as to the positive influence that Christianity will make in society that are at stake in this matter. Without wanting to oversimplify, let’s briefly address two main positions:
Generally, a “progressive vision” view of inspiration sees the writers of the Bible describing God from an escalating perspective that progresses from Old Testament to New Testament. The views expressed by inspired writers are clarified and culminated within the overriding revelation of the nature and character of God as seen in the Person of Jesus.
This position holds that the writers viewed the nature of God from their own unique perspective and their writings contain evidence of their own contextual worldview, personal assumptions as to the nature of God, along with Holy Spirit inspired revelation. The conflict between the God of the O.T. and the Abba Father revealed in and by Jesus is therefore explained by this “progressive vision” view. This position could be described as a “growing-vision-of-God-and–His-true-nature” view of biblical inspiration! If it doesn’t look like Jesus it can’t be God!
With some variations the “verbal plenary” view of inspiration sees a flat line inerrant view of all scripture and seeks to harmonize the differing views of God within the Bible as a whole. The whole “truth without mixture of error” argument is seen by a growing number to paint a picture of a God who breaks his own commandments. While commanding not to kill, he kills. While commanding to not be envious, God is seen as jealously coveting the attention and affections (devotion) of men while acting capriciously to force their attention to Himself. While many holding this view would say that Jesus is the supreme revelation of the nature of God, there are unspoken inconsistencies within the harmonization efforts that present a vision of God that is both: Creator and Destroyer, Killer and Dead Raiser, Inclusive but Exclusive, Peaceful but Violent, Giver and Taker-Away, Forgiver and Condemner, Merciful and Judgmental, Intimate but Untouchable, Healer and Afflicter, and numerous other descriptions of the Holy that are completely at odds with each other. The unspoken “elephant in the room” is the observation that these harmonization efforts create a dualism not seen at all in Jesus.
This position can digress into a “find-verses-to-match-in-the-Bible-and-call-it-God” method of interpretation (proof-texting). To be honest, the fact is that you can “prove” Calvinism, Arminianism, Exclusivism, Universalism, Deism or Snake Handling by which verses you allow and which scriptures you ignore while rubber stamping it all with “that’s what the Bible says and that’s what I believe!”
The progressive view is labeled as “too liberal” by the inerrancy crowd while they themselves are seen as “narrowly unthinking” by progressives. Having held membership in the inerrancy camp at one time I can testify from experience that any questioning of this “unquestioned” view can lead to instant questions about ones’ character, commitment and “orthodoxy.” I am here to say that what was previously seen as a “liberal” view of scripture, is in truth “liberating” in that it makes allowance for an un-conflicted view of the nature of God as seen in the person of Jesus Christ!
One position (inerrancy) views the other as those that critically “dissect” the scriptures, while the other (progressives) view the opposing position as presenting a conflicting “dicey” version of God. Without apology “the Word of God (God Incarnate in Jesus)” must trump “the word (the scriptures)” in our hearts and minds.
Early Christians encountered Jesus without a book. They had only the Jewish scriptures (O.T.) with very limited access to them and with a high degree of illiteracy among everyday people. They had a Christianity that had to interpret the reality of their experience in the light that the Holy Spirit gave them within a personal relationship with Jesus. Along with this divine influence on their hearts and minds as they journeyed through life, they also had inspired conversation about Him with other followers of Jesus with whom they enjoyed a growing relationship… this would be the essence of church. Jesus is before and much bigger than the book.
Thank God for the Bible! Most of what I know of Jesus comes from the book! There is no other book like it, a book that I read and think about every day! Yet, we have to ask ourselves… Could our relationship with God in Christ survive like the early Christian’s did without having the book? They had a focus on Jesus and out of that focus Christianity was born before there was a book to direct and describe it. Let’s have a Jesus first focus of our interpretation of this great book we have been given.
“I still vividly recall the looks of concern a missed church service would earn me. The sidelong “missed you Sunday night” paired with an appraising look that was not quite accusatory. If they missed me so badly after a service or two, it stands to reason that they must miss me dearly now. If they do, they are concealing their grief remarkably well.”
This really made me laugh! it’s actually sad that i find it so familiar. I have been through very similar experience to you in leaving Christianity for reasons of disbelief, but also with a revulsion of some of the core doctrines and the over arching ‘narrative’ of gods plan to set all humanity up to fall, only to save a minority.
I grew up in a charismatic reformed movement called new frontiers. similar to Pentecostalism in that I have experienced some completely crazy shit in my life and took it as reality. It’s also a kind of awkward for me to leave as my wife is from one of the core leadership families in the international movement. I love her family but they pose some big hurdles in the process of coming out as a non believer. I’m in the middle of all this just now!
I just started a blog yesterday. In writing, I hope to expand on my own experience and try to make sense of it all. Thanks for this great blog you have here. Interesting, inspiring and well written!
Thanks for sharing. I look forward to keeping up with you. My spouse “lost her faith” (a negative term for changing one’s mind which I use only to point out my distaste for it) at about the same time I did, and I consider myself very fortunate for that.
Cole, I’m honestley so happy to have contact with people in the same boat as me. I am also very fortunate in that over the last few years my wife has come to the conclusion that she was never really ‘saved’ in the way others experience it. She is now trying to form her own opinions and identity aside from that which was put goons her growing in a church leadership family. She’s cool and I’m lucky for it… Most christan are awful!
*Christian girls are awful
“I still vividly recall the looks of concern a missed church service would earn me.”
As with bbbowers, I can totally relate to this sentence.
I can relate to pretty much this whole post, although my deconversion is still pretty new. I love reading about others’ deconversion experiences. There are few people I can relate to in person right now, so reading posts like this is like my daily “quiet time”. Thank you!
Thanks, Charles. There are many of us out there (including my cohort on this blog) with similar experiences. Rest assured that it gets easier.