Part Five: Deconversion
HA note: The following story is written by lungfish, a formerly homeschooled ex-Baptist, ex-Calvinist, ex-Pentecostal, ex-Evangelical, ex-young earth creationist, current atheist, and admin of the Ask an Ex-Christian web page.
Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Isolation | Part Three, Rejection | Part Four, Doubt | Part Five, Deconversion | Part Six, Conclusion
Crisis and Acceptance: De-conversion
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?“ I Corinthians 6:19
I had always believed that, when someone accepts Jesus as their personal savior, the Holy Spirit begins to live within that person.
Everyone is born into sin and, without the Holy Spirit; everyone is controlled by that sin. It is the Holy Spirit, living within a Christian, that sets a Christian apart from the evil of the world and it is this fact that made Christianity the one true religion. This organization that I worked for was largely employed with people who called themselves Christians. Each of them constantly bickered and gossiped. A constant power struggle existed between the departments and no one believed that the other could do their job correctly. I believed that Christians are supposed to love and support each other, not pull each other down and this was not the behavior of people in which the Holy Spirit resides.
When I saw how these people behaved, I began to really doubt the Biblical teachings for the first time.
More specifically, I doubted the teachings about the Holy Spirit. I realized that I had never met a Christian that lived up to my idealized conception of what a believer truly is and I began to consider that the Holy Spirit might not even exist. And, if the Holy Spirit did not exist, I wondered what that meant for my own spirituality? So I began to take a hard look at myself and I found that everything I found disgusting in these people existed in me as well. I was just as arrogant.
I was just as self righteous.
If these people were not a temple in which the Holy Spirit could exist, neither was I.
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and they shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24
Also, I always believed that we are living in the end times and the Bible teaches that, during this time, many false prophets will lead God’s children away from Him. This weighed heavily on my mind – I did not want to be deceived. I was teetering between belief and disbelief and I wanted to make a decision based solely on the contents of the Bible – and that is what I did. My head filled with doubt, I opened the book. I first began to search for verses of guidance on how to identify a false prophet, but I found nothing of practical use. So I turned to Genesis and just started at the beginning. I never expected what I would find: the dehumanization of woman, rape, murder, and genocide.
I had read these passages many times before, but this time, I could not justify their presence in my holy book.
God killed and commanded his people to kill each other and the people of other nations as if humans were less than that of insects in the eyes of God. This God was far from the loving God I thought I knew. Cognitive dissonance was no longer able to dictate the understanding of what I read and, eventually, I could not go on reading the Old Testament any longer. So I skipped to the New Testament and found something even more disturbing to me: contradictions. The amount of contradictions and gaps between the four gospels alone became painfully obvious. I could not imagine that the loving, infallible, perfect God, I had once believed in, could have inspired texts that I could now so easily find such obvious fault in.
My de-conversion had begun and I found myself in a daze.
I walked each day from my car to the university building feeling detached from my body. A mixture of sorrow and rage filled me as I thought back on my life. I looked at the other students around me and found myself unbearably jealous of the normal lives I assumed they all had led. People, walking with their friends, talking about their social lives – a luxury I could never seem to hold on to.
I began to think of them as the enemy – evil people who could never understand me.
My life began to flash before my eyes like a cascade of images simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Memories I had long blacked out began to resurface. I began to remember all the ways the Christians in my life had wronged me. I remembered rejection, isolation, and molestation. I looked within myself and saw a person void of confidence, petrified of social interaction, depressed, and suicidal. And I remembered all the ways I had wronged others. I was supposed to have the joy of the Lord in my heart, not these vile emotions. My own arrogance, my delusion, had blinded me from these things.
But I could see clearly now and I could no longer look at myself in the mirror.
Relief came in an unlikely form. I was approached on campus by a traveling Hindu monk. He said that he had seen an unsettling look in my eyes. We talked for a long time. He told me how he had come from a fundamental Catholic family and understood my situation.
He gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and told me that I should not lose my religion.
He said that all religions and all people can live in harmony as long as we believe that each religion provides its own path to heaven for its believers. He had a peace in his voice that I found strangely comforting. He was a Hindu, an unbeliever, who seemed at peace with his life and that went against everything I was ever taught about unbelievers. I found myself regaining hope in people. It did not take me long to read his book but, I did not find it compelling. Strangely, I found this comforting and my anger began to subside. I became able to focus and my mind able to function again.
“. . . the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.“ Psalms 14:1
I began to get to know a hand full of university professors. These people believed in evolution and a few openly identified themselves as atheists. I always believed in young earth creationism and was taught that evolution was an evil doctrine promoted by God hating atheists that made people savage, immoral beasts who cared only for survival. But this could not have been farther from what I observed.
These atheists were self sacrificing, honest, and caring people – much more so than any Christian I have ever met.
Furthermore, there were all these things while not seeking heavenly reward or fearing an angry God. I could not understand how it was possible that an unbeliever was seemingly more moral than a believer.
I was in a state where I still did not know what to believe and often thought myself crazy or deceived. I quickly realized that life was too short to study all the world’s religions deep enough to would reveal if they were truth and I did not have time to read books between my university studies. So I began to listen to radio programs. I got a new job in a greenhouse at the university and, as I often worked alone, I had much time to myself to listen to podcasts on my new cell phone. Conversations with some of my professors sparked a curiosity in me about atheism. So that is the first thing I search for when looking for a podcast to listen to.
I came across a show called “A Matter of Doubt” that was interviewing a de-converted Laestadian Lutheran by the name of Edwin A. Suominen. He told his story which held many similar elements to my own and I found that striking. I had led an extremely sheltered life and had never heard anyone’s reasons for leaving Christianity. I had never considered the possibility of a full de-conversion from Christianity. I never knew a Christian who completely left the church or even expressed doubt in Christian doctrine. After listening to this podcast, I felt my concerns about Christianity might be valid and that I might not be crazy or completely deceived by the devil for the first time.
Months passed by and I listened to every podcast on religion and atheism I could find.
I found the arguments for atheism much more compelling than those for religion. Between the podcasts and my studies in biology, I stopped seeing people as deprived, sinful beings created by a god – but, instead, I began seeing the human race as a species, unique in its level of self awareness, trying desperately to make peace with the continual cycle of death and rebirth that is existence on this earth. I began studying science more deeply – the collective observations of the great human minds of both the past and present. I realized the scope of human accomplishment and saw it with a new level of amazement. I began to realize how humans have unlocked so many of the secrets of biology, technology, and philosophy – cured disease, walked on the moon, and developed aspects of nearly globalized morality – all accomplished without the guidance of a supernatural deity.
Through readings of academic theology and podcasts by former Christian and current theologian Robert M. Price, I began understanding Biblical texts as recordings of myth and history that showed a testament to the progress we, as humans, have made in thought, reason, and the way we treat each other. How our ancestors once sacrificed their first born to the gods they saw manifested in the grandeur of nature; and now, how we attempt to treasure every human’s life as if it were our own. And I began seeing evolution with new eyes. How our ancestors developed from the first single celled organism to complex biological organisms and the first self aware humans, who conjured up the idea of an all-powerful god. How our ancestors reproduced and struggled to survive for millions of years – so that I could be here today.
And I began to feel at peace with the world.
But one last matter remained: my wife whom I, myself, had converted to Christianity. This kept me awake at night. How was I to explain to my wife that the one who convinced her to accept Jesus no longer believed in Him? We had a son and I wanted nothing more than for him to grow up in a healthy home. We still attended church as a family, but the sermons were like torture. I could pick out lies and misinterpretations in every one. I wanted nothing more than to expose my disbelief but, afraid of the repercussions on my marriage, I could not bring myself to do so. Six months passed before I finally hit a breaking point.
I didn’t spill it all out at one time, but did so with as a single drop of sarcasm.
I don’t remember the exact situation. It may have been during a discussion about a sermon or it may have been in reaction to a meme on the internet. What I do remember is the look on my wife’s face when she heard what I said. Her eyes widened, there was a long pause, followed by a look of complete relief. She completely agreed with me. We began to talk and what I found, I did not expect.
This entire time, we were lying right next to each other, going through the same process of de-conversion at the same exact time – but we were to afraid to tell each other.
We had both been attending church solely for the sake of the other. If only we had known, we could have gone through this together, we could have helped each other, but the extreme taboo the church puts on simple doubt forced us both to go through this process completely alone.
To be continued.
What I find so disturbing about most of Christian culture is that true faith in any religion person or anything requires doubt. I went through much doubt and ended as a Christian but I do not consider a faith that is not based in truth questioning growth and understanding to be anything more than regurgitation of things we were taught as children.
If we do not allow our children the access and knowledge to choose for themselves then we have brought up children who are either drones or who will reject us when they are adults.
I believe that faith that is not chosen with full eyes open is not true faith that can or will withstand the test of time. I am grateful to have had parents who allowed me to question and learn and grow.
Wow, I had the same good luck with my spouse too. We stopped attending church although still considered ourselves Christians at that point. For the next year, we did not discuss faith and religion together. During that year, I was finally thinking critically about my faith and the Bible, and allowing myself to ask the hard questions. When we finally broached the topic again, we discovered to our immense relief that we were both now agnostic. I feel incredibly lucky, because we are both former fundamentalists, and things could have gotten messy really fast if just one of us “abandoned the faith”.