I think it’s time to share my deconversion story. Before this week, I had no idea that was even a thing. Apparently, there are a ton of people, like myself, who were highly religious and finally just could not reconcile the belief in their mind anymore. They embraced rationality and left the faith.
It sounds so awful when you say that you’ve left the faith. It sounds like you have chosen evil over good, but in reality, you simply stop believing in fairy tales and decide to grow up. I am simplifying, of course, but that is really what it is like. It’s more peaceful than any moment of experiencing ‘the presence of God’. It’s the mind in a relaxed state. There is no need for cognitive dissonance. No need for ridiculous rationalizations. The world just makes sense. The only logical explanation is finally your accepted explanation for the inconstancies of faith.
So, let me walk you through the moments of doubt I had over the years and the various points that have led me here . . .
I should first mention that I came to christ as a sophomore in high school. I went to youth group with my best friend in order to check out a boy she thought I may like. I found him and jesus all at the same time. I dedicated the next 20 years to living right in god’s eyes, reading the bible, praying, being a good christian. I memorized my verses, went to church, tithed regularly, attended bible studies, met and married my christian husband at church. I was devout all through college and the early years of raising children.
But, I began to notice some differences between myself and others in the faith . . .
- I was a politically liberal.
- I was a feminist.
- I was educated.
- Condemnation of LGBT always bothered me.
- I was pro-choice.
Why were all my christian friends (with the exception of one couple) conservative republicans? Why was feminism and equality continually downplayed in the church? Why is the prison population so highly religious? Why had I heard story after story of people losing their faith in college? What was it about college that had the power to take it down? Why were we supposed to oppose and ‘heal’ the LGBT community while calling it ‘love’? How could we really love them if we didn’t accept them? Why is a fetus so much more valuable than the rights of women, so much so that the issue of abortion is supposed to rule my entire political perspective?
I looked at the spokespeople of the faith and there was so much judgment, so much hate. I wondered why I was aligned with the group that advocates bigotry rather than love and acceptance. Why was the KKK a religious organization? Why was slavery rationalized with the bible? Why were all my professors in college non-religious? Why were the scientists we knew in my husband’s field non-religious? Why did such brilliant minds reject religion and the ones that seemed to embrace it so strongly were the extremists, the uneducated, the hateful? Of course, not every religious person fit those requirements, but I remember going to our ‘cool’ church full of college age kids just like us and amongst them the idea of not needing a college education because you are ‘wasting your life on Jesus’ was highly praised. They would literally use those words – wasting your life. It was as if the more the world thinks you are crazy, the more Jesus loves what you are doing. It didn’t make any sense.
My husband and I ended up leaving that ‘cool’ church shortly after we were married because we honestly didn’t agree with the pastor being uneducated and leading the congregation. It didn’t feel right. We shouldn’t have more biblical knowledge than the pastor. We had congregates who had higher theological degrees and yet this guy was leading because the spirit told him to. Large decisions were made about the structure of the church based on dreams, callings, and ideas that supposedly came from God. When those ideas completely flopped, it was the ‘person’ who was irresponsible, not the idea or following it blindly that was to blame. Not to mention, every week was increasingly experiential – washing each other’s feet, nailing pieces of paper with your sins written on them to the cross, and other such activities. People would lay down on the ground during the worship music. It was becoming increasingly charismatic and increasingly uncomfortable.
Even after our departure from that church . . . in the years that followed, more and more things didn’t sit right with me. So, I stopped to think . . . and actually take a look at what was making me feel uncomfortable.
#1 – Worship music lyrics
They made NO sense and people were singing them as though their souls depended on it. I thought, there is no way that each and every person singing in here fully understands these metaphors. It seemed as though you could write a song about a river and some water washing you, maybe a tree swaying or a fire purifying and BAM you have a worship song. The ones that really scared me were ones that claimed ‘if god is for me, who can be against me?’. I remember looking around the congregation and thinking, “you know people are using this rationale to justify their racism, their dislike of the president, their frustration with their boss, etc” It all seemed so self-absorbed and futile. It was actually a couple years ago that my husband and I just stopped singing along in worship because we couldn’t do it with authenticity. We thought the songs were just fluff. Self-medicating fluff.
#2 – The Religious Right
It was increasingly unpopular to be christ-like on a political scale in the christian church. I remember receiving a “voting guide” from Focus on the Family when I was a teenager and my boyfriend’s mom at the time telling me I should just go down the list and vote for each one. That didn’t sit right with me. Wasn’t I supposed to research the candidates and make an informed decision? Why did my entire vote need to be based on abortion and denying gay rights? It didn’t seem to make any sense. I registered Independent and after George W. Bush, I became a Democrat and never looked back. To me, it was the only logical choice for a christian – caring for the poor, the needy, these goals were more aligned with the teachings of christ.
#3 – The Rapture & Hell – Interchangeable beliefs
For a year or two, we used to get together every other weekend with another couple in the faith. He had his Masters of Divinity and they led bible studies for years. They pride themselves on being well-versed in the bible. I often looked to this couple to help me sort out my uneasiness. I will never forget the night they told me that The Rapture was a bunch of bologna. He shared how it was developed by the church in whatever fairly modern year but it is not biblical in any way, etc. It completely blew my mind. All these years, I had learned that as a staple of the christian faith, but it was not accepted by a number of scholars in the faith around the world. Then he shared his views on hell. Instead of eternal torment, it was simply an end to existence. Annihilation. He even acknowledged that this view would be labeled heresy by many, but he had all these theological reasons for it. Of course, his arguments were convincing. But, it occurred to me that if these things I believed fully for so long were not real, who’s to say any of it is beyond scrutiny?
#4 – Fanaticism and Doomsday Preppers
I remember in high school, my best friend’s mom was absolutely convinced that her son that had Hurler Syndrome would be miraculously healed. She was so sure. I began to believe it too. Of course, it made sense that God would heal him to show the world how awesome he is. She was convinced and her enthusiasm was contagious. Sadly, he died. I remember being surprised by this and thinking that God must’ve healed him by taking him home. I rationalized it to make it fit with my view of god.
It hit the mother very hard and it was shortly after that, that she moved to a remote location in the midwest in anticipation of Y2K (remember when the world was supposed to erupt into chaos in the year 2000?). She left her 16 year old daughter in CA living with a friend. Let me repeat that – she left her daughter . . . because of Y2K. She was convinced Y2K was going to bring devastation. Of course, it didn’t. And yet she stayed and has lived states away from her daughter every since.
In the years since then, she has set up somewhat of a survival compound, had a number of prophecies that she has believed were marking the end of the world, and after every single one comes and goes and we’re all still here, and yet she STILL refuses to give up her delusion that the world is ending. Over the years, it really struck me that even in the face of scientific evidence that completely disproved these emergencies, she still believed wholeheartedly – so much so, that she continually tries to convince her daughter to move to the midwest for safety reasons. It is this blind delusional commitment to something that is known to be false that had me wondering – how do I know that I am not doing the same thing with my faith? Surely it is worth examining.
She was not the only ‘fanatic’ I knew. People that I went to church with had abandoned their jobs to do ministry and were participating in more and more charismatic movements that honestly made no sense to me at all. They moved from one type of ministry to another, each time with a new calling, that really seemed more like drifting to me. Not to mention, they were always asking for money to start up each new thing. Something didn’t sit right. This, in tandem with the anti-vaccination movement, was unnerving. The only anti-vaxxers I knew were christian and they were CONVINCED they knew what was right even in light of all the evidence. Coincidentally, the individuals I knew that homeschooled because they had a mistrust of schools and the educational system, particularly science education were all Christian. The ones that kept having child after child because they were convinced each one was being sent to them instead of using any form of birth control, were Christian.
Of course, not every member of these fringe groups are christian and not every christian subscribes to these ideas. Yet, in my experience each and every member of these fringes was indeed christian. This unsettled me. WHY was this the case? How did they KNOW that God was with them on this particular issue when the majority, even the majority of their own faith, did not agree?
#5 – Hate
I just could NOT wrap my head around the anti-LGBT sentiment. I am so ashamed to have been judgmental when my cousin came out as lesbian. I actually have a lot of gay family and friends. I remember thinking how absolutely unfair it was that they were not able to experience love, but had to reject that part of themselves. The more years went on and the more LGBT students I taught, the more the idea of condemning them just seemed absolutely ridiculous. I began discussing this with my christian friends. Why did we adhere to anti-homosexuality sentiment in the bible and yet when the verses that surround it are ludicrous, such as women covering their heads in worship or being sent away when they are on their periods – why do we not adhere to those commands and yet the sexuality we are concerned with? It didn’t make sense. Why were some things contextual and others were not? Some items were historical and based on the time period and other things were supposed to apply today. It makes no sense. Who decides what is continually relevant? I point back to the religious right and even my progressive christian friends would argue that they’d rather not vote on it, just to be safe. Others were voting against LGBT rights just to be safe – in case God was against it.
I can’t believe it took me this long to entertain the idea that perhaps the bible is filled with pro-slavery, anti-LGBT, women are lesser beings, the earth was created in 6 days and a number of other outdated beliefs because it was written by primitive men that had only the knowledge of their current culture to work with. Why had that not even OCCURRED to me? It was completely outside the realm of possibility for me because the bible was holy. It was simply off limits for questioning.
My journey has been a slow and gradual one, giving up one outdated belief after the other but clinging to the major ones until finally I was ready to admit I was agnostic. I could no longer claim to be a christian. Once the hard part was done and I distanced myself from the hold christianity had on me, the more it ALL seemed ridiculous. How could I have believed this for so long?
What is amazing is that if you suppose that the answer to all the irreconcilable problems with the faith is the fact that god does not exist – suddenly it ALL MAKES SENSE. Every last bit of it. Goodbye cognitive dissonance and unsettled feelings. It is all human invention, human drama, human bigotry, human fairy tales. For the first time in my life, I felt free to just enjoy it and be grateful for each day. I will never go back to that clouded and deluded way of life. I choose intellectual freedom and logical consistency.
**I must credit the amazing freethinkers on Twitter, bloggers who had the courage to come before me (such as https://nancydrewpi.wordpress.com, http://theplaydoughpoem.com) and declare their journey to disbelief as well as http://godisimaginary.com for helping me break out of the prison of dogma.
Continue Reading Part Two of my story