I enjoy the scholarly discussion of theism. Particularly Christianity. It perks my interest to dive into an intriguing question of whether the Gospel of Luke knew Tacitus or vice versa. Minute, probably irrelevant points, that very few even have the remotest curiosity about.
That fascination developed during my deconversion. And it has been the primary focus of my discussion with other theists, both in real life and on the internet. I tend to refrain from discussing how devastated I was toward the end of my deconversion. There are two reasons for that.
First, because in this debate we tend to worship intellectualism and dogmatism. Oh, we can protest that axiom all we want—but read the blogs. Read the posts. Read the comments. What I so often see is that a person who claims they believe in God because of an uncomplicated faith is blasted by non-believers.
“But where is your proof?”
”Would you believe in anything anyone says?”
”Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?”
“Are you simple-minded?”
No, what we expect, nay, demand is proof. And argument. And citations. And bibliographies. A person with such a simple belief, and no Ph.D-written articles to back up their assertions is dismissed as not worthy of being part of the discussion.
Conversely, a naturalist that dares say there is no god, but asserts they do not know how the universe began, or how life came from non-life is equally blasted by believers.
“Don’t you find that incredible?”
“Isn’t the idea of god so much more believable?”
“How can you claim there is no god, when you don’t even know how the universe started?”
No, what we expect, nay, demand is some article that lays out the chemical process of natural abiogenesis, and the physicist that carefully explains how the universe came into being.
Worse, dogmatism is seen as a quality of character. If a person dares say, “You know what? You are right, and I was wrong” it is feared that credibility will be forever lost. “Doubt” is a four-letter word. I have seen people blindly adhere to some proposition when it has been completely shredded to the most ridiculous of premises, and we all know why. Because to say, “Hey, I was incorrect” is viewed as a character defect, and it is better to be thought stupid than wrong.
To be honest, at times I fall into the intellectualism/dogmatism trap, and therefore avoid talking about any emotional feelings involved in deconversion. It doesn’t sound very intellectual. It sounds full of doubt.
Secondly, I do not talk much about it because I fear the focus will shift to my deconverting because of some emotional response—not for the intellectual reasons. I fear the following conversation:
Me: I studied the following areas:
1) Inerrancy of the Bible
2) Archeology and History
3) Writers of the Bible
4) Textual criticism
5) Reliance of one book upon the other
6) Canon of the Bible
7) Other early Christian writings
8) Possible solutions to Christian problems
9) Euthyphro Dilemma, and the Epicurean Question.
10) Problem of Evil, both logical and evidential
11) Problem of Suffering
12) Problem of coherence
13) Problems with Jesus’ nature, resurrection, trinity, election, Heaven, and hell.
14) Atheistic arguments against god.
15) Problem of unanswered prayer, when I asked god to do something to show he exists.
Theist: A-HA! The reason you deconverted is that God didn’t do what you asked him to do!
I feel like pounding my head on a wall. The other 14 reasons I listed immediately fade into the background and disappear. The only focus for the rest of the conversation is now on my dictating to God. Easier to not list reason number 15, than have it crush the remaining statements into oblivion.
There are two reasons I do occasionally let slip that deconverting was emotionally traumatic.
First, because it is the truth. I live by the maxim that there exists such a thing as “ring of truth.” That some stories are believable, because of the honesty involved. Elvis is really dead because no one would fake their death by having themselves found dead on a toilet. That creates a “ring of truth.” (pun not necessarily intended.)
If I pretended to have had a purely intellectual transition from Christianity to atheist, in that one day I said, “O.K. I am convinced. I am no longer a Christian. What’s for supper?” eventually I would be found out. It isn’t true. It isn’t me. It isn’t what happened.
Mark Twain said it best: “Always speak the truth. That way you don’t have to remember anything.”
Secondly, I talk about it because I am aware of others that are deconverting. If they are anything like me, or anything like the 100’s of deconversion stories I have read—they, too are finding it an unsettling prospect. They too are discovering it is not the same as switching from briefs to boxers. A great deal more uncomfortable.
And, sometimes as humans, it is a modicum of comfort to know that some other human has experienced the same, and what one is feeling is not out-of-the-norm or unusual or completely wacko. We all struggled. Welcome to the party.
But for a moment, I DO want to focus on that emotional time—both to give some insight and to raise some questions. A very brief background to bring us up to speed may be necessary.
I first encountered non-believers discussing Christian concepts out of curiosity. Like seeing animals in a zoo. I had never actually talked to an atheist that was fully aware of all the arguments for Christianity and still was not persuaded. In my naïve mind, there were atheists that did not know the arguments (yet) or atheists that knew them but willfully rejected God so as to live sinful lives. I figured the latter were racked with guilt.
But these seemed both happy AND aware. My curiosity grew to a level of study. I wanted to know more about how atheists thought, and how they knew so much about the Bible. My study grew to a search. I needed to know as much about the Bible as they did. My search grew to a quest. I needed to know more about the Bible than they did.
To fully understand, at this point I was in no fear, no danger of losing my Christianity. I held truth. Sure, they knew more than I, but that was a matter of time and reading. Eventually, either God would direct me, or I would discover the error. The place where they turned, or their bias came into play and we would part ways.
Then I started reviewing the arguments. Even did a little arguing myself. And I realized the arguments for Christianity rang hollow. The arguments against were more believable. (I have discussed my methodology before, and will not waste time reiterating it here.) That, too, was O.K., because God wanted us to have faith. It wasn’t supposed to ALL be easy—we were supposed to have a few doubts. Otherwise we wouldn’t have free will to wend our way through the difficulties.
But more and more arguments I found myself finding the non-Christian position more persuasive. I was nodding my head to the non-Christian position, and shaking my head at the Christian claim. I realized I was in trouble.
I talked to someone, explaining that I was struggling. (A side note. The vast predominance of people reading this blog only know me post-Christianity. As a Christian, it was extremely unheard of, unique even, for me to admit to any struggles. I was raised that one did not talk about struggles, unless there was death involved. The fact that I made this call only demonstrates to me how much trouble I thought I was in.)
That person told me two things: 1) That they always found me intelligent and had faith I would find the right path, and 2) at times we solely have faith in God, and rely upon not knowing everything.
Well…I sure didn’t feel very intelligent. I felt as dumb as a rock. And I wanted to have faith; I really did. I only wanted faith in the right thing, is all. Look, if the Bible is not inerrant, then I shouldn’t be spinning my wheels, busily “having faith” in inerrancy. I could easily have faith in an errant Bible, yet maintain Christianity.
I wanted Christianity. I wanted faith in Christianity. No one wants a false faith. No one wants to get to heaven and find they spent their whole life believing and defending and writing on the concept of “election” only to discover they got it all completely wrong. It wasn’t a question of whether to have faith—that question was settled. It was a question of what to have faith in.
But one can only concede the arguments in favor of Christianity being false and continue to be a Christian so long. Something has to give.
For a period of time, I entered a familiar cycle. During the day I would read arguments for/against Christianity. In the evening I would read books either for/against Christianity. But in the dark of the middle of the night, the demons would come.
I would wake up at 2 a.m. and the wheels would start spinning. I’d creep out of bed, go into the living room and pray. I wasn’t interested in reading, or writing or even thinking. All I wanted to do was pray. And I only prayed for one thing—that God would show me he existed. I didn’t care which God, I didn’t care whether he did it in the form of a vision, or a miracle, or the right book, or a phrase or a person or a quote—or whatever.
When I prayed, I pointed out (realizing that a God would already know it) that my mind seemed to work in a certain way. Why and how--I did not know, but apparently it yearned for information in a distinct pattern. Whatever that pattern was, whatever my particular brain seemed to require, but was not getting, all I asked is that God would provide it.
I prayed that God would show me, and if it was enough for me—even if I could never prove it to anyone else, or use it as a “club” to beat those atheists—that was just fine with me. All I needed was to know he existed. I didn’t ask for a particular God, or for proof on a particular point. I figured knowing there was a God would be enough. I could enjoy the rest of my life working out the rest of the details—but know there is a God.
I prayed standing up, I prayed kneeling, I prayed pacing, I prayed doing sit-ups. I prayed every way I knew, with every word I knew. I prayed for words to explain what I was praying for. Eventually I would sleep for a few hours. The next day I would capture a few moments of reading at work, read at night, lie down exhausted, and at 2 a.m. my eyes would open. For a few nights, I tossed and turned to go back to sleep, but soon gave that up. Once 2 a.m. rolled around, I might as well get up.
I literally reached a point where I said I did not know what else to say. I just sat there. Not thinking. Not forming prayers. Wondering what was to become of me. God had his timing. God knew what I needed. I did not want to rush him.
I thought of quitting the research entirely. I would assume the claim of being a “theist” and dare not think any further. I would be afraid to move forward. Afraid to move back. Live in a perpetual half-belief of “God” and nothing more. But that gave legitimacy to the questions. That would mean I was afraid of looking for what was true. Even if no one else knew, I would know—by being afraid to ask myself the question, I was conceding I was terrified of the answer.
I began to read other deconverts and their stories. They, too, talked of the struggle to give up faith. They talked of the fear of doubts. Of the countless hours of praying. If God didn’t answer them, and they certainly seemed genuine enough, why would he answer me? But I suppressed that idea as quickly as it rose up. To dare think that God would not answer was inconceivable. He loved me. He wanted me to find him. He wanted to answer my prayers.
Although deconverts talked about being at peace, I couldn’t help wondering if it was just preaching to the choir. Rallying the troops. How could they be at peace, without hope of an afterlife? (Remember, I am still a Christian at this point.) I recalled Christian converts talking about being rich, partying girl-magnets, but not really happy until they were saved. Apparently these deconverts were poor, non-partying losers until they could fulfill their sinful desires by abandoning Christianity.
But the thing that really scared me was the numerous tales of divorce. How the Christian spouses either also came out as atheists (never going to happen in my situation) or else divorce occurred. How friends disappeared.
I felt trapped. I couldn’t get off the train without admitting concession to the defeat. I couldn’t abide where the train was heading. And all I could do is pray.
Eventually I tapped out. I remember telling God it was too much to keep doing this. If he wanted me to find him, he knew where I was. But after speaking to an empty sky for so long, and trying so hard to do it right, I had given all I could. I knew I was loosing my grip on my belief in God. I had not lost it yet, but I saw it would take a Miracle (and I still believed in Miracles!) to keep it from falling away.
I became patently aware of two things—I was becoming agnostic (but atheistic to the Christian God) and there was no afterlife. As I pried the elements of Hell out as contradictory and incomprehensible, the elements of Heaven left with equal speed on each wrench.
I was about to become the terrible monster—a man without God. The concept of a creature that my entire youth, and much of my adult years had pounded and nailed and riveted as being hopeless, moralless, and miserable. I recognized that I had too much knowledge to hold onto God, and that I was going to become wretched.
It comes as no surprise; this threw me into despair. No one could look forward to this existence of dredging through a reality I hated. It was receiving a terrible disease, for which there is no cure, yet I would have to live out my life in pain.
One morning, I looked in the mirror and said, “O.K., I cannot live like this. I am going to say it. ‘I do not believe there is a God.’” (Yes, I half-expected a lightening bolt to come right out of the electrical socket and in a moment appear before a very Angry God.) And then I got ready and went to work.
I wish I could say that immediately I felt a flood of peace, and all of my cares and troubles flew away. Life is rarely in that fashion. Change is slow and in a progress, not a jump.
What I found is that I worked that day, and it was just like every other day. I went home and spent time with my family like every other night. I wasn’t getting depressed. Instead, I was feeling more at peace—relieved. I started to sleep better and better at night. Instead of wrestling with questions, I could address them. “If there is no God, then this is just some human’s attempt or picture of God, and is no better or more true than anyone else’s.” Amazing how many questions that clears up!
I started to actually enjoy my studies. No longer was I bound by a certain dogma that required a God at the end of it. I could be free to study and come to the conclusion of This God, That God, We Don’t Know God, or no God at all. I could use my “head thinking” as much as I wanted, rather than stifle it with “heart thinking” and then try and figure out what the heck “heart thinking” was.
I started to enjoy my life about me.
With all that being said, it raises some thoughts I have about that part of the deconversion process.
We can’t win.
If I said that I practiced Christianity, but upon reading a book by Price, or Dawkins, and immediately I intellectually deconverted to Christianity—I would be assured I was never a Christian in the first place. It didn’t stick. I was only head-believing, not heart-believing. Oh, admit it—you are out there! That is exactly what you would think.
But if I say it was gut-wrenching to lose 37 years of belief in one direction, and turn to a completely different direction, then I am assured that the reason for my deconversion was emotional—that I was “disappointed” in God, or depressed or some other silly nonsense.
If it was intellectual, I wasn’t a Christian in the first place. If it was emotional, it was for all the wrong reasons. If it was a combination, I wasn’t a Christian AND I did it for the wrong reasons.
I prayed that God would show me he existed. I had faith that he would. People inform me that I was “dictating to God.” Wait a minute. If I prayed that God would heal Aunt Betsy, and had faith he would, I would be considered a “Person of strong faith.” Pray that God would show me he existed? An arrogant heathen!
I prayed, expecting God would show me. I am told that we should not expect things from God. Are you saying that when Christians pray for something they don’t expect it to happen? And that is how faith works? Ask God, but figure it won’t happen? How does that play out?
I’m told that now if I prayed for God to show me he exists, it wouldn’t work because I don’t believe God exists. That’s a bit of a bugger, isn’t it? I have to believe God exists before I can ask him to show me he exists, but if I already believe he exists than I wouldn’t have to…oh, never mind.
When I believed in God, it was wrong for me to expect him to show me he existed, when I no longer did, it would be ineffectual. Are we to never question God as to his existence?
Human: Dear Jesus, can you heal mommy—
Human: and help daddy get a job—
God: One’s on the way.
Human: And help the missionaries—
God: In progress
Human: I love you.
God: How nice!
Human: Oh, and what would I look for, to see if you existed?
God: WHAT? You are questioning my existence? How dare you! No Answered Prayer for you!
Is that how God works? Just like our family reunions where certain conversations are “off-limits”? We can talk to God about anything, ask for anything, do anything, but the one thing we mustn’t do is dare inform him we are having trouble believing in him!
Attitudes like that fully explain why I didn’t share my doubt with others. I wonder how many other people are sitting in pews, day after day, going to Bible Studies week after week, and late at night, when the demons come, are on their knees begging God to show them he is actually there? Yet within the Christian community to vocalize such a doubt is considered heresy. Lack of faith. Something to be avoided at all costs.
If I say it was hard to lose a belief of 37 years, I am told that is because I truly still believe it in my heart. If I say it was hard to lose a belief of 37 days, I am told that is because I never believed it in the first place. No matter what we say as deconverts, it is always wrong.
We were either Christians too short a period, too long, too much head knowledge, not enough head knowledge, not enough faith, not long enough faith, not the right kind of faith, we wanted to sin, we wanted to be like God, we didn’t trust God…the list goes on and on.
Every year, for St. Patrick’s day we make a leprechaun trap—my seven-year-old and I. We bait it with those chocolate coins in gold foil. Figure that the combination of gold and chocolate would draw US, it certainly would work on a leprechaun.
It is carefully constructed of shoe-box, and paint (do I have to say what color?) and very St. Patrick-looking-items in order to entice the little fella. We have included a bed (to make it inviting) and a picture (to make it look homey) and about everything one could possible do in order to have our very own leprechaun.
Last year he left foot prints in and about the trap and was able to escape with one coin. But no luck in actually capturing him. This year we were much closer! He jumped out so fast; he left behind one of his small, black shoes! Already plans are in the making for next-years upgraded version.
Question: How do you open a leprechaun trap? Me—I would fling open the top and attempt to look surprised at the lack of success. But my daughter wouldn’t. She really believes. When she opens the trap, she carefully instructs me to be “at the ready” in case he jumps and we have to catch him quick. She keeps a sharp eye out for the cats, because THAT would be tragic.
And slowly she peels back a corner, peering in the darkness, looking for where he might be hiding. More slowly she lifts the lid (ignoring her father’s suggestion to “just shake the box!”) carefully examining where he might jump out. Finally, after the entire interior is revealed, and there is obviously no one inch person in green tights within, the inevitable sigh of disappointment.
“We came close, didn’t we Daddy? Look, he lost his shoe! Maybe next year we need something to bring the lid down faster so….” and the planning begins.
If I asked you, “Does she really believe in leprechauns?” you would be stunned at my question. “Look at how she acts. Look at how carefully she treats that trap, and opens it, fully expecting something inside. Look how she plans with those about her for the obvious fact that such a creature was within. Look at how genuine her disappointment upon failing.”
That, my dear friend, is why claims of “You weren’t a Christian in the first place” fall on my deaf ears. Why shouts of “You were dictating to God” or “You didn’t believe hard enough” or “You didn’t have enough faith” do not move me. Go ahead and proclaim that I became a heathen because I want to sin. That it was some emotional reaction to a disappointment in my life. I will inwardly grin. With all due respect—you haven’t a clue.
You might as well inform my daughter she really doesn’t believe in leprechauns. She and I would both laugh, and work on next year’s trap. It is sure to work this time…