Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which we Learn of Love

We moved from Michigan farm country to a Detroit Suburb in my 15th Summer. We needed a Christian school to attend—but what one? There were many to choose from. A cousin of a fellow church member recommended a certain non-denominational school. We visited it, liked it immediately, and decided it was the one. Found a house only a few miles away. Now all we lacked was a church.

There was a church between the school and our house that appeared conservative enough from the looks of it, and it was to be the first place we would try in our search for a new church home. It would become only my second church. I attended there for the next 10 years.

Having been involved in our country church for decades, when we left, they threw us a potluck supper after Evening service. You know you are a big family in the house of God when you receive the honorary “last meal” with a tearful good-bye. We moved that Saturday, and tried Sunday School the following day at the new Church. Didn’t miss a Sunday!

After Morning Worship, my parents introduced themselves to the Pastor and his wife; we all got to talking and the next thing you know we are at the Pastors’ house for lunch. (Needless to say, within the next year, my parents quickly re-assumed their roles of deacon/deaconess/Sunday School Teacher/Nursery Work/Head of this-or-that committee, etc.)

That evening, after the service, the youth group had a “get-together” (Real Christians don’t “party”—they “get together.”) It was at the home of the girl who would eventually stand in my wedding as the Best Woman. It was there I met my future wife; Diane.

She was thin and pretty and popular and had a ready smile. She was out of my league. I wouldn’t even bother trying to date her, because of that. Turned out not only did she attend my (new) church, but she also attended my (new) school in my grade.

We went on youth trips at the same time. Attended the same Sunday School, and youth meetings. Sat in the same pew. At school we had classes together. She played basketball; I played soccer so we would see each other at sporting events. I visited her house; she TP’d mine. But throughout high school we never dated.

At least not each other. I did date two of her friends for a period of time. She dated my locker partner for a long time. We hung out together in the same crowd, so she would often bring dates to the same events I would, as well. We double dated together a number of times. Just not with each other.

After High School, we each went to our separate colleges. In the summer, we would return to the same church, the same youth activities, and catch back up. And still not date. In the summer of ’87 we spent a great deal of time together, chumming around. I realized the reason I wanted to hang around her was not only because Diane was such a great friend—it was my infatuation with her.

I have always had a debilitating problem with fear of rejection. Despite my brash, egotistical exterior, I dreaded asking girls out. Sweaty palms, white face, stuttering words—the whole bit. On most occasions, I could not manage the courage to do so. Thet whole summer, I was dying to ask her out, but six years of being afraid to do so was bearing down on me. It was like fear of rejection on steroids. More like terror of complete elimination.

Finally, on a warm and sunny mid-August afternoon, while we were talking about nothing in particular, I summoned every ounce of bravado I had available, leaned over and kissed her. (We had been spending so much time together; asking her out on a date seemed, well, like too much to bear if she said, “No.”) There was a moment of complete silence. The world stopped. It was like kissing a statute. No reaction, and even less warmth

You know the “best” part of fear of rejection? When it comes horribly true. You really DID need a fear, ‘cause you truly ARE going to be rejected! I blurted out, “An Impulse” in the hopes of passing it off as a silly goof. One of those funny things I did, to make people laugh. Ha, Ha, bloody Ha. A few minutes later she left. No response on her part. No words of yeah, nay or indifferent. Well…actually a lot of indifferent. As if it never happened.

Could I pass it off? Would she know that I liked her, or would she think it was a crazy prank? Hey look—sweaty palms! Nice.

The next time we saw each other, it started off slightly awkward, but within minutes we were back to the same talking/laughing/joking/playful relationship we had before. I figured I had pulled it off. Whew! And right about when I had completely relaxed into thinking our friendship was restored, she reached over, grabbed my face and kissed me!

Not one of those stupid pecks of an “impulse” kiss. No—this was one of those kisses that makes your toes curl so far under you pop your laces. A “Princess Bride” kiss. Holy Smokes! Turns out she liked me, too! (Later she told me she liked me all summer, but had completely given up on my asking her out. My kiss had caught her totally off-guard; she simply did not know how to react.)

We dated for the next two weeks, seeing each other practically every day, until I went back to school. She wrote faithfully—me not so much. She called. I started to be “out” when she called. See, as great as my fear of rejection was, I had even a larger fear: Fear of Commitment. (I am the total package. Fear of rejection AND fear of commitment. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?)

By the end of the year, Diane had gotten the message. I was not interested anymore. I didn’t date in 1988 because my mother was dying, so I concentrated on spending time with her, and then my father became a lonely widower, and I concentrated on spending time with him. I still attended church, though, and still saw Diane at services. Our friendship was decidedly cool.

This church always struggled with its college age/young singles group. For the first few years of college, when coming back on summer breaks, you could re-assimilate with the High School Group. After the second year, that felt quite awkward. And we had a thriving Young Married’s Sunday School. It was the in-between period in which one wandered aimlessly. No direction. No leader. No established grouping. It was as if they wanted us to hurry up and get married right out of college, so we would conform to a certain depiction. But we weren’t ready to get married…

So a group of us, including Diane and me, decided we would create our own “College Age.” We had a regular Sunday School teacher who was one year older than I. And we conned the Pastor into teaching a Bible class on Wednesday Nights for us. We planned our own events. We refused to be a “gap.”

This was one of those wonderful times in which you are old and smart enough to have resolutions to all the world’s problems, yet young and naive enough to not realize you would never be able to implement them. Most of us loved to bowl. We would go bowling, then transfer over to the bar and discuss whatever hot topic was available. Bowling, Beer, Broads and Bible study. What a combination!

We met at each other’s houses to play cards or pool or ping-pong or yard darts or football, and then scrounge the refrigerator, and talk until 1 in the morning. We argued over predestination. Free Will. Babies going to Heaven. Marriage. Divorce. Practicing Halloween. Practicing Christmas. Gifts. Tithing. Sex. Abortion. Homosexuality. Polygamy. Rock-n-Roll. And how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. (1 or infinity.)

With all this interaction, I started to fall in love with Diane again. We began to date (once more) in the summer of ’89. By January 1990 we were engaged. In December we were married in this church, with the Pastor (the conned one) leading the service, and many of our college age friends standing with us.

Diane complements me. I am fussily neat. Her messiness reminds me not everything has to be in a row to work. She cannot cook; I cannot bake. I make the meal; she makes fantastic deserts. I am infamous for killing plants. Nothing grows or thrives under my care. She could make a dead stick blossom.

To me, money is a thing to spend; to her money is a thing to save. But more importantly, she complements my personality. I need a woman with a bit of feistiness; she is just the ticket. I need someone to keep my feet on the ground; she is able to reign me in. I love her (that goes without saying) but even more importantly, I would be completely lost without her.

After marriage, we were granted “acceptance” into the young married Sunday School. By this point, other couples had formed from our college age (strange how that occurs) so it was really more of the same—college age plus, plus. Diane was placed in charge of the Nursery, I taught Small groups. We attended regularly.

It truly emulated a “circle of life” in which we were becoming our own parents. We decided to change churches, to attend a more modern, “up beat” service. Made new friends. Kept the old friends. (My father and Diane’s mother continued at the old church, and we still went to certain functions. There was no acrimony.)

Then, due to a change in locale, we ended up at a Baptist Church. (We did attend a Wesleyan Church, but the Calvinist in me couldn’t cut it.). This would be the last church we would both be members. We were teaching 4-5 year olds, and substitute teaching adult Sunday Schools, and helping out Church programs and…you get the picture.

It was about then that I started to interact with skeptics and non-believers on-line. Within a few months, I realized I was losing my religion. She watched me struggle. She saw the books I was reading, the sites I was hitting, and the articles I was printing off. She knew that I was getting up at 2 a.m. every morning and leaving the bedroom.

But even from her, I was not revealing how much of a conflict this was. I thought it was a phase. A time of doubt. A period of testing with eventual growth. Obviously I was wrong about that, too.

I had read the deconversion stories. I knew the incidents of divorce are very high in the situation looming before me. I vowed to not let it happen. Saying so and doing so are two different things.

One day I gently broached the subject; testing the waters. We were talking about some Biblical event, and I said, “But what if it wasn’t true? What if it didn’t happen that way?”

“Of course it did,” Diane sharply retorted, “Those books are filling your head with too much thinking. You don’t really believe that, do you?”

A long silence, in which the answer became more evident, the quieter it was. “Well, I don’t think you should spend any more time on those sites.” End of discussion.

Over the next months, I would try to bring up the subject; she would refuse to talk about it. This was very unlike her. Normally, she hated people who swept problems under the rug. She wants them confronted and resolved. When (as any husband would do) I pointed out she was doing what she despised, she readily admitted she was and so what? She was going to and that was that.

Finally, I was informed that she did not want to know another thing about it. Not. A. Thing. This would have been fine, if I hadn’t sent a letter to my entire family explaining I was no longer a Christian, and was, in fact, an atheist. The proverbial toothpaste was out of the tube. Pandora’s Box was opened. Whatever metaphor you choose; there was no going back.

At this point it became a reality for my wife and broke her heart. We had grounded our morality within the Christian framework, and she felt (just as I did prior to becoming a heathen myself) without that framework, I would degrade into a nihilistic hedonist where anything goes. She could no longer trust my theistic belief to keep the raging human contained.

Further, we had a fire-and-brimstone belief in hell. I was not only subjecting myself to such an eternal fate but if I shared my sentiments; even worse—I would be endangering our children as well. In straightforward terms, she informed me if I shared my views with my children she would leave me in order to protect them. To her, this would be the equivalent of my becoming a child abuser. In the same way she would take the children and leave to protect them, she would also be protecting them by taking them away from a person who is opening them to the possibility of eternal torture.

Friends flatly stated if their husbands did such a thing, they would divorce them. I am not aware of a person who directly stated, “You should divorce him” but the sentiment was more than made evident they would fully support and encourage such a decision. She was informed I had betrayed our marriage as bad--even worse than having an affair. She was told they would pray for her.

And then she heard silence. I don’t blame the Christian community, or our friends. We were in a situation in which they simply are unable to cope. If I had an affair, then we could forgive and move on. If I declared myself as a homosexual, then we could “resolve” the problem in some fashion and move on. But this…our remaining married…was like my continuing to have an affair with no end in site. There was no “moving on.” There was no “resolution.” It was a problem, a problem, a problem.

A problem they do not understand, nor can they.

The first person I had told about deconverting was my best friend. We had roomed together, both in college, and after. He was in our college group. One night, with just the two of us at dinner, I explained my deconversion. He is the only friend I have continued to maintain post-deconversion. To his vast, vast credit, he obtained some material on his own, and did some reading on his own.

Of course, he has maintained his Christianity and faith, but he has partially understood the “why” that someone could not believe, and the fact there is a great deal of material out there unsupportive of Christianity’s claims.

All of my other friends have left me. One of my shocks was when I shared my situation with a close friend (another in the college age church group). He was a person I had spent many an hour from 11 p.m. to 1 p.m. discussing everything under the sun. When I told him, he said, “I refuse to discuss this ever again with you.” End of Statement. And he hasn’t. (I must be very overbearing.) Another in the list of pastors, teachers, friends and family who pretend the monster isn’t there by not talking about it.

After a period of silence we returned to being acquaintances. You know the sort, “Hey, how are ya? How’s work? Oh, look at the time; we must do this again someday.” It would be a stretch to qualify our relationship as “friends.”

Diane and I were doing this on our own. Which meant a number of fights. (She looked in to getting counseling at a church, but heard, “You are WHAT?...I mean…and he still wants to be married to you?...But doesn’t want to be a Christian?...And he knows….but yet he’s…look…uh…we aren’t really prepared to handle this sort of thing. Sorry.” Click.)

I tried to be understanding that I was the one who had switched on her. That she needed time to adjust. But long moments of silence with a problem between us were not healthy. I would attempt to initiate conversations. Resulting in a fight. There simply was no common ground. She regrets marrying me. (Which, unfortunately, remains an open wound.) She refused to talk about it. She watched what I said to my children like a hawk—concerned over the slightest hint of a suggestion of a possibility of there not being a god.

And what she saw was…nothing. I didn’t pick up a bevy of prostitutes in a part-time job as a pimp. I didn’t start smoking crack. No wild parties. I didn’t smuggle atheistic books into my children’s night-time reading material. No statements mocking Christianity.

As time progressed, nothing changed. Diane began to relax. Turns out an atheist CAN have morals after all. There are occasional hiccups. I dare not criticize even the carpeting in a church without receiving a disapproving silence. I have to tread carefully in some family conversations. But at this point, we have settled into an uneasy truce in which my lack of belief in god is ignored. Not talked about.

I still love her despite my “lack of morals.” I think she still loves me. Certainly all the parts of me exactly like the old me. Obviously she is not so thrilled with my atheistic belief. It is an area of our life that is not discussed like the proverbial “elephant in the room.” It may not be the optimal situation, but our marriage remains preserved.

Part of the reason that I am discussing this, is to show my deconversion story warts and all. To fully understand what it means, it must be partly understood why deconversion is not a matter of desire. I didn’t “want” to be an atheist. I didn’t think atheists had the coolest shirts, so I became one to join the crowd.

My deconversion has hurt my wife, my marriage, my family, my friendships and me. I know, as a Christian, we are taught that humans attempt to disbelieve in god because of pride. Because of selfishness. When I look at the wrecking ball job it has done to my relationship with my wife, I can’t help wonder, “Who would want this?” Who would do this out of pride or selfishness? That concept is unfathomable to me.

Nor do I want to give the impression that simply because it has caused me personal harm “it must be true.” Many people have given up much more for beliefs that turn out to be false. As I progress through what happened, for me, it seems bizarre that anyone would desire to deconvert. Many stories, like me own, tell quite the opposite—against our every desire, we could no long hold on to our former beliefs.

Chapter 8


  1. Hi Dagoods
    This is the saddest episode in the series I think. You say that your relationships have been hurt because of your change in beliefs. While you pre-emptively say that that doesn't make Christianity true, it does beg the question. Could you be overlooking something?

    I have a brother who is a non-believer and a political leftist. When I first became a Christian I tended to be conservative politically [I see that as more of a phase - adopting certain prejuidices from my new circle of friends] and there was a clash three years ago during that tense election period. But since then I have grown a great deal in my faith and the result is that I do not condemn my brother and I listen better. We have never gotten along better.

    This is a key point in Christianity. I see my brother and others more like God would see them. I can understand their doubts. I know why things sound reasonable to them. But I am not moved one bit by anyone's skepticism. Why? I have far too many experiences of the Holy Spirit in me, moving me to assurance, to action while guiding me. I'm writing a book that came to me over the course of several years in a series of powerful visions.

    And that is the one thing I don't see in this series of yours. It seems you've gone from intellectual assent to intellectual dissent through skepticism. Meister Eckhart said that just as you could blot out the sun by holding up your finger you can blot out the love of God from your sight. Could this be happening?

    You wrote a while back that you had a "God" moment. If you felt the presence of God but it left with when you thought "Nah", can you really be sure that it was just your brain playing tricks with you? Can you have assurance that God simply does not exist?

    As always, your series is an excellent read. Take care.

  2. While you pre-emptively say that that doesn't make Christianity true, it does beg the question. Could you be overlooking something?

    Actually, if you reread what he wrote, he preemptively said that it doesn't automatically make atheism true.

    And don't forget, Christians use "persecution" as evidence of truth all the time. :)

    You wrote a while back that you had a "God" moment. If you felt the presence of God but it left with when you thought "Nah", can you really be sure that it was just your brain playing tricks with you? Can you have assurance that God simply does not exist?

    In deconverting from Christianity, the most difficult part is dealing with such feelings, and acknowledging that feelings by themselves are not evidence.

    Note too, that atheism is not the assurance that God does not exist (though we gain that with time, much as you have assurance that the Tooth Fairy does not exist); it's a complete lack of assurance that he does exist.

    When one has critically examined God and the Bible, one is left with no evidence for them apart from such feelings; the feelings don't go away easily—after all, we've been conditioning ourselves with them our entire lives. But the more familiar one becomes with human psychology, the more we become aware of just how susceptible we are to exactly these sorts of vagueries.

  3. I think it's an incredible testament that you and your wife were able to preserve your marriage, as much as you have. She does sound like a very strong woman, in many ways, for my impression is that her peers would've divorced you without hesitation. As much as Christianity was a framework for your relationship, it sounds as though it was somewhat stronger than the religion. On the other hand, do you think your children were a reason why she is still with you? I know you made mention that she said she'd leave you if you did anything to dislodge their belief in God. At the same time, she'd also be seperating them from their father. And as you said, you didn't suddenly fall into this huge sin-fest after losing your beliefs.

    I also don't envy you on any of this. The knowledge you have now sounds incredibly hard-earned.

    **he said, “I refuse to discuss this ever again with you.” End of Statement. And he hasn’t. (I must be very overbearing.) **

    You know, this seems to be a common response -- someone says how this and this doesn't add up, and the theist drops the subject altogether. It can be frustrating, because it goes a long way towards demonstrating that the theist does not have some great truth. Otherwise, they'd be using it against the point that doesn't add up. It really does a disservice to the theist's position. (Conservative theists --I don't think I've seen this with liberal theists).

    **The proverbial toothpaste was out of the tube. Pandora’s Box was opened. Whatever metaphor you choose; there was no going back.**

    Well, don't you have an impeccable sense of timing. ;)

    On a note, I apologize if that's insensitive. I'm a very sarcastic person, and try very hard to see humor in everything. This wasn't meant to belittle or mock.

    **I didn’t think atheists had the coolest shirts, so I became one to join the crowd. **

    Actually, given such attitudes towards atheists, you'd think they'd have red shirts, before anything else (this will only make sense if you've watched Star Trek: the Original Series).

  4. Hi Micah (great name)
    In deconverting from Christianity, the most difficult part is dealing with such feelings, and acknowledging that feelings by themselves are not evidence.

    So feelings are not evidence. That's fine, although a glowing cloud above my bed and heart-stopping revelations [some of my experiences] are not mere feelings. Even assuming they are, you go on to say....

    it's a complete lack of assurance that he does exist.

    A lack of feeling is evidence? If feelings are not admissible, how can the lack of them be? Cake-and-eat-it-too alert!

    When one has critically examined God and the Bible, one is left with no evidence for them apart from such feelings

    That's funny you said that; my first book was supposed to be an expose of the Bible, revealing the parts that were false. You make the claim "when one has critically examined God [in what way?] and the Bible, one is left with no evidence". Where is the evidence for this declaration?

    But the more familiar one becomes with human psychology, the more we become aware of just how susceptible we are to exactly these sorts of vagueries.

    I couldn't agree with you more. Sin has that knack for ruining everything!-)


  5. In re-reading the post, it appears Micah was correct in pointing out that the persecution validated atheism, not Christianity; my mis-read. Also, the "We can't do lunch ever again!" Christian is pretty lame. One prayer request would be that he grow in his faith.

  6. Me: Note too, that atheism is not the assurance that God does not exist… it's a complete lack of assurance that he does exist.

    Jim's reply: A lack of feeling is evidence? If feelings are not admissible, how can the lack of them be? Cake-and-eat-it-too alert!

    Where did I say anything like that? What I said is that atheists do not have evidence or assurance that God does not exist, we lack the necessary assurance to believe he does. It has nothing to do with feelings.

    Jim: [A] glowing cloud above my bed and heart-stopping revelations [some of my experiences] are not mere feelings

    Jim... I'm worried I'll offend you with what I have to say, but I have to point out, that you are not the only person I've met who've had such experiences, and not all of them were Christian. One such person was a Christian, who saw Jesus as a glowing, fiery man, who was visible through objects. That man also believed that God had left him as a "Silent Eye" (his words), to keep watch over the world. Others have honestly and vividly experienced harrowing experiences aboard strange spacecraft to which they were taken by strange beings.

    These are not particularly uncommon things, but neither are they spiritual. It sounds to me very much like schizophrenia—I'm not just throwing this out here to "dismiss" your experiences as mental abberations; I have schizophrenic friends, and am married to a sufferer of severe bipolar disorder, which can have some similar halucinagenic effects, so I'm fairly sensitive to recognizing the symptoms.

    Even among people who do not suffer from mood disorders, aural and visual hallucinations are more common than people like to believe. Severe fatigue can also cause exactly this sort of thing (my mother awoke late one night to the terror of demonic claws raking her skin). If they were isolated incidents, it was probably fatigue. If you see such things with some regularity, or have heard God or an angel audibly speak to you, please see a doctor, they really can help.

    I understand if you're now livid with rage for my suggesting such things, and if you are unwilling to even consider what I've written, please just ignore me, rather than draw this out in a heated debate. I'm not writing any of this to mock or belittle you or what you've said, it's just what my own experiences have taught me is likely, and I care about you, and what sorts of difficulties you may face if you don't seek more information. I know that it's virtually impossible to accept, unless you are forced to through unusual circumstances.

    But put yourself in a neutral observer's shoes: which seems easier to explain; that an all-powerful being—capable of such phenomenal feats as resurrecting long-dead bodies and impregnating virgin women—appeared to you, but nobody else, in the form of a glowing cloud; or that this form was the product of the human mind, which has already been documented through numerous observations as producing just such things on a regular basis?

    I'd have preferred to send a private message to express these concerns, but I don't have your email address and couldn't find one on your profile. Mine is in my profile, so feel free to use that if you need to discuss any of what I've said privately.

    Actually, my own encounters with such things [I used a pseudonym to protect my wife Sara in that post, but she has since opened up about it; the post focuses on the depressive aspects of her condition, and does not mention the hallucinations I was referring to] played a big role in my beginnings of questioning God, since scripture really has no place for people with mood disorders. Living with someone who was unable to obtain, despite constant, desperate, sobbing pleading with God, the simple joy and peace of mind promised to any who just ask for it, created a strong cognitive dissonance between what scripture promised, and reality demonstrated. It wasn't enough on its own, but it allowed me to begin to actually think about things I'd previously brushed under the rug.

  7. ***...scripture really has no place for people with mood disorders. Living with someone who was unable to obtain, despite constant, desperate, sobbing pleading with God, the simple joy and peace of mind promised to any who just ask for it, created a strong cognitive dissonance between what scripture promised, and reality demonstrated. (micah cowan)

    micah cowan, I have never experienced bipolar disorder, but I have experienced depression. I have a sister who has experienced severe depression. They are certainly nothing to take lightly, but I can tell you that she and I both have the peace and joy that only God can give. I would like you to know that the peace and joy God gives do not erase depression. They don't vacuum up sadness, nor do they cure mood disorders. But they are the only comfort I was able to receive at my worst times. I have been "at the bottom", emotionally speaking. I've longed to die. No doubt I'll be there again. But God was with me there, and I've seen his hand in my suffering. He has weighed and measured my pain - I know that seems cruel to you, but you haven't see the alternative and I have. I know what pain has brought me. A thousand, thousand times, I will choose the suffering meted out by One who chose suffering for himself - in it, I have learned how to receive both peace and joy in a measure I couldn't have dreamed of before. My comfort is dependant on the fragile balance of chemicals in my brain, but my peace and my joy come from One who never changes; One who tasted the fullness of pain long before he measured it out for me. He has made me free. Others may rob me of my comfort - but no one on earth can take away my peace and joy. They remain.

  8. Hello Micah
    My personal experiences are an aside that are irrelevant to you. I am not offended and fully expected you to react that way. I would have been confused had you not taken the schizophrenic/alien abduction route. I did mention my personal experience as an aside. There is one point that we should try to get to the bottom of what spirits are calling. We shouldn't follow every whim or feeling. We have a responsibility to investigate our experiences and verify that they are consistent with the Word and or aspects of God.

    Your point was that "lack of assurance" is evidence yet "assurance" is not evidence. Yet my assurance is evidence to me. You can't take that away from me even though you can take it out of the argument as you understand it. This is what Jenny was saying when she wrote, "No one can take away my peace and joy". It's evidence to her - you can't take it away.

    Your whole argument is predicated on materialistic naturalism. No wonder you can't see where God fits in to that.

    Here's a brain-teaser for you. Have you ever doubted what you doubt and question what you haven't questioned?

  9. Jim: Your point was that "lack of assurance" is evidence yet "assurance" is not evidence. Yet my assurance is evidence to me.

    My point was never that, as I've now stated twice. I'll restate my position one last time.

    Atheists (smart and honest ones, any way), do not believe they have any evidence whatsoever against the existence of God (though, against specific Gods, such as the Christian one, we may), let alone proved his nonexistance (atheists who claim to have "prooved" God doesn't exist always rankle me: it's a logical impossibility, as the existence of God is unfalsifiable by definition). An atheist is not an atheist because he has found evidence that God exists, but because he hasn't found any that God does exist.

    I was using the word "assurance" as a synonym of "evidence", I'm sorry if that had confused you. I am not talking about assurance as some sort of feeling that I'm right or wrong; that'd be silly.

  10. jennypo: I would like you to know that the peace and joy God gives do not erase depression.

    In what way can you call them "peace" or "joy", then? How can peace or joy simultaneously coexist with the wrenching heartache of medical depression?

    Sure, there were times she had peace, and of course since she has effective medications, she can experience it regularly. But when she was in the midst of the depths of hell, where was God to comfort her?

  11. Jim Jordan,

    I went from intellectually knowing the same things I know. The only difference is now I question it with a different perspective. Rather than assume it is true, I test if it is true. Whether you want to term it as intellectual “assent” or “dissent” is up to you.

    Let me give you a simple example. I’ll bet every single person reading this blog knows the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. 5 loaves, 2 fishes, little boy, 12 baskets left over. That whole thing. Over the course of my Christian life, I have probably heard that story, or a reference to it, literally 1000’s of times.

    I already had the “intellectual” knowledge of that story. But have you ever really thought about it? Last night, I asked my 8-year-old what she learned in Church,

    Daughter: We learned about the Feeding of the Five Thousand and how Jesus gave them food and water…well…food, I guess, and their tummies were full.
    Me: [Thinking of a question I had never contemplated until that very minute] Hmmm…what DO you think they drank?
    Daughter: [thinking hard] They must have drank the water out of the fish guts.

    Showing a unique combination of apologetics and “Survivor.”

    While you, too, know the story—have you ever thought about what 10,000 people drank, in this “remote place”? Is such thinking, such questioning “assent” or “dissent”? Here is another question, that as a former manager of a restaurant you might appreciate. Have you ever thought of how long the Feeding of the Five Thousand would take?

    Like a story problem—how many tables of 50 would you have out of 10,000 people? Answer: 200. Assuming it would take only 30 seconds to serve each person (I, too, have worked in the restaurant business. You and I BOTH know that 30 seconds of service per person is ludicrously, impossibly low.) How long would it take to serve one table? Answer: 25 minutes.

    How long would it take to serve 200 tables at 25 minutes per table (assuming a constant pace)? Answer: 5000 minutes. If you only had 12 waiters, how long would it take to serve 5000 minutes? Answer: 416 2/3 minutes or almost seven (7) hours!

    Imagine that! If they kept a constant pace (impossible) and only averaged 30 seconds per person, it would still take seven hours? Do I have to say if it took a minute per person it would be 14 hours to serve all those people?

    See, for years, we just read the story, think, “How wonderful” derive whatever particular spiritual point we desire out of it, and move on. We don’t ask, “Wait a minute. What did they drink? How did they serve that many people? Who is bothering to go around and collect leftover pieces after working a straight seven-hour shift?”

    No more for me. I now look at the story and think, “What if…?” I now wonder how feasible the tale is.

    Jim Jordan: This is a key point in Christianity. I see my brother and others more like God would see them.

    Unfortunately for me, my friends believe in a God that will damn me to hell for eternal torture in fire for my inability to find him. My friends see me as the person of Romans 1 that God talks about; desiring to invent every evil thing. I am a corrupter of persons, an anti-Christ.

    When my friends see me through their God, they see a hideous monster. Because this is my blog, Jim Jordan, I will ask you a tough question. You and I just had a long, LONG discussion about calling someone a “pompous ass.” While I hesitate to bring past history here, I DO have to straightforwardly ask you a question—Does your God see people as “pompous asses”? People that he humiliated himself for, suffered pain for, and died for? The tough question is this—Do you REALLY see “others” how God would see them? Do you see them as worthy to die for, with no credit, no recognition, no “hero’s death”?

    If so, I find it very difficult to believe you would even, for a moment, attempt to justify calling anyone, anywhere, anytime a “pompous ass.”

    Do I have assurance that God does not exist? Of course not. I have enough assurance to declare myself as a strong atheist, or one that says “God does not exist.” The chance such entity is actual is so small, it comes to the point of why say he does exist? Yet, I am certainly open to the possibility of being wrong. Upon new information coming forward, I would be happy to re-evaluate my position.

    As deconverts we are proclaiming to the world we were wrong in our theistic belief. It would not be extraordinary to say it again.

    “Feelings” and “visions” are a portion of theistic belief. They are not enough for me; for my personality. While others find such things as convincing; I cannot.

    In High School I had a dream about a girl. Nothing sexual; but in this dream we were in a world in which we were madly, deeply, wildly in love. I woke up with an almost overwhelming sense of infatuation for her. I had never given her a second glance up until that morning, and I woke up in love with her. For two days, I was powerfully overcome with emotional feelings every time I saw her. My head was telling me it was only a stupid dream, yet my heart was telling me she was my Juliet.

    As time it passed, and she went back to being nothing special. I still remember those feelings and thoughts to this day. A dumb dream, yet it had such a profound effect on me, my own thinking brain could not overcome it. We are very good at deluding ourselves.

    I had a God moment. It was real, and vivid, and as much a God Moment as I did as a theist. But I need more. (Sorry.) I need intellectual assurance in addition.

  12. Hi Dagoods
    Jesus has a restaurant management tip for you!

    Mark 8:18-20

    18Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?"
    "Twelve," they replied.

    20"And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?"
    They answered, "Seven."

    So there were nineteen servers passing food around. It would take more like 5 seconds [think Communion] to grab your food and pass it on. 5,000 times 5 seconds is 25,000 seconds and then divide that by 19 servers equals 1,315 seconds which is 22 minutes. This makes sense because I went to a megachurch today which had all 5,000+ seats full. We had Communion - FOOD AND DRINKS! How long did it take? About 15 minutes, of course that's with today's technology....And of course, I was satisfied afterwards.

    What did they drink? Water from...a well near by? from the containers they brought with water in them? The point is they were hungry. The wine and beverage list is not part of the story.

    Now that that small amount of food fed 5,000 people IS a miracle. You can't rule out a miracle unless you prove that God does not exist. And by your own admission, you can't prove God doesn't exist.

    Take care.

  13. On your other point, Dagoods
    Do you REALLY see “others” how God would see them?

    I'm getting better, that is, I'm moving in the right directon, as Jesus would have it.

    Do you see them as worthy to die for, with no credit, no recognition, no “hero’s death”?

    I am convinced that I am no better than anyone else. At some points in time I may feel that I know more than another person on some subjects, but as for being "good enough", no one is. That is why Jesus' willing sacrifice has always demanded a response.

    We cannot judge another person because we never can know what we are talking about. What will that person do in the future? We dunno. What was God's plan for that person from the beginning? Dunno. Will that person go to Heaven when they die? Dunno.

    I think you're confusing judgment with criticism regarding the "pompous ass" thing. I have a few friends who I called a name once or twice and vice versa, and we're still friends. One even called me an a@#hole in front of a bunch of people [she was drunk] but she didn't remember when we met again later...and I never reminded her of it.

  14. ***In what way can you call them "peace" or "joy", then? How can peace or joy simultaneously coexist with the wrenching heartache of medical depression? (micah cowan)

    Peace and joy may be known in the spirit even as the mind is wracked by debilitating depression. As humans, we are not one thing. We are body and mind and spirit. Though those three are intimately connected, they are not the same thing. Just as a mother giving birth may have joy that her child is being delivered even as her body suffers great pain, I may know peace in my spirit even while my mind suffers depression and anxiety.

    Body and mind and spirit do bleed into one another, and over time, all are affected by the health or illness of one. This is why I heartily advocate medicine and trained professional help for the illnesses of the body and the mind. But the spirit can be healed and given peace by God alone. And over time, as experience increases, the peace and joy of the spirit do bleed into the mind and the body. It's no instant cure.

    But I'll say this, and having witnessed the terrors of depression, I'm sure you'll understand that I don't say it lightly: I'd rather be in the throes of depression with God and with his peace and joy in my spirit than be any of you on your happiest, healthiest days without God.

  15. Heather,

    I fear you are correct. My wife very well maybe staying with me for the children. I want her to stay with me—even if it is not for me. *shrug* So be it.

    Never fear offending me with sarcastic humor in the face of plight. I do the same. And, being a long-time Trekkie, I fully understand the imminent death associate with being a red-shirted Ensign.

    I guess the one thing that surprises me is the “why?” as to my friends refusing to discuss with me. They know me. They know how I think. They know my years as a Christian, my ups and my downs. They know the strengths and weaknesses of my faith. If you had told them 4 years ago I would become an atheist; they would have laughed you off. Inconceivable.

    If it was me, and I knew a “me” I would dying of curiosity as to what would cause the “me” to become an atheist. Oh, sure, if “me” became a sin-filled, affair-having, drug-taking, crazed lunatic—it would make sense. But to avoid the intellectual argument? I am not kidding when I say that we argued over everything within religion. This argument seems to be too much for them.

    As always, thanks for the comment.

  16. Jim Jordan,

    I have no idea how you came up with nineteen servers because there were 12 baskets left over on the feeding of the Five Thousand, and seven on the Four Thousand. Hint: We have 4 baskets left over. How many servers does that tell us we have? Oh, nuts, I will give the answer—No Idea! Baskets left over do not equate to servers!

    In your communion of 5000+, was it a full meal? Were people in groups of fifty or 100 sitting on grass? Was it only served by 12? They brought water, but not food? There was a nearby well in a “remote place”?

    The difference is that we both know the story. One of us inspects it.

    I am uninterested with your considering yourself no better than anyone else. You are supposed to consider others BETTER than yourself! Phil. 2:3

    Funny how your friend called you an “asshole” and YOU remember it whether she does or not. Guess you didn’t like to be called that. Even from a friend…

  17. DagoodS,

    **I want her to stay with me—even if it is not for me. *shrug* So be it.**

    Such is life -- making the best of whatever situation we find outselves in.

    **But to avoid the intellectual argument? I am not kidding when I say that we argued over everything within religion. This argument seems to be too much for them.**

    My guess here, based on what I've read, is that they avoid this precisely because they do know you. It sounds like you would've been the "stars" in terms of Bible studies and such, with the questions and the knowledge. If you had put any of this depth into analyzing from your previous view, then I imagine you would've sounded very God-centered and smart. So if you could fall away from the faith, when that would've been laughable, then it could just as easily happen to them -- if not easier. They might feel, on some level, that their faith wouldn't stand a chance. It's probably to protect themselves, especially if this a fire-and-brimstone type of hell belief. If you have tried to engage them in questions, I'm wondering if these are questions that have previously bothered them ... they've just managed to squash them. It would be really different arguing the difficult stuff with a believer, as the conclusion is inevitable, compared to arguing it with an atheist.

    I could be wrong, granted. It just sounds feasible.

  18. Hi Dagoods
    I don't know how you came up with 7 1/2 hours. Your staff must be very slow.:-)

    The difference is that we both know the story. One of us inspects it.

    I inspected it with my calculator and from my experience this morning when they fed the 5,000 at church with a little bread and wine. It's a good thing this debate happened today because I have a short memory and might have forgotten how they fed the 5,000 at the megachurch.

    You superimposed a visit to Bobo's Fish Joint in Detroit when the kitchen is backed up with the passing of baskets of food where everyone grabbed a little and was satisfied. Hint: God made their stomachs and minds. We get full as a result of filling our stomachs and our minds say, "Darn, I'm full!". This was just another example to show us that the Lord is intricately involved in our crestiom.

    Funny how your friend called you an “asshole” and YOU remember it whether she does or not.

    You forgot to put the @#$ where the "ssh" goes. Now everybody knows what she called me. Oh, well, I remember it because I was sober....

    You are supposed to consider others BETTER than yourself! Phil. 2:3

    And the difference is..? I am no better than anyone else. I would do for them what I would do for myself. Same thing. Them being better changes nothing. Otherwise Paul and Jesus would be at odds.

    Hasta la proxima hablada.

  19. Jim Jordan,

    The small example of the time required to feed the Five Thousand is a good example of my intellectual progression, however you want to describe it.

    As a Christian, if someone raised this issue, the first thing I would have done is read all four (4) accounts. See what the Bible has to say about it. There is general (albeit not specific) agreement on the broad details of the story. We have a crowd of Five Thousand Men; if we include the women and children a conservative estimate would place it at 10,000 people.

    There are in a remote place. It is late in the day, it is noted all they have for food is five loaves and two fishes. The disciples want to send the people away; Jesus has them sit in groups of 50 or 100. Jesus gives the loaves/fishes to the disciples; the disciples give it to the people sitting. Everyone is filled. There are twelve baskets left over. (There are some minor disagreements within the four Gospels, but let’s leave those for now.)

    With that, someone, either a Christian or a skeptic, notes if we only spent 30 seconds with each person, giving them bread and/or fish, with twelve disciples it would take almost seven hours. At this point (recalling my college age days) the discussion would begin—how to resolve it?

    We could propose more than twelve disciples, but then how does one break down the fish (note, they were “small” according to John) even more? Having 12 pieces would be tough enough; the more disciples, the greater the problem of breaking up the fish.

    We could propose Jesus stopped time to allow this to happen. Of course, it is not mentioned, and creates problems in when we determine Jesus stops time, and when he does not. Our chronology goes all to pieces.

    We could try your Incredible Shrinking Stomach, but this raises the question that if Jesus could “shrink” their hunger or need for food, why not completely remove it? Why go through the charade of both shrinking their stomach, yet also feeding them? Further, the reading of the story, including details of everyone being filled, and basketsful left over, implies the Miracle was the over-abundance of food; not Jesus inventing a new diet plan.

    Your comparison of communion would have been discarded quickly. (Sorry.) In communion you have an organized situation in which people expect to only receive a very small portion, expect the process by which it is distributed, and in a church of 5000, I’ll safely go out on a limb and guess there are more than 12 ushers!

    Here you have a group of people expecting to be fed, but never having done this before. Think about the first person getting bread. How much do they get? If you break off a big chunk, then the next will expect such a chunk, and so on. And having 1/6 of a small fish—how much could you break off? There are advantages and disadvantages both ways. The larger the portions--the less times you would have to go back. The smaller the portions--the more repeated trips. But they are only starting off with a very small amount.

    To compare your communion example, they would have to keep passing that plate (and the cups) until everyone had enough to eat. I’ve sat through plenty of communions to know it would take a long, long time to fill up on those small bits.

    Honestly? I thought I was being extremely generous, to the point of ludicrous, by saying only 30 seconds per person. In your communion example, if each person only spent 1 second with the plate (think of taking the plate, getting the cracker, passing the plate) do you think people would be full after only 30 passes of the plate? The equivalent of 5-6 crackers?

    Further, understanding crowd dynamics, we have a minimum of 100 groups, and a maximum of 200. In a church of communion, there is a sense of decorum. Here, the last group served would be anxious it would receive nothing. The first group would be taking more, realizing there is not enough to go around. In church we understand: One Person = One Cracker. We also know they will not run out.

    In real life, we see crowds get anxious, even to the point of starting riots, with the fear of a depleted resource. This is no organized church meeting!

    In the end, as a Christian, I would have concluded something must have happened, either a time miracle, or speed miracle, or shrinking stomach miracle, but since I was convinced of the reliability of the Gospels, would place the question (along with all the others) in the “we-can-ask-God-when-we-get-to-heaven” bin. All that would remain was the nagging doubt something was amiss here.

    When I began to discuss these types of situations with skeptics, I could see why they had questions. I had the same questions myself! If a skeptic had raised the issue of the timing of the Feeding of Five Thousand, I understood why an additional proposed (unmentioned) miracle on top of this miracle would not be convincing.

    Which led to my realizing that a neutral person, faced with a skeptic on one side pointing out how this was just a story, and not designed to fit into a real time/place situation, where the number could be Five Thousand, Five Hundred or Fifty Thousand—it was a made-up number, and Christian proposing some additional miracle to maintain the bias toward the reliability of the Gospels would not be persuasive. I realized if we put this to a jury, they would more likely claim it is a story—not a reality.

    Which led me to realize I would not accept such a story in any other religion. We scrutinized miracle claims of Catholics, or Mormons or Cults with a microscope. If they had made a claim of Feeding Ten Thousand people, and a Christian pointed out the timing problem, I would have immediately sided with the Christian, claiming such a miracle was twaddle and nonsense.

    Which led me to realize I was biased toward Christianity. What I gladly embraced in a defense of a Christian claim; I would staunchly reject in any other religion’s claims.

    Once I stepped back (as best I could) from the bias of Christianity, and attempted to review like a lawyer preparing for trial, it became shockingly clear how non-compelling and unpersuasive it is. How the skeptic’s arguments and claims are more plausible.

    What is more plausible? That the Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is a myth? A Legend? A Story? It has all the elements of a story—modification over time, mnemonic elements (“7” and “12”), a complacent crowd, a convenient ignoring of details, an ignorance of time. Or is it more plausible this was a miracle bolstered by another (unknown) miracle in order to make the first miracle happen?

    Does a Christian accept the Miracle of Joseph Smith’s appearing plates that are no longer available due to another Miracle of them disappearing? No? Not plausible? Then why should a skeptic be convinced by our claim of the Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand due to the Miracle of the Incredible Shrinking Stomach?

    Jim Jordan, I did not mean to get on this tangent, but it illustrates how I went from “The Gospels are true; while we have questions” to “The Gospels are not historically accurate.”

  20. Hi Dagoods
    I recall reading that Joseph Smith was shot while climbing out a window to get away. There are loopholes, factual loopholes, not merely skepticism, in his gospel.

    I do not see how this feeding is much different than Communion. Your timeline argument doesn't hold up unless you again were thinking how long it took you to fill up at Outback Steakhouse. You are injecting an assumption into the equation so that it doesn't work.

    If everyone took a piece of food, ate it, and quickly felt and were full or if they grabbed half a fish and half a loaf and gobbled it down Johnny bravo style, then either is a miracle. Either they had a supernatural sense of fullness in their tummies or the food supernaturally replenished itself or both. That's the miracle described.

    In one sense you take a feasible physical action, feeding the 5,000, and exaggerate the time needed. Then if something seems "too quaint to be true", like the 12s and 7s or the miracle itself, than it is false.

    I would take a close look at the Old Testament and reread the numerous descriptions and images in the prophecies and compare them to Jesus in the NT. Think then of what an uncreated Creator would be like, the uncaused cause needed to get the cause and effect ball rolling.

    People find atheism untenable because it means we came from nothing, which is scientifically impossible. With Christianity's view we have an agent fully capable of bringing us into existence. He has a personality that explains our moral streak but also His love is nothing like ours, showing us where we went wrong.

    Often when people try to connect the dots in the Bible, they end up overlooking the God that's right under their nose. For me, this God is God. He fits the profile to a tee. And his son is our living example of the perfect man.

    Sorry if I started preaching. Got carried away. Regards.

  21. Theres a hint in Mark 6:37 that the disciples had enough money on them to buy the bread and fish.

    Also, are we to assume that 5,000 people decided to follow Jesus into a remote area without any thought(s) on their own to provide food and water for themselves?

    I keep having the children's story of *stone soup* going through my head.

  22. DD
    It seems they had water because no need for it is mentioned. It is inferred that Jesus spoke longer than anyone anticipated. Something like that happened in church yesterday....

  23. Dagoods, an incredible personal story you've chosen to share with us complete strangers. Thank you for being so honest.

    Interestingly, I saw a lot of parallels to the experience of coming out of the closet for a lot of GLBT people. We even both get lumped in the "hell list" in Romans 1. It is an incredibly difficult transition to make personally, learning to stop pretending and start being unafraid to ask the difficult questions and be ready to accept unpleasant answers. Family relations are strained to the limit, and one learns very quickly who are real friends and which ones are accepting only as long as one is still "in the club". I was shocked to find out which were the really shallow ones (but often, not so much who were the deep ones). There was also the sense of shock from many quarters that I didn't become the stereotype of a promiscuous circuit boy hopped up on meth (though I still likes me some theatre and Madonna).

    My sister got married this weekend (yay) and she and my new brother-in-law really wanted my partner to come (though we both told them we didn't want to interfere with "their" day). The reception ended up being an elaborate dance of steering him toward my more open-minded relatives and limiting contact with the more conservative ones. It went reasonably well, but it still bothered me. Pastor J did have a comforting reminder, however, that we as Christians live in the hope that we will one day join at a table where everyone is welcome.

    As far as the Loaves & Fishes story goes, I tend to use the Karl Barth/neo-orthodox way of interpreting the story. Essentially, Barth saw the Bible as pointing to the person of Christ, not itself. Whether or not the loaves & fishes narrative is factual or just as symbolic as one of Jesus' own parables isn't terribly important to me--that the words of Jesus were so moving and he had compassion for the people who came to listen is important. I like the possibility that it could even be an illustration of the power of sharing, even if the writers of the Gospels got a little carried away with the details.

  24. Flycandler makes some good points here.
    that we as Christians live in the hope that we will one day join at a table where everyone is welcome.
    Very true. And we will.

    Essentially, Barth saw the Bible as pointing to the person of Christ, not itself.

    It's easy to fail to see the woods for the trees.

    As far as the lessons and truths the feeding reveals, there are layers upon layers of meaning to this story. God provides, only in Him are all our needs satisfied, we lose track of time when we are in the presence of God, sharing multiplies our resources beyond their sum [Fly's point spec.], God can multiply your paltry production beyond your wildest dreams, etc. etc.

    A lot of great ideas here. The blog is the ultimate cure for writer's block!

  25. Reading your chapter on your marriage and the tension your atheism creates made me want to alternatively cry and then laugh. My own marriage fairs similarly in light of my de-conversion. I'm also yet to take up brothel ownership so the irony of the pimp joke was not lost on someone who lives daily with a disappointed spouse whose world view is that all goodness is enscapulated in Christianity. Blogging all this is a source of encouragement for those of us out here slogging it away in the messy post Christian relationship sphere. I have no easy answers but I hope somewhere I can find a place for my kids to enjoy life beyond the fears that bound me up in Christianity.

  26. Thank you for the kind comment, Philip. We do “slog” through, don’t we? A very apt description of the feeling on many days.

  27. Your experience is so heart-wrenching, yet, in many ways, it parallels some of our difficulties. In reading this post and feeling so much sympathy for you, I am allowing myself a bit of breathing room myself. I'm not crazy after all.

    There are also some differences in my path, and I really don't "fear" becoming an atheist b/c it is not in my nature to be sure about anything, but I could see myself being agnostic, and that alone would send shockwaves throughout my extended family. In reading your post and seeing how you've lost so many friends, it reminded my of my post on "love" and how important the emotional aspect of faith becomes. We lost most of our friends at our old church and it wasn't even because of any deconversion experiences - we just didn't agree with Calvinism and didn't feel like we fit in, and I think people couldn't even relate to that! In losing so much friendship, I definitely think it makes the balance tilt away from Christianity. And I know this sounds like a weak argument b/c in the end, our christian faith should reside in intellectual arguments, but I wonder if the aggression doubters feel from Christian just pushes them further away? I think the least Christians could do is continue to "welcome" us at their table, not casting us off as doomed. Again, all this sounds lame I know. I hope that you can feel encouraged. I've often wanted to disappear over living life right now. I think terminal cancer would be better than doubt. I wish I could have stronger faith so I could send you encouragement that might let you give Christianity a second chance. Why aren't there more people like that...I've met few in my life.