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.