What happens after a Christian becomes an atheist? Well…life moves on regardless. The sun rises, clients call, and newspapers continue to be delivered. While it was a shake-up, much of my life moved forward as before. I met the following weeks, months and years with a mixture of emotions.
Believe it or not, there was a feeling of relief. All those questions and attempts to determine what God was thinking, or what God was saying, or what God wanted were resolvable in the simple notion that everything I had learned about God was the human interpretation of what God was like. It was a human project, with human results. The unadorned answer to these complex questions? God was human-made.
It resolves the Problem of Evil. Resolves the conflicts (both historical and doctrinal) in theistic claims. Resolves the answer as to why God was so non-responsive, so hard to find. Resolves why humans provide 1000 different solutions to 10,000 different questions about God. Resolves why Christian book stores bulge with Self-Help books.
The humanity of God explained why non-believers and believers alike shared the characteristics of good and evil. Both were as likely to be a person of anger as a person of love. There is nothing “divine” in being a Christian; nor in Christian “fruit.” It is humanity looking for a justification to act a certain way.
There was also relief in having been through an ordeal. It is tiring on the body to deprive it of sleep. It was tiring on my spirit to be constantly aching for a God I believed in and hear nothing but silence. It was tiring on my mind to be suppressing the obvious implications of what I read.
I became elated. For the first time, I could openly read the Bible in any manner! There was no preconceived dogma which required “scripture to interpret scripture” or that it was God-inspired, or inerrant. Ephesians could be written by Paul, not written by Paul, or not even qualify to be in the Bible! Isaiah could be a complete book, or a conglomeration of two or three books. It could be written in 740 BCE or 450 BCE. I was not pre-determining conclusions, and looking for evidence to support them; rather I was looking at the evidence, and coming to conclusions.
All this new information was fascinating. Studying the Bible and Christianity became a joy—not a hardship with a mission. I wanted to share it with my friends; my family. But, as previously stated, that plan did not work so well. I found myself with a lot to say, and no audience to say it to.
I began to engage theists, specifically Christians on forums. This was no surprise; it was a natural progression on my path. I entered forums expecting to be a Christian informing non-believers, and found myself on the opposite team—a non-believer informing Christians. And oh what fun it is. Blast here with the Problem of Evil. Photon torpedo with archeological evidence. Machine gun with Markan geographical errors.
I tend to overkill a subject. Subtly and succinctness are not in my style. (I am working on it with little success.) However, not many theists wander into iidb and stay. If they did, they would be piled on by non-believer after non-believer. My voice was one amongst many. It was time to go—I went looking for a fight, landing at Christianforums.com. A huge monstrosity of a forum, with plenty of opportunity to debate religious topics.
Yet I found this…unsatisfying. Perhaps it was too large. Maybe the topics were too broad. I enjoyed a few conversations, but mostly I lurked and clucked my tongue. I tend to throw so much effort in a topic, by the time I had thought out a full response, it was too much work to write it all down. Easier to let the topic slip away.
However, I found a very unsettling aspect of the forum. It had “Christian ONLY” sub-forums. Oh, they are entitled to such, and I respect each website to implement whatever rules it feels appropriate. It was not that. I had never been a minority. Never been singled out as “different” and excluded.
I was a Christian, white, straight, middle-aged American male. Married, 2.5 kids, 2.5 cars in the garage, a home, a mortgage, a dog, two cats and some fish. College-educated, no criminal record, no tattoos. Brown hair, brown eyes. If we lined up every person who had ever lived, according to their possibility of being discriminated against, I would be the absolutely last person in that line.
And for the first time, I was looking at a club excluding me. A club where many a night I once would pass long hours sitting in deep leather, drinking brandy, smoking cigars, and rubbing elbows with my fellow club members with the camaraderie of historic battles fought together.
Now I was on the outside of that club, looking in the window at my former brothers and sisters in friendship—still sipping brandy, still lighting cigars and still rubbing elbows. Only I was no longer welcome.
Again, I respect each person’s ability to create and join a website with certain exclusions. Believers need a place of respite, without having a heathen constantly interfering with discussions. When a believer says, “Will you pray for my sister who was diagnosed with cancer?” the last thing they need is some skeptic citing surveys about the ineffectiveness of prayer. I understood why such a sub-forum was necessary. I defer to the discretion of having such a place.
It was just a shock of stark reality as to how far I’d come. Doors that were once flung open to me; now barred with steel and iron. On-line life was reflective of my own.
I resigned all positions in the church I attended. We still went to Church and Sunday School, but I dared not open my mouth. I feared if I even started the paragraph, by the end it would be obvious I was no longer a believer. Remember, this is a time when I feared divorce above all else.
We changed churches, in the hopes of bettering our awkwardness. At the new church, I fully and freely explained who I was, and asked how to fit in. I naively figured it was the secretive nature at the former church which was problematic. No—it is that a church is not designed for deconverts. I stopped going.
I became angry. Look, I wanted to go to church. We had been taught all our lives people like me (the “darkness”) ran from the church (the “light.”) I wanted a relationship with my friends. I felt no different. I was no more inclined to kidnap and sell their children to shoemakers in China. Yet because of this gaping difference, we could no longer be friends.
I wanted my marriage. I wanted to stay married to my wife regardless of her theistic belief. Yet we now had this huge silence between us which we could not cross.
Here I was, brimming with new-found knowledge about the Bible—a topic these people should be drawn to, and immersed in, and they were repelled by me! I saw a system with questions and issues and holes and significant problems—and these people ALL preferred such a system to me. Without even the remotest desire to probe the system in any way!
If you have read my previous installments—what is one emotion I cannot sustain? Yep—anger. I realized they cannot help it. I would like to think if a buddy of mine deconverted 5 years ago, I would have listened to him/her, or been interested, or stuck with them. But deep down, I am not so sure I would have. Maybe I would have run, too.
My churches, family, friends and wife had never had to cope with someone like me. Is it any surprise they choose to not, rather than figure out how? Much easier in the long run, and realistically better for us all. The club does not want to hear my battle won with a person who claims the Gospel of John is historical. They want to hear the battles won over the enemy. Me.
I flitted back and forth between Christianforums and iidb. One day, mention was made of a discussion on a more liberal Christian forum—Xnforums. (The link on my blogroll.) Here I was able to enjoy myself, being a smaller forum, with an ability to more fully focus my lengthy comments. I happily traipsed along, arguing such things as the finer points of Calvinistic presupposition.
The Internet gives us a chance to meet some people we would never know to associate with in real life. It gives people the opportunity to shine; and others the opportunity to sour. In some discussion somewhere on Xn, a poster (male) refused to respond to another poster (female), because women don’t teach men. Nothing she said could be of any value to him; why should he have to respond to it? Silly and ridiculous, and I would have thought so as a Christian.
Or would I?
The more I reflected on that foolish precept, the more I realized how insidiously Christianity had caused me to hurt others. I used to pride myself on my reaction toward homosexuals. Oh, sure, homosexuality was a sin. But I felt the church was failing on focusing on the sinner, more than the sin. We were NOT open to having homosexuals attend our church. We WERE trying to legislate the morality of non-believers, without addressing their need for Jesus. What good was it to convict a homosexual of his or her sin (since we are all sinners, this was not exactly a monumental project, in my opinion) if our convincing turned them off from Christ, due to our unloving action?
Besides, gossiping is given as much a black mark (Rom. 1:29) yet we wink and nudge and lean in close to hear more. Even as a Christian, I could see we were “picking” the sins we would least likely be tempted by, to claim are the really, REALLY rotten ones which require laws and penalties. In Sunday School classes, I yammered and hounded about how we need to show more openness to gays, and accept them in as people. (Before pounding them into the conviction they were sinners and turn ‘em straight.)
Yet for all that “wonderful” openness I felt I had—I had taught on the fact women could not teach in church. Not the finest hour for me to reflect on. I was no different than this poster who would not respond to a woman. I thought the Bible was the written word of God, acted upon it, and discriminated against women because of it. I sat in that club with my men friends and our men conversations, never noticing the women outside.
While I was breaking off my arm, patting myself on the back, as to how open I was to homosexuals, I was doing it to change them. I was not accepting them for who they are, I was accepting them for who I wanted them to become.
My thrill in reviewing the Christian doctrines and Bible from a new-found perspective was chilled with the review of my Christian practice from a new understanding. Sure I focused on “loving others.” I focused on “loving” them only in the Christian mindset. Only on Christian terms. Only loving non-believers enough to coerce them to the point of their changing to the point I could REALLY love them.
It is painful to look back upon my own Christianity. How many venues did I teach, in which I confidently and egotistically told my class “THIS is what God says” when there is no God? How many times did I gloat in my Biblical scholarship, and minute knowledge of things which turn out are completely unsupported? How many times was I convinced a God was nodding to the words I spoke?
I am glad for my Christian upbringing. I am glad for my Biblical knowledge. But I am even gladder at 38 I was given a new lease on life. A chance to view the world with open eyes and accept others for who they ARE, not for who a God wants them to be. We were taught to “love others” as well as Jesus did. I now can love others better than Jesus did.
Where do I go from here? Who knows. My friendships are extremely limited. I am thankful, every day, for people on-line who, 10 or 15 years ago, I would never have had the chance to meet and share our experiences. At times I find the theistic debate tedious. I am reminded of others who shared their thoughts, and deconverted the likes of me. There may be a “me” or two out there who need a wake-up call only a random click to something I write produces.
But mostly I want us to get better. I want us to be more loving. I want us to understand each other more fully. I want us to say, “I don’t agree with that person, but I get where they are coming from.” I want us to live by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated.”