Tuesday, July 24, 2007


At the time of my deconversion, I was active, both in leadership roles, and as a participant in a local church. Since I could no longer maintain the beliefs required for membership, I resigned my positions. It was clear the questions I now faced, and the study that I had done far surpassed anything that a teacher or leader was prepared to respond, I retreated to not participating.

This dramatic change in my personality was noticeable. I heard whispers of rumors as to why, but did not pursue it any further. Due to my frustration at being unable to join in what was once such an important part of my life, I asked my wife if we could change churches. She agreed, and we began attending a church at a greater distance, where friends attended.

At this new church, with a fresh start, I was candid with the leadership as to who I am, and that I would like to participate in some way, shape or form. After quite a few discussions, that gradually became more and more uncomfortable for the leaders as they tried to politely explain I did not fit in and I was not welcome to participate, it sunk in my thick skull that church is not a place for a deconvert. Oh, it is fine for us to attend and sit in the pew. But to be an active part of the church?—that is too difficult and contrary to the design of the intention of a local congregation.

To my wife’s relief, as well as my own—I stopped attending. It was too stressful on both of us. “All’s well that ends well”—right? A new wrinkle appeared; our friends are moving, and they will no longer be attending that church. As near as I can tell, she has not developed any other friendships or connections in that church. I feel as if I set my wife on an island and then abandoned her!

The solution is simple, of course--go back to the local church. But I suspect why she wouldn’t--Embarrassment.

It would be embarrassing to have a husband who became an atheist. To explain it. To have the sideways looks, and questions, and “prayer requests” and knowing glances. I was far too immersed into Christianity to be ignorant of how effective a local congregation can be in embarrassing a person who does not belong. “Birds of a feather MUST flock together and make sure no other Birds are allowed in the flock”…or something like that.

It wasn’t that long ago that being divorced was a reason for exclusion. I grew up in a conservative Baptist environment. The thought of a Divorcee holding a position as a deacon or deaconess or trustee or Sunday School teacher or nursery worker or…well! The thought was unthinkable. When one got a divorce, the proper thing to do was either resign yourself to never being charge of even the flannel graph board in the Second Grade Sunday School class OR (and the far more preferable choice) move elsewhere. Go elsewhere. Be a church attendee elsewhere.

Of course, since those days divorces have become more and more and more common, and such an exclusionary policy, even in practice if not in precept, is far rarer.

What changed? It is still a divorce. We still use the same Bible. God didn’t reveal “Matthew Version 2.0” that updated Jesus’ position on divorce. Society has changed, and with that change, Christianity has changed as well.

Thirty years ago, if my wife returned to this particular local church, with a certificate of divorce from me, that would have been equally embarrassing. An anathema. A person that should “go away.” Now, it would be pitied, but not a reason for rejection. Many in the church are now divorced—to reject another member for that would be unheard of.

But the idea of a husband who deconverted? That is NOT acceptable. There must be something wrong with him! Maybe there is something wrong with her? Maybe they have some deep, dark, secret sin, and THAT is why there is a deconversion in the works. How humorous! If my wife divorced me for being a non-Christian—that would be acceptable. But to remain married to a deconvert? Well—those birds just don’t flock together, if you know what I mean!

As a young child, my parents took me to Bill Gaither’s Basic Youth Seminar. (If you have ever attended, this is proof enough of my conservative background.) At one of the first meetings, Mr. Gaither asked the group to stand and sing a song. To my young mind’s astonishment, somebody had let in some crazy Pentecostals! I had never seen anyone raise their arms when they sing! We were transfixed. We even hoped to have more singing, just to see those arms go up! We could not have been more fascinated if they had put on gorilla suits and started jumping around.

Believe me, had any of those Charismatic appeared in OUR church, and dared raise their hands during “Amazing Grace” a few well-placed glances, the very, VERY stiff arms firmly pointed down where they are supposed to be during songs, and the obligatory “cough, cough” would set them straight. They would understand that Birds which raise their wings when chirping most certainly do NOT flock here!

And over time, as more people integrate with others, the raising of hands has become less and less dramatic. With the advent of “Community Churches” rather than denominational demarcations, people of various worship styles find themselves in the same pew, and think less of it.

Hymn books are out; words on a PowerPoint are in. Pianos and organs are out; bands with drums and guitars are in. Suits, ties and dresses: out. Khakis, Slacks and Polo’s: in.

Have you contemplated the changes of what was “acceptable” in 1977, as compared to what is “acceptable” in 2007? What changed? Did the Bible change? Did God change? Or have people’s perceptions in society change? Was it JUST as acceptable to welcome a Divorcee in 1977 as it is now? Was it wrong to not do so?

All that being said, a deconvert is still out. We are apostates. Speakers of heresy. We are non-Christians not interested in becoming Christians and often better informed than most Christians sitting in the pews. I understand it. I get it. In fact, many places on the ‘net you can find arguments as to all the rudeness and discourtesy that can be justifiably leveled against us heathens, by virtue of our deconversion. That we should be clearly and specifically informed how our feathers are NOT welcome in the flock. No way. No shape. No form.

That being said—why must my wife get caught in the fray? Why should it be embarrassing to her for having a deconvert husband? She is truly an innocent victim in all this.

Yet she is. It would be.

I can’t help wonder, with the changes we have seen in the past 30 years—what will be acceptable in 2037 that is not now? Will deconverted spouses become as common as divorced?

It will be fascinating to see how Christianity will deal with the shift in society caused by increasing numbers of deconverts. The question that will amuse me during this change is this: “Is your god changing; or are you?”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A God Moment

Sure, I had moments where I felt that God was so close I could almost breach the ethereal plane and touch Him as a Christian. Never expected one as an atheist…

I was on vacation last week. My favorite kind. One with no agenda. My grandparents owned a place on a lake in Northern Michigan. As a child, and growing into an adult, we had one set rule at the Cabin—you do not have to do something just because everyone else was doing it. If everyone wanted to go swimming and you wanted to take a nap—you could take a nap. No pressure.

If we were going golfing, and you wanted to stay and read a book—GREAT! That was your choice. This developed into a very relaxed atmosphere in which I can vacation without always having to go somewhere or do something or have some itinerary dictating my day.

Sunday morning I went for my typical run. It was hot, and I ended up running a little farther than intended. After showering, and making my coffee, I headed down to the early morning lake to sit for a moment before the rest of the family was up.

I was clean and shiny with endorphins still flowing from my run. The lake was so calm that the boats moored in the water were not in line with waves (there were none) but were sporadically pointing in random directions. The water was clear and so calm that I could hear a raucous breakfast happening somewhere on the lake. Just far enough way to not make out words, but close enough to hear the laughter in the voices.

Not a cloud in the sky. It was a new day, fresh with the promise of a gorgeous Northern Michigan vacation. Just me, the sun, the water, and my coffee. The smell of pine was in the air.

I took that first sip of coffee. I don’t know if you are a coffee drinker, but if you are, you know what the first taste is like. After that, your tongue becomes accustomed to the bitter, rich flavor, but that first sip—oh is it heaven!

And in that instant, in a rush, I had a God moment. As I looked at nature surrounding me, I thought, “Certainly there must be some creator. This is far too beautiful for me to be lucky enough to roll the cosmic dice and be in such a pure state of ecstasy.”

To any theists out there—you want a great argument for a god? Stand with me on that dock. No, don’t say anything—every syllable you make only detracts from the argument. The strength of it is the silence and absorbing it with every attuned sense.

And then…slowly…as they do…the God moment recessed back. It shrank. I didn’t will it away. I didn’t will it to stay. It just…diminshed. I couldn’t help thinking, “We skeptics sure give theists a rough time about their god. We throw the Problem of Suffering out. We bring up the Tankah, the genocides, the flood over and over and over. We question why their god does what they claim he does. Why they claim he loves us, but never talks to us.”

That was god’s big opportunity! After all the questions, after all the blaming, after all the accusations of immorality, one would think that this would have been his big chance to appear and say, “But see? See? I did pretty good here, don’t you think?” Yet again, though, God did not choose to make an appearance.

I get that the God Moment was simply a time in which I was extremely happy. That a combination of senses and timing gave my brain an adrenaline rush it liked. In the time of my greatest despair, when I was begging for God to show me anything—he never came. In the time of my greatest ecstasy, when a slight shift would have revealed his presence—he never came. He was never there in the first place.

As my cup was almost empty, and the last lingering traces of the God Moment were clinging to my mind, I heard my oldest shout, “Dad! What’s for breakfast?!” And I was brought back to corporeal senses. This was what life was really about—making breakfast. Survival. God Moments are nice—they are mind re-chargers. Yet in the end, we must go return to living. To interacting, eating, sleeping, working, playing and being human.

I made eggs and bacon with a smile on my face. Me. An atheist. Having a moment of spirituality. Who’d a thunk it?