In Jesus’ Name: My Deconversion

Wheaton-fallIt was Autumn on Wheaton’s campus, the trees were gorgeous quilts of soft browns and reds.  The air was refreshingly cool and  I was going out on one of my  prayerful evening walks, as was my custom.

A few months earlier I had returned from an eye-opening 1-year overland trip to India.  Since then,  I had been  confessing to friends that my Christianity had transformed and I could not longer comfortably call myself a “normal” Christian–or at least that is the best expression I could come up with at that time.   I could give my friends no more details as I, myself,  did not have a handle on on the changes happening in my own mind even though I could feel it happening.1

What I did know, however, was that I did not believe that all non-Christians were going to hell.  How did I know that?  No,  it was not because I had scrambled to the Bible to find passages to support my Universalism heresy.2 I realized that such Bible support was cheap.  For during the last several years I had met Christians from many denominations with hugely different doctrines and each with their own brilliant Biblical support.  I knew I could find the support if I needed it — and I would not have to sacrifice too much orthodoxy.  But my path was much simpler and from a Christian perspective,  equally worthy of condemnation —  I was listening to my subjective heart.

My hitchhike from Europe to Asia was made without money and had been fraught with dangers.  But I was kept safe by the kindness of people I had met on the journey — people of many faiths.  I was privilege to the generosity from many of them.  I saw the hearts of many people, for without common languages, the heart is often all I could see.  Also, at the end of that journey, I worked with Christian missionary groups both in Pakistan and India and I had a chance to compare the kindness of Christians and the kindness of “Pagans”.

emperors_new_clothesMy  Conclusion: Christianity did not guarantee a good person and being Pagan did not guarantee a godless heart — or so I would have phrased it at that time.  I started seeing that beliefs were more like clothing we wear than the substance of our souls.  Our beliefs are for appearance and to keep us warm, but beneath, our real selves remains unchanged by the clothing we call beliefs.3

These doubts alienated my Wheaton Christian friends from me.  Actually all my friends were Christian — I had no need for other friends at that time.  I could tell my friends were uncomfortable in our conversations and they avoided me when they could.  Three of my friends were my roommates but even our shared times became more awkward.  Consequently I was feeling a bit alone on my recent evening prayer walks.

Prayer_HeardThis evening, as I walked and as  I finished my prayer-conversation with God, I ended my prayer with,  “Amen”.  Then I remembered, “Oooops, wait !  I need to add ‘in Jesus’ name‘, because as a Christian, that is what makes my prayer effective.  It is only through Jesus that God hears our prayers.”  And then a huge wave of embarrassment of such a silly thought came over me as I thought of all the sincere non-believers who I had met in the last 2 years who don’t tag on the Jesus coupon to get their prayers heard.  I thought of their heart-filled prayers and of their love of the divine.4 I remembered their commitment to following sacrificial love and their giving without expecting in return.  I had been the recipient of such kindness on my Asian sojourn.  And yet, with out finishing their prayers correctly, these fine people had prayers that were meaningless before God.  God could not even hear their prayers because they did not tag on the Jesus coupon.   “No, no, don’t think like that.” My mind said to itself.  “It may seem simple and heartless, but remember the sacrifice, the resurrection, the debt of sin.  God’s ways are not man’s way.  It may seem complicated, but it is the truth.  You are a mere vessel, how dare you doubt !”  But in spite of all the warnings my Jesus-brain was now giving me, it was too late.  I could feel the momentum of doubt cracking the wall of hypnotism I had voluntarily constructed during the last 6 years of my Christian life.

Then I shivered realizing I was entertaining de-converting. And I knew that if I de-converted I would loose my girlfriend, all my friends and my dreams of my future Christian life.  After all, I graduated with a Psych degree from Wheaton College so I could do Christian Psychology and help believers in their doubts and their suffering.  What was I doing?  Here I was, just out of college for 1 year and still living in the city of Wheaton safely surrounded by my Christian community and if I continued on this path, I would loose it all.

“Wow”, I thought, “I am hesitating with pursuing this doubt because I am afraid of the social loss.”  Ironically, it seemed that I had a deeper choice than mere belief,  I was now about to make a decision between following the truth where ever it may take me or to stay committed to my beliefs because of what they offered me.”  And with that insight, when I saw how simple this choice was, I choose truth.  And indeed I eventually lost all my Wheaton friends, my girlfriend, my imagined career and a whole community.  All that knowledge of the Bible would mean nothing in my new world.  It felt like I had to start over.  What I did not foresee, was that I would gain good-hearted friends from various belief systems — religious and otherwise– without needing to sacrifice truth.  And indeed, operating from our human commonality with honesty gave me a supportive community more quickly than I imagined.  A life without my invisible friend Jesus and my true source of knowledge, the Bible, was not as empty as I had imagined.

_____________________
1.    In this story, I tell how new beliefs were appearing fuzzy in my head.  The mind is like that, our decisions and beliefs often form without our conscious intervention and it is not until our thoughts take a recognizable shape or a communicable form that our brain reveals them to us along with the illusion that we consciously constructed it. But I did not understand this part of the mind’s function until many years later.   You can read my view of self here.

2.   It was not until decades later that I learned other Christians  had actually searched the Bible to reveal a workable Universalism Theology.

3.   This “Beliefs as Clothing” analogy would stick with me for years and I continue to see it as very useful.   Clothing can hide much — that is why we go out of our way to choose clothing so carefully.  Clothing can say much too — if you buy into the cultural signals for clothing.  But our bodies are unaffected by our clothing.  Instead it is our choice of food, exercise and our habits that change our bodies.  Likewise, it not so much our beliefs that change our minds, but our mental habits, our actions and our associations.  Who we are may be motivated by beliefs, but what really forms our minds is our actions, thoughts and relationships.  Many different beliefs can result in the same outcomes.   Sure, lots of  belief sets end up in undesirable actions, attitudes, actions and relationships — I am not a relativist.  But just as there are many poor belief sets, there are many apparently contradictory belief sets that ironically result in similar healthy mental habits, attitudes, actions and relationships.

4.  This deconversion story is set at time when I was still a believer in God and so I was comparing fellow God believers to each other.  It was only later that I expanded my insight to realize that it doesn’t take a god-belief to have a good heart, deep meaning or to choose  good actions.

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21 Comments

Filed under Events, Personal

21 responses to “In Jesus’ Name: My Deconversion

  1. deconverting? no such thing my friend. Can you slowly make yourself believe your heart is not there…?

    You are obviously a searcher and I was myself. Yes, you don’t have to be “christian” to do good… God is already hot-wired into us – it’s called a soul – whether you read bible or not. humans have it, animals don’t.

    But more than knowing that you have God in you (created in his image remember?) – the Christian search is the search for the true NATURE of God.

    and that’s where Buddhism and Christianity are not one and same. God cannot be absent and present at the same time. One is obviously not right. Keep searching until you find the answers…. don’t settle for something IN BETWEEN, please… it’s as you say “lazy.”

    God gave you at least 5 ways to know him.

    1.) bible
    2.) church
    3.) holy men or saints by example
    4.) circumstances
    5.) REASON.

    yes, thinking is part of the way to be convinced… you are on the right path, my friend but don’t reject the other tools outright.

    God Bless

  2. apologies i got the five ways wrong…

    1.) bible
    2.) church and saints/holy men (same) – peers.
    3.) holy spirit – just ask God and then LISTEN for his reply…
    4.) circumstances – for when branch falls on your head for example when you curse hahah…
    5.) REASON.

  3. What happen to the poor holy men?
    Aren’t they controlled by the holy spirit?
    Then they write the Bible which not-so-holy-men used to make a church ! (smile)

  4. Larry C.

    I am so glad that dromoman has everything nailed down tight and figured out. Of course, bold, confident assertions are not facts.

    Sabio, I am enjoying your site and comments.

  5. Well thank you Larry, thanks for dropping in. Do drop in again !

  6. Sabio, I know in my faith journey of some 40 years my image of God has changed. I stretched much of christian theology until it broke. I would not call my self a christian any more, just a radical follower of Jesus as found in the gospels. I think there is a big difference. Sadly I think much of christianity is a god created in its own image.

  7. Tim

    Sabio, I applaud your commitment to an honest assessment of the laudable virtues of all who search for truth. Walking in the light that is available to each of us seems to be all that can be reasonably expected of anybody. The notion of the Pagan as an intrinsically broken vessel does not square with the sacrifices and truly noble acts that fill both myth and history proper. Many Christians are dishonest with the reasonable promptings of their own hearts, promptings to accept the “non-believer” as a good person. ” In my Father’s house there are many rooms, see I have prepared a place for you.” Open arms are mocked by closed minds.

  8. I’ve always thought of beliefs as clothing, too; for the same reasons you mention.

  9. @ JS
    It is good to know some Christians can understand.

  10. Pingback: One Hell of a Reason to Doubt – Lower Wisdom

  11. JamesB

    Very similar to my story. Thank you for telling it. It was very inspirational.

  12. @ JamesB
    Thanks for dropping in. I haven’t met many others who left because of this insight.

  13. JamesB

    @Sabio

    Yeah, I’m still formulating my story and maybe I’ll tell it soon and/or start up a blog. Not sure yet. Short version is that I was a Christian for basically all of my 39 years, but the last two years or so I slowly drifted away from it while simultaneously trying to hold on to some more palatable form. The first step was when our family left church (a story in itself). After that I began a slow journey through less “evangelical” forms of Christianity (reading Tillich, Pete Rollins, Borg, and a few others), trying hard to find a version that seemed to fit what I was feeling. In the end the only reason I could find to still hold on to my faith would be to either do it for the sake of tradition or ritual, neither of which drew me to it in the first place. So I just dropped it.

    That was only about two weeks ago.

    I have decided, as you said, to follow truth wherever it may take me. In describing my de-conversion to a friend about a week ago, I made an analogy similar to your clothing one, except I used masks instead. My attempts to hold onto some alternate form of Christianity was simply me continually swapping out masks, trying to find one that fit. In the end I couldn’t find any and just decided to remove my masks altogether.

    I really enjoy your site and your temperament; your beliefs seem to match mine in most areas. You also seem to be an incredible moderator when discussions start to get out of hand. I look forward to perusing the rest of the site and keeping up with your latest posts.

  14. @ JamesB
    Wow, thanx for sharing the new story. I remember those days like they were yesterday — it is a huge transition. If you get a chance, start a blog. I suggest you do it under an alias to protect family and friends and yet be able to write honestly.
    Write it down now, because your brain will re-write it slowly over the years and you will never be able to clearly capture today’s thoughts again.
    Thanks for the compliments on the site. I try to moderate well — sometimes I fail miserably. But I appreciate the patience of my readers.

  15. JamesB

    @Sabio

    The pseudonym is a great idea. It will allow me to be free with my thoughts. I’m thinking that, to start with, I will make the blog about my deconversion experience, chronicling how I feel now and how I felt leading up. I don’t need to act like some sort of expert on atheism because, let’s face it, I’m not. Hopefully I can demythologize some of the negative ideas of what atheism is and is not (I realize that is an old battle but I would at least like to add my pea shooter to the fray). One of the things that kept me hanging on to my Christianity for so long was not realizing that unbelief comes in all shapes and sizes; I viewed atheism as many view Christianity: I didn’t want to be one of “those” people so I avoided it out of fear and ignorance. In the end, embracing the truth was more important than any potential backlash so I made the leap of faith (away from faith?) and found it was but a step off the curb.

  16. @ JamesB
    Fun. I look forward to your blog. I’ll discuss details with you by personal e-mail if you are interested. Meanwhile, I have a few posts on Blogging which may help.

  17. Sabio.. I must go to bed. I’ve been studying your blog but still have much more to read. I adore your honesty and ability to share yourself so openly. I can’t wait to read more.

    Adrienne

  18. Thanks, “the warrioress” (Adrienne)

  19. I could feel the momentum of doubt cracking the wall of hypnotism I had voluntarily constructed during the last 6 years of my Christian life.

    That is good. The day I realized that I wanted to question this was the beginning of the end.

  20. @Alice,
    Indeed, flinching from doubt is the beginning of a very bad faith prognosis! :-)

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