In Jesus’ Name: my next deconversion step

Wheaton-fallIntroduction

It was Autumn on Wheaton College’s campus (an Evangelical Christian college in Illinois), 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 in those days.

A few months earlier I had returned from an eye-opening one-year overland hitch-hiking trip to India. Since then I had been confessing to friends that my Christianity had transformed and that 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 had a difficult time telling my friends why my Christianity was no longer “normal” except that I did not believe that all non-Christians were going to hell.  I still felt I was a Christian but deep inside, this really felt like only the beginning of my deconversion.  Would it be only a deconversion from the Evangelical/charismatic flavor of Christianity that I had embraced, or would it go further — I wasn’t certain.

My First Deconversion Step

So how did I make that first step in my deconversion? It was not because I had deeply studied the Bible to find passages to support Universalism. But instead, after one year of wonderful encounters with people of many different faiths, and also those who were religion-free, I could no longer belief/feel that they were all be going to hell simply because they didn’t believe what I believed.

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 these “pagans”.

I saw that a good heart could be shared by Christians, other faiths and the religion-free folks alike. 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 (among fellow believers), but beneath, our real selves remain unchanged by the clothing we call beliefs.

My Second Deconversion Step

These universalist doubts alienated my Wheaton Christian friends from me. By that time in my life, all my friends were Christian and now I could tell they were  all very uncomfortable in our conversations and so they avoided me and that isolation help nurture my doubts.

Prayer_HeardThat isolation accompanied on my walk that autumn evening.  But I still believed in God and his son Jesus and I still prayed often.  But this evening, as I walked and as I finished my prayer-conversation with God, I ended my prayer with only a simple  “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.”

These verses chastised me:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me[a] for anything, I will do it. –John 14:13-14 (NRSV)

And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. — 1 John 5:14-15 (NRSV)

But 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 two 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 their gods and ideals — Hindu, Muslims and Buddhist. 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, my simple Christian belief was that without finishing their prayers correctly (without using my god), 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.  “Don’t doubt!  Stay faithful! It may seem simple and heartless, but remember Jesus’ sacrifice, his resurrection, and how he paid 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 that 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 six years of my Christian life.

Consequences of Doubt

Then I shivered as realizing that I was actually 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 Psychology 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 wherever it may take me or to staying committed to my beliefs because of what they offered me.  And with that insight, when I saw how simple this choice was, I chose truth.

And indeed, eventually, I did lose 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 many more 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.

_____________________
Notes

  • See my view of self here to see how beliefs are more complicated than we imagine.
  • It was not until decades later that I learned how some flavors (a minority) of Christianity believed in universalism.

23 Comments

Filed under Events, Personal

23 responses to “In Jesus’ Name: my next deconversion step

  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!:-)

  21. David Altman

    My brother (Deconverted Man on YouTube) deconverted several years ago. I’ve been supporting his skepticism, and he supports my faith – he calls me a “reasonable theist,” since I accept biological evolution and the age of the earth (4.5 billion years) as being true.

    As far as my Christianity goes, while I still go to church (mostly for the praise segment & fellowship), I do NOT hold to most of what the church says, because it’s against science.

    I feel more like the IDEA of Jesus is what’s important, rather than if Jesus is an actual person or not. Is there truth in the Jesus myth? There may be – but I feel like the ideals are more important.

    Atheists, skeptics and believers of all kinds can agree on the principle of doing good to (and for) others; do the most good, least amount of evil you can. My brother calls this “utilitarian ethics.”

    I recognize that my faith is not supported by facts, and I’m ok with that. If there is a truth out there, I’m looking for it… perhaps, some day, we will find empirical evidence and / or a repeatable test for God. Until then, my brother will remain skeptical. I will continue to believe, until (and unless) I find a reason (personally) not to.

    Thanks for making this page! It’s great!

  22. @ David,
    I understand the desire of so many liberal Christians to stay in the fold. It gives them a sense of belonging, meaning, sanctity and more — even if the strip down their religion to be unrecognizable to orthodoxy. You all could construct your moral philosophy and meaning around any figure, but you choose the one you were raised with, the one with is a flag to your community. It is all so convenient. I understand that.

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