This post was inspired after I read some brave deconversion stories of ex-Christians. I am ashamed to admit that unlike them my deconversion from Christianity was both unscholarly and cowardly. Below, then, is the my confession of a pathetic deconversion — well, a few bits, anyway. I thought I’d share this because, it is important to realize the variety of dec0nversions that can occur (from any religion).
Not a Theological deconversion
I’ve read the deconversion stories of very bright people who had decades of deep Bible study and commitment to Jesus before giving up the ghost (Holy Ghost, that is). Compared to these folks my Christian days were short and shallow. Some of these folks were pastors and others were scholars. Reading their criticisms of Christianity are enlightening. But my deconversion was pathetically simple. I was never sucked into the anti-science type of Christianity, so learning science was not why I left. I also was never was a systematic theologian type, so seeing the problems in any given theology was not why I left. Though I had a year of theology and read a lot, my Christianity was not one of my head.
My I-am-not-special deconversion
Instead, I left because I didn’t see Christians (myself included) as being special or different from non-believers in ways that the propaganda of my Christianity professed. I left to rejoin the rest of humanity, declaring myself to again be one with them. With my departure from Christianity, my world quickly broadened as I dropped the burden of Christian exceptionalism.
My downfall began several years after my born-again experience, when I hitchhiked to India and met lots really fine non-Christians: Hindus, Muslims, atheists and more. Those experiences and others on the trip destroyed my Christian exceptionalism. See my post – Hinduism was my Undoing.
Deconversion feelings but no thoughts yet (pre-thought: Meta-thought)
On returning from India, I finished up my last semester at my Christian college (Wheaton). As many ex-pats agree, it is strange coming back to your mother country and pretending that you haven’t changed. To everyone else I looked the same even if I had a few interesting stories. Not only did I feel different about America after exposures to people who loved their country and had naive patriotism like mine, but I also met sincere believers in many faiths and so likewise I knew my opinion about Christianity had changed radically.
Yet, though I knew my feelings had changed, they had not formed into thoughts yet (see my post on Meta-Thoughts). So with out words or clarity, I could neither fully admit it to myself nor even discuss it with my Christian friends.
My three roommates were all Christians (all three actually born and raised Evangelicals). Heck, my girlfriend was Christian (a missionary kid from India) while I had been raised in a nominal Christian home. So inside I knew that deconverting would cause me great trouble with these totally enculturated friends. That may be part of the reason my deconversion took a couple of years.
First step: Cowardly Partial Confessions
But even though I was not outright in my doubts, I was no longer enthusiastic about Christian things and my friends noted my change of behavior. No longer was I spending hours in the basement praying — as I had earlier. I barely cracked the Bible and I didn’t use stock Christian phrases any more. The deconversion came in stages.
The first step took place when one of my friends (probably put up to it by the others) finally asked me, “Sabio, are you still a Christian.” It was then that I took the next big step and partially confessed: “Well,” I said “I certainly am no longer a Christian in a way you guys are Christians.” And then there was silence. They did not want to push it. They would rather hope I was just temporarily doubting than admit I wasn’t Christian. And I was grateful too, I didn’t want understand myself any further either. Too much was at stake.
Running Away makes Deconversion Easier
Eight months after my return to Wheaton, I graduated (my undergrad took 5 1/2 years). Wheaton is near Chicago, Illinois. After graduating, I needed a job and new home and so took the opportunity to move two hours north to Madison, Wisconsin.
I no longer fit in that Evangelical-soaked culture — I knew I was escaping. But ironically, I jumped out of the skillet, into the fire. I had friends connect me with a Christian communal household of men where I had a room. But that was uncomfortable after six months, so I moved out and lived on my own.
It was only then, after casting off all my close connections to Christians, was I finally able to admit to myself and then others that I wasn’t a Christian. My “coming-out” was much less painful that way. Even though I still considered myself mystically religious, I was OK saying I was not a Christian. Only much later did I leave the mystical theology behind too.
Many Christians leave their Christianity after decades of commitment. Many leave while they are still in their community of friends and family. Unlike these folks, my exit was pathetic. And unlike many ex-Christians, my deconversion wasn’t so much about the Bible and intellectual concerns, it was simply about people. I had no more felt need to be exceptional — and I certainly wasn’t!
Sure, some Christianities are not as into exceptionalism as mine was, some are far less magical and exclusive, but my God-switch is off and I am much more knowledgeable about the Bible and the many varieties of Christianity than I was in my Christian days. I am also far less cowardly. So it is unlikely that any twisted knots in theology can make the Christian flock and their various Christianities look enticing again.
It is nice out here!
Questions to Readers: If you are an ex-Christian, share some factors in your deconversion. If you are a Christian, play a thought experiment with us: imagine you realized Christianity was false, what things in your life could you see obstructing you from admitting it. And for you atheists who have never been an adult believer, you can just listen because you probably can’t even begin to understand some of our feelings and experiences. 🙂