Why me, Lord? Why did I de-convert?
About a decade ago, I started a journey away from religion after 30 years of Christian belief. During the de-conversion process, I must have asked hundreds of questions about religious belief, faith, specific doctrine and the bible. But as my unsettling, difficult, paradigm-shifting quest wound down, and I reluctantly admitted I no longer believed in god, one stubborn question remained: Why me?
Why did I venture outside the box and begin to find so many standard doctrinal answers unsatisfactory, while my Christians friends stayed perfectly content in their faith? Why couldn’t I just drop the doubt and recommit my life to the Lord, as I’d seen “backsliders” do in the past?
I’m no smarter than many of my Christian friends, nor am I more sophisticated or better educated.
So what was it that caused me to push off from the comfortable port of fundamentalist belief, where I’d been happy for so many years, and set out – alone and wary – for unknown lands? Why did fellow travelers veer into nearby ports like the emergent church, liberal Protestantism or Catholicism, or more exotic destinations like Buddhism or New Age belief, while I was compelled to continue my journey?
This question occupied my thoughts for a couple of years. Then two childhood memories finally answered it.
One experience took place at Christmastime when I was probably 6 or 7. My mother and I were in the kitchen working on a craft project and my younger siblings were – for the moment – occupied elsewhere.
I had always believed in Santa Claus, but for some reason that day I started musing aloud about him. “You mean those reindeer can pull that sleigh around with all the toys for all the kids all over the world?” I looked over at mom, but she didn’t answer. She just smiled to herself. I persisted: “Can he really travel all over the whole entire world in one night, and get all those presents delivered on time?”
I expected mom to reassure me immediately and I was surprised when she didn’t. She just looked at me, still smiling mysteriously, and said, “Well, what do you think?”
In that instant, I knew. I’d been duped; lied to. And not only me, but all kids, everywhere. There was a vast adult conspiracy, and even mom was in on it. The realization, with its attendant loss of innocence, crushing disappointment and shock, was not dissimilar to my much later – and much more gradual – realization about god and religion.
But back to my girlhood, only this time a few years earlier. I’m 4 or 5, and I’ve crawled into my parents’ king-sized bed early on a Sunday morning. Mom and dad are talking about something I don’t understand. Dad, a secular Jew and amateur science buff, keeps mentioning some guy named Darwin and “natural selection.” I can tell this Darwin guy is upsetting mom, a fundamentalist Christian. But dad persists until mom is so angry she gets up and leaves the bed. Dad sighs – retreat is mom’s favorite way of ending an argument. But she can’t resist getting in the last word: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” she calls out from the bathroom. “Genesis 1:1.”
That’s it, end of discussion. And for me, it’s enough. I want to side with mom – I always want to side with mom – and I’d heard that phrase enough to know it was god’s word: The last word. After all, if god said it, I believed it. And that settled it.
Examining those two memories explained to me why I had stayed with religion for so many years, and why I finally left religion when so many of my friends and relatives have not. You see, like my dad, I’m a natural-born skeptic. I’ve never fallen for a financial scam, bought a “miracle cure” or gone to work for a multi-level marketing agency. I want proof before I buy something; good evidence before I believe. Just like it did with Santa, my mind naturally puzzles things out logically all on its own.
If mom hadn’t been so invested in my believing in god and going to church, I have no doubt I would’ve been an apostate by age 10. Or at least by age 20, when I went through a serious period of doubt during my early college years. It was the extreme importance that mom placed on religion, and the importance to me of not disappointing her, that caused me to exempt Christianity from my brain’s natural scrutiny.
Mom said it, I believed it, that settled it.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m sure it was no coincidence that I first allowed myself to entertain serious questions about Christianity as my mother sank into the fog of Alzheimer’s disease. Nor was it a coincidence that I realized I no longer believed during the grief-stricken year after her death in 2000. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was also during that year that my gay brother – who’d long estranged himself from the family – came out of the closet. Neither of us had been free to truly be ourselves while mom was alive.
I realize that skepticism doesn’t appeal to many people. Even in my ex-fundamentalist support group, probably 60% retain some belief in the supernatural. Some are still Christians (just not the fundy type), others are pagans, New Agers or just plain deists.
None of that appeals to me. Left to my own devices, I’m convinced now, I would have been an agnostic atheist many years ago. It just took me a lot longer than it should have.
How about you? Have you thought about why you entertained your own doubts when those around you did not?