The continued desire for a sense of Community after de-Conversion

November 30, 2008 at 5:54 pm 25 comments

Recently, in a post titled “Moving Beyond De-Conversion?” the question was raised by The Apostate about the purpose and usefulness of this site. Specifically, he asks:

But what about this site? Is it a help, or a hindrance to mature growth? Are we ex-Christians sulking about, fooling themselves that we are providing positive reinforcements for other non-believers and soon-to-be non-believers. Or is it what we say it is – a resource for former and skeptical religionists? Perhaps health and instruction is not part of what we do. Perhaps we are merely deconstructers, allowing the faithless to flounder in their own philosophies of non-belief. Is it possible for this sort of community to act as just another crutch, another religious-like entity that cannot think beyond itself?

In reply to the questions, I insisted that sites like this do have a positive affect because they provide a sense of community for a very marginalized group. As an American, I am constantly surrounded by the religious. Religious dialogs are impossible to avoid. They permeate our elections, they happen on the bus, they are handed out as fliers and pamphlets. Even if I wanted to “move beyond” Christianity, it would be an impossible task, because religion is simply unavoidable. Aside from the large Christian culture present in the US, my own family are all deeply religious, so religion will always be a part of my life, and I have to find ways to deal with that. One very helpful way is to communicate with fellow ex-Christians.

To any human being, a sense of community is a very important thing. I remember after George W. Bush was first elected hearing him give a speech in which he dropped several Christian buzz words. I don’t remember what they were exactly, but I turned to my mom and said, “It’s so cool. He’s speaking to us Christians. It’s like we have a secret language.” When I left Christianity I left my community, that group that I belonged to with its own secret language that I understood so well, with its rites and traditions that were so familiar, and with its built-in support system. Every friend, every family member I loved, and every school teacher I had were all Christians. I went from a large extended network of friends and mentors with a shared world view and value system to being completely alone. That loneliness was keenly felt when I went to college and realized that I’d never belong to a Christian fellowship group or go to another church potluck. As a Christian, I felt that no matter where I went, I already belonged to a community, but now I had to go it alone. And more than that, I had to be careful. I had no commonalities and no mutual starting point. Worse than that, I was constantly afraid of offending someone. Since Christians are such a vast majority, I think they tend to take it for granted that pretty much everyone else they meet are Christians too. As an atheist, I am also aware of the fact that virtually everyone else I meet is a Christian, and that makes me nervous. I don’t want to mention anything that could hurt their religious sensibilities. Can I talk about evolution around this person? Can I mention that I’m an atheist? I don’t know. There is no secret language to fall back on, no assured common ground. If I give myself up as a non-Christian then I give up the fact that I’m not a part of the established community. I’m not part of the club.

Christians like to downplay the communal aspect of their faith. They often say that they aren’t “church-goers,” or “Christians,” but just “followers of Christ.” They decry organized religion just as often as Christopher Hitchens, calling it a human distortion of God’s word, insisting that what really matters is not the extended religious community, but the personal relationship with Jesus.

In a recent Slate article, Paul Bloom looks at the correlation between religion and niceness (and happiness) and atheism and meanness (or unhappiness). He looks at studies conducted within the US and reports that Christians seem to be more moral and nice. He references a study from 2004 which found that “twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures,” showing that US Christians are also happier than their irreligious counterparts. He goes on to show that this division between religious and irreligious is not present in countries that are largely secular, such as Denmark and Sweden. He writes that, “If you look within the United States, religion seems to make you a better person. Yet atheist societies do very well—better, in many ways, than devout ones.”

So what’s going on here? Why are only American atheists the ones who feel so unhappy and unfulfilled? Bloom explains that the European secular countries maintain a strong sense of community, even religious community, without actually believing in God. He points out that most of these atheists still consider themselves culture Christians. They maintain the religious rites such as church marriages and infant baptism; their sense of community remains intact, despite the fact that they have ceased to believe in an all-powerful deity. Bloom explains that it is the communal aspects of religion, the very same ones that Christians in the US are so quick to dismiss, are those that have a positive affect. He explains that out of all of the facets of religious belief, the creation of a strong community is the most beneficial:

There are factual beliefs, such as the idea that there exists a single god that performs miracles, and moral beliefs, like the conviction that abortion is murder. There are religious practices, such as the sacrament or the lighting of Sabbath candles. And there is the community that a religion brings with it—the people who are part of your church, synagogue, or mosque.The positive effect of religion in the real world, to my mind, is tied to this last, community component—rather than a belief in constant surveillance by a higher power. Humans are social beings, and we are happier, and better, when connected to others.

American atheists do not enjoy the same benefits that those in secular European countries do. As soon as we forgo the devotion to a mythical deity, we lose our club membership, and we no longer receive the benefits of community life that religion provided. We are left to either go it alone or forge new communities of our own, such as the de-Conversion blog. Bloom concludes his article with a poignant paragraph about atheists living in America:

The sorry state of American atheists, then, may have nothing to do with their lack of religious belief. It may instead be the result of their outsider status within a highly religious country where many of their fellow citizens, including very vocal ones like Schlessinger, find them immoral and unpatriotic. Religion may not poison everything, but it deserves part of the blame for this one.

I don’t presume to speak for all, or even most atheists, but I can say that in my personal life, the cause of the most grief is not existential angst, fear of damnation, a lack of purpose or meaning, or any of the other things that the religious claim plague unbelievers. The cause of the most grief is my exclusion from the Christian community, and the attitude Christians have toward unbelievers. What hurts the most is knowing that my own family would likely disown me if they knew of my unbelief (or at the very least be incredibly disappointed in me and lament my lack of faith). It’s knowing that the majority of people in my life would consider me immoral, unpatriotic, hell-bound, and in short, a bad person if they knew that I didn’t believe in the God that they believe in.

The Apostate questions if such communities like de-Conversion might be nothing more than a “crutch,” and also suggests that religious communities might be nothing more than a crutch. In my opinion, the desire to belong to a community that brings the religious together with other religious people and the irreligious together with other atheists and agnostics is not a crutch, but a way to meet a vital need. I feel an intrinsic desire for the sort of communal connection that religion provides. I want to be able to interact with a group of people who share something in common with me, and that is understandable. It’s written into my evolutionary heritage and something that every person longs for. We all need community, regardless of whether we believe in the supernatural or only the material.

The Apostate also expresses a concern that a community organized according to a set of beliefs may be unable to “think beyond itself,” but I believe this pitfall can be avoided, especially by a community like the atheist/agnostic community, which is organized around one large generality: the disbelief of a God. We don’t have a dogma or a set of rites and rituals. Our beliefs are flexible, open-ended, and varied. You don’t have to swear by The God Delusion to join our club–you just have to desire membership. The same cannot be said of religion. If I don’t accept Jesus as my personal savior and conform to a specific set of moral beliefs, I can never really be considered a member of the Christian community. If atheism and agnosticism continue to maintain such flexible parameters, then we will remain open to new concepts and different practices. We will be able to think beyond ourselves by including a diverse group of people in our community who each have a unique set of personal morals and opinions. We also have the additional benefit of being able to forge communal ties with other groups. Because we do not hold the belief that we possess the ultimate truth to morality and the mysteries of the universe, we can freely associate with people of different beliefs, and we don’t have to be afraid of the influences of those outside of our community.

We all have a desire to fit into a group and find a label that suits us (even if that label is “nonconformist”). Although I accept the atheist label, it is not my only self-definition, nor the most important. I hope that the atheist community can adopt the positive aspects of religious community and improve upon them by being tolerant, inclusive, and open. I hope that we can be there for one another to provide friendship and support, while maintaining the ability to see ourselves as more than just atheists or ex-Christians, but as multi-dimensional people unique experiences, histories, and futures.

- orDover

Entry filed under: orDover. Tags: , , , , , .

Spirituality Re-Defined A Rebuttal to C. S. Lewis’ Trilemma

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Apostate  |  November 30, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Hmmmm. Hmmm… … Hmm….
    Good post. Let me think on this for a bit.

    I certainly don’t have anything against a shared community, in fact I believe in quite the opposite. However, I strongly believe that community should be based on positive structures rather than that of deconstruction or negative ideals. I don’t want to incorporate an ideology of victimhood or create a little anti-church.

    I like the passages on the difference between the United States and Europe (with Canada, I am sure, somewhere in between). The most interesting thing is the difference between “secular” or “humanist” Europe internally references itself compared to “atheistic” Americans. Secularized Europe was not a result of brooding atheism, but a complicated process of disillusionment with the Roman Catholic church and the failure of the Protestant church to properly engage with Modernism – the Protestant church in Europe merely became a fragmented version of the RC church. In North America, atheists are barely able to accept themselves, much less expect others to accept them.

    Perhaps what I am trying to say is that we need more community, not less. And perhaps we need liminal communities such as de-conversion to help us with this. My only fear is that live the evangelicals of Christendom, we de-converts may be stuck in a perpetual adolescence, never able to outgrow our rebellion against our childish past (be it fundamentalism for Christians or Christianity itself for the new nonreligious).

    Anyway, again, good post.

  • 2. orDover  |  November 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Apostate,
    I think my opinion of your article came across a little bit more negative than it actually was. I sort of just used it as a spring-board to go off into other areas.

    Anyway, I do agree that we need to make sure to grow out of the “perpetual adolescence” that can come with doing nothing but tearing down Christian claims, and I have a real hope that we, on individual levels, will all get there. However, I think that the negative and deconstructive aspects of the de-converted/atheist community might be there to stay because the Christian community is so large and aggressive. We have to take a defensive stance, we have to know why we believe what we believe, and that requires deconstruction. It may be enough for a Christian to just say, “I believe in God because I look at the world and see a Creator. I just feel like there must be a God,” but it isn’t okay at this point for an atheist to say “I look at the universe and I see no design. I just don’t feel like there is a God.” That opinion would not be respected. We have to have a solid foundation in order to have credibility. We’re the ones who have to (unfairly) shoulder the burden of proof, according to society.

    If the big three monotheistic religions lighten up a little bit, stop treating those who disagree with them with contempt and hatred, and stop their aggressive proselytizing campaigns, and learn to respect the disbelief of some just as much as the belief of others, then we won’t have to be all a big group of Negative Nancies. I don’t know if that will ever happen though.

  • 3. watercat  |  November 30, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Way overanalyzed. I joined an atheistic group because it was the only place I can find an intelligent conversation.

  • 4. the chaplain  |  November 30, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    If the big three monotheistic religions lighten up a little bit, stop treating those who disagree with them with contempt and hatred, and stop their aggressive proselytizing campaigns, and learn to respect the disbelief of some just as much as the belief of others, then we won’t have to be all a big group of Negative Nancies.

    I think that statement hits the nail on the head. De-converts, as the name suggests, necessarily define ourselves in contrast to another group. Even though some, perhaps many, of our posts here seem to dwell on the negative effects of religious belief, I’m pretty sure that the contributors and commenters who hang out here are living positive lives. We’re holding jobs, we’re taking care of our families, we’re involved in community groups, etc. What we see here is only one slice of our lives. This just happens to be the place where we can show that slice openly, without fear of rejection or recrimination. Perhaps we could make conscious efforts to write more about the positive aspects of our newfound freedoms, to balance things out a bit. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to allow people a place to ask questions and maybe even rant sometimes. Many people who hang out here can’t speak openly to spouses, friends, family members or co-workers. Like them (and you, perhaps), I know how painful that is. I think there’s value in letting them rant here and giving them metaphoric shoulders to lean on and ears to listen.

  • 5. blueollie  |  November 30, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    “twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures,”

    I’ll comment on this: I wonder if this is more correlation than causation.

    First, note that atheism is more common among the highly educated; for example 60 percent of scientists (in the US) are atheist or agnostic and 93 percent of those at the elite level (Academy of Science) are.

    Next: the more educated one gets, the more one realizes that one is very, very far from the apex of their profession.

    For example: when I got my undergraduate degree, I thought that I was good at mathematics.

    When I first got to graduate school, I found out that I wasn’t so bright after all, and my the time I got my Ph. D. and published my first peer reviewed paper, I thought of myself as a friggin idiot!

    In other words, as my abilities and knowledge increased, my awareness of my ignorance decreased. Also, I became aware of the huge gap in ability there was between me (a small college professor) and the stars who were headed to the great research departments.

    There is some comfort in ignorance. :-)

  • 6. amanda  |  December 1, 2008 at 12:44 am

    MAIL KELLI’S SOAP

    I am really excited about secularism right now. There are a LOT more “non-religious” people than you think out there. the religious right are a small group with a disproportionate amount of power and attention. As religion wanes and secularism becomes the norm, we as a group are going to undergo some growing pains. Right now, the group is in the angry teenage years. I went through a period of being really angry at religion for a myriad of reasons – most of which are currently being rehashed ad nauseum by atheists in the media and blogosphere.

    Now I’m focusing on more positive atheism. We absolutely cannot – CANNOT – reject normal, moderate religious groups. I hate to sound like a hippie, but we all have to unite together with a common goal of peace, justice and happiness. (most of the people in my family are all mildly religious. None of them are threatening, and I think that most religious people in America are moderate like this.)

    Neo-con right wing religious crazies who try to inject religion into the law or who try to quash our freedoms and inhibit progress are a small but overly powerful group. We have to unite with the moderates to quiet these divisive fundamentalist factions.

    So yes, we do need to wear our Atheist badges proudly so moderates, skeptics, atheists, etc, can feel free to come out as such. But you shouldn’t have to ONLY hang out with other atheists.

    Along those lines, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance that small community churches have as social centers. In my hometown, I believe that most people go to church as a social gathering. We need our own fraternities! Atheists get lonely too!
    (I’ve started a local meetup.com group for skeptics and atheists).

    Friendly social activities. Reaching out to our other humans, no matter what their religion. UNDERSTANDING, not just tolerance. Less anger, more happiness! One reason atheism has been so wonderful for me is the freedom and awe it has allowed into my life. (Jeez, I sound like someone born again, eh? hahaha)

    But seriously. There’s no reason to be so angry. You know what will drive the fundamentalists crazy? Guiltless hedonism and happiness.

    Peace out, friends!

  • 7. amanda  |  December 1, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Ignore the MAIL KELLI’S SOAP. LOL… accidentally must have hit Ctrl-P
    :-)

  • 8. Richard  |  December 1, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Now I’m focusing on more positive atheism. We absolutely cannot – CANNOT – reject normal, moderate religious groups.

    Amen to that! I get really frustrated with the response of some other atheists and agnostics to moderate — and especially liberal — religion, whom they basically lump in with the fundys as just that many more people who believe untrue things. As orDover in her post, we are fundamentally social creatures, we need community, and religious liberals share more with us, in our basic values and goals, than not.

    American atheists have an image problem. Some prominent, vocal, and pugnacious atheists — who get the spotlight — want very much to paint all religion with the same brush, and almost willfully refuse to develop a nuanced view of religious life, such as whether there might be more destructive aspects to religion and less destructive ones. And just will not entertain the possibility that there are, at least sometimes, more important things to human life than what one *believes*.

    I agree wholeheartedly that we need community, but I think a big part of that involves building bridges with those who share our (basically Enlightenment) values. Alienating those who would otherwise work with us for separation of church and state, potentially vote for an atheist candidate, or otherwise make common cause with us, by means of overheated rhetoric only hurts us in the long run and deepens our isolation.

    etc orDover emphasized tolerance and advocated “flexible paramenters”. Hear, hear! And I think part of what this means is keeping a lid on our own rhetoric and reigning in those who dont.

  • 9. The Apostate  |  December 1, 2008 at 3:33 am

    orDover,

    I think my opinion of your article came across a little bit more negative than it actually was. I sort of just used it as a spring-board to go off into other areas.

    Nonsense. It is a credible critique of a post I wrote that was more inquisitive than accusative. It was more self-reflection than pointing figures.

    However, I think that the negative and deconstructive aspects of the de-converted/atheist community might be there to stay because the Christian community is so large and aggressive.

    Very true, I just wonder how much ammo we sometimes give them (although probably not as much as they give us :P).
    Perhaps there is a way of doing both (deconstructing and reconstructing) without being so linear. Part of what makes us irreligious is our skepticism, correct? Maybe what I am arguing for is for a healthier balance of critique and progression/growth.

    We have to take a defensive stance, we have to know why we believe what we believe, and that requires deconstruction.

    But what do we believe? As far as I am concerned de-converts are not homogeneous in any sense. We have atheists, agnostics, humanists, naturalists, mystics, Buddhists, mainstream Christians, etc. etc. etc. among us. Even if we speak specifically of atheism agnosticism (the root of this blog), the only commonality is the lack of a belief. And as far as I am concerned, the apologetics of atheism only goes so far. Although it is addicting, we have to remember that calling one self an “atheist” is no different, positively speaking, than referring one self as an “aunicornist” – except that there are a lot more of us “aunicornists” than there are “atheists” (and not nearly as much literature on the nature of unicorns as their is on the nature of god[s]).

    … That opinion would not be respected. We have to have a solid foundation in order to have credibility. We’re the ones who have to (unfairly) shoulder the burden of proof, according to society.

    …which is why I said “atheists barely accept themselves” (I’m too lazy to check my exact words). Who are we trying to convince?

    If the big three monotheistic religions lighten up a little bit, stop treating those who disagree with them with contempt and hatred, and stop their aggressive proselytizing campaigns, and learn to respect the disbelief of some just as much as the belief of others, then we won’t have to be all a big group of Negative Nancies.

    Don’t forget – people will use their religion, or nonreligion, to make excuses for whatever is in their “hearts.” Religionists may be contemptuous, hateful, and aggressive, but they are also respectful, loving, and peaceful. Negative nancies will continue to disproportionally focus on the adverse – all this does is continue the polarizing affect between naturalists and supernaturalists. I, for one, do not want to aggravate the issue – I think we could learn from the Saint Paul’s admonitions to his Christian followers to be beyond reproach in some cases… if only for pragmatic reasons.

  • 10. TitforTat  |  December 1, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Im curious, for all the persons who have de converted, did your personalities change once you deconverted? And if no, wouldnt that mean if you were an aggressive “Christian” you would now just be an aggressive “Atheist’?

  • 11. ED  |  December 1, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    “And if no, wouldnt that mean if you were an aggressive “Christian” you would now just be an aggressive “Atheist’?”

    I don’t think so. I was moderately aggressive in my zeal as a christian, but today I have a much more live and let live attitude. During thanksgiving dinner, I actually prayed over the meal. I did it primarily for my elderly mother and father. My children were expecting lightening to strike me at any moment.
    This morning my old friend called who is dying from cancer called and asked me to pray for him. This isn’t the time to knock the mans props out from under him by telling him that I was at best, an agnostic – so I prayed for him.

    Being an atheist for me means having the sensitivity and wisdom to know when to engage christian intrusion and when to offer comfort, even if that comfort is delusional.

  • 12. Digital Dame  |  December 1, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    I think sometimes these blogs (all atheist-oriented blogs, that is) seem to focus on the negative aspects of religion at least partly because we are often confronted here by zealous Christians trying to point out to us the error of our ways. They in effect force us to go on the defensive, which spirals into fantastic arguments.

    As for being an “aggressive atheist”, the only time I ever hear atheists bring the subject up is, again, when confronted by zealous Christians. We don’t go door-to-door, we don’t stand around on street corners ringing bells or passing out tracts. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve bitten my tongue when someone goes into god-talk around me.

  • 13. orDover  |  December 1, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Apostate,

    But what do we believe? As far as I am concerned de-converts are not homogeneous in any sense.

    Well, that was sort of my point about the unfair burden of proof we have to deal with. I agree that as a community we don’t have a real shared set of beliefs, but I do as an individual, and I have to confront theists as such. I feel pressure to have solid reasons why I reject Christianity, because as I said, saying “I just feel like it” isn’t accepted.

    Who are we trying to convince?

    We’re trying to convince society, at this point. I want to still be allowed to be an American even though I am an atheist. According to Bush Sr., atheists should not be given constitutional rights. I feel the need to prove myself to religious people so that they will understand that I am not an immoral Satan-worshiper, that I have a foundation for moral values, that I care about right and wrong, etc, all because I don’t want to be looked down upon and excluded.

    Don’t forget – people will use their religion, or nonreligion, to make excuses for whatever is in their “hearts.” Religionists may be contemptuous, hateful, and aggressive, but they are also respectful, loving, and peaceful. Negative nancies will continue to disproportionally focus on the adverse – all this does is continue the polarizing affect between naturalists and supernaturalists.

    I agree that religion is often just an excuse, and I don’t mean to just harp on the negative aspects of religion, but it is obviously these negative aspects that I have a problem with. If religion were like knitting, as the analogy goes, I wouldn’t be even writing this. I don’t expect all war and violence to end if religion ends.

    The source of much of the negative aspects of religion comes from the utter certainty that believers have that they are right. If religions just gave up that, if they just had the humility to admit that they might be wrong (as many of the liberals do), then we wouldn’t be dealing with their aggression and wrath to such a degree.

  • 14. orDover  |  December 1, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Im curious, for all the persons who have de converted, did your personalities change once you deconverted? And if no, wouldnt that mean if you were an aggressive “Christian” you would now just be an aggressive “Atheist’?

    My personality didn’t really change, but I went from a moderately aggressive Christian to a very passive atheist (more so in the real world than online).

    When I was a Christian I was so certain that I was right that I felt like I could never loose any argument. That gave me a lot of courage to challenge people who were even older and smarter than me. And of course I had the motivation of salvation–I just wanted to help people get to heaven. I was never the kind to go hand out tracts at the mall, but if I ever encountered an unbeliever one-on-one, online or in life, I was quick to try to sway them to the faith.

    Now as an atheist, I’m very careful of what I say. I want to be respectful of others’ beliefs just as I want them to be respective of mine. I’ll defend myself when required, and I’ll make a few challenges if the setting is right, but all in all I try to avoid confrontation. I always make it clear that I am an atheist, but I don’t try to convince anyone else to follow in my footsteps.

    Online things are a little bit different, but I still try to be passive. For example, instead of going to a Christian site and challenging their beliefs and doctrine, I hang out here where criticism of religion is welcome and presumably will not directly offend anyone. Obviously when Christians come around I’ll challenge what they have to say, but that is due largely to the context of this forum.

  • 15. freestyleroadtrip  |  December 1, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    I think that communities of like-minded folk are important. It is good to mingle with those you know think like you think. It is a place of safety. It is a place of rest. It doesn’t matter if that is a group of Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, whatever. It is good to get together. When that like-minded group though, extends itself and imposes itself on others, it goes too far. I am a Christian, used to be a “fundy,” but have grown to be able to completely validate what you decons and atheists say. I find that I have much to learn from you. If all of our like-minded groups could realize that each of us holds a bit of truth and seek to learn that truth from each other, we would be in a much better place as the human race. We will never get anywhere by forcing our beliefs or lack of beliefs on each other. I think you have a great thing going here on the decon sight.

  • 16. Kat  |  December 2, 2008 at 5:18 am

    orDover, God led me to your post today. ;)

    I’ve secretly stopped attending Sunday services at the megachurch where I work (like anyone would notice) and started attending at this tiny little Lutheran church in another part of the city. Why?

    1. If I ever become a Christian again, this seems to be the denomination that has a view similar to my ‘Your salvation is ultimately your and God’s business, so I’m not going to poke my nose in it’ view. They also focus more on social justice and helping fellow humans. (I don’t know how the Lutherans are in your country, but here, they’re all right.)
    2. It reminds me of where I grew up. I like the community.

    There is one moment during the service, however, when I feel very lonely: communion.

    It isn’t like Catholic churches where they line up and then go back to their seats, or like the newer churches where they stay in their seats and the bread and wine comes to them. At this church, they all kneel or stand around the altar, and the pastor and his assistants go down the line, praying over children and distributing the elements to the adults. Everyone dined together. It wasn’t just communion with God, but communion with the community of God.

    I really wanted that, but I felt it wouldn’t be right, considering that I no longer recognize the significance of the bread and wine. It’s not so much out of a fear of a certain teaching (taking communion while disbelieving must be condemned) but out of respect for those who still believe.

    That afternoon, I wondered if the sense of community alone were worth a return to Christianity. But as much as I’d like to be part of the club again, I know I can only be a Christian if I truly believe, again, that Jesus is the Christ and the Bible the Word of God. I feel that joining for friends is about as false as joining out of fear of hell. And I don’t like the idea of having to lie to my newfound family during whatever induction ceremony might be held.

  • 17. Kat  |  December 2, 2008 at 5:28 am

    Argh, I didn’t paste these bottom paragraph that was in my notepad:

    This part –

    You don’t have to swear by The God Delusion to join our club–you just have to desire membership. The same cannot be said of religion. If I don’t accept Jesus as my personal savior and conform to a specific set of moral beliefs, I can never really be considered a member of the Christian community.

    – pretty much explains it.

    Now, I wonder – should I keep going to church, considering that I still believe in God? Considering that I’m still open to a convincing argument for Jesus and the Bible? Or, considering the pain of being left out during the high point of community during the service, should I find something else to do on Sunday?

  • 18. ubi dubium  |  December 2, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Kat,

    Consider a few alternatives. You love having a community, but don’t have the faith that the Christians require. Is there a Unitarian church in your area? That sounds like just the right place for you right now.

    This is from their website: “Unitarian Universalism is a caring, open-minded religion that encourages you to seek your own spiritual path. Our Faith draws on many religious traditions, welcoming people with different beliefs. We are united by shared values, not by creed or dogma. Our congregations are places where people gather to nurture their spirits and put their faith into action by helping to make our communities—and the world—a better place.” My Mom’s a Unitarian, so I see a lot of what goes on, there’s community, music, social activism, even potlucks! All the “church stuff” minus the dogma.

    If you have an Ethical Society in your area, that might also work. It also has the sense of community, but belief in the supernatural is optional.

  • 19. TitforTat  |  December 2, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Ubi Dubium

    Thanks for the reference to Unitarian Universalism, my wife and I stopped tradition church going a while back and this place looks pretty interesting. ;)

  • 20. Digital Dame  |  December 2, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    @Kat:

    (I would have sent you this on your own blog since I’m veering off-topic, but didn’t see a “contact” button, sorry if I missed it)

    The Lutherans here in the US don’t allow you to take communion in their churches unless you are a baptised, and confirmed Lutheran. I’m an ex-Catholic, and attended Episcopalian churches for awhile, Methodist, a four-square gospel church, then a Lutheran church (where I was never made to feel as unwelcome as I was there). The Lutherans are in their own way as strict as Catholics.

  • 21. SnugglyBuffalo  |  December 2, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Digital Dame, that actually depends on the sub-sect of the Lutheran Church you are talking about. I know of at least 3 groups in the US, though I don’t remember their exact names (they’re all different “synods”).

    The strictest don’t allow you to take communion unless you are confirmed in that specific church; even if you belong to the same synod as the church you’re attending, you can’t take communion if it’s not the church you’re a member of.

    The most “liberal” of the 3 synods I know of pretty much have open communion: anyone can take communion, no questions asked.

    And the last synod is like the one you describe, where you just have to be a confirmed Lutheran to take communion. They also tend to bend the rules, typically allowing Catholics to take communion as well (or at least the pastor I spoke with does), or anyone that the pastor can talk to and make sure understands and believes in the general Lutheran view of communion.

  • 22. jfatz  |  December 3, 2008 at 2:15 am

    Kat: And I don’t like the idea of having to lie to my newfound family during whatever induction ceremony might be held.

    …then don’t lie to them. It’s possible you don’t know that community too well yet, but one you would mesh with is–I’m relatively certain–one that would accept you regardless.

    I grew up relatively agnostic (though with a fascination with biblical stories), but also thankfully did so in a large Reform Jewish congregation, and one where you could see every stripe of devoutness, from atheist to the Rabbi.

    To retell an account of my mother’s experience, a little background is needed: she’s an agnostic atheist as well, but took Adult Confirmation classes and attended Dinners With the Rabbi out of personal interest–and tended to know more Torah than anyone outside of the Rabbi there ;-) In fact, she was raised Methodist and converted when she married my father… (which explains it somewhat, as they tend to take more interest in the specifics of the faith than those raised in it).

    At any rate, at one Dinner With the Rabbi, conversation led around to a show of hands as to who “did not believe in God.” She raised hers, another raised his (which did not surprise me), but even _I_ was surprised by one of the hands… It was one of the four or five people who commonly wrote the Torah interpretations each month for the newsletter! (My mother was the editor of the newsletter from the beginning, and one of the founding members of the temple. I put together the newsletter myself for a while, too, when she couldn’t.)

    One of the women there was damn near sputtering “…but, but… WHY?” but the Rabbi himself seemed to know, and certainly the conversation remained theological, but never browbeating. No one’s position in the Temple was compromised (the other hand I was not surprised to see had been both a Brotherhood and Temple president, and shows up at the Soup Kitchen every month, and was another founding member), no one’s Torah interpretations were pulled, and aside from one or two examples, people nodded and followed the dinner discussion. No one was directly preached to or proselyted to… it was simply an expected part of the community.

    Back to your own experience, I know you probably don’t know them all that well yet, but your options are not “lying to them” or “not joining them.” Speak the truth (perhaps first in private to the Minister, if you want to keep it personal and “test the water” first, such as it were), and offhand I think if it’s a community you really WOULD want to join… they’ll embrace your wanting to be part of the community, rather than excoriate your current theological stances.

    If they do…? Well, you have your answer much more directly. Same with if they simply want to overtly proselytize and “save” you. No loss there, since I don’t think you would be comfortable in such a community to begin with.

  • 23. Rebuilding a Community of Friends « Closeted in Academia  |  December 6, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    [...] who leaves the christian faith, but whose entire life revolves around the christian community: The continued desire for a sense of Community after de-Conversion: “I don’t presume to speak for all, or even most atheists, but I can say that in my [...]

  • [...] for people who have or who are considering defecting from a faith (e.g., Closeted in Academia and De-Conversion), it has become apparent to me that if you are a religionist and you fear the above listed [...]

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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