Finding home again after de-conversion

February 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm 13 comments

February 17, 2008, I preached my last sermon, said my good-byes, and changed out of my clergy garb for the last time. Since then, I’ve learned some things similar to Josh’s experiences, though our roads have had some different curves.

Where do you go when you leave the church?

1. I went back to church:

I got a job back in the town I had grown up in, and attended a few Lutheran worship services with friends who were part of the worship team there. It’s a beautiful service, but I was suddenly an outsider. Even as a theist, I would not participate in hymns or prayers I could not support the message of. Now, there was little I could give voice to. I had to get out and put some space between myself and church.

2. I studied other religions:

An old friend found me on Facebook. He’s been a member of the Sikh clergy since I last saw him. We exchanged a few stories, and I started reading up on Sikhism. I admired much of their philosophy that I could find, but I had no real connection to it.

3. I looked for a church-replacement:

I did Google searches for secular or humanist groups around here, with no success, then tried “universalism”. If nothing else, people who described themselves with such a term would not consider me hellbound.

I attended several services at the local Unitarian Universalist church. The similarities and differences between what I saw there and what I was accustomed to intrigued me. There were the rituals and chances for human interaction that church offered, as well as music and presentations on aspects of life and how to live it.

After attending a few times, I ran into some old friends who were now members of the UU. We caught up on old times and they asked me to lead a service at the UU for their newborn child. With the father now identifying as a secular humanist, and the wife still identifying as a theist Christian, they felt I could help provide a middle ground with something similar to a baptism, without the baptism part- a celebration and welcoming of new life.

This was a wonderful experience, but I did not feel a part of this community, really, nor any driving desire to become a part of the community. I still go back when I see they’ll be talking about something I find particularly interesting.

4. I hung out on the Internet.

This list isn’t particularly in chronological order. Throughout all of this, I was hanging out here, and on several other forums for ex-theists, atheists, humanists, secularists, freethinkers, etc. I even joined a short-lived forum for self-professed Christian heretics.

I really appreciate this community. You all have helped me through some rough times of transition. It is important to see others are struggling with the same issues, and helpful to argue and occasionally vent. At the same time, I sometimes find myself getting angrier and more frustrated then I want to be. More often than I’d like, I’ve begun to express that frustration.

There’s only so far that I can get, as well, in response to who I am not or who I used to be.

5. I tried again with the church replacement group:

I wanted to be a part of a group that stands for something, that tries to make a positive difference as part of who they are, and that I can meet with in person.

I went out one Sunday morning, and sat in a park for an hour of silence with the local Quakers. No sermon, teaching, preaching, and no committment asked- just silent meditation in the midst of nature. After, the members talked, and included me in theri conversations. Their passions of environmentalism, education and literacy tell me more about them than their church, but that does not trouble me.

It’s a lovely experience, but I’ve started socializing on Saturday nights, making Sunday mornings harder to be present for.

6. I start mixing and matching:

I met an intelligent and impressive young woman who I find out second-hand is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I ask her about it. She tells me her take on it and directs me to a website where I can look for myself. I listen to a podcast, and my jaw drops as I hear a presenter speaking about druidry as being adopted as a name for largely borrowed and cobbled-together philosophies and shared values of present worth, but little historical veracity. All right, that bit wasn’t very surprising; what stunned me was that the presenter’s comments were met with laughter! His audience of druids joyfully acknowledged they were largely making up their rituals and inventing their history, for the purpose of shared stories and thus community.

I had been a member of a group who did much the same thing for most of my life, but it would have broken most of the people around me to admit it. Including me.

Most intriguingly, I found a group of Druidic Naturalists (sadly, you have to log in to read anything on their site, but I found it more than worth my while). They were adopting the language and philosophies of various druidic traditions for their aesthetic value, while practicing a naturalistic worldview.

Several liberal Christians who have visited this site have asked why we can’t adopt Christian language and symbolism, though we don’t believe the stories actually happened. I can’t do this. One, because those stories meant so much to me when I did believe, and two, without belief in the God in the stories, I saw little worth in most of the stories, as stories. With Druidry, I did not have that problem (though I might when I actually learn more of their stories).

So, I finally had a philosophy I could value and support, in a shared language that intrigued me, that I could practice silently in the gatherings of local Quakers and have the benefit of face to face fellowship.

And once I found it, I no longer really felt the need for it.

7. I spend time with my wife and friends, engaging in hobbies and activities I’ve been away from for years:

Back in my old hometown, I gradually re-connected with some old friends. Those I had nothing in common but our shared faith, we drifted apart again shortly after re-connecting. But not every activity I had engaged in was based on my theism. I spent some of my latter teen years as a gamer geek- I used to semi-regularly gather with friends around a table with pencils, paper and dice, and pretend to be an elf, pirate, vampire hunter, courtly diplomat, or other such-like, following rules from several published games or ones written by friends of mine.

I actually met my wife through an old gaming group, many moons ago.

After roughly a decade, friendships evolve and people move and return, but my wife and I found ourselves part of three regularly meeting gaming groups, mostly made up of old friends. Some of these friends are Christians of various flavours. Some are pagans of one stripe or another. Some are secular humanists. One is trying to get a local branch of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster up and running. All of us are geeks who love a good story and enjoy gathering to kibitz and share laughter.

I may again feel the need for philosophy, meditation, membership labels, and trying to make an impact on the larger world. Right now, telling stories and sharing fun with my wife and our friends is a nice place to be. I’m burning no bridges and keeping in light touch with those groups and gatherings I’ve found, but I feel more at home now than I have in years.

Entry filed under: Quester. Tags: , , .

Finding Yourself After De-converting There is No God: by Penn Jillette

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. writerdd  |  February 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting. I just walked away and didn’t look back. I got married around then though and moved near my mother and sister, so that probably helped with no missing the social interaction. My husband and I also went to a computer club for a while, so maybe that was an unconscious transition support group for us.

  • 2. Josh  |  February 4, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    “I’m burning no bridges and keeping in light touch with those groups and gatherings I’ve found, but I feel more at home now than I have in years.”

    What an incredible place to be. I, for one, had a hard time not burning bridges. I think that at the time I was so hurt by ‘Christians’ (in general) and had an absolute aversion to Bible quoting and was so annoyed that every single person I talked to acted as if I had never heard the gospel before that I pushed back and probably burned some bridges. Ironically, if a Christian took an ounce of time to listen to my points they became quite a friend.

    But its that feeling at home that is so important. Once the ashes fall from the nuclear explosion that is de-conversion and everyone knows where you now stand it is surprising at how even old relationships that were damaged by the process can begin to thrive once again.

    Congratulations, Quester: welcome home!

  • 3. writerdd  |  February 4, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I’ve also recently gotten in touch with old Christian friends and we are able to get along fine now. But I did cut myself off for a long time. Not sure I would have been able to go cold turkey if I hadn’t moved from Tennessee to California!

  • 4. bw  |  February 5, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve spent much of my times since my deconversion flopping around from one state to the next– celebration to frustration to loneliness to self-sufficiency to boredom and so on and so forth. I find it very inspiring to come across one who has settled into his or her new perspective.

    I maintain a few relationships that I acquired over the years through my theistic occupations as a missionary and musician, yet I find myself increasingly frustrated by the lack of common language. Most of them have no idea that I am an atheist. I’m remaining relatively secretive for the time being to reduce the toll on my elderly parents who would be so heartbroken to learn that their golden-child missionary/rockstar was going to hell.

    I want to find a group of people with which I have common ground but even the atheists that I’ve found around here are kind of difficult to hang out with. Your post gives me hope that I will eventually land in a place where I can have a productive social life outside of the world of Christianity.

  • 5. lauradee24  |  February 22, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve been doing much of the same thing, though I would not say I am there yet. Especially going to church. I was stuck in a conservative Baptist for several years when I was no longer conservative (though I would have identified as a liberal Christian), so I immediately explored an Episcopalian church, and was considering UU when I decided church just wasn’t for me. (Though I might take my 2 yr old daughter for the sake of some variety. My ex husband takes her to a conservative denomination his weeks.)

    Your comments on finding a “replacement” hit home. It is not that what I had was good (obviously), but it is harder for me to find community connections since the church was how I was part of the community since I was a child. I have been volunteering in a couple of secular organizations, which I like. I also stumbled across a local freethinkers group in town that I think I am going to try out the next time they meet. It is hard to figure out how to find connections when the only place you’ve had them in the past evaporates.

  • 6. Eve's Apple  |  March 19, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    I just walked away, too. Didn’t explain anything, didn’t have to explain because nobody ever really asked. It was like I never existed.

    From time to time I do run into an elderly lady in town who wants to know why I stopped going to Mass. Except she really doesn’t want to know. A few times I have tried to tell her that 1) I want more out of life than prayer meeting, Rosary, Marian apparitions, etc and 2) following the Church’s teaching on no sex if you are single has left me lonely and unable to find a partner in life–why should I take Her teachings seriously when it turns out Her priests are having a jolly old time of it with altar boys and Her bishops are turning the other way. Hey, I took no vows! But these men, they took public vows before God, before the altar, and they want to tell me how to live? She just says “Oh, but you used to be in the choir.” Didn’t hear a word I said. Didn’t sink in at all. “Talk to Father X. He’ll listen.” Well, Father X is from a different country and a different culture, not that I am prejudiced because I am not, but I do not think that he has enough familiarity with either the language and the culture here to understand what i am saying, And we haven’t even touched on the heart of the matter–does God even exist?

    So while there are some aspects I miss, the colorful ritual (especially at Christmas and Easter) for the most part, I get along very nicely. As far as my family is concerned, we have a don’t ask don’t tell policy and so we get along just fine. When I visit them I do the church thing and it keeps them happy, Although I am surprised to find that my mother lately has been reading books like “Misquoting Jesus.” We’ve discussed it in an abstract way but not too deeply.

    I joined the Lions Club a few years ago and I guess you could call it my church. It provides me a way of helping others (one of the positive things I learned from church) without demanding that I subscribe to a set of beliefs or check my mind in at the door. What I like about Lions is that you can be anything or nothing and still be a Lion in good standing. Except–lately one of our newer members is saying he wants to be our chaplain (some clubs have them, ours doesn’t). I am not sure how I feel about this new development. If he can keep it somewhat neutral I can go along with it. But if he tries to turn it into a “Christian” organization then I will have to speak up. Time will tell.

  • 7. Thomas  |  June 4, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    I deconverted before I was married (15 years ago) and I’m still trying to figure this out. I think about my kids especially. I tell them they’re free to make up their own minds, but it’d be nice for them to meet with other children of secular parents and talk over what it means to them to see other people around them talking about God. I’d like to give them a knowledge of the Bible at least as deep as a kid who’s gone to Sunday School would have…

    Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot that I have indeed figured out. I’m just saying keep plugging away, but don’t get discouraged if it all doesn’t fall into place in 5 or 20 or 50 years.

  • 8. Quester  |  June 4, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Thanks, Thomas!

    Have you heard of Parenting Beyond Belief?

  • 9. Thomas  |  June 5, 2010 at 6:40 am

    I’ve heard of it but I haven’t checked it out. I think I’ve read some reviews. Yesterday I tried to make contact with the local Atheist’s meetup to see how that goes, and not so long ago I’d found information on a secular children’s camp (that is, a summer camp for children of secular parents) not sooooo far from my home.

    I hate to hijack this thread, but since it’s your thread, it’s okay … right?

  • 10. Quester  |  June 6, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Meh, I’m not someone who’s concerned with threads staying on-topic. That’s good for exploring an idea, but not much for building relationships.

    Glad you found the summer camp. Going to try it?

  • 11. Thomas  |  June 6, 2010 at 6:23 am

    While we’re drifting and crossing threads … you asked if I’d been here before. I verified yesterday that it was at the end of 2007 that I was active on Daylight Atheism. I left several comments under the name “Tomas S”. One I remember most clearly was one on Atheist community.

    I’m sure the camp I was thinking of was Camp Quest Ontario, and it seems to still be up an running. (For sure it was in 2007 when I last looked it up.) I wouldn’t rule it out at this point. It’s a bit of a haul (but not as far as Ohio). Summer vacation time is a hotly contested item.

  • 12. Quester  |  June 6, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    I’ve heard some good things about Camp Quest, but didn’t know we had any up here in the Great White North. There are a few more opportunities for skeptical fellowship in the more populous centres.

  • 13. Thomas  |  June 7, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    As it turns out, we have a conflict for the Ontario Camp Quest and the Ohio Camp Quest takes place before our school lets out. (Hmmm, have I narrowed it down enough for a stalker to find me?) The others are certainly too far. I’ve requested that they keep me on the mailing list for next year.

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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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