Finding home again after de-conversion
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.