Change creeps in unawares

June 10, 2009 at 8:43 am 22 comments

Part 4 of My journey into and, later, out of Christianity

Suddenly, after months of resistance, after exhaustion, after going to church six days a week, after listening to three hour sermons every night and skipping school when I was too tired to get up in the morning, suddenly I wanted to be what they were. I wanted to have what they had. Suddenly I understood what I was missing.

I close my bedroom door, sit on my bed, pull my knees up to my chest, and shut my eyes. In my mind, I picture a teenage girl standing at a makeshift altar at the front of a small basement arranged like a church.

Her lips move in silent prayer as tears stream down her face. Tom Shaffer, a visiting evangelist from Texas, lays hands on her, his ostrich-skin cowboy boots spread hip-width apart, firmly planted on the concrete floor, his pudgy fingers pressing down into her hair. His words are so loud, he doesn’t need a microphone in this small sanctuary. He hardly needs one when he preaches in the VFW or Oddfellow’s hall, either.

“Repeat this prayer after me,” Tom says. “Heavenly Father, I want to receive this power that Jesus spoke of. I ask you now to baptize me in the Holy Ghost.” The girl repeats, timidly at first, but getting louder with each sentence. “I say by faith that I receive Him now in all His fullness, and as the believers did on the day of Pentecost, I will speak in tongues as the Spirit gives me utterance.”

The people in the congregation pray with Tom. Those close to the girl place their hands on her shoulders. Those further away reach out toward the girl, as if sending waves of blessings to her through their outstretched hands. The air is thick with the murmur of prayers, as every person in the room concentrates on the girl and her desire to grow closer to God.

The girl starts sobbing now, her words are jumbled, she is ready to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Tom releases her head from his grip, and with a quick flip of the wrist, pops her on the forehead with the heel of his right hand. “In the NAME of Jesus, recEIVE ye the HOly Ghost!” he shouts. The girl shudders, her knees buckle, and she starts to fall. A man standing behind her catches her and gently lowers her to the ground; a woman standing to her side straightens the skirt around the girl’s legs. The girl is praying loudly now, but her words are not English. She has been baptized in the Holy Ghost and has received the gift of tongues. Oblivious to the people around her and the rest of the service, she is in communion with God, speaking in words only He can understand.

The congregation sighs in relief. “Praise the Lord!” several people shout at once. “Amen!” echoes across the small room. A few women jingle tambourines and dance in the aisle between the rows of metal folding chairs as Tommy and Chris start playing their guitars. “Glory to God!” “Hallelujah!”

In my bedroom, I imagine that the girl is me. I desperately want to be baptized in the Holy Ghost. No-one knows if I speak in tongues yet or not—not my mother, not Katie or Jimmy, not Tom—and I am embarrassed to admit that I can’t. As badly as I want it, I know I will never get hands laid on me in church. There’s no way I would be able to get up from my back-row seat and walk all the way up the aisle to the altar to be anointed. My feet would freeze to the floor; I would forget how to walk. I shudder just thinking about it in the privacy of my own bedroom.

I open my eyes and reach for the Bible on the floor beside my bed. I flip it open to the second chapter of Acts and begin reading at verse 1.

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

I know the Lord wants to bless me with the gifts of His Spirit. I know that I love Jesus with all of my heart. I know that I am ready. I breathe deeply, opened my mouth, and whisper “I love you Jesus. I want to receive your power in my life. I open my heart to you. Please fill me with the Holy Ghost.” I wait.

That night, nothing happened, but I didn’t give up.

I don’t even remember how I changed, but at the beginning of 1976, I was a smart-ass, rebellious teenager and at the end I was a goody two-shoes Christian. At the beginning of the year I wanted to go roller skating with my girlfriends from school, at the end I only wanted to hang out with Jimmy and Katie, or with adults who were more fanatical than I was. At the beginning of the year, I wanted to skip ahead and take calculus and physics. At the end of the year, I quit biology to take music theory and what I wanted more than anything was to be able to speak in tongues.

Looking back, the periods of change in my life are foggy. It’s hard to remember how I morphed from nominal Christian to fanatic and, later, how I changed from true believer to agnostic to atheist. I look through my old journals from time to time, trying to unlock the clues. Lately I’ve been talking to old Christian friends on facebook, trying to awaken dormant memories. I haven’t remembered as much about my changes as I want to, but I have remembered my good friends and the good times that I had when I was a Christian. For a while, under the influence of the writings of the “new” atheists and the media attention given to ridiculous caricatures of Christians like Fred Phelps and James Dobson, I had forgotten everything positive about my past experiences.

I am just as certain today that God does not exist as I was that Jesus was the Lord of All when I was in my teens and twenties. Today, however, my own certainty does not carry with it the need to convince or convert others. Nor does it carry with it a mandate to save the world. Although I never would have chosen to stop believing, I am happy with the place where I find myself today. I can accept that people, seeing the same evidence, do not all come to the same conclusions. I can enjoy the company of my Christian friends again, even though I have no desire or intention to “return to the fold.”

Previous Installments:

Entry filed under: writerdd. Tags: , , , .

Now the kids know (about my de-Conversion) My steps out of Christianity

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. atimetorend  |  June 10, 2009 at 9:56 am

    I love your last paragraph, coming to peace with where you are today, I can very much relate. It seems like a more stable and mature confidence in what you believe. Nice to have that saving the world mandate off your shoulders. And good to see that you have the space to look back and see the postive experiences as well, that’s a good example for me. Thanks for writing.

  • 2. ArchangelChuck  |  June 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    We should all be free to enjoy each other’s company without having to leap the hurdles and jump through the hoops of religious belief.

  • 3. Quester  |  June 10, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, DD. It’s a very hopeful story.

  • 4. Joe  |  June 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Writerdd (and others)—

    Please bare with me on this. It is not for me to judge others “experiences” which I am sure are very real. However, I have a thought I want to share regarding conversion and deconversion. We all know (especially as teenagers) what it is to be “infatuated” with someone. At the time we are “infatuated” we would swear up and down that we are “in love” with this person, and they mean everything to us. We become angry if a parent or someone else calls it “puppy love”—to us at the time it is very real and serious.

    But later, we look back, and realize we were just “infatuated” with that person, and not really in love at all. When we really do fall “in love” and know what that is, we realize the difference.

    Is it possible in your “experience” Writerdd that your Christian “experience” was really just “infatuation” and not real “love”? Infatuation usually “wears off” after time. Your experience seems to have “worn off” through time. Could this be the explanation for deconversion? Was the “conversion” experience really just “infatuation” and not real “love” for Christ?

    I know a lot of you have heard people say your experience wasn’t real, etc. etc.–I do not say this to anger anyone—-but just to ask if anyone who has deconverted has ever thought that maybe their Christianity was just “infatuation” (which fades) instead of love (which can remain)?

    Again, I ask this not to anger anyone–but truly to ask if anyone had been taken into consideration before?
    Your testimony seems to show a brief “experimentation” which “wore off” through time—that’s why I ask.

    I truly want to understand how deconversion happens–I appreciate your testimony, and if the “infatuation” question is far off the mark forgive me—it just seems logical in a way. Just as one can become “infatuated” with a person on earth, I’m sure one could become “infatuated” with God also, without really ever loving Him. Just curious as to what you think.

  • 5. Joe  |  June 10, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    OOPS! Meant “please bear with me” not “bare with me” LOL

  • 6. Joe  |  June 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I regret asking that now. I know it is a “touchy” subject. If you can, please ignore me—-I was just thinking out loud and hit the “submit” button before I really thought the whole thing out. Sorry about that.

  • 7. The Jesting Fool  |  June 12, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Joe,

    I’d like to see if I can interact with your question, which I think is a fair one. You don’t need to apologize for asking it, especially since you asked it so kindly.

    I’ve actually thought about this question myself in the past. In my mind, there is a corollary–people referring to a de-convert by saying “so-and-so wasn’t really a true Christian after all.”

    I’m sure different people would have different reactions to the idea that perhaps they were simply “infatuated” with God and never really “loved” him. In my own case, you could probably say that I was only infatuated–even though for awhile I was absolutely convinced that I loved God and he loved me.

    So maybe I really was only infatuated. Maybe my deconversion is only a result of a brief infatuation. But so what? The important thing is that I don’t love God now. And why should I? I don’t feel him, hear him, see him, or have any sort of awareness about him. How can I give my love to that?

    The bottom line for me, Joe, and perhaps also for some others, is that regardless of how anyone wants to classify a de-convert’s former “love-life” with God, it is the de-convert’s experience that is the final authoritative definition for his or her present position regarding God.

    What I’m trying to say is that your question, while logical and fair to an extent, really is a moot point for me, because a relationship with God is not a possible thing for me. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I was “in love” with something deceptive! Call it a wrong or insincere kind of love for God, but to me it was just an attempt to love a misleading object.

    Infatuated? Yeah, maybe, but look! The one I was in love with just wasn’t as interesting as I initially thought!

    Does that make any sense to you? I’m not sure how clear I’ve been. Let me know if I’ve misunderstood you somehow…

  • 8. TitforTat  |  June 12, 2009 at 7:29 am

    I truly want to understand how deconversion happens(Joe)

    Im going to go out on a limb and answer this one. Joe I would imagine most people Deconvert when they ask questions that cant be Logically or reasonably answered and are either ridiculed or blackballed by their Loving Christian friends. Im sure you can understand that(infatuation or love).

  • 9. writerdd  |  June 12, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Joe, I was a born again Christian for 20 years. I don’t think that’s just infatuation. Keep reading and maybe you’ll begin to understand how deconversion happens as I write more of my store. I’ve got to admit that I really doubt you’ll discover anything, because it sounds like you’ve already decided, more or less, that I was not a real Christian.

  • 10. Joe  |  June 12, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Thanks for the responses. I appreciate them. Jesting fool–thanks for taking the time to explain,without “laying into me” for my question–that’s a nice breath of fresh air. You make a very good point that it may not even matter if it is infatuation or love in the end–I’ll think about that more.

    Titfortat—I understand what you are saying–too bad the discussion has to end in ridicule—as you point out.

    writerdd—

    Thanks for stating that you were a christian for 20 years—that helps to clarify things. Your story kind of makes it sound as though your “experience” didn’t last very long—-but that’s on me—I “heard” it that way. The reason I brought up infatuation vs. love was in regards to another thread you have called “was I born-again or brainwashed?” I just feel that one who was really in love could answer that question easily—when one is in love they know it–an infatuated person might ask if they had been brainwashed, or maybe brainwashed themselves concerning a relationship—but someone who has really been in love would not have to ask that when referring to another person.

    I kind of see that the same way with our relationship with God. If it was real YOU KNOW IT. I have been a Christian for 36 years and am MORE IN LOVE with God than when I first became a Christian. I have been in tough times, and through doubt but the love never “died”. I feel if it had “died” most likely I was just infatuated.

    But I will continue to read your posts—I fully admit that I can be completely wrong—no doubt about that. All I am doing is expressing an opinion. And I am sure many have an opinion completely opposite—and that’s to be expected.

  • 11. orDover  |  June 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Ugh. Why is that Christians always compare their relationship with GOD to a romantic relationship? I’ve always found that perverse. It was one of the things I hated most about Christianity, even as a Christian. It would turn my stomach to have to sing worship songs that say “I’m so in love with you, Jesus.” I was never “in love” with God, and likewise never infatuated with him. I accepted that he existed and I feared and respected him, I gave him praise and thanks, I was overwhelmed with gladness at the fact that he loved me, but it’s so silly to say someone is “in love” with God.

    Anyway, with that mini-rant over: I didn’t fall out of love with God and/or my love or infatuation with God never faded, because those trite emotions were never there to begin with. I loved God, in an earnest, deep, and respectful way, but not in a mushy emotional way. The thing that led me to reject the entire idea of God, as T4T suggested, were intellectual, not emotional. I didn’t suddenly stop feeling warm fuzzies towards God and realize that I didn’t love him anymore, I realized that there was no compelling (or even strongly suggestive) evidence for his existence, and that I had been revering an imagined character just as much as a child reveres Santa.

  • 12. Joe  |  June 12, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    orDover—

    As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
    My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
    When shall I come and appear before God? (Ps 42:1,2)

    David has many, many similar sentiments throughout the Psalms which are far more than JUST reverence and respect–it is his deep love for God that David is expressing.

    You said:

    “It would turn my stomach to have to sing worship songs that say “I’m so in love with you, Jesus.” I was never “in love” with God, and likewise never infatuated with him”.

    This type of statement is what makes Christians who visit ask if you ever knew the Lord? As angry as that might mike you–for I’m sure you insist you were REALLY a Christian (and your the only real judge of that)—it still makes one wonder who does truly feel the sentiments of Psalm 42 above. I, as a Christian don’t just want to go to Heaven—–I want to go to be with Jesus—-because Jesus IS heaven. And that is something deeper than just respect or reverence—-it is a love and longing to see and be with God. There truly is a difference—even if you only want to see it as some “mushy romantic” thing.

  • 13. Joe  |  June 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    orDover—

    To clarify—-Only YOU know your past experience—and what went on in your heart. But as an example of what I am saying, my grandmother had two husbands. The second one passed away suddenly. But when you would ask her if she loved her husband she would say “I had the deepest respect for him and I gave him a very expensive and proper burial”.

    But if she mentioned her first husband (who had passed way leading to her marriage to the second husband) she didn’t need to say much—the tears in her eyes said it all—you KNEW she loved him very much.

    So, a person can “say” they are a Christian, and say they respect and honor God, but they may not really have any love for Him at all. I hope this kind of explains where I am coming from. I don’t want to question your once being a Christian, but at the same time some of your statements make one wonder if you met the Lord, or met your “idea” of the Lord.

  • 14. SnugglyBuffalo  |  June 12, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    I’d say my experience matches orDover’s, largely. Some people take the whole concept of the Church being the bride of Christ a little too far. Not to mention all the trouble with maintaining a masculine, heterosexual identity while being told to love God (always depicted as male) and Jesus with such romantic overtones.

    Anyway, to answer the question at hand, I certainly would say I loved God in the same way I love my parents and siblings. Infatuation really doesn’t apply to that kind of love.

    Later, I realized that, whatever my emotions might be telling me, whatever I might “feel” about God, the whole deal just didn’t make any damn sense.

  • 15. orDover  |  June 12, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Anyway, to answer the question at hand, I certainly would say I loved God in the same way I love my parents and siblings. Infatuation really doesn’t apply to that kind of love.

    This is a good point, SB. God, for me, was just as real as any family member, and likewise someone I was raised with. I never doubted that Granpa exists, and I never doubted God either. I just grew up with them. They both were a fact of life. They were a fact of family life.

  • 16. Sarah  |  June 13, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I can really relate to what you wrote in the second-to-last paragraph. I only deconverted about a year and a half ago, but already I have “forgotten” much of the process of how I went from believing to not believing. I’ve read through old journals, trying to map out my journey, but it’s as if I can’t emotionally remember the experiences I’ve had. And I don’t “remember” how I used to feel about certain things. For example, someone asked me if I ever really believed the creation story of Adam/Eve/The Snake. I honestly can’t remember if I did or not. It’s very bizarre.

    I’ve also been coming to a place where I’ve found a balance of being free from the influences of Christianity but not being overly mad at all things related to Christianity. I think it was necessary for me to be angry about experiences I missed out on because I was a Christian, or some of the (minor) psychological stress I experienced due to my faith, but I’m pretty much past that now. I don’t resent most of the Christians that I know (well, some of them are jerks, but that has just as much to do with their personalities as it does their faith) and I’ve come to a place where I’ll tell my Christian friends, “You can do whatever makes you happy, and I won’t stand in your way. I expect you to do the same for me. I may disagree with you and “fight” you when it comes to politics if I think you’re trying to force your way of life on everyone else, but other than that, I don’t care one way or another.”

  • 17. ArchangelChuck  |  June 15, 2009 at 1:42 am

    I don’t want to question your once being a Christian, but at the same time some of your statements make one wonder if you met the Lord, or met your “idea” of the Lord.

    What’s the difference?

  • 18. The Jesting Fool  |  June 15, 2009 at 8:16 am

    ArchangelChuck, that’s a really good way to look at it.

  • 19. writerdd  |  June 15, 2009 at 10:19 am

    LOL. Of course I only met “my idea” of the Lord because, well, there is no Lord to meet! But at the time it all was very real to me and I was quite sure that I had a relationship with a real, supernatural being. I knew, as much as anyone can know, that God was real. But, as I understand now looking back, I was mistaken and it was an imaginary relationship. Of course that means many Christians will not be able to handle the truth of what happened to me. They have to say that I was not really saved because they can’t imagine that I experienced the same things that they did and eventually walked away from it and decided it was not true. And yet that is exactly what happened. Sorry if it blows your mind.

  • 20. FFFearlesss  |  June 15, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Not sure if Joe is still following this. I just want to say that it was a fair question you asked, and as someone else pointed out you actually asked in a kind non-confrontational way.

    I think infatuation is a retrospect kind of thing. You don’t know you were infatuated until you don’t feel the same anymore. I suppose the same could be said about any relationship that ends after a certain point. But while you’re in the relationship, you’d swear it was “love.”

    Perhaps a de-converted Christian only was infatuated with God. The same way a girl gets gaga over the captain of the football team who will never give her the time of day. She tries to get his attention, flirts with him, writes him notes, cheers as loud as she can during every game, but in the end, he never gives her so much as a glance or any other indication that he’s the least bit interested in her. Eventually, after getting rejected so many times, you have to put your love into places where it might actually get returned.

  • 21. Joe  |  June 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    “Perhaps a de-converted Christian only was infatuated with God. The same way a girl gets gaga over the captain of the football team who will never give her the time of day”

    FFFearless–

    Yes—-this is actually what I was asking. It would be something you realize in “retrospect” as you said in your post. It is trials and deadness, dryness and apparent lack of answers to prayer, etc. that test this. If it is just “infatuation” you will eventually drift away—-if it is real one will endure and continue through this “period”—even if it is a period of years. Love will not allow them to leave.

    Just as love will cause a wife who is really in love with her husband to wait years for his return from the military, so real love will cause the Christian to wait and endure even when there is no apparent sign of God or his presence sometimes for years also.

    That’s why I was “speculating” that it may be possible a deconvert may have had a VERY STRONG “infatuation”—but it was still just an infatuation. Time allowed that infatuation to show it’s true colors, and the person eventually drifted away.

    The parable of the “Sower and the Seed” seems to confirm this–it mentions the seed that fell on stony ground, immediately sprung to life in great joy—“but lasted only a time for afterwards, when faced with persecution or trial it withered away”.

    It is an interesting thought—-and was just curious whether the deconverted had actually ever considered it. Thank you for your post.

  • 22. samanthamj  |  June 27, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Wow… this was a great post… along with the ones that came before it to this story. As usual, I could relate to much of the feelings and reasonings…

    One thing I thought was funny was that you said, “…at the beginning of 1976, I was a smart-ass, rebellious teenager and at the end I was a goody two-shoes Christian.”… whereas I sort of did the opposite… and was the goody-two-shoes Christian growing up… and, THEN turned into the smart-ass rebellious teenager. =)

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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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