For several of the many possible reasons, I realized that I could no longer hold fast to the faith that I once built my life around. When this realization struck me, it was emotionally painful. Worse, most of the ways I had coped with pain and grief before were no longer open to me, as they were all forms of prayer- alone, in a group, or with a Bible. I could not really turn to my Christian friends or my Christian family for support, as they saw my doubts and concerns as an attack against them and all that they valued. I could not go to my pastor- I was the pastor!
Things I did that helped me get through this time of grief and pain:
- Go for a walk outside/get some healthy exercise.
– Fill a playlist with upbeat MP3s (Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, Tom Smith, ABBA, etc), and listen to them whenever possible.
– Pick up an old, creative hobby I hadn’t engaged in for a while (roleplaying, in my case. Yes, I am a geek.)
– Spend time in a social activity with friends (without discussing religion).
– Find ways to help people as I had when a Christian, without the Christian trappings (and realize that I am still the same person I always was).
– Find a support group of people who have gone through similar struggles (this site was a huge help for me!).
– Find people I could talk honestly to (see previous parenthetical).
– Journal (blog) the experience, and/or what led up to it.
– Remember to breathe!
– Explore different faiths, different fellowships, different philosophies, and find out what I wanted from them, what I could offer to them, and (most importantly to me) what I could put my faith in.
How about you? What helped you through your de-conversion, if it was painful, or helps you through other times of trial now that prayer is no longer an option?
It’s been two years since I finally admitted to myself that I was not struggling with doubt any more; I no longer believed in God. The creed below is what I can say with some confidence that I believe in today. I got a little silly with the language, and I did so on purpose, to help me remember to hold my new beliefs lightly. Feel free to argue, challenge or question me, or the entire concept of an unbeliever having “beliefs”. As for me, atheism only defines what we don’t believe in, leaving us a wide variety of beliefs we can still hold onto. I invite you to post your own beliefs in the comments.
Proposition 1: I believe that there is an objective reality; that what is, is; that a = a.
- Clarification of the above Proposition: I believe that what is, is neither as good, as bad, or even as easily defined or comprehended as it first seems.
- Corollary of the above Clarification: I believe that labels, like all nouns and symbols, are useful tools- if you remember they are not what actually is.
- Addendum upon previous three statements: I believe that observation, experimentation, reason, and logic are the best tools we’ve yet found to learn what actually is.
Proposition 2: I believe that actions have consequences.
- Corollary on Proposition 2: I believe that what we think, say, do, and choose matters.
- Conclusion drawn from above Corollary and previous Clarification: What we think, say, do and choose matters, but rarely in the manner we expect or intend.
- Corollary on above Conclusion and previous Addendum: We don’t really know what we’re doing, but that’s no reason not to do our best. Please refer to Corollary two statements previous.
Proposition 3: I believe that value is extrinsic.
- Addendum on Proposition 3: I believe that we attribute value through ritual and sanctification (blessing, or intentionally making sacred/holy).
- Corollary on Propostions 1 through 3: I believe that we create what meaning and purpose there is, and can, through changing our choices, change what meaning and purpose we create.
- Addendum on above Corollary: I believe that empathy, introspection and reason are the best tools we’ve found yet for choosing what meaning and purpose to create, and that the ethic of reciprocity (popularly summarized as the Golden Rule) is the best starting point from which to employ our empathy, introspection and reason, with special attention paid to the resources we have to draw on and the needs which we can fill (including, but not limited to, our own).
Overly simplistic, yet still valid Conclusion drawn from everything said thus far in this creed (much to my pleasant surprise): I believe in love.
- Quester with thanks to all the support, fellowship and inspiration I’ve received on this site over the past two years!
There are those who leave Christianity, or refuse to join it, yet still have nothing bad to say about Jesus. Christianity, yes, but not Jesus. For me, though, once I stopped believing that Jesus was fully God and fully human, I had a hard time seeing anything good in his teachings.
The Old Testament is filled with contradictory laws and arbitrarily delivered punishments, but there was reason for hope. Some Judaic sects, like the first century Pharisees, used oral traditions to interpret, supplement and reconcile the written scripture so that it was possible to follow “God’s will”. Also, while the “punishments” were arbitrary to the point of sheer randomness, there was no reason to believe they continued after death.
Then Jesus came along, and made everything worse.
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…. You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…. Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King…. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Mt. 5: 21-22, 27-29, 33-35, 37-39, 43-44, 48
No longer are we only responsible for what we can control- our actions. Suddenly, our very thoughts and feelings condemn us. And to what do they condemn us? The fire of hell, to which a life of self-mutilation is preferrable. Worse, Jesus teaches that our words can come from the evil one. “The devil made me do it” is given the legitimacy of Jesus’ support as a reasonable fear. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. No, making thoughts and feelings we can not control into crimes deserving eternal torment and then suggesting that the devil can control our thoughts and words is not nearly enough. It’s hardly worse than Yaweh hardening the Pharoah’s heart and then punishing him for his hard heart.
Jesus goes further to tell us not to resist evil people when they strike at us, but to love and pray for them. Don’t stand up and fight for justice. Don’t rebel against oppressive authority. Don’t resist your abusive spouse. Instead, lovingly go further than they would have otherwise forced you to, and speak on their behalf to the God who either can not or will not grant you justice. Don’t resist. Don’t get angry. Don’t even think angry thoughts. You don’t want to go to hell, do you? Maybe it will be better after you die.
But maybe not. The infamous Sermon on the Mount is barely one third over yet, and Jesus has a small command yet to slip in, barely worth mentioning. Simply, “Be perfect”. Not just perfect, but perfect as God is perfect.
“Act righteously” is difficult enough, what with the swarming mass of contradicting and unreasonable laws, our thoughts and feelings being given the same weight as our actions, and standing against evil suddenly becoming evil in itself. Now Jesus is telling us, off-handedly, that we are held not to a human standard, but a godly one. We are to know and follow God’s will as sure as God Himself, no matter how poor a job God does in communicating His thoughts and will. We are to think as God thinks, feel as God feels, and resist evil as little as a God to whom no evil can be done. The measure to which we fall short from this standard is the measure to which we deserve unending torment, and therefore force God’s hand in punishing Jesus for our sake.
That’s right, punish Jesus for our sake. By some coincidence, just as the standards for righteousness become impossibly high and the punishment for failing to meet these standards unimaginably dire, we’re made an offer by the one person who can make it all go away. Never mind that the offer is being made by the only one to insist there was a problem in the first place. We’re offered a free pass, with no way to know whether or not we really have it, leaving us open to manipulation from anyone who can promise us certainty of our salvation. And as we’ve proved time and time again, that’s something we’re willing to commit almost any atrocity for.
I was a seminary-trained pastor who felt responsible for those I pastored. I was responsible for telling them the truth, and more- for pointing to the Truth, the Way and the Life. My problem was that I could not figure out what the truth (or Truth) was. At one point, I counted at least twelve possible biblical understandings of Jesus and the Christian gospel- all of which were supported by some verses and condemned by others. What was I supposed to teach? The more I studied, the less confidence I had that I could say anything certain about God’s works or will. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that I had no confidence I could say anything certain about God, including whether or not there was one. When I reached that point, I asked my bishop to release me from my ministry.
Back in April, Leopardus posted a video about critical thinking and open mindedness. The same people have now made a video called Putting Faith in its place. This video shows the reasoning that led me to deconversion better than I could. Enjoy.
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…
Different visitors to this site are at different points of their de-conversion journey. However, I’ve been noticing an increasing number of people at the point where their fear of Hell and eternal condemnation is keeping them from getting any further.
This isn’t a point that everyone reaches. For some, the same arguments which cause them to doubt the existence of a god (problems with scripture, the existence of multiple religions with contrasting views, logical problems with an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity creating a world where evil happens, simple lack of evidence, etc.) also keep them from being able to believe in a hell enough to fear it.
For others of us, it was studying the contradictory and confusing Biblical descriptions of Hell and how to avoid it that helped us realize that the hypothesis of God made no sense. By the time we came to doubt God, we already had lost our fear of hell.
But when you wake up at two in the morning from a nightmare inspired by Sunday school depictions of eternal torment, not everyone finds logic and reason to be persuasive enough to chase away fear. Some find, at times like these, a story can bring more ease than a rehearsal of facts.
For de-converting (or even faithfully believing) Christians troubled by thoughts of Hell, I like to recommend two books. Both were written by believing Christians. Both operate on the premise that God exists and is benevolent. I don’t expect either to be of any help or interest to atheists or agnostics (though I could be wrong), but fears need to be faced where you are, not where you’d like to be or where you think you’ll be ending up. I’m writing this post under the premise that some de-converting Christians might need to face their fears about de-converting as Christians before they can let go of their Christianity…