My story isn’t strange—born into a Christian home, raised into a Christian lifestyle and led a faithful Christian life as an adult. I was a missionary for six years, both living overseas and operating from a stateside base from which to travel. I worked as an assistant pastor/worship leader and youth pastor. I had always wanted to be a professional musician and opportunities arose which allowed me to pursue that dream as a member of a Christian band that saw a decent amount of success, both in the Christian music industry and the mainstream industry as well. Funny, at least one other de-convert here actually has one of my albums. Ah, irony.
As a teenager I left my Southern Baptist upbringing to follow a more charismatic faith. Later in life I left the protestant faith altogether and converted to Catholicism, having come to the studied conclusion that it was the most historically accurate iteration of Jesus’ and his disciples’ teachings. Throughout all of my transitions, however, I remained faithful to the core of Christianity. Yet I remember, on a few occasions, allowing doubt to surface.
What about people who are born into other religions? Would God punish them eternally in Hell for being born in a country where the social landscape was dominated by a different (read: false) religion? Regarding creation, I had always leaned towards theistic evolution, which was only inches away from pure evolution. At what point were humans given the “breath of life” and acquired souls? How did that evolve? Or were we plopped fully formed into an already evolving environment?
I asked a friend once ‘how could we know that any of this is real?’ My friend, who was educated in theology and philosophy wisely responded, “We can’t.” It was simply a belief that in the end we chose to believe out of desire and faith…
Well, after finally writing down my de-conversion story, I have finally sat down to write the “coming out” letter to the family. With everyone on Facebook, it’s all eventually going to come out anyway, and I’ve frankly gotten rather sick of living a double life these last few months. Now that I’m fairly secure in this new life philosophy, it’s time to let everyone else make peace with it as well. Writing this I think was even harder than writing the DC story. Here’s hoping hitting SEND will be easier. I’m waiting until I give my wife the chance to read it so she doesn’t get blindsided with phone calls asking her what’s going on.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult letters I’ve ever had to write. I’ve gone over and over in my head how to go about saying it (and even whether or not TO say it) knowing that its implications are going to trigger extreme emotions. In the end, what I’m about to say may or may not surprise you. Some of you may have already suspected as much based on things I’ve posted to Facebook in the recent months. There’s really no way to ease into it, so I guess it’s best if I just come out with it…
I’ve been meaning to submit this story for a long time. However, whenever I feel the urge to testify regarding my former life as a born-again evangelical fundamentalist christian, I head to my blog and throw a little piece of my former self onto my Hot-For-Jesus Former Fundie site. After a year and a half of blogging with both a satirical and serious angle about my Jesus days, I realize over and over again that no matter how much I write, I have barely put a dent in my story. However, the testimony/story-telling helps me deprogram as my christian past continually loses its power over me.
Currently empathetic atheist with a appreciation for human wisdom whether pagan, christian, or buddhist (et. al), I grew up in a born-again household. We attended many, many churches, but were most comfortable among the Evangelical Free and Baptists. I’ll never forget the spurt of going up over the Canadian border every Sunday to attend a Mennonite Church. (wonderful ppl, btw)
I went forward and was baptized while in late elementary. I started singing for Jesus about that time and eventually became a camp counselor at a Baptist Bible camp, leading children to Christ. I faced doubts and strengthened my faith while at an Evangelical Lutheran college.
After college, I quickly left behind my english teaching career to pursue music and theatre in the Big Cities. But there was a catch. I filtered every artistic endeavour through my belief system. More than once I turned down artistic opportunites because the message conflicted with my theology. I wrote and performed Jesus music because I truly believed that my talent/curse was meant to be used to praise him…
I have been reading articles here for awhile now, intending to share my own de-conversion story eventually. I must say, I’ve been impressed with the tone of this site. It seems like a great place for thoughtful interaction.
For someone who is just now publicly “coming out” from a religious background as hopelessly fundamental and conservative as mine, it’s encouraging to find a faithless friend or two who can relate to my own experience. I hope that by sharing my own story, I can be of some encouragement to you as well, wherever you happen to be in your life.
Here we go…
The Missionary Kid
My story begins in the tropical jungle of north-central Brazil, where I was born and where I spent the majority of my childhood growing up as a missionary kid. My dad was a high school teacher, and my family lived on the campus of a boarding school that served to educate kids whose parents were off spreading the Christian Gospel. Some of these parents were Bible translators living with Indian tribes, others were support staff stationed in different cities in Brazil. Our little school was where they sent their kids to get an education. It was only a small school—during my time there, the student body probably averaged around 40 or so students every year, from first grade all the way through high school.
But I’ve gotta say, it was a pretty sweet place to grow up! Year-round tropical weather, jungle for camping and exploring as far as you could walk, and the murky Amazon River for fishing and swimming. If it sounds like a little boy’s paradise, that’s because it was…
I was raised Catholic though my parents were hardly devout. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why they brought us to church at all. I can only assume it was out of some kind of unspoken obligation to their parents. I received my first communion, was an altar boy and felt a certain degree of closeness toward God. At the very least I never questioned that He was real, even though I frequently got into trouble for acting out in Sunday school. My family attended church dutifully, if not faithfully, until I was confirmed in sixth grade, at which point we stopped going altogether.
I tell you this so you’ll know, I didn’t de-convert because of overbearing parents who left a bad impression of my religion. Even though I was initially “forced” into the church, when I started going back at the age of seventeen, it was entirely my decision. An easy one at that. Fear of Hell drove me into the pews. That’s the one thing Catholics (and later, I would realize, all Christians) are really good at—putting the fear of eternal damnation into you, just in case God’s love wasn’t enough. But once I came back, I was in all the way. I went to confession, received communion and prayed my Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s every single night. I met with my priest on several occasions. He was a good and saintly man, and he comforted and encouraged me in my faith while at the same time challenging me to go deeper.
I will always view that summer before college as the time when my faith was at its strongest, its most unshakeable. I read the Catechism. I stopped cursing. I received communion every week (sometimes several times) and went to confession as often as possible. As the ultimate act of devotion for a seventeen-year-old boy, I even gave up masturbation once I read it was a “mortal sin.” I had zero doubt I was on the right path and I couldn’t believe there were people in this world who didn’t believe in God…
My name is Philip Francis, a doctoral student at Harvard Divinity School, writing a dissertation on religious disenchantment narratives and the arts. I am posting here to see if there are any readers who would be willing to contribute to my project a short memoir of their experience of leaving the Christian fold, making particular note of the role of the arts, creativity, literature, beauty or aesthetic experience (broadly conceived) in this process.
This memoir could be sent to me directly at email@example.com or posted here. Questions about the project may also be directed to my email address.
The following are some basic guidelines and starter questions, but approach the writing anyway you like.
The memoir may be as short or long as you like and assume any form. It may be signed or anonymous.
Others have found it useful to structure their memoir as follows:
1. The Unsettling: reflect on your experience of the forces and factors that unsettled you from the system of beliefs and practices that you once held in a dogmatically unassailable manner. Were the arts in any way a part of this initial unsettling? Feel free to cite specific examples from the arts and literature, or your own creative projects…