Posts tagged ‘de-conversion story’
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…
[This post has been sitting in my files for a while. Finally pulled it out and "finished" it. Writing never really seems finished, does it?]
Noting that my journey out of Christianity is different from most (in fact, unique in my experience so far*), I took some time to try to recall the steps I took over the years. I list them here in no particular order (though they are roughly chronological). *For any who don’t know, my path was, very briefly: “saved” at 19; evy/fundy for many years; converted to Eastern Orthodoxy for about 3 years; left the faith entirely.
– I sought to base my morality, politics, and behaviors in more than just, “the Bible or my church says so”. After all, if something is right, it ought to be right for everyone, Bible or no Bible. I mean isn’t that what’s really meant by, “the absolute truth of God”?
Funny thing is that I did this right from the beginning of my Christian life. So maybe I was just doomed from the outset eh?
– I got sick of the shallowness. Those damn praise choruses [“Jesus I luuuuv yew. Jesus I neeeeed yew. Jesus I luuuuv yew. Yes I doooo.”] are just drivel. So is the “Jesus, my buddy” flatulence. There’s just gotta be more to a faith than lousy songs and Forest Gump level theology. This garbage was/is growing by leaps and bounds throughout Protestant churches, and was even making headway in some Catholic parishes.
– I got it through my head that young-earth creationism was WRONG. I.e. that evolution did happen, that the fossils were really old, that the flood of Noah was not global, that dinosaurs and humans never lived together, that the speed of light is in fact a constant, and so on. (I can’t tell you how humiliating it is to admit that I was idiotic enough to ever believe that crap.)…
My parents weren’t religious when I was young, but my older sister got sucked into the local baptist church, so of course she dragged me along. It was the typical fire and brimstone kind of preaching. In the summer, we would go visit my grandparents, and my grandmother would take us to the christian scientist church. They didn’t conflict too much for my young brain, so it wasn’t that bad. I was a good little christian girl, and got baptized as soon as I could with the god fearing baptists.
When I was about 12, my parents suddenly got religious in the church of christ. More fear of god preaching filled my head, including bible study once a week with the minister. I got baptized two more times in two different churches, for good measure, and went to church faithfully. I was terrified of burning in hell. It didn’t help that my parents were crazy… good christians on Sunday morning, screaming and abusive the rest of the week. Of course they both blamed me for their abusiveness, so I felt damned to hell for being so wicked, even though I was exceedingly good most of the time.
Not long after we started bible study, the minister decided he wanted to go bowling instead of teach us about the lord’s word. He said I asked too many questions. This was the first blatant sign I had of the hypocrisy of the church and I wanted no more part of it. My stepfather thoughtfully punished me severely for not wanting to go to church. But after a month of it, he inexplicably stopped trying to make me go, much to my relief…
My de-conversion came about as a result of trying to reconcile the reality of my experiences with what I had been taught by the church about life. In reading others’ stories I see a lot of common threads. So I know that I am not alone in that my slide into nonbelief started with “being hurt”. I used to think that if the church (of whatever creed) would listen to those of us who had suffered as a result of trying to live its teachings, that maybe a lot of de-conversions could have been prevented. I no longer believe this.
Basically, I was brought up Catholic, the conservative kind. On the way I detoured into a Jesus People group, the Charismatic Movement, and a couple of others before I finally gave up on organized religion.
Ok, so why did I leave? Well, it is a long story. I have a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome. Some of you may be familiar with it, some of you may not. It is a form of autism. Except that when I was growing up they did not call it that. We Asperger’s people can be very intelligent but we suffer from social deficits. I did not realize that I was different until I started school. That’s when the persecution began (and I do not use the term lightly). Here is my view on school prayer: I went to a Catholic school where they went to Mass daily and I went to a secular public school where God was mentioned not at all, and I was treated equally badly in both. Not one adult in authority ever stood up and put a stop to what was going on. In fact I had one teacher who joined in the persecution and actually encouraged the class to pick on me…
Leaving “the faith” was a long process for me, around seven years to be exact (the universe has a funny sense of humor). It started with my questioning the concept of sin. At many times during my Christendom, I wondered why something I did was wrong. I could not reconcile how something that I enjoyed, something seemingly harmless, could be grounds for damnation. Furthermore, I could not reconcile how honest mistakes, such as letting the word “god” or “Jesus Christ!” slip, could be grounds for an eternity of torture and punishment. I also didn’t understand how simply believing something could change the rules.
For a long time, I simply just ignored those raging questions or accepted the Sunday School answer that god didn’t like it anymore than us, but that was just the way it had to be. As time went on it became more difficult to ignore. With each Sunday the questions screamed at me louder until I could not longer ignore or accept the answers given to me. Being born into “the faith,” I was attached to all the notions that Christianity (more so fundamentalist Christianity) had given me. Because of this I blamed the church first. I thought that the nature of sin had been distorted.
I rationalized that a sin is not so much an action that is inherently bad but rather it was the result of that action that granted it the classification of sin. I thought that a sin was something that brought us away from god. It made sense and was compatible with the life I wanted to live at that time. I clung to that notion for as long as I could. Slowly but surely my idea about what is good and what is bad slowly eroded. Well not exactly. They were never really my ideas. I always had my own feelings about right and wrong. Really those ideas of right and wrong I had adopted had been replacements for my true feelings on the subject…
The purpose of my rants and opinions is not to change anyone’s mind. There are several reasons I am rather vocal in what I say. I do hope that my posts help people think about what they believe, even if they don’t come to the same conclusions I did. I also hope to better inform those that wish to keep their religious beliefs what those of us who do not have them argue because there is a lot of misinformation out there given by apologetic ministries and the like. My main purpose, however, I think, is to just enjoy having them and not being afraid to express them anymore. Nevertheless, I do occasionally tire from trying to explain everything patiently over and over again to those who have little interest in what I am actually saying, but simply want to dogmatically cling to what they know. In times like those, I remind myself that I used to be one of those people.
It makes me wonder: why did I change my mind when others don’t? I think there are three factors that led to my de-conversion: Humility, knowledge, and misery.
Humility is something taught to Christians, but it is a rare Christian that actually possesses it (at least in the conservative world in which I lived–I never really had much interaction with the more liberal Christians, so from here on, whenever I say “Christian”, know I am talking about conservatives here). I will not say I had an abundance of it–on the contrary, I thought I knew all the answers and could defend them. I was well versed in apologetics and knew every Sunday school answer in the book. Perhaps it was all my schooling in apologetics that made me listen when someone else spoke–I was anxious to prove their argument wrong, so I would listen. Over time, however, I realized that I couldn’t…