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Stages of Grief Over My Loss of Faith

01 Dec

The newly christened Lifeguard recently wrote about his deconversion experience. In his post, he mentioned the anger that frequently accompanies deconversion. Several of his commenters also referred to anger, and one mentioned the grieving process that she went through. Adding to that line of thought, I am posting this account of the latter stages of my deconversion. An earlier version of this post appeared last month at De-conversion.com.

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I had, over a period of many years, thought about a number of questions regarding faith, life, etc., but I usually stopped short of taking my thoughts to their logical conclusions. At some point last year, however, I was surprised to realize that I had drifted from standard Christian theism to something of a pseudo-deist position.

Last summer, I was asked to review a book entitled, Parenting Beyond Belief, which endorses explicitly atheistic points of view with regard to child-rearing. When I initially got the request, I jokingly said to myself, “I’d better be careful or I’ll be a full-fledged atheist by the time I finish the book.” In fact, I almost declined the review because I didn’t want to risk endangering my faith. Then I realized that, if my faith was that flimsy, then it wasn’t worth keeping. Sure enough, as I read the book, I kept pausing and thinking, “that idea makes an awful lot more sense than Christian idea X.” After I wrote the review, I realized that the book had pushed me into systematically thinking through many of the questions I had shelved over the years. This was the catalyst that prompted the final, most difficult stages of my deconversion process.

Denial & Bargaining

At that point, I went through an intense period of searching for answers. This was the denial and bargaining phase of grief over my impending loss of faith. I did not want to lose or give up my faith and I fought to keep it. Consequently I devoured Christian and atheist web sites and blogs. I read portions of the Bible. I read 20 books within 6 weeks: McLaren, Geisler, Campolo, Borg, Wright, Templeton, Mills, Eller, etc. During the first week, my reading was heavily skewed toward Christian literature – 6 books in 8 days. I said to myself, “I’ve always been taught that God will honor the prayers of sincere seekers. . . his Word will not return void. . . .” That was the bargaining. I was saying, in essence, “God, show me that you’re real. Don’t let me go.” It was also a denial. I could not fathom the possibility, let alone the likelihood, that the perspective from which I had navigated through several decades of life was without foundation.

Shock

By the end of that first week, I realized that I no longer believed. The Christian literature was contradictory. The Bible was inconsistent. The Christian concept of God was incoherent. The apologetics were logically flawed. I was in emotional, spiritual and psychological shock for several days. I could think of nothing else but my loss of faith and the fact that I would never be able to recover it. I barely functioned at work and at home. I now realize that this period of shock was the second stage of my grieving process.

Anger

Then, I went through the anger stage. The most intense moments of this phase came when I learned that the “virgin birth” verse in Matthew is mistranslated. Translating the Hebrew text as “young woman” rather than “virgin” makes a huge difference doctrinally (regardless of NT Wright’s assertion to the contrary). The standard Christian apologists’ assurances that all of the Bible’s translation errors are minor (simple numerical discrepancies, etc.) and have no bearing on doctrine are flat-out wrong, if not outright deceptive! And when I read, in several sources (including his own writings), that St. Jerome knew that the translation was wrong, but offered some twisted logic for preserving the error, I was furious. I read about how Eusebius probably doctored the writings of Josephus so that they would appear to confirm more explicitly the life and ministry of Jesus. And I read much more that confirmed my non-belief.

Even though I was furious with Christian preachers and teachers, much of my anger was directed at myself. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I see through this stuff before? I’m a well-educated woman living in the 21st century. How could I have gone decades without recognizing that religious doctrine is all speculation? That none of it is any more correct than any other? None of the biblical writers really knew what they were writing about. None of the Church fathers or reformers through the ages knew what they were teaching to be factual. And contemporary Christian scholars don’t actually know what they’re talking and writing about either. It’s all guesswork, wishful thinking and ready acceptance of the traditions of our forebears. Every bit of it.

Acceptance

Finally, I settled into acceptance. I became comfortable with the thought that, if there is a creator, none of the human conceptions of that entity are anywhere close to accurate. Therefore, for all practical purposes, there is no God. Certainly the judgmental, all-loving, jealous, omniscient, omnipotent, immutable, capricious entity posited by the Abramic religions is not real. And other conceptions are not any more likely to be real either. If God exists, he/she/it is not a personal entity involved in or concerned with the affairs of humankind. That being has not revealed itself through miracles or sacred texts or incarnations. Once I accepted these ideas, I realized that I am free to live my life according to my values. Moreover, I am free to define and shape those values. And most importantly, I am free to make the most of this life, now, and I’d better do so, because this is the only life I’ll ever have.

I will close by saying that I don’t define myself simply as an atheist, by an affirmation of what I don’t believe. Rather, I consider myself a humanist, an affirmation of values that I hold dear, values that I’m free to refine as new knowledge and experiences come my way. In short, I’m free to grow in my beautiful, imperfect, precious humanity. It’s a wonderful life.

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30 Comments

Posted by on December 1, 2007 in deconversion

 

30 responses to “Stages of Grief Over My Loss of Faith

  1. Ute

    December 1, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Your last paragraph is beautifully said. I don’t have any experience with deconversion… have been an atheist all my life, but gave religion a try as a child. I attended religious education in school… I really really wanted there to be a god, but of course I gave up pretty soon.

    I had my own set of problems as an adult, being somewhat jealous of Christians (especially in the US, where the church means a great community that belonging to seemed so wonderful to me… for a while anyway). I was jealous of their belief in what happens after life and scared because I just couldn’t believe that… and knowing that I would completely seize to exist after this life.

    If you ever care to read that experience, it is one of the first entries in my blog. :)

    Thank you for sharing your story.

     
  2. The Exterminator

    December 1, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    I promise I’ll tie this long-winded comment back to your great post, chappy. But first, I’d like to make a point that I’ve always found perplexing about religionists:

    They talk about belief as if a person could make a choice to believe, wake up one morning and suddenly say, “Hey, I think I’ll believe in a god today.”

    I’ve always felt that if you don’t believe, you don’t believe. You can’t will yourself to believe. If the whole construct of religion doesn’t make sense, you’re not likely, on a whim, to decide that it does.

    Now, it’s possible that a person could be nagged, cajoled, begged, or bullied to profess a belief, but that isn’t the same thing as having the belief.

    I’m finding a very interesting phenomenon occurring again and again in the de-conversion stories I’ve been reading, and I’d like to ask about it. I’m going to use your story as an example, chappy, and I’m going to ask you the question. You’re so incredibly articulate about your experiences that I think you’ll give a great answer. If your answer gets too long for a comment, I think a further post might be interesting.

    So here’s my main point and the question:
    I think “de-conversion” is an inapt term for what people go through. Yes, I accept the fact that believers are under the impression that they’re going through a long process taking them from superstition to the real world. But when I read these stories, I’m always struck with the fact that there must have been an aha! moment, an unexpected insight, a sudden flash, that undermines their entire worldview. They may not point to that moment; you didn’t. They may not be able to point to that moment, because they may not know precisely when it occurred. But I’d say that there’s some specific spark in their lives that triggers their non-belief — although they may not know it or recognize it at the time. Yours came, I’m guessing, long before you did that book review. Many, like you, struggle to reclaim their belief — but, it seems to me, that their atheism is already a done deal, in all but name, from the instant they say to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute!”

    I’d love to hear your comments on this.

     
  3. Spanish Inquisitor

    December 1, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Well, Ex, if you don’t mind, I’ll jump in too. (You really didn’t expect an answer only from Our Chap, did you?)

    Chaplain had a different deconversion than I did. She seemed to be a fervent believer until recently, but found that she just couldn’t sustain the belief.

    I was never a fervent believer. I was what I’d describe as a follower, one who simply believed because I was following in the footsteps of my family, friends, immediate community, etc. I believed because I didn’t know any better. But it added nothing to my life, and in fact seemed to detract in many ways. So I put it on the back burner, shed the rituals and outward manifestations of belief, and ignored it for a long time.

    I did have that “a ha!” moment, and I relate it in my story, here, which I know you’ve already read, because you commented on it. But it wasn’t any revelation like “Hey, there’s no god”, because I think I’d figured that out beforehand, in my subconsciouses.

    It was more of an intellectual justification for the lack of existence of god. That point where I equated the concept of the supernatural, with god, something I had never done before. I knew there was no Santa Claus, no fairies, no goblins, no unicorns. But I never thought of God, the personal Catholic god, as supernatural. Once I put two and two together, it clicked. THEN, and only then was my intellect piqued. I wanted to know more, and that’s when I began investigating, looking for the intellectual justification for what I already viscerally knew. And it didn’t take long. Just of few of the right books, and voila’, I was there.

    Which takes me to your first point, about willing belief. You are absolutely correct. You can’t talk yourself into believing something your mind says is unbelievable. That is the main reason, for me, why Pascal’s Wager cannot be valid. It doesn’t matter that one choice or another is better than the other, if I don’t believe it, I don’t, and I can’t make myself do so. And if I say I have, wouldn’t this god who can read my mind, know that I’m lying?

    Me: God, I believe in you, open up them Pearly Gates.
    God: Don’t bullshit me, boy. I know what you’re thinking. Off to hell you go.

     
  4. The Exterminator

    December 1, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    You must be reading my mind, SI. I almost got into a discussion of Pascal’s wager in my comment, and then thought it had already been covered quite effectively here (sorry, the name of the blogger escapes me).

     
  5. Lifeguard

    December 1, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Chaplain:
    Thanks for a beautifully written, articulate post. You wrote: “It was also a denial. I could not fathom the possibility, let alone the likelihood, that the perspective from which I had navigated through several decades of life was without foundation.” I thought that summed up a kind of disbelief many deconverts experience when questioning their faiths. It’s bewildering.

    SI and Ex:
    I did have an “Ah ha” moment of sorts. Sitting on the beach reading the Selfish Gene, I got to this passage where Dawkins wrote how it only made sense that, floating in the early primordial soup, simple molecules would form and obviously the stable molecules would last longer than the unstable ones, and the longer lasting ones would slowly become more numerous than the shorter lasting ones and so on.

    That passage hit me square between the eyes because it described how life could begin in a way the just didn’t leave any room for god. It left my quite astonished. I had already been reading a lot about atheism, but encountering the Selfish Gene at just that moment put me over the edge. By the time I finished that book, I saw the world in a completely different way.

    Everything changed. Nothing looked the same to me anymore. I think that’s what you’re talking about, SI, when you talk about god just not buying it with regards to Pascal’s wager. You knew you couldn’t profess and mean it anymore. Personally, I didn’t realize that whole dynamic until my fiancee and I had a discussion about the subject. Afterwards, I knew that I couldn’t just profess in bad faith. It felt like too much of a lie.

     
  6. Lynet

    December 1, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I always find myself admiring dramatic deconversion stories, and your ‘stages of grief’ format carries the feeling across very clearly. I have to admire your courage in finding your way along.

     
  7. JP Manzi

    December 1, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Damn, I didn’t know you wrote the above. I blogged on it 2 weeks ago, that is how close your words hit home. Little differences here and there but I can surely relate to the process. Over the last few days I have reached the point of acceptance and with acceptance comes utter happiness. I am sure much of that happiness has to do with the community of bloggers I have recently met, you included.

    Great post.

    I guess I am next in line.

     
  8. the chaplain

    December 2, 2007 at 1:06 am

    Ute:
    I read your early post about the “cold atheist” response. Christians just don’t get that people can lead emotionally fulfilling lives that don’t revolve around warm, fuzzy religious feelings. Our heads don’t stop our hearts from beating.

    Ex:
    I agree with you about the “choose to believe” thing. I don’t choose to believe that the earth revolves around the sun, I accept the fact that it does so. Belief is irrelevant. When Christians say “choose to believe,” they are assuming that God is a fact. His existence is not in question. In that case, the choice is whether or not to believe the Christ-story and accept salvation as Christianity defines it. They assume that most people they are talking to “know” God is real, but they are just rebelling, etc. The idea that actual, honest-to-goodness atheism is a real, honest-to-goodness possibility just doesn’t click with Christians. It’s entirely outside of the frame through which they view the world.

    You asked about an “aha” moment. That came when I was barely into the book I mentioned in the post. I had only read two or three chapters when I suddenly thought, “You know, they’re right.” That was when I entered the crisis described in this post. As I kept reading, I kept thinking, “yeah, that makes sense.” I tried to recover my faith, but, as you said, you can’t choose to believe something once you’ve recognized its falsity.

    SI & Lifeguard:
    Thanks for sharing bits of your stories here and in your own blogs. I think we can learn a lot from each other, and provide support and encouragement for each other along the way.

    Lynet:
    Thanks for your kind words. I can’t imagine what a childhood without religion would have been like. I envy you.

    JP:
    I checked your blog and read the comments too. As you know, there were similar comments on the de-conversion post. It seems that the grief involved in deconversion is pretty common. I look forward to reading more of your story.

     
  9. John Evo

    December 2, 2007 at 2:07 am

    Chaplain said: “Even though I was furious with Christian preachers and teachers, much of my anger was directed at myself. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I see through this stuff before? I’m a well-educated woman living in the 21st century. How could I have gone decades without recognizing that religious doctrine is all speculation?

    Chaplain, Lifeguard and JP are all extremely thoughtful, intelligent, well-read, articulate people. They lived for many credulous years prior to making a break with superstition. If it was this wrenching to, first, study the evidence and then to let go of their faith, what should we expect from the mindless millions?

    I know that’s a bit brutal, to call them mindless – and I recognize that it’s hyperbole and that many of them are intelligent in various arenas. But certainly there is a part of their brains that won’t even allow a search for truth.

    I once had an idea for a study that would look at 100 intelligent people of strong religious faith and see how many of them had read, cover to cover, any of the following books: Origin of Species, The Decent of Man, The Naked Ape, The Selfish Gene, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and maybe a total of 10 highly popular general reading books on evolution and philosophy. My hypothesis being – very few of the 100 ever read even a single one of the titles, even though they are widely available best sellers.

    Chaplain talks of how she tried to convince herself not to read the book that she feared would test her faith. I’d figure that most theists never even put themselves in the position of having to choose whether or not to read books that are so fundamentally contradictory to the tenets of their beliefs.

     
  10. the chaplain

    December 2, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    John-Evo:

    In your final sentence you hit on something very important about the process of keeping people in the fold: Many Christian leaders scrupulously strive to shield believers in their flocks from media that may challenge their beliefs. That’s why there’s so much fuss about The Golden Compass. That’s why evolution has to be kept out of classrooms that the children of believers attend.

    The process of indoctrination requires as much isolation from contrary views as it is possible to attain. My undergraduate degree was acquired at a conservative (evangelical but not fundamentalist – we used to joke about the idiots at Liberty, Bob Jones, etc.) Christian college. Looking back now, I can see that there were two threads of indoctrination going on. First, Christians were encouraged to isolate themselves from “worldly influences.” We were supposed to avoid reading worldly literature, viewing worldly movies, attending dances (I still can’t dance worth a damn, which I deeply regret). Cussing was grounds for disciplinary action and smoking or drinking were grounds for expulsion.

    Isolation is achieved by offering a full range of social activities at the church. People don’t need to join community softball leagues, etc., because the churches will form their own groups, leagues, etc. For many Christian parents, isolation is achieved by either a) sending their kids to private, Christian schools, or b) homeschooling their kids. Isolation is the key to successful indoctrination.

    The second thread of indoctrination I received at my Christian college was the idea of infiltration(they never used that term, but that’s what they meant). Since Christians cannot completely isolate themselves from the influences of a secular society (unless they live in caves or something), they should prepare themselves to be godly influences in the world, as explicated in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (salt & light of the world metaphors, etc.). We see this being played out by the Christian dominionists and theocrats in the USA today. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I learned that a number of people in this movement went to my alma mater (Asbury College), as well as Wheaton, Houghton, Messiah, Azusa Pacific, etc., and of course, the even more conservative Liberty, ORU, Bob Jones, etc.

    That, in a nutshell, is my theory of the twin pillars of fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity in the world today. Isolate Christians from all unwanted influences so that they can be equipped to infiltrate society and extend the Kingdom of God.

     
  11. the ridger

    December 2, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    When you say “When Christians say “choose to believe,” they are assuming that God is a fact” you’re also running into two different meanings of the word “belief”. Christians confuse the two a lot – not just Christians, of course – and when you say “I don’t believe” they hear it as meaning what they mean when they say they “don’t believe in” alcohol, or gambling, or divorce, or pre-marital sex, or whatever. They don’t mean those things don’t exist, they mean they don’t find them useful or acceptable or whatever. So when we say we “don’t believe in” god, they hear a willful rejection.

    So of course you can choose to “believe in” god.

     
  12. John Evo

    December 2, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    @ Chaplain

    That makes a lot of sense. I’m sure there are built-in mechanisms to “assist” believers. It not just that they don’t want to read or learn, it’s that they are actively encouraged not to – even though the leaders of the various congregations don’t exactly put it that way!

     
  13. the chaplain

    December 2, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    John Evo said,”It’s not just that [Christians] don’t want to read or learn, it’s that they are actively encouraged not to….” The Christian media industry is huge. Church leaders gladly steer their followers to Christian books, Christian CDs, etc. Some of the Christians I know only read for utilitarian reasons: they need some information for work, school, etc. Some other Christians I know read quite a lot, but it’s usually Christian pabulum, the popular crap on the Christian store bookshelves. Few of them read Luther or Calvin or Wesley or Bonhoeffer, etc.They also don’t cross boundaries, i.e., few Protestants I know read Catholic authors, etc. Such habits reinforce intellectual insularity.

    Ridger:
    You touched on an important point: the fuzziness of the term, belief. If, for some reason, an atheist is in conversation with a Christian about such matters, the atheist needs to make sure not to let the Christian define the terms of the discussion. If the Christian tries to continue with his/her ambiguous usage, the atheist might as well shut down the discussion, conversation, debate, argument, whatever it’s called when atheists and Christians talk past each other. Neither side will make any progress made unless they can agree to stick with common definitions that bind both sides.

     
  14. The Exterminator

    December 2, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    chaplain:
    I find myself being constantly amazed both by your wisdom and your ability to put it into words.

    Your long comment to Evo is crystal clear.

    And your point above to Ridger is right on the money. I think too many atheists engage in whatever-they-call-it with Christians using the Christians’ loaded dice. Every term in all such “discusions, conversations, debates, arguments” needs to be specifically defined on its first use. One tactic I’ve seen Christians resort to repeatedly is to slyly change the meanings with which they imbue words so that, at one moment they appear to be arguing in favor of one position, and at the next moment they’ve shifted. If you call them on it, they’ll come back with: “No, you misinterpreted what I said.”

     
  15. Brian

    December 2, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    I’m kind of jumping into the discussion a bit late here but I wanted to say that I actually had an aha! moment about seven years before I became an atheist. I even went through the shock phase, wandering around for days just staring into space, suddenly knowing that everything I believed was lie. I could barely get up in the mornings.

    But for some reason I bottled it up and went back into the faith. I had constant nagging doubts after that, but I just had too much invested in my beliefs to let go at that time.

    I guess I’m just trying to say, you’ve got nothing to feel stupid about because you didn’t see it sooner chaplain.

     
  16. handmaiden

    December 3, 2007 at 12:40 am

    I agree with the The Exterminator, you really do have the ability to put your wisdom into words. thanks.

    As I read this blog & the comments, I thought about my own deconversion. Having been raised with the fear of God instilled in me by a very zealous Pentecostal parent, I had to go through the “Born again” experience as an Adult to purge myself of the notion that it was the ‘Only’ way, because that is what I was told over & over as I was growing up. When I finally did immerse myself in the Christian experience, my own honest & intellegent conscience nagged me & nagged me. It was a long process to intellectual freedom & peace of mind.

     
  17. DaVincirapp

    December 3, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Getting back to the original post here, I’d say that what you went through is what we all go through when something is lost, whether it’s a marriage or loss of a loved one. When I got divorced the class we had to attend went through all the stages you mentioned in your post. It takes years to get over it.

     
  18. Ebonmuse

    December 3, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Thank you for a beautiful post. As difficult as it often is for a person to throw off the religion they’ve been indoctrinated with, the reward at the end makes the journey more than worthwhile. It’s heartening to see that you, like many other deconverts, have found happiness and peace in a life free from superstition.

    Also, I have to confess something: I never realized you were a woman! It was the use of the handle “the chaplain” that threw me. I was buying into the sex bias of organized religion without even realizing it. I’ll have to be more mindful in the future.

     
  19. Sheila Joyce Gibbs

    April 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I’ve a story to share, on the loss of my dearly beloved hubby/best-friend, now almost 24 months ago.
    It truly has been, one of the most unforeseen difficult journeys of my entire life, and when I think of anyone else, just starting this mysterious quest, my heartache’s for them.

    Kindly advise if appropriate for your web-site.

    Blessings to you all, in our Saviours precious & holy name !

     
  20. Gillian Cowley McPhee

    October 3, 2009 at 6:04 am

    I’d like to thank you for this article which I’ve only just stumbled upon. Having been a Christian for many years, I too had questions which I refused to address as I couldn’t bear the thought of challenging what had been my life-foundation. Looking back, I guess I was probably aware that, once I aknowledged the questions, they wouldn’t just go away….Once I allowed myself to question my faith, I found a whole world opening up to me, encompassing different types of spirituality which I’d been led to believe were ‘wrong’. The journey is an exhilarating one – however, I too went through the stages of grief as I firstly felt lost, then angry, then just incredibly empty. I now feel I’m emerging from the process, however, a much wiser person; and, more importantly, a person who is now being completely true to herself. Thank-you again for a very encouraging piece of writing.

     
  21. the chaplain

    October 3, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Gillian:
    Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you found something worthwhile in this post.

     
  22. Patricia

    November 1, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Thank you for this article. It encompasses what I am going through now. I have been a fervent Christian since childhood, have been a missionary, an ardent church-goer up until about 10 years ago, when I found the church experience (and more crucially, my church “friendships”) were not meeting any real needs in my life. Then I began dealing with the factual errors in the Bible, the exclusion of gays from church, the church’s denial of evolutionary science, etc …

    But I cannot stop believing in God. I have had experiences when I knew (and still know) that a prayer was being answered in a real way that was not just a coincidence. And to be honest, I would miss God if I did not believe S/He existed.

    So I guess I am trying to sit on two chairs at once. Will either fall off both and end up on one … and meanwhile, I guess I will have to come “out of the closet” to my friends who are still ardent believers. It is very isolating.

    Thanks to all who commented, I am feeling much less lonely about this journey.

    Pat

     
  23. the chaplain

    November 1, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Patricia:
    Thanks for your comment. With regard to your continued belief in God, don’t sweat it too much. Just continue living, learning, asking questions…

     
  24. PJ Squarebriggs

    December 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you for your honesty. I am currently grieving the loss of my own very deep and long-lasting Christian faith. I grew up in “the church,” married a young man destined for “the ministry,” spent years dedicating myself to Christian pursuits, etc. I worked hard to “protect” my own children from the evils of the world, via homeschooling, etc.

    Then after all the years of Bible college, we actually pastored a church for a year. It was the worst year of my life, bar none. Absolutely calamitous, for many different reasons, including personal crises which had nothing to do with Christianity or The Church; but the fact that I felt absolutely no support from any of my church friends really caused me to pause and ponder. Couple that with an incredibly difficult marriage and constant financial strain, and I started to question why we appeared to be constantly punished by the God I had loved and served so long. The final nail in the coffin of my faith was when one of our children was diagnosed with a life-threatening and very expensive disease. Bankruptcy quickly ensued.

    One night I stared at the full moon and found myself actually wondering if there was even a god at all out there. I wept when I felt a coldness inside of me, terrified that I already knew the answer.

    So here I am, broken hearted but moving on. I have moved from Christianity into a much broader “spiritual” phase. I am no longer able to sit in judgment of anybody about anything; and I feel free. It is uncomfortable and I don’t know how to explain it to friends still within the church (not to mention my family), but I now see that there is no way I can stuff that genie back in the bottle.

    Thanks for sharing. I am hopeful that one day there will be an end to my grief.

     
  25. the chaplain

    December 10, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    PJ
    Thank you for sharing your story; it’s very poignant. I really connected with this statement:

    I wept when I felt a coldness inside of me, terrified that I already knew the answer.

    I felt an emptiness rather than a coldness, and I remember the terror all too well. Your statement that you won’t be able to “stuff that genie back in the bottle” is correct. I, along with many other de-converts, assure you that there will be an end to your grief. When that time comes, you’ll be amazed at new-found senses of freedom and fascination. You’ll regain your equilibrium, and you’ll discover that it is possible to live and enjoy life without gods.

     
  26. Gary Egeberg

    September 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I thank all of you for what you have shared. I still find Jesus, his teachings, and how he interacted with people–based upon what little we know of his life–to be meaningful. You can leave Christianity, the church, beliefs about God or Jesus being the son of God, the Bible, etc., but still have a place in your heart for Jesus the human being and teacher. I consider him to be a “spirit friend” for lack of a better word. I don’t pray to him, yet at some level of my being, I greatly appreciate him and what he stood for, and he has a place in my heart. Perhaps some of you would find a book by Stephen Mitchell to be helpful. It is called “The Gospel according to Jesus.” It is quite a wonderful spiritual resource that respects all who are trying to find some meaning in their lives and orient themselves toward love. I, too, have left the church scene and feel a void. I’m trying not to take it out on Jesus, especially because of how he treated the marginalized and raged against instituional religion and blind guides.

     
  27. Megan Hoyt

    October 31, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Wow, Gary, I was just hoping to post something like what you said. I’ve been so discouraged at the condition of the “church” in America these days. I grew up in the 1970s with a warm, intimate relationship with a God Who was so real you could almost reach out and touch Him. I eventually got my Master’s in Theology. Many years have passed since then and what I’ve discovered through my own personal interactions with Christians is that I don’t like them very much! How can this be, when I AM one of them? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a square peg trying to squeeze into a round hole. But I seriously doubt God intended for the church to become what it now is, or to have become in the past what it became — the Crusades and all the rest. Like Pat, above, I cannot deny the existence of God because I have had personal spiritual experiences that were so real it was as if He was in the room with me. I have no other explanation than that He exists. But why He does not do this for others has me stumped completely. I think it may be that I have a personality that makes it easy to have spiritual experiences? A different sort of brain structure that allows me to experience God? But in that case, how could He possibly blame those who have been unable to muster the faith needed to believe in His existence? The answer, I believe, is that He doesn’t blame you. He (if He does exist and I believe He does) longs to warmly welcome all of humanity to His heart. But what He created for us here on earth was a beautiful gift with a side order of free will to do with it what we choose. Sometimes He drops in for a visit and much of the time He doesn’t. It’s like Narnia to me in a very real way. And I think C. S. Lewis got it right. Reading his Mere Christianity helped me along my faith journey, especially when other Christians misbehaved, gossiped about me, hurt me in ways only a fellow Christian can.

    One last thing — I noticed that in between the Old Testament and New there was a period called the Intertestamental Period (original, eh?) during which it is said that the word of the Lord was scarce. I wonder sometimes if we are in another “intertestamental” period right now. We are falling away in droves because God is not speaking, acting, or doing anything. I don’t pretend to understand why He might do this, but I’m still here, clinging to my rich faith — a faith so different from other Christians that I can no longer truly identify with them and their churches. I guess I’m the voice of the underground church, maybe? Those who have left the official fold but are still experiencing God in vibrant ways. I pray (yes, I do — not just mouthing off like a Southern Baptist “Oh, honey, I’ll pray for you” and then go off and gossip instead) that He will ease your minds and hearts and make Himself real to you. If He doesn’t, I really don’t see how He can blame you for not believing. My heart is stirred with real compassion for you all. I am humbled at your honesty and ashamed of my “people” for their callousness toward you. One of my dearest friends is an atheist. Her father is a priest. I know this journey is painful and treacherous. And desperately honest. Thanks for letting me share.

     

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