Phases of Deconversion:
Phase 0 - The pre-deconversion.
This step really isn't a step at all. This is just the generalized time before deconversion. In this phase you are 100% committed to your belief, you call yourself a christian, you think of yourself as a christian, you know all the ways to answer all the questions about your faith and the idea of not being a christian has yet to enter your mind. This phase could be brief or quite lengthy, but it is characterized by the complete lack of questioning about your faith. You may be confronted about your faith by others, and you respond with all the "right" answers, but you yourself have yet to put your belief under the microscope. Some can go their whole lives without ever leaving this state, but we are talking about deconversion here, so on to phase 1.
Phase 1 - Curiosity killed the cat.
This is what I would consider to be the real first step toward deconversion; The point at which you first examine your own faith. Now, this can come about in many ways. For some, their zeal for discovering more about their religion leads them to examine themselves, ironically enough this quest for a greater faith leads them towards a lesser (or non-existent) one. For others, this questioning process is brought about by the inquiries of others. One particularly poignant question becomes the seed from which reason sprouts. Others still may find that in their increased knowledge of the natural world, they find things in conflict or even contradiction to their previously held beliefs. Sadly, many... far too many come to this step through tragedy or hardship, when the question isn't about religion per se, but about the nature of god itself. "How could god let this happen?" or "Why would he let this happen to us" or such questions simply cannot be answered to any satisfaction.
There are many other ways this questioning process can be kicked off, but the point is that at some point the walls around your faith that protected it from introspection yield. I have a suspicion that most believers encounter this phase of deconversion at least once in their life of faith, though most find cause to ignore or suppress it. The bible itself warns against such questioning. The entire apologetics industry is designed to push phase 1ers back to phase 0, as demonstrated by the fact that anyone well into their deconversion (not to mention anyone of other faiths or non-faiths) find apologetic arguments laughable or downright insulting.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and after countless debates on the subjects of the bible and creation science i noticed myself doing something ive never done before, i started becoming troubled by the atrocities in the bible, in particular the OT.
one day while reading the old testament i came to a passage where god commanded saul to kill everyone in a town, including women and children. this deeply disturbed me i thought to myself how could a loving god order the murder of those who could not defend themselves, not just the women but also that of innocent children.
After that, I was sitting in my second astronomy class where I learned so much that was almost contradictory to what I had learned growing up. Over the course of the rest of the class, I added all the new knowledge on the size of the universe and how we are all "star dust" to things I learned in the previous classes. This began rational thinking in my life.
Phase 2 - The quest for answers.
Ok, so now you've got a mind full of questions... or maybe just one or two particularly persistent ones. Who has the answers? For most, the first place we look is also the least helpful, religion. We scour the bible, meet with our pastor, call up our strong christian brothers and sisters. We peruse christian message boards and we read christian literature. So careful are we to avoid any secular literature for fear that it may seek to lead us away from our faith. The answer-seekers are convinced that they are still trying to save their faith, to fortify it with godly answers. This phase is characterized by one emotion; Fear.
It is a particular brand of fear, I can liken it most to the feeling of being lost. Like you were hiking in the woods and lose your bearings, all of the sudden you are struck by this sense of "I don't know where I am." Luckily for you, you are surrounded by others and can simply ask for directions. Unfortunately the answers you get are thoroughly unsatisfying. In fact, sometimes your questions aren't answered at all, but rather turned around onto you as some sort of flaw in your faith. You are told to consult the tour guide, but he just tells you to stay with the flock, and go read your guidebook. You check your guidebook but it barely seems to make sense anymore; "What the hell are these guys talking about palm trees for? I'm in the rocky mountains!!"
In your search to find slightly more satisfying answers, you find a secular source. It may be by accident, a non-religious friend or relative, or it may be on purpose under the guise of curiosity, such as stumbling onto exchristians.net, but none-the-less you find someone, somewhere, who will actually answer your questions. However, far from sealing this one tiny leak in your otherwise unsinkable faith-tanic, you are spurred on to new questions, until you inevitably find yourself at "the" question, and the answer isn't 42.
When I expressed my concerns to people in my ministry I was told I needed to go to school and learn more about my faith so I would better understand our theology and doctrine.
A funny thing happened on my way to my liberal arts degree. I was required to take a Humanities course called â€œWestern Civilization.â€ In it I had to read the work of several eighteenth century philosophers from the â€œAge of Reasonâ€. It was a flunk-out course and most students hated it, but I loved it. The scales fell from my eyes. At the end of the two-semester course (sophomore year), I was a full blown atheist. A little education is a dangerous thing.
Phase 3 - Do I believe?
Most people, I find, don't actually ask this question until their deconversion is at such a point that the answer is "No". We skirt around the question, avoiding it for fear of the consequences. This can be a very desperate time for some, especially if your whole life is built on a christian foundation. It isn't just a question of changing perspective, but of giving up everything you've ever known. Desperately, you seek the counsel of your friends and mentors, but to your surprise your hints at a failing faith are met with hostility, condemnation, and rebuke. I suspect that this is because your open questioning of faith sheds light on their private questioning of faith and their aggression is really a defensive maneuver. Either way, this can be a very lonely time, one at which you fell isolated from your normal support group, if not physically isolated, than emotionally isolated. Some are lucky to find others of fading faith for support, others unfortunately face this transition alone.
In some ways, and for some people however, this can be a very liberating process. If you find yourself in a religiously neutral environment, the pursuit of knowledge of the world and yourself can be exciting, filled with new discoveries every day. You can throw off the shackles that bound you to your faith and are free to explore all sorts of new things you may have never heard of before.
Nevertheless, at some point the question is asked, by yourself or by someone else; "Do you believe?" and you answer, "No."
But I kept asking questions. Finally one day I asked our pastor (a second evangelical pastor who came after Al) about "the unforgivable sin". I had read this in my bible, but I didn't really understand what it meant. He told me that the unforgiveable sin was turning my back on Jesus. Well, I was sure I'd done that. Was he sure that was unforgiveable? Was there really something that I could do and I wouldn't be forgiven? That scared me.
After that I became much less religious, almost to the point of agnosticism. I wavered from rejecting God to running back to theism. My church friends were no help, the hypocrites. Praising God in one breath and backstabbing and uttering insults the next. The girls, even worse. They were the more zealous to worship Father God, and yet that didn't stop them from sleeping around or being catty bitches to one another. I began to see just how corrupt the church's followers were. The few good men were outnumbered by dozens of hypocrites, liars, and charlatans. I was disgusted. I stopped going to youth group meetings because of that. Another symptom of my disillusionment.
a switch went off in my head,for the first time in my life someone said it was ok not to believe in god, in an unconscious way i had searching for someone to tell me that it was ok, taht someone else doubts in their faith. the other incident that finally seperated me was one day my friend had made me a cannibal corpse (death metal) t-shirt with sharpie that had a pentagram on the back a typlical staple of death metal imagry, a older kid at the school cornered me and told me did i know i was going to hell for wearing that?? i told him casually yes not really caring or beliveing him, and for the first time i was able to look from the outside in at how ridiculous that sound, a 5-pointed star would curse me to hell??
Phase 4 - Anger
"Congratulations! You are now a non-believer. Here is your hat and t-shirt. We're having a bake-sale this Saturday at the park and I'll go ahead and sign you up for our newsletter...." Well, not exactly. When you converted, there was all sorts of pomp and circumstance. People were showering you with attention, everyone was your friend and you were instantly tied into a new social group. Your moment of deconversion, the moment you first answer that question "No", by contrast is wholly unsatisfying. The sky doesn't part, lightning doesn't strike your house, demons don't stab you in the ass with pitchforks... In a way you almost wish you did get stabbed in the ass, at least there would be something that happened to signify your deconversion, some sort of moment in time that you could point to as the beginning of a new life. We could all sit around and talk about our deconversion moment: I'd ask, "So when did you get stabbed in the ass with a pitchfork?" and you'd reply, "Oh, it was back in aught-six, I was visiting my parents for christmas. Do you want to see the scar?" at which point I'd reply, "No thanks.... You should really pull up your pants now, this is awkward."
Unfortunately for all of us, there is no signifying moment of deconversion. We still live the same life we did, but now we are constantly bombarded with reminders of our old faith. We can feel very rejected, very hurt, insulted, or degraded. You end up feeling embarrassed by your former belief, and you feel so dumb for falling victim to it for so long. You feel betrayed by the people you trusted so much to tell you the truth of the world. Above all things, you begin to feel angry.
And you should feel angry! You were lied to, you were kept in fear. You expected love from these people but they were just using you. When you needed support while giving up your faith, they told you it was your fault! How dare they! These people called themselves your friends but once you had a little ideological difference they abandoned you, they judged you, they completely ignored you. Oh the hypocrisy! They stole your life from you, you'll never get those years back. All the embarrassing things I've said to non-religious co-workers and friends. How could I have been such a fool! etc...
For many, many of us, the anger phase lasts a long time. It manifests itself in all sorts of ways, sometimes overtly, sometimes passively. Don't get me wrong, it's good to feel anger, it is good to get these feelings out, but at some point the anger must give way. The anger feels so good, it is so emotionally satisfying that we sometimes want to hang onto it too long, but we must give it up to move on to phase 5.
I just am facing the fact that I am still really freekin angry at these suckers and it's not only based upon this woman's lying ass horseshit. It's years of wasted time dealing with control freaks who ain't no better than me but on the flip side are some of the most deceitful lying little pustules I have ever dealt with, and BEEN HARMED BY, in my entire life. And most of them do it with such relish, because of course, they're 'saved' and I ain't so they can feel free to do as they please and harm who they want and all is 'forgiven'. Fuck them. I have tried to bury how I really feel about it all for too long, and repressing it has made me sick, and I mean even feeling physically sick, so pardon me if anyone feels like I've tipped over some line somewhere here.
When I finally left Christianity after many years, I became very, very angry over the manipulation, the fear-based theologies of hell and demons, the suppression of questioning, the guilt, the shame, etc. At the same time I was also still convinced that I was a sinful, horrible, no-good person and the guilt was crushing.
Phase 5 - Acceptance
The ultimate tragedy of being a deconvert is the fact that even though we stop believing, we won't let it go. Imagine your old faith like a car. For a while you loved it, you took care of it and drove it all the time but one day it breaks down. You get out and try to fix it, but you can't. You ask a mechanic but he just asks for 10% of your income and tells you to fix it yourself. You consult the user manual but it was written for a horse-and-buggy. In desperation, you start kicking the car, swearing at it, throwing rocks at it. You hate it, and somehow punishing it for leaving you stranded makes you feel some amount of relief. You push it home, kicking it and swearing at it the whole way. You get up in the middle of the night just to take a leak in the gas tank. Then you start acting weird.
You start pushing the car wherever you go, breaking out the windows and scratching the paint. You get a new car and tow the old one behind it just so it's available for abuse whenever you need. You may even attack other peoples cars of the same make and model; "Your car's garbage! Throw it away, you can't depend on it!" Admit it, you actually enjoy being mad at your car.
For a time that anger is very therapeutic, it helps you cope with the loss of a major component of your life. Now however, your life is just as consumed with this car as it was when it worked, and you don't even get to drive it anymore! To truly be past it, you need to go ahead and drop it off at the dump. You don't need to rush yourself, have fun tearing the hunk-o-junk up, but wouldn't it be nice to live a life that didn't revolve around the old christ-moble anymore?