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A Long, Hard Journey


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I grew up on the mission field, the child of a mennonite mother and a baptist father. My parents have always loved me and cared for me, and of course they were careful to assure that I was "trained up in the way I should go." Praying before meals, going to church on Sunday, tithing, and reading stories from the Bible at night were all inviolable traditions. Anyone who didn't perform these practices adequately couldn't be REAL Christians, I thought. My Dad would talk about people who only went to church because they came from a Christian family. I looked with suspicion upon people who only showed up halfway through a service, or worse, only came at Christmas and Easter. I have always had an elitist streak, and I often took comfort in the fact that I knew the right behaviours. Christianity, then, was all about "reading your Bible, praying everyday" as the songs goes.

Of course, that was only half of the story. I was well aware that there were certain things that one mustn't do, like saying "gosh" "darn" or "heck." I grew up with a strong concept of purity (again, I think of a song... "oh be careful little eyes, what you see"). If one did something bad, one had to ask forgiveness and mend one's ways. Needless to say, I grew up with a lot of guilt. I knew that, in order to get to heaven, you had to pray and "ask Jesus into your heart". I was often so terrified that somehow, I hadn't done it right, so I would sometimes sit and repeatedly ask Jesus into my heart, just to make sure.

Growing up on the mission field had its interesting quirks. I developed a strong sense of fear towards the things of Islam and Hinduism, a sense that I have yet to shake. I remember being frightened when we would drive pass the orange temple with the painting of Hanuman, and I remember the chilling sound of the Muslim call to prayer. I was reared in a grand world of angels, and demons, and "spiritual warfare" that intersected into daily life. The icons, practices, and relics of false religions all had demonic powers behind them, powers that had to be fought with weapons of prayer and faith.

Thus the spiritual world was very real to me. Stories of miraculous healings, visions, and even resurrections were surprisingly commonplace, but no less exciting for it. Everyone had a story about how God had intervened in their life in a spectacular way. Everyone... except me. Of course, I learned how to read miraculous explanations into almost anything, but there are some things even an active imagination can't fix. I remember being at a Christian summer camp for kids where we were taught to sit and wait for God to speak to us. I would screw up my eyes really tight until brightly coloured patterns formed against my retina. If I tried really hard, I could sometimes make out vague images, but nothing like the vivid, detailed visions of others. Sometimes I figured my heart must not be right. Still, I never really questioned the existance of miraculous phenomena as far as I can remember. (Isn't it funny how Christians will scoff at the superstitious beliefs and practices of others, while remaining so blind to their own?)

When I became a teenager, my faith went through a metamorphosis of sorts. I was beginning to have a "personal relationship with God" that went beyond songs and rituals. My faith became something I was deeply concerned about, and I tried hard to be a spiritual person. I would go on walks and talk with God, I would study the Bible, and I would search my heart for any iniquities. I started becoming more personally involved in worship instead of just spectating; I began taking communion, I would raise my hands during the songs, I would seek God's will in every area of my life. Of course, all this time, I thought I was a terrible Christian. I thought I was stubborn, selfish, and lustful, and I felt so sinful and so inadequate. I entered a viscious cycle; I would look inside myself until I found some shred of pride or sin, then I would struggle to "give it up to God". Of course, once I finally relinquished control of my life in one area ("dying to self..." what a joke), I never felt any sense of spiritual satisfaction or increased intimacy with God; I only became even more aware of how far short I fell of what Christ demanded.

Emotional exaustion and nagging doubts were beginning to take effect. When we finally left the mission field, I was sixteen, and enrolled in a Christian college (homeschooled, go figure). A lot of stuff happened that year. First, I was obsessed with sex and with sexual purity. Any men around here will know how debilitating that can be, always hoping for purity, always falling on your face. Loving every sexual sin and hating yourself for it. Second, I was terrified of God. My greatest fear was that Jesus would return in my lifetime. The possibility of going to hell was besides the point; I was too fond of this earth and my life on it to want it to end. Third, I was experiencing increasing increasingdoubts as to the validity of Christianity. Yes, I was going to a Christian school, but while it may be conservative on paper, things such as the theory of evolution and the documentary hypothesis are regularly taught as fact, or at least plausible explanations (to the consternation of many students, but that's another story). Things just weren't adding up for me. Perhaps it was because of the emotional stress and exhaustion, but I kept an open mind because I was deeply unsatisfied with my faith. The peace, joy, and love that it promised were always so very absent.

To make a long story short, the next few years saw me becoming increasingly liberal. My deconversion progressed slowly, often taking ten steps forward, then nine steps back. I remember being an atheist one week, then interested in paganism, only to return to some semblance of Christianity the next. I was clinging to straws.

So here I am today. I've been an atheist for more than half a year now. I still go to a Christian school, but no-one save a couple of friends (who have grown similarily liberal with the passage of time) know about it. I told my parents a couple months ago, and they were pretty heartbroken. Thing is, I was very vague, and I'm certain they don't know the true extent of my apostasy. I feel cut off from everyone. I want to talk about how I feel and what I think, but I have no clue how people will react, so I shut up. I'm still putting off telling my Christian friends at school where I stand. But do I really stand anywhere? Nothing I found has really satisfied me. Atheism seems like a dead end, but I see no other plausible explanation. I'm deeply unhappy. I don't miss the Bible at all (good riddance), but I sometimes miss Jesus, and I definately miss God. I feel very lost; I don't know what's true anymore, and I don't know what's right or wrong. The night I told my parents, I went to bed half expecting to wake up and find that the past three years had been one long dream. But when the morning came, I was still as atheistic as ever.

 

That's my story so far. No happy ending, but at least it's true.

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....Atheism seems like a dead end, but I see no other plausible explanation.....
It is hard for anyone to break away from childhood brainwashing such as your's. Atheism is not a dead end, but a begining. It's the begining of reality for many. The begining of life where you actually deal with life instead of what doesn't come after that life is over. Just hang in there. It gets easier.

 

Just let your parents know that while you may not believe in their gods, you're still keeping the morals they taught you.

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Hi mate

 

My deconversion process was a lot quicker than yours, but I too went through hard times after my deconversion, so i know how you feel. Trust me, it is possible to come out on the other side, and I wish you the very best.

 

I'm no expert on giving advice on how to make things better, but this forum really helped me a lot and I eventually realised that I didn't need to be so depressed.

 

Take care of yourself

Andy

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Just let your parents know that while you may not believe in their gods, you're still keeping the morals they taught you.

 

Hmm, but there's the problem. I've been having a hard fitting moral standards into an atheistic framework. Doubtless there's been countless conversations on this topic around here, and I've done reading on the subject myself. I can see how moral principles can be explained from a Darwinian perspective, but that doesn't make those principles binding in any way.

 

On a similar note, my Dad keeps bugging me about getting some kind of content filter for my computer... I keep stalling, 'cause I don't want to give up free pr0n. :HaHa:

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Hi Fonkey. I am moved and appreciate your story. Yes, I remember lots of stories of Book of Acts-level miracles reported "from the mission field" years ago. All along I knew that Hindus boast similar stories, but I suppressed that knowledge for many years.

 

Atheism isn't a dead end, in my opinion, but I might know what you mean if you mean that it's formulated as a negative position. consider strong positive directions of affirming life. How much better they are without the god hypothesis tacked on top!

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I thought I'd add to me story a little bit. I live in Canada, where we have a somewhat different brand of Christianity than in the states, from what I can tell. I think I can say with complete honesty that most of the Christians I know are kindhearted, reasonable people who are just misguided in certain areas. The "good Christian / evil atheist" stereotype has been very hard to discredit, especially when I encounter atheists who seem to act like total assholes (mostly on the web, cause I know very few non-christians in real life). If all the Christians I knew were the self-righteous, hypocritical, hateful morons that people sometimes depict them as, I think I'd find deconversion a whole lot easier.

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Just let your parents know that while you may not believe in their gods, you're still keeping the morals they taught you.
Hmm, but there's the problem. I've been having a hard fitting moral standards into an atheistic framework. Doubtless there's been countless conversations on this topic around here, and I've done reading on the subject myself. I can see how moral principles can be explained from a Darwinian perspective, but that doesn't make those principles binding in any way.
Not everything needs to be boiled down to a "Darwinian" perspective. The world does not revolve around Darwin. How do moral standards fit into a religion? They don't. There are no moral standards in a religion, just laws one of forced to follow under a threat of great punishment. Then you have Euthyphro's Delima; Do the gods approve an action because it is holy (pious), or is it holy (pious) because it is approved? Or, is something right because a god says it is right, or is it right on it's own? Do you not rob banks because it is against the law, or because some religion tells you not to steal, or because it is not right to take something that does not belong to you?

 

As for Darwin..... would you and your offspring have a better chance of surviving if your society has a moral code against killing anyone you don't like?

On a similar note, my Dad keeps bugging me about getting some kind of content filter for my computer... I keep stalling, 'cause I don't want to give up free pr0n. :HaHa:
Can't help you on that one. I prefer live women.
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I thought I'd add to me story a little bit. I live in Canada, where we have a somewhat different brand of Christianity than in the states, from what I can tell. I think I can say with complete honesty that most of the Christians I know are kindhearted, reasonable people who are just misguided in certain areas. The "good Christian / evil atheist" stereotype has been very hard to discredit, especially when I encounter atheists who seem to act like total assholes (mostly on the web, cause I know very few non-christians in real life). If all the Christians I knew were the self-righteous, hypocritical, hateful morons that people sometimes depict them as, I think I'd find deconversion a whole lot easier.

 

Fonky, where in Canada are you? I am in Southern Ontario. I was raised horse and buggy Mennonite. Do we know each other? KW is where I live now in case that means anything to you. I lived on the edge of Elmira for many years.

 

I have not seen the inside of a church in many months. Might be years by now. I've lost track. I attended a Quaker meeting last spring but never got around to going again. They were nice but like you--I see discrepencies in Christian theology no one else sees. Except exChristians. All of us see the discrepencies.

 

I also know about parents--family in general. You say you're Mennonite and Baptist. Excellent combination for getting shunned/excommunicated simply for not believing what your parents do. You could find yourself without a place to sleep. (I say this mainly for the benefit of people who think you should tell.) The consequences for telling could be horrendous. I wouldn't tell if there were a way around it.

 

I accidentally mentioned it to a few Christians. One was a Baptist optometrist and the other was my Mennonite sister. The reaction is terrible. The doctor dismissed me (it was somewhat more complicated than this but end result I'm discharged with no reason stated; our last conversation regarded religion). My sisters hardly talk to me anymore. Not that I want to talk with them after the way they treated me. They likewise feel I betrayed their trust simply by deconverting.

 

My landlady is a Mennonite (car) and goes to church every Sunday. We share a lot of stuff but we never talk about religion. She knows I never go to church because that cannot be hid. We live in such close quarters that this cannot be hid. I am always home on Sunday mornings. But many Christians seldom go to church but they still believe in God and that Jesus is important to salvation.

 

Feel free to send me a pm if you wish. I know many Mennonites of all stripes in this area (Listowel, Elmira, St. Jacobs, KW, Floradale, Bloomingdale, etc.), and a few in the Toronto area. Possibly even one or two down Niagara-way. You might be related to someone I know.

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Fonkey,

 

Welcome to ex-c. This place has been extremely important to me since last year when I stopped going to church. Thank you for allowing us to know you. It is always good to see another "soul" freed from the Christian cult.

 

I just have to congratulate you, because considering all, you are doing great. You really are. Many of us haven't told our families, but you have, even though it seems you live at home at the moment.

 

I, too, felt completely lost at the beginning. I was reading all kinds of books and asking for guidance of everybody who would hear me. Until one day, I figured out that it was all up to me. I didn't have to believe the Bible, or Darwin, or Buddha, or anyone. I just had to follow my gut feelings, do what I thought was right. I am still learning to listen to myself, and I get better at it all the time.

 

I am also curious to know where in Canada you live. Here in the west, there are plenty of very nice atheists and agnostics. It still isn't easy to make friends though, because I have a lot of Christian baggage. For example, being in loud, smoky places--such as pubs--drives me crazy.

 

So no, it isn't easy for anyone. I imagine it will get better, but at the moment I am still struggling. Reading others' post on this site, however, helps me realize that I am not the only one, and that being lonely is part of being an apostate, at least at the beginning.

 

All the best to you!

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Not everything needs to be boiled down to a "Darwinian" perspective. The world does not revolve around Darwin. How do moral standards fit into a religion? They don't. There are no moral standards in a religion, just laws one of forced to follow under a threat of great punishment. Then you have Euthyphro's Delima; Do the gods approve an action because it is holy (pious), or is it holy (pious) because it is approved? Or, is something right because a god says it is right, or is it right on it's own? Do you not rob banks because it is against the law, or because some religion tells you not to steal, or because it is not right to take something that does not belong to you?

 

As for Darwin..... would you and your offspring have a better chance of surviving if your society has a moral code against killing anyone you don't like?

 

Thanks for the input. I wasn't trying to engage in Darwin worship; I was talking about how the existence of moral standards can be explained without appealing to higher powers. As you point out, a lot of ethical codes which, on the surface, seem to contradict the concept of "survival of the fittest" are actually vital to ensure the survival of humanity. However, while I find that it is generally in one's best interest to act "morally", I hardly think that we are in any way obliged to do so. So, even if you can prove that immoral behaviour is against a person's self-interest, what if they don't care?

 

As for the Euthyphro Dilemma, I am already aware of it. However, I fail to see how a "natural law" could possibly exist. Perhaps you could enlighten me?

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Hello, Fonkey, and a warm welcome to the community...

 

Everything you say is so very understandable, and a true, heartfelt testimony...I know exactly how you feel, but as an ex-christian of many years, I can tell you with absolute confidence that it gets better, the more you think, read others' thoughts, open up and share what conflicts you have. There are always answers, and there is always support for you. I of course was once a christian, now an atheist, but that is only one of a number of alternatives to the narrow, guilt-and-shame ridden world of the christian.

 

Pull up a chair, pour yourself some refreshment, and join in. We're here for each other's growth in life. It's a grand journey, and the deluded need not apply...

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Hi Fonkey, and welcome.

 

A rough ride is not uncommon during the deconversion process, but things do get better.

 

You mentioned not being sure how people would react, and that depends on which people are doing the reacting. The two extremes are your environment at your home, church, and school, where at best you wouldn't be understood and at worst you'd be totally ostracised, and a forum like this, full of those of us who have been there. I've found in life outside of protected home/school/church environments it's a mixed bag. My co-workers and those I come across range the gamut, from christian zealots who would be anxious to convert me (or worse, try to, sensing I am not one of them) to people who are like minded with me, and everything in between. I only have conversations about religion with a small minority of people I know.

 

As for morality, I have to say that the people I know toward the atheist end of the curve seem to be at least as moral to me as the christians. One of the greatest myths of conservative and evangelical churches is that you can't have morality without god. I believe that the biggest difference is that the christian/theist is provided an absolute code attributed to a deity, whereas the atheist must use tools such as reason and critical thought to map out a moral code. It doesn't take morality away, only the divine dictate/fear of hell lure. I personally think that the morals that have been thought out and not handed down and attributed to a deity are more flexible in a changing world, ultimately kinder, and less subject to abuse. I see more hypocrisy among the devout believers as compared with badly behaving non-believers who at least don't have the shroud of religion to do an elaborate dance with to either mask or justify bad behavior. My morals are not terribly different than from when I was a christian: I'm more liberal in my views about sexuality, like you say, the obsession with purity we are taught is debilitating, I no longer believe the particular extreme brand of purity I was taught is "moral". And you can bet that I will not use "morality" as an excuse for any form of bigotry or intolerance. But a lot of the big stuff is the same for most major, minor and non-religions and boils down to something along the lines of: treat each other with respect and decency.

 

Best wishes wherever your journey takes you from here, Fonkey.

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Great Eximony,

 

It amazes me how all these stories parallel my own. I remember the depression I felt once I realized that I was no longer a believer. I'm sure there are phases that we all go through.

 

Doubt, Depression, Acceptance, Rebirth?

 

There is nothing wrong with maintaining your high morale standards. I salute your efforts! I would suggest studying philosopy and some of the theological history. These will better educate you and help strengthen your resolve and understanding of who you are and how you got here.

 

The only way to combat the confusion is by laying it all out, and logically breaking down each question and doubt.

 

Just because you no longer believe in an afterlife shouldn't take away from your "real" life. It should strengthen your resolve to live it to its fullest!

 

I welcome you to read my own eximony titled, "The Godly Christlike Atheist." You will notice how our stories have many similarities.

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Hmm, but there's the problem. I've been having a hard fitting moral standards into an atheistic framework.
Snap! I found this so hard to start with, and to be honest I've just shunted it to the back of my mind. I live as though I believe strongly in morals, though sometimes I wonder if they really exist. I dunno xD I really should devote some time to thinking this through, just never seem to get round to it.

 

 

I would suggest studying philosopy and some of the theological history.
That's the only advice I can offer you too really. Replace all those views on life, the universe, your place in it with some rationally thought-out ideas instead.

 

 

Finally, if you are scared of leaving, i.e. suffering from what-if-I-got-it-wrong-syndrome, just stick around here for a while and join our debates. I found that it brings a special sort of comfort to hear from people similar to oneself. Beside, at least the people on here will be joining you in hell if we have got it wrong! Doesn't that make you feel better? xD

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