TinMan

The Difficulty of Full Deconversion

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I wanted to write this post because I believe there are others who can benefit from it. The journey from believer to atheist is difficult, more so if you were truly committed to the belief system. Though this process probably applies to other religions, I will strictly be speaking to Christianity because that is the only religion I have serious experience with.

 

As I have stated more in depth elsewhere, I was an extremely committed Christian. What I mean by that is that I took the faith seriously. So serious, I was dedicated to figuring out what God wanted and what was my duty as a believer. This was actually one of the major reasons I left Christianity. I was never so hubris to think I had all the answers, I thought everyone else did though. I would scour through CARM, GotQuestions.org, Apologetics Press, and any other Christian website out there, no matter how wacky it was (for example, Dan Corner's Evangelical Outreach). Problem was, none of these groups could agree on anything. The nature of God, what did God want, what was orthodox, what was heresy. It was such a huge mess I just became disenchanted with all of it. It occurred to me that my potential eternal fate was on the line and I did not know how to get on track. Did Jesus really teach pacifism; were we supposed to sell our goods to the poor, if so, why....what would that accomplish other than everyone is poor? That does not seem like a long term economic plan (teaser....if Jesus taught the end of the age was right around the corner, it does make sense....and the NT does teach that);  was God predestining people to hell; was there freewill. On and on it went and there were no answers, because there was no evidence to back up the claims. That is the game being played - merely make a statement and then proof-text the Bible to back up the statement. Everyone in the Christian community does it, and nobody is winning.

 

Through all this, I went through the various stages of deconversion: full on Calvinistic fundamentalism (eventually the idea God was jettisoning people into hell started to make me physically nauseous), Arminianism, Annihilationist, Universalist, Deist, agnostic, now atheist (technically agnostic/atheist since I cannot say I know there is no god being). The deconversion process is fairly ubiquitous in the main points, that is, Believer - then Universalist - Deist (perhaps followed by spiritual but not religious) - agnostic - atheist. Make no mistake, this process can be especially painful to go through.

 

When I was a through and through believer, I could not even frame what atheist were trying to say. I was taught to read the Bible one way, and as Dr. Robert M. Price would jokingly put it, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." Of course I believed it only from a fundamentalist standpoint. It was all I was taught growing up. I thought liberal theology was flat out heresy, and truth be told, I never even heard of the historical-critical method until a year ago.

 

The process of leaving religion starts with losing fear, at least that was true for me. I spent so much time defending the Bible, God, and dogma out of a fear of hell - that is, punishment. I did not want to be punished so I toed the party line no matter how absurd it may have been. It is not until you are able to defeat your fears will you be able to start framing dogmatic stances differently. My first breakthrough was when I said I would no longer defend God's character when it came to difficulties in the Bible. I stopped trying to play the game where God was innocent of all wrong doing in every circumstance. I then decided I would be honest about how I really felt about hell, especially those who believe infants are in hell. I just could not do it anymore. I could not see how eternally punishing someone was just or fair or loving. It is not, it is terrible; and to say a being that "is love" is doing so is just ridiculous. It completely evacuates the word love of any real meaning.

 

These were my initial breakthroughs, after which, I realized that other people do not have the answers. They do not know the Bible, God's heart, or whatever else they are attempting to claim; they are just as lost about the nature of reality as everyone else, if not more so. I say this because at least secularist are willing to go wherever the evidence takes them. Seculars do not believe something and then attempt to rationalize it (well, this holds true if they are doing it right).

 

It was at this moment where I was feeling extremely tumultuous. I remember getting on my knees multiple times asking God to reveal to me what it actually meant to be a Christian. I would give anything if he would just give me one hour of his time to answer my questions and get me on the right path. As others before me at this point in the journey, my fervent prayers were met with silence. Not to deviate too much from the topic, but I find this to be a good talking point. For all the talk about how much the Christian God is so loving, and can be viewed as a father, does it not seem odd that he will not actually fulfill that role? What father, or mother, if they truly had the authority to judge their child's life would not fully explain what to believe, what to do, what not to do, and the consequences for each - in person. Why the hearsay? Why the divine hiding? If this deity is so damn concerned with what we are believing and how we are living our lives, then why not just come to everyone and lay it out. To me, any good parent would do so, and if mortals are so terribly horrible compared to this thrice Holy God, it would seem the aforementioned would be natural action this deity would take. Talk is cheap, no matter who is talking.

 

After the failure of any deity to show up and give me divine inspiration, I finally broke down and decided to listen to what the secular atheist had to say. I had one condition, I was not willing to listen to any atheist who had not been a former Christian. Only former believers know what it is like to be in the game and to make their way out of it. I started by visiting sites such as this. After that, I began to watch YouTube videos by atheists: Seth Andrews, Matt Dillahunty, and the like. I was obsessed with what they had to say. It was the first time I ever heard anyone actually question the existence of God in a rational manner, and it made me pause. I must have listened to 24 hours of videos before moving on to other media formats. I joined the Bart Ehrman blog and ordered a few of his books. Reading what Dr. Ehrman had to say regarding the veracity of the Bible was completely uncharted territories for me. Little by little I was able to start pivoting from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Again, it was not easy, I was often afraid. Afraid of being wrong, that was my primary fear. I felt as though I was opening a can of worms that cannot be put back once they were out, and if I was wrong, I was going to pay for it eternally.

 

Following Dr. Ehrman, I ran across the name Dr. Robert M. Price. He has a couple podcasts, The Human Bible, and The Bible Geek. I went back and downloaded every Human Bible episode I could as well as Bible Geek episodes. What an eye opening discussion from Dr. Price. I listened to all the Human Bible and  Bible Geek (there are a ton of these so I have not been through all of them yet) episodes I could download on Podcast Addict. I then ran across other names such as David Fitzgerald, Dr. Richard Carrier, and Jerry DeWitt (former Pentacostal preacher). Each with YouTube videos, audio books, and the written word which aided in breaking the spell of fundamentalism.

 

I also found websites ran by former believers that also helped to break the spell:

 

https://brucegerencser.net (was a pastor for 25 years)

https://rejectingjesus.com

https://christosophical.wordpress.com

 

I mention all of these names because I believe others will find value in hearing and reading what they have to say. It was these authors who helped me on my journey. There were so many times I wanted to run back to the safety net of fundamentalism, but more and more I realized, I can not go back, there is nothing to go back to. Nothing changed in the Christian community, there was still no unity. Each church believed the church across the road was going to hell. In reality, hearing these secular authors discuss the Bible was the first time I was getting an honest and frank discussion regarding the Bible. No spin doctors, just academics seeking to know and understand....you do not get that in church, you get a theologically loaded discussion with an endpoint in mind.

 

As I mentioned before, the journey is wrought with self doubt and fear. Each breakthrough is a major victory because it is so difficult to get there. My advice would be to keep learning - keep listening and keep reading. Over time, the dogmatic beliefs you once held will start to loosen, little by little. At first it is terrifying, but as your skepticism grows, you will look back and be astounded at the ridiculous notions you once believed. Do not get me wrong, every now and then I am blindsided by my own mind and wonder if I have this all wrong and will be eternal BBQ; well, if that is the case, then so be it. I did my best to figure out the truth and if I end up eternally punished, it is the deity's fault I am there (this is a discussion for another time - long story short, the Christian God only has himself to blame for the sin in the world [not that I believe this is a true story, but merely speaking to the logical conclusions you would have to draw from biblical narratives]).

 

Looking back, I am not really sure when I started on the journey towards atheism, but it was relatively recent, only within the past year and a half. I can say this, if you stick through it, it can be liberating. No longer the guilt, the shame, the sense of worthlessness, but it can also be troubling. I had to come to terms that this is probably the only life I have to live. Once I go, I likely will never see my son again, I will never experience pleasure, or pain, or love, or a sunset, or all of these aspects of our human existence. That was a tough pill to swallow, but I got through. I gave other religions a cursory look to get over my anxiety regarding death, but none of them made any sense either, and eventually I abandoned the whole notion. All I can say is this, I made peace with the idea that this is probably my only life to live. How I did it, I am not exactly sure, it was not one single thing that brought me peace about it, it was a myriad of thoughts; again, this would be a whole other conversation. Perhaps another time when I am able to put thoughts to words.

 

Everyone on this site is at a different point on the path. I happened to be on the super highway to atheism, but for others, it takes years to find chinks in the armor and expose them. Make no mistake, I am still educating myself and re-framing Christianity. I am currently listening to The Case Against the Case for Christ by Dr. Robert M. Price and On the Historicity of Jesus by Dr. Richard Carrier.

 

Never hesitate to reach out to me if you are questioning and are stuck on the path. I may have some words of wisdom to impart (or at least I have some resources you should look at) because I have been there, and likely I know what it is like to be where you are. I hope this post helps some people. I am grateful for the fact this website exist and there are others on here who have helped me escape the death grip of religion.

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Well said Tin Man! I believe your post can definitely help someone.

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Excellent post, TinMan!  You have expressed very well what many of us have experienced. I’m sure this post will be helpful and encouraging to others. 

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Well done, @TinMan!

 

Tinman wrote:

" I realized that other people do not have the answers. They do not know the Bible, God's heart, or whatever else they are attempting to claim; "

 

That was a biggie for me too. Especially when one of them was the lead pastor at Mrs. MOHO's church. I asked questions he'd heard before and some he had not. In either case it was the same. "You have to just BELIEVE!"

 

The worst part was when he began to deride my understand of the Bible and even my ability to comprehend the written word...ANY word...in Any book. FUCKER!

 

"The process of leaving religion starts with losing fear"

Spot on!

 

Now, if only I could induce such fear losing in Mrs. MOHO. Life would be much better in deed!

 

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The best written testimony I've read so far. 

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@MOHO

 

"The worst part was when he began to deride my understand of the Bible and even my ability to comprehend the written word...ANY word...in Any book."

 

If I had to guess, out of the other side of his mouth he would say how humble he was.

 

"Now, if only I could induce such fear losing in Mrs. MOHO. Life would be much better in deed!"

 

This, this is the tricky part. Who knows how many different aspects of Mrs. MOHO's worldview are tied to her religious beliefs, probably all of them. Asking someone to see the world completely different is terrifying for people, and everyone is different in how they will begin this process, if they will ever even do it. I forget who said it, perhaps it was David Fitzgerald, but he stated people often enter religion because they had an emotional experience, and it takes an emotional experience for them to leave. Essentially, for whatever reason they got into the gig, it takes the same kind of reason to get out. This was true for me. I got in out of fear, and I left because I was exhausted with it. I was worn out trying to figure it out and it was causing me psychological, and emotional, damage. The critical analysis and the reasoning just helped move me along. Along the process, I still had to keep overcoming fears. My fear of hell shifted to a fear of death. Not only for myself, but for those I love. I used to get anxiety over the idea I was going to never see my son again when one of us died. Eventually I worked through it, or rather, I just came to accept it. I just realized that is how it is and being afraid of death or having anxiety over it was just making me miserable in the short term. Acceptance does not mean I am excited about it, but it gave me peace about it. Trying to put my thoughts to words I would say this, knowing death is a reality made me better able to deal with it. When I know what is true, when I have true knowledge of something, I can then decide if this is something I can change, or if it is something I cannot change, and it is merely part of the reality we live in. If I cannot change it, then I must accept it for my own sanity's sake.

 

Christianity never offered real knowledge, never the ability to pin down something as absolute truth...it was merely possibly true. My mind does not work with "possibly true." I like evidence, I like standing on firm ground. Taking something on faith just did not work for me anymore, and I cannot go back. If somehow we could absolutely know there is a divine being and we know what he wants, then I would be inclined to give it a fair evaluation to decide if I agree with what said being is doing. That to me is an informed choice, not this pseudo-choice religious people say we have. A real choice is when you KNOW what is at stake and you go one way or the other.

 

Always appreciate your comments!

 

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Welcome, TinMan! Former fundamentalist Calvinist here! Man, do I look back and marvel at the fear and confusion I lived through as a Christian. They talk a lot about avoiding hell but they do their best to create it right there for themselves, in my opinion. 

 

It's interesting to hear you had to tackle your fear of death after your deconversion. In my case the idea of a mortal, finite life almost seemed a relief after many years of absolutely fearing a horrifying eternity (either you're stuck in the clouds praising an aetherial tyrant while watching your friends and family burn in hell, or you burn in hell yourself, forever and ever). Maybe I read too much eastern philosophy but I'm not *entirely* convinced that consciousness ends when I die, but I'm not attached enough to that belief to argue for it or to try to persuade anyone. Whatever works for you! Adjusting your reality paradigm is rough regardless of where you come from!

 

Anyways, I loved your testimony and welcome here!

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7 hours ago, DestinyTurtle said:

It's interesting to hear you had to tackle your fear of death after your deconversion.

 

@DestinyTurtle

 

I found that everything always has so many aspects to it. While I did find it comforting that people were probably not going to spend eternity frying, I had also tied a lot of notions to eternity. For a long time, I liked the idea that my efforts on earth would have an eternal ripple effect. In my mind, anything you did, good or bad, had an eternal effect because God was judging your actions. Then you would be rewarded for all your good deeds, and you could enjoy these rewards for eternity (Just typing that last sentence out and reading it makes it sound ridiculous). When I stopped believing in eternity, I no longer had this pet idea my good deeds would have an eternal consequence, and that really bugged me. Anything I did was temporary and it just did not sit well with me. Over time, this disappointment dissipated, and it still is. It was just difficult for me to let go of this notion that I could reap the rewards of my Christian duty forever.

 

Another was that I would never be able to see my family again, especially my boy. There are times when him and I are hanging out (he is three) and I think to myself that this is all we have, and it could be taken away in an instant. I hear stories all the time about children getting diseases, choking, you get the idea - and then passing on. Absolutely sends a shiver down my spine. I would be devastated if I could no longer give him a hug, or carry him to bed, or answer his multiple annoying questions. That being said, that is just the reality we live in. On the flip side, we take a lot for granted when it comes to religious beliefs. If any one religion was true, who is to say you would see your family in the next life or get to experience anything I just mentioned? There is none, people just take it on faith and they hope it is true.

 

Even now, there are times where I still struggle with dying. It just hits me sometimes. What I believe is happening is a "religious hangover." I got so used to this idea of living forever that I get a foul taste in my mouth that I might only get one life to live; but, the deconversion experience is all about re-framing how to view the world. It is all about coming to terms with reality and understanding that is just how it is. Easier said than done for the most part.

 

I too have wondered if our consciousness might continue on somehow. Make no mistake, I recognize we do not know or understand a lot about our universe. I would categorize myself as a functional atheist. It really means I am not willing to take a leap of faith or engage in wishful thinking just because I do not like where the evidence may be leading. If new evidence is provided that would demonstrate some kind of continuous consciousness, then by all means, I am willing to change my thoughts and accept this new evidence. I am not dogmatic about agnosticism or atheism. It is simply where I am because of all the religions posited, I do not think they measure up to scrutiny. Human reasoning and the scientific method, while limited, are pretty dang good at weeding out nonsense; but as I said, they are limited. Heck, the ability of the human mind to grasp some concepts is limited. Consider this, how has matter always just been here? How does that happen - I cannot wrap my mind around it. What if time did not exist until the universe started, what does that even mean? It is just beyond me to understand it. Even if you want to tie these notions to a god, the same questions apply. It is a level of thinking and understanding I am unable to do.

 

It would be interesting if our consciousness lived on somehow, but hopefully it does not suck. That is one thing I did consider, at least if you die and there is nothing more, you are saved from an eternity of boredom. We always have such high hopes that the afterlife is this grand experience, but what if it is not. What if your consciousness goes on, but you are completely depressed because you no longer have your human meat bag to carry around and do stuff - you could be a prisoner of your own thoughts forever....that would be really lame.

 

In this moment, I think my only lingering fear of death is that I go before I am ready - but even if that happens, well, it is just part of the reality we live in.

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2 hours ago, TinMan said:

Another was that I would never be able to see my family again, especially my boy. There are times when him and I are hanging out (he is three) and I think to myself that this is all we have, and it could be taken away in an instant. I hear stories all the time about children getting diseases, choking, you get the idea - and then passing on. Absolutely sends a shiver down my spine. I would be devastated if I could no longer give him a hug, or carry him to bed, or answer his multiple annoying questions. That being said, that is just the reality we live in. On the flip side, we take a lot for granted when it comes to religious beliefs. If any one religion was true, who is to say you would see your family in the next life or get to experience anything I just mentioned? There is none, people just take it on faith and they hope it is true.

I think the only practical takeaway point is that if it's true that your time with your loved one is finite, then all the more reason to cherish it and appreciate the precious moments for all that it's worth. This should be true regardless of whether or not there is an after life, but sadly I think people often get distracted by eternal concepts and what is beautiful in life that is right in front of them slips away from them...

 

Quote

Heck, the ability of the human mind to grasp some concepts is limited. Consider this, how has matter always just been here? How does that happen - I cannot wrap my mind around it. What if time did not exist until the universe started, what does that even mean? It is just beyond me to understand it. Even if you want to tie these notions to a god, the same questions apply. It is a level of thinking and understanding I am unable to do.

Tell me about it. The more you know the more you realize how little you know. It's amazing things happen the way they do.

 

Quote

In this moment, I think my only lingering fear of death is that I go before I am ready - but even if that happens, well, it is just part of the reality we live in.

If there exists any way to be ready - and that's a big if - I suspect it's by cherishing the present moment and the people who honor us with their presence and love in our lives.

 

... realigning your whole world view is hard. In the end it's worth it, though! Cheers :)

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1 hour ago, DestinyTurtle said:

Consider this, how has matter always just been here? How does that happen - I cannot wrap my mind around it.

 

....and ditto for the concept of "nothingness".  How is possible for there to be absolutely nothing?

 

It is the ultimate paradox, how is possible for there to be "something", and if there is not "something", how can there be "nothing".

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38 minutes ago, ConsiderTheSource said:

 

....and ditto for the concept of "nothingness".  How is possible for there to be absolutely nothing?

 

It is the ultimate paradox, how is possible for there to be "something", and if there is not "something", how can there be "nothing".

There is no such thing as nothing, which is exactly what nothingness is ;)

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