Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bruce Gecenscener Part 2: Comments on Deconversion

(My note: this is part two in my response to Bruce Gecenscener’s post about atheism and the atheist + movement)

Read my response to his comments about atheism + here.

My original post was getting long, and was going off track into my feelings and his comments about de-conversion, the following are his comments about the process of leaving Christianity, and my personal experiences with leaving the faith. His words from the original article are in bold and quotes, my responses are in plain text flowing each statement:

"I suspect that the largest percentage of new atheists come from Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches. Learning that the Bible is not what the church claims it is, and becoming disillusioned with the shrill, acerbic hate speech of their preachers, has turned more people into atheists than Madalyn Murray O’Hair could every of hoped for." 

Very true, and for more on this topic, read a great article by Johnny Scaramanga, author of Leaving Fundamentalism in this guest post, Fundamentalism: The Leading Cause of Atheism .

"When people deconvert they don’t immediately become atheists in the truest sense of the word. They may say they are atheists, but often this is just a reaction to their former religious beliefs. Some people get over their anger and return to Christianity. They were never atheists in the first place. They were angry, and hurling the words, I am an atheist, was a way of poking their finger in the eye of the bear."

This is part of the "angry" stage of deconversion, a person knows that they no longer want to be part of Christianity, and they disgusted by it's beliefs and rhetoric. At this point, they know what they don't believe, but not yet  what they do believe, so the label "atheist" sounds just about right at this point, it feels good to finally say it, because the label atheist is such a strong term, it's a rejection of what they once were, but not yet who they are now. 

People who remain in this stage, I believe are responsible for the "re-converts" that keep surfacing, people who eventually return to their faith. It's an emotional reaction and struggle without any intellectual foundation yet. Those who progress from this emotional state to an intellectual foundation become grounded atheists and agnostics, those who don't, often end up drifting back, if not to Christianity, than possibly another religion altogether.

Many de-converts take on the atheist label very early on, I didn't, it took me over a year to finally recognize myself as the agnostic that I am. Immediately after my rejection of Christianity, I still thought that I believed in a god, but knew that I didn't believe in the god of Christianity, I wondered if I was just simply a typical American non-Christian theist, who still believes in Heaven and Hell, or for a very brief time, a deist. It was a time of searching, trying to redefine myself. I spoke to very few people about my exit from fundamentalism during this time, or my ever changing feelings, until I knew what I believed for sure.

"A true atheist is born out of heartache, contemplation, and study."

During the heartache stage, I tried to find the answers within Christianity, first within the Bible, then, because of the people who influenced me spiritually at the time, in the writings of author John Piper. I desperately wanted to remain a Christian, and yet answer the nagging questions and doubts definitely, bury them once and for all, and go on with my life a stronger Christian, that, as you have guessed by now, didn't happen. 

During the contemplation stage, I prayed for answers and for wisdom in my search and received no response at all from god, just empty silence. I spent hours thinking over the Bible and the Christian writings/authors that I had read, making detailed notes of points made, and bringing my questions up to two people that I looked up to in my Christian world, two people who were well versed in the beliefs of fundamentalism. 

I still came up empty.

After all this, and coming to the realization that I am, in fact an agnostic, for a time, I still felt empty, I felt a sense of loss. This world is all there is? How disappointing! So there's no afterlife where justice is given out, the good people rewarded, and the evil people punished? Life felt utterly pointless, I also missed the sense of wonder in the universe that I had as Christian, in believing that there was a divine plan for me being on earth, and that this world was created by design for a purpose by god. Atheism felt so impersonal and uninspiring. 

Eventually I got over this, the sense of wonder is now starting to come back, when you think about it, out of the billions of years that the earth has existed, here I am, I am part of a world that is so immense, with infinite galaxies, and I only have a limited amount of time to live on this earth and appreciate it’s wonders. I also only have a limited time in which I can live life, so I need to make the time I have count, not only for my sake, but for the world around me.
I have peace now with my new beliefs.

I have also began reading any material I can get my hands on online, I have found some great atheist blogs along the way see my list here. (This is not an exhaustive list, and I may make a part 2 with more blogs later).

I have been trying to seek out more information from atheists more established, more educated, and more well versed in their beliefs than myself. I’m trying to build a strong foundation again, as well as reach out, put myself into a new community to replace the one I lost when leaving Christianity. has been a great resource for me in that regard, and I am starting to get to know some of the people there quite well. My time there, sharing my story with others, and reading their stories, and the results of their continuing recovery from their past has helped me to be a stronger person in my beliefs.

“The true atheist (my focus is on those who come from Evangelicalism to atheism) must deconstruct their lives and rebuild them one belief at a time. The true atheist likely reads and reads and reads and…well you get the picture."

I had to revaluate everything I had been taught in life in the light of my new found beliefs, what do I really believe on crucial social issues? I had to start giving up some of the bigoted beliefs that I was still tentatively holding onto, and I was amazed at how many misconceptions and outright lies I was taught in life, and believed while simply taking them for granted that they were true. Exposing myself to new experiences, and different types of people helped me to recover from this. One of my greatest friends now is a Wiccan, growing up, I was led to believe the lie that Wicca and Satanism are one and the same, and that Wiccans, were by association, evil people. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth! Even though she doesn’t believe in Christianity, she lives more of the life that Christians are supposed to live (love your neighbor as yourself, etc), than Christians do!

“It is not enough to say, I don’t believe in God anymore. Just the Christian God? Some Gods? All Gods?  The true atheist is one who says, I reject any belief in the existence of deities. Once a person has reached this point they are an atheist. Nothing more is required to claim the label atheist.”

Nothing more."

Agreed, there’s no more qualifications needed to claim atheism (or agnosticism in my cases), there’s no other litmus test needed.

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