Atheism Central for Secondary Schools
Leaving Christianity - by Steve Locks
From the ex-Christian mailing list archives:
When I was a Christian, I said that if Christianity weren't true, I wanted to know; even if the truth were something horrible, I wanted to know what was true. I remember having conversations with friends about that, and, when pushed on the issue, most tended to admit that if Christianity is false, they didn't want to know. But, I did, and I believed that all truth is God's truth, and that I was supposed to love God with all my mind as well as my heart and soul and strength and whatever else it was that I was supposed to love him with. So I felt a Christian obligation to investigate these questions I had about Christianity.
... back when I was a creationist and all I had read about the subject was written by creationists. I started reading about the real science of evolution, and realized how completely off base the creationists are, how very little they understand about evolution, and how very much they distorted evolution.
The intellect alone has a hard time overcoming emotional and psychological attachment; having a bunch of friends praying and worrying about your "eternal soul" etc. can't make it any easier.
There's a beauty to life, but you realize how bittersweet that beauty is when you've outlived your idols. From here you see things more clearly - faults and all. You realize that love is a struggle in the face of separation, not a starting point that will springboard into eternity. You see the flaws that give Mona Lisa her beauty. The words "til death do us part" ring as loud as the chapel bell at your best friend's wedding. And you learn to make the most of your life, just in case this is all you're going to get.
Jason R. Tippitt
When I first announced it (it was in my Advanced English class, and we just happened to be covering Charles Darwin's book), by the end of the day it was ALL OVER the school. By the end of the week people knew who I was, and would walk up and say "Are you Christy Hatcher? Don't you know you're gonna burn in hell?" There was shit written all over the bathrooms walls about me - "Jesus loves you, Christy," God can forgive you, Christy," "You can be saved," etc., etc., etc. (Hmmm...I bet if I went back to my highschool some of that stuff might still be there!! It was only about 7-8 years ago! And of course there were threats, people claiming they were gonna bring their church parties over to my house and "talk" to me so they could "save" me, and many, many prank phone calls, people calling, asking for me, saying I was gonna burn in hell, hanging up, etc. Basically it got so bad that I had no friends.
Well, eventually, I did leave, but it's too long a story. Over a 2 year period, I moved gradually from that place to the charismatic movement to neo-orthodoxy (as in Karl Barth) to reading the "death of God" theologians. Richard Rubenstein's "After Auschwitz" was probably the final straw. And Hyam Maccoby's book on the apostle Paul exploded any last vestiges of faith to smithereens.
My basic experience of fundamentalist Christianity is that it's contrary to human nature. Thus I suffered psychological and emotional damage, from which I'm still recovering from today.
My concrete doubts formed during my freshman year in college. After much study, debate, and agony, I realized that it was reason (tempered with a healthy dose of humility) that furthered my knowledge and understanding of the world. It wasn't faith. I eventually - but not quickly - discovered that the foundation of my entire worldview was based on one gigantic logical fallacy. Though I make it sound simple and painless, it wasn't. As most of you know, the transition is quite traumatic and developed over a long period of time.
J. Mark Cranford
The more I read in the OT, the more I was horriffied and disgusted by it. All god seemed to do was give commands and meet out horrible punishments to the disobedient. The death penalty seemed very popular for all manner of minor offenses.
Well, about a year ago I started to intensively question many things. The rest is history ... well, sorta. I'm still sorting through a lot of things by actively studying christian and secular apologetics, NT history, canonization, etc. I was deeply distressed by what I began to see (and still see). I went through a whole host of feelings (along with Susanne, my wife) such as bitterness and rage down to apathy. I have zero trust in organized religion.
In the belief spectrum of things, I'd say I range closer to being agnostic than anything else right now. I'm still studying and searching for truth... I'm still trying to grapple with what it's like to be a FREE MAN also! I'm new to the game, so I have a lot to learn (and unlearn...or deprogram) about life - REAL LIFE!!
I've felt religious euphoria many times before. This is the first time that I'd ever felt real PEACE. Gone is the fear of eternal damnation, the weariness of working for heaven. Once those things are gone, the rest of Christianity, with its glittering edifices of rationalization, all comes crashing down. For the first time in my life, I am FREE. My mind is clear of contradictions. I don't have to assimilate the things I know into a clunky theology. Lack of God has made me anything but nihilistic. Life is even more precious now, the universe so much grander and more awe-inspiring when not viewed from the pinnacle of creation.
When I accepted reason fully, accepted that I had no evidence except a lifetime of brainwashing and a book on which to base any kind of belief in god, I found I could embrace with peace even the concepts of natural mortality and no life after death.
I now feel more ALIVE and at peace with myself and others than I ever did the first 24 years or so of my life.
I had a rather abrupt intellectual crisis my last year of college. I was planning to be a professional apologist and was taking three courses my fall quarter relating to biblical studies. I thought the best way to defeat the Jesus Seminar and the source critics of the Pentateuch was to know their arguments as well as they did. Ironically, I was won over to the historical-critical method. Given my background in comparative religions and my training as an apologist who liked to ask difficult questions, my view of the Bible and the religious communities that produced it quickly changed. More and more, I saw the Bible as a mere cultural production, a far cry from being the very breathed-out word of God To say the least, it was the most traumatic experience of my life. The worldview that I had spent a decade meticulously constructing was shattered forever. I felt as if I was going insane.
I'm still very much haunted by the ghost of my indoctrination and I don't think that it's leaving anytime soon. I have so much to deal with and have just barely gotten the confidence to go back out into the public and start looking for a job. I daily fear helplessly falling into a state of insanity. It's amazing how a deconversion experience can so affect the self-confidence of a once "all-knowing" apologist.
I feel about as sane as I ever have in my life. The joy I feel from seeing so many of the people on this list who have gone through similar experiences and are still incredulous as to how they could have ever believed what they did is without limit. The athiests position is based on things you can really connect to, but it is the awareness of how deep the old way have been absorbed into your being that truly continues the reality trip. To be able to do away with fear and guilt is breathtakingly pleasant and I still can't believe the positivity that infuses me. Feel free to connect, the support I have already received from some of you with web links and affirmation has really enriched my life.
Human beings are intelligent and psychologically rich animals. We have much potential which we can either use, misuse or squander. There can be far reaching ramifications both in our mental lives and in our interactions with others when we take on a huge belief system such as Christianity. Many of us who are bought up to believe that Christianity is what the universe is all about end up taking our religious beliefs most ardently, basing our personal, interpersonal and sometimes professional lives on this. It makes a big difference to our lives if Christianity is mistaken and we take it as very seriously true. It is therefore worth examining our beliefs. Some of us take up this challenge, or are forced into it by noticing difficulties with the claims of Christianity. We notice problems, think, read and often come to a startling conclusion.
There are many reasons why people leave Christianity, but the most common reason for a very serious Christian to leave is through research. Ironically this often happens when research is carried out in order be a better exponent of Christianity. This happens to apologists, theologians, missionaries, ministers, fundamentalists and liberals. The broad spectrum from professional to lay Christian of all Christian types.
The deconversion experience is one of the most dramatic transforming experiences that can happen to a religious person for which there is no "exit counselling" from the church. Where does one go with such a life changing discovery? Our Christian friends do not want to look that deeply into our lives, preferring only to coach us back to Christianity, believing we must be mistaken. Often they condemn us as hell-bound for "turning our backs on Christ," rather than facing the possibility that we have just found that the Christian belief system is untenable. The Internet is one of the few places where those who leave Christianity can turn easily for help and find people who have already been through this leaving process. Often new deconverts feel that they are in a very lonely situation as there is nobody around who will sympathetically listen to their thoughts. Therefore it can be a great thrill and relief to find others with similar stories to tell.
So what is it like to leave? Some quietly slip out of their religious beliefs without much fuss. There are many though, who were previously strongly convinced that their religion is utter reality. It is highly revealing to listen to those who have had experience into and out of Christianity and are in a position to know and authoritatively evaluate and relate their actual experiences. Deconversion for such people, although sometimes initially very emotional or traumatic, comes as a revelation far more spiritually enriching than conversions into religion. In the stories scattered over the Internet and in books ex-Christians have repeatedly said this enrichment of life is the case.
In our modern age with ease of access to information many of us are still bought up to believe the unexamined religion of our culture. It is not routine at church or school to research the historical claims of Christianity or to critically examine its dogmas. The fact that this examination has even occurred is rarely known, neither is the extent of the criticism appreciated. What percentage of Christians have done their "extra-Christian homework" and have well thumbed critical books on their bookshelves? Most study is devotional or inclined towards "what is God saying here?" Indeed, most Christians are surrounded by other Christians, seldom in an environment promoting critical examination of beliefs. It is usually left to the personal research of the curious amongst us, or the chance discovery of a student of religion to stumble across the historical, psychological, philosophical, anthropological and sociological problems of Christianity. This research, although often very long and arduous, can still come as a shock to the highly religious. As mentioned, some do find their discoveries hard to cope with initially, although this is rarer than might be thought.
Unfortunately, if ones closest friends and relatives are very religious then not being a Christian can cause problems in the family and amongst peers. We often hear how Christians claim high standards for "family values" and yet, especially amongst more fundamentalist Christians, ex-Christian family members who "come out" are not only shunned but are even told that they will go to hell. Belief in the justice of unrelenting torture for your family is not a way to bring family unity. Also Christians seldom do justice to the possibility of what we have read, thought and discovered, merely claiming we can't have been "true Christians" or asking "where did you go wrong?"
It is a common misapprehension to claim that those who leave Christianity never understood what Christianity was "really about." The full range of Christian types leave Christianity, from all denominations, doctrines, and persuasions. From the most liberal to the most fundamentalist. The philosophical liberal, the conservative orthodox, the born-again and the hyper-charismatic fundie.
Christianity was once the centre of the universe for the many former Christians who lived it, thought it, felt it, preached it, discussed it, prayed privately and publicly, led religious groups and been thanked for encouraging other Christians and helping them in their "walk with Christ." Certainly if we were not "true Christians" then our fellow Christians were not able to judge a tree by its fruit. Ex-Christians have felt moved by religious experience and lost in numinous (i.e. overpowering mystical) feeling of connection with God, taken communion, partaken of all kinds of fellowship, retreats, Christian college courses, study groups and missionary crusades. They have written many words of Christian thought, coming from all theological and doctrinal positions.
Nobody I have heard of chooses whilst they are a believing Christian to leave Christianity, neither do they think that they (a "real Christian") would ever deconvert. But they do leave. Indeed, the idea of choice does not describe what happens. Rather than choosing "I will not believe this now" (psychologically impossible to not believe something you do believe!) instead researches lead to the inescapable conclusion that Christianity is false. Not only that but contrary to former beliefs ex-Christians are so often surprised to find a better inner life after deconversion.
I have found that ex-Christians frequently describe an enormous life affirming nature to the discovery that their beliefs were false. Reports from deconverts are of a life of honesty, free, and more loving, and often a passion for knowledge and interest in the world. No divine judgementalness, spiritual separation from others or easy condemnation of different lifestyles. Instead the discovery of the poignancy and vulnerability of life. The desire to be moral because we can truly empathise with others in their messy humanity. Connection with the world rather than running against it.
Any major change of world view can bring a "conversion experience" or trauma - but there is more to it than this. All the feelings had when religious were human and natural feelings that were mistaken for divine and supernatural things. I think this stunts them, no matter how good they where thought to be at the time. Non-theistic Buddhists describe belief in a god as "unskilful" as it can actually harm the spiritual life of a person. The fact is that we were missing out as Christians on the real world. Not only was our view of reality mistaken, but we were also too often wrapped up in our own ego or "salvation." It makes a huge difference to intelligent complex animals like ourselves when we really believe something of such vast ramifications which is false. When we know the real source of our feelings they can be far more powerful. Such was the experience of many deconverts as the world comes more into focus out of the confusing mist of misinterpretation that is religion. The more seriously one took their religion then the greater this transformation experience may be.
It is always better to believe things that are true. If one wants to know what is true then how can it be wrong to do some research? However, if only one side of the argument is ever listened to then what kind of research is that? If Christianity is true then it should correspond to the facts of the world. Nobody should be afraid of finding out what those facts, thoughts and discoveries are. There is nothing to fear from knowing reality but instead everything to learn.
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