Monday, July 02, 2007

De-Conversion: Done Online, Done Anonymously

The church, broadly speaking, has lots of practice and ideas for how to bring the unchurched or seekers to the Lord, among them: Alpha classes, seeker services, Bible studies, tracts, traditional evangelism, apologetics books.


These approaches, by and large, focus on sharing the basics of the faith – who God is, who Jesus is, what the Bible says, what we must do to believe. What the church seems to have less comfort, willingness, or ability to engage seriously, are believers who know these answers but have one foot out the door because their doubts or disappointments are starting to outweigh their faith.


The predominant response, at least in my experience, seems to be some version of (1) you’re overthinking things – faith can’t be proven and you just need to trust the Lord with your questions, (2) you have either already sinned badly and are becoming hardened to the Lord or you want to sin and are looking for justification; or (3) your doubts mean you were probably never a Christian in the first place, and thus what you really need is to have a real conversion to the Lord.


It’s funny: the church can be great at extending grace and mercy to unbelievers, but rotten at doing so for those who may be falling away.

When I was a solid believer, and heard of people backsliding (nice pejorative term) or leaving the church, I was horrified and saddened for them – and fearful for myself. What did my faith mean if someone else who had had a genuine conversion experience to Jesus could later leave Him? Was it really the Truth if people who had known and experienced God could completely walk away? In those moments, I was thus driven to find ways to invalidate their faith experience – through their sin, their pride, or by virtue of them never having had a relationship with Jesus to begin with. Otherwise it meant that I could fall away, and/or that God would let me.


I imagine this is a similar thought pattern among other Christians when confronted with serious doubters from within their ranks, and explains why those of us who doubt are so often marginalized, ignored, or made to feel like we are the devil incarnate for asking the questions that we do. It also explains why most of us go through this upsetting de-conversion process silently, and why Christians only hear about it when we have made a final decision to leave Christianity behind.

This is not how it should be. Several Christians I have known espouse the idea that God can handle our questions – that nothing is too tough for Him. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and the door will be opened unto you. Etc. I want to believe that, myself. A God who could not suffer people asking Him questions or who requires blind allegiance isn’t really a God I want to worship or be in relationship with.


And yet, God has so far not responded to this desperately seeking child of his. Over the last several years, I have wet a lot of pillow cases with my tears, trying to figure out God's Truth as between Protestant and Catholic teachings; trying to understand God's lack of intervention in this world to lift up the poorest, sickest, and most downtrodden among us; trying to make sense of why so many of my prayers have gone so silently unanswered. I begged God to answer me. I scoured my soul to confess any unconfessed sin in case that was blocking God's response. Still, nothing.

And so I blog about it, anonymously. I blog to try to figure out some answers that I can live with. I blog so I can avoid dealing with Christians in real life who are not willing to come alongside me, to take my questions seriously, to refrain from judging me (as though that is their job). I blog so I do not cause other Christians to stumble in their own faith. I blog so that I don't upset my mom, who would spend the rest of her days wracked with worry about my spiritual health and eternal destination. I blog so I can explore these questions freely with others who are wondering similar things.

25 comments:

Bible student said...

Jesus had a major problem with the religious teachers of his day. By the time he was alive, Mosaic law, that expressed his Father’s love, was being used to oppress the flock. In his ministry, he found that despite their reliance on those that should have done better a better job of up-building, with comfort from the scriptures, it’s recorded, “On seeing the crowds he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

He offered the people his personal assurance of the way to relief and comfort. He gave them his heartwarming invitation: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)

In the verse before Jesus offered his invitation, he stated: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one fully knows the Son but the Father, neither does anyone fully know the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)

We can enter into a close, personal relationship with God, “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3)

You may yet have to throw out more of the belief in what has been ingrained, but if the staid Jews of Christ’s day could do it…

maybeitsnonsense said...

**You may yet have to throw out more of the belief in what has been ingrained, but if the staid Jews of Christ’s day could do it…**

BIBLE STUDENT-

By this comment you are telling us that WE need to Do something- that WE are not good ENOUGH yet for God. WE are BLOCKING god and thus HAVE NOT experienced HIM- IF HE HEARS PRAYER and HE CHANGES HEARTS- then WHY cannot he "throw out more of the belief that was ingrained". I thought that jesus teaches to COME AS YOU ARE--- Well hear I am! Messed up- about to walk away- CRYING OUT TO HIM- to meet me.

Everything slapdash says resonates in my soul- it is like she is telling the story of my life- I KNOW what the bible SAYS- I was in a STRONG TEACHING church, I have been a BIBLE STUDENT-
According to YOU I need to do x,y,z... throw out my integrated beliefs- WELL then HOW THE HELL DOES ANYONE GET SAVED????

bjk said...

I blog so I can avoid dealing with Christians in real life who are not willing to come alongside me, to take my questions seriously, to refrain from judging me (as though that is their job).

This really got me. What if you know, what if I am one of those people you are avoiding....what if my faith is not being lived out in Love the way He commands....I don't know what to DO about it other than to see this, hear it and really be saddened that I may be ...would you be willing to help me be different...I don't want to...just blubbering now...I will keep reading and learning. Thanks for your site.

Slapdash said...

Hi bjk,
Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment. It's a funny thing for me to experience what it's like to be the object of Christians' (usually well-meaning) attempts to persuade me of the truth. Fact is, I used to be on that side of the table. Now, being the object or target has given me a really different perspective on what works and what doesn't work.

I think the most uncomfortable thing for me in engaging these topics with Christians is that I usually know they have an agenda. They often want to direct conversation in a certain way, so they can expose some error in my thinking, expose some sin I haven't confessed, "diagnose" me in a way, and then show me the truth, give me advice on how to get right with God. Christians have little interest, in my experience, in pondering the question(s) WITH me. And that can be for any number of reasons, though I can say with certainty that when I was the Christian trying to bring someone back into the fold, it had a lot to do with my own fear of "what if they're right?"

Sometimes Christians seem really intent on pushing their version of the truth on me, as though I've never heard it or as though as soon as I hear their version of it, I will have a sudden epiphany. Quite honestly, my questions and doubts built up over many years. One conversation is not going to magically erase them.

I know I'm rambling a bit here. If there's any "advice" a Christian might glean from this on how to deal with people like me better, I think it might be this: drop your agenda and learn to simply listen, with compassion. Give us the benefit of the doubt. Don't try to problem-solve. Admit when you don't know an answer. Don't try to push your truth. Realize that many of us are very steeped in the faith and have not stumbled into these questions out of naivete.

I don't know...is that at all helpful?

bjk said...

It is and well said I really wish I just did it that way..you know got myself out of the way enough to do just what you said. I think one of my biggest longings is to be understood so I spend a helluva lot of time trying...when you're right it's not about me and what I'm thinking but about figuring out how to love someone...really love someone because He says to and not to WANT something out of them.....so thanks for giving me alot to think about and like I said I am interested....I am believe it or not wanting to learn to love and trust and be open to what others think.
For what it's worth I have been or felt like a project myself to Christians and resent it like hell....so I will be back and looking forward to watching where this goes.
Also I saw your discussion with Zec at SCU and when he expressed his desire to 'fix you' I thought I was gonna scream....I HATE people thinking they can fix me,which means I'm broke and while I might totally need and even want some kind of 'fixing' I resent people who think they can...
rant over sorry

Heather said...

bjk,

**What if you know, what if I am one of those people you are avoiding....what if my faith is not being lived out in Love the way He commands**

I think the best way you could know that you aren't one of those people is the fact that you're asking. In my experience, those who don't listen the most are those who are certain that they listen best. So in Slapdash's post about doing this anonymously, I'm sure there are those out there who say, "Well, of course I'm listening to you, now let me show you all the ways in which you're wrong."

Whereas the fact that you're honestly asking leads me to believe that in conversations, you will step back and think, "Am I actually understanding what s/he's saying? Am I listening?" As long as you keep doing that, I think you'd very much be demonstrating God. After all, Jesus not only listened to people, he heard them.

Bible student said...

maybeitsnonsense,

**HOW THE HELL DOES ANYONE GET SAVED?** Matthew 24:13 says, “But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” Paul compares this to running a race. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Luke 13:23-24 teaches ‘Now a certain man said to him: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” He (Jesus) said to them: “ Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell YOU, will seek to get in but will not be able.”’

It sounds like some work to, “ Go in through the narrow gate ; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14)

John 17:3 says “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.“ and making sure it is accurate. (Colossians 1:9-10)

Paul wrote at 1 Timothy 4:16 “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching . Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

1 Corinthians 9:16 “If, now, I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news!

Our conduct, even when it’s not comfortable, personal Bible study, ministry and prayer (Matthew 6:13) and more, are all things we need to do to be saved.

Slapdash said...

***Our conduct, even when it’s not comfortable, personal Bible study, ministry and prayer (Matthew 6:13) and more, are all things we need to do to be saved. *** (bible student)

So I take it, BS, that you're not a "faith alone" Eph. 2:8-9 kind of Christian? Because that's quite a list you've started.

maybeitsnonsense said...

BIBLE STUDENT

It sounds like you are answering HOW TO STAY SAVED--- NOT HOW TO BE SAVED---

my point is that...
you have said---

**"You may yet have to throw out more of the belief in what has been ingrained"** (bible student)


and if this is true how can ANYONE BE SAVED because YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE PERFECT to KNOW what to throw out, what to keep, and how to do it.

maybeitsnonsense said...

BIBLE STUDENT-

your god sounds impossible to please- your god sounds like he wants everything done exactly his way and if you mess up you have hell to pay- literally. it must suck to have to perform to win the love, acceptance, and "salvation" of your god.

Spiritbear said...

I think people are so darn scared of it because of Hebrews 6. If any part of you still believes in the Bible, you should read it. It scares the crap out of me everytime I do. Now I am not a biblical innerantist and I dont claim to understand the passage, but it sure does make you feel weird when dealing with apostasy. Some part of me is saying stay away or she will take you down that road to hell as I read your blog. The other part is intrigued and thinks you may have valid points but I am not ready to deconvert and probably never will.

There is no room for gray in Churchianity (notice I said CHURCHianity not Christianity) your either in or your out.

All I am doing is stating why I think Christians freak out about it. Not judging you.

Slapdash said...

***Some part of me is saying stay away or she will take you down that road to hell as I read your blog. The other part is intrigued and thinks you may have valid points but I am not ready to deconvert and probably never will.***

Yikes! I can't advise you as to whether you should keep reading my blog or not. I certainly don't want to be responsible for others going to hell (assuming hell exists, and that right belief is the way to escape it).

I used to be scared crapless to explore questions like the ones I do here...and even more scared to read about anybody else who criticized the faith or the church.

But then I realized, look, I am in the hunt for Truth, Big "T" Truth. God knows that...he knows I've really been on the hunt in the last 7 years. He hasn't answered my questions himself, so I'm kinda left on my own to figure out the answers.

I figure that if God can't stand up to the scrutiny and critique of outsiders, and if my faith can't weather reading others' criticisms, or voicing my own, then what I have isn't faith at all. It's kinda worthless, in fact, a set of beliefs that are grounded in fear and not love, in deliberate ignorance, not knowledge, in trusting what others tell me, not what I have discovered for myself.

I also kept going back to the "Perfect love casts out fear" verse. And I figured it best to face my biggest fears - that God doesn't exist, or that he's radically different than what I have always thought - so that I could eventually find that perfect love.

So, in the end, if "Truth-Seeking" draws me closer to God, fantastic. If it draws me away from God, well, isn't that good too? Because it means I'm that much closer to Truth.

Spiritbear said...

Slapdash,

Dont worry, I dont think your blog is going to send me to hell. I just was trying to (and probably overly so) emphasize a point that there is a lot of fear of those who question or claim not to believe. Especially if they once did. That fear has been hammered into me since I was a little kid. The fear is terrible. The more I search for truth the more I see this fear is of man and not God.

I am still here and still reading.

I must say that searching for truth is about is right on as anyone can get. What good Christian would argue with that. I dont think the real Jesus would thats for sure.

I didnt mean to sound condeming at all. I dont judge you. Good luck on your quest for truth

Bible student said...

maybeitsnonsense,
** YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE PERFECT to KNOW what to throw out, what to keep, and how to do it.**

That’s why I study the Bible. It’s author is perfect and is happy to tell us how.

I’ve heard of Godly fear, this is godly-freaked-out.

**your god sounds impossible to please- your god sounds like he wants everything done exactly his way and if you mess up you have hell to pay- literally. it must suck to have to perform to win the love, acceptance, and "salvation" of your god.**

At Exodus 34:6 & 7, God describes himself, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.”

He says through Solomon at Proverbs 2:1-5, “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of the Lord, and you will find the very knowledge of God.”

The scriptural gems described, keep me coming back to dig.

maybeitsnonsense said...

***That’s why I study the Bible. It’s author is perfect and is happy to tell us how.*** (bs)

bs,
the author MAY be perfect, but you or i are NOT.
SO-
this can result in misinterpretation, misapplication, wrong doctrine blah blah blah.
if he is "happy to tell us how" then so many people would not be getting it wrong.

An imperfect person cannot have perfect and complete knowledge. an imperfect person can only have imperfect and incomplete knowledge.

therefore- I conclude it that your advice (You may yet have to throw out more of the belief in what has been ingrained,) is impossible to follow.

Bible student said...

maybeitsnonsense,
Since you posted: **(You may yet have to throw out more of the belief in what has been ingrained) is impossible to follow.** That is exactly what our host has declared on her The Reality Of Hell page.

One down two to go.

When you first addressed this suggestion You typed that **WE are BLOCKING god** and it may not be that way. One of my favorite explanations for the disconnect is 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. “If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.”

Satan’s favorite pastime is separating us from God and/or Christ. Lies, yes BIG LIES LIKE “HELL”, are the Devil’s stock in trade. We are not “ignorant of his designs.”(2 Corinthians 2:11) He hasn’t had to vary his tactics over time, just perfect them.

Hanging on to these could be our downfall. We are encouraged to accurate knowledge. (Philippians 1:9; Colossians 3:10). Jesus promised in prayer, “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) A long life depends on continually learning from and about these two saviors.

John said...

Hi Slapdash,

Here's how one ex-believer (now more than 25 years on) has resolved some of the issues you blog about.

1) God is. (However you define God.)
2) Being closer to God is better, farther away is worse. Living my life "appropriately" brings me closer to God. I feel better. Living my life "Inappropriately" makes me feel worse. (200 page dissertation on the meaning and usage of good, bad, and in/appropriate have been left out.)
3) My goal is to end my life closer to my ideal: that ideal is as explicated in the NT. That is my idea of Heaven.
All the rest went by the wayside, my having decided that it is a "bad thing" to live one's life as explicated by 1st, 2nd, 11th and 16th century people, who held very different views about how the world is. (From each other, as well as from me.)
I read Anne Lamott for some ideas, tho she doesn't get very rigorous. Merton is always good, CS Lewis argues in circles but is fun, Behe is a hehe, Dawkins is over the top but intriguing, There are many others. Merton in particular, as he is always deadly honest and it helps me be the same.

Krishnamurthi was once asked how many people had he helped become enlightened. His answer was that it did not matter; what was important was living the right way.

All the best

John

John said...

Sorry for the double post, I hit the go button too fast.

Darfur, Holocaust, etc. are manifestations of people. Many people suck.

It was once thought that is everyone was threatened enough, they would change their behavior. The repentance game that many people play proved that one dead wrong.

I believe in justice here and now. We are born with brains and morals, ethics and judgement. We need to use them.

I hold myself to a standard of behavior, taught it to my kids, too.

Jesus was wonderful. Too bad many people focus on the salvation aspect and not on the how to live your life aspect. Esp as regards beams and motes, turn the other cheek, etc.

remember, "In my father's house are many mansions, and many and varied are they that dwell within."

Lots of hope,

John

Anonymous said...

Interesting reading.
I'm staying anonymous because you scare me.
I've been having the same thoughts as you about church. That's what scares me.
I'm sure it's no accident that I stopped by your blog.
Believers, beware. This one is not led by God.

Slapdash said...

***Believers, beware. This one is not led by God.***

Welcome. Glad you've got me all figured out. :)

Now that you've dispensed with that, feel free to join the fray, though I'd appreciate it if you didn't post anonymously.

JumpingFromConclusions said...

Another online, anonymous de-convert here. I only recently even made the decision to acknowledge (on my blog) which college I attend. I told my nonbeliever sister that I am no longer a Christian, but she is the only one I have mentioned it to. I want to talk to others about it, because I have a lot I would like to come out and discuss, but it could hurt my parents knowing that both their kids lack faith. I also fear the consequences of coming out as a nonbeliever. On the other hand, I really want to come out to try to help the atheist image. I'm sure a lot of people would be very surprised to find out I am not a Christian. I really don't think people would accuse me of having evil motives because I am generally known as a shy kid and a nice guy.

Also, spiritbear, Hebrews 6 is scary. But I have a couple things that can soothe that fear. For one thing, try searching the Old Testament for the word "hell" in the NIV, NAS, or RSV (or pretty much any non-KJV translation)-- you won't find it. That was very comforting to me. On top of the already totally illogical concept of eternal hell, the fact that it isn't even in the Old Testament just made it that much more unbelievable. Also, if you are really doubting, just read Matthew 16:27-28 over and over. If that doesn't make something sink in, read all the other passages where Jesus predicted to come back in his disciples' generation. If that still doesn't soothe your fear, read the other New Testament authors' beliefs about when Jesus was coming back. I think the lack of "hell" in the OT and the lack of results from Jesus' promises were two of the most soothing things for me as I tried to get over my fear of hell in the deconversion process.

Slapdash said...

Hi JumpingFromConclusions:

Thanks so much for stopping by! Yours was one of the first blogs I read when I started writing myself...I devoured everything you wrote there.

One of my sisters knows I am struggling big time with faith, and, being the good sister that she is, she takes it all in stride. And I have a couple of liberal-minded friends who also know of my struggle, though I'm not sure I've even told them how deep it goes. I haven't told any of my friends or family who are still very steeped in the faith - I don't want to worry them, and I don't want to defend myself against the probing inquiries that will inevitably be trying to figure out what I've done wrong.

Anyway - welcome again. Hope you stick around and contribute. :)

steph said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steph said...

hi slapdash. i know i'm a little late to this thread, but i just started reading your blog, so you'll have to forgive me :) anyway, this post really hit home. it's both sad and encouraging to know that the community that's been the most encouraging to me since de-converting is online and usually anonymous. there can be such an exchange of ideas and discussion that wouldn't be there if it were more personal. but it gets really lonely. most of my church friends either don't know about me or i don't have contact with them anymore, and most of my "secular" friends don't understand. it's a huge loss.

unfortunately, it's not that easy to disregard the facts that are staring you in the face and it's hard not to notice the silence you get in return for your cries for something - anything - just to prove that he's still there.

For those who think choosing disbelief after a lifetime of belief is easy, please let me put that myth to rest. Rejecting something that you’ve known as Ultimate Truth since you were old enough to believe in anything is not easy; it wreaks absolute havoc on you, emotionally, psychologically and even physically. For two months it felt like I couldn’t breathe, and i couldn't talk about it with anyone. thank goodness for blogs!

so, all of that to say, keep writing, girl. we need you and your questions. it helps us sort through ours. an honest pursuit of truth is nothing to be ashamed of and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Slapdash said...

Steph, thanks for stopping by. Yours was one of the comments I read on another blog that hit close to home - it sounds like we have a lot in common.

So - welcome, please contribute, contact me privately if you want. After a few months of quiet and not-much-writing, I feel like I am entering another season of reflection and writing... so hopefully this will mean more blogging and conversing with others going through something similar.