I write this today to express a few things that have bothered me in the course of my deconversion. This will be an imperfect and incomplete expression of my thoughts. It’s the best I can do for now.
This was probably brought to a head over Easter when I responded to a posting by a Christian friend which mocked non-believers
with a post of my own.
Not skillful, I admit, but here we are. So many of the issues raised and explored when one leaves Christianity can become endless conversations charged with emotion. Eternity can do that to a discussion. I confess that I have at times been less than skillful in my communication. I’m certain I’m not alone in that failing.
When I began this blog, not so long ago, it was never my intention to convince anyone so much as explain what led to my abandonment of Christianity, as well as to explore it myself in detail. The questions I had that led me to this decision are many and detailed. Obviously I think that the questions, and their answers (or lack thereof) are substantial enough to abandon Christianity as a viable worldview and belief system.
I feel the need to write this because, instead of addressing the very specific philosophical, historical, anthropological, scientific, and literary questions that led me to this point; my motivations, methodology, personal integrity, intelligence, and overall worthiness have been questioned, denigrated, and even attacked, sometimes in pointed detail, by some of you I consider, and would still hope to consider, friends.
There are a few key aspects of being an ex-believer which, if I am able to communicate clearly, might help us focus on the content and the philosophy, rather than the perceived conflict of motivation.
First – I did not leave Christianity: so I could sin/because I’m mad at God/because other Christians hurt me/because I wanted a change of scenery.
None of the above. Period.
It had next to nothing to do with any sort of personal behavioral preference. What little relation it may have had was just the opposite – during my exploration I wished to make a positive change I could not apparently achieve in my devotion to Christianity.
I wasn’t mad at god. I’ve never been mad at god. When I believed in god, I was always mystified how anyone could be mad at god. I mean, if he’s god, he’s – well – god.
No Christian ever hurt me very deeply until after I gave up my belief. The hardest part of leaving Christianity was leaving behind friends who, for the most part, have always been very good to me.
I didn’t want a change of scenery. I will say, however, that a change of scenery motivated me to take a very hard look at the faith I’d followed unquestioningly for 26 years.
This is not the first time I have clarified these points. Yet I have been accused of all of these, occasionally with some offensive specificity. You know who you are.
Second - I did not decide to leave god, then try to justify my position.
When I realized where my questions were leading me, I clung to god. I explored every question from both sides, hoping I could find a way to resolve what I saw (and still see) as unsolvable problems with Christianity without having to lie to myself about what I found. In the end I could not. After exploring thoroughly, I abandoned my belief. But to be clear, I did not “leave” god. That would imply that there is a god there I have actively abandoned. That is not the case. I looked behind the curtain and found there was nobody there.
Third - I do not think I’m smarter than you.
It is not a matter of intellect. It may be that I have been more willing to explore the issues intellectually than some of you are. That is not a value judgment. That is not one being better than the other. I have begged several of you to directly address the specific issues that led me to abandon my faith. On this very blog and in offline conversations I have laid out many of my reasons in clear detail and offered ample opportunity to have them questioned, explored, and even refuted. Why would I do that? Because I’m certain that all of you are reasonably intelligent, as I’m certain I am reasonably intelligent, and I think we can dialogue on facts. Yet I am met mostly with obfuscation, insults, questions of my character, speculation of my motivation, and simple refusal to engage with the material at hand.
Fourth – My non-belief is not an open invitation to judge or disparage my character.
I suppose this is related to my first point, but I’ll say it anyway. This has become a terrible habit among some of my Christian friends when engaging with my personal expression about what I believe and do not believe. You accuse me of being bitter, angry, egocentric, an attention whore, and more, all the while ignoring the content of my expression. The Easter posting is a perfect example. It had a very particular message about the nature of sacrifice. Of the long comment thread accusing me of being bitter and expressing anger that I should sully their special day with my own personal expression, only two comment touched briefly on the actual point made; one saying they’d never thought of it that way, the other finding it humorous. I don’t know if you’re afraid of the conversation or if you disrespect me so much you’d rather just insult me than engage. Honestly, unless you are able to intellectually engage with the questions I ask about the faith, I’m not really willing to engage with a dissection of my personal motives or morality.
Fifth – My thoughts about my Christian experience are not attacks directed at you personally.
They are simply my thoughts about my Christian experience. That’s all. As I examine my life as a Christian I see turning points and decisions that I would have made differently. I see ways in which my biblical mindset influenced me in ways that I now deem negative. I also see the opposite. I see ways in which my Christian past influenced me in ways that are positive no matter what mindset one would have. These are my thoughts about my life. If you disagree with my assessment of these decisions, you’re free to say so, but taking personal offense at the way I assess my life decisions is overstepping boundaries.
Sixth – Skepticism is not a belief system.
No matter how some of you wish to argue it, an attitude of skepticism of any claim is simply a requirement that a claim be proven to a reasonable extent before being accepted. Whether your claim is about Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Mithra, Horus, the universe, the afterlife, human origins, evolution, what color your car is, or the spirituality of eating a peanut butter sandwich, I only expect that such a claim be supported with evidence that any reasonable person can verify independently.
That is not a “belief” system. It is actually a method of examining belief systems to determine if they are worth believing. It is not a position that makes any positive claim except that truth should be evident. It is a refusal to invest in any set of claims for which there is no reasonable evidence. It is a starting point only. I don’t know how many other ways to say it, but I do know at least one of you will insist otherwise and use repetition in place of evidence.
I’ll say it again – I will accept your claim if you present it with reasonable, verifiable evidence.
Seventh – I do not want to deconvert you.
I really don’t. I’m more than happy to have Christian friends. You who are my friends through church I would still consider my friends outside of it. Perhaps you don’t feel the same way. Perhaps you perceive that my deconversion is a threat to your continued belief. I can’t help that. All I seek is for you to respect my viewpoint and lack of belief with the same respect you demand for your beliefs and your expression of them. This is severely lacking on the part of many of you. This is also much in evidence on the part of others of you. At the same time as some have gone on the attack, others have messaged me to apologize for you who have attacked, and we had the chance to express mutual respect for our individual journeys.
What I seek is that you recognize that our individual expressions of belief will often conflict. If you wish to ignore these expressions, that’s fine. If you wish to engage about them, even better. But, as expressed above, I expect you to engage with mutual respect. I expect you to respect my intelligence, as you would expect me to respect yours. I expect you to engage about the topic rather than make unwarranted accusations about my motivation or disparage my moral character.
I do not want you to change your mind about being Christian. I do want to change your mind about something, though. I want you to accept that, while you may be sure of your beliefs, there are a good 5 billion people who think you’re wrong, many of whom are at least as certain of their position as you are. I want you to accept that maybe, just maybe, you could be wrong, if even you think you’re not. I want you to treat me as an intellectual equal, not as someone blinded and unable to think for himself. And just in case you think I exaggerate, that is pretty much a direct quote from more than one of you.
Of course, accepting that someone who doesn’t agree with you might have a point might be a deconversion of sorts in and of itself. Maybe that’s just a bridge too far. But it’s the only way we’ll be able to engage in constructive conversation. If instead you insist on battering me with bible verses, disrespecting me and my viewpoint, and pointedly refusing to engage in the actual question at hand, then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe we’re not friends anymore.
I hope that’s not the case. I leave it in your hands.
Thanks for listening.