Links: Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3 // Part 4
I’m reaching a part of this story that’s very difficult to write about. In my last post, I mentioned that my doubts about my faith had reached a point that I knew I needed to talk to my parents and my wife’s parents about it. But why? Why not just stay silent about it? If we had belonged to a more casual group of Christians, that might have been possible. We probably could have dropped our attendance off to just a trickle and not commented on religious issues. But that’s not the style of Christianity to which we belonged.
My wife and I (and our families) went to church services twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. If we ever had special events, like a week-long gospel meeting, we went to those as well. When we went out of town on vacation, we found out where the local congregations were so we would have a place to worship on Sundays and Wednesdays. The congregation we belonged to was small — we had about 50, maybe 60 people there on Sunday mornings — so my wife and I were both very active. We both regularly taught Bible classes, I frequently led the song service, I led prayers, officiated at Communion, and even preached occasionally. I assigned and managed the teachers’ schedule, helped formulate our Bible class curriculum, and facilitated a bi-monthly meeting with the men of the congregation to discuss any spiritual issues we were facing. In short, we were very involved.
My doubts and unease had reached a point that I felt I would soon need to step away from most of the duties I performed there. But of course, there was no way to do that without raising a lot of questions. Also, I was scared and nervous about my growing doubts, but I wasn’t ashamed of them. I believed that I had stumbled across some very important information that many of my fellow Christians would want to know about. So for those two reasons, I began talking to my family about the inconsistencies I was seeing in the Bible.
I knew speaking to them about it would be difficult. I’ve already written about the doctrine of withdrawal here and here, so to keep it brief, I’ll just say it’s a lot like the Amish practice of shunning. So we knew that if we left the church of Christ version of Christianity, our families would cut us off and not have anything to do with us socially. So you can imagine that this was a very tense time. By this time — and this was around April of 2010 — my doubts were becoming quite solid, but I didn’t want to present it that way to our families. This wasn’t in an effort to deceive them — I just didn’t want them to immediately start thinking about withdrawal. In fact, I didn’t really want them to focus on me or my wife at all; I hoped they would instead focus on the problems. I hoped they would either be able to help us find resolution to the issues that were bothering me, or they would also see them as problems and we could all move forward together.
In re-reading this, I’m not sure that my points are coming through as clearly as I would like. So let me reiterate that I needed to talk to my family about my doubts for two reasons. First, I could no longer continue a leadership role in the congregation in all good conscience. Second, I have always wanted to know/do what’s right. When I was a Christian and tried to convert others to my beliefs, I always told them that I was just interested in truth. If we could talk together and determine that my arguments were more in accordance with the Bible’s teachings, then great. But if we found that the other person’s beliefs were more accurate, then that would be fine too. I would change my beliefs, because I only wanted to do what was right. So by the same token, when I began to see problems with the beliefs I’d always held, I just wanted to know more so I could get closer to the truth. I assumed my family would feel the same way. That may have been naive. Please don’t think I’m trying to insult them — I think they do want to do what’s right. But I was naive to think they would be able to critically examine their beliefs so easily.
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to question the things that are instilled in us when we’re young. There’s a video floating around YouTube somewhere that shows a little Iranian girl being interviewed by one of their state-run news channels. The little girl is very cute — she’s no more than 4 years old, she has a sweet, tiny voice, and she’s wearing a hijab. In the video, she talks about how much she hates the Jews. It’s so sad to watch this sweet little girl go on about something so hateful, especially when she couldn’t possibly understand what she’s saying. But she will probably believe the Jews are evil her entire life. It takes a very strong will to question something that’s ingrained in you so deeply. We all have prejudices like these, even if we try to guard against them. If you take time to think about it, I’m sure you can identify some of your own prejudices, whether they revolve around religion, race, class, politics, etc.
I know it was very difficult for me to question my religious beliefs. Why did I have those beliefs? Where was the dividing line between what the Bible actually taught and what I believed the Bible taught? It’s not simple if you think about it. Does the Bible teach baptism is necessary for salvation? Regardless of your answer, is that really what the Bible teaches, or what you think it teaches? Is Hell a real place of unending torment? Is that what the Bible teaches, or what you think it teaches? Is it okay for a Christian to drink a little alcohol, or is all of it wrong? Is that what the Bible teaches, or what you think it teaches?
It’s not always easy to see these kinds of things clearly, and I don’t think I appreciated that enough when I first began talking to my family about my doubts. I was expecting them to be just as shocked by these things as I was, and that probably wasn’t fair. In the next post, I’ll go into a little more detail about what happened when I began talking to them about it.
13 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 5”
I look forward to reading about how you handled it. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. You are very brave.
I am very pleased to read your tale as it flows similar to my own story which I hope to post in the coming weeks. Please continue and I am curious about your conclusion.
Thanks guys — I really appreciate the comments! And I’m glad you’re interested by this series. I’m not sure how many parts it may take, but I think it’s been good for me to write it out. I’m glad you’re along for the ride.
Nate, this is clearly very heartfelt for you, and I feel very sad about the practice of “withdrawal” and “shunning”. And, as always, I admire and respect your clear intention to do what is ‘right’.
I wanted to suggest there may be other ways to understand your family than what you say here: “I just wanted to know more so I could get closer to the truth. I assumed my family would feel the same way. ….. But I was naive to think they would be able to critically examine their beliefs so easily.”
But it all got too long, so I did a blog post instead. If you or your readers are interested, you can find it at The only way to know God?.
Hey Nate, glad to meet you. I am also writing my about my deconversion. Actually it is a stories about both my conversions and deconversions. If you are anything like me get ready for a long slog. I am up to about 20 blog entries on the topic, and still have quite a ways yet to go.
Hi there HeIsSailing — thanks for the comment! Yeah, I have no idea how many entries I’m going to write about this. I really didn’t think too much about it when I started…
Sounds like you have quite a story too — I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks for stopping by!
Your sincerity and dedication to finding the truth, as well as your empathy for your family and church, bleeds through all your posts, but especially this one.
“Where was the dividing line between what the Bible actually taught and what I believed the Bible taught?” A wise perception, and one that should never be discarded, no matter how convinced you become on any particular matter. Keeping this attitude and perception in regard to all things (not just the Bible) will serve you well, now and in the future.
Thank you very much for that kind comment. I’ve been extremely lucky in running across some great people in this blog who have been kind and supportive, even when we don’t necessarily agree on things. Thanks for being one of them. 🙂
Nate, are you my long-lost twin or something? This all sounds so familiar: the reluctant discoveries about the Bible, the exclusivist nature of your church, the social consequences of leaving it, even that supportive, understanding friend you have there. The time frame of your story is pretty close to mine, too.
And yes, it is very difficult to change your mind about something this important, especially after a lifetime of indoctrination. I was raised in a sect called the Laestadian Lutheran Church, a group that (guess what!) thinks it is the only place where one can be saved. Leave it, even for another form of Christianity, and there’s an eternal torture chamber waiting for you when you die. Until then, your entire social circle (“unbelieving” friends are discouraged, naturally) will remind you, actively or by its absence, what a mistake you’ve made. It’s a wonder that people ever leave, no matter how compelling the evidence against it.
For me, what I had to do was devote a year of my life to researching and writing about my childhood faith. Like you, I stepped away from my teaching duties in the church; If I was having a hard time believing this stuff, I didn’t want to be making a hypocrite of myself for trying to teach it to others. So I devoured books and church newsletters, listened to recorded sermons in addition to the live ones every Sunday (usually just one for us, we were lightweights!), getting to know some historians within the movement. I went so far as to send a draft of the book to the Laestadian church elders with an invitation for them to comment on and correct any factual inaccuracies. They were gracious enough, but wouldn’t sully their history and claims with the mere scrutiny of human reason. That was the final straw, and my exit was effectively made when the e-book hit my website and the Kindle store a week or so later.
If you’re interested, please feel free to stop by the site, http://ExaminationOfThePearl.org. (It’s linked in my ID, too.) My goal was to get the information in front of doubters like I was, where they could see that they are not alone, their doubts are not crazy, and people do get past this. You can read it free online, get a free PDF or ePub version, get it on the Kindle for a buck, or if you really need paper in your hands, there’s a trade paperback edition via Amazon, too. I really do think you’d find it fascinating; it would be like looking in a mirror in many ways, I suspect.
Hi Edwin! Thanks for the comment. As it so happens, I first heard about you over at the Left Christianity blog, I think. I’ve read the introduction to your book before, and I even suggested to my Dad once that we read it together. But as it stands, I haven’t read the whole thing yet, so after getting your comment, I decided to download the e-book version (got an e-reader for Christmas).
It really is something to think about all the similarities between our two stories. I hope that more and more people will do the same thing as time goes by — the information is just so accessible these days.
When I was going through my deconversion and began talking to some of my friends and family about it, I was honestly surprised that more of them weren’t troubled by the same things that troubled me. Did you experience that yourself, or did you kind of expect that most people wouldn’t see it?
Thanks again for the comment!
Yes, Nate, you’re right about information being accessible now. The trouble started for the churchmen when the Bible itself became accessible to lay readers five hundred years ago, and it’s gotten more difficult for them to maintain the aura of mystery ever since. That, by the way, is what I think is really behind a lot of the KJV-only position of both our old churches. Keep the words difficult to read and a bit strange sounding, and you can avoid inconvenient questions about stuff like Lot and his two daughters. It all sounds vaguely holy when read from the KJV, even if the preacher or reader inadvertently stumbles on some of the sordid stuff that fills the pages of the Old Testament.
Regarding the difficulties and whether others shared them, I had occasions to be surprised both ways. Sometimes, yes, I was frustrated and amazed that people didn’t seem bothered by the issues. In the book (Section 4.5.5), I write about “friends of mine, who acknowledge the issues honestly and fairly but somehow remain untroubled by them.” It can be quite practical for some, really a cost-benefit calculation of putting up with BS vs. losing the claimed spiritual and very real social benefits of the church. Others just don’t seem to mind. “One friend points to the blessings of his . . . faith and, despite some problems of his own with the church’s clannish social scene, has not the slightest inclination to leave or even really question it. He is quite happy to let himself be carried along with the tide of tradition, a lifetime of church upbringing, and the fact that so many others in church are believing these things. (The sincerity of THOSE professed beliefs is of course another question, but not one he is inclined to ask.) The issues that exact such a toll on other believers, from nagging doubt to complete loss of faith, are only amusing theological distractions to him. Frankly, I’m jealous.”
The other way in which I was surprised was to learn, mostly after publishing the book and becoming a well-known apostate in a church that few ever leave if they make it to adulthood as believers, is how many wrestle with private doubts. There is every incentive to keep quiet. Doubting is considered sin, and persistent problems with doubt that aren’t fixed by having the sin forgiven and “making new promises to believe” are signs of serious spiritual trouble. You become suspect, damaged goods, perhaps not the best choice for Sunday afternoon visiting between families. So, you keep quiet. Except if you feel you can confide in a guy who wrote a book about the church’s many issues, including those that trouble you. Then you might make contact and surprise him some more. That’s what’s happened, to the point that not much surprises me either way anymore.
I’m really glad to hear that you’ve gotten some positive responses from your book. I wrote a much more modest critique of the Church of Christ that ended up being passed around more than I had originally intended. But I also received some good feedback from a few people who have chosen to keep their doubts to themselves.
Anyway, thanks again for weighing in. I really appreciate your comments, and I look forward to finishing your book.