How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 8

The first part of this series can be found here.

By the Fall of 2010, I no longer considered myself a Christian, even though I hadn’t admitted that to anyone other than my wife and one or two others. We still attended every church service, but that was beginning to wear on us more and more. At this point, my wife had as many doubts about Christianity as I did, but that still wasn’t common knowledge. We both still believed in a god, even though we didn’t believe in Christianity. We considered ourselves agnostic deists.

We were rapidly approaching a crossroads, and we didn’t know how to proceed. One option was to simply tell everyone that we no longer believed and leave the church. But because of the church’s doctrine of withdrawal, we knew that leaving the church would make us outcasts as far as our families were concerned. We really wanted to avoid that.

Another option was to just fake it. Stay in the church and act like everything was just fine. Of course, that had its problems too. My wife and I have three children. At the time, their ages were 7, almost 5, and 112. Continuing to raise them as Christians when my wife and I no longer believed was a horrible prospect. I mean, we could take them to church 3 times a week and just tell them that we don’t actually believe any of it. But anyone who is familiar with children knows that kids can’t keep secrets like that. There would have been countless opportunities for one of my children to tell a Bible class teacher “Daddy says that didn’t really happen,” which would completely circumvent our whole reason for faking it. Or we could actually raise them as Christians, never telling them that we don’t believe it. But not only did that seem cruel, it also ran a very real risk of our own kids deciding they also needed to withdraw themselves from us whenever they found out about our unbelief.

In the end, our only real option was to be honest with everyone and pull our children out of the church. If you’re religious, you might wonder why we would be so against raising our children as Christians. If we don’t believe it’s real, why should we really care if they believe it or not? That’s a very good and understandable question. Most of our reasoning came from what our kids would be taught about God. The Old Testament teaches that God killed all the Egyptian first born. It teaches that he destroyed all but 8 people in a global flood, regardless of age. It teaches that he had Moses and the Israelites slaughter all the Midianites, except for the virgin girls, whom they could “keep for [them]selves” (Numbers 31). At the time, we still kind of believed in God, and as Thomas Paine said, attributing such horrible atrocities to God is the ultimate blasphemy. We just couldn’t stomach having our children learn that God, if he exists, would do such despicable things.

In fact, while all this was going on, my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. At the time, she didn’t know about the doubts my wife and I were experiencing. But one day on the way to school, she asked my wife if God really killed all the Egyptian firstborn in the last plague. My wife wasn’t really sure how to respond, so she just turned the question back around and asked my daughter what she thought about it. “I don’t think he did,” my daughter replied. “Because the Egyptians were his children too.” That really struck my wife and I as an insightful statement. Our daughter had seen something quickly and clearly that we hadn’t been able to see because of our prior upbringing.

So we felt like we had one last shot at avoiding the familial consequences that withdrawal would bring. One night, we had my wife’s parents come over, and we laid everything out on the line. We told them that our doubts had solidified into disbelief. We no longer considered ourselves Christians. It was an emotional conversation, and it didn’t go very well. We told them that we knew their stance on withdrawal, but we wanted them to reconsider and restudy the issue. One of the purposes of withdrawal is to bring the “erring” person back to the faith. We very plainly told them that that wouldn’t work with us. We weren’t leaving Christianity out of belligerence, but because we simply no longer believed it. Since the practice of withdrawal offered no evidence for Christianity, there was no way it could make us believe it again. At most, the separation from our families would make us claim to be repentant, which would do no one any good. So we asked them not to rush to any action, but to study the problems in the Bible with us, or at the very least rethink their stance on withdrawal.

Of course, they didn’t feel like they could do that. In fact, I think they believed that if they could encourage the congregation to withdraw from us as soon as possible, it might bring us back sooner. I’ll relay more about that in the next post.

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 8”

  1. I feel with you. If the Bible tells us to have faith like a child, how can you ignore that? Theodices are the bane of a Christian existence.
    I wish you all best in your journey.

    Like

  2. This is the tough stuff Nate. We can disagree about truth, but we are all human and some things are hard to bear – and to hear! I’m truly sorry that you had to put truth vs family relationships up against each other. I think I would have felt and done much the same as you (which isn’t necessarily a recommendation!). Best wishes.

    Like

  3. We left our church for much of the same reason. Telling our families about our disbelief was hard as well. My husbands mother took it much better than my own. Though it was hard and is still hard at times I’m glad it’s out in the open and our family knows where we stand.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your story. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. Nate,
    There probably isn’t too much I could say to help out. Things like this are just so sad. I always feel badly when dogma can get in the way of close family relationships. I’m really sorry to read about what you are going through.

    Like

  5. Nate,I just read all 8 posts on this series, and I was able to do this (I usually don’t read long posts in their entirety) because I totally identify with your experience. I was raised Catholic, then converted to Pentecostal church, and now I consider myself a Reflecting Christian. I have been an altar boy, a youth leader, a deacon, an usher, and secretary of religious teaching and men’s ministry. But I have always been bothered by doubts, such as “why would a loving God send people to hell?”, “why must a piece of bread turn to flesh and wine to blood for me to consume?”, “why are there so many denominations?” and much more. I left the church after many scandals among church members that simply disillusioned me and my wife. We started attending another church, then another one, then yet another one, never finding that spiritual fulfillment we needed. Now we are not attending any. I initially felt guilty for not attending church regularly, but now it feels liberating. However, we still question whether or not we are damaging our children’s spiritual wellbeing by not taking them to church. At the same time, I have personally been in a different spiritual journey where I have identified the genuine service of others as the reason for our existence, which is what I believe is the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus taught. You can learn more about my spiritual journey in my blog http://www.livingthekingdom.wordpress.com. Your posts have reminded me that I am not alone. My wife still believes totally in the traditional Christian faith, although she has expressed doubts about the reason for suffering in the world, and why God sometimes seems unjust. I, on the other hand, have not fully expressed the magnitude of
    my separation from the traditional interpretation of the Gospel. It continues to be a journey. I may one day disclose it to my wife, and also to other family members. It is almost like a gay person “coming out”. It is scary, but I know it must be done someday.

    Like

  6. @sacredstruggler,
    Thanks for the comment! I’m very glad you stopped by. 🙂

    @unklee,
    As always, thanks for weighing in. One of the things I appreciate most about you is your ability to commiserate with people, even when you disagree with them on some of the big issues. Your comment truly means a lot to me — thanks!

    @theagnosticswife,
    I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through a similar experience, but I completely agree that being open and honest about what we believe is so much better than pretending. Thanks for your comment.

    @Howie,
    Thanks for the comment! It is tragic that the relationships with our families have been so mangled by all this. I still hope that we can resolve some of it one day, but I’m not sure how likely that is. And it’s been great for me to get some of this off my chest, but please don’t feel too bad about it all — the events I’m talking about in these posts took place two years ago. And while it’s still a painful situation, we’ve all begun to see this as the new normal. My wife and I are definitely in a better place than we were in 2010.

    Like

  7. Noel,

    Thank you so much for your comment. Looking at your profile pic, I think I’ve seen you on some other blogs before, but I can’t remember which ones…

    Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing some of your story. This statement, in particular, resonated with me:

    I have identified the genuine service of others as the reason for our existence

    I couldn’t agree with this more. I’ve had a similar mantra the last couple of years, one stated less eloquently in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: “Be excellent to each other.” I really think that’s what it’s all about.

    I’ll definitely check your blog out, because I’m interested in hearing more about your current position and how you got there. And I completely agree that coming out as someone who has left behind most of the usual trappings of Christianity is daunting — I would imagine that it is much like coming out as gay. But I know that my wife and I are much happier that we’re not hiding our beliefs any longer. And while your situation is somewhat different from mine since your wife is still a believer, I do think the sooner you can open up to her about it, the better. These things tend to have a way of coming out, and it seems like it would be harder if she realized that you’d kept it from her for a long time. Of course, I don’t know her, so my advice might be terrible. 🙂

    But I’m very glad you commented, and I really appreciate what you had to say. Hope to hear from you again soon. Take care!

    Like

  8. Just dropping by to let you know I have been reading all your posts about your deconversion. I’ve been enjoying reading your story in more detail!

    Like

  9. Hi, great blog and great post. I am pretty much at the point you were in this post, but I have chosen to “fake it”. Actually, not really fake it so much, because at bible studies, etc I am up front about my doubts. But unlike your church, ours, though pretty conservative, is still accepting of doubt. And besides, I can’t guarantee that nothing will ever happen to convince me that Christianity isn’t real. I still pray every night – basically saying “Christianity says we can have a personal relationship with you, so if you are willing to talk, I would love to listen” but so far He does not seem to have taken me up on the offer. They usually leave the “hard stuff” out of the kid’s Sunday school, but I (or they actually) usually end up bringing it up. My 10 year old son asked “Why couldn’t God just kill the firstborn of the Pharaoh and the leaders?” – good question! I think 90% of the Bible is just metaphor anyway, so it really doesn’t phase me.

    Like

  10. T.J. , I have lost the need to pray like I used to (like most Christians do). I no longer ask for material things. However, once in a while I pray when I am in a very difficult situation and ask for patience, peace, wisdom, etc. I still do this because I still believe there is a mysterious God (or whatever you want to call it) that created all of this and wants us to do good. We are here to learn how to love unconditionally (thus live the “Kingdom of Heaven”) by serving others. Maintaining a relationship with God is important, and will keep us from reversing back to our selfish and natural ways (sin).

    Like

  11. Thanks Brenda!

    @ TJ
    Thanks for the comment! I think it’s great that you’re in a group of Christians that’s more accepting of doubts and questions. I hope that continues to be a good experience for you. And I’m very impressed by your 10 year old’s question — I’d never thought of it that way before! Sounds like a sharp kid. 🙂

    @ Noel,
    Thanks for chiming in again. I think you may be right in your perspective. And even though I slant closer to atheist than anything else, I really appreciate guys like you and TJ who are so open-minded in your positions. To me, dogmatism and fundamentalism are the real dangers in the world — tolerance is what we should all be striving for.

    Like

  12. Children. That’s a tough one. However, I think you are demonstrating to them what is important to each of us, and what they will need most when they become adults. I’ll share a story here.

    I have three children, conceived from a marriage that went bitterly sour. As a result, their mother has waged a brutal war against me, attempting to divide me out of their lives while using the financial side to beat me into the dirt. For the most part, she has been successful, as I have very little influence in their lives; I am a father in parentage and financial support. That’s about it.

    However, a couple of years ago, my oldest (a boy) had a falling out with his mother, as teenagers often do with their parents, and he came to live with me for a time. As I attended a church in the area, I brought him along. One night, I could see he was struggling with something internally. With much coaxing, I was able to draw out of him that he “just didn’t see it” when referring to the church and what they were teaching. I told him that this was good for him to share this with me.

    “I thought you would be mad?” he said in surprise.

    “Why would I be mad at you for being truthful about what you see and believe?” I replied with a smile.

    He shared that his mother would never stand for such talk, to which I replied that if he never shared his doubts, how could I possibly answer them? I then encouraged him to continue to keep an open mind, ask as many questions as he found to ask, and to simply give me a chance to present my view on any question he had, without the requirement that he agree with me, as I want him to be his own man, and not anything he thinks I would have him be. As circumstances turned out, he soon left and went back to his mother. I wait for the day when that conversation will bear fruit.

    If you had kept your children in the church in spite of your doubts and budding agnosticism, they would have seen right through the hypocrisy and you would have lost credit as the primary molding force in their lives. Children, as you point out, are so much wiser than we give them credit for. Yet, that doesn’t mean they have all the answers, any more than we do.

    For what my two cents is worth, I would encourage you and your wife to teach them to do what you have been doing throughout this blog: seek the truth. Ask questions, learn, ask more questions. As they grow older, if they want to attend a church, support them in that as well, while always encouraging them to keep their eyes open and to stay focused on finding the truth. Regardless of what they believe when they grow up, you will have done your duty as their parents, and they will thank you for it in due time.

    Like

  13. Sorry to hear about your situation with your own kids. I do think you’ve handled it correctly, though. And thanks for the encouragement on how we’ve handled things with ours. It was a very difficult decision, but I think we’ve made the right one. And now that they’re older and know more about the religious situation with our family, we’ve told them repeatedly that when they’re old enough to study these things and make decisions for themselves, we’ll support them no matter what they decide.

    Like

  14. Don, I hear you . I also have kids who have not attended church either because of our lack of motivation to go. However, I also believe that, unlike my own experience growing up, my kids should have the opportunity to question and explore freely. This is a threat to fundamental Christianity, but it is essential for genuine spiritual growth. I have not embraced atheism because I strongly believe we are here for a higher purpose, even if there is no scientific evidence to prove it. God is a mysterious being, and I am eager to learn more about Him/Her. I may not accomplish this entirety in this lifetime. But all I know is what my heart desires now. Peace.

    Like

  15. “Withdrawl” happened in my church, too (as I’ve mentioned in a different comment). Sure, it does wonders to bring some people back–it is called Emotional Blackmail…and, of course, it is biblical (Rom. 16:17-18). Or, considering how you interpret scripture it can be seen as biblical… On the plus side, the threat of it keeps, I think, some malcontents in their chairs who would otherwise happily leave. Why I say “happily” is that these people then post some of the internal goings-on of the group on a site called ESN–the Exit and Support Network. lol…it is funny b/c my old church is very jealous about its privacy.

    Like

  16. Nate, heavy post. The weight of the children has been a burden for me as well: 12, 10, 4, 2.

    At this point I’d like them to grow up as the most religiously well-educated children possible. I’d like for them to understand what all the various faiths claim, in a level field sort of way. I see it as a sort of inoculation.

    In my parents generation, they broke with Catholic roots at great cost and turbulence. In this generation, the kids are recrossing the line to go back, also creating great turbulence. I’m hoping that at this point we have a chance to break the cycle and perhaps escape similarly unnecessary crises in the future. But I may be too optimistic. 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s