How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 11

The first post in this series can be found here, or you can just keep scrolling down the page till you find it.

Once my wife and I were officially withdrawn from, we were simultaneously relieved and devastated. It was nice to no longer have to pretend to believe or worry what people might do if they found out about our doubts, but virtually all of our personal relationships had been ripped away. We had very few friends that weren’t part of the church of Christ, so we felt completely alone.

Again, this was in early December of 2010 — the Christmas holidays were approaching. Our families really wanted us to reconcile our differences with the church quickly so we could get back to being a family again. We wanted to be with them too, but we simply didn’t believe Christianity was true anymore, so that left us at an impasse.

Ever since my wife and I got married, we’ve done Christmas morning in our own home, so that part of Christmas day would be no different from previous years. But my wife’s family lives in the same town we do, and we always went to her parents’ house for Christmas lunch and would spend the rest of the day there. We weren’t able to do that after being withdrawn from. My wife’s family still wanted our children to come, but we didn’t feel comfortable with that. Since they were only 7, 5, and 21 months, we hadn’t told them about the fallout within our families, because we didn’t want to portray our parents as the “bad guys.” So we felt that if we allowed our kids to go to the Christmas get-togethers that we’d all gone to previously, they’d wonder why my wife and I weren’t there. Also, we didn’t want to spend any part of Christmas away from our children. At the same time, we didn’t want to keep our kids from their grandparents (something we were accused of anyway, as it turned out). So we let the kids go over there at a different time, when the rest of the family wouldn’t be there and our absence wouldn’t be so conspicuous.

We ran into the same problem with my family. My parents live out of state, and we always went to their house for New Year’s because it was the best time for all of us to get together. My parents wanted the kids to come for the New Year’s weekend that year so they could visit with everyone. Again, we weren’t comfortable with that for the same reasons mentioned above. At one point, I tried to work out a compromise where my wife and I could stay in my grandmother’s basement (she lived next door to my parents), so that the kids could visit with everyone, but we could also be there if they needed us. That would also have given us an opportunity to visit with the few family members who either weren’t members of the church, or didn’t believe in the practice of withdrawal. But my parents weren’t okay with that idea, so none of us went. My parents came over and visited the kids for a few hours about a week and a half later.

That first Christmas and New Year’s was difficult. But since then, things have steadily gotten better. My best friend lives close and has never been religious, so he was a great source of support during the worst of it. On my mom’s side of the family, I have many aunts, uncles, and cousins that are not part of the church of Christ — my mom was converted to it by my father when they were dating. Luckily, my wife and I live near most of that side of the family, and they’ve really stepped in as surrogates for us. One of my aunts even invited us to her house for Christmas last year, and we had a great time. We’ve also begun making new friends with some of the other parents at our daughters’ school. We still miss our parents and siblings, but we’ve finally reached that feeling of community again, and we’re very happy.

When we were going through our actual deconversion and trying to navigate how to tell our families, or even if we should tell them, it was very distressing. We really wanted someone to talk to who had gone through it before, but that’s hard to come by. And even when you do find other people who have left religion, their stories are often quite different. Some of them never tell anyone that they no longer believe; for some of them, their families remain rather accepting of them despite their beliefs. Each situation is different, and it’s hard to know how to advise someone in their specific situation.

But if anyone were to ask me for advice on how to handle relationships with family and friends when dealing with a crisis of faith, I’d recommend complete honesty. More than likely, this life is the only one we have — do you really want to spend it being someone you’re not? You really need a support network if you’re going through a deconversion. My wife and I went through this process together, but I know not everyone is so lucky. Online communities help, though it’s not the same as interacting with them in person. Each time we met a non-believer through the internet, we kept our fingers crossed that they lived nearby… none of them did. However, we soon found out that Meetup.com is a great resource to find nearby skeptic communities. And if you have a Unitarian Universalist church in your area, that’s another great place where diversity of belief is accepted with open arms.

Looking back on all of it now, my wife and I are both very thankful to have gone through it. Having our family relationships ripped apart has been simply awful; there’s no getting around that, and we wish it could have been avoided. But despite the difficulties we still face in those relationships, things are peaceful within the walls of our home, which is much more important. We see the world very differently now — everything just makes more sense. The world contains much more beauty and wonder than we had realized before. I know many people have that experience when they come to religion, but for us it was different.

Even though the story is pretty much done, I have one more post I want to do. I’d like to talk a little more about the feelings I had during the deconversion process. Did I feel a since of loss? Didn’t I worry about being wrong? All will be answered in the next (and final) post.

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20 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 11”

  1. I’m sorry those family relationships have not improved much. Last year at this time my whole family found out about my deconversion. It has been a sad, lonely journey. Some of my relationships have not recovered, and maybe they never will.

    It is nice to know that I am not the only one who has faced this. Thank you for writing out your story. I look forward to the next part.

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  2. I hate that you’ve had to go through it. I hope some of your family will eventually come around once they’ve had more time to process it.

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  3. I’ve half followed this series, and I do appreciate you sharing it with the world. And you are right, honesty is truly the best policy.

    To theagnosticswife, as Nate found, there’s a lot more support and tolerance out there than we think. Good luck.

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  4. G’day Nate, I think I’m all out of comments. But I’d be interested to know how you feel about writing all this stuff. Do you find it difficult to re-visit, or is it cathartic? Do you do it for your own satisfaction, or do you think it will help others? Just interested.

    Regards, UnkleE

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  5. Thanks for the question, UnkleE. It’s definitely been difficult to write about. I sometimes have family members that read this blog, and I haven’t wanted to write anything that would make them uncomfortable. At the same time, this is something I wanted to get down in writing, and I know they may not be crazy about my sharing this with others (even though their anonymity is relatively safe). I think it helps explain my position and thought process a little better. And yes, I do hope it’s helpful to others who might be going through something similar.

    I can’t say yet if it’s been cathartic. I thought it would be, but the difficulty in getting it all out clouds that issue a bit.

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  6. Still enjoying reading your story Nate – although it’s sad to hear about the family relationships you had to lose. I feel the same way you do Nate. While everyone must make up their own mind, I just had to be completely honest. It never even occurred to me to do otherwise.

    Our families are not fundamentalists and were very accepting of our new views. However I did have older children which is something that it seems many people don’t have to deal with – so you’re right – each story is unique. Most of our friendships were within the church, but it isn’t too difficult to look elsewhere for new friendships, which we are doing. I’m so thankful my husband came along for the journey and I know that no one can predict how such a huge change will affect their marriage. I feel like I won the lottery on that part of it.

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  7. Nate,

    Just wanted to add,

    I’m really glad you decided to keep your old posts on this blog. It’s been really helpful for me to read them and discover that you have considered some of the same questions I am considering now. It’s also been really helpful to see how you responded in your older blogs as Christian.

    Thanks 🙂

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  8. Whenerever I read the story of a Christian’s Deconversion; especially how they feel afterwards, I am baffled how those still tied to this faith are even more baffled. How can such people NOT see?
    Why do they doggedly refuse to question?
    And in your case, specifically, the fact that you emerged from this trauma with morals still intact (sic) ha ha-probably more so I shouldn’t wonder- even though many consider you and you wife are bound for hell – sounding incredibly tolerant and understanding is evidence of strength of character of the highest order.

    Maybe if such tales were made compulsory reading to all who are religious – irrespective of the religion – and to those who consider they need ‘Salvation’ we might have a more peaceful planet?

    Good for you, Nate, and the best of luck to you and yours.

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  9. @ Zoe & Rodalena,
    Thanks! I’m glad these posts have been helpful.

    @ Brenda,
    I can’t imagine how tough it must be with grown children. My wife and I are very thankful that our children were still young when we started dealing with our doubts. And I completely get what you’re saying about your husband. This thing would have been so much harder if my wife and I hadn’t been on the same page. I’m a lucky guy. 🙂

    @ Ryan,
    When I came back to blogging, I thought about starting a different blog to talk about my new skepticism. I also thought about keeping this blog, but deleting the old posts. But I finally decided that my time as a Christian is a core component of my journey toward “Finding Truth,” and every post on this blog is an important mile-marker. I’m very happy to hear that you’re getting value from those old posts — thanks for letting me know!

    @ arkenaten,
    Thanks for the kind comment! I’m also baffled by those who won’t examine their beliefs more closely. I’ve heard many preachers say “if I’m wrong, you’d be my friend to point it out to me,” but I wonder how many actually mean it. Anyway, thanks again for the comment. We shared some good discussions over at the Chief of the Least blog — I’m glad we’ve reconnected!

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  10. Thanks for sharing your story, Nate. I’m not totally versed in “Church of Christ” tradition but I have to say this “withdrawal” process is a flatly terrible representation of Christ. I hope for reconciliation of your family, and that grace (not church tradition) rules the day in those relationships…

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  11. I had been a “good boy” in my church, and so had no friends on the outside after I was out. I DID have a friend who was about one step ahead of me on the deconversion thing, and that helped tremendously. But I was an Over The Road trucker and spent a lot of time utterly alone, not knowing about the wonderful online resources I see everywhere now…now that I pretty much don’t need them. lol…

    Your comment “The world contains much more beauty and wonder than we had realized before” really struck me…my church was big into the whole Eschatology thing, world is about to end, Great Tribulation, everything everywhere is evil, etc. Yeah, the world is full of evil and sadness and misery–but not quite as fully as they claimed. That has been a surprising source of comfort at times.

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  12. Nate, my wife and I have been very moved by your story. Such detail. Can’t tell you how sorry I am that the break with family has been so… organized. I’ve had long rifts in the past over religion, silence of a couple of years, but it was not owing to a formal custom. It eventually ended, but rather quietly. No one ever talked about the reasons that the silence ended, just did.

    We’re in the thick of things at this point with my wife’s folks for reasons obvious in my blog. But I can report that there is a commitment on both sides that we will not abandon one another. That’s good. Your story makes me really grateful for that. But the change between us is so palpable. Hell torments them, for us and the children. Its just a squandering… Our social circle is also entirely from within the church, so things will probably be quiet for a while.

    Thank you for writing all of this. Its a service to others, and I hope a catharsis in the end for you. Writing seems to help me, though I am without question still on the road to recovery. 🙂

    ~ Matt

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  13. Thanks, Matt. I’m sorry you’ve experienced some weirdness in your family too, but I’m glad there’s not a complete severing. I hate that your family is so tormented by the idea that you and yours are Hell-bound. It’s so tragic. As my wife says, “it stops here.”

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  14. You wrote:
    “But if anyone were to ask me for advice on how to handle relationships with family and friends when dealing with a crisis of faith, I’d recommend complete honesty. More than likely, this life is the only one we have — do you really want to spend it being someone you’re not?”

    Spot on. Honesty is necessary to really understand anything (and it’s a commandment of God). And this is indeed the only life we have (though it goes on and on after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil), so nobody should spend it being somebody he isn’t.

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