The first post in this series can be found here, or you can just keep scrolling down the page till you find it.
In the previous posts, I talked about the actual events of my deconversion. In this one, I’d like to go into some detail about my thought process throughout the experience.
My Starting Point
When I was a zealous Christian, I thought about my faith constantly. If you’ve read the preceding 11 posts, you’ve no doubt come to realize that the Church of Christ is a bit different from most other denominations. I grew up believing that most people, even those in other denominations, were lost. Most of you probably didn’t grow up that way, but imagine what it would be like to think almost every person you encounter is a lost soul: your teacher, the bus driver, your best friend’s parents, even some of your relatives. It made the “religious truth” I possessed an extremely important commodity! I knew what could save these people that I cared about. The problem was, most of them thought they didn’t need it — they already had faith.
If you’re a Baptist, how much luck would you have in converting a Presbyterian? Probably not much — they already believe in Jesus, why should they be interested in your particular flavor of Christianity? That’s the same problem I ran into, except I believed these people still needed salvation. So the problem of the lost was not some far off thing for me — I didn’t have to think of Muslims or Buddhists to imagine the lost; they were all around me.
It was through all those experiences of studying with people from other denominations that I realized how strong the evidence for “true” Christianity would have to be if it was to convince people. Most people, regardless of their religion (or lack of it), feel confident that their beliefs are correct. To be convinced otherwise, they need to be shown some strong evidence, and that’s why I had such a high view of the Bible’s inspiration. If I could show people prophecy fulfillment in the Bible, and show them that every account in it is consistent with the other parts of the Bible, despite all the different people that penned it, it would show that man could not have accomplished it alone — God must be behind it. So we, as people, must strive to follow it. And that’s the message I tried to share with people for many years. It’s also what allowed my faith to be shaken when I saw that the Bible wasn’t as perfect as I had imagined.
I also believed that Christians could lose their salvation if they turned from God. I didn’t believe this happened easily, because I knew God’s grace would cover many things. But I believed that consciously choosing to live in sin (in whatever form that sin took) would cause someone to lose their salvation. And I had known several Christians that fell away for various reasons.
As you can imagine, these beliefs led me to think that the number of saved was very, very small. In a way, that fit with the teachings of Jesus — “the way is narrow, and few there are who find it.” But it sure was depressing. In fact, each time my wife was pregnant, I worried that we were making a bad decision in bringing another soul into the world, when their chances of being lost were so high.
That’s why the problem of Hell was such a big deal for me. Again, I didn’t lose my faith because I didn’t like Hell — but I did wonder why God would set up a plan in which the vast majority of humanity never achieved salvation. And if it was because humans are just so flawed that we don’t want salvation, then why did God make us that way? It’s not that I was unhappy with Christianity; I was unhappy with the version of Christianity I’d grown up with. So I spent time trying to better understand Heaven, Hell, and the nature of salvation.
Once I began studying the claims against Christianity, it really didn’t take very long for me to realize there were actual problems. On the surface, that might sound as though my initial convictions hadn’t been very deep, but that’s not at all the case. I had always viewed the Bible as either inspired or not — and if it was inspired, then it should have no errors. Not every Christian shares that view, but that was my stance, and it didn’t allow for all the problems I was finding.
Any time you experience a major shift in your world view, it puts everything up for grabs. I remember looking up at the night sky at one point and feeling very, very small and afraid. Who was out there to take care of us? What kept some asteroid from simply obliterating us all? But before long, I realized that the same forces were in play that had always been in play. If the God of Christianity was not real, then that’s the way it had always been, so the sky was not going to suddenly come crashing down just because I’d come to a new realization.
My wife and I also worried about how we would teach morality to our children without a divine authority to appeal to. But again, we soon realized that we wanted our children to be moral for some very good reasons — reasons we could explain to our children. Hopefully, those reasons would make them want to live morally too. But even if they didn’t always live morally, we no longer believed that they would be judged and punished for those mistakes.
That brings me back to Hell. Wasn’t I worried about being wrong and going to Hell? Or about leading my family there? No. When I was still just dealing with doubts, I was very worried about making the wrong decision. I prayed constantly that God would help me find the truth, regardless of what it was. But once I stopped believing Christianity, I had no more reason to be afraid of Hell than I do to be afraid of Frankenstein.
What about the forgiveness that Christianity offered? What avenue did I now have for salvation? Once I stopped believing in Christianity, I realized that there was nothing I needed to be saved from. The Christian god is not real, so it’s impossible to sin against him. If there’s such a thing as sin, it’s what we do against one another, and those kinds of sins need to be corrected with the people we’ve sinned against. Imaginary beings just don’t factor in.
Some Closing Thoughts
I hope that helps explain some of my thought processes as I went through my deconversion. It would be hard, maybe impossible, to encapsulate everything I thought about during those months of study, but I think this touches on the main points.
I really appreciate the interest you’ve all shown in this series — it’s been a tough one to write. Going through my deconversion and facing the subsequent problems in our families has been the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through. There are some things that I wish could have done differently, though I’m ultimately glad that I’ve come to this point. I appreciate all the great comments and the compassion you’ve shown, even if you don’t agree with my point of view.
Finally, I want to stress that even though I’ve been critical of the Church of Christ in many of these posts, there are still a number of things I admire about them. They firmly believe that the Bible is God’s perfect word, so it should be followed as closely as possible. Even if they’re incorrect about a couple of their positions, most of them have the best of intentions. It was a good way to grow up, in most respects. My parents taught me to be a critical thinker, and that’s the best gift they ever could have given me. I deeply regret how sad they are over my current beliefs, and I hope that we can one day come to some kind of resolution.
Thanks again to everyone who’s stuck with me through this series. I gotta say, I’m looking forward to writing about something else! 🙂
50 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 12”
Thanks for walking through your journey with us. I know it was hard to live it, I imagine it was just as hard to write it (and almost live it all again). I pray that one day your family will give up shunning and embrace you and your family completely.
The only comment I want to make is on this statement:
“If there’s such a thing as sin, it’s what we do against one another, and those kinds of sins need to be corrected with the people we’ve sinned against.”
Can you tell me what you mean by “corrected” in this sense? I’m very curious about this. 🙂
Thanks again for opening up your life to give us a glimpse.
Grace and Peace,
Hi JudahFirst — thanks for the comment! All I meant with my statement about sin (and I typically wouldn’t use the term “sin”) is that we sometimes wrong one another. When we do, if there’s a way we can make it right, we can try to make it right with that individual rather than praying about it to a god. I think the way I worded it was kind of awkward, so I hope this helps clarify a little.
I asked an atheist how he determined his moral code once and he said that he made decisions based on what would or wouldn’t hurt other people. If it would hurt them, he chose not to do it. This is not so far at all from what Christ told us is the most important commandment. Love God and love others.
It’s weird when you grow up thinking that the only reason to do what is right is out of fear or for reward. it’s not healthy, I don’t think.
Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed (and been deeply saddened by) your series. I hope blessings find you and your family every step of the way into this almost new life.
“Once I began studying the claims against Christianity, it really didn’t take very long for me to realize there were actual problems.”
So true…when I would hear apologists claim that Christianity could stand up to the most rigorous of scrutiny, I believed them. When I actually allowed my beliefs to be scrutinized, I had the same realization as you…there were actual problems with the truth claims of the Bible. Not just a bunch of wussy atheists who hated God, sitting around making excuses for not believing in his Word.
Yes, that’s exactly how I felt! Before, I had always heard that people had never found a single contradiction in the Bible and that no piece of historical evidence had ever contradicted anything in the Bible. I trusted those people, and it just never occurred to me to test their claims. So when I finally became aware of the problems, it was a huge shock.
Nate, thanks for the clarification. I understand what you were saying now. Keep the writing coming. I enjoy your blog very much!
Thanks for taking the time and effort to write this series Nate. I enjoyed getting a deeper look into your journey.
Nate, thanks a lot for sharing your story with us. I read someone write elsewhere that “we all have our stories and they should be told”. Not only does it help you, but from the comments I can see it has helped a lot of your readers as well (including me). I look forward to more of your insightful posts, and I really hope your family relationships can be healed.
Brenda and Howie —
Thanks so much to both of you! I do think it was good for me to write this, and I’m really glad that so many others have seemed to get some value from it too.
I did love this series, by the way, very honest. Very gutsy. Thank you Nate.
I hope to reply later in more detail. I know this has been a painful journey, but even more so for your family who loves you more than life itself. It is obvious from many of the comments that quite a few people who have a belief in God think God requires nothing of them. However, if one believes that God is, and that Jesus is His son, and the Bible is the Word of God, the guide for our lives, then withdrawal is not a choice, but a duty. Submitting our will to God’s is sometimes difficult, but we must do it if we are to be pleasing to God. It would be very selfish of me to continue to have contact with you as if nothing was wrong, when the ultimate destination for eternity is what is the most important. I would rather forgo this short time on earth with someone I love and cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God, thereby spending all eternity in Heaven with them, than to spend time with them now and see them miss out on the most important thing for their soul.
I want to re-read all the aspects of this series, and then will comment some more (if that is o.k. with you).
Absolutely. Feel free to comment any time.
Love you too.
whoa! must be tough, i can’t fully imagine how difficult this all must be for Nate, or for his family.
Nate leaves his faith because he no longer believes in it, and thereby leaves his family because he knows their convictions. Nate’s family must leave him because they believe that God tells them to.
If God told you to do something, then i guess you had better do it… But I guess this is where the disconnect is within the family – only as I see it from what i have read and inferred from these posts and comments.
Why does Nate’s family think that the Bible is God’s Inspired and Divine Word? And why does Nate not see bible that way?
What is the bible, but a collection of human writings that make claims of god? Are those claims accurate and trustworthy? If we can plainly see that there are some errors or contradictions within the bible, then why do we allow ourselves to be taken in by it, to believe the supernatural claims of men? If we do trust them, isnt our faith in their claims more than it is god, who did not reveal himself directly to us, has not whispered in our ears, has not visited our dreams?
How sad would it be to withdrawal from your loved ones here, only to receive no payoff later? How happy could heaven be without the one’s you love, knowing that they are burning in hell forever because they weren’t convinced on the flimsy evidence?
Most of that is rhetorical, i know. Sorry. Nate, or Jim I guess, did your church believe everything about the bible was literal, or were there some things viewed as literal and others viewed as metaphorical? Was there a certain criteria they used to determine which was which, if they did?
As a believer I came to the conclusion you wrote here:
” How happy could heaven be without the one’s you love, knowing that they are burning in hell forever…?”
I began to study man’s teachings about hell as opposed to the Bible’s teachings and found quite the discrepancy. Actually, I found that God’s purposed will is that all are included in Christ’s death and resurrection and there is an open door of hope to everyone, even after death (see Revelation 21-22) (you can check out some of my blogs for more Scriptural evidence of these claims). It is also my belief that God always gets His way. 🙂
Thanks for your excellent questions above.
Grace and Peace to you,
Reading this series was somewhat difficult for me. Much of your story mimics my own I feel great sadness at your loss of family support. Mostly because I have experienced some of that too. Your dads comment is so sad to me. Though I understand to an extent what he is saying as ive been on the Christian end of it before, its sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. It only makes me work harder to make sure that I let my children know that i might not always agree with them, I will always support and love them
Thankfully Jesus did not withdraw from anyone “cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God.” I guess He knew something we don’t. 😉
Rats … no edit button. That should read “TO cause them…” Sorry.
Sorry about the typos. I’m using a tablet and it wont let me edit like i want. That or i just don’t know how to use it correctly.
Nate, I can only echo the comments of others that this must have been a somewhat painful journey for you to document. I hope you can move on – in fact I’m sure you can.
I’m glad to that your dad is willing to contact you in this way despite the “withdrawal”. I hope (and in fact will pray) that good comes from that.
I would like to discuss the practice of “withdrawal”, because I think I understand the Biblical basis for this practice, but I believe as a christian it can be clearly seen to be misapplied in your case. I won’t go in to that now, but wonder whether a post on that teaching might be helpful to you and your dad, and the rest of us.
Yes, I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on the subject of withdrawal. As I think you know, I have a couple of posts that deal with it, in case you’d like to see the passages that the CoC usually turn to in support of the doctrine:
Withdrawal Part 1 — My Situation
Withdrawal Part 2 — Doctrinal Considerations
Thank you for your story, Nate. I appreciate the difficulty it must have put you through to (re)live this part of your life. I also thank your Dad for having the … ‘guts’, for lack of a better word,… to respond, and in some meager way, reach out to you in this way. Though many, within and without the faith, may disagree with him, I appreciate his honesty and candor, as well as yours. Cheers my friend!
BTW, I absolutely love this quote: “Any time you experience a major shift in your world view, it puts everything up for grabs.” THAT is truth!
And to Jim Owens, I would add this:
It is unfortunate that you hold the belief that withdrawing from someone far from God will somehow lead them into a closer relationship with Him. How do you interpret Paul’s counsel to the Romans in 10:14-15? That sounds like the OPPOSITE of withdrawal to me. And in Nate’s case, having heard the Word of God, who does he have in his life right now (that he has contact with) to show him the love of God? And please do not tell me that withdrawal of contact from those closest to him is showing God’s love in any way. His (Nate’s) reaction would not be what it is if that were the case. I’m sorry, God doesn’t work like that.
It is also unfortunate that you believe the action of withdrawal as ‘a duty, not a choice’, and anyone not believing that same stance (even fellow believers) as them, in essence, saying ‘God requires nothing of (me)’. God requires A LOT of us. Look no further than Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 28:19-20 I’m sorry, but I don’t interpret these truths to mean either requiring nothing of me or ‘forgoing this short time on earth with (someone far from God) and cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God’.
Get in the world, my friend! Get in the trenches! Get dirty! We need you down here! Get your light out from under its basket!
I have been following the blogs of Nate and TheBitterSweetEnd over the last few weeks while rewriting the introduction to my own blog.
As a former member of the Worldwide Church of God I have considerable empathy with both Nate and his Dad. Like Jim I believed that I was a member of the one and only true church. But in my case it was because nobody else kept the Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days as they should be kept. But in 1995 the leadership of the church (membership about 150,000 worldwide) announced that some of their theology was misguided. That was a traumatic experience that resulted in significant family breakups.
At Nate said, “Any time you experience a major shift in your worldview it puts everything up for grabs”. This was the second time that I had had to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught. I can relate to just about all the questions that Nate has been raising – but the big difference is that by 2003 I had become aware that tens of thousands of committed Christians were asking similar questions. While many like Nate have effectively become completely disillusioned with the Christian RELIGION there are many (like me) who now have a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Christian FAITH and the real LOVE of a loving heavenly Father.
As a Brit I had a particular interest in the history of the King James Bible and some of the subtle and not so subtle changes that were made to satisfy the King who believed in the divine right of Kings – so that there are significant differences between that and the ‘Geneva Bible’ published around the same time. I have long understood that the traditional teachings of the theology of ‘hell’ are not the only way that make sense of the scriptures.
I know what it is like when children walk away. When the changes occurred in 1995 my daughter’s in-laws went one way and we went another. My daughter and her husband who were youth leaders at the time decided (understandably) that we couldn’t both be right and are now atheists.
There seems to be a major lesson here. These people walked away from the Christian RELIGION because they were getting mixed messages. Does anyone really believe in a god who would send them to hell in such circumstances – I certainly don’t. I’m fairly certain that they will get a chance to understand when they are confronted with the real TRUTH that will not necessarily be in this physical life.
If anyone is interested in the story of my faith journey please feel free to look at my blog.