This week I decided after almost 3 years of the deconversion process that it was time to tell my father I was no longer a christian, no longer a believer in a god. This was a conversation that I dreaded having but it had to be done. I genuinely regretted having to do this because I was raised always going to church and it’s just who we were always. It was part of my identity, our family were fundamentalist christian to the core, deep in the heart of East Texas. This is the worldview lens that you see everything through in your life. My father raised me in this environment because he believed it to be the truth and the way and his motives were genuine. He did this because that was how he was raised to believe and he passed it on and expected and hoped I would do the same.
I knew revealing my deconversion would be a painful conversation for him because I know how this information translates in a mind of a believer. When you tell your christian spouse or family member or father that you “no longer believe in the bible or the god of the bible” it translates to “I’ve decided I just want to burn in hell forever”. This is because this is what fundamentalist Christians are taught to believe. No matter that there are no tangible references to hell in the Old Testament in Judaism (which happens to be where Christianity originated from and the descriptions of hell come more from Dante’s Inferno than from the bible itself.)
I decided before the conversation that I didn’t want to get in to the whys and hows? I had heard Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist podcast share he thought it was best to “avoid discussing the why’s” and “keep focused on the fact you are still the same person you just no longer have a god belief”. I prefaced my comments by letting him know what I was about him would be tough to hear. I knew that it would hurt him and I regretted that would be the case but that I had to be honest with him. This was not antagonistic towards him or his belief it had more to do about my lack of belief.
I told him that over the last couple of years I had went through a deconversion process and that I was no longer a christian and no longer a believer. I delayed for a brief pause to just silence……This was to be expected because of the implications of what I just said and did. Many Christians will tell you that you will have doubts but that to “just trust God and come to church and pray and study your bible and he will remove your doubts”. They basically want you to continue to utilize resources to address your doubts that have confirmation bias instead of seeking balanced information from sources that support and reject the belief system giving you enough information to make a better educated decision. So when someone breaks the mold and doubts leads to deconversion it is a devastating change for everyone involved. That pain is not lost on me…..
I hate the fact my family is hurt by my deconversion but how can I just pretend to believe when I honestly don’t? How can I continue to pray when I have zero confidence or evidence the results would be any better if I prayed to my guitar or God? How do I continue to ignore biblical contradictions? How can I be so morally opposed to the acts of the Old Testament God Yahweh and justify it because “who are we to question God?”. How can I learn that the “talking points” I have been taught all my life don’t line up with reality and just pretend they do to “go along and get along” to keep up a charade?
I told my dad I just wanted to be honest because I want to enjoy this life, I still have morals and values but realize this life is short and I just want to enjoy it for what it is. I don’t need to build my life around a belief that is based on “avoiding eternal damnation and torture”. I just don’t believe it anymore. You could tell he was saddened and I knew this would be the case. The conversation didn’t last much longer except for him mentioning us maybe talking about it again later. I genuinely don’t know what the lasting ramifications will be of the big “reveal” but I hope we can continue to have a relationship respectful of our opposing world views. Only time will tell…..
So now my immediate family, wife and son both know of my deconversion and newfound skepticism as well as my father. My father symbolized the last “pillar” or “bridge to cross” to truly own who I am now. I have crossed that bridge and a great burden is lifted from my shoulders. With that said, I am not encouraging those who are still “in the closet of non-belief” to come out because everyone’s situation is different and there can be significant costs to pay but in my case, a born and raised fundamental Christian from the great state of Texas with a great amount of fear chose this path and I don’t regret it. If you choose to acknowledge your non-belief then my advice would be to take the steps slowly and if you can start to be honest about your non-belief to do it. The world needs to know we exist and not just in small pockets but across the U.S including the South.
Last thing, I read the book by “preacher turned atheist” Jerry Dewitt and could very much relate to his personal story. One of the events that impacted me the most was when he was faced with the decision to move away where no one knew him or stay planted where he had built his life. He realized that when we continue to run away especially from the South to “safer more skeptic friendly” areas then we slow the progress of normalizing unbelief. Friends and family who know you as a good person need to continue to know you are a good person, the difference is you are a good person because you choose to be and a non-believer, agnostic, skeptic and yes atheist can be good without relying on religion or a fear of hell to motivate us to do so.
For those going through doubt and deconversion or Christians who want to understand the topic from the perspective of a former believer here are a few recommended readings and videos for understanding those who also deconverted:
- Letter to A Christian Nation by Sam Harris
- Deconverted by Seth Andrews
- Farewell to God by Charles Templeton (Former evangelist and close friend of Billy Graham)
- Why I left and Why I Stayed by Bart Campolo & Tony Campolo
- Baptized Atheist by David Smalley
- Outsider Test of Faith by John W Loftus
- Godless by Dan Barker
- Seeing Through Christianity by Bill Zuersher
- A Better Life (Book and DVD) by Chris Johnson
- DVD- A Path Less Taken “From Ministry to Non-Belief and Beyond”
- DVD- Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney