5/11/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy ThinkTank ~
The white smoke curled and entwined itself into the warm afternoon air. I stood at the edge of the hole that we had dug in front of the house.My spouse, our kids, and two of our friends stood with me.
At the bottom of the hole smoldered the remains of our bibles. We had given them as gifts to each other many years ago and had faithfully carried them to church every Sunday. Tiny glowing flames crept along the delicate pages, slowly working their way down the chapters and verses, erasing the familiar words covering the pages.
I didn’t know how I felt. I was still in shock. The loss of my faith did not yet seem real to me although my faith had been slowly dissolving for 3 years.
My spouse read a eulogy written specifically for our deconversion ceremony while we stood and watched the pages slowly smolder. Our exchristian friend contributed by casting the gold cross necklace she had worn every day for 20 years onto the burning bibles. A solemn stillness filled the air and infused the drifting smoke that hung in the waning sunshine.
I stared down at the once beloved corpse of our 40 year delusion. I swallowed hard and began. “We are having this deconversion ceremony today to mark an important milestone in our lives. We are no longer Christians and are no longer part of the belief system we devoted our entire lives to. Just as we once publicly declared our faith in Christ, today we want to publicly declare our loss of faith. We do not believe in a heavenly father. We do not believe we are desperately wicked. We do not believe we need a savior. We do not believe Jesus rose from the dead. We do not commit our lives to god. Our lives are our own. We claim the freedom to pursue our dreams and have the richest life possible. We are taking back control of our lives.”
The others waited. Listening. Carefully watching me for signs of distress.
“We are burning our bibles, not out of anger, but to acknowledge to ourselves that 40 years of our lives have been wasted in a belief system that is not true. Those years are gone along with all the time we spent at youth groups, camps, bible studies, seminars, activities, and church services. Gone too is the money we tithed. We are accepting this loss and moving forward into a new life that we will create together. The tree we will plant over the ashes will be a symbol of our new life. A living, growing thing to remind us that we are alive and free to become the people we envision.”
The others nodded quietly in agreement. Slowly, ashes replaced the flames and we all took turns shoveling dirt into the hole until the remains of our old life disappeared. I held the new tree in place while our friends added potting soil. My spouse shoveled in the last of the dirt and we all walked around the tree, tamping down the dirt into a circular well.
Our old life was gone. Our new life could begin. I had tears, but they would not come. Tears at having been so brave. Tears that for the first time, I had my own life. Tears of regret for the life I could have had. Tears for the opportunities that had been denied to me.
I did not feel exultant or victorious. I felt the empty sort of joy that comes from the resolution of a regrettable situation. I felt like the lone survivor of a shipwreck. My inner self felt weak and anemic, much like a sickly seedling discovered under a block of wood -- alive, but maimed and twisted and colorless. I was not at all sure that everything would be all right. I was not sure if I would ever be normal. I was not sure if I could ever feel normal.
I did not feel exultant or victorious. I felt the empty sort of joy that comes from the resolution of a regrettable situation. I felt like the lone survivor of a shipwreck. My inner self felt weak and anemic, much like a sickly seedling discovered under a block of wood -- alive, but maimed and twisted and colorless. I was not at all sure that everything would be all right. I was not sure if I would ever be normal. I was not sure if I could ever feel normal.Five years ago, I would have never imagined that we would one day burn our bibles in the front yard and plant a tree over them. Turning away from Christ was unimaginable. I had grown up in church. I had accepted Jesus into my heart many times as a child. First to make sure I had said the words right, then to make sure I had meant it enough, and finally to make sure I had turned over every part of my being to Christ. Church camps, youth groups, Young Life, pray-ins, witnessing, Christian college, mission trips, church leadership, and intensive bible study programs had been my life. I had wanted to know and love god as deeply as possible.
I knew god was real and was working in my life every day. I was confident that the bible was god’s inerrant word and was to be interpreted literally. I was certain that Jesus had died for my sins and that one day I would be with Jesus in heaven.
But my faith was like an elaborate sand castle built too close to the shore. Occasionally a question or a wave of truth would lap at the edges and bits of the sand castle would crumble and dissolve into the water. This did not bother me. I knew difficulties were evidence that god was working in my life to increase my trust in him. I embraced my questions because I believed god was the author of truth and that truth could never lead me astray.
My biggest problem was the unsettling feeling that I was not a person. Instead, I suspected that I was merely a reflection of other people’s expectations of me…expectations of what a Christian child, a Christian spouse, and a Christian parent should be. I felt like a passive by-stander in my own life.
There were so many things that didn’t make sense.
- Why did I feel so unsettled - shouldn’t christians have an abundant life?
- Why were churches so suspicious of other churches - shouldn’t christians love one another?
- Why were non-christians ridiculed for only attending on holidays - shouldn’t christians welcome non-believers?
- Why did I pray so fervently with no results - shouldn’t the prayers of the righteous be answered?
- Why were there deacons with continual anger problems - shouldn’t christians have changed lives?
- Why were women excluded from leadership –shouldn’t those ideas be discarded as a cultural practice the way head coverings were?
- Why could I not talk about the movies we attended - shouldn’t we be able to stop worrying about what movies we watched now that we mid- 40’s?
- Why was sexuality so difficult - shouldn’t we have god’s blessing for waiting?
I worked on my questions, convinced that god would fix whatever was wrong with me.
And then something miraculous happened. Our church closed. We comforted others, helped with finalities, and said our goodbyes.
But when the time came to look for a new church, I was shocked and alarmed to find that I did not want to go back. I knew it would mean more of the same fake friendships, empty discussions, and the careful hiding of anything that might cause others to judge. I felt that church was holding me back in my personal development and I felt confused. I knew god did not intend for his church to stifle personal growth and I wondered if there might be a more authentic way to worship god and grow as a christian.
I did not want inhibit my spouse’s spiritual growth and so I encouraged church attendance without me if so desired. I was secretly terrified that my questions and reluctance to go to church would cost me my marriage. I was very, very careful when we talked together about spiritual things.
As I was looking for some kind of on-line church, I stumbled upon exchristian.net. I was horrified to learn there were people who called themselves exchristians. I read the story featured on the home page. I could not understand what they were talking about. I could not believe there were enough exchristians to warrant a website. I was shocked that someone would publicaly say things against christianity.
I would never turn my back on christ like that. I would always be a christian whether I went to church or not. I felt afraid and exited out of the website right away. I quickly erased the history in case my spouse was checking up on what I was reading.
It would be many months before I returned to exchristian.net, but the idea that there were people who had left christianity never left the back of my mind. I eventually decided that there was nothing wrong with understanding different perspectives since god was the god of truth and the truth would always win out.
I read books like “A New Kind of Christian” and “A Churchless Faith”. I wrote out my thoughts and questions and cautiously chatted about them with my spouse. My spouse listened and bravely voiced some additional questions. I eventually felt sure that our marriage would survive.
Together we talked about the evidence that the earth was much older than 6,000 years. We talked about what it would mean if the creation story was not literal and Adam and Eve were not the first humans. We researched the origin of the bible and read about the lack of original manuscripts. The more we read, the more likely it seemed that the bible was written by ancient people. It did not seem probable that the bible was inerrant or inspired by god.
A stray comment about the historicity of Jesus made me do more research even though I was absolutely sure jesus was a real person. In dismay I read that no contemporary historians mentioned jesus. I read that virgin births, sacrificial deaths, and resurrections from the dead were common motifs used in other ancient stories.
It was this last bit of truth that dissolved the remainder of my faith. Jesus could not share the miraculous events that made him god’s son with other mythical figures. Those miraculous events had to belong to jesus alone. I grappled with the idea that jesus might not have been a historical person at all.
It slowly came together. It all had to be real or christianity didn’t work. If god did not reveal himself through the bible, there was no need for forgiveness. If Adam and Eve were not real people, there was nothing to atone for. If jesus never lived, there was no sacrifice, resurrection, or eternal life. I saw that it was possible that the entire belief system was one convoluted story constructed to explain life’s mysteries and to control people.
We discussed it intensely. My spouse saw it in a flash for what it was, but I had trouble letting it go. It meant I had to do the worst possible thing in the world … the thing that had been ingrained in me that I must never do. I would have to deny the resurrection.
“You have to say it.” My spouse urged.
“Yeah, I probably should.” I looked away.
“No, not probably. Now. You have to say it out loud, right now.”
“Yeah. I know it’s not true.”
We locked eyes. I could hardly breathe. “You’re not saying it. You have to say it.”
I nodded. “But it’s just so crazy that it’s not true.”
“I know. You’re stalling. Say it.”
I could not hold my gaze and I looked down.
Finally I said, “Jesus did not rise from the dead.”
“That’s right. He didn’t. What else?”
“I’m not a sinner. I don’t need a savior. The resurrection is a lie.” I let out the breath I did not realize I had been holding in. “You were right. I needed to say it out loud.”
“I knew you did, otherwise I never would have pushed you to say it.”
“I feel like I need to pray a non-sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus out of my life.” I laughed. “I feel like I need to do something official to commemorate our deconversion. I need to do some ritual to un-do everything.”
“Whatever you need, you plan it and we’ll do it.”
And so two years ago today we had a deconversion ceremony with our kids and our friends. We burned our bibles in the front yard and planted a new tree in its place.