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The path well-worn: my voyage to apostasy

By SingleOrigin ~

It’s a curious and disquieting feeling, letting go of a worldview you've grown in to. But to emerge from months and years of internal discussion, evaluation and introspection is a unique experience that I am glad I had.

Long-time lurker, here. I've been subscribed with Ex-Christian for several months now, but until now haven’t mustered up the motivation to put things to the page. Reading through the myriad stories and extimonies on this website has been informative and instrumental in my (somewhat) meandering slide out of Christendom. It’s always a delight to read insights from a broad range of experiences, backgrounds and individual personalities – and to at once see the incredible singularity, but also multitude nuances which make up deconversion accounts. Singular in the sense that similar themes are repeated almost universally, and diverse in that no one experience is truly alike. So with that gushing preamble aside, I shall share my own reflection on deconversion and the (ongoing) fallout that it entails.

Unlike some de-converts, my own transition to apostasy has been comparatively trauma-free. My deconversion was not spurred by a horrible experience or mistreatment by Christians, and in fact most of the Christians I have the privilege of knowing are well-rounded and engaging people. I was raised to follow the teaching of the bible in the Baptist denomination – which, in Australia, retain a lot of individual flavor when it comes to theology and doctrine. It was a reasonably innocuous affair – while we were taught evangelical principles and had quite a conservative theology – the aging population of my particular church did not place much emphasis on personal accountability when it came to preaching to non-believers (a fact which suited me quite well in the raging tempest of teen years and associated peer pressure to appear “cool”). My mother always was more upfront about her faith, while my father was pragmatic and preferred to help other people than outright preach to them. I participated in my fair share of holiday programs, both as an attendee and a volunteer helper – and participated in one too many embarrassing skits (suffice it to say, my acting career was DOA). I attended the local public high-school of about 1200 students, and led a sufficiently normal life – the strictures of fundamentalist theology never really took a hold of me (a fact that I am now thankful for) so my turning away from the faith nearly felt like a natural progression.

As it happens, my deconversion almost resembles that tired cliché of the “slippery slope” – only more “gentle gradient” than “steep descent”. In a sense, Christians are correct to fear the consequences of the slippery slope – once the seed of scepticism has taken hold in a sufficiently fertile and open mind, the outcome is generally linear in progression. I was always particularly bright, and did well in all my schoolwork. I relished the challenge of advanced mathematics (well, advanced for a secondary school level), and loved the mental exercise of physics classes. Not being well-versed in biology, however, meant that I also took great joy in devouring the monthly issues of Creation Ex-Nihilo, a magazine released by Creation Ministries International (the Australian off-shoot of Answers in Genesis). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_Ministries_International) I felt at the time that it equipped me with a solid refutation of the wrong-headed evolution and modern cosmology. (As an aside, I didn't let an opportunity pass up to sneak in creationist rhetoric to high-school oral assignments – perhaps my only passable attempt at proselytizing, thankfully).

The first proverbial flap of the butterfly wings came when on a visit to my grandparents. My grandfather was a reasonably nice, agreeable man with a penchant for eschatology and literal interpretation of the bible. He would thoroughly pore over the entire bible to piece together themes, overarching narratives, directives and responsibilities of Christians living in modern times. Despite hopping from church to church whenever it was discovered they had incorrect doctrine, I saw him as a role-model – his rigorous study of the bible was something that I found lacking in other Christians I knew. So it came as the biggest surprise when on a visit to their place, I picked up a book he was reading, titled “A Biblical Case for an Old Earth” (http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Case-Earth-David-Snoke/dp/0801066190) by David Snoke. It was an incredibly profound moment, because instead of dismissing it outright as I normally would have, I decided to borrow it for myself - thus laying the foundations for my embryonic scepticism. Looking back, I think it was the combination of the biblical framing of the topic and coming from a person I highly respected which disarmed me just long enough to let the new ideas in. I must say that this one book had perhaps the entirely opposite effect that the author was aiming for. I read it avidly, and the accompanying letter from my Grandpa which encouraged me to read with caution and thoroughness, to avoid the pitfalls of incorrect theology (I wish I could find this letter, as it contains a very out-of-character openness that I have never seen in my Grandpa since – curiously encouraging me to question established beliefs, but to assess the claims of the author against scripture).

I summarily took that experience and…did nothing with it for several years. Arriving at university, and marking my departure from my parent’s home, I began to unfurl the latent doubt and questions which had surreptitiously accumulated since reading that book. I joined at local Baptist church in the city I moved to for study, one which had a particularly open and liberal bent – focusing on acceptance and community rather than mandating particular doctrine. In my first two years there, I grew to take up leadership positions within the youth service, and also the youth group run for high-school aged children. I also joined a guy’s “small group” (euphemism for bible study), which had lively discussion about pertinent topics from a broad range of individual beliefs, running the gamut from far-right evangelical fundamentalism to borderline secular-liberal. I have fond memories of this group, because it encapsulated an aspect of Christianity that is rarely seen – genuine debate about belief and theology which didn't immediately devolve into a mud-slinging match. We maintained civil and thought-provoking dialogue and we all left with positive attitudes, despite our individually held beliefs. This also seemed to summarize the atmosphere of the church as a whole, so needless to say it was actually quite enjoyable being a part of that community. It has been quite unpleasant to drift from this encouraging and welcoming environment, and lose contact with the people I befriended there (also due in part to relocating to another suburb for work purposes).

The real catalyst for my newly developed apostasy came when I started my first relationship with my (now) girlfriend of two years. Despite praying together early on, developing arbitrary rules about sexual contact (my own imposition, not hers) and generally trying to uphold Christian virtues in our partnership, the strain of trying to repress sexual feelings became too much to ignore. I began delving in to the prohibitions of Pauline theology, and tried to mount a case for healthy sexual expression while maintaining my Christianity. It isn't the only reason why I fell from faith, but it certainly jump-started in earnest the questioning habits that would lead me to where I am now.

My rapidly dismounting faith went through several permutations in rapid succession, which I’ll skip over here for brevity. The salient point is: I repeatedly asked the question “Why do I believe what I believe? What is the reason behind it?” – and decided not to console myself with the usual platitudes but to really answer with honesty and integrity. Almost at once, I recognized the lack of response to sincere efforts to communicate with God. It seemed bizarre to look back on; that I would prop up one-sided conversations to the point of frustration. I never understood the notion “think with your heart, not your head”, and in general lacked what some would call “spiritual atunement”. What previously would have led me to further growth in faith only highlighted the lack of presence of God in my life. I dismantled my perception of prayer, in a similar fashion to this video:(http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jk6ILZAaAMI#). I could no longer reconcile the gross injustices of this world with the absurd contradiction of a God who reportedly values us higher than anything else.

The online resources at my disposal had helped me along considerably – I encountered this website; the exemplary YouTube videos of Evid3nc3 (a particular favorite), TheraminTrees, QualiaSoup, PrplFox; and a plethora of debates between Christian apologists and proponents of atheism (even when I still considered myself a Christian, I saw the apologists arguments were laughably anaemic). I unearthed an incredible video on YouTube based (I think) on lectures by Dr Jack Szostak on the topic of abiogenesis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg). To a biology layman such as myself, it just made things click. I voraciously consumed books by Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and recently, Christopher Hitchens (yes, very typical, I know – but they are mainstays for a reason). I subscribed to Scientific American, New Scientist and took some university elective subjects on geology and cosmology; I attempted to assimilate as much information as I possibly could.

In general, I am now in a position to further develop and hone just how I want to live out my new found atheism. I suspect something along the lines of secular humanism is a good fit for where I want to be ideologically. On a personal note, I am still finding the words to inform my family and friends of my experience – and dreading the anticipated response, particularly from my mum. I have fully divulged my deconversion to my girlfriend (moderate Christian), and while it creates tension and misunderstanding on both sides, we rise above the difference. We made a concerted effort from the very start to build our relationship on mutual trust, honesty and respect – which has been hard won and helped us weather the brunt of such large changes in my worldview.

Closing off a train of thought brought up earlier, I would agree with fundamental Christians in one aspect: liberal Christianity is a slippery slope. I see it as positive, where they would regard it as negative. I have come to see liberal Christianity as an inherently volatile stance – at once having to reconcile and poeticize the more unsavoury elements of the bible; and trying to live an ethical life while holding on to a largely redundant faith. In trying to be the middle-ground between outright atheism and hard-line religiosity, it inherits the advantages of neither. That was the path I lead for a little while, and I arrived at secularism in the end, and for the better.

I am thankful that the process has lacked the distress and trials that some go through – my heart goes out to those abused by institutions, individuals and dogma – our destinations and paths may differ, but it’s great to be united by the common thread which weaves through all our stories.

Thanks for trudging through this long-winded spiel (goddamn, someone get me an editor!); it’s good to get it off my chest, and I hope you've gained something by reading it!

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