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To Tell or Not to Tell

By Undercover agnostic ~

As a newly de-converted Christian, I find to be a uniquely comforting and refreshing lifeline. This is the only place I can candidly assume my self-proclaimed title: humanist agnostic. One question that often arises is how to muster the courage to “come out” to family and friends and own whatever label, best describes one’s new identity outside of faith. I’m grappling with the same conundrum. On one hand, what does it matter what thoughts, ideas and beliefs, my brain is generating? I’m still very much the same person my family and friends have come to know and love. I still spend time with my husband and six kids. I continue to enjoy teaching, composing music, cycling and kayaking. I’m active in my neighborhood and community. If I said nothing, my life would carry on the same way it has for decades, and no one would be the wiser. I can talk the Christian talk and walk the Christian walk with ease, as it has been my identity for over 40 years.

But here’s the problem. I’ve been hungrily devouring book after book from atheist writers, and I crave the freethinking podcasts, which fill up space on my iPod. Even my YouTube subscriptions are tainted with atheist content. But, sadly, all of this life altering, truth-seeking, reason-driven inquiry is done in secret, as if guarding a sordid and illicit affair. I’m in love with this new knowledge, but I can’t tell anyone about it. I really WANT to share what I’m learning with the rest of the world! I want to have open dialogue on Facebook. I want to “like” and “comment” on the juicy quotes from Robert Ingersoll or Sam Harris. But I can’t. I’ve tried a little bit. In fact, I’ve posted the books I’ve been reading (not all of them, just the ones with titles that don’t give too much information), figuring that my Christian friends wouldn’t really notice and likely haven’t read them. At the same time, I was hoping that some atheists and agnostics would notice and engage in dialogue with me. Unfortunately, just this simple act of dropping a few hints, put me on the radar by my church family and someone reported to my pastor that I was reading questionable material. (Gasp!) During the same time, I took a chance and “liked” an article condemning the way children are heavily proselytized into religion, which caught the attention of another church member, who then “requested prayer” for me at the Thursday morning prayer meeting, again alerting the pastor, that something was awry. The pastor called me to set up a time to meet and to address the concerns he was hearing. The meeting resulted in my being asked to withdraw my membership from the church, since I couldn’t say with confidence that the Bible is inerrant and that Jesus rose from the dead. Whew! The cat was out of the bag--sort of.

When the news of my “dismemberment” was made public, my close friends from church, while initially shocked and saddened, interpreted it to mean that I was simply going through a normal “temporary” season of doubt--nothing to worry about-- nothing to be ashamed of. You know—it happens to everyone at some point. (It’s like being in denial when a friend announces she has stage 3 cancer and downplaying the ramifications). To concede that I was now lost and condemned would refute our church’s doctrine of election. If God had chosen me for salvation, than nothing would ever separate me from his love. Was there evidence that I had been saved? Yes. Those who knew me well would say I bore the marks of a true believer. So the only logical conclusion is to assume that all is well and I will be back. The few, who have had the courage to approach me, have given me big hugs and have confidently affirmed that they aren’t worried a bit for me. Each insists that God is using this to strengthen my faith and that when I come through this dark night of the soul, I’m going to arrive at the other side smelling like roses. Friends have been “led by the Holy Spirit” to help me on my quest, by giving me books to read, and sermons to listen to and have promised to petition God on my behalf. In other words, I am their project.

What I am realizing is that I’m not really “out.” In everyone’s mind, I’m still “in” and accepted—even pitied a little for my deep internal struggle because they truly believe that, one day soon, I will wake up and come to my senses.

Coming out” strongly and decisively would likely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s then that I believe my Christian friends would ultimately reject me.

In a way, I feel somewhat content, being labeled a “seeker,” resting somewhere in the middle of the right and left wing continuum. It seems to be a safe zone. For my wonderful friends who love me and would be potentially fearful for my soul, I think I’m protecting them by not being completely forthright. I don’t want loved ones who believe in a fiery hell to worry about me because of my lack of belief. At the same time, I really wish I could just be completely honest and transparent.

I also desperately wish that I could articulate to family and friends why I have de-converted. I would give anything to be able to openly debunk the notion of the Bible’s inerrancy or Jesus’ divinity, citing the hundreds of examples that have led me to this conclusion. But, to even broach the subject skeptically, would fan the flames of self- righteous contempt and outrage among the fundamentalists in my sphere. There is such a misunderstanding among Christians as to why people leave the faith. They usually assume people have inadvertently succumbed to the wily schemes of the devil and have been led astray by his deception. Rarely do they accept that people leave because they have followed the evidence and simply can’t believe anymore.

In some ways, I wish I could just pull off the Band-Aid really fast and brace myself for the backlash and hurt, by being brutally honest. But in terms of maintaining important relationships, I fear the risk is too great. Meanwhile, I continue indulging in my secret love affair with reason, while outwardly going through the motions of embracing faith.