Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

To commemorate my 12th year anniversary of leaving Christianity, I am finally getting around to chronicling my Christian youth and my deconversion from biographical and philosophical perspectives. In my first post I described being a Christian kid and talked a bit about Christian camp. In this post, I explore the powerful influence upon who I am today made by ministers who mentored me in ways that, but for the religious indoctrination, every kid should be lucky enough to experience.

 

Mike

1992-1993: In or around September of 1992, three major changes happened in my life. I began middle school, my dad moved out as part of a separation from my mom, and I began being mentored by our new church youth minister, Mike. I knew Mike since I was a little kid. Mike and my brother, who had graduated and married in the spring of 1992 and whose life I wanted to emulate, were best friends ever since they had met at the week of church camp where my brother converted at 13 years old.

Mike became one of the most massively influential people in my life, still to this day. Mike had graduated from the same Bible College as my brother and was now 22 years old. He took me and two other kids just a bit older than me under his wing. He divided the rest of the youth group and assigned them to different volunteer adults in the church. He “discipled” us which basically meant that after Wednesday night Bible class, the three of us would go out, usually to Taco Bell, and share what was going on in our lives and get one on one counseling, advice, and Christian instruction.

It is hard to know who I would be today without Mike. He modeled for me so many virtues of mentorship that are ingrained in my personality. He would answer my increasingly philosophical questions for hours on end, sitting in the car in my driveway after he dropped off the other kids. I remember telling him I loved talking to him because he made me feel stupid. He was apologetic until I explained that, no, it was great, he had an answer for everything and showed me the limits of my knowledge and made me want to learn more. To this day, every time I am privileged enough to have a student come under my wing and learn from me one on one, I implicitly exercise the virtues that I know I learned from Mike.

Mike was unfailingly honest with us. He laid all his cards on the table about his struggles in life, “spiritual”, romantic, emotional, professional. He was utterly candid. I probably would have grown up to be an injudiciously candid-to-the-point-of-blogging-my-every-thought person anyway as I am clearly my mom’s open book gregarious son. And I am a child of the age of Facebook. I do have a deeply private side, mind you, but it is not concerned with protecting the things most people are interested in protecting. (In some ways, it’s quite opposite of most people.)

While my father never left my life (and, in fact, we became closer in many ways since not living with me caused him to make concerted efforts to have long conversations with me every week and to start saying he loved me at the end of each phone call—hugely psychologically reassuring things to a 14 year old kid), Mike nonetheless became a kind of father figure. As a one-on-one teacher who accelerated my critical thinking skills through theological and philosophical debate and who advanced my understanding of psychology by both modeling personal counseling to me and imparting a tremendous amount of wisdom—from his own life (even young as he was) and from his academic studies—which was beyond my 14 years.

So, it was no wonder that I associated Christianity with a logically rigorous, emotionally mature, open-minded, loving, vulnerably honest, endlessly inquisitive, and thoughtful approach to life. Mike modeled all those things for me and nurtured all those traits in me. My compulsive honesty is his compulsive honesty, my logical rigor is his logical rigor, and my teacher’s heart is his teacher’s heart. My desire to be a minister and then a college professor were born of my desire to be like Mike.

It was Mike’s Christian devotion to honesty which reinforced my own and when I grew older and came to think more rigorously about what that honesty required, it inevitably (and at the time, painfully) led me right out of the faith. And then I found myself spending years writing a dissertation about Nietzsche exploring his insights into how religious, moralistic, scrupulous commitment to truth, cultivated by Christianity’s explicit teachings, leads logically to exposing absolutist Christianity as false and morally hypocritical to the core for being based on lies and unjustified moral control. 

 

Leland

1993-1996: Mike’s impact on me was profound–but our time together was shortlived. Since time goes slower when you’re a kid, that year had the effect of a decade. But it was over in a year and Leland, our new senior minister, took over discipling me and my two cohorts.

And Leland picked up where Mike left off. Leland was unfailingly honest, reflective, humble, and opposed to legalism and hypocrisy. He is now, even, something of an atheist, it happily turns out. He reminded me when we reconnected last year for the first time face to face in over a decade that I told him back then that his sermons were like “Fireside Chats With Leland”.

He tried (and failed spectacularly) to revamp our fracturing church into a mega-church. His sermons were progressive in that they were more about pop psychology than fire and brimstone. We were still conservative theologically but the sermons would be, say, a 12 part series on the 12 step program.

Since my mom was also coping with divorce at the time by using 12 step methods and going to counseling, I was inundated with pop psychology which has, for all its limitations, served me reasonably well in life. It also made me naturally think in psychological and critical terms about theological and philosophical questions and primed me to eventually be deeply receptive to Nietzsche and his tendency to launch intricate, varied, sometimes highly speculative, attacks on the psychological origins, nature, and ultimate value of Christianity. These, combined with his expansive, alien, thoroughgoingly and unapologetically atheistic worldview—deep and filled-in enough to give an alternative enough and coherent enough universe to live and think in when I left the faith—were the decisive strikes that prepared my faith for the death blow.

 

Another Mike?

1994: I learned for the first time that gay people had feelings and that they were worth respecting from a youth minister. I was attending a conference for Christian teenagers. Part of it involved workshops. I went to one on how to disciple people. It was run by a young youth minister whose name I think was also Mike. He was a great guy.

At the conference there was this fantastically charismatic actor who blew me away. He opened the whole conference with this gripping speech in character—I forget who he was playing, maybe Jesus? Either way, it resonated with me deeply. Throughout the week he did regular comedy routines which were actually hilarious.

Except he regularly played an effeminate character, evocative of stereotypical renderings of gays, to big laughs. “Mike” was pissed. He was the first one who ever explained to me about gays, about bullying, about suicides, about a friend he knew who he could imagine feeling extremely uncomfortable with the whole act.

It left an impression.

A year later, the actor improbably wound up a camp counselor at my home church camp. I was in his group and became close to him for the week. I brought up Mike’s concerns and he felt terrible. Turns out he used to be on Broadway, was in the original cast of Les Miserables and part of the chorus. He had countless gay friends. He held people’s hands as they died of HIV. He swore his gay friends loved his schtick. But he was going to rethink it now. A minister’s wife overheard our conversation and was indignant he would be bullied by anonymous secondhand criticism. I believe he was a compassionate guy. One of our group members was so comfortable and felt so loved by the group that she opened up about being sexually assaulted by a relative while she was sleeping. We comforted and prayed for her.

Today he writes right wing satirical cartoons and still does shows of various types. I have no idea what ever came of his stereotype reinforcing act.

As for me, a friend’s suicidal turn, in large part influenced by anguish over homosexuality, would five years later play a pivotal role in my deconversion.

 

Richard

1987-1999: No post on the role models and mentors in my life would be complete without discussion of my brother. Unless, that is, I had already covered that in a different post. For those of you interested, who have not yet read it, that post exists and is called: My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Your Thoughts?

Read posts in my ongoing “deconversion series” in order to learn more about my experience as a Christian, how I deconverted, what it was like for me when I deconverted, and where my life and my thoughts went after I deconverted.

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

Before I Deconverted:

Before I Deconverted: My Christian Childhood

Before I Deconverted: Ministers As Powerful Role Models

My Fundamentalist Preacher Brother, His Kids, And Me (And “What To Do About One’s Religiously Raised Nieces and Nephews”)

Before I Deconverted: I Was A Teenage Christian Contrarian

Before I Deconverted, I Already Believed in Equality Between the Sexes

Love Virginity

Before I Deconverted: I Dabbled with Calvinism in College (Everyone Was Doing It)

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

Before I Deconverted: My Grandfather’s Contempt

How I Deconverted:

How I Deconverted, It Started With Humean Skepticism

How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist

How I Deconverted: December 8, 1997

How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

How I Deconverted: My Closest, and Seemingly “Holiest”, Friend Came Out As Gay

How I Deconverted: My Closeted Best Friend Became A Nihilist and Turned Suicidal

How I Deconverted: Nietzsche Caused A Gestalt Shift For Me (But Didn’t Inspire “Faith”)

As I Deconverted: I Spent A Summer As A Christian Camp Counselor Fighting Back Doubts

How I Deconverted: I Ultimately Failed to Find Reality In Abstractions

A Postmortem on my Deconversion: Was it that I just didn’t love Jesus enough?

When I Deconverted:

When I Deconverted: I Was Reading Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, Section 50

When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed

When I Deconverted: My Closest Christian Philosopher Friends Remained My Closest Philosophical Brothers

When I Deconverted: I Was Not Alone

When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:

Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith”)

After I Deconverted:

After I Deconverted: I Was A Radical Skeptic, Irrationalist, And Nihilist—But Felt Liberated

After My Deconversion: I Refuse to Let Christians Judge Me

After My Deconversion: My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Liberating Indignant Rage

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    A year later, the actor improbably wound up a camp counselor at my home church camp. I was in his group and became close to him for the week. I brought up Mike’s concerns and he felt terrible…A minister’s wife overheard our conversation and was indignant he would be bullied by anonymous secondhand criticism.

    I’m rather dismayed at the minister’s wife. You brought up some concerns which, even though they weren’t original with you, made enough of an impression that you discussed them with the actor a year later. That doesn’t make them “anonymous secondhand criticism.” They became your criticism. I think she failed to understand this point.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Indeed, that’s why I raised her comment, it showed a twist of missing compassion and introspection in the whole affair. In these posts I’m trying to pay attention to the details both good and bad.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    I like how you try to present your experience fairly and consider the valuable aspects of your religious past. You, sir, are a true freethinker – bravo!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      thank you, sir


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