Before reading the very interesting story of his faith and deconversion, I never knew that my vitriolically anti-religious Freethought Blogs colleague Al Stefanelli had until relatively recently been a fundamentalist Christian preacher. The portion of his account in which he writes about how he was treated when he came to realize he was in error explains a lot of his current anger. It is also a prime example of why I find it irritatingly false when people claim that Christians are open to and encourage doubting by their fellow believers.
Generally speaking, whatever lip service they give to the value of doubt is irrelevant. Doubt cannot lead you to leave. It cannot be real doubt, it can only be “a spiritual struggle” meant to increase faith. Few Christians celebrate proudly when one of the flock doubts their way all the way out the door. Few Christians appreciate such an act of intellectual and moral conscience as valuable.
Al details the extremely bad reaction he received to his defection:
I have been disabled for the better half of the past twenty years. I have Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, Advanced Chronic Acquired Peripheral Neuropathy, Distal Polyneuropathy, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Ataxia, Mile Aphasia, short-term memory loss that will be assessed in January to find out if it is early onset Alzheimer’s or related to my neurological diseases. I have arthritis, about 75% of my eyesight left (and that is at 20/1000) and only 40% of my hearing left. I also suffer from Major Depressive Disorder.
And this is where they attacked first by telling me that God would have surely cured me, but now that I have abandoned him, he was (depending on who was chiding me) either trying to “get my attention,” or meting out some divine punishments. Either way, my conditions were bound to get worse if I did not “come to my senses” and renew my faith. Basically, they tried to scare me into believing again by preying on the one thing that causes me the most pain in my life. It was a cheap shot, but it did not work. I had already researched enough about my disabilities to know that it is purely biological. Strike one…
When attacking me did not work, the local pastors, ministers and church leaders turned their attention to my wife. They would try to plant seeds of doubt and resentment within her in an effort to turn her against me. She was already vulnerable at that time due to the my loss of faith, and they took advantage of the situation. Some of the local Christian women that she had known for years would tell my wife that if it were them, they would divorce me and take the kids. Some even offered to help out if she needed it. Of course, they cited biblical justifications and told her that I could no longer be trusted as a good husband. Needless to say, it got pretty dicey for a while in my house. It almost worked, but needless to say, strike two…
When they realized my wife had no intention of leaving me, they turned their attention to my kids. They were regularly told that I could not be a good father if I were not a Christian. That I would not be able to guide them, to love them or care for them properly without divine guidance. They also let me know that there is a special place in hell for people who cause others to stumble, particularly children. Very nice, but that did not work, either. Strike three…
The personal attacks against me and my family were unsuccessful, so the only thing they were left with was to run the lot of us out of town. That worked. Their relentless goal to run us out of town started with incidents of property damage and finally succeeded when I began to receive death threats. These incidences, along with the “group shunning” by people that my wife and children had considered not only friends, but their support system, made living in the area unbearable, unsafe and the discrimination I personally endured was epic.
So at the first opportunity I moved my family six hundred miles (three states) away, uprooting my two youngest children from everything they had ever known, and my wife from her mother and sisters. The few people who I did manage to keep in touch with for a little while let me know that our exodus had been the subject of several sermons, and they shouted “cries of victory” at my departure.
Since becoming an atheist activist, I have logged over three-hundred death threats and have had seven Fatwas issued for my immediate execution for the crime of Blasphemy against Muhammad and Allah. Can you feel the love?