How I Deconverted: I Made A Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith

December 1997-May 1999

On December 8, 1997, my two closest philosophy major friends and I found ourselves utterly dismantling our Christian beliefs. As we went over all the possible reasons to doubt the faith, we found we simply did not have it in us to spin things favorably that night. We saw immense problems with rationally justifying what we believed and we gave full vent to our doubts and took no rationalizations for answers.

At this point we had gone too far to ever go back to the kind of narrow Evangelical Christianity with which we had started. We parted for Christmas break and each of us went a distinctly different direction. One of us turned to Friedrich Nietzsche, the other read Karl Barth (who is behind most of the contemporary Christian existentialism I expounded upon recently), and I embraced to Søren Kierkegaard.

Before my doubts had gotten this severe, even someone like Kierkegaard, who is beloved–and even clung to–by many evangelicals, was someone I had considered too “out there”, someone likely to be too philosophically unorthodox to be properly Christian. He was a possible influence worth reading only suspiciously. I had a very narrow and mistrusting view of who was theologically acceptable enough to even consider reading with an open mind. But I was running out of good reasons to believe and so I said to myself that I would give Kierkegaard “the benefit of the faith” and see if his conception of Christianity as a leap of faith could solve my existential quandary.

I spent that Christmas break immersed in an anthology of Kierkegaard’s writings which spanned his whole career. (You can still read the Amazon review I wrote of that book almost 12 years ago.) From then on, all I could talk about was Kierkegaard. I started collecting and reading his full books. Sophisticated, philosophically well educated Kierkegaardians I meet today recoil in dismay at the fideism that I took away from him. Apparently I was reading him shallowly. But that is irrelevant for our purposes, this is the narrative of his influence on me, not a careful exposition of his best reading.

I embraced a brand of Kierkegaardianism that involved, incoherently, attacking reason itself. God was “infinitely qualitatively distinct” from humans, as one of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms once wrote. He was too far beyond our minds to comprehend. Reason was a limited tool for getting at the truth of a being who was so far beyond us. Reason, as I had come to believe, led to relativistic impasses because of what I took to be the power of paradigms to inevitably prejudice us. There was no objectivity, there was no way the human mind could attain absolute truth. By faith we had to embrace the inscrutable.

But curiously, even as I was explicitly attacking reason itself, and even doing so to the point of being on the surface an outright misologist (a hater of reason), I still felt insecure about the position and sought validation that this was at least coherent. Was it coherently possible to say that the law of non-contradiction was merely a human construct? I remember querying my brilliant mathematician-philosopher friend on this. I knew it was possible to conceive of mathematics in anti-realist terms, as not about fundamental truths of reality but as merely a human construct. Might it be defensible to say the same of logic too so that I could relativize it and allow God to be totally beyond it? That’s what I wanted to know. That’s what I wanted to believe.

As I have mentioned before, my turn to Kierkegaard and fideism allowed me to finally make peace with the horribly immoral Calvinist doctrine of unconditional reprobation. According to that doctrine, God creates people who He curses to be incapable of doing good or of ever repenting. He condemns them due to the Original Sin (which was not their fault but Adam’s and which God also predetermined must be committed anyway). God goes on to send them to eternal suffering despite never giving them a legitimate chance to be saved. In a year and a half of Calvinist theology classes and friendships with Calvinists, I had resigned myself that this morally unconscionable doctrine was unavoidably biblical. I was now able to square it by judging that since God was infinitely qualitatively distinct from us, there was some way that for God this was moral even though we little-brained humans could never figure it out.

This kind of abdication of moral rationality, and with it a certain kind of moral responsibility, was a dangerous and foolish plan with potentially grave consequences that I was lucky to be spared by the year’s end.

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

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: Christmas Became A Christian Holiday To Me
Why a secular safe space is still important to me.
Different Fundamentalists, Same Covered-Up Child Abuse

"God's Not Boring": A Precocious Young Video Maker Evangelizes; Grows Up To Be An Atheist Vlogger.)
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.


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