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

Last fall, I began what I expect to be a long series of posts on my deconversion. The posts so far have focused on what I was like before I deconverted, how the process of deconversion began, and how it progressed through my early college years. I still have some key phases of the deconversion process to chronicle. I also hope some day to get to all the stuff that happened after I deconverted.

In this post I am going to leap ahead in the story from where I left off to cover the time of my deconversion, focusing on how I told various important people in my life that I had become a non-believer.  I am skipping ahead in order to answer Greta’s recent call for atheists’ “coming out” stories, in which she asks us to address very specific questions she has about our individual processes of coming out. Please read her questions carefully and submit your stories to her. 

In this post, I am going to reply to the part of her request where she asks for all the situating details of who I was, where I was, and what the people around me were like, etc. In the next three posts on this topic, I will explore the details of how I came out to some specific people and what I learned from those experiences. In one post, I will talk about coming out to a family from my home church with whom I had been extremely close. In another post I will talk about coming out to my own family members. In a third post, I will talk about coming out at the conservative evangelical college at which I was a senior and a philosophy major.

With no further ado, here are the basic details of where I was in my life, how I came out, and how I have lived out ever since.

October 30, 1999-May 2000

As a newly unbelieving college senior at one of the nation’s most religiously and politically conservative reputable colleges, I came out as a non-believer to my parents, friends, fellow undergraduate students, professors, and members of my religious community.

May 2000-present

And since then I have almost always freely identified myself to any subsequent strangers, romantic interests, fellow graduate students, professors, bosses, colleagues, etc., to whom it has been relevant. I have lived fully out as an atheist.

2003-2007

The only people I have ever deliberately hid my religious views from were my students during my first years as a college instructor and professor. This was not because I was an atheist in particular, but because at the time I felt like not letting them know what I thought on those issues would help them assess better whether I was being objective, think for themselves without defaulting to agreeing with my opinions, and feel confident in expressing and defending their own views without fear that I would grade them according to my atheism rather than their abilities to make good arguments for whatever they thought. I have since come to think of this policy as unnecessary. I usually do not make any big point of declaring my atheism to students but I will typically answer students’ questions straightforwardly and will not be shy about making arguments which are directly influenced by my atheism.

October 1999-May 1999

When I first came out I lived a life that was mostly contained to the campus of Grove City College. The students there were predominantly from western Pennsylvania. The school is simultaneously both academically and religiously serious. Academically the school is best known for its engineering, business, and education programs. Most of the students were not there for religious degrees, but nonetheless a sizable proportion of them was deeply religious. It was the safe default assumption with anyone you met there was that they were a conservative Christian, and most likely an evangelical Protestant. There was a fairly good chance they were specifically a Calvinist too.

I was also personally friends with many of the theology and philosophy majors there. The theology students seemed unanimously theologically conservative. I can’t remember any real liberals or moderates. A few philosophy majors were out as agnostics but most were Christians and fairly conservative. But many of us were quite conflicted in our beliefs and a fair number are now atheists or agnostics. I was a prominent figure in the philosophy and theology department at our school. I founded the philosophy club and was its rather popular president. We had really well attended meetings and various of the important moments of my deconversion and its aftermath took place at our philosophy club events. I was also so close with enough members of the campus’s most famously religious men’s Christian housing group on campus that many people mistook me for a member.

1983-1996

My home, and my home church, when I was not at school was on Long Island. There were people at home and in my home church whom I came out to also. Growing up on Long Island, I knew mostly only Catholics, Jews, and mainline Protestants who I never really saw express any interest in their religion. Only at my home church and networking through my church (such as at our Christian camp upstate) did I find more active, outspoken, fundamentalist, evangelical, Protestant Christians to identify with. The culture of Long Island never struck me as overtly religious at all. I had grown up with a consciousness of coming from a very irreligious, unchristian world. As a Christian I had felt as though my devout Christianity made me a serious minority. In high school I was verbally bullied quite a bit over my outspoken religious and political views.

Throughout high school I had wanted to become a minister. When I was a senior in high school I realized my intellectual curiosity would make delivering sermons pitched for the average parishioner rather boring, so I decided I wanted to become a theology professor instead. Late in my first college semester I decided to major in philosophy because I felt like first order philosophical questions needed to be worked out in order to properly address theological questions. My plan was to use undergraduate philosophy training as a background for subsequent theological training. I dabbled with a Christian Thought major throughout college by taking many of the necessary classes for that major just in case I wanted to declare the major and finish it off in my last two years of schooling.

Spring 1997

As a freshman I invented and organized a “hall Sabbath”. My idea, worked out with a friend whose room we used, was to designate a room on our hall on a given Sunday for all-day prayer and worship and Bible reading. People would come in throughout the day at will to participate. I was there the whole day. It was an extraordinary success. I was chosen to be an RD (like an RA but specifically for upperclassmen rather than freshmen) and part of the requirements for that job was evangelistic fervor.

So, I was very serious about my faith and people knew it. I was also very theologically and philosophically inclined and everyone who knew me knew that well. I had also spent two of my college summers as a camp counselor at a Christian camp where we were heavily interested in proselytization. I was known for my fervent Christian feelings and attitudes from high school and all through college.

October 30, 1999-May, 2000

With my college friends, I came out in person usually through one on one conversations. Quickly word spread through the grapevine so I did not need to tell everyone directly myself. I came out to each of my parents on the phone.

I have since always voluntarily outed myself. Occasionally a friend will introduce me as an atheist (not, say, a “blogger who writes on atheism” but just as “an atheist”) and I find it startling and a little off-putting. I am very proud to be an atheist and to identify as one. And I am very willing to rise to challenges and be confrontational in defense of atheism wherever necessary. And I love connecting with atheists and answering questions of people who are interested in atheism. But I feel like I am being treated as one dimensional or only interesting to someone for my atheism when they introduce me to believers as an atheist and immediately make this isolated fact prominent.

In subsequent posts I am exploring stories of coming out to specific people and the lessons that might be gleaned from how that has gone. The first post to do that is When I Deconverted: Some People Felt Betrayed.

Once I have written a few such posts, I will answer Greta’s questions about how I feel in general about having lived the last twelve and a half years as an unabashedly out atheist.

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

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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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