When I Deconverted: Some Anger Built Up

Until recently I have always been good for an epic, massive (but always non-violent) loss of temper about 2 or 3 times a year—and a bit more often than that when I was younger or when dealing regularly with a chronically hurtful person. I think it’s been two years since I last went verbally berserk and shouted my head off. That was shortly before I defended my dissertation. So, maybe it was getting the PhD that soothed me. Or getting into my mid-thirties. Or maybe it is just all the accumulated time spent teaching the Stoics to my students over the years, internalizing their wisdom in the process. Or it could be all the regular blogging which lets me express myself on a regular basis and get all my frustrations out of my system. Whatever it is, in the last two years, I have lost my temper just three memorable times and they were briefer and more contained outbursts of much lower volume.

Don’t get me wrong, I have never been a regularly irascible person. I’m really very nice. Family and I have gotten on each other’s nerves and sniped at each other. But outside that kind of familiarity, with friends and colleagues and acquaintances I’ve always been pretty genial, gregarious, considerate, sensitive, and easygoing. I often get passionate and enthusiastic and even intense when a good philosophical debate breaks out. That overwhelms and unnerves the most conflict-averse people, who cannot handle any disagreements at all. And on rare occasions, intense philosophical argumentation has slipped into an outright interpersonal argument. But I am a professional arguer so that really rarely happens more than once a year—at least off the internet where such things are easier to control (HA!). The point is that I discuss ideas vigorously but far more often with a collegial and not a hostile spirit. And when not talking philosophically, I’m really good humored and enjoy being around most people and put people at ease. But when I was younger being very even-tempered and reasonable and easy going most of the time was balanced with the occasional venting in the form of a huge outburst.

When I deconverted, I went through an emotionally tumultuous period. Somewhat inevitably, given my personality, it led to at least two specific, memorably epic explosions. One was about five months after I deconverted.

Early May 2000:

I deconverted as a senior. I was at one of the most religious among all legitimate colleges in the country and I was close friends with numerous members of a men’s housing group that was sort of considered a spiritually elite group on campus. If you were a man and wanted to live in an especially religiously serious housing group on our especially religious campus, you joined this group. I was never much of a “joiner” so I didn’t apply. But I had so many friends who joined, including my best friend, that many people confused me for a member.

For several semesters I rented out some of my old textbooks at a cheap price. I was trusting and bad at record keeping so I did not really take down the information of the people I loaned the books to. I just put my name (in pencil) on the insides of the covers of my books and when they were done with the books people they would find me in the campus directory. Except one time. Someone never returned my mint condition hard cover $60 Irving M. Copi Symbolic Logic textbook, which I was hoping to retain for use in graduate school and, eventually, when working as a professional philosopher. I loved that book and I knew I would need it again.

One night very shortly before the end of my final semester, I was eating with the housing group and across from me was an underclassman from the group. We weren’t close but over the previous months we had interacted a lot. He was a glib, immature, runty, fratty, superficial but basically likable sort of guy. He may have been a Christian Thought major. Through the grapevine I had recently been chagrined to learn that one night he was putting me down for deconverting, providing the “streetwise” evangelical armchair analysis that “too much philosophy had gotten to my head”. So this one night somehow the topic of my never returned Symbolic Logic textbook happened to come up. Suddenly he remembered that it was actually him that I had loaned it to, several semesters back, before we ever came to know each other.

So I asked for the book back. He said he didn’t have it, he had sold it and did not remember to whom. So I told him he owed me $60, the price of the book, so I could buy a new one. I was going to need it again. He refused to pay me. He insisted that it was my fault for not taking down his information and for providing no way for him to get in touch with me. I didn’t remember putting my name in the book and I knew I hadn’t taken down his information so I grimaced but still blamed him for not taking it upon himself to remember who I was, reasoning that the onus was on him to return what he had rented.

This dispute went on past dinner.

Shortly thereafter—that night? a few nights later? I can’t remember.—the book turned up in the most coincidental of places. It was across the hall from my room. It belonged to my California-style laid back RD who was more than happy to freely give it back to the guy I had rented it to. The only catch was that this perfect condition book was almost comically destroyed. The spine was broken, the cover was falling off, the pages were written all over, pages were on the verge of falling out. The guy I had rented it to handed it back to me. I refused to accept it. I was supremely irritated with the condition it was in. Then, inspecting the book I saw something that made me absolutely livid. On the inside cover, under his name my name was faintly visible but distinctly legible. Erased. He had erased my name from my book, sold it (likely for more than the $10 I rented it to him for), and tried to blame me (and I had kicked myself).

Vindicated and screaming, I showed him my erased and written over name. He muttered disbelief and looked shell shocked as he studied the inside cover incredulously, his mind reeling slowly looking for a way to dispute the evidence. He seemed both genuinely surprised the name had ever been there and guilty for having been wrong. He weakly tried to challenge that it was really my name but I showed him other books with my name in it that made clear the pattern of how I write my name. But he still refused to pay me for the book. So, later I went to his room and started grabbing his books and threatening to rip them up as he had broken up my book. (I wouldn’t have had the heart though—I distinctly remember one of the books I was pretending to start to tear up was Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. I simply could not have done violence to that book. It meant, and still means, too much to me. Plus, I have never actually damaged anyone’s property on purpose or ever struck anyone in anger. I have been emotionally reckless on occasion, but I have never lost my sense of physical consequences.)

This all, obviously, was not really about a Symbolic Logic textbook. My fury was that someone so morally blithe and lazy, so casually irresponsible and shamelessly selfish had so recently been contemptuously dismissing the painful, principled process by which I had followed my conscience to make the hardest decision of my life and walk away from the faith that had constructed what seemed like my entire identity at the time. And I was angry because at the time I interpreted his behavior as an attempt to exploit an ethos of Christian forgiveness that could enable him to be unaccountable. I had this cartoonish picture of unbelievers which had been programmed into me by years of Evangelical Christian messaging whereby of course they are less forgiving and more merciless people. I saw him as having been made morally weak by Christian permissiveness that coddled him and protected him from less compassionate, more normal standards of justice and accountability.

While technically a lot of that was probably true, obviously it was a petty issue for me to get so explosive over. But it was the straw the broke the camel’s back. I was lashing out at months’ worth of tension in which I had felt spiritually judged by people for doing the most intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually courageous thing I had ever done. I felt so much pressure, and would for years, to explain myself, to justify my “betrayal”, and to make clear that it was a matter of conscience. And so their spiritual and moral weaknesses and hypocrisies—all of which were becoming vivid to me for the first time as I became sensitized as an outsider with respect to them for the first time—chafed at me. All my frustration crystalized in this petty case and I vented it all out on this totally inconsequential weasel.

The episode ended when one of my close friends who was a member of the group—and who was also a closet atheist and philosopher with whom I was on uneasy terms—came to me with a pristine Symbolic Logic book. The housing group had rustled it up from some anonymous member who had no use for it anymore, so that their selfish brat would not have to pay me. It felt so mafia to me. I was disillusioned and disgusted.

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

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.

  • steveschulers

    Wow!

    Again, what a tale you are telling and a tale splendidly well told. I really appreciate and respect your candor while exposing your deepest self so openly to the world.

    Yours and mine have certainly been very different paths in many respects, and I suspect that our individual personalities are probably very distinct one from the other, still I would hope that you and I would be good friends given the opportunity. I am afraid however that I would be the greater beneficiary in such a relationship, even as I am as a follower of your blog.

    I think that I am about 98% mwllow, but, for better or worse, I do have a temper and I have experienced ‘popping off’ on occasion. For me the emotional and mental aftermath has been very unpeasant with quite a bit of remorse and guilt. I’m 56 years old now and I have probably mellowed even more with age, still every now and then I have to keep my wits about me so as to discern what is valuable and to avoid later regret.

    Thanks again for this series!

  • jesse

    Reading this was interesting. Because I have also had anger issues.

    But more importantly, it seems to me you were more pissed about losing in-group status, maybe(?) and the implications were just starting to sink in.

    I think giving you a new book was actually the right thing to do. While the dude who messed it up was an ass, it actually seems a good way to me to defuse things. People probably read that you were mad (duh!), and wanted to avoid a murder.

    Your borrower who erased your name? I dunno, I am less forgiving than you — at that age I’d have decked the guy on principle. Folks like that need that kind of wakeup call sometimes.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      But more importantly, it seems to me you were more pissed about losing in-group status, maybe(?) and the implications were just starting to sink in.

      Hmmm, interesting way to look at it. There was probably some of that.


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