After My Deconversion: I Refuse To Let Christians Judge Me

Pay attention, Christians, as I explain to you the power you unjustly held over me for years and the power that, as a consequence, I am immune to now. Try to manipulate me in the ways I describe and you will find me indignantly contemptuous of your paltry bait.

Growing up, I was a conscientious kid. Part of this was from fear. My mom frequently recounts that when I was a small child she never had to hit me because simply the threat she would do so would make me burst into tears. As a kid, I was a bit opinionated and (healthily?) mouthy since my parents always let me be myself and express myself. I will be grateful until the day I die that they gave me this gift, that they always reasoned with me, and that they encouraged me to pursue my talents and my dreams in life.

At least partly because I was a loved, stable, and happy child, I didn’t feel any great need to rebel. I took well to authority. I took well to rules. I was obedient, gentle, earnest, conscientious, and emotionally sensitive. Most of all, after being fiercely averse to anyone outside my immediate family when I was very little, I became extremely outgoing, gregarious, and unrestrainedly self-expressive while still young.

I speculate that I internalized Christianity so deeply when I was young because I was a good kid and I was powerfully indoctrinated that goodness itself was bound up with the Christian faith. The most trusted authority figures in my life all insisted on the absolute and necessary truth of Christianity. As a pre-teen and young teen my religious identity and faith were given powerfully emotional contours by experiences at camp being effectively brainwashed through isolation, indoctrination, intense community, and emotionally exploitive appeals from idolized adults who took intense interest in me and took full advantage of my mental and emotional limitations to impress on me an absolutist mindset and a cultish allegiance to our religion.

By twelve years old, I remember trembling as I earnestly tried to give the Gospel to three of my Jewish friends at 3 am in a hotel room in Virginia on a secular camp trip. All throughout high school, the passionate desire to save others permeated (and I would now say corrupted) every friendship I had. Even my Christian friendships were tainted as I judged my friends constantly (though secretly) for their failures to commit completely enough to Christianity. In true cult form, the barrier of “saved/unsaved” stood between me and every friend who wasn’t one of my church’s style evangelical Christians. That alienating barrier also stood between me and the girls that I developed healthy, affectionate friendships with in high school, such that none of them could have developed into worthwhile romantic experiences even where there might have been mutual attraction, or at least its possibility. And my faith led me to mistrust my teachers, from the Biology teacher to the guest speaker trying to educate us about sex.

And out of a typically perverse Christian suspicion of my body, I loathed and feared my sexuality throughout my entire adolescence. Every erection was a cause for shame. My first experience of ejaculation at fifteen was a shock–I had no idea what that was–and it was followed by intense prayers of repentance and promises to God that I would never to do that again before I was married. At fourteen years old I was being “held accountable” for my sins as part of my youth minister’s “discipleship”. At that age, with my relative innocence, naïve youthfulness, and religiously obedience, what in the world did I have to confess but all my guilt over my masturbation?

But having it drummed in my head that I was a wretched sinner, confess I did, and with sincere shame and self-loathing, over and over for years to God, to friends, and to pastors. Even as a college junior, after being “convicted by the reality of sin” one night by the movie Devil’s Advocate (starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves–check it out, it’s awesome!) two friends and I started meeting to “confess our sins” and “hold each other accountable”. While the weekly sharing about our lives was therapeutic and extended well beyond self-lacerations over our “addictions” to a perfectly natural, healthy, pleasurable bodily function, that was certainly a huge (and ludicrous) part of our anguished, shared self-loathings.

It is little exaggeration to say that as a Christian I was like the pre-Reformation Martin Luther, perpetually obsessed with an exaggerated sense of his own sinfulness and wretchedness. Thankfully, I at least had Luther’s solution–I was completely convinced that I would never be rejected by God. So, no, dear Protestants, I was not self-loathing because I was legalistically trying to earn my salvation rather than accept Christ’s sacrifice. I just really believed those noxiously misanthropic teachings of Augustine about original sin and Calvin’s extra emphasis on the total depravity of my human nature. I believed so much Christian messaging about the wretchedness of my every immoral contemplation or unmarried lustful thought or deed that this extended into a general sense of depression, anxiety, self-hatred, and self-mistrust that I have never since come close to approximating as an atheist.

And you are a callous, unconscientious liar with defective capabilities for self-criticism or church-criticism if you dare blame me for this needless, emotionally debilitating psychic torment I suffered, which had me in arrested development emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and, I would even say, spiritually. Don’t even go there trying to claim this was some misunderstanding of the truth of Christianity or some failure on my part to simply internalize God’s love for me or offer any other such trite, dismissive, condescending, responsibility-evading rationalization. This is the natural, enormously frequent, and rationally expectable psychological and logical consequence of truly believing your every wayward thought is rightly deserving of hellfire as that supposedly “supremely loving” Jesus recklessly taught. This is the natural, logical consequence of a religious culture obsessed with prostrating itself in public and in small private groups, communally sharing intense, emotionally fervent, displays of repentance.

Most of the warping neuroses in my particular psychology were directly traceable to your unbalanced, distorted, and profoundly unhealthy doctrines about human nature and excessively self-destroying practices of self-cultivation.

And because I was so properly morally scrupulous as my faith required, I felt a great urgency to justify and prove my beliefs to non-believers. I obsessively devoted the bulk of my intellectual energies from 13-21 years old to defending my beliefs, both theoretically and in confrontations with non-believers wherever I could. I tried every strategy I could in order to justify Christianity and to make it coherent and rational and sensible as possible. But all my most earnest and scrupulously honest efforts to salvage the intellectual plausibility of the faith failed. And despite the intensity of the way that I had ordered my entire world–my friends, my studies, my worship, my goals, my loves, my community, my school, my recreation–all to revolve devotedly around the (allegedly) risen Christmy honesty ultimately compelled me to admit that it was overwhelmingly likely to be false.

And my conscience over the pernicious potential effects of my false Christian beliefs played a key role in convincing me that having faith was unacceptably ethically dangerous. One of the best, most humane, and earnest Christians I knew was being ripped apart and pushed to suicidal despair because he internalized your baseless, bigoted, hatred of his romantic and sexual longings to be with men rather than women. And, worse, the contradictions I experienced in trying to follow your reckless advice to love him while hating his homosexuality were proving impossible in real life practice. The more I unconditionally loved and accepted him, the more comfortable he was becoming in his “sin”, the more I was enabling and helping this thing you had me hate to become a part of his identity he was comfortable having. So, foolishly influenced by that rotten book you call “holy”, I took Paul’s cultish, abusive advice and started contemplating whether I needed to “expel” my Christian brother because of his sin. I began intimating I might cut him off from our friendship at precisely the time he was, unbeknownst to me, becoming suicidal.

What reckless, destructive “love” you taught me, Christianity! What dangerous contradictory attitudes you put in me? And what good rational basis did I have for them? What good rational basis do you have for them? When I came to realize there really were none, then I had to reject faith in principle, since it meant believing without evidence and contrary to evidence, and beliefs not supported by reality and calibrated to reality can have severely dangerous consequences in reality. As an ethical matter, faith itself had to be abandoned as immoral.

Now, when I left the faith, I didn’t stop trying to justify myself. Now instead of trying to justify the rationality of the faith, I felt a perverse, co-dependent need to justify myself to the church that had such inordinate power and authority in my mind. Still susceptible to Christian categories of thought and blackmail, I felt tremendous pressure to prove that I emphatically did not leave because I just wanted to sin. I felt such pressure to prove that I left the faith because it was the most rational and moral thing to do–that it was the fulfillment of the moral commitment to the Truth that the church had taught me and not the frivolous abandonment of such commitment.

Today, I admit, I find it outright laughably absurd–the stuff of upside down and backwards days and Bizarro worlds–when Christians claim to be those most committed to Truth. And my head almost explodes when they go so far as to claim themselves its special possessor and guardian. Such claims are so stupefyingly un-self-aware, out of touch with reality, and false to their core, that the mind reels.

And yet as an apostate, I was motivated deep down by a desire to justify my commitment to truth to that very church for at least seven full years after coming to recognize that it was not really the body of a living supernatural savior who was Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but rather a rotting corpse of lies. Like an unloved child determined to prove himself to parents who didn’t deserve a lick of his energies, I was hellbent on explicating in meticulous detail precisely the psychological, epistemological, and ethical necessity that loving Truth should lead to abandoning Christianity. This was the animus at work in the first three chapters of my doctoral dissertationThis was what determined the course of my Nietzsche scholarship in graduate school the first four years I spent on it.

needed to explain with unavoidable clarity what Nietzsche had shown me that led me to become an atheist. I needed to make sense of the ethical, psychological, and epistemological dialectic by which I had rationally come to abandon Christianity from an ironic abundance of Christianity. The logic of that process is articulated by Nietzsche himself and, I think, understanding it is one of the major keys to understanding Nietzsche’s entire work. So I spent the first three chapters of my dissertation making systematic, coherent sense of that dialectical logic and of Nietzsche’s critique of Christian morality as interpreted through that dialectic. (And, for what it’s worth, I take the entire “Three Transformations” section of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from which the “camels” in this blog’s name is derived, to be a key to understanding both this part of Nietzsche and my own biography.)

And then eventually, once I came to see how ethics could be grounded as true and life-enhancing outside of Christianity in a systematic way, it became a crucial, motivating mission to me to prove that the best and most rational ethics is at least independent of Christian belief for justification and, at most, is vastly superior to Christian ethics in terms of both truth and goodness–insofar as they either must or in fact do conflict. And finally my initial motivation to start this blog was to put down in my own words, so that they are entirely clear, everything that is wrong and false and distortive about the faith that used to torture me that I may help to dissuade and liberate others from it.

So, in one way or another, as much as I have overcome and moved beyond Christianity in most of my life, philosophically answering Christian objections has motivated me for 13 years. Christianity has in one way or another obsessed this part of me my whole life. First as a religious commitment and compulsion and now, since deconverting, as a matter of opposing one of the world’s most powerful and dubious lies, one which requires systematic debunking that at least a billion people may think more clearly, rationally, and freely. Personally, I have moved well beyond letting Christian hang ups taint my mind or my ethics in most matters. I am no longer doing the painstaking work of creating a post-Christian identity for myself with little to no external guidance from other atheists. By the time I even found the atheist community (when I began blogging in 2009), I had already mostly grown into my “child” phase, my phase of post-Christian life in which my former Christianity no longer seeps into all the corners of my mind, contaminating everything.

But even when this drive to justify my atheism to the internalized Christian voices in my mind most obsessed me, the one thing I had no tolerance for, the thing that led me to explode, was the flippant personal accusation that somehow I was no longer a Christian because I just didn’t get it or I just didn’t love Jesus enough or I just wanted to sin or I had relied on myself legalistically rather than on God. Essentially, any cavalier, callous, ignorant dismissiveness of the absolute and exhaustive intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological, or ethical commitment I gave to Christianity was (and is still) a source of great indignation to me.

My livid temper tantrums aimed at believers were not due, as one commenter recently asked, to grief over losing the imaginary people of God and Jesus. I don’t think I ever grieved losing Jesus or God as “people”. I do a pretty good job of shutting down attachments to unreal things.

I once was in a relationship with someone who lied about huge details about who she was–so many key details that it was fair to say she quite literally was not who I thought she was and the relationship we had was not what I thought it was. This was, for obvious reasons, devastating to my long term psychological health, but it was never felt or manifested as grief. When I learned the truth about her, I just shut off all attachment to her and most memories of her. In my mind, it literally felt like the lights in the theater had come up and all the faux emotions of a film were just deleted and forgotten. Go on with your life like none of what happened in the film actually happened–because it  didn’t. As far as my mind went, so many experiences with her just weren’t real. They were play acting. They were a fraud. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I learned it, that was it. They were deleted as real in my mind. Just a movie. I was angry for a couple months of course and there are long term trust issues and bitternesses that that experience exacerbated. It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel or process or was in denial or numb or repressing. Not that I think. It’s just that once I grasped that experiences weren’t real in some decisive way, I had no emotional attachment to them. Such would simply be irrational.

My anger at Christians, when it is there, is not an anger at “God” (who emotionally I completely feel nothing for since “He” is non-existent). And it is not a grief over my imaginary friend either. All feelings for Him and Jesus were deleted. I don’t even accidentally miss them as pretend people.

When I get angry with Christians it is an indignation specifically triggered by and aimed at to those who dare question my personal sincerity, integrity, or thoroughness in leaving the faith.  I had an unimpeachable commitment to the faith and especially, in the end, to the truth and to ethical principle. This is a matter of well-earned pride. I won’t have my conscientiousness called into question. I’m a seriously fallible thinker with serious limitations on my knowledge. I’m a fallible person morally in any number of areas. I readily admit to that. And, ultimately, I came to think that the views and dispositions I first replaced my Christian ones with were in many ways themselves mistaken.

But my deconversion itself is the one thing I know was an act of pure honesty and personal integrity and utterly sincere wholehearted intellectual, emotional, and spiritual investment. And I will not give any Christian the latitude to belittle that and go on claiming either friendship with me or a right to my further responses to them. My very dignity is very well wrapped up in this. Given the decades of control that the distortive, lying, manipulative Christian church had over my heart, my mind, my body, my family, my social life, my values, my beliefs, my goals, my sexuality, my love, my fear, my friendships, my very identity itself, I cannot bear to tolerate its attempt to judge my honesty, or my sincerity, or the depths of my former faith, or of the integrity of my decision to abandon it as unjustified.

If Christianity was going to make me feel guilty about everything down to my basic need to masturbate and to scrupulously live my life according to Christian self-loathing and self-othering to the “world”, etc. then I damn well was not going to be denied my credit for having been so scrupulously religious and obedient and having left the faith out of that scrupulousness and not in abandonment of it.

They have no right to judge me. I refuse to be judged by them. You, Christians, you have no right to judge me. I refuse to be judged by you. We can debate as equals. You can make whatever arguments you think lead to truth. But that’s it. You don’t get to try to pick around looking for spiritual wounds or “sins”.

Even as for years I have felt a need to still systematically explicate and justify my reasoning, in part so I could explain it to you and explain how I could have morality without your faith, etc., I do not submit the integrity of my deconversion for you to assess. Christians may challenge my ideas until they turn blue and pass out, and I will patiently as possibly try to return with philosophical soberness. But I will never again subject my personal integrity to the tribunal of the Christian church or its particular members for their approval. Never.

That’s the line.

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.

  • http://www.mountaintrail.us Joel Justiss

    Most of the details of my life are different, but the overall pattern and my feelings about them are very similar. I get very annoyed and frustrated when people question my integrity. In response, I recently wrote a defense of my claim to have been a Christian for over 40 years, at http://joels-trail.blogspot.in/2012/08/a-true-christian.html. I want people to accept my testimony as honest so they’ll be open to questioning their faith.

    I’m not sure how that relates to your statement, “But I will never again subject my personal integrity to the tribunal of the Christian church or its particular members for their approval.”

  • John Moriarty

    thanks Dan, very well written as usual; real, personal, passionate. You say and feel like I do, but with amazing passion and clarity. I am truly grateful!

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    Aw, come on … tell us what you really think!

    I cannot share your pain because my “deconversion” (in scare quotes because I’m not really sure I ever “converted”) was an easy process.

    The worst emotional wrench was when I had to tell my father that I couldn’t, in good conscience, take Communion at my mother’s funeral Mass.

    Raised an American Catholic (quite a different thing from Catholics elsewhere) and rather well educated in Catholic schools, I thought my way out without even getting help from Nietzsche. My “stumbling block” was just how an omnipotent and omniscient God could escape being responsible for natural evil. Oh, there are ways but none were satisfying. And the “final straw” was that I ran into a very good Christian … a priest who taught me in high school and who we “good Christian” kids tormented. He took it patiently … oh, so patiently … (unlike the nun who, enraged by me and my grade school comrades, clocked me … accidentally … with a lunch box … a scar I bear to this day).

    Something just clicked in my head … if you had to be that “good” in order to be a good Christian, I really wanted no part of it and couldn’t maintain the mental gymnastics needed to keep believing.

    Catholics have a bit of help in regard to the whole “guilt” problem. Masturbate? … go sit in a stuffy box for a few minutes, promise to spend a few minutes reciting some prayers and go home shriven, no further guilt required. In fact, the very first memory I have of Catholic ritual is standing in line about to be marched out by the nuns for my first confession … and thinking of the lies I could tell the priest of the terrible sins I somehow didn’t think I had committed. That’s why I don’t know if I ever was a “Christian” in the sense you mean. Except for brief spasms of piety, religion never made much impact on my day-to-day life. My parents made me go to church every Sunday but there was little else said about it. We kids laughed at the priests, nuns, brothers, etc. (behind their backs and well out of reach of a ruler, to be sure) when they tried to tell us masturbation was wrong. I don’t remember homosexuality ever coming up but maybe it was because they knew it was useless to argue that love, in whatever form, was wrong. Despite desultory efforts against gay marriage, the Catholic hierarchy seems to recognized that they’ve lost that argument with their own laity, much less the public at large.

    I do understand your anger, though I cannot share it. You were betrayed by people you trusted and, now, others are trying to betray you again with misleading arguments. But, if I may offer a bit of advice, you will have to give up your anger … by all means, continue to offer those who try the old tricks an upright and proud middle finger … but they can’t hurt you anymore.

  • Hilary

    Dan,

    I totally applaud your courage and strength not to let those who abused you in the past manipulate your emotions now. But I have a question for you about rules of engagement between a religious person and an athiest. Since this is a post about how you refuse to engage with religious people who express intent to judge, beittle or manipulate you, can I ask how to engage as a religious person to honestly exchange information and increase understanding?

    I’m Jewish. Liberal, Reform (not ReformED) upper midwestern Jew from a mixed marriage with a lot of Christian family. I know J/Ch interfaith talk. I know that unless a Christian or Ex-Christian has had substantial first hand personal experience with Jews or Judaism studying text and theology there is likely to be a huge blind spot regarding how different Jews and Christians are. Even from Athiests I’ve seen some intersting but common misconceptions. For an Athiest comming out of Christianity, that person is leaving a religion that has spent 2,000 years denying any validity to Jewish theology and interpretation of our own scriptures. Even walking away from all religion that leaves an impact on how that person would view my religion. It is teeth grindingly frustrating to see Athiests talk about the Abrahamic religions as though there is no difference between them, when in fact there are substantial differences that make a profound difference in the here and now, not just some potential afterlife.

    So my question is when I come accross misconceptions about Judaism or our scriptures in an athiest setting, how do I engage to correct it? I’m not trying to sneak proselytize or doubt your integrity as a human (that’s rude). I’m not trying to convince you to believe in any divine existance (that’s stupid). I just want to get my point out and clear up some common, annoying misconceptions. That way when you disagree with Jewish religious belief, which is I’m sure you will and that’s fine, at least you guys can accurately understand what you’re disagreeing with. And have a better idea about dealing with Jews in real life and on line.

    Thanks for letting me vent this out, it’s been buggin me for some time. And again, good for you not letting self-righteous assholes push your buttons.

    Hilary

    • smrnda

      You remind me of a conversation I had. My family is Jewish (Reform as well, though I was never active) and I’ve noticed that Christians have a totally false picture of “Judaism” part of it is that they ignore everything except the text of the Old Testament, and part of it is that they need to create this artificial “Jewish belief system” so they can tag Christianity onto it and make it seem to be a natural progression.

      Perhaps the best is to take on Christian notions like ‘original sin’ and explain that these don’t map onto anything in Judaism.

    • DSimon

      Hilary, your best bet when you spot misconceptions is to just point them out: “Actually, Jewish people generally do not believe that, but instead believe X, Y, and Z.” You’ll want to be careful not to phrase this in a No True Scotsman kind of way; if the atheists are arguing against something that some Jewish people believe but that you don’t, it’s a valid argument, and there’s no sense getting into a discussion about what “real Judiasm” is in such an environment, since atheists treat traditional and heretical versions of any given religion equally. OTOH, if you find atheists that have picked up some random bit of memejunk with no relationship to anything that any non-trivial amount of Jews actually believe, then feel quite free to point that out. :-)

    • Hilary

      Thanks guys. No, I would never pull “no true Scotsmench” because I know that Jews are fully capable of being total unredemable Jerks, just like every other member of the human species, and there is a wide range of belief and practice. I was thinking of Mehta’s picture with someone standing by a cross, star and crescent pointing at each other each saying, “You’re going to Hell” and I just did not have the time to really argue that no, you can take the star out of that picture. That and ‘How can you believe in that evil, psychotic god of the Old Testament?’ Dude, at least we don’t have to commit ritualized cannabolism once a week.

      I wish I could do one guest post, “Judaism 101, Atheists Edition” for one of the Atheist blogs here, just one to explain a few quick basics, like we don’t do original sin, we haven’t done animal sacrifice in thousands of years without any loss, sin is something you do, not something you are or something you think about. We don’t read the ‘OT’ straight up but filter the Torah through a very well developed oral tradition that allows for flexablitiy and an ongoing understanding of the world we live in (unless you’re talking fundamentalist ultra-orthodox). Most importantly for an Atheist, *in*general* your atheism isn’t a problem for us because what a person does morally and ethically is more important then what a person believes. I emphasize ‘in general’ because of the fully human capacity for being a jerk about what you believe in or don’t believe in, respectively. Jews don’t proselytize – we don’t need to, because we believe your ethical choices are more important then specific belief, and Dan I’m impressed at how hard you work at being an ethical human being.

      Hilary

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Dan I’m impressed at how hard you work at being an ethical human being.

      I have a lot of work to do.

    • Hilary

      Yes but you ARE working on it. And thinking about it, even better. I’m glad you are able to protect yourself from emotional manipulation. It’s one thing not to share a person’s conclusions, but another to attack their integrity. As much as I cherish my religious culture and heritage, NOTHING is to be forced onto another coercively. ANY interaction between myself and another person has to be justifiable in the most conrete, practical, compassionate, here-and-now understanding.

      BTW, for a topic change, have you heard of the song writer Tom Smith? He does novelty music on line, and he has a great song called the “Here and Now” that you would love. Beltin’ it out, in ole’ timey gospel swingin’ style:
      “We got the world, the here and now
      And I know we’re gonna make it some how
      I ain’t countin’ on e-ter-ne-ty
      The world right here and now’s enough for me.”

      I’ve been reading through your back story, to keep from pre-election jitters. Yes, I think Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all had serious issues. However, I always remind myself of a paper I read on Martin Luther in High School. After 8 pages of going over him historically, theologically, medically and psychoanylitically the paper concluded thus: “Despite all the ways to try and approach Luther, there are grave difficulties in psychoanalyizing the dead.” I’ve never forgotten that – there are grave difficulties in psychoanylizing the dead. I don’t know if the pun was intentional or not, but it is very true.

      Hilary

  • Brian

    But if someone is a good Christian, shouldn’t they not be judging you anyway?

  • B-Lar

    Never stop writing Dan.

  • Ladybug

    Thank you for this.

    As it happens, I am in my deconversion process as an almost 40 year old who is in the ordination process in the Deep South.

    Unfortunately it is endemic to being a Christian to disbelieve another’s unbelief. Religion has constructed a very efficient process for keeping sheep in the fold. Guilt and disbelief in one’s doubt or skepticism and then an excommunication if the person does not repent. I’ve done it myself and anticipate it being done to me once I out myself as an atheist.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    I am a pansexual, transgender woman (AMAB.) I am atheist after about 12 or so years of being a Christian. I, like you, had the whole adolescent problem of hating my body because it was revolting against my hard-and-fast beliefs. I couldn’t be gay, and yet I was attracted to some of my male friends. I was a boy, and yet I wanted to live and dress as a woman. I was supposed to be pure, yet I was interested in porn and masturbation. That sucks, it’s confusing, it’s scary and it causes a lot of problems.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    You put Christians in a hard box. You offer you experience as proof that Christianity is false. Then when someone tries to offer another explanation for your experience you respond with anger. So you sound very rational but you cut off rational responses with emotion.

    Thanks for the story. It is very interesting. I can see myself in some of it. Particularly in the sexual frustrations of my teen and college years. That does get very difficult. At least it did for me. It did get better but it took a long time. Now, as a man married 18 years with 6 kids, I can say I am glad I fought that battle. Still I can understand how someone might have done what you did at some point.

    God bless you. Continue to sincerely pursue the good.

    • DSimon

      Randy:

      In this post, Daniel explains carefully that he’s entirely fine with people presenting arguments for Christianity. There are many examples of him reacting calmly to such arguments throughout his blog. He only has a problem with people who dismiss his de-conversion without looking at his carefully explained reasons why.

    • smrnda

      If you tell someone that you no longer believe in Christianity because you no longer think it is true, it has to be frustrating to have people constantly telling you that the *real* reason you no longer want to be a Christian is something else. It’s possible that some people aren’t fully aware of their real motivations for doing things and might unconsciously look for a rationalization after the fact, but it seems that Dan did his thinking first before he left.

      And on sex, it is possible to reject a rule because you simply don’t want to follow it, but you can also reject a rule because there is no point in following it. If someone is telling you that masturbation is a moral issue, I”m not surprised that people wonder why because of the absence of consequences.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      With religion we get emotional reasons and logical reasons mixed together all the time. I tell people I became Catholic based on evidence and reason. They tell me it must have been something else. No reason to get angry about it. I can’t say for sure my logic was not skewed by my emotions. Dan can’t really be sure either. The mind is like that.

      As far as masturbation goes, I don’t agree on the lack of consequences. I would say that ceasing to engage in that activity transformed my ability to interact with the attractive women in my life. Suddenly I discovered these beautiful bodies were attached to real human beings with hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities. I knew that on some level but did not really contemplate much because I was spending too much time imagining what they might look like naked. It was quite a change. So it has pretty major consequences for me.

    • smrnda

      I agree that it’s impossible to really separate ‘logic’ and ‘emotion’ (there’s a very funny short essay/story by William S Burroughs which depicts a man who alternates between “pure reason” and “pure instinct” just to show how absurd the idea that those are totally separate ways of being) and they tend influence each other.

      I guess on ‘emotion or reason?’ a lot of it depends on whether the reasons the person provides seem adequate. Perhaps a more honest response is to say that the reasons just don’t seem persuasive before accusing people of simply going with their emotions.

      Perhaps Dan’s case was different in that (at least to me) Evangelical Christianity is very different in terms of what it expects as a genuine religious experience as opposed to Catholicism. To me, what Evangelical Christians demand to make faith ‘authentic’ is so extreme that anybody’s faith can be called into question as somehow inauthentic, shallow, legalistic, too intellectual, too emotional, etc.

      On masturbation, I look at it as something like drinking where it may be harmful for some (if not many) individuals but that I couldn’t put a blanket condemnation on. I don’t think that men masturbating and realizing that women are human beings with minds, ideas, and feelings of their own are mutually exclusive states, but I take your case the way that I take the case of people who have had trouble with drinking or drugs or gambling, an indication that something can be harmful to some people. This is why I can understand why certain people do not drink but elevating ‘all drinking is always wrong’ seems excessive to me.

    • ACN

      Seriously? You had trouble treating women like human beings until you stopped masturbating?

      If you were having trouble sorting out the difference between sexual fantasies and REALITY that’s a bit of a deeper problem than can be solved by “stopping masturbating”. Many human beings are capable of sorting these things out while enjoying both of them appropriately.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      Actually I don’t think people can. They just don’t admit it to themselves. We can use people for sexual pleasure or we can love people. We can’t do both. One is self-centered. One is self-sacrificing. The very nature of the act of masturbation makes it self-centered. So it is not a matter of “sorting these things out.” It is a matter of changing your behavior.

    • DSimon

      Randy, how does masturbation “use people”?

      Think about it like this: If I have a pleasant daydream about something romantic but not sexual, like walking down the street holding hands with someone, am I using them? Am I devaluing the actual experience of romantic walks? Am I disrespecting the person that I’m imagining walking with?

    • smrnda

      Randy, your arguments about sex and sexuality being a binary either/or category seem to be based on nothing but you extrapolating from your own experience and projecting that onto everybody. Perhaps, like many people, you tend to think in strict binary terms and need to fit everything into neat boxes. This whole extreme polarity makes my head hurt. What about everything in between your ideal, self-sacrificing love and total objectification?

      Sexual attraction is a fact of life, you can’t turn it off like a light switch. Respecting women isn’t about “I’m not thinking sexual thoughts” – I’m sure guys have sexual thoughts about me, but it’s how they handle these that determine whether they have any respect for women or not.

      You seem to buy into the Christian notion that self-sacrifice or self-denial is an intrinsic good, but I have no problem with people masturbating and yes, it’s self-centered but a degree of that is acceptable. Is it wrong for me to have “me time?” of any sort because I could be engaging in some act of performative sacrifice instead? I mean, who cares if some guy masturbates thinking about me – I care if he’s yelling obscene remarks from a passing vehicle and I *do not buy* the slippery slope of one leading to another. Beyond a certain point ‘self-sacrifice’ turns into an absurdity or hyperbole, something done to get attention more than anything else.

      There is also no way you can make sex into being about sacrifice. If both people don’t enjoy it, it only *works* when one those people is lying.

  • http://none Jim

    In John 7:24 Jesus commands folks to judge righteously and not by appearances. At least, that is my interpretation of the verse. I was in the U.S. military. One of the things some sailors are graded on is their judgement. So Jesus and the U.S. military want people to have good judgement. It seems like you do not. I have often heard and read that some folks are upset with Christians for being judgemental. If they are, then my logic is that they should be upset with Jesus for commanding them to be that way.

    • DSimon

      If your CO told you to do something illegal, it would be your ethical duty to disobey his orders. If you do something that you know is wrong, the responsibility for that action is entirely in your hands, not in the hands of whoever originally told you to do it. The principle applies just as much to religion as it does to military service.

    • smrnda

      I think we are dealing with 2 different definitions for judgment. One would be ‘knowing what to do in a situation’ and the other would be ‘condemning other people morally.’

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

    My actual views on moral judgment (and Christianity) are here.

  • CC

    Wow, did we go to the same church? Because your experiences with discipleship leaders and groups for confessing sins and “holding each other accountable” for stuff like masturbation sound horribly familiar to me.

    I love this part: “I believed so much Christian messaging about the wretchedness of my every immoral contemplation or unmarried lustful thought or deed that this extended into a general sense of depression, anxiety, self-hatred, and self-mistrust that I have never since come close to approximating as an atheist.” I completely get that. I like how you go on to explain that this is a natural consequence of the messaging, not a misunderstanding of it.

  • Timothy D Little

    Well said.

  • TR

    Randy: “We can’t do both?”

    Wow. Really thank you for posting, in case anyone reading this article needed an example of a Christian tut-tutting someone’s lack of belief while making a stretch to appeal to some sense of intelligence.

  • yourmothersir

    This is why I am not Protestant any more. I am Christian Orthodox, many of my friends are now Orthodox or Catholic. I see a lot less judgment. Less reflecting on how bad we are, how to worship right, how to change bad behavior. It’s more about our humanity and doing good like charity. I don’t feel the guilt and the hate like I did. As a Protestant I always felt like I was “being watched” and people were waiting for me to “screw up” according to what they thought sin was. I do miss some people and grieve for some of my loss… But I don’t feel like my life should be a constant apology because I don’t ‘measure up” to their version of Christianity.

  • http://thiswebsite Jeff Wolfgang

    Yeah, tell it like it is. This cult has left me in a bad situation in life. 35 years I wasted and I’m glad someone posted this. I’m just glad I figured it out instead of wasting more of my life. Christianity damages the ones who were most devout. I fit in to that. For casual Christians who don’t read or follow its not really a problem.

  • Linda Moser

    Daniel, my conclusion from this post is that you were and are impeccably honest and sincere in everything that you have ever believed. Your experience is somewhat similar to mine in your de-conversion and debunking of Christian faith. There isn’t anything I can disagree with you about….except might I suggest your apparent hostility and perhaps resentment toward judgmental Christians who would dare question your integrity might lead them to believe that you really care deeply what they think of you, all the while claiming such disdain for their criticism of you. I understand why you feel this way, and I have faced similar criticisms myself when I ‘came out’ as an unbeliever after decades of living as a Christian, a true believer who would never deny Christ at gunpoint or threat of any bodily harm….e.i. I lived my faith daily. I don’t let it bother or upset me no matter what anyone says, and I’ve been called a blasphemer, a reprobate, a heretic, an apostate, and a demoniac. The ones who turn up their nose and say ‘well you were never a true believer to begin with’…they have to conclude that in order to stay secure in their faith. Otherwise, they’d have to admit that it is possible to ‘fall away’ and they just might have to question the foundations of their own faith. I count it all hilarious that the deceived ones are saying I am the one deceived. If I’m trying to tell you anything, I’m only saying maybe lighten up a bit. You’re free now, don’t let anyone bind you to your past by over-reacting to people still bound.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Thanks Linda. Yes, it took me a long time to come to that place. But, yes, I don’t feel bound to them anymore. I channel those old feelings that are mostly out of mind now for the sake of those who need to hear them expressed, be they newer apostates or believers.


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