A Powerful Account of One Ex-Christian’s Journey to Apostasy

Above is a beautifully made video that Prpl Fox made about his deconversion from Christianity. As I did, Prpl Fox deconverted as a 21 year old college senior. I recommend this video summing up his story to Christians who want to learn how to love and understand apostates and to the many atheists who identify with deconversion narratives like my own. And when you watch it, be sure to pause and read the whole pages of text from his journal or e-mail or letters which he sometimes includes in the video. Especially pause at 10:12 and see the full letter his friend sent him. Christians, never talk to your deconverted friends like that full letter does. Seriously.

When I watched this video, and when Prpl Fox discovered my blog, we independently were both struck that the other had coincidentally chosen the same phrase to describe his deconversion: “against my will”. Among many points we are both adamant about making about the nature of our deconversions, this phrase sums them up the best. One of the ways Christians offend apostates from the faith the most is by underestimating the seriousness and the desperation with which many of us tried to hold onto our faiths before letting go. Now, not every atheist once wanted so badly to love Jesus. I now think it’s a great idea not to want to be a Christian. And I wouldn’t criticize in the least an atheist who looks at the institutions and beliefs of the Christian churches and wants nothing to do with any of them. I think, in retrospect, that would have been a much sounder ethical sensibility to have had from the start. But it wasn’t the one I had and it wasn’t the one Prpl Fox had, and it wasn’t the one many others had either. We wanted with all our hearts to believe and yet we couldn’t. Christians need to deal with the reality that you can sincerely want to believe with all your might and still be unable to. (Related: After My Deconversion I Refuse To Let Christians Judge Me and A Postmortem on My Deconversion: Was It Just That I Didn’t Love Jesus Enough?)

Finally if my word is not enough to convince you to watch this video, then I give you the distinguished video maker Qualia Soup’s praise for it:

One of the most powerful and beautifully expressed personal stories I’ve encountered – deconversion or otherwise. There’s a deep and moving poetry in both the words and visual images with which you’ve conveyed your extraordinary journey, Prplfox. I feel richer for watching this series. Thank you.

Your Thoughts?

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://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com insanityranch

    I’m reminded of Nietsche’s passage describing Paul in _Daybreak_.

  • Charlesbartley

    The Silence… [my friends and family can't and won't hear the most important thoughts in my head]

    You can’t take my story from me [they *know* that they can't say I wasn't a real Christian and they can't deal with the fact that I am not one now--and will *never* be one again. And I can't bear to expose them to the pain and loneliness that I went through leaving that faith]

    So I remain mostly silent. Every day thinking about telling them explosively.

  • JV

    Nominal Christians, who don’t study the Word, and go through the motions in life will have those answers you cited at 1:30-3:00. But a true, in depth understanding of what it means to follow Christ is to understand that it is not about you at all. If asked why I believe, it is because I know that Jesus is worth believing in because of who he is. So many Christians today only worship God because of what he has done for them, instead of how infinitely worthy of worship that he actually is to a believer. That self-centered motivation can easily lead to a “deconversion” if that even exists. More likely it shows that conversion never happened in the first place.

    • HansVedic

      “More likely it shows that conversion never happened in the first place.”
      That may seem more likely to you, since you cannot seem to reconcile the existence of former believers with your faith. However, to former Christians like myself, such a statement comes off as arrogant and close-minded. How dare you tell me, someone whom you have probably never met, that I never truly believed! How dare you tell me, whose story you do not know, that my conversion and desire to follow Christ was not genuine! How dare you dismiss my struggle to believe and my apostasy as resulting from a lack of a true conversion or selfish motivation! This is what I feel when I read dismissive statements like yours. I have to wonder if you really thought about what the above article says, or listened to prplfox’s testimony at all, or if you just came here to preach, because your comment does not seem to show an understanding of our point of view.

    • David Williams

      Count me as one who respects your decision and would love to discuss your views over pizza or coffee. I might not hold your views, but I would like to learn more about what they are. To do that, I would necessarily have to ask some penetrating questions. I would also need to share my experiences and explain why I believe them to be valid, from experiencial, logical and theological perspectives. If you want me to understand, and trust that I do, we would have a pretty frank conversation. I couldn’t hold many punches.

      I can see why you would be sensitive to people who either simply want to argue or will close their minds to what you have to say. However, JV’s comments seemed like a reasonable questioning. His comments seem perhaps a little direct, but they are about what he believes to be true, not a denouncing of your experience. Your response was to accuse him of dismissing your experience, your views and the discussion generally. I agree that his statement “More likely it shows that conversion never happened” could have been more warmly worded, but I will say that if you and I were sitting over a beer I would say, “Hans, here is what I think conversion is, and why it cannot be undone. If what I am about to say is true, you never actually had one.”

      And I hope we would discuss it. You accused JV of not wanting to discuss it. Are you sure you do?

  • Jubal DiGriz

    Conversion/deconversion stories fascinate me, in large part because I’ve never gone through a similar experience myself. I’ve never been religious or had a belief in a god, and my ethical as well as political opinions are pretty much unchanged since I first formed them.
    For me listening to these stories is a way of testing myself, making sure I’m not complacent and am applying the same critical skills that people use when their positions change. Which Prpl Fox beautifully describes in the video. I’m bookmarking the whole series for later viewing.

  • Roses are Red

    Beautiful video. Thanks for sharing it. I’m passing it along to my friends who don’t get why someone like me would ever deconvert.

  • rumitoid

    Dueling conversions: so empty! Yet it is more like nominal atheist, equipped only with the most general understanding of Christianity and having no depth in its theology, blithely condemning all comments as part of a general belief. Mormons are not baptists–except to most atheists. Could most atheist differentiate between an Episcopalian and a Roman Catholic?
    Lol, to most atheists, this differences must seem like a tempest in a teacup: they are apparently deficient and daft in any of their superstitiuos beliefs. Perhaps, yet Christians beliefs are not homogenuous. To engage a Christian in an effort of debate, defeating Mormonism will get an agreement by a Baptist, defeating the Baptist will get an agreement by the Catholics. Does an atheist know about the Anabaptist movement? Can he or she expound, coherently, about Calvinism,Lutheranism, and Weslayanism?
    Atheist, it seems, take Christianiy as the broad side of a barn: how could anyone miss?

    • Rosie

      Well, it was an atheist who handed me the term Arminianism, whereupon I finally had a handle to describe what I used to believe. When I was a Christian nobody ever used those terms, or seemed to know what they meant. Nobody talked much about the various ways of interpreting the Bible, except to expound on the “right” way (grammatical/historical, I think, though often referred to as “literal”). Even in five years at a Baptist university, small group Bible studies, mandatory chapel twice a week plus church on Sundays, mandatory classes on the Old and New Testaments…I never learned anything about Arminianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Weslayanism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism….until I started looking into it myself. As an atheist.

      So while it may be true that the majority of atheists don’t know the difference, I’d venture to say the majority of Christians don’t either.

  • http://www.bloodstainedink.wordpress.com Ryan

    As a Christian, I do find this video interesting, but because of stories like this I am deeply critical of American Evangelicalism’s expression of Christianity, which is barely a genuine expression of an historic faith. AE more resembles Schleiermacher’s pietistic and Kierkegaard’s existentialism than historic Christianity. AE bought into Modernity’s distinction between the public and private life, and AE made Christianity about the individual, the self, supposedly safe from the public critique of Modernity’s god, human reason.

    But Christianity is about a public claim that Jesus is raised from the dead, vindicated as the true and only Lord of the Cosmos, and that claim to reality is transformative of the self only as a necessary and secondary consequence. But the self and the impact to the self is not the proper ground for faith, and I blame, not the author of this video, but AE and its intellectual and historical poverty. This poverty is offering up a culturally, but not ultimately, satisfying expression of Christianity. In that sense, I share this author’s critique.

  • Rosie

    I thought I was the only one.

    (Until quite recently, anyway…and I deconverted about 15 years ago. Much the same way PrplFox did.)

  • AlphaOmega

    Deconverted? Impossible. Once you are converted (born again), you are converted. It’s over. You can play Jonah and run and hide all you want, but if you’ve been elected, you’re on the team, and there’s no walking off. The Lord is mighty hands off so He will let you run around with your chest puffed out for a while, but when He feels like snapping that leash, your neck is going to hurt , whether you like it or not, regardless if you are or aren’t willing to admit it is He who’s holding your leash.

    Of course there is another possibility, and that is you were never converted in the first place. In that case, like the aforementioned case, you are wasting your time with deconversion stories. Either way you’re wasting your time because its impossible to “deconvert”

    Peace and joy

    • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com insanityranch

      Alpha Omega — I am fascinated by this response. Suppose that converted Christians who now identify as atheists took your idea seriously and insisted they still ARE on the team, that they are Christian atheists, and that it is their mission to transform the church. What would be the interaction between such a group and more conventional Christians?

    • Charlesbartley

      Eye roll

      Your hypothesis only works if your starting assumption is true: ‘the’ Christian God exists and set up the system that you believe in. Your belief that this is true blinds you to all evidence of the third option: the god you believe in doesn’t exist and people can go from believing with all of the doctrinal purity, all of the fruits of the spirit present that you can possibly test for, to unbelief.

      I am one of those people, your protests that I don’t exist to the contrary.

      There is no meaningflul and accepted test that you can come up with for what a ‘real’ Christian is that I wouldn’t have passed. My faith was once the core of my identity. I no longer believe and I really can’t see myself ever going for that belief system again. If you think that I wasn’t a Christian, then you will have to show me some way of distinguishing between your faith and the faith I once held. That I ‘opted out’ of belief and therefore never believed is not a test–it is an assertion on your part that can’t be falsified, but that doesn’t mean it is true. Your assertions are simply a way for you to conviently ignore reality by pretending that we don’t exist. I believe that you and others (including my parents) believe this, because admitting that we exist and are not either of your two options challenges your faith. I understand this and look on you with compassion and maybe a bit of pity. I know exactly how hard it was to leave that belief system and I know how much it hurts because I did it. I understand it being easier to just close your eyes to challenges to your faith. My love of truth and belief in the power of love are the two things that dragged me unwillingly, as with Dan F and PurplFox, away from belief.

      Your lack of even acknowledging that evidence this evidence of our lives contradicts your theory means that you are not even taking our position seriously. Something that I consider offensive.

      Peace and joy indeed. I have found much more of both (and of love) since I left Christianity. I do not miss it.

  • Brandon

    Concerning what “AlphaOmega” said,

    This is a bothersome position for a number of reasons. The most salient reason to me personally is its dismissal of individual self-reporting. It takes all the reason of a self-report out of the equation by simply asserting that a conflicting report just *is* the case and, damnit, there can be no other case. For one who takes our individual existence seriously, along with the existential drama of being who and what we are and attempting to communicate it to others, there can be little else so absurd or bothersome.

    Another problem with this sort of “nuh-uh” assertion that one cannot leave the faith is its circularity. One cannot leave the faith because the faith is true and the faith says one cannot leave the faith because the faith is true and the faith says one cannot leave the faith because….and thus on into infinity.
    Now, I don’t doubt that this line of reasoning suits its believer just fine, but that’s no more important than the trivial observation that people believe what they believe. It’s just as trivially true that someone simply stating what they believe (and believing it because they do) is absolutely no good reason to automatically take their belief seriously.

    This last bit has a tinge of irony to it, given that AlphaOmega was stating that the ones engaging in genuine self-report were the one’s “wasting [their] time”.

    • Eric D Red

      I always thought that position strange, and circular, but now I understand it better. It is strange and circular, but there’s a theological reason behind it. It’s a basic Calvinist position that once you are saved “by God’s promise” then you are always saved, because God doesn’t lie and doesn’t break his promise. He knows all, including the future, and he’s infallible. Therefore if you stop believing it can only be because you were never really a believer to begin with or never had “the grace of god”, and were just mistaken. Otherswise it would be God breaking a promise or being wrong, and that isn’t an acceptable answer. You can’t know if it’s real, but you just have to believe that you truly believe. That you can’t tell the difference between the “true” belief of being saved and false belief is not to be thought about too deeply. It’s rather a sick and sad approach that requires a great deal of blind faith in faith itself. And no external proof is possible or even acceptable, because it has to be about faith.

      And as others have said, there’s certainly a strong psychological need among remaining believers to affirm that any who left couldn’t have actually believed so that their own belief is upheld. The “proper” Calvinist position is that the apostates “believed they believed” but weren’t actually touched by the grace of god, not that they “didn’t really believe”. Of course, that opens the door to self-doubt, which you’re not supposed to do.

    • Charlesbartley

      Eric D Red: exactly, but you left out one thing… The God who created this system is supposed to be perfect and loving. Sounds to me like he is either a sadistic SoB or a downright crappy designer (or both). Seriously, this is the best that he can do?!? This whole setup sounds like nothing better than fan fiction or DC Comics. Looking back I am embarrassed that I believed it for so long.

  • John Moriarty

    Count me: life, love, financially and career-sappingly fucking embarrassed for years and years. I reckon it my most satisfying day when I faced reality with a steely eye. The day I grew up and became a true man in my own eyes at least.