My Deconversion Isn’t Special

The other day someone online, noting how often I reference my deconversion, told me my story was unremarkable.

And I thought “Of course. That’s the whole point“.

I don’t explore my deconversion because it’s terribly unique. I write about it because it’s mine. I write about it because I want to understand myself, express myself, and be understood by others. I write it because I like the genre of memoir and my life is important to me. I write about it to show people who either aren’t atheists or who never deconverted what many people go through from the inside. I write about it because many people write me to say that my story resonates with them, speaks for them, tells them they were normal, and makes them realize they weren’t alone. I write about it because others who are currently religious and doubting and unsure of what to do need to read about those of us who made it out. I write about it because many people connect more with narratives and more with others’ personal reflections than they do simply with the abstract philosophical treatises I typically write. I write about it because I want people to know where I’m coming from personally–especially believers who have trouble understanding atheists and, in particular, understanding former believers as former believers rather than just lost souls who know nothing of Christianity. I write about it to humanize myself to believers by exploring the side of myself that relates to them.

I reference it specifically in my defenses of outspoken, confrontationalist, evangelical atheists who offend liberals’ sensibilities and are accused of theological ignorance because so much of the pushback we receive treats us like we are pig-ignorant elitist outsiders to religion rather than people who were intensely religious, have their own religious experience, and have earned the right to their judgments and their criticisms of the religions that dominated their minds and hearts and “spirits” for so much of their lives.

I forefront this because otherwise tolerant liberals think nothing of telling apostates that we’re the one set of people who are not entitled to our views on religion. I forefront this to connect atheism directly to my own personal religious experience for those who supposedly think that religious experiences deserve to be respected no matter what they are. I want to say to them you can’t dismiss us former believers’ rights to air our grievances. You scoffingly wonder why this bothers me so much? Why I won’t just let it go and leave the religious alone? Why don’t you care about the ways they are using every intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually manipulative tactic they can so that their religion controls our every thought, our every feeling, our every relationship, our political views, our ethics, our very sexuality and gender themselves. Religions can be an all consuming, all controlling, overpowering forces in people’s lives. People who succumb to this do not just have a character flaw. We are systematically miseducated in our moral consciences and our reasoning habits. They nurture our childish superstitions rather than train us out of them. They teach us how to rationalize instead of how to think skeptically. And they terrify us about the prospect of life outside the church. Our earnest consciences yearning to be good, our deepest family relationships, our communities all conspire to brainwash us into thinking these religions are the be all and end all of everything.

Then when we deconvert, they try to bully us back into the fold, they mischaracterize us and say things to us that make it sound like they never knew us at all. They attack our integrity. They sneer at us. They try to silence us. They tell us we’re a bad influence on others. They threaten to cut us off. Sometimes they even do it; disowning us, divorcing us, driving wedges between us and our kids or our parents. And when none of this takes, then they have the fucking audacity to ask us why we can’t just let it go. Why do we care so much about what we don’t believe in? This is their last ditch strategy when we can’t be reconverted and we can’t be shut up. They try to gaslight us as crazy for caring about something we don’t believe in. And the mainstream media and the liberal untroubled by religion looks at us and just sees needlessly angry “smarter-than-thou” people who are too intolerant to allow the benighted masses their harmless little fantasies without calling them “stupid”. We need our stories to be a regular part of the public discourse to put lie to these mischaracterizations of us.

They spend decades of our lives drumming into our heads and hearts that what they have to say is the most important thing in the world, that our very souls hang on it. And when they can’t control us anymore, when we rebel and think for ourselves, when we start exposing their lies with none of the deference they’re accustomed to, they try to tell us it makes no sense we would care about any of this or about their role in the world.

I write about my deconversion to make clear why care. I’m not just an atheist. I’m an apostate. I am not passionate about what I don’t believe in. I am passionate about opposing what I used to believe in. Even non-apostate atheists join us apostates in passionately about opposing what people falsely believe in and are manipulated to believe in because we care about truth and consciences guided by truth rather than dogma.

I write about my deconversion because when I deconverted I had no longstanding atheists to help me with the difficult process of deprogramming from my cultish conditioning. While I was afraid of deconverting I had no role models on the outside letting me know it was okay to not be a Christian, that life went on on the other side where I had been utterly brainwashed not to countenance that as even possible. I write for apostates and other atheists who benefit from my skills at articulating their own thoughts in reply to what they have to put up with and arguments they are inundated with. And I write because I want to be part of the movement to create and more widely disseminate the alternative philosophies and rituals and community resources that can give people a place to land when leaving faith and can provide robust alternatives to meet people’s “religious” needs so they don’t turn to theistic, authoritarian, faith-based religions, believing they’re the only game in town.

I don’t write about my deconversion because I think it is unique.

I write about it precisely because it’s not.

Your Thoughts?

You can find my series on my deconversion here.

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  • Tony Debono

    I have found a great deal of solace in your deconversion accounts because they are so similar to mine. I wasn’t alone anymore. For a long time I had doubts that my deconversion was authentic, or that my criticisms and emotions were valid or whatever, because the message I got from believers (including my spouse) was that I was just confused or rebellious, or angry, or over-thinking things, or that I had “a bad case of the scientist/Modernist”. Thank you for showing me otherwise, and then helping to guide me to acceptance and wholeness.

  • Plutosdad

    I think it is a great counterpoint to those that say we are angry with God. Or upset about something. No, people can think their way out of religion, we can leave religion due to our moral convictions. And we can also do it after years and years of study of the Bible and of Christian thought and ethics, and doing the “right” things, as so many of us have.
    The more special it is the less useful it would be.

    What would be great is if you had flashcards (for in person) or snippets to paste (when online) so when people say “but have you considered…” you can say “did it!” and flash them the url to the appropriate article. Would save a lot of time! :)

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

      That’s what having thousands of blog links lets you do!!!

  • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

    Your de-conversion story was what originally drew me to this blog. Having such a prominently placed de-conversion story allows many people who feel alone to find solidarity in their own loss of faith. Like you said, it may not be unique but its still incredibly valuable to share. I posted my own de-conversion story and linked it to my facebook and so far it has been a huge help to be able to direct people there when I share that I’m an atheist. I don’t know what it is about written text but I feel like people take it more seriously than when I’ve tried to tell them the story to their face.

  • 9B9K9999

    your story Dan, just like mine, and so many others, is very remarkable to each of us personally and collectively. No naysayer will say otherwise and not be challenged. Anyone who says such stories are unremarkable has no idea of the journey we all have made.

  • Jeff Thompson

    Right on, Dan. When I deconverted in the early ’80’s my only fellow-travelers were Bertrand Russell and Mark Twain.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/eatforbiddenfruit Michael Van Dusen

    Great article Dan! How do you pronounce your last name? I would like to mention your article in a YouTube video and want to make sure I say it correctly!