Reactions  February 4, 2019

Editor’s Note: Now here is an example of yet another type of former non-believing clergy. Unlike the two most recent blog contributors, he’s not an angry atheist and does not identify as a freethinker, as far as I know.   He’s recently “out” and seems to be in an in-between place where he’s trying to figure out the best way to present himself.  Maybe some readers can help! /Linda LaScola, Editor


By David Mercer

“I was a minister for a long time,” I say, “but I left because I don’t believe in God anymore.”

Inevitably, this happens in the polite “getting know you” part of the conversation.  If I try to avoid saying it, it just gets it more awkward, so I come right out with it.

I thought about inventing a different backstory:

I was a pirate…  Or I’m in the Protected Witness Program…  Or I bumped my head and don’t remember anything… by the way, are you my mommy? 

I guess not.

People are gracious about it, even if they’re shocked.  No one has challenged me to fisticuffs, pistols, or dueling Bibles. However, they really don’t know what to say and I guess I still don’t either.

I remember one guy I encountered at the library. We’d had just gotten into the introductions when he asked what I did for a living.  He became so quiet when I told him that I could almost hear the gears whirring in his head as he considered his words:

Don’t blow it!  This is my big chance to reclaim one of God’s lost lambs. Is there a verse I can quote? 

I suggested he relax and tell me about his work (he was a minister).

Some will invite me to their church, assuring me that theirs is different from all the others, which I doubt is true. In any case, I’m not going to go, but I usually respond with a quiet thank you.

A lot of people ask me if something happened, perhaps a loss or illness, etc.  I consider the loneliness, depression, and confusion I’ve experienced.   One thing…?

“Not really,” I answer.

Some have said,

“Maybe God is not through with you yet.”

This is where a flash of anger goes through me and I want to say,

“Let me be clear. If your God exists, I’m through with HIM!”

But they didn’t intend to be hurtful so I offer a nod and a pleasant smile.

One guy lit up when I told him I no longer believed. He took it as a challenge to win me over, and so he “witnessed” to me, telling what God had done in his life.  I don’t think he took a breath for two hours.  He nearly wore me out before I could get away.

Some people feel guilty, like they’re responsible for my “fall.” Again, I have to tamp down the initial angry response.

“I didn’t fall and I’m not lost. You didn’t cause this. I make my own decisions.”

I usually just say,

“It’s okay. It’s not anyone’s fault.”

Then there are those who become afraid after I tell them. Mostly, their fear is wordless but they say enough to indicate they’re frightened about all they would lose if I’m right and they’re wrong. I feel bad for them and I try to reassure them. I might reach out to pat them on the shoulder like I would have when I was a minister.

“It’s okay,” I say, “I’m not trying to win you over to my side.”

But most of the time I can’t be reassuring enough and they slip away out danger.

This discussion makes us all tense. I haven’t found a smooth way to get into it, even when I’m simply introducing myself.  I guess the first lesson is for me to get more comfortable with myself.  Then maybe I’ll be able to help others feel more comfortable around me. Even if I can’t, I’ll still feel be more relaxed.

**Editor’s Question** Any suggestions from readers here on how to handle this situation?


Bio: David Mercer, aka “Stan Bennett” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentaryAtheists: Inside the World of Non-believers and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion.  David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia.  David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic.  He is a life coach, a teacher, and a storyteller. He is the author of the blog Deep Calls, where this postoriginally appeared. You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook.



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  • Tawreos

    Just going by your bio, I would say that the proper introduction is as a life coach, a teacher, and a storyteller or some combination of the three. I was in the restaurant business for over 20 years and got tired of it and went back to school to be an accountant. If someone asks me what I do I tell them I am an accountant and only tell them about my restaurant background if it becomes relevant. Telling the truth is important, but not everyone needs to know the whole truth right up front. Sometimes the whole truth complicates things unnecessarily.

    • I think it’s a big issue to me that I cant defind myself as I am now easily.

      • Tawreos

        Then tell them you are an accountant, no one will want to dig too deeply into that mess of boredom. =)

        Seriously though, I understand how that feels. I am a gay atheist and even though I neither feel shame nor fear back lash for being either one, no one that I work with or really talk to on a daily basis knows this about me. I am not hiding either one, I just don’t feel they are relevant to most situations. The people that I care about know these things about me because it is relevant in that situation. I know that not everyone feels the need to compartmentalize their lives, but it works for me. the best I can say is that boring and innocuous can keep some of the people you meet from feeling fear that your being right makes them wrong, and it also helps avoid the soul winning attempts being foisted upon you.

        In the end, you know you the best and can only decide for yourself what introduction you are most comfortable with, but if it helps there are a lot of people around here that will stand behind you and have your back whatever you choose.

      • Maura Hart

        you will. takes time. baby steps/

      • abb3w

        You might say you’re “between career paths”, I suppose — at least until a new path presents an alternative way to define your role. On the other hand, it looks like you’re settled enough into a new path that the suggestion by Tawreos seems worth seconding.

        The notion of “defining yourself” interests me. From an internal point of view, such definition seems on the one hand to be a definition of what your current social role is — who you are, what means you use to earn support for your vices (like “breathing”); and on another hand, such definition of who you are also associates to a sense of what you ought to do when faced with various choices. From an external point of view, giving such a definition (“I’m a professional computer geek”) conveys socially information about your social role, what choices you feel you should make, and how you are likely to choose when presented with choices. Your new role is less familiar, and thus harder to convey.

        I suppose you might modify the description to “ex preacher, now life coach, teacher, and storyteller”. So, is it only preaching about God that you now eschew, or are you at a place where you seek to avoid preaching more generally — especially to uninterested audiences? Emphasizing that might create an echo of the golden rule, so that people are less likely to try preaching at you in hopes of “returning you to the fold”.

        • David Mercer

          Good thoughts. Thanks.

  • Maura Hart

    you could always ask them if they have a few minutes to talk about your god….lessness. and then you talk

    • David Mercer

      I’ve been doing that a bit in my blog. It’s soooo popular with my former colleagues :).

  • abb3w

    I’d suggest (as I so often do) finding and reading Ebaugh’s Becoming an Ex: The Process of Role Exit. You seem to be in the stage she refers to as “Creating the Ex- Role”; however, the book discusses the other stages, which might give you a framework useful for understanding your own journey — and in turn, explaining it where needed.

  • mason lane

    You’ve written a palpable description of this period of ambivalence in your transition. Here’s my blunt, non-eggshell, take. Dr. Phil has what I think is a great quote: “We teach people how to treat us.” To a great extent I think that is largely true.

    I’m hearing a whole lotta egg shell tip toeing and trying to be the too nice of a guy IMHO. Go on the offensive, as long as you just play defense you’ll never have the thrill & satisfaction of scoring and authentically being yourself. Letting the guy harass you for 2 hrs indicates to me you’re not respecting the new you. They won’t give you any real respect and as long as this continues you won’t be giving much respect to you either. We know the game since we’ve been on both teams. 🙂

    Don’t be worrying if your philosophic enemies are comfortable around you. They’re focused on invalidating the new you.

    “Maybe God is not through with you yet.”
    This is where a flash of anger goes through me and I want to say,
    “Let me be clear. If your God exists, I’m through with HIM!” (That’s a great way express your truth, and it’s in no way personal against them, just the about the nonsense you no longer believe … I almost weep now knowing those words died shortly after conception)
    But they didn’t intend to be hurtful so I offer a nod and a pleasant smile.
    Like I said, being too nice a guy. I recommend the authentic self at this point. You had a flash of anger because they’re insulting and disrespecting you and not acknowledging you have any integrity.

    They are big boys and girls. Stand up for and speak honestly and assertively for David. Push back. These are not people who you have any obligation to coddle like helpless sheep. Maybe you’re former pastoral mentality needs a major adjustment. … Yeah, I just re-read the article again and your pastoral traits are really working against you. Drop that role asap. You’re so concerned about their feelings while they don’t give a sh&t about yours.

    There’s the good cop and bad cop method. On this one I’m the bad cop. But it’s all with love and just my impression/opinion based on 47 years as an atheist dealing and deconverting theists. 🙂

    • Thanks Mason. You make a good point that I need to state clearly who I am without apology. Writing this post brought out that need.

      I’ve been trained since birth to be a minister and recalibrating has been difficult.

      • mason lane

        Yes, it’s interesting how writing about something can be so therapeutic and help us progress on our journey with new insight and perspective, … and then make new breakthroughs. Creating a new self is not a simple project, especially when it involves a culturally devolped self. 🙂 My finest blessings and wishes upon thee.

  • ElizabetB.

    Pilgrim and writer?

  • ThaneOfDrones

    I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic school grades 1-12. I became atheist shortly after, in college. Some years ago, I found myself in contact with a former classmate from those days. He offered to revive my faith.

    His argument (his idea, my words): That I should consider living a lie to please members of my family. This is wrong on multiple levels.
    1) Don’t go after someone’s family. It’s just not right.
    2) My family is not as godly as he seemed to think. While my parents (both dead) were sincere believers, my grandmother was a freethinker and probably an atheist, and I know that several of my siblings are also no longer believers, and very few of them are still Catholic.
    3) He didn’t even attempt any arguments that God actually exists, and the Holy Roman Catholic Church was the best organization for dealing with such. Did he not have any such arguments prepared, or did he consider the argument he used to be superior to them that he would lead off with it?

    I decided that, rather than tell him what a horrible person he was, I would just tell him that there was no longer any place in my life for him. I do not regret this.

    Years after that, I got into a discussion of religion with on of my brothers; who somehow had never learned that I was atheist (I don’t really hide it, but I don’t flaunt it.) He attempted a version of the same argument: that my atheism was somehow shameful, and that I should pretend to still believe for the sake of the family.
    I have not discussed this topic further with my brother since he was convicted for sexually abusing a minor.

    It is sad that people cannot realise that their arguments are not only illogical, but are also offensive.

  • ElizabetB.

    As Mason observes, you write and interact pastorally… very sensitively. Would “chaplain” and writer be comfortable at some point? I am thinking of Chris describing the times he was “chaplain of compassion” or “chaplain of the streets,” if I’m remembering correctly. “In modern usage the term chaplain is not confined to any particular church or denomination” [Britannica] ….You could be “chaplain of the internet” [god knows we need one] : )
    I do think simply “writer” would be very descriptive. Writers only need to write, and to do that they need to do much interacting and thinking — which seems to be what you are doing — so well! At fruition, I’m expecting books….

  • Joe

    In the intro, Linda writes, “unlike the two most recent bloggers, he’s not an angry atheist.” (I’m quoting from memory). Two most recent would be David Madison and Chris Highland? I just quickly re-read their posts, and I don’t see any anger. Of course I also don’t see Richard Dawkins as “strident” or “militant”.