I thought this was just amazing. Courtesy of Dan Fincke‘s FB page comes this beautiful idea, the Not Alone Project. (Here is a link to its official page.) It’s geared to people who are in the process of deconverting and wants to link them up so they can find support and understanding with others of like mind. I think that’s a beautiful thing because it resonates with my own experiences when I was leaving Christianity.
I realize it kind of annoys the LGBTQA community sometimes to see non-believers talking about “coming out,” but it’s hard to express just how closeted a non-believer can feel and how freeing it can be to “come out” about no longer believing in religion. When I was first realizing that my entire life had been built around a shamefully false ideology, I was alone. I didn’t know anybody who had left my religion. I knew lifelong atheists, but I didn’t really trust them enough to share my fears and worries with them. They’d never understand, never having been part of the Christian culture itself, and yeah, I was quite embarrassed that they’d turned out to be right and I’d been wrong all along. I didn’t have a single person in the world I could turn to. I was alone. I had to discover everything from scratch all on my own, a process that’s still unfolding today really.
We’re so lucky that we live in a world where we have each other–where like-minded people have already walked down the road that a new de-convert finds him- or herself traveling and already invented all the wheels we had to invent way back when. But many of us don’t know just how many non-believers there are out there because we are isolated in our churches or our small towns.
I look at it this way. Right now, there is a tangible social risk for people in my culture to leave Christianity. For some of us those risks are fairly low. Me, for example–I don’t have any direct family to offend, no risk of losing a job or social standing, no school I’d get kicked out of, and certainly no physical danger I’d put myself into even in my super-Christian area. For other people, though, the risks can be much higher and include any or all of those things. Kids get kicked out of their homes for far less than telling their folks they’re atheists. People get insta-dumped by their Christian spouses and threatened with divorce for leaving the church (one thing that crops up frequently is how these Christians tell their spouses that they’d rather they be abusive or addicted to drugs than be atheists!). They lose their jobs, like Jerry DeWitt did (he lost his wife too!) and their standing in their communities. Obviously they lose friends, like I did; I lost every friend I had in the world when I de-converted. Some ex-Christians like the dearly-missed Bill Hicks even talk about getting physically threatened (with not only general physical attacks but also with rape) by the ambassadors of the Prince of Peace for being open about their disbelief.
I will never, ever criticize or judge someone for not wanting to take the risk of going public with de-conversion. Only the person in that situation can possibly assess those risks, and only that person can live with them; none of us can assume the risks for someone else, so it’s not our business or our right to make that assessment for another person.
The risks are just too incredibly high right now for some non-believers. But the risks aren’t the same for all of us. For some of us lucky ducks (like me), the risks are quite minimal. And the more of us who leave, the less social stigma there is to leaving. Think about it–it’s like sharing the burden. The more people who share the burden, the smaller it gets for everybody.
Right now, there are people out there who really think that people de-convert because they wanted to have sex, or because they’re shallow, or stupid, or angry, or doing Christianity all wrong. But the more of us there are who leave and are open about it, the less able those who remain are to point at us all and say that about us. We can’t all be shallow, stupid, angry, or mistaken. We can’t all be horrible demon-possessed jerks who “just wanted to sin.” We can’t all be intellectually dishonest or somehow unwilling to live virtuously or honestly.
Toxic Christians get away with thinking that way because they just don’t know a lot of ex-Christians. They rationalize away the few good ex-Christians they know in the way of racists or bigots who excuse a couple of “good” black or gay people but still think of black or gay people in general as inferior. They may not realize that there are people sitting right beside them in church who don’t buy the cockswallop being served from the pulpit. I wonder how many of them were like me, afraid of de-converting and thereby joining the ranks of those evil immoral jerks who lacked the guiding hand of Jesus. The more people there are in the ex-Christian herd who stand proudly before society and live moral, wholesome lives, the harder it is to make the leap from “Christian and therefore moral and good” to “non-Christian and therefore immoral and evil.”
But creating this herd takes time and it takes a lot of numbers. The more of us there are who speak out, the easier the burden’s going to get, the harder it is to demonize and dismiss us out of hand, and the safer it will be for those who walk the path in our wake.
If you’re questioning Christianity or have left it, you are not alone. The Pew Forum estimates that 10% of Americans are ex-Catholics, for example. The Barna Group recognizes that huge numbers of young people (some 60%) are “disengaged” from the religion they grew up with. Don’t you wonder how many people are ex-Christians? It’s got to be just a staggering number. We’re not weird or an aberration. Our numbers are growing, and we’re increasingly vocal about our experiences and reality. If you don’t know anybody in meatspace who you can talk to, there are plenty of us online who know just where your head is.
Here are some other resources for those questioning or leaving Christianity, besides the Not Alone Project:
The Clergy Project (for those who are actual priests and pastors)
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The wheels are already there on the car, and the road lies ahead of you to be explored.