There are a lot of blogs out there where Atheists tell believers things they should know and Christians telling Atheists things they should know. Open letters to this person or that person are in abundance accomplishing nothing yet full of straw-men. I hope that what I am putting out there is of more use than that, but maybe it is not. Only one way to find out.
What I want to do is describe the process of transition when a lifetime believer of Christianity is leaving their faith and dipping their toes into non-belief. It is celebrated when it happens to a public figure, but it is happening every day and it is a painful journey fraught with pain, peril, and a very real cost to very normal people.
Every person’s story of deconstruction of belief is a little different, but there are enough common (though not universal) truths that I can tell bits of my story to help elucidate the needs and the experience of the person going through the transition. I am not sure how long it will take. It will take as long as it takes.
For lifelong atheists, it will give you compassion and understanding for the person crossing over. For the person who used to be a believer, I hope it is a reminder of what you went through. For the person going through this, know you are not alone.
My deconstruction happened about the same time Ryan Bell’s “Year Without God” began. Many atheists did a very beautiful thing for him. They raised a lot of money to help him in the wake of his job loss and offered resources and friendship. I am not begrudging him and I am grateful others helped my friend. That is not the way it happens for most of us. I was working 60-72 hours a week as a taxi driver for less than minimum wage in the night in some of the grittiest areas of Chicago. It was the best job this ex preacher could get. I was outside of my element in so many ways. I have still not completely financially recovered and I doubt that I will ever be where I once was, I just hope to have enough and dig out of the debt hole I am in.
It is a time of anger, fear, isolation, grief, uncertainty and so much more. It is something that has to happen, but it sucks.
The analogy I use is it starts off as Calvin realizing Hobbes is merely a stuffed tiger. But in this analogy, Calvin is in his 40’s, Hobbes has not only been an imaginary friend, but the creator of all things and personal lord and savior. Without Hobbes, there is nothing. Your philosophical reality is completely upset. Your coping mechanisms during stressful times are now the source of stress. Your friends, your spouse, and your social circles are all threads interwoven into this world that is unraveling. Without the security of this belief you have known your entire life, everything in your life may change. Divorce, alienation from children, job loss, loss of friends, social circles and so much more.This is a time where depression from the very real psychological condition of adjustment disorder can (and does) set in for so many going through this. Do you see how traumatic this is?
While you are in this very real hell, the reactions of different tribes leaves you isolated. People who are fundamental Christians are often telling you how concerned they are for you and your eternal soul. Mainline and Progressive Christians often will tell you it is a phase, the long dark night of the soul without listening. Secular people will give you more facts and celebrate something you have not completely celebrated yet because you are still experiencing trauma.
When we are in transition we do not trust well. Everyone seems to want us in their camp on their terms and tell us the consequences for thinking different. We are just now facing a lifetime of possible lies from people with an agenda. Not listening and offering information that has little to do with the emotional and real world struggles we are facing just makes you like the rest of them.
This is also a time of vulnerability. We can be taken advantage of easily once we lose our social circles. There comes a point where we are so desperate to belong that we jump into anything without thinking it through. I have seen the secular community embrace those who were not ready yet. It is like a rebound relationship after a divorce. It is gonna be a codependent train wreck if entered into too soon and that will hurt a lot of people.
To sum up, this is messy and multi faceted. I went all over the map in this intro to give just a taste. Future installments will be focused concept by concept and story by story.
Some of the greatest hits will include, but are not limited to, the following:
-Adjustment Disorder and other psychological issues
-Friends and social circles
-Sex and relationships
-Why former Christians often return to belief
It is a path to freedom, but you feel like a caged bird with broken wings.
Hope you stick around to read and make a difference in the life of someone going through real hell when they learn there is no hell.