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Real Deconversion Story #12 – Laura Goans

Real Deconversion Story #12 – Laura Goans January 30, 2016

Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs, as you can see from the various accounts. Laura Goans posted a comment on a previous post about deconversions and she kindly agreed to provide her own account. Please check out my book of deconversion accounts, edited with Tristan Vick, which can be bought from the sidebar over there >>>, or by clicking on the book cover. The previous accounts can be found here:

#1 – Lorna

#2 – John

#3 – Bryant Codycover image official

#4 – Mike D.

#5 – Counter Apologist

#6 – Brian (A Pasta Sea)

#7 – Phil Stilwell

#8 – Kaveh Mousavi

#9 – Void

#10 – ML Candelario

#11 – Dan Yowell

I was raised by very nice parents who were caught up in the fundamentalist wave of the late 70s and early 80s. They were absolutely convinced that Hell was real and Satan was one stray thought away from taking over our minds. Lucky for us we had help: the perfect, inerrant Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I remember when I was 5 or 6 I realized God wasn’t really as tangible an entity as everybody claimed and that I had no sense of him at all despite my sincere prayers (“come into my heart, Lord Jesus,” etc.) I was deeply troubled since I knew, in excruciating detail, the consequences for unbelief. When I mentioned it to my mom she looked at me like I was a cockroach and said I would go to Hell and that would be very sad. Then she turned and walked away down the hall. I was devastated. I don’t blame her because I know now how the teachings of our tradition affect people emotionally and because I know she avoids awkward discussions as much as possible. She was probably as scared of my potential unbelief as I was. Still, that encounter was the emotional impetus that made me determined to be a devout Christian – come Hell or high water, as we say here in the South. Hell, in all its vivid detail, was always there dangling in front of me as a horrible but easily avoidable fate. The stinking Lake of Fire where the worm dies not vs. Jesus the wise, loving, stern-but-kind healer. Tough choice. Heaven didn’t sound all that great, but I did like the idea of hanging out with my ancestors and seeing how history turns out.

Every atheist talking point ever conceived occurred to me as a child reading the good old KJV, but considering them was too risky. Questions were verboten. Even the fact that I thought of them at all might be a sign that Satan was already in my head. You couldn’t be too careful. Reading a book by a “liberal” Christian might put doubts in your head. Scientists were not to be trusted since they had their own agenda: pushing evolution. Psychiatry and philosophy were similarly misguided. No, the only safe thing to do was to study the Bible for yourself and let the Holy Spirit guide you.

I officially converted and was baptized at age 11 and spent the next 25 years in tension between my brain and my faith. I was the real deal, teaching Sunday School, doing charitable work, studying theology and apologetics. I thought about becoming a missionary. I believed. I didn’t understand how it all fit together, but I believed. If there was a problem it was with me, not the doctrine and certainly not the Bible.

I spent my twenties drifting away from fundamentalism but never considering atheism as a viable option. After all, everyone knew they were really Satan worshipers. I cut Noah’s ark loose. I sorta-kinda accepted evolution but thought God had started the ball rolling. Gays were to be pitied – probably born that way but unable to act on their desires if they ever hoped to reach Heaven. Above all, I wondered why God would make the world this way knowing full well that it would end badly.

My first real step to deconversion was when I started reading Bible stories to my kids. I never had a good explanation for WHY Jesus died. My son’s visible skepticism when I explained Adam and original sin mirrored my own deeply buried doubts. I major issues with God but was still too scared to voice them, even to myself. I still felt like I was talking to the wall when I prayed, despite begging God to give me a sign he was there.

Then one of my friends, who was having personal problems, flippantly asked if I had ever thought that maybe God isn’t real after all. I was gobsmacked. I truly hadn’t thought of that before. Even when I was 5-6, my real question was, “how can I get in touch with God I must be doing something wrong.” I spent the next several days working up the courage to do a thought experiment because I was afraid of where it might lead. I had been warned to take my thoughts captive. What if I was wrong? After all, God’s ways are higher than our ways. What if this was just the chance Satan was looking for? I ultimately decided that to be fair and to settle the question once and for all I was going to have to treat Christianity like any other religion and research its claims.

What would the universe look like if there was or wasn’t a creator? What about biological life? If the creator was YHWH? If YHWH became incarnate as Jesus? How likely is it that each of those things is true, or is there a better and simpler explanation – that it was all made up? As I went down the list it seemed progressively less likely that any god existed, much less the God of Abraham. I read and researched both sides. I struggled and wavered, but in the end I realized that the claims Christianity makes about the world are internally inconsistent and not likely to be true. There are better, simpler explanations.

I don’t think a good, or even competent, creator would arrange things in the way that Christianity claims. The whole universe is cruel and wasteful and not very conducive to life. Surely God could have designed things a little better and still achieved his goal of having a meaningful relationship with humanity. Even if he created it perfect and we screwed it up, there should be some evidence that things used to be different. Instead, it looks an awful lot like life evolved on its own in no particular direction and that people made up stuff about gods, borrowing and remixing along the way. I was sorry to have to let Jesus go, but there just wasn’t enough evidence to support the claims about him. I finally concluded that if God really existed he would have put more effort into letting us know he is there and what he wants from us.

Admitting the truth involved another internal struggle: I was still terrified of going to Hell despite the fact that I had no good reason to believe that any god existed. For weeks I would have a mini panic attack every several hours. It is embarrassing to admit that since I am not a timid person by nature. I was conditioned to be that way, and working through it was a lot like withdrawal. I worried about ruining the prospect of salvation for my children. I thought about how hurt my family would be. Even though I never enjoyed church I hated the thought of losing the music and the sense of being part of something big and important. I briefly considered going to church anyway and trying to keep up appearances for my kids’ sake, but then I realized how dumb that would be. Why subject them to the same struggle and heartache I had just overcome? When I made up my mind to not give in I felt euphoric! It was like the old hymn says, “my chains fell off, my heart was free!” Which is kind of ironic. The truth really does set you free.

I feel like an idiot for wasting so much of my life on something that wasn’t true. But my main regret is that I let my desire to get everything right in religion interfere with my love of science. I was taught (wrongly, as it turns out) that nobody knows why the sky is blue or how the tides work; that science is unreliable; and that even practical science (medicine, engineering) is not for girls. We are supposed to be happy housewives. We might be allowed to have a fallback career like teaching or clerical work; I have heard those are good jobs for women. Even if I had pushed the issue and studied plant pathology/ecology like I wanted to I wouldn’t have done well. I was home schooled with Bob Jones science and math. Aside from being unprepared academically, I had been taught not to trust the method, not to trust reason. I was systematically taught at home, church and school not to wonder, not to question and not to innovate. I am not sure I would have been able to move past mechanics and memorization into understanding and exploration with that mindset.

It has been a real pleasure reading and re-educating myself over the past couple of years. I am a happier person now as an atheist, much more tolerant and even-keeled. I love the freedom of being able to make up my own mind instead of worrying about what God might think. To date, only my husband, my children and one of my brothers know that I no longer believe in God. I don’t mind people knowing, but it’s not a subject that usually comes up in conversation. Thankfully I am not the sort who would be bothered by social rejection, and it isn’t likely to be a problem anyway. The church friends I once had have all moved away and become Christmas card acquaintances. My current social set would be mildly interested but certainly not hostile.

My husband still self-identifies as Christian, but he has been very supportive. He did ask me not to “come out” to my parents when I had the chance last year. He thinks they will redouble their already-annoying efforts to indoctrinate our children every chance they get. We would like to shield them from that as much as possible until they are older and better able to think for themselves. But the day will eventually come, and I dread the inevitable friction and hurt feelings it will cause in my relationship with them and with two of my brothers. They will never stop hoping to bring me back to the fold. After they eventually tire of arguing their case they will forever after resort to passive aggressive comments and meaningful glances. Our relationship will be pleasant but empty.

In the meantime, it’s nice to have Sunday as a day off. For the first time in my life I am grateful to be alive and enjoying every minute of the time I have.

beyond


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