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. Scott Simian contacted me through the ATP facebook page and ended up writing this 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:
So far, I’ve only told a few people that I don’t believe in God any more, these are the folks that matter the most in my life. The ones that were the hardest to tell were, no surprise, my folks. I sat down with them in the same living room where I had prayed with them many times and sang countless worship and Christmas songs – the same room where my wife, myself, and a room full of our closest friends and family – dedicated the second of my three daughters to a life of devotion to Jesus Christ. This is just downstairs from the room with shelves full to the ceiling with books written by men who have spent their lives discerning the word of God. The house is decorated tastefully with mostly Asian pieces collected from their years of missions work in Japan and China, where I spent much of my childhood. I have to admit that I told them in that vague kind of way; “I’m just not so sure that I agree with the literal interpretation of…” and “I’m still totally open to both sides” and “I’m reading material from everyone…” Truth be told, I am expecting to hear hoof-steps on my roof this December as much as I am expecting to unsee what I have seen.
The falling dominoes that led to my de-conversion began toppling when I met my birth family for the first time. I had been adopted when I was just 3 hours old, and the fact of my adoption has always been mostly a curiosity to me, not something that I’ve felt as an emotional loss. My parents, fundamentalist Christian missionaries, were good parents to us 3 sons, all adopted. Early on, I developed the need and ability to say just whatever the party I was talking to wanted to hear. My chameleon tendencies were amplified being an adoptee and a missionary kid. I also learned early on that, when it came to life issues, I wasn’t going to get a real conversation from my well-meaning parents, I was going to get a lecture heavily laced with scripture, which in retrospect likely had very little real applicable help to the given situation. Ultimately, I stopped being genuine with them, and in high school when I started to go out and ‘party’, I felt forced to live a second life outside of the suffocating weight of judgment. I still hadn’t learned about the toll that not being honest with yourself takes on a person.
My late teens and early twenties were a chaotic mess of false starts, co-dependant rescuing, and increasingly liberal drug use. Today I can see the patterns; a dependence on my parents for status, resources, and identity vs. the feeling of being suffocated by them and a needing to escape an indoctrination system that simply hadn’t made sense since I was a kid. When I wasn’t using drugs I found food to be a comfortable and satiating escape; I’ve been overweight most of my life. Relapses on opiates became a pattern – typically prescriptions quickly giving way to intravenous use of street quality heroin. Whenever I would allow myself to be ‘rescued’, it was back to Christian facilities and church-run programs. One particularly memorable year was spent in a fundamental Christian rehab which used labor and fund-raising as a means of bringing young men and women back in line with Christ’s will for their lives. Even as I type these words I find myself choking down the sting of loss of that year of my life. Not all of those minutes were wasted, however, and I carry forward from that time an almost magical gem, a discovery, a secret about people that I will mention again later in my story.
In my mid-twenties, I fell in love with an amazing girl who had also grown up in an international environment. Our relationship was challenged by my occasional relapses on opiates. These issues were exacerbated by my inability to be honest with my wife, in hindsight I see the continued pattern of hiding my actions from a judgmental authority figure that I had learned at a young age. However, even when I was “doing well” – I wasn’t doing well. Sobriety from drugs for me meant junk food and overeating. My Christian life wasn’t great either, I was a lukewarm Christian at best. I didn’t have an active prayer life, I didn’t read my bible enough, and it was impossible to find a men’s ministry function that I could actually enjoy. However, I was an expert at feeling guilty about not doing those things enough. In my opinion, churches today are filled with people who are in that same position; I may have gone on like that until my last conscious day.
At the prodding of a counselor whom I respected, I decided to follow the threads and find my family of origin. The purchasing of our first home interrupted the process, when suddenly the estranged family made contact with me via facebook. A short time later, I found myself meeting my birth mother, my twin brothers who are 13 months older than me, as well as a wide array of other half-siblings who all came to meet me for this mini family reunion. The days I spent with them were reality-shaking. While that experience deserves a story of its own, I can distill the interactions down by saying I instantly felt electric blood connections, and I learned many things that each would have been enough to blow my mind for a year. A quick example, the twins’ voices sound like what my voice sounds like in my own head – except layered with a gay effect as both twins are proudly homosexual and have known it their whole lives. It’s not hard to see why this kind of experience caused me to have some profound shifts in my views on things, just as an appetizer. During this reunion, I found myself relating my life story repeatedly to different family members. Even as I told the stories, I could feel something happening. These were the first few dominoes to topple that led to my complete de-conversion.
For about two months, I felt like gravity had been switched off, everything was the same and nothing was the same. During this period, I was home during the day with our three girls, homeschooling the oldest in kindergarten. I still had to handle daily responsibilities, but my head would spin every time I contemplated my new reality. My own wasted time, the striving and yearning of most of my friends and family, the millennia of man-hours spent talking, teaching, and writing about the will of god. The things people do to each other in the name of god. The resources spent proselytizing in foreign countries, the fact that my wife still works for one of these organizations. I witness the de-composition of my reality, and it is an experience that – during the time – I would never have wished upon anyone. And the worst part about this was that I had no one whom I could talk to. My wife was remarkably willing to listen, and has tried her best to understand, but because of her continued belief it is impossible for her to empathize with me. Fortunately, we have the internet. I found a great group for ex-Christians on facebook where I could exchange stories; it is great to have a place to share and hear others’ stories, but compared to what I have experienced and know is possible it unfortunately feels inadequate.
Since the de-conversion, I have found many Christians assume that once you let go of your faith, you must have adopted a whole new worldview in its place. I realize now that atheism is simply a ‘letting go’ of the indoctrination I was raised with. If it has to “be” something – it’s a blank canvas on which I am now free to paint whatever I want. The first value that I found myself grasping from the rubble was that of family. You know after a disaster you sometimes hear the sentiment, “hold your loved ones tight…”? I feel that is a sweet and true expression of atheist understanding – “I don’t know much, but I know today I have my family.” Another amazing discovery, on this side, is that the wonder I once felt towards “god’s creation” has been magnified a hundred-fold. The fact that I am alive and the incredible fact of life itself continues to amaze me on new levels daily. I value this body in a way I never have, it’s really sunk in for me that I won’t be receiving a glorious new body in the afterlife. I have been exercising daily, a whole new experience for me, and I’ve lost a great deal of weight since the de-conversion. The best part about these new values is that they are mine. I feel them, I own them, in a way that I never conceived before. This feels like a further stage of maturity.
Earlier, I mentioned a gem of understanding that I gleaned about human nature during my years of struggling through alternating drug and church addiction. In the midst of it all, I attended many support groups of all sizes and formats. I found that, given a few simple parameters, a space can be created where people feel safe to share about life in a way that is almost impossible to find in our daily lives. Perhaps you’ve heard that the “success rate” of alcoholics anonymous is not great. This is true if you measure the success rate as a participant not having drank alcohol after some length of time attending. But if the success rate is so poor, then why is it so successful in terms of popularity? In my opinion, it is because attendees have found a place to share real life in a safe context. And this is truly a rare commodity today. There are very few contexts where vulnerability and honesty are encouraged. Especially for men. The only venue where this kind of frank discussion about life’s issues is encouraged seems to be the world of support groups, which many people find valuable – but to which you only arrive after some traumatic life event. Also, many support groups still carry religious overtones, or encourage religious behaviors outright, AA being a prime example. One of the best things I ever heard a pastor say went along the lines of “wherever the brokenness in the world breaks your heart, that is where you should try to help heal”.
As I went through the upheaval of de-conversion, through the magic of the internet, I discovered there were many other folks out there suffering, grasping for others with whom to relate. Sometimes people were typing their stories covertly while they sat next to a loved one – someone who had no way to understand the turmoil the writer was experiencing. I am daily shocked and heartbroken to read the stories of other ex-Christians, of how they have been treated by family and community. The awful difficulty of this situation is amplified by the fact that the individual is realizing the false nature of the very support system they have relied on their whole lives, leaving them feeling relationally out in the cold. I want to help change that, and I feel my heart breaks in all the right qualifying spots!