What happens when you spend six months or a year or five years wondering about the existence of God and concluding that there is, at best, no compelling reason to believe? In particular, what happens when you experience this loss of faith after having been born into and continually immersed in religious life? In the midst of exploring arguments for and against the existence of God I very early on began asking a question which, in my case, is far more important: What do I do now?
In fact, one of my main motivations for being skeptical about my faith was my experience that religion was getting in the way of the more pressing matters of living and loving well.
To listen to some atheists, you would think that the consequences of not believing in God are on the level of starting a new job or moving to a new house. Disruptive, sure, but not too difficult. Some feel that Christians have been pretending this whole time anyway so the admission of unbelief should come as a huge relief. And for many, it does. I certainly experienced a sense of relief at no longer needing to hold together incompatible ideas that I felt must fit together somehow. But for most there is also a deep sense of loss and lostness. Sincerely held religious beliefs are not a surface level trait that can be discarded without affecting one’s entire psyche and worldview. These beliefs are an integral part of the scaffolding of the believer’s life. In my case, my faith informed my social ethics (“forgive your enemies,” “do not lie, cheat, and steal”), my communal obligations (“you belong to one another”), my politics (we are citizens of God’s kingdom), my vision for the future (the promise of a new earth), and so much more. Removing religion and faith from my life was more like a surgical process than a snake shedding its skin. The roots run through everything including family, friends, community and neighborhood.
For the past almost two years I have been going through the very intentional examination and eventual deconstruction of my own faith. Throughout that process I have also been working on reconstructing a new worldview. What remains after the loss of faith, in my case, is humanism.
Each story of deconversion is different. For some the path is smooth. For most, it is tumultuous and painful. Throughout my Year Without God and after, individuals have reached out to me to share their stories and seek support. Sometimes just being free to tell their story is helpful, having never had a safe place to do that. Some would like a book recommendation, others need help thinking through a challenge posed by a believing family member. Some wonder about how to keep their marriage together, others about how to raise their kids. Sometimes these emails arrive in bunches, but it’s been a steady stream since almost the first day of 2014.
There are a few resources to support people who are in deep doubt about their faith or who are in the process of deconverting. Recovering from Religion has a new hotline where individuals can speak to a friendly, listening ear and receive referrals to various resources. Sunday Assemblies have cropped up around the country with a focus on celebrating life and doing good, as opposed to attacking and criticizing religion. But there are still far too few resources dedicated to those who find themselves in this “no persons land” between belief and unbelief.a
I’ve used the term “liminal” to describe this in-between space where individuals feel they are neither this nor that—neither believer nor atheist. Some call themselves agnostic, meaning literally, “I don’t know,” but most people sense that agnosticism can only hold for so long. For most, the question of God’s existence cannot remain a 50/50 proposition forever. The strength of arguments, relationships, presuppositions and biases moves the needle one way or the other.
So today I am excited to announce the launch of a new project called, Life After God, which is dedicated to holding the space between belief and unbelief so that individuals can find a safe space to explore their doubts. I spent quite of bit of time thinking about the mission of Life After God and then, with help, I tried to write it precisely. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here is the statement of mission:
Life After God exists to empower people and communities to live deeply into the space after God. This in-between world is lonely and uncharted. Our mission is to create safe, hospitable space for people to explore their doubts, recalibrate their ‘moral compass,’ and create new friendships.
The expression “after God” means after a particular God. Perhaps particular versions of God have failed you and you’re still sorting things out. Or maybe you’ve given up on all versions of God. Either way, this space is for you!
Our goal is not to convert you or lead you to a particular conclusion, but to hold this space together and provide some tools to explore your doubts, embrace the world as it is, and ask your most important questions about life, meaning, and ethics.
We do this through personal and group coaching, retreats and online resources. We also consult with organizations that want to better understand the challenge of post-theism and grow their capacity to serve.
I hear from people every month about how challenging it is to find a community that they feel comfortable in. Individuals who are in the crucible of deconversion or freshly post-theist are the most underserved part of the religious landscape in North America and that group is getting larger by the day. Every new report reveals more people who mark “none” when asked about their religious preferences. These individuals often still have a sense of the divine or some spiritual agency in the universe. Many are agnostic or apatheist. But many are like fish out of water. Gasping for air in a society dominated by certainty and bravdo.
Life After God exists to be a safe space for people to ask their questions without ridicule and sort through their metaphysical doubts at a pace that works for them. I and others will be offering coaching, both in groups and one-on-one. We’ll also be doing weekend events and longer retreats around the country over the coming months and years.
Another thing I’m being asked to do more frequently is consult with secular, freethought and atheist groups to help them better conceive and communicate their vision and mission, and develop programs that appeal to those on the margins of religious life. If your group feels they could benefit from an outside set of eyes and a lifetime of experience organizing groups around shared mission, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. All the information is on the website.
I am also launching a podcast today called Life After God. The first episode is a brief introduction and the second episode is an interview with United Church of Canada minister and Director of the Clergy Project, Gretta Vosper. Gretta is also an advisor and senior consultant with Life After God and I can’t be more thrilled to have her as a partner in this work. Also joining the leadership team are two men who have been mentors and friends to me in my own deconversion: Jeff Straka and Pat Green. You can read more of their story on the website.
Special thanks the wizards at WBpro for designing and building this beautiful website. Without their generosity there would be no website. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our email list as well. But more than anything, refer your friends and loved ones who are going through this difficult time. Having trusted guides walk with you through the wilderness of doubt can make all the difference.