Recent de-convert saturated by religious community; advice?

by jwhendy7 min read4th Apr 2011158 comments



Edit/Update: Wow, not even a day later this has had quite the number of comments. Hopefully more will come in, but I'd like to thank those who have contributed so far. The suggestions that I think I'm really going to run with are:


  • Finishing my "statement" (in progress already) and deferring to that when specifics are requested (Yvain)
  • Have a suggestion of a convincing book or online article to which I can refer challengers (David Gerard)
  • Reminding myself that I haven't eaten any babies, to date, and that questioning is/was okay (jsalvatier, RobinZ)
  • Just try to avoid the topic (pretty much what I already do) (Risto Saarelma, thakil, MinibearRex)
  • Focus on the point of a "quest" -- enough confidence to practically advance, not pursuing a question so far that no progres is made anymore or because doubt/uncertainty seems virtuous (Desrtopa, Vladimir_Nesov)
  • Come to accept that since such a large amount of energy and time was invested in this particular belief system, the nagging I feel about my research into it might never go away/take some time to go away (beriukay)

I'd like to "honorable mention" a suggestion begun by James Miller that I could just pretend to believe for the sake of preserving relationships and social satisfaction. I see some merit to this but think it might have been based on thinking that my closer/est friends/wife didn't already know (they do). The comment made for some interesting comments, but I think I'd just feel like a phony and even more miserable if I were to really implement this suggestion for any extended period of time.



This issue has been negatively affecting me for quite some time and for lack of clear solutions on my own and knowing that some here have traversed the same stream, I thought I'd ask for help and suggestions. If you're interested, some background information about my story exists here, here, and here.



For the sake of having at least some information here, the brief synopsis is like so: 

  • In my middle school/high school years, I was quite insecure, attention-hungry, and had poor methods of dealing with emotional burdens. This manifested itself in highly addictive tendencies, specifically my use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana as often as possible. This led my parents to send me from my hometown of Milwaukee, WI to a twelve-step boarding school in upstate NY.
  • After being there a year,  I ran away, broke into a house to get drunk, managed to find someone in a town seven miles away to get me high, and was found and captured after boarding school staff after two days. I underwent subsequent legal proceedings and was eventually sentenced to a mere three years of probation and a youthful offender status rather than a potential third degree burglary charge (and possible prison sentence).
  • This rapid rebellion, breaking a serious law for a substance (something previously foreign to me), and apparent "fortune" of a sentence brought about a strong conviction that god had provided me with another chance to live a "good life" in service of him as a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous whose purpose was to get to heaven and spend an eternity with him.

Yes, that last conclusion had some more contributing to it, but for the sake of brevity, just accept that this was my stance. Following the outburst and relatively minor consequence, it was almost like my "second chance" holy life was just waiting there to be lived. I had a renewed sense of purpose and ran with it.

I built the next seven or so years of my life completely around god and my Catholic faith. Much of this is covered in the link above to my blog, where I've written down a rough draft to my story. In short, I married who I did because of god/religion, went to the college I did because there was an extremely active Catholic outreach group connected to it, and a couple years ago even professed a lifelong commitment to a lay association of Catholic families who pledge themselves to live their lives with a common vision, attend bi-weekly events, complete [theological] education courses [taught by members of the same community], attend a couple of retreats together each year, and more.

Then I, literally out of the blue, a question popped into my head; I wondered whether other historians had written about Jesus. I googled the question various ways and was surprised/disappointed to find out that none had in the manner I expected. The rest is history. It's about 15mos later and I'm a non-believer.


What now?

I'm posting as trying to navigate the social implications of my deconversion has been quite difficult. My close friends were some of the first I informed, probably within a month. This community, however, is probably ~300 members strong. I know a lot of acquaintances via our [former] common religious beliefs.

I find myself quite fearful when I see these individuals. I'm afraid something will come up that will be awkward or that I'll be in a large-group setting and somehow a lot of individuals will find out about my non-belief at once in an "untactful" manner. Some of this is due to a sense of friendship -- if someone learns something more serious about my life, I'd prefer that it be from me.

A bit more irrationally, I fear how their opinions about me will be affected. I already think some think I'm "broken" somehow. In fact, I had a member of my former men's group tell me I was "crazy" (verbatim) when I told him it may very well be possible that some or all of the gospels were made up. I felt talked to like a small child by my men's group leader as a result of my non-belief. Heck, some might think I'm possessed by a demon. My wife and I turned our mattress a couple weeks ago and there was some sort of religious trinket (maybe a scapular?) under my side of the mattress on the box spring. She said someone suggested that it might be helpful...

I also find myself balancing between insecurity and anger. I'm insecure because I just plain wish I was more secure in my non-belief... yet I find myself looking back over my shoulder wondering if I've made a wrong turn in my reasoning, if I've simply pendulum-swung over to the opposite extreme as a result of my initial doubts, or if there's some remaining book that would answer my questions. I read mostly atheistic material, though I have read a couple books per the requests of those close to me. I've also been adding books suggested to my list. I admit, though, it's been far more rewarding to do woodworking than analyze the latest solution of the problem of evil. I guess I'd just say that it's been hard to "fully let go" and just walk away from my past belief, hence the insecurity.

On the other hand, I am easily angered in certain situations, perhaps resulting out of feeling insulted and addressed by hypocrites. Those around me want to know if I've read x, y, and z books by a, b, and c apologists. They want to remind me of how hard this is on my wife (who's still a believer). They would like to make the case for my wife raising our children as believers due to the incredible gravity of the future of their souls. And this all from, as far as I can tell, the comfort of ignorance of the theological/apologetical landscape. Some are fairly educated, but the average individual who would like to critique my path could not provide anything in the way of even a summary of the various topics and arguments involved when trying to answer the question of god's likelihood. That's frustrating.


What I'm looking for


  • Have any of you been in a situation like this? How did you "come out." I think I may be approaching a time when this may be advised. It just might help me be more at ease if at least everyone knew. I've thought of writing up some kind of "cumulative case summary" and then making it widely available somehow. What did you do, primarily for the "acquaintance" types who were the last to know?
  • I'd very much appreciate suggestions for dealing with my intellectual insecurity. How could I be more at ease? When can one rationally conclude that they've "done enough", at least for the present moment and apply their energies elsewhere? I've felt like this is such a large question with respect to one's "life framework" that I've pretty much been consumed with this one question because it seems like the answer would affect so much else going forward. Were it conclusively answered (or perhaps better phrased, could I be convinced that I'm aligned with the truth), it might be easier to pursue applying rationality to other areas of life (I also do this, but think much more biological CPU/RAM could be freed up).
    • The solution to this might honestly be that I just need to move on. While insecure about my justification, there is nothing insecure about stating my current state. I think god is quite unlikely, at least in the theistic sense. Perhaps the solution is to see that I'm irrationally favoring the prospect of certainty in this one area while ignoring the fact that there are tons of other areas I'm not certain about that don't even cross my mind in daily life. I'm not sure why this one bothers me so much -- perhaps the social aspect of it, recentness, and affect on daily living make it more acute?
  • For those associated with primarily religious communities (still or in the past), do you have any suggestions about how to engage on-the-fly discussions? For example, I've thought than an elevator-pitch about my non-belief would be helpful... but I have found that previous conversations almost always degrade into pointless debate. How might I clearly express my stance while avoiding the pitfall of purposeless ruffled feathers? It's so darn natural for the conversation to flow like so: 
    • Me: "I don't believe anymore." 
    • "Why?"
    • Me: "Well, many reasons. Since you asked, one would be X."
    • Followed by extremely long summary of why X is, in fact, incorrect, list of apologists who've covered this topic, suggestion of a few older Christians this person knows that I should schedule time with, etc.
    • Me: I respond in any number of ways... perhaps saying that I might check out such a book later, or simply that I'm not convinced by the response.
    • "But didh't you hear? So-and-so covered this. The answer is already in his book! Also, from talking to Mr. X, he clearly knows his stuff an also agrees."
    • So clearly the conversation isn't going anywhere. It's like being asked for money to support a cause you just don't currently support, having your pockets stuffed with pamphlets, again stating that you just don't support the cause at the moment... and the person continues to stand in your way, palm outstretched for money as if you might instantaneously change you mind because of the pamphlets.


For my own part, I'd say that I need to do more work brainstorming through possible conversation paths, and especially identifying why this all bothers me so much. Or perhaps the latter is simply obvious -- I don't have any close friends anymore who think I'm rationally justified in not believing in their deity. In writing that out, I suppose that is a pretty heavy social hit to take. Even after having these friends for seven years, I'm more "at ease" talking with those at Minnesota Atheists meetups that I've only been attending about 1-2x/month for less than a year.

This ended up far longer than I expected. I knew that was a potential issue when I started it and tried revising some bits and pieces, but I think I'll leave it. For one, this is the discussion area and I'm not necessary trying to present a well-thought out proposal; this is a request for input, ideas, support, and especially suggestions from those who may have been through something similar.

Also, I have to say that writing this out is slightly like talking to the close friend I don't really have. Much of my "real feelings" about this whole issue are kept inside because I simply don't want to hurt those around me by expressing them or bringing it up. My relationships go far better when god just doesn't come up at all, or at least stays to "meta-discussion" like, "How's this all going for your wife and you?" vs. "Here's this new book you should read which will definitely prove you are wrong." As a result, my outlets for bouncing these questions and difficulties around are a bit limited.