I’ve mentioned this in passing, but the systematic and strategic belittling of my deconversion warrants closer inspection if for no other reason than Christians’ denial that they do this.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “this is just a period of rebellion,” I would literally just set that pile of money on fire as protest because, you know, I’m a fifteen-year-old wannabe hard ass. Because that’s ridiculous.
At fifteen, I was as soft an ass as you can be – literally and figuratively. Ha. Anyway, the idea that I have a rebellious bone in my body comes from a place of complete disregard for who I’ve always been. But that is beside the point too. Even if I did deconvert out of sheer rebellion, that wouldn’t invalidate my unbelief.
The need for Christians to simultaneously say, “you don’t have a valid reason for deconversion,” and, “there is no valid reason for deconversion,” is maddening. I could belabor the reasons for my deconversion again and again, but they will still call it a “phase.” When I ask how to prove it’s not a phase, they will always tell me, in essence, that I can’t.
Based on the different tones of similarly worded responses, I have deduced three underlying motivations for why they think deconversion can only be a phase and not a permanent state of being: unwillingness to accept the ever-changing nature of Christianity, resentment toward the ambiguity and relativism into which deconversion opens the doors, and self-soothing in the face of eternal damnation for loved ones.
The first doesn’t need much elaboration. From Jesus (or the pastiche of people some think Jesus represents if they believe he existed at all, but that’s of little consequence to me. We’re operating under the assumption he existed) to early persecutions to Constantine to the Nicene Creed to becoming the Roman state religion to Western missionaries to Byzantine to the inquisitions that eventually converted modern-day Eastern Europe and Russia to the East-West schism to the Crusades to the fall of Constantinople to the Protestant Reformation to Puritanism to the Great Awakenings and Restorationism to the Jehovah’s Witness and LDS movements to orthodoxy to liberalism vs. fundamentalism to Pentecostalism to everything in between, there’s a lot of history that gets left out in the evangelical fundamentalist retelling of how their brand of Christianity came into being.
Think the First Great Awakening’s Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” meets the reactionaries to the growing secularism of America in the mid-20th century. That’s evangelical fundamentalism. In fact, their particular brand of hell didn’t even come into being until the First Great Awakening. Hell became increasingly sinister as Protestantism crept toward fundamentalism. Gone were the days of the ancient notion of aimless wandering for all eternity and the angel-man Lucifer, and their absence ushered in the adoption of a Baphomet-esque Satan from Pagan tradition. Finally, we get the fire and brimstone notion of hell from good ol’ Pastor Edwards. Now we have the lovely caricature of a little red man with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork guarding the fiery gates of hell. Oh god, I’m shaking.
Someone on Quora – how tf do you cite that – said aptly, “Christianity has a long tradition of subverting its own oppositions by embracing their symbols.” So there it is. I think this is what gives modern-day Christians in general a sense of superiority over people who point out the ways in which older versions of Christianity absorbed competing cultures like the Blob. They have only ever known these traditions as “Christian,” so looking into the past through that lens allows them to Christianize history. Like, “oh, the ram’s head and Christmas tree were ours the whole time,” even though they definitely weren’t.
Just look at the way medieval literature Christianizes paganism (e.g., Beowulf) out of their fascination with and fear of that nihilism. Modern Christians do the same thing by retroactively injecting their sense of “meaning” into the world. How else could someone think America is a Christian nation, Christians did the people they colonized a favor by forcing them into conversion, and whatever other seemingly unrelated past events a Christian can string together in retrospect as proof of god having a reason for everything?
Okay, I guess I have elaborated a lot, but point being, evangelical fundamentalists do not take kindly to the suggestion that their brand of Christianity has not always existed because of their ability to inject everything with their interpretations of the bible and Christian history in hindsight. So when I attempt to seek a more comprehensive history of Christianity, I’m the one who’s wrong.
A Christian in his or her present moment always believes his or her interpretation is the correct one – today we have liberalism vs. fundamentalism. When I tell liberal Christians about the fundamentalists I know, they sigh in frustration and vice versa. And then I’m like, “hey! Maybe you both believe bastardizations of past versions of the same faith,” and well, that’s grounds for being accused of edgy-rebellious-teenager-ness because to a Christian, a history of the world without Christianity at its center cannot possibly be an accurate one.
Now it’s time for number two: resentment toward the implications of competing philosophies and ideologies. This goes back to the Christian distaste for ambiguity and relativism. I don’t want to beat this dead horse, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. As a chronic skeptic, however, I tend to be weary of worldviews that leave no room for nuance. Sure, Christianity has its different branches, but the crux is the same: believe and confess your sins or die forever and ever. Amen.
I know Nietzsche says unyielding skepticism on the quest for truth isn’t necessarily the best way to live, but I can’t help it. Any ideology that claims to offer “absolute truth” with no intellectual effort on the part of the subscriber is dubious. I’m not an advocate of constantly questioning everything. It’s literally driven me crazy, but in between that crazy are moments of learning fascinating truths about the world that my formerly Christian self wouldn’t have been able to accept. A thirst for knowledge is a great way to live, and while being skeptical hurts me at times, it also leaves me open to new ways of looking at the world without fear of eternal damnation.
Okay, I’m onto number three: self-soothing. Maybe this one’s the most self-explanatory. Basically, if an evangelical fundamentalist thinks his or her loved one is going to spend eternity with ram-headed, fire wielding, pitchfork carrying, Satan man, it obviously makes him or her feel better to think, “it’s just a phase.” In the process of self-soothing, however, Christians belittle the actual unbeliever. For me, it’s not a phase. I’ve given this long and hard thought, and my justifications for my unbelief are decent ones. They’re definitely at least as valid as Christians’ justifications for their belief.
I think institutionalized religion is a ginormous societal tumor, but no one is going to catch me going around to Christians saying, “It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it.” Can you imagine the backlash my condescending, angry, atheist ass would get?
So, don’t disrespect or belittle my beliefs just because you’re scared. Guess what. I’m not scared. I don’t give two shits. Don’t paint my unbelief as rebellion or intellectual immaturity. As far as I can tell, if this is a phase, it’s a permanent one. I don’t want someone else’s fear for my eternal soul projected onto me in the form of condescension. K, thank you.
I’m trying to keep my emotions in check, but when religion is seen as a cure-all, of course I’m going to have a strong reaction against that. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, burned the t-shirt, and vowed to never go back. Don’t push me, and there will be no push back. Promise. Sort of.