13. Epilogue

My journey has veered through a rather dark tunnel, bedecked with despairing and long in transit. I have been drug through the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Indeed, there has been anger and hurt and despondency, and it would be dishonest to deny them.

I regret how all of this will alter my relationships with church friends, all of whom I value greatly. I consider the length of those friendships, the challenges we’ve walked through together in past years, the aid that was rendered during my daughter’s crisis two years ago, etc. Concerning my daughter, nothing can dilute the thankfulness I still feel, and I remain hopeful for opportunities to pay it forward in the days and years to come. We walk not alone. But in the present context, the walking has turned intermittently to staggering. There is simply no smooth way to undergo such a significant change in views. Perhaps there will always be a measure of injury, which I deeply regret. I remain saddened at the thought of those whom I will undoubtedly disappoint. And I regret that the drivers for this change have not been subjective. I wish to God that all of this information was made up; I really do.

I have found that, in my talks with others, my earnest alarm has tended not to meet with serious consideration and reciprocal inquiry. There has been personal concern, of course, often of a very deep-felt nature. The concern has sometimes mingled with pity or anger or fear, but there hasn’t generally been a serious consideration of the dilemmas we face. This has not been true in all cases, but it has been much of the time. Of course, this is quite a kettle of fish, and one of which we’ve long been told to steer clear. Nevertheless, I think inquiry here is worth the effort. I certainly ask no one to take me at my word, for that kind of thing is the root of the problem. Nor is it that I have decided to believe these things are not true; we need not believe the demonstrable. But many really seem not to want to know. Perhaps in time. I realize how I would have answered myself two years ago. I now think that I have been – rather, we have been – pickpocketed by the past, by old thieves playing the oldest of games. And the investment and the trust, now lost, will have their emotional price.

Yet the thrust and steerage to this endeavor came from my prior religious trials: would I be a seeker of truth, or would I seek my own affirmations? Would I be open to being wrong and prove willing to change, or would I choose to believe according to my wishes? Would I follow the facts? One path is easy, and the other is right. Or so I was instructed, and so I yet believe. And from that disposition, my war with the five stages took place alongside prayer and a great deal of scriptural study. Though as the path wore on, my prayers soon reduced to the four simple words, “God, help me see.”

The past year has essentially been one of fact-checking the Bible, and with it Judaism and Christianity. The fields of history, theology, apologetics, philosophy, science, etc., have all been major epicenters. At bottom, the requirements of a true investigation have always been simple, even if difficult. If I want to know what the shortcomings of a Chevy are, consulting Chevy literature or the Chevy dealership is unlikely to provide a complete picture. This is obvious, and we know it. Yet the adversity facing our sacred books sends us scurrying to apologetic resources, an affirmation quest from within the bubble. We go back to the dealership. Like our favorite sports team, we have an affinity and loyalty to our faith; despite our felt sincerity, such loyalties are simply not based on objective worthiness. We won’t approach our life-central faith with serious inquiry. We are told that it’s categorically different, that it doesn’t work that way. But it isn’t different, and inquiry does work if allowed.

Our great dilemma is this: it is not that we lack evidence; we actually have evidence, in buckets. The problem is that the evidence indicates that our book is not true. In many places, where the scriptures touch earth in a way that can be verified, the claims fail to check out. This happens in science, yes, but also in history, which is perhaps more important. We may want to drag the subject back to that grey realm where faith can validate for us, as though blind belief – one way or the other – is still the only option open. “No one can know that, we have to believe.” Once perhaps, this was the case. There was a time when no one had any evidence on how the world and humanity came to be here. In those past times, whatever one believed on the subject was decidedly a matter of faith, and there was no measurable way to determine who was right. But today, these things aren’t in the grey realm where “belief” is the only option any longer. We have so much information, and we can adjudicate on yesterday’s claims about origins and scripture and history. Today, a retreat to grey is simply denial.

The final tally leaves me without residual doubt on the central questions. Under serious inquiry, the faith of Judaism stands disconfirmed. Christianity falls with it, but it likewise falls on its own. And so, although I cannot call myself an atheist, I am pressed to the conclusion that, if God does exist, he is entirely different from the faith portraits of Yahweh or Jesus. Theism may be true, but that does not save the credibility of Bible; it remains disconfirmed. Many religions claim sacred texts, but in the end we are without a reliable revelation. If God exists, one must admit that He has been very quiet. But then, we knew that already – I and those believing friends who admit very frankly that, in a lifetime, we have never actually heard His voice nor beheld the supernatural. Well, it is clear to me now that the ancients of Israel did not hear or see either, but they were less honest with themselves and with us. Our goodhearted way of taking them at their word has been ill used.

The confections of hell and judgment no longer trouble me. Where I am haunted, it is by other things: by what I have done and believed in the name of Christianity. Like my friends, I have tried to do the best that I could. I have not wanted to do wrong; far from it. Yet ultimately I have affirmed the immoral as righteous. I have condemned others and even parted with friends. I have looked down my ignorant nose at people who had actually studied these things. While I could pardon myself and demur that I’ve done my best, I don’t think that actually will suffice. I’ve begun where I can to make some reparations and ask forgiveness.

Yet the most haunting dimension has been realizing how much I believed on how little – that my ignorance was exceeded only by my credulity. I can only shudder at the consideration of what I could (by faith) have been coaxed into, if only I’d been born into a culture of radical Islam. When once a person is willing to claim moral and spiritual certainty based upon hand-me-down stories, what limit? This is the Sin of the conspiracy theorist and the preacher, of the astrologer and the believer: the claim of unearned certainty, which quite simply constitutes a falsehood. And this the believer sets as the principal virtue. Reflection brings me back into tumult.

And so the five stages do not crisply end; they taper. I know from my own past exoduses that the difficulties of such transitions do eventually pass. The sting and the anger must be wrangled, but they do abate. It does take time to heal.

Henceforth, I am resolved to indulge in no further make believe. The time for growing up has come. The speculations about other worlds and powers come from human authors; their reliability can be checked in many places, where they fall down. Mortality, finally accepted in me, is quite simply a fact. No religion has ever gotten us out of it. But we insist that it is illusory – a sort of divine hoax. The Hindu first, then the Buddhist, still later the Christian, and eventually the Muslim, then the Mormon, the Cargo Cult follower, etc. Our brothers the world over clutch at this retirement plan, though none of us has ever actually seen anyone receive a payment. Ever. If there is an afterlife, it must be admitted that we have not the slightest evidence or reliable testimony concerning it. To those who disagree, I would encourage a deeper look at the sources. Disappointment awaits. Perhaps I am not alone; perhaps for some others as well, the time for growing up has come.

Yet in the meantime, blessedly, life goes on. We are not in the end robbed of all. I find that hope has not evaporated; happiness has not disappeared. Far from it – I have found that there is as much (or more) motivation to get up every morning and love my kids a little harder. We quite simply do not need the imaginary to live well.

I have found that this dark passage does open to a peaceful daybreak on the further side. The sun also rises. The tensions between myth and reality have dissolved, leaving no remainder, no reconciling tasks to shoulder, no yoke to drag. After 35 years of accumulating discrepancies, I finally have something beyond subjective muddle.  The noise of discrepant conflict has at last hushed. I’m no longer left with the haze of feeling-following which one finds on sites like Explore God. This whole affair has been an inoculation against the hooks of superstition and magic, for that is the stuff from which religion is made. Superstition is simply what we call the beliefs of others.

This journey has brought the most unexpected sort of peace, for it is a peace grounded. Indeed, I have known the youthful ecstasy of falsely-judged enlightenment: an ego high, to be sure. But here, the acute awareness of the fool that I have for so long been checks any such delusion. After all, I am on balance left simply human: without special powers or immortality or exaltation.  There is no secret knowledge, no special fold. I am less than I once thought myself to be, but it is a peaceable sort of less. It is the absence of effort to affirm the fantastic and to deny the real. It is a quieting of the muddled “already-but-not-yet” thinking. It ends the wishbone division of having one foot in this world and one foot in the next.

  • Plan for eternity; but take no thought for the morrow.
  • Value your family, and honor your parents, and sacrifice for your children; but be willing to hate them all for Jesus’ sake.
  • Defend the life of the unborn; but teach your children that we are worthy of death and judgment. Oppose abortion at any stage; but affirm that Abraham’s willingness to kill Isaac was righteous.
  • Affirm that God’s Word is perfect and invulnerable; but avoid reading views critical of it.
  • Believe that God brought the elegant universe into being with naught but a spoken word. But ignore that Omnipotence somehow could not manage a simple, accurate, 3-page narrative recounting it. Grant no weight to the other creation myths, though they remain no less accurate than ours.
  • Affirm that the Books of Moses and the Gospels are eyewitness testimony, even when the Bible does not make such claims, and when the texts themselves indicate quite the opposite. Use weak evidence – non-eyewitness opinion from later centuries – as proof of the strong claim.
  • Contend that we have powerful evidence for the scriptures and for Christ; but deny that things like evidence matter when it appears to undermine us.
  • Realize that the Lord will probably not return in our lifetimes; but expect Him at all moments.
  • Pray for your leaders and your nation; but look with anticipation for the end of all things.
  • Recognize that human intuition has proven entirely mistaken about the biggest facts of our material reality; but insist that inner belief is the most accurate way to know even greater truths.
  • Maintain that all religions have been false and concocted, save one. But deny the glaring odds, which would suggest that ours originated in the same way. And deny our textual and historical problems, which confirm that we are no exception.
  • Underscore the historical problems facing Mormonism to demonstrate its falsehood; but excuse the historical problems facing Israel’s histories.
  • Look on Israel’s Yahweh in both personality and conduct; but deny that the Allah of radical Islam has the same visage and rules of engagement.
  • Affirm that the two great and final realities we know – those of life and death – are both illusory. Insist upon speculations that true life comes only after death, and that death is but a hoax. Repeat that we believe such things on the facts, and not from our desires or denials.
  • As a final armoring, take these absurd and contradictory views and varnish them. Ensconce them with clouding euphemism of ‘mystery’. Then deny that the equally transparent confusions of pagan ‘mysteries’ are valid.

I sigh and nod that I have been as guilty of these things as any of the devout. It is a happy fog, and one that smiles broadly while not seeing. To be descended from the immortal and destined for glorification; endowed meanwhile with a commission from on high; what can compare? It has been my life’s favorite make-believe. In exchange for such endowments, one can learn to look past a great deal. And yet.

The strain of such affirmations is hard to recognize until it is suddenly removed. It is the at-last acceptance of simply being human and truly being a part of the world. This orb is no longer painted as a grey holding ground until the better-to-come; I need not see it as replaceable and ought not to long for its terminus. Nor is life a mere trial for eternity, like some invisible examination shackled in a Damoclean chair. No, for we are here; and for here we are meant. There is no part of us that came from anywhere else. Remove the speculations: we are in and of the earth, in our entirety. And my brothers are no longer defined by an imaginary line separating tribal in- and out-groups.

I simply would not trade back, even if I could.

Though I cannot agree with Hitchens in all things, I will nevertheless venture to cite him on a point of remarkable foresight, one that has been borne out in my experiences of this past difficult year [22]:

There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.

Beauty I have beheld through the veil of never-never, but it sings more clearly now. And the true story of our people and our pale blue dot reads more finely than all the mythology I have left behind. Life is beautiful, and whole, even if fleeting. And quite unhaunted, it beckons.

8/23/2013

© Copyright 2013

Comments

  1. Blane says:

    Cogently and beautifully stated.

    Like

  2. All I can say is Thank You.

    Like

  3. Matt,
    Having now read through the entirety of your treatise, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it is the most eloquent of the many deconversion accounts that I’ve read. Well done.

    Like

    • Travis, thanks so much. That means quite a lot to me. Appreciate the compliment, but wouldn’t mind any critique as well. 🙂

      Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        “…wouldn’t mind any critique as well.”

        Well, I did notice you left out a much-needed comma, but other than that, what Travis R said echoes my thoughts exactly, so to repeat that, would be redundant.

        I know a border-line theist, to whom I’ve recommended reading your so eloquently-phrased account. (I shudder to think how many drafts you went through, to achieve that degree of perfection.)

        Like

        • Arch, you make me chuckle. Yeah, a few drafts. Sometimes it’s more a matter of staring down the page till the proper description comes. I’ve always had a thing for words. And I like to read guys like Patrick O’Brian and various poets. I think better reading makes for better writing, and there are true craftsmen – wordsmiths – out there. I aspire, but as an engineer, I don’t believe its likely that I’ll ever climb to that level. But the indelible residual is the private victory. Once I’ve written it out, I can let it go.

          Like

  4. Marian Keady says:

    Thank you and congratulations for organising your deconversion story in a clear and thorough manner as to premises, process of investigation and conclusions. This is a valuable summary, a great shortcut and pointer to the whole field, saving readers a lot of time and indicating, for those having the time, where to explore further. I am on a similar journey and can recommend your blog to anybody similarly interested. I found myself in disagreement firstly with mainline Christianity on certain moral issues, then noticed some of the contradictions in scripture and, finally, reached out into other areas of investigation/knowledge as you have. Well done and may God bless you for, if He exists, I agree He must be a God of Truth.

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    • Thanks Marian,

      In the spirit of your suggestions, I’ve already begun some work on specifically help-directed resource pages. The bibliography is nice, but I’ve found that it seems to intimidate at times. “I can’t read all of that material” is a response I’ve heard from a couple of friends. Working at present to put together a short list of accessible YouTube videos, articles, and straight-spoken books. Anyway, not there yet.

      I like your closing. Perhaps those who seek actually do find. 🙂

      Like

  5. Thanks for this very articulate and well thought out deconversion testimony. My own journey was very similar to yours, though I did not necessarily tackle my investigation in the same order. I am looking forward to reading your posts going forward. Since you dedicated this to family and friends, I hope you have been been met with love and support and I hope you are able to share some of what responses you have received from those who knew you before and after. BTW, while I went to Cedarville, my brother graduated from JBU with an engineering/construction management degree, probably a couple of years ahead of you. Thank you again for the long hours this must have taken, I think it is going to be a useful reference to a great many people.

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    • Tim, looked at your blog – interesting!

      Also interesting that you have a JBU connection. I really enjoyed my time there, but the memories have been sort of backward-altered at this point I suppose.

      Response from those I know has been mixed, as one might imagine. Subject for a future and delicately stated post.

      Thanks for reading…

      Like

  6. Ah, my one blog effort is somewhat dated now I am afraid. I understand what you mean about the mixed responses and I tip my hat to your courage in putting yourself out there like that. I don’t know that I can pick a date when I tipped from leaning more towards believing towards less, or even a date when I finally decided my previous belief system was no longer what I believed at all. It has been years though, and in that time I have only disclosed to a handful of people; the strongest reactions were from those closest to me and I don’t know that I will ever reach the point you have. Looking forward to your future posts, and thanks again.

    Like

    • Well, I definitely appreciate the nod. Its hard, to be sure. But since you read the Retrospective page, you’ll know that its sadly not the first time I’ve come to a juncture of major religious revision. I kinda chuckle sometimes, but the truth is that its a serious things. Had a belly full of such events.

      Glad to have a final answer, and one that accounts for that which came before. And glad that I can give my kids an honest chance at inoculation and exemption. There are real crises in life; the religious/doctrinal sort are all sort of ‘elective’ crises: imaginary consequences and imaginary transgressions. Its an interesting thing to look back on.

      Cheers

      Like

  7. Yet the most haunting dimension has been realizing how much I believed on how little – that my ignorance was exceeded only by my credulity.

    And how does one convey this to those that would harm children in the name of their god?

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    • May depend on whether they already have.

      But its a difficult question… conveyance. I’ve not had a great deal of success conveying all of this even to those who are quite good to their kids.

      Something has to “crack the egg”. I’m reading Boghossian at the moment, and that seems to be his focal point. I’m finding it interesting, to be sure. I’m also realizing with better clarity the dynamics of how the egg was cracked in my own case. “Knowing thyself” has been a substantive part of all of this for me, and so it continues. Hard.

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      • Although never religious in the strict sense I never doubted the historicity of characters such as Moses and Jesus and only after I began investigating Moses for a background to a fictional piece I was writing did I get to a point where I sat back and said….
        Now just a damn moment!
        Later I came across the myriad of sects within Christianity itself, including things like Christian Science. and YEC.
        I never would have believed that there were people out there who actually believe and teach that dinosaurs existed with humans!
        This was a WTF moment that had me reeling.

        My concern over inculcation of kids was sparked and recently I discovered the worst side of this in Jerry Coyne’s site – the death of children due to the parents refusal of medical treatment.

        I had heard that JW’s did not allow blood transfusions but never joined the dots ; such is the way of a liberal Church of England upbringing where cross faith interaction just didn’t happen and even Catholics were seen as weird.

        And then i recently read that the US constitution supports religious exemption.
        Utter madness.

        Like

        • The medical thing is a tough one. I’ve not run in any circles where anybody denied medical treatment to their kids, but I’ve read those same really tragic cases.

          As a parent with a child that had a sudden life threatening illness, I can say that its hard enough to make a good judgment call when one *does* believe in using standard medical treatment. Sometimes its very hard to make the right call as to whether one goes to the hospital or not. If one adds a religious “tension” on top of the normal difficulties, the likelihood of a bad call no doubt increases.

          The most frequent thing I’ve seen is vaccination refusal. Most of this is has not been based on religion per se, but on distrust of vaccines as safe, on theories of medical/big-business conspiracy, or on political conspiracies to have a subordinate population. However, where parents have drawn the line and refused their own kids, I believe they have the option of claiming religious grounds for their refusal (even if that is not the root reason). Again, I think its on a religious argument, but I can’t be 100%.

          Its all pretty sad. There is a lot of bad information out there. When one finds either conspiracy or faith at the bottom of it, its doubly said. Neither conspiracy nor faith requires evidence.

          As Mel Gibson said in Conspiracy Theory, “No, no, a good conspiracy is an un-provable one. I mean, if you can prove it, it means they screwed up somewhere.”

          Once we’re operating in high confidence without sufficient reasons and evidence, everything is possible. It can lead, as you say, to “utter madness.”

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          • The other problem, or maybe it is the real problem, is not the fringe elements of religion but the ordinary,
            “Oh we’re not like that in our church”
            believer.
            Oh, and this applies to all religion of course.

            The fringe and the mainstream all worship the same god.
            And if the sacred texts (sic) are open to such vast interpretation then secular society must step in and say enough is enough.
            Any society that allows its adult citizens the power of life over death over children because of a religious conviction shows an absolute dereliction of duty toward the child. Period.

            Like

  8. archaeopteryx1 says:

    “Arch, you make me chuckle.”

    Yeah, well, I try – there are some who say I’m the most trying person they’ve ever met.

    When I first started my website, I found myself writing rather dryly, and then found myself asking how much of what I said was going to go over the heads of my target audience, so I adopted the role of a guy who had likely just fallen off a turnip truck, dialed it down a bunch of notches, and tossed in a little Dave Barryesque humor, and I now find it quite a bit more palatable.

    You, on the other hand, seem to have the skill for saying what you want to say, and still not overshooting the mark – there may be a few references in there that not everyone will get immediately, but an occasional run for a dictionary is good exercise.

    Like

  9. Hi there to all, it’s really a nice for me to go to see this site, it contains helpful Information.

    Like

  10. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Not sure what’s up, but that’s a “bot” – note no actual reference to anything on your page. I’ve had six of them hit my site, and I’ve allowed the trackbacks, as I don’t think they’re harmful, I’m just surprised by the dialogue, the google-bots on my sight didn’t say anything, but I will occasionally get spammers with banal messages like that, with links in their messages that take you to some product they’re hyping.

    Like

  11. Excellent work… I’m currently putting out my “years-long” inquiry into the nature of belief on my WP blog. Your work inspires.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Tearing up at Panera Bread, personal and brilliant story. And when I read Hitchen’s quote at the end I walked away to grab some napkins as tears really rolled in.

    When you wrote: “And so, although I cannot call myself an atheist, I am pressed to the conclusion that, if God does exist, he is entirely different from the faith portraits of Yahweh or Jesus.” I was deeply moved by that. John Shelby Spong’s books have been my safety net on this long and arduous de-conversion journey, the above quote summons it up so well. Again, brilliant !

    Like

    • Well, thanks so much William. Hard road out, and no lie. I had hoped my narrative could capture the poignant moments and way points of the journey, and I’m glad for you that it did. Though I didn’t intend to squeeze people at a Panera. 🙂

      Of course, in the time that’s passed since then, I find myself more easily identifying as an atheist than I used to. Partly I think that’s just learning more about what the term means, what it doesn’t, etc. Lot of negative connotations there that have worn off with time. And I’ve looked around at the broader questions of god since then. Still, I’m not opposed to evidence supporting, and I feel no dogma or creed in this position.

      Spong – I know who he is, but I’ve never read him. What book from him is your favorite?

      Like

  13. Tiens je comptais justement faire un poste semblable au votre

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  14. Un postе vraijent plein de bons conseils

    Like

  15. archaeopteryx1 says:

    That’s easy for YOU to say!

    Like

  16. Just reread this post and I think it’s possibly your best, Matt. (imho)
    Sustaining the poignancy throughout the whole post as you do, is no mean feat.
    Your graciousness, yet firmness of new-found conviction is beautifully on display.

    Like

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Michael Seidel, writer

Science fiction, fantasy, mystery and what-not

cas d'intérêt

Reflections of a Francophile

Two Wheels Across Texas

My Quest to ride through all 254 Texas Counties

The Curious Atheist

Freely Seeking Truth After Religion

Class Warfare Blog

I don’t want to start a class war; it started a long time ago and, unfortunately, we are losing.

Secular Wings

My freedom from spiritual abuse happened when I walked away from the abusers. My healing and recovery from the complex trauma of spiritual abusers, spiritually abusive faith and toxic religion happened while I was still a Christian and continues to this day. My deconversion came later after many many years of studying the Bible, Christian apologetics, cults and spiritual abuse. When I realized that the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, the only honest thing I could do was to stop calling myself a Christian. What I write here, may be very different from what I’ve written in the past. It might also be repeats of the past themes. ~ Zoe

Variant Readings

Thoughts on History, Religion, Archaeology, Papyrology, etc. by Brent Nongbri

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