Now that toxic Christians have figured out that deconstruction and deconversion are major trends, they’re responding to that perceived threat exactly as we’d expect. Alas, their attacks fall far short of effectiveness. Any doubting Christian can instantly connect with millions of other people who have done the legwork already. It truly is marvelous to consider how far American culture has gotten in just the past 20 or 30 years! When I deconverted, I had to figure everything out for myself. As far as I knew, I was literally the only ex-Christian in the whole wide world. And let me tell you: life felt pretty damned lonely.
My world before deconversion
I grew up in an intensely religious culture, in an intensely religious family, and with a very overactive imagination. As a result, I was not just Christian. I was way gung-ho Christian.
It always makes me sigh and smile when Christian leaders try to claim that anybody who deconverts couldn’t possibly have really been a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. I know their magic book says that, but it also insists that bats are birds and that ants have “no captain, no supervisor, no ruler.” It’s wrong about a whole lot of things.
So I really don’t know how to tell Christians that if I wasn’t the real deal, then they definitely aren’t either, and heck, maybe nobody ever has been. I lived and breathed my faith. It was a significant part of my life.
And so did everyone else I knew, all the way through high school. If someone didn’t believe wholeheartedly in basically the same nonsense I did, they were very quiet about it. At most, people were just different flavors of Christian.
Discovering a whole new world in college
In college, a lot of things changed. I met people of all different faiths–and more than a few who had no faith at all.
My then-boyfriend Biff decided that he had a burden for atheists, so we hung out with them all the time. They all seemed nonplussed by him, but they humored him as best as one could ask. He always took their good humor as encouragement, of course, and dreamed of the day when he’d baptize all of them.
I also met people who had a very low opinion of Christianity itself. That blew my mind. I’d never even heard of someone not thinking highly of Christianity. If someone didn’t believe, I sometimes heard them talk about Jesus as a great moral teacher, or the religion having value apart from its supernatural claims. But to think it was an awful ideology full of horrific ideas? Oh, I didn’t like that at all.
I suffered from a lot of religious privilege, and college did a lot toward pruning that away from me bit by bit. This was still in Texas, so obviously Christians held privilege regardless. But as close as it could get, my religion sat on the same shelf as other religions and atheism. And that was a struggle at times. It stung sometimes when atheists or people of other religions rejected my evangelism or pushed back against my claims.
Now, looking back, I’m so glad that they did.
As above, so below
Naturally, I also met a couple of people who’d switched religions as I progressed through my university studies. I eventually met a guy in the SCA–a rather affectionate middle-aged fellow we’ll call Tristan–who was a pagan when I met him. As we soon learned, though, he claimed to have actually graduated from an official Southern Baptist Convention seminary!
Here is where indoctrination gets so insidious. Just as Christians tell me today that I obviously deconverted because I wasn’t ever a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ like themselves, whenever I met someone like Tristan, I assumed the same of them.
Southern Baptists were not only Trinitarians (EEK! such heathenry!), but they didn’t speak in tongues or follow the same cultural rules that we Pentecostals did. I’d never seen them on fire or sold out for Jesus. They all seemed so dry inside, parched for the only water that could really satisfy anybody. So obviously, Tristan deconverted because he’d never encountered the real deal.
When I told Tristan that, he gazed heavenward–not in a mean or condescending way, but in a sweet, fatherly, oh good gracious me kind of way. He hugged me and politely declined.
It took years to understand why he flat refused even to entertain the idea of trying my flavor of Christianity out before he wrote the religion off forever. To me, The Big Problem Here was so obvious–and its solution, so utterly simple. If people just tried my flavor, just once, with a full and true heart, they’d immediately know what I knew.
But they never wanted even to try.
Deconversion as a process
All of these little failures, these shards of privilege whittled away, these little rejections, these amused-but-affectionate instances of pushback, they all added up.
And they had to add up in my own head, then be digested and understood on my own. It was me, myself, and I up against many centuries of Christian dominance and a very thorough indoctrination.
When we look at this process as filling up and emptying a big pool of water, it’s easy to see why it took me so long to crawl out of all those false beliefs. The moment my doubts began to arise about one thing, I got hammered with talking points and manipulation about that.
But at the same time, stuff I didn’t doubt yet was being reinforced without my even noticing it. With the faith pool, a lot of things have to happen all at once–or something absolutely humongous must happen that simply destroys the entire house of cards–to counteract all the false reinforcement believers think they’re getting from other sources. It really takes time to understand that literally all of that reinforcement is invalid and literally all of the claims are false.
So things took a lot of time. I can be stubborn!
After deconversion: walking the earth alone like in Kung Fu
When I first realized I had serious doubts, I had absolutely nobody to talk to. My family was and still is intensely religious. So were all of my friends. I had graduated from college by then so was out of touch with all those college atheists, but I knew that even if I talked to them, they’d obviously tell me Christianity wasn’t true or real, but how did I know they were right? So I really didn’t know who to trust or who’d give me an unbiased, impartial opinion.
So I mulled it over by myself for a long time.
Eventually, I realized I simply didn’t believe in Christianity anymore. My loneliness only intensified after that. I knew what I didn’t believe anymore, but not what I did believe. In a lot of ways, I no longer felt I had common ground with anybody. People like Tristan might have deconverted from Christianity and become pagan, but I wasn’t ready for a new religion. And I didn’t know anybody who had been a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ anyway. Not like I had.
So I felt like I was walking the earth alone, like David Carradine in that TV show Kung Fu.
Finding my people
The period of time I’m describing here would have been the early to mid 1990s. By then, the internet existed, but only barely. People still used BBSs, but Usenet was slowly becoming the internet discussion platform of choice. Usenet was like a forum, but it covered the whole planet and had almost no moderation at all.
I took to Usenet like a duck to water, but even then religion rarely came up. I just had no idea how to approach that topic. And yes, that wild and woolly Internet 1.0 was filled with Christians and Christian dominance.
The closest I got to finding someone who really understood was when I discovered, by chance, that an online gaming buddy, Anna, happened to have once belonged to the same Pentecostal denomination I had. In fact, she’d been a pastor’s daughter! And she’d deconverted as well, though I guess more accurately she was still undergoing deconstruction.
That said, Anna was still vaguely Christian. I’d thrown that whole ideology out the window and was very slowly beginning to understand how many false beliefs I still had to untangle and correct. But she was still kind of struggling with what she believed–and she was very much still chained to the undergirding beliefs that go into Christianity. Really, it was seeing how much Christianity had damaged Anna that made me realize how much work I had to do still.
All the while, I thought I’d never find anyone who really understood what I’d gone through. I really thought I was the only one.
But we were everywhere, in reality
Here’s the thing, though:
In reality, in truth, ex-Christians were absolutely everywhere.
Yes, even in my childhood.
Even in high school, even growing up, statistically speaking I engaged and interacted with many dozens of people a week who no longer believed in Christianity. They were just nervous about saying so. And who could blame them?
Back then, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Christianity was like a giant tuba that drowned out every other note in the human symphony. So it was very easy for me to think and believe that literally everybody was Christian. Like, at most, maybe some people needed to check out this or that flavor to be as correct in their Jesus-ing as they could possibly be. But overall, my world was entirely Christian.
Even in college, when people felt freer to live authentically, there were probably way fewer Christians around me than I thought there were. After I graduated and entered the working world, American culture was already gearing up for its future seismic shift.
Those quiet, undercover non-Christians would soon find their voices. And America would never be the same once they started talking.
And we’re everywhere now!
Eventually, I did find my people. It was as simple as typing a keyphrase like “I don’t believe in Christianity anymore” into a search engine late one night.
Oh, the glorious ease of finding community! It would have been absolutely inconceivable 20 years ago. Nothing like today’s always-on internet existed, nor forums and social media.
Now, the moment someone begins to have serious doubts, doubts that the talking points, apologetics, and emotional manipulation just can’t allay, all it takes is one tippy-tapped search engine query to find out that many thousands, even many millions of others have had those same questions.
When I think about how absolutely lonely I felt in those early days of deconversion, and how supportive ex-Christian communities are now and how easy they are to find, how fearlessly they can operate right in plain sight, how easily and often their members push back publicly against undeserved Christian privilege and overreach, it just dazzles me. It makes my heart so glad.
Our world is night and day different now than when I first deconverted. Oh, I know TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would say it’s gone downhill and become much worse. But in this way at least, I do not agree. The closer we get to a world where everyone can live authentically and honestly, true to their own opinions and ideology, without fear of retaliation by enraged religious zealots, the better off we’ll all be–even the zealots themselves.