Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Conversion and deconversion

Despite the fact that numerous conversations, events and internal ponderings all contributed in some way to it, I can pinpoint a specific time and place when I made the transition from not being a Christian into being a Christian. It was on a train (somewhere near Falkirk), on a specific Saturday evening in October 1988 (26 years ago! Eeek!). That was the moment of decision. That was when I made the transition from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. That was when I made my decision. That was when I was 'born again'. That was when I was saved. That was when I converted. That was, as far as I was concerned, when I became a Christian.

And it rather narked me for several years afterwards when I had conversations with Christians of more liberal leanings than I was who would make comments to the effect that I was 'on the right track' or 'on the journey of faith' or whatever, before that time.

As time went on I began to soften my views a bit and came to realise that the process was important - the process that began a long time before 'conversion' and continued to play out for a long time after it. (See this blog post from 2007 to see where I was in terms of thinking about this back then.) The 'moment' of conversion was one step on a journey or one rung on a ladder, but there were many steps before it and many steps after it.

So while once upon a time 'conversion' was pivotal in my spiritual journey, over the years its influence has diminished, I think.

Why am I raising this issue now?

Well, I'm wondering if there is an equivalent pivotal point on the path of deconversion? Once again it is a journey of many steps or a ladder with many rungs, but is any one of them the definitive transition point where you go from being a 'born again' believer, to a 'dead again' non-believer? If there is such a step, how do you know when you take it?

Basically I'm trying to work out if I have 'deconverted' yet. (In another blog post back in 2007, I addressed this question and concluded at the time that I hadn't deconverted.) I'm not so sure now.

Two weeks ago in church I took communion - should I still be doing this? Am I still part of that 'community' body? As far as I am concerned, I have never stopped following Christ and his teachings, but I have come to doubt the authenticity of those teachings and the historicity of the man who allegedly said them. I suppose Romans 10v9 is clear on this one: 'if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved' - well, its a while since I actually believed that in my heart and I haven't been confessing that either for a few years, so by that token I am not 'saved'. But saved from what? The need for salvation is one of the many things I doubt.

There has been no 'Damascus Road' experience on the way back. No moment of decision not to follow. So there has been no moment of deconversion. I don't think my heart has changed. I do think my beliefs have changed. That's all down to evidence and understanding. You can't make yourself believe something that goes against the evidence. Your beliefs have to follow behind what you know.

A year or two ago I had the shocking realisation that if I had known back in 1988 what I know now, I would never have made the decision to become a Christian in the first place. I now know too much to make the decision that I made back then, because the decision I made back then was a (relatively) naive one, based on few facts and a lot of claims that I now have good reasons to doubt.

Given that, I think I probably have deconverted somewhere along the way, even if I can't pinpoint the place and time. I am no longer a Christian (except in the most liberal definition of the word, and I've never chosen to be a liberal Christian!). So what am I? I really would quite like to still be a Christian, because I really would quite like it all to be true. Then again, I really would quite like to discover a doorway to Narnia in the back of my wardrobe too. What I want has no bearing on what is true, or even on what I believe to be true.

My Facebook profile says I am a 'Christian Humanist' (whatever that means) and I have certainly never decided to become an 'atheist' at any point. I don't need to 'come out' as an atheist. But as to what I am? I guess your opinion will be different from mine, but I'm OK with that.

3 comments:

Danny said...

Hi, I understand how you feel. I also remember when I became a Christian (summer of 1998, I was cajoled into joining a Bible camp for young adults, was slain by the spirit, and was immersed in water for my believer's baptism). I tried living the evangelical life but got lost in the world of the flesh.

I cannot pinpoint when I stopped confessing my faith. I still go to church, and I even partake of the communion wafer and grape juice "wine". Now I just see myself as a cultural christian, someone who still identifies with christian culture but no longer believes in the creeds.

LadyAtheist said...

You can be a cultural Christian. If you feel that communion is silly, you're already a non-Christian, but there are many reasons to go to church and I suspect most people there don't actually believe most of the church's teachings. They just like getting together on Sunday morning and maybe singing or dancing, depending on the denomination. (There is proof of the neurological benefits of music, so go for it even if it's all in your mind)

latestarter said...

You're not alone on this journey, many others will have walked the path before you, and will follow after too.

I made my step of faith at age 11 at a children's camp, and became more involved at University and then through various charismatic and conservative evangelical churches.

Over thirty years later, with wavering faith, I went through a similar period of reassessment and more detailed study of the origins of the Bible, and of communion, asking myself questions I hadn't dared to ask since my teens. My faith was deconstructed, like Jenga, until the final straw brought it down.

That experience was like crossing a bridge to a new part of life. Like others, I hung around the bridge a while to chat with those making similar transitions, but now I've moved on to establish my life in its next phase, making new friends and sorting out what I do believe in the process.

Best wishes on the journey.