I am hoping to run a series of real deconversion stories. I find the whole process very psychologically fascinating, especially since they can be both sad and desperately difficult for a myriad of reasons. Personally, I have never experienced anything like this myself and can only empathise from afar. These cases can be very cathartic for the authors.
I really appreciate the time and effort dedicated to writing these pieces and hope the process is of benefit to the authors. If you want to submit your own, then please contact me using the contact page above. Again, I thank the contributor here for a deeply personal and inspiring read – a small glimpse into the mind of an ex-Christian. If you want to ask Lorna a question, please comment below and I will forward any communication with her:
I was brought up in what I now refer to as the fundie bubble, where I was raised to be completely unaware of how the real world worked. All I really knew for sure was that there were evil forces out there, seeking to lure me into their clutches of darkness and confusion. An image from a religious booklet comes to mind which depicted a cluster of what were supposed to be the sinful forces. There was a ninja turtle (yes, seriously), a college professor, a hippie (I assume), an immodestly dressed woman, and Satan himself playing what seemed to be a game of tug-of-war against a mother and a father (good and Christian; you could tell by how neatly they were dressed and their worried expressions in the face of the sin) on the other side, and the child as the rope, being pulled in both directions. This image sums up my parents’ mindset well. Their prime objective as Christian parents was to keep the world out of our home. When we were younger, this was done by banning all secular entertainment and encouraging close friendships with only members of our church or friends we’d made at Christian camps/VBS/mission trips. A very kind but non-religious aunt was even pushed away for fear that some of her strange opinions (she didn’t have a problem with homosexuality) and lifestyle choices (she had an open marriage) would lead us astray. Church was a very big part of our lives, as we were involved in just about every opportunity for fellowship it offered, whether we wanted to be or not. I didn’t enjoy all of the activities but I was content for the most part. Church was where my friends were after all and I didn’t know anything outside of that.
As I got a bit older, around the age of thirteen, secular entertainment was limited but there were more in the way of exceptions. I don’t remember the name of the magazine, but we had a subscription to the Christian equivalent of popular teen magazines and in the back it contained secular music and movie reviews. This helped my mom determine what would be acceptable for us. I had always been creative, inquisitive, and strong-willed, which are traits she seemed to consider warning signs above all else. She made it clear that it was necessary to keep a close watch on me especially.
I remember having a plaque containing Philippians 4:8 (Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things) hanging above our television set to remind us what we should and should not watch when there were no parents home to keep us in check. We didn’t have cable, to help keep temptations at bay, but there were still some questionable channels even on basic. I had (and still have) an overactive conscience, so the plaque-reminder did actually work pretty well. Occasionally, my sinful impulses would get the best of me and I would still watch something I knew I shouldn’t – always something sexual in nature, since I was curious, like anyone my age would be, not knowing anything aside from sex being the worst thing ever outside of a marriage. Masturbation was never really talked about in my home (which I suppose is relatively normal whether you’re religious or not) but somehow, I thought it might be wrong. I’d actually discovered what I knew as ‘the feeling’ long before I was old enough to really like boys or wonder about sex. I think it was much later during a youth seminar that I was taught that it was actually sinful. At this point, it was something I had been doing habitually, with only a slight feeling of wrongness to deal with. Now that I knew, the guilt was much more intense. Of course, I couldn’t stop — and according to what I learned it was a spiritually dangerous addiction. ‘Knowing’ this did a number on my self-esteem because I deeply and genuinely believed that God was disappointed in me all of the time and I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. I asked for forgiveness nightly, but it got to the point where I was even ashamed to mention the subject in prayer.
Nature vs. nurture is complicated, so I can’t say for sure to what extent religion is responsible for my guilt. I can recall an incident as far back as Kindergarten, though, where I was given a verbal warning during story time for a very minor offense (whispering to a friend, I think). By the end of the day, all I could think about was the trivial bad thing I had done hours before. I guess I must have been wearing a fearful expression since my teacher bent down to ask me if I was okay as I nervously awaited the hand stamp I was so sure I was not going to receive that day (only well-behaved kids got their hand stamped). I remember not being able to look her in the eye, but I nodded … and then she stamped my hand. This experience shows that this tendency in me was present early on. As for how much was personality via genetics and how much was a result of the God is always watching mindset I was born into, I can’t say for sure. I don’t remember how religion affected me before the age of five. One thing I can say with confidence is that the darker elements of the Christian mindset that were present both in my home in the church certainly latched onto personality weaknesses and perpetuated them, even more so as time went on. Perhaps it’s true that some mix with religion better than others. In my case, it was a rather toxic combination, I think.
From Kindergarten to eighth grade, I attended public school. My parents decided to take my oldest brother (I’ll call him Seth), out of public school to be home-schooled when he was in the 7th grade; I was in 5th at the time. Seth is mildly autistic and was being teased by some of the other kids, even followed home and beaten up on one particular occasion. In his situation, homeschooling was probably a reasonable option. At some point, it dawned on my mom that homeschooling was an option for not only Seth, but also my younger brother (I’ll call him Tommy) and I. High school was always one of her biggest fears forus since it is often where kids are first exposed to sex and dating and where many Christians are led astray. There is a film by Dave Christiano called “Pamela’s Prayer” that my mom used to have us watch which sums up perfectly the kind of relationship she wanted for us (Pamela didn’t date, she “courted” instead, and didn’t even kiss her partner until they were married). I think she knew that was mostly wishful thinking, but it’s what she shot for. She knew that was definitely unlikely to happen in a public or even Christian high-school (her view was that they were often just as worldly as public schools. Plus, we only had evil Catholic schools nearby) This homeschooling idea eased her fear and she became totally fixated on it. She took Tommy out before he would have started middle school. I was the most upset about this change (Tommy, being 9 or 10 at the time, was excited simply because he could learn in his PJ’s and eat snacks during class), and my mom agreed to let me at least finish up middle school – I had one year left at that point. I thought I could use that time to persuade her to let me go on with my friends to high school, but with no luck. It didn’t matter that I was an A/B student, on the honor roll every semester or that I had left a good impression on all of my teachers. Her mind was made up, so the next school year, I was home schooled with my brothers.
We all learned from a Christian curriculum called School of Tomorrow under a Baptist umbrella school. This meant that the homeschooling coordinator from the Baptist organization would take a brief look at our assignments about once a month to make sure everything was in check. I now know that even though everything was in check according to him that things were not actually up to par by normal standards. The strongest example is in math, where I was taught from random, mixed math courses (Christian math courses, if you can imagine that. I can recall the word problems specifically being Christianized) rather than in steps (Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2). ). I didn’t really get sciences either, though I remember creationist propaganda somehow passing for one year. They weren’t too picky about what qualified as science or reading. This particular umbrella school also required a Bible course of some sort. I was basically made to read various Christian books that may have even passed as English – I don’t remember. The two I do remember quite well are Purpose Driven Life and a book about the evils of Wicca. The point of homeschooling, both my parents’ and seemingly the chosen curriculum’s, was not to educate and prepare me for life but rather to keep sin aka reality far out of reach. As a result, when I actually did face the real world, I did so naively and unprepared. I even learned the hard way, a few years later, that even as I was made to believe that I was receiving a better education than most, I was actually pretty behind. As for my brothers, Seth always did just as my mom asked and was able to go on to community college and eventually seminary. Tommy is the worst off because he was homeschooled at such a young age. Fortunately, he seems to be doing well with his computer business and has little interest going back to school. He’s not highly educated but is intelligent and has been able to teach himself what he needs to know. Unfortunately, he still lives with my parents where they can and do make life difficult for him. It’s even worse for him than it was for me since he has come out as an atheist.
It was during my second year of homeschooling that I met my first boyfriend (I’ll call him Daniel) at the only secular environment I was allowed — my (first) job. My parents tried, with no success, to nip our relationship in the bud. Sometimes, parents have good reason for controlling this sort of situation, such as when the person is controlling or abusive. However, in my case, it was simply because I met him at work, a place they had little control over, and that he was not Christian enough. They knew nothing more and had no interest in learning. My mom in particular had this idea that I’d get together with a guy I’d met at church or better yet a missionary from the Christian camp we attended annually. She even had someone specific in mind for that. She thought my future husband (you can’t date without marriage in mind, of course) should be a strong, spiritual leader and meeting a guy at work crushed that dream. As a result of her desperate need to control combined with her belief that there was only one correct path that I was straying from, I was made to quit my job, have the cellphone that I bought and paid for (on time every month to prove responsibility) taken away from me (so that I couldn’t communicate with Daniel as freely), and forbidden from actually dating him. I worked around the latter by inviting him to church and youth group, which she could do little about, other than ask youth workers to keep a close eye on us (to make sure that we were there as friends only). It’s easy for me to forget my entire mindset from that time, but I actually was concerned for his soul and secretly hoped to show him the light of Christ through our relationship with him, so I didn’t even mind bringing him to church. I did wish for the freedom to spend more time with him outside of church activities and desperately wanted for my parents to try and get to know him. On one hand, I could understand where my parents were coming from. At the same time, I didn’t think they were behaving the way Jesus would have wanted. My dad seemed more willing and kind, but my mom was not in any respect. Ironically, even though she publicly called my father the spiritual leader of our home, she very much ran the show. Even more frustrating was the fact that this was not the first time Daniel had dealt with snobby, judgmental attitudes from Christians. This is exactly the sort of thing that turned him off from the church and organized religion to begin with, but he was still very interested in the message of Jesus – as well as spending time with me in any way he could. I found myself almost agreeing with him on his view of organized religion, but still clinging to the idea that church was important. I wasn’t sure why it was – the fellowship argument didn’t quite cut it for me. Still, I wasn’t ready to question the importance of something that had always been such a big part of my life.
By the time I turned eighteen, my mom began holding college, driving lessons, and various other freedoms and privileges over my head in an even more desperate attempt to force my relationship with Daniel to an end. I’d been looking forward to my 18th birthday because I thought it meant I’d finally have some of the normal freedoms that I knew most my age to enjoy. My mom’s excuse for such tight control had always been that I was a minor and that it was her responsibility as a Christian parent. However, I was still living a life of ultimatums, manipulation, and a total lack of privacy despite my age and efforts to prove myself responsible. By the time summer came, I realized that nothing was likely to change. After a heated argument, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wrote my mom a letter explaining my feelings (that I needed space and time to think) and left home to stay with Daniel’s family in desperation. I never intended to live there permanently but after learning that my mom had exaggerated to all of our friends at church, claiming that I had ‘run away’ and that she had changed all the locks on me, I couldn’t go back.
Living with a boyfriend, of course, was shady since it could lead to premarital sex. I honestly did try to save myself for marriage for the first few months living there, which led to the discovery of some creative loopholes (I’m not sure if the site is legit, but http://www.sexinchrist.com pretty accurately sums up my mindset from the time!) Apparently, living with a boyfriend was also against the rules of church membership. Given that I was pushed to join the church at 12-years-old, I was mostly oblivious to all of this. It led to church-court summons being mailed to my house on about a monthly basis, all of which I ignored. According to the final letters, I was to meet before the session, admit to my sins, repent, and have my membership status determined by the pastor and session. I had no idea my church was so weird and ‘cult-like’ behind the scenes and this is the point where I really began to embrace Daniel’s view toward the church and organized religion in general.
On top of what I now consider harassment from the church, I was also dealing with angry letters from my mom about how my selfishness and chosen lifestyle were hurting family. Never mind how I was emotionally ostracized, manipulated and black-mailed for wanting to make some of my own choices. Somehow, the blame was all on me. I even received a letter from an uncle, who rarely said a word to me prior to this, in which he explained in great detail that God could very well punish my sinful rebellion with cancer. The fear tactics in that letter were so blatant that it was actually sickening, even for my naive mind. This combined with the new-found freedom to think outside of the bubble is what eventually led me out of religion all together. Unfortunately, I clung to the love of Jesus for as long as I could. When I finally began to let go of even Jesus, Daniel and I began to drift as well. He was and always had been very spiritual despite his stance against religion, and as I learned more about life and developed a stronger interest in the scientific perspective, I began to take that sort of thing less and less seriously. We officially parted ways about two years after we had moved out of state together with hopes to settle down officially. Fortunately, it was, for the most part, a peaceful break-up and we were able to remain friends. Our relationship was just short of five years, but I learned more about myself in those years than ever before – and I’ll always appreciate his role in that.
It’s been about five years since my break-up with Daniel and I’ve been with my current partner (I’ll call him Alan) for about four now. I met him at my current job where we initially bonded over having both escaped the Christian mindset. He was also interested in science, very knowledgeable and had a love for learning in general, which I found to be inspiring in a way I’d really not experienced before. Friendship blossomed into something more, and it is honestly the first close relationship I’ve ever been in, friendship or otherwise, where I truly feel like an equal. Even with Daniel, a moderate “spiritual-but-not-religious” Christian, I was viewed as fragile and in need of a man’s protection. Perhaps I really was fragile at the time. I was ready to be more, however, because I finally realized that I could be. I think that’s the saddest part. Most women are weak simply because they don’t know what else to be.
I also have Alan to thank for helping me to believe in and reach my school goals. His mother happens to be a high school math teacher so I’ve had access to all the materials needed to play catch up. Alan also had, being a college graduate, access to all the information about getting into school that seemed so overwhelming when my mom used to hold it all over my head. He showed me what I needed to do to prepare for the SATs (I never took them in home school) and now that I’m 25, I am no longer attached to my parent’s income. I’ve worked through Algebra, Geometry, and am now finishing up Algebra 2 so that I can hopefully start applying for school sometime this year. It’s got to be one of the greatest feelings to do all this apart from my mother, who tried to use it as a means of control. The twisted part is, I don’t think she’s even aware of how awful this kind of manipulation is. I think she unknowingly did all in her power to help create a situation that would make the prodigal son story come to life. On some unexplored level, she must know that sinners CAN and DO succeed. So, it’s up to Christians to keep that from happening so that all the prophecies can play out as they are supposed to.
It’s a relief to no longer be affected by the obvious manipulation. I have my age, the right connections, and the generosity of others to thank for that. On another level, my mind is also much more free. As of now, I’m out in the most basic and important ways. I am free to be honest with myself. I am free to figure out what kind of life suits me. I am free to connect honestly with others. What I am not yet 100% free of is the guilt. What I am still very early in the process of exploring is “what is okay?” The world is much more complicated when you are allowed to feel out the gray areas. Complicated doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, but since I was raised to believe so, it tends to feel so; even still.
Some struggles in mindset linger (I call this the residual Christianity) such as the tendency to view my own behavior in terms of simple good or bad. The guilt, I think, is what mostly keeps me from judging others as harshly as myself. I guess once you’ve learned and embraced viewing yourself as plain sinful or dirty it’s a difficult pattern to break. As of now, I know I am not so bad, but knowing doesn’t necessarily change the feeling. It does change what you do about it, which is a step in the right direction, though. I think it is fair to say that I am compulsively guilty, even if the guilt now is more of an echo. I do question it, but after years of learning that things are either bad or good (nothing in-between), if ever I happen to come to the conclusion that my guilt is not actually justified, the next automatic response is to assume that I must be lying to myself. This response, I think, at least in part, comes from the idea deeply ingrained deeply by religious authority figures that humans will do anything to convince themselves that sin is okay. “Our culture normalizes sin but we must stand strong and resist.” Even though I know how religious manipulation works and I know that “our culture normalizing sin” is a very narrow view of what is actually going on (adaptation to more enlightened ideas), there is always that echo. I don’t embrace it anymore, but it’s there. I’m also never completely convinced with positive or even neutral conclusions about who I am and I am quick to believe anything negative. I am wise to it now, but as I was attempting to climb out, these beliefs were specifically reinforced by Christians who claimed such ‘confusion’ as proof of our need for the one, true God. This internal battle was the scary land of confusion that the Bible warned about. “You can only know peace with God”. The ironic part is, that’s only true if you buy it. It took a long time for me to learn that. Even now, I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. I am getting there though, slowly but surely.
What I struggle most with, even recently, is learning how to connect with others without sex. For the longest time, I truly believed that sex or at least an element of sexuality was necessary in order to have a genuine bond with someone. This was likely a learned expectation due to feeling the need to hide so much of myself from childhood friends and family and then finally opening up in a sexual relationship with Daniel. Sexual freedom and freedom from religion are also very much practically intertwined in my mind, given that losing my virginity and the euphoria involved served as the key to a new world where I was allowed to explore my religious doubt and sexual desires. As a result, I can’t seem to feel connected without also feeling some form of sexual attraction simultaneously. I am getting better and learning to separate the two but I feel crazy for even having to try. There’s no telling what kind of effect repressed sexuality can have on a person. My theory is that this burst of hyper sexuality and confusion is a direct result of having to keep it all under wraps for so long.
I realize now that I may never be free from all of the quirks that result from my upbringing, but I think attainable freedom is simply the ability and willingness to understand yourself; admitting and learning to get in tune with all of your complexes. I think the most depressing thing about religion is its ability to rob you of that; the only freedom you really have in life. I’m thankful to have finally figured that out for myself but it pains me to know that it’s still a major problem for people of all ages, being pushed on kids, many of who grow up to continue the cycle of mental slavery. It doesn’t have to be.
I have a book in the pipeline which will be an anthology of deconversion accounts. If you have any contributions you would like to make, let me know.