Monday, September 7, 2009

De-conversion stories

Isn't it interesting how humans have this need to tell stories about ourselves?

It's certainly true in our culture, which I suppose is shaped largely by a Christian tradition that places a strong emphasis on personal testimony. In the midst of such a culture, I have found a new kind of "testimony": de-conversion stories.

What you notice when you read the comments on these personal narratives is how others can so easily relate to these stories. Just like personal Christian testimonies, these stories bind together a sort of community, not in a very exclusive way by any means, but in a personal and vaguely spiritual way.

Stories like this one have all the classic elements, all the perfect reasons why Christianity was found wanting. I find myself entranced as I read this man's story. It is no less compelling than stories of converts to Christianity.

A man grows up in the church, totally committed to his faith. At a relatively young age, he harbors some doubts about the goodness of God:
What about people who are born into other religions? Would God punish them eternally in Hell for being born in a country where the social landscape was dominated by a different (read: false) religion?
And then there are the doubts relating to issues of science and faith:
Regarding creation, I had always leaned towards theistic evolution, which was only inches away from pure evolution. At what point were humans given the “breath of life” and acquired souls? How did that evolve? Or were we plopped fully formed into an already evolving environment?
The doubts become personal as experiences with an autistic son raise questions about the goodness of God:
My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.... But at around one and a half years we began to notice that things weren’t necessarily as they should be.... A year later, it was confirmed and diagnosed as autism.

...I prayed for a miracle for my son, who was getting worse. ... I spent hours in prayer. I fasted. ... God never performed the miracle we prayed for and our families prayed for and their churches prayed for.
Perhaps the most cruel dimension was the lack of support from the Christian community:

I was working at a church at the time and was beginning to ask more questions about the source of their theology which brought up questions regarding theology at large. ... [T]he more I read, the more I became convinced that the Catholic church had existed long before it had become the “Roman” Catholic church... I set about to quit my job as assistant pastor and worship leader to be confirmed into the Catholic Church. ...

[T]his didn’t go over to well with my employers.... I was immediately dismissed and completely cut off socially. ... [M]y friends dismissed me, even to the point that I was labeled as a demoniac sent to sow dissension among the faithful. Still, I remained a faithful follower of Jesus, convinced that I was doing the right thing.

Finally, after making it through all the muck and the mess, the de-conversion (which turns out to be a sort of conversion, after all) is complete:
I don’t need a ‘first cause’ to believe in so that I can feel significant. I don’t need a creator to give me a divine purpose. I believe I have an earthly purpose and that it is mine to choose. I no longer need the promise of escaping this life to heaven. I believe that we have the opportunity to make our world a better place and that is far more beneficial than chasing after ‘eternal rewards’ in an afterlife while our fellow humans suffer.
Reading this ending makes me smile. It is no less a creed than anything Christianity has to offer. It is a fine creed, filled with purpose and meaning for human existence. I could give an honest critique of it, but I won't now. Maybe I'll save it for a later post.

I am not setting up a punch-line. This story really is compelling, and it's one that Christians should be familiar with in this world. Just read the whole thing for yourself--how can you not go along with him on his amazing journey?

I'm just trying to reflect on why it is we tell stories about ourselves. Life is full of desires held in tension; I think these stories reflect that tension.

On the one hand, we seek the universal, something that can be accepted by all. On the other hand, we seek the Truth, something that can be clung to with all our might no matter what anyone says.

When we tell stories about ourselves, we invite others into them. Whether it's a Christian giving his story of being born again before his church or an atheist telling his de-conversion story on a web site, I think it's natural to hope to experience a degree of universality. When others say, yes, that is my experience, too, we are full of hope.

But we all know how empty that hope can be, when a community supports you in believing something that turns out to be horribly wrong. There has to be some Truth that is undemocratically ordained as absolutely authoritative, doesn't there?

And yet the pain caused by those convinced they have this Authoritative Truth can be even worse than the pain caused by those who cling to a common experience.

I don't suppose it's possible to avoid the pain. Do we really have a choice other than to reach out with all our might to both of these desires, though they pull our souls in opposite directions? Can we really avoid being crucified by the desire for what is true to be universal, and what is universal to be true?

I don't know that I can avoid it, anyway. "Blessed are those who mourn," as my pastor preached yesterday. How can I help but mourn? What is true is not universal, and what is universal is not true, yet these seem made for each other.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." I don't have any idea what that comfort will look like, but I suppose the anticipation is what keeps me waking up each morning.

1 comment:

  1. Jameson,

    Here's a good link for your readers to parse through all the posts on the d-C blog to actually get to the de-conversion stories:

    Thanks for the link.



I love to hear feedback!