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Life Without God?

August 24, 2011

So I stole this post from a recent commenter on my site, but her post inspired me to make one in a similar vein. How is my life post-deconversion different than it was prior to it? Now, those of you who have read the rest of my story already know that the actual moment when I said to myself, and to a god whom I no longer believed existed, “I don’t believe in god anymore,” wasn’t really the point where I stopped believing. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for me to pin down an exact moment that I no longer believed in god. Let’s just examine the year and a half or so since I officially deconverted.

Before that point, I was probably your average liberal Christian. I drank, though not usually to excess, I told the occasional small lie, I thought about sex. I had frequent doubts as to the existence of god and often questioned whether what I believed was true, or whether another religious path might be true (or even *gasp* no religion). I enjoyed reading science fiction written by atheist authors and I enjoyed watching TV and films with violence, nudity, sex and all those things in them. I would never have killed anyone, never rob anyone, never purposefully inflict harm on another person. I didn’t cheat on taxes or tests, I didn’t tell any major lies.

There are Christians who would see that kind of life as sinful. There are also Christians who live exactly like I did. There are doubtless some who live worse lives than I. I’m not really interested in examining my life compared to a Christian who is more conservative than I, for the things they believe I have either never believed or haven’t believed in a decade or a decade and a half.

What has changed in the past year and a half? I haven’t murdered or raped anyone, I haven’t even had sex (because I know you care to know that). I haven’t sacrificed any goats or eaten any babies. I haven’t robbed a bank, cheated on my taxes or done anything majorly dishonest.

I still have sexual thoughts quite often (keeping a pure “thought life” was always a favorite subject in the churches I was attending, I was never successful at that), but I no longer feel the heavy guilt that I once did. I still drink occasionally, still watch the same films and television, still read the same science fiction.

I’ve lied, especially about my beliefs, to particular people. I haven’t actually told any of these people that I believe something that I don’t, but I know they assume I do and I don’t correct them. I’ve even said public prayers. The difference now is that I’m lying to a few less people, especially myself. So I’m actually lying less than I was pre-deconversion.

I can say, “I am an atheist,” and not feel a deep sense of dread, I can embrace it and not feel guilty for doubting god’s existence. I’ve begun to (somewhat) openly read books and blogs written by atheists and have learned a lot in the past few months. (I did read a couple of atheist bloggers pre-deconversion, but I felt somewhat guilty for it.) I’ve begun attending meetings of a group of free-thinkers (free-thinkers, humanists, atheists, agnostics and the like) and have seen that I am, indeed, not alone.

I’ve come to realize that the career I studied so long for, spent so much money on, isn’t really for me anymore. With a master’s degree in music I can teach elementary or high school. I’d have to get certified, costing me more money and time, and that is option which has never been appealing to me. Also, I can lead music at a church, though they tend to not want to hire folks who don’t believe in god (and not even just god, but their particular variety of god).

So how am I any different that I was before? I am being honest with myself, I no longer beat myself up with guilt for thinking things I really can’t help, and I am free to enjoy life and live it as I see fit. I am able have a philosophy that coincides with the things I see to be true around me, no longer living that dual-minded life I had for so long. I can believe in scientific facts without worrying that they don’t fit with biblical Christianity, I can support the rights of people without worrying that some of the things they want the right to do are sinful, I can accept who I am without worrying that I no longer believe in a god.

I am not a worse person or a better person because I don’t believe in god. I am just a person. A person who is being slightly more honest with himself and who tries to live his life as best he can, a person who tries to avoid causing the suffering of others. I even hope that I can alleviate just a little bit of suffering in the world, somehow, though I know I don’t have much power to change most of it. (That is a deep philosophical and moral discussion that I am not at all ready to tackle.)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2011 5:13 pm

    yes – this is so true. Although I’m still working on “I can say, “I am an atheist,” and not feel a deep sense of dread” – I’ve only admitted it to myself in the last few months so I think I’m still dealing with the emotional stuff. the fear of hell is surprisingly strong – i dont believe in it, i think it’s a horrible doctrine, but it’s still lingering there, popping up at inconvenient times. what helped you feel more ‘at peace’ about it?

    i also studied music in school, music therapy actually, though i’m not working as a musician in any professional capacity right now. i taught piano for awhile but wasn’t a big fan of teaching either. i did enjoy teaching music theory, is this something you could explore? i find some music teachers don’t like to teach this as much, so they pass their students on to someone more capable. also, i can’t imagine having to lead worship at a church anymore, even sitting in a worship service seems almost painful to me now.

    • September 2, 2011 3:02 pm

      “what helped you feel more ‘at peace’ about it?”

      Interesting question. My deconversion experience has been a long, slow process, longer than yours has been I’m pretty sure (I think I gathered from your blog that you are still in college, so early 20s?). It started with the dualistic worldview I held as a child, and continued through high school with the horrible guilt I felt over things I did or thought and my inability to be a “good” Christian. This went on into college, when my worldview began to shift from conservative to moderate and liberal. At some point in college I effectively stopped believing in god, but held onto my belief in god even stronger.

      I do know part of the reason: I never really feared hell. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had salvation by the age of 8. The denomination I grew up in believes in the “perseverance of the saints”, the idea that once you are saved then you are saved and have nothing else to fear. I never worried that the “sins” I committed as a teenager would condemn me to hell, I only worried that I was hurting my god, hurting myself, and not being a good Christian.

      By my early 20s I had stopped believing in god (and hell) but I was also still able to hold on to my beliefs even more firmly. The idea that my salvation would persevere even though I still sinned and doubted kept me from fearing hell, and the fact that I no longer really believed in god and hell allowed me to not even give it much thought. That dualistic view I held as a child (In the seventh paragraph of this post is where I first mention this) was still around. There was the world I knew to be true (the world in which there is no god or hell, no eternal damnation, no six days of creation), and the world I believed in (a loving father god, creator of the world, a savior who died for the sins I committed, heaven and hell). I think the spiritual part of my “split personality” was diminishing over time. So by college it was more fantasy to me than reality, and by the time I was done with grad school and in my early 30s it was gone altogether.

      My journey out of Christianity hasn’t been easy, and has taken me 10-20 years, depending on how I actually mark the beginning and end of it.

      One thing that helped me was knowing that there are many other people just like me. There are many people in the exact same situation as I am. Knowing that was one of the things that led me to be able to admit to myself that I don’t believe. (The Story that Started All This) And being able to discuss these things openly, without the fear of judgement (except for the occasional troll) has been another thing. Since I came out to myself I have also come out to a handful of my close friends, most of whom share my disbelief. This has helped me a lot. (You’ve Got a Friend in…)

      I think that getting involved in the conversation helps you know you aren’t alone in your disbelief, which can be hard for those of us raised in the conservative church. Openmindedness is the enemy of the church, and the church knows that so it limits that in its followers. If you don’t let people experience the diversity of the world then they will be more willing to adhere to the in-group/out-group philosophy the church promotes (Us vs. The Others). This means that when we emerge from the church we often feel very alone in our disbelief.

  2. September 2, 2011 12:16 am

    (wild applause)

  3. September 19, 2011 3:02 am

    Hi- I enjoyed readong the story of your “deconversion”- first time I ever came across that term! here is my story:
    http://thenewcomer.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/once-upon-a-time/

Trackbacks

  1. Magical Thinking: a religious deconversion (Atheism/Agnosticism) « Reneta Xian

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