I want to share with you a deconversion story that really touched me and caused me to think a great deal about my own deconversion. So please go read Imbrocata’s story here:
Origins: My Personal Testimony
I’ve read some of his other posts and they are great – so I encourage you to follow his blog.
Now I’d like to share the thoughts that his story sparked in me. Something about Imbrocata’s deconversion story really struck me as profound. I think after mulling it over it’s because he really did lose faith in faith. (That reminds me of Dan Barker’s book by that title, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.) Many people seem to start doubting due to specific details such as an issue with something in the Bible. Or maybe they struggle with the idea of a loving god sending people to hell. But Imbrocata’s story impressed me because he looked around and saw a type of desperation in his own life and in the lives of his fellow Christians (my wording, not his). This emphasis and obsession with just believing and needing to have greater and greater faith … something wasn’t right. It was a red flag that would be the undoing of his life of faith.
I think Imbrocata’s story brings into focus something that has become more and more clear to me the longer I am out of Christianity: There is something fundamentally wrong with it. My focus has really been turning from being willing to debate every little detail to feeling passionate about getting Christians (at least those doubting) to look at the big picture. Lately I’ve in essence been saying, ‘Let’s step back and take a look at the basic storyline of Christianity. Let’s not start with any assumptions that anything had to be a certain way. Let’s ask ‘why’ at each step and stage as we look at the Christian story. Why did this have to be this way? Why did that have to be that way? Does it make sense that a god would set things up this way? I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to get Christians to be willing to do this, but for someone who is already beginning to doubt their faith, it may be possible.
Imbrocata’s story encourages us to ask an even more basic and fundamental question: ‘Why Faith?’ And even further, faith should not only not be held up as a virtue, it should be a red flag that something is fundamentally wrong.
His story stands so beautifully on its own, part of me hates to pick it apart. But I actually printed it off, read it to my husband, and underlined the parts that really struck me and that made me think. So for anyone interested, here are a few of the parts I underlined and the thoughts they sparked.
Still, despite my conversion being based on the acceptance of Love through fear, I sincerely wanted to please a God who sacrificed everything for me … ME!
It’s very difficult to get Christians to admit to the role that fear plays in their religion. To them it’s all about love, love, love. Of course – they’ll tell you they believe that hell exists, but they try to say that it doesn’t really play a major role in why people convert to Christianity or in their own lives now. In hindsight I see what a major role fear does play in a Christian’s initial conversion and in their life afterwards. There are those who believe you can lose your salvation (fear!), but even for those who think that once you’re saved you’re always saved, there is always the fear that you’ll displease God. Not only in some major way, but in little things each and every day (even your thoughts!). When the whole goal is to please God – how could there not be fear of failure (especially when it’s pretty difficult to figure out exactly what this invisible being expects on every issue, big and small.)
Christopher Hitchens talks about his disgust with Christianity’s requirement of compulsory love. The Christian God says, ‘You will love Me, or else.” This is what popped in my mind when Imbrocata used the phrase, ‘Love through fear.’ It frustrates me that Christians can’t see how awful that is. But then again, I didn’t see it for 20 years either.
Speaking at a Center For Inquiry event, Dan Barker summed up Christianity this way:
Imagine you are strolling down the sidewalk and a man excitedly calls you over to his front porch to share some “great news,” Protestant minister-turned atheist author Dan Barker asked his audience on Wednesday.
The man’s got a gruesome torture chamber in his basement, Barker said, but you don’t have to go down there. Instead, you can come over, hug the man’s son, say you love him and you can all move in together in the attic and tell them how great they are forever.
“Isn’t that great news?” a sarcastic Barker asked the crowd…
(via The Friendly Atheist)
I realized that I had underlined so much of Imbrocata’s testimony that I needed to really narrow it down. So if you promise me you’ll read his full account, I’ll keep my quotes to a minimum
I continued to see the others throwing themselves after some elusive spiritual high just like I was. …
He gave me the impression that what he saw was nothing less than a cult. …
their fervent telling spoke to me of a deep desire to convince …
this and many other instances, felt as though we were being compelled to put on blinders. To rejoice in putting on those blinders. To believe with no reason to believe … no reason but that disbelief was sin and punishable.
It is submission par excellence to something which has not convinced you and refuses to even try to convince you outside of intimidation, guilt, and fear.
It has all the hall-marks of a cult-ish, mind-controlling phenomena. It demands adherence without any reason. It allows no question. It criticizes and attacks all dissent.
I try to be very diplomatic, but I’ll be honest here and say that I do see Christianity as being cult-like. And these quotes above from Imbrocata’s story give a glimpse into why I see it that way. I realized after I’d been out for awhile that the threat of hell took Christianity beyond just a fair exchange of ideas into another realm.
Assure a man that he has a soul and then frighten him with old wives’ tales as to what is to become of him afterward, and you have hooked a fish, a mental slave.
My exit from Christianity was traumatic and after the dust had settled, I realized my experience seemed to mirror those of people who had left cults. I had to deprogram my brain – from fearing hell, from fearing what the world would be like without this ever-present god in my mind, heart, and life. I had to force myself not to fear facing the world without this god and my christian community always there telling me what was ok to think, feel, and do. The experience was incredibly difficult and jarring to my mind, my body, and my life. I’ve never voiced it before, I think mostly because I didn’t want doubting Christians to dismiss what I was saying because they would think it was an extreme and unfair accusation. But the Christian story says that if you don’t love god (their god of course) then you’ll go to hell. And don’t forget that this god can read every thought you have. He can see every desire and motivation and he will judge you on them. He (and the Bible and the Christians in authority over you) will tell you what is ok to think, say, and do. If you doubt, it is your fault for not having enough faith. How is this not a cult-like type of mind control?
There is a book I just pulled off my shelf that helped me at one point in my journey. I remember giving it to my counselor so that he could read it and understand how jarring deconversion can be to someone and what a long and difficult road it can be. It’s called Leaving the Fold and the author is Marlene Winell, Ph.D. Just now I skimmed through the table of contents and one chapter jumped out at me (and it’s section titles):
Fear manipulations * Guilt Mainipulations * Mystical Manipulations * Denigration of Self * Discrediting of the World * Group Pressure * The Power of Authority * Thought Control * Closed System of Logic
The rest of the chapters look interesting and helpful as well. I remember it being one of the first books where I thought someone really understood what was really going on in my deconversion experience – how jarring it was and how it was requiring me to see everything about my life and the world in a whole new way. She understood that my deconversion experience required taking back my own mind. I am hesitant to say any of this because I don’t want to turn away anyone who might be helped by my blog. Maybe it will turn away some, but maybe it will help others.
I feel like I’ve rambled and probably not very eloquently. I also don’t want to take away from Imbrocata’s own testimony. Let me finish off with one more quote from his story:
At some point it seems, most if not all belief systems require one to believe for its own sake. To cite as evidence that which has no citation. To simply accept as true something for which no reasoning exists. This to me has been a red flag that what I might be involved with at any time is less than honest, needs and relies on mind-tricks to persist and is, therefore, false or at least, not sufficiently true to stand on its own.
This is why I can’t accept the Christian argument that we both look at evidence of equal value but just come to different conclusions. I greatly admire and respect the ideas of many atheist speakers and authors, but they don’t threaten to read my thoughts, punish dissent, or send me to hell. And they don’t tell me to dismiss questions but to chase them with excitement – following wherever the evidence leads. And these facts alone give me some confidence that I’m on the right track.