This is a belated chapter loosely branching from the four part series I wrote mid-last year, detailing my unorthodox conversion to Christianity, coming to terms with my sexuality, and subsequent deconversion. [Parts one, two, three and four available here]
I hadn’t initially planned to write further on the series, but there is so much more I can speak to, and I know I’m not alone in these experiences in this big wide world of ours.
For at least a few years after leaving the faith, I grieved god. I didn’t anthropomorphise it in this way at the time, but that was essentially what it felt like. Loss. The experience was heightened as I was both geographically and spiritually isolated for much of the pivotal first months of post-Christian life. Geographically, because I began my gap year overseas not long after leaving the faith. Spiritually, because my family were themselves secular and did not relate to the significance of the relationship I had just severed myself from. I say ‘relationship’ because that is precisely what it was, as bizarre as that may seem to the non-religious person. When you talk to someone daily, spend one on one time together, depend on them for wisdom and guidance, and centre your life and purpose around them, that doesn’t just go away. I don’t really expect someone who has never been there to get it, but to my fellow Christian and ex-Christian readers – ya feel me? When you spell it out like that, it’s glaringly evident how intimate such a relationship can be, regardless of how it looks to the outsider.
Healing with Strangers
The subreddit r/ExChristian was a great wee digital space to hang out in during this time, and I quickly realised 1. just how not alone I was, and 2. how much worse other people had been burned by Christianity (especially in the States, rather unsurprisingly). Though it does still seem that my path was a weird one – most people tend to grow up in a Christian family – I got a huge amount of relief from being able to vent anonymously to others who completely understood my experiences. After starting university, I met so many other people who had gone through similar things and understood where I was coming from.
I am positive that deep down inside all of us, lies the nagging question of ‘Why?‘. I imagine that for the majority of us, it sits there, dormant in the corner. We might interact with it to varying degrees, at different periods in our lives – more often than not choosing to ignore it entirely. For some of us, it is more prominent: tugging on the edges of our consciousness like a toddler at the foot of their mum, persistent in its pursuit of our attention. Maybe for others of us, it is satisfactorily answered, whether by belief in god/s, other spiritual or religious practices, or through love, meaningful relationships, passions and hobbies.
As a youngster, I struggled heavily with this why question: until I was introduced to Christianity. Here, presented on a platter to me, were sufficient answers to my existence, my purpose, how the world came to be, and how one ought to live in it. I dove in headfirst. For a pleasant (albeit tumultuous) interlude, I had acquired my ‘why’. Despite cognitive dissonances that arose and persisted as I got older, and despite cultural conflicts between my doctrine and how I felt personally, I felt I had resolved the restless uncertainty. I found solace in my faith, and I had a space that met my spiritual needs, and a church community that strengthened my relationship with god and brought me joy and comfort.
Since leaving, I haven’t yet found anything that matches or fulfills those attributes in a secular space. I’m not surprised that so many people stay religious, especially if that is all they have ever known. There is incredible comfort in believing an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate creator has it all figured out for you.
There’s also a dark underbelly though. The concept that there is something fundamentally wrong with our nature that causes us to do wrong things, also known as sin. It is a superbly effective tool: one that keeps us submissive, doubting ourselves, and glorifying the perfect judge. In a sense, we can even hate ourselves for these shortcomings, even if we’re not fully aware we are doing so.
This brooding and guilt surrounding our perceived shortcomings and failures creates a cycle: compelling us to confess and repent in order to be delivered from our sins by the blood of Jesus. When I was a Christian, this made complete sense. However, dissecting it externally, it appears rather grim to me.
As the internal uncertainties would creep in, the phrase ‘Let doubts drive you deeper’ became a mantra of sorts – likely picked up from a youth group sermon, kids camp or a mentor. Essentially this meant using the bible, apologetics and other Christian resources to self-refute such doubts – ranging anywhere from evolution, to the big bang, to the problem of evil.
Unfortunately, presupposing god dismisses a plethora of alternative sources of information, just because they are in conflict with ones fundamental beliefs. If we’re only ever exposing ourselves to one kind of knowledge (often what we want to hear), how can we ever discover anything beyond our comfort zone?
If you are anything like I was, allowing space to teeter on these ‘what ifs’ is a terrifying act. It don’t feel comfy, that’s for sure.
Once upon a time, in answer to my pre-adolescent distress that my parents were indisposed to faith and disinterested in being evangelised, I was reassured that everyone has a Jesus-shaped hole, even if it seems like they don’t want or need god. I figure now that maybe this Jesus-shaped hole goes by many other names. Maybe it is the ‘why gap‘. The gnawing feeling that there has to be something bigger than just yourself and your own existence. The urge to attach meaning to our reality. For one mind, the hole is Allah-shaped. For another, meaning is found in meditative practice or even spending time in nature.
Underpinning our humanity is the same yearning, no matter what face you associate it with. Different lenses will give it different names but it is ultimately the same exact thing. The answer to the why; the antidote for the human condition; the recipe for coping.
I don’t have a succinct answer to this – but I like to think I have my whole life to ponder it out. I rather like the poetry of this passage though:
In short, know this: Human lives are brief and trivial. Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow embalming fluid, ash. To pass through this brief life as nature demands. To give it up without complaint. Like an olive that ripens and falls. Praising its mother, thanking the tree it grew on.”― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Admittedly, this was more of a brain dump. As always, I would love to hear any of your whakaaro, regardless of where you fit on the spiritual spectrum. Y’all are welcome here irrespective of your beliefs, and I thank you kindly for making it this far – what troopers ❤
Chuck us a wee comment or a like down below if you got something out of this. I’d love to hear from you! x