Monday, September 29, 2008

My Deconversion Story

A recent post of Greta Christina's, inspired, somehow, by a comment I made on a previous post, poses a question: "If you're a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer -- what changed your mind? Was there one particular argument or incident or experience? Or was it more of a general softening of the ground, with lots of different factors adding up?" As I read through the comments responding to the question, I realized that I have not examined my own "deconversion" very much.

Before getting into my personal story, it is highly relevant to first talk about my parents, and it is well known that religion is most easily propagated through family ties. My mother has been a Protestant Christian for all her life, so far as I know, albeit a very casual one. She doesn't attend church anymore, but she did when my sister and I were kids - but even then, I would still call her a casual Christian. So my sister and I went to Sunday school and church services with her. She never "forced" her views on my sister and I; indeed, she never talked to us about God, Jesus, church, or what any of it meant outside of church. We just went to church because that was the routine. My father grew up Christian but left before I was born, I believe. When I was old enough to begin to really critically think about religion, I found that my dad was Taoist. By this time, I had stopped going to church with my mother, and my dad had divorced his second wife. More recently, I believe Dad would call himself a Buddhist now. (Yes, I just checked his Facebook (he's ahead of his generation. :P), where he identifies himself as "Buddhist - Mahayana.") Both my ex- and my current stepmothers are Christian, but in very different ways. My ex-stepmother was similar to my mom, sorta. She would take us to church on holidays (dress us up and everything), but not on Sundays. She had Lutheran missionaries come to the house to teach us about their side of the story (more on this and its affect on me later). My current stepmother does not go to church at all; she does not go with the "organized" part of religion at all. Her faith is mostly centered on Jesus himself, if I recall her own words correctly. Therefore, I have not spoken much about her faith with her, as it is very private to her (and that's fine with me).

So, in essence, I grew up with mostly the Christian theology as a part of my life, but not a very big one, certainly, and not one that even elicited thought from me for some time. I don't think I ever really believed any of it. It was just something that my parents expected me to do, I thought. Mom never talked about it, my ex-stepmother never talked about it outside of church, and my current stepmother chooses not to talk about it for her own reasons (and again, that's more than okay); really, only my dad talked about his Taoism and Buddhism. So I grew up with a cursory knowledge of Christianity; I knew more about Taoism and Buddhism, really. I enjoyed the world religions portion of the AP World History course. My high school friends were a wide variety of theologies and non-theologies: one atheist, one Jehova's Witness, one Lutheran, one Protestant, one Catholic, and one - I think - Wiccan (but we never talked about our religious leanings, so religion never caused any riffs). So religion was basically a subject in school, something that was not of importance or reverance in my life. No one ever asked me what belief system I adhered to, no one really questioned why we were going to church if we didn't believe in it (or even if we did - I didn't question that either).

But I just didn't like Sunday school or church. All I saw there was fanataicsm, with no evidence, just singing, reading, a crazy guy talking incessantly up in front, a lot of silly and adolescent stories from this nifty Bible thing, coloring books and toys, and it all bothered me. No one gave me any reason to "believe" in anything, and now that I think about it, I don't know that anyone ever really told me to believe in anything. It was all there as if I already believed. My memories are framed as if I were an outsider, behind a camera or reading about my past in a magazine. No one held me accountable for my belief or disbelief.

So when my sister and I finally started to complain to our mother, not wanting to go, she essentially shrugged, and we stopped going. It really didn't take much. She still went to church herself, and she still attended a singles group that operated out of the church, but she never made us go again.

But we weren't about to try the same on our ex-stepmother. The Lutheran missionaries are by far the most memorable to me. My ex-stepmother wanted my sister and I to learn about other people's faiths - I strange thing to want in retrospect. (I don't know if this was the beginning of a grand plan to meet with missionaries of all faiths that never got off the ground, or if Lutheranism was the only other faith worth talking about.) Only Diana, my sister, and I sat through these talks; my dad and our two stepbrothers were no where to be found. The fact that our stepbrothers didn't have to sit through this irked me to no end. It wasn't fair, and I knew they didn't have to sit through it because they simply didn't want to. They didn't go to the holiday church services either, and they didn't say prayers at the dinner table. They were special. But the Lutheran missionaries didn't last long; we only saw them a handful of times.

By the time I learned what agnosticism and atheism were, I was ready to call myself one. I had no affinity with religion or its followers; I hadn't had a million positive experiences with them; no one had bothered to make me feel included or to tell me why I should want to be included in the first place. In fact, the most positive they ever got were exclusively with the conversations about Taoism and Buddhism with Dad. I learned about those belief systems without feeling pressured to "convert"; I just got to learn about what my dad's system was and why he liked it. And that was cool with me.

Much later in life, less than a year ago, I had the first conversation with my mother about her beliefs. She's frustrated, sad, and confused by Christianity. She doesn't understand how God could have allowed the divorce to happen. If I didn't feel so bad for making her think about it, I would talk about it with her more often.

Why am I agnostic and not atheist? Well, simply put, because I haven't seen enough evidence yet. I'm working on another post that addresses this in more detail.

Please note that by NO MEANS is this post an invitation for a conversion! I'm a very happy agnostic. I am not ripe for the picking. However, I would love to discuss religion with you. Just don't think you're going to get an easy convert out of it.

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