Say you’ve realized you no longer believe, gone through some of the typical stages of deconversion, and are ready to move on with your life, when, Whammo! You’re blindsided by some old feeling from your previous life.
“Why do I still fear Hell?” “Why am I still afraid of being Left Behind?” “Why do I still feel guilty when I stay home from church?” “Why do I still feel guilt around sex? I’m a grown-up, for crying out loud.”
This is one of the hardest things I’ve found day-to-day about being deconverted. I don’t believe any more, but my body doesn’t seem to have got the message.
There’s a lot I can say on this topic, but number one is this:
It takes time.
It takes time to deprogram what took decades to program in the first place. It takes time to get used to who you are today and who you are becoming. It takes time to figure out how to navigate a world where you don’t have a book (or a publishing industry, church, etc.) telling you how to think. It takes time to find new art, new music, new friends, new habits, and new…everything.
I don’t say these things to be overwhelming, though I know from experience it can be. For now, I hope you can be patient with yourself. Be kind. You’ve been through a lot, and it’ll take time.
It’s been several years since I realized I no longer believed, and I can tell you: it gets better. There’s a wide, wonderful world of truly incredible people, experiences, places, ideas. This whole world is now open to you.
Content Warning: Spiritual, physical and sexual abuse. Depression, post-partum depression, infertility and suicidal idealization.
Arline guest hosts interviewing author and podcaster, Nicki Pappas. Nicki Pappas is a writer who critiques the evangelical establishment that shaped her. She’s the author of As Familiar as Family: Leaving the Toxic Religion I Was Groomed For. She’s also the host of the Broadening the Narrative podcast where she interviews guests who are broadening the narratives she was taught within white evangelicalism. She has three young children with Stephen Pappas, her steady partner in the chaos since 2010. Through her work, she desires to spark hope in the world around her and live out an embodied faith.
This week’s guest is the content creator, @boundless_and_free. Boundless grew up in a good Christian home, attended a PCA church and believed all was well in her life. She would later learn the term CPTSD and understand that her “good Christian upbringing” was not quite what she’d thought.
In college, Ms. Free first experienced anxiety and depression but had no vocabulary for it. (The Church rarely discusses these things.) It wasn’t until the “perfect life” she’d been promised began to unravel that she realized she needed a different way to understand both “god” and herself .
Now, as a “parts work” therapist, she helps others on their own journeys. Her personal experience of the divine centers around the ways that humans are connected to one another and the universe.
Once again—whether someone leaves religion and becomes an atheist or continues on a spiritual journey—the real purpose in life comes from connecting with other people. We are all in this together, and we each get one life to leave this world better than we found it.
Julia grew up in a German mostly-atheist home. The hostility, however, she saw for religion made it all the more appealing. As she came of age, she found herself confirmed in the German Lutheran church but attending and loving a very American Baptist church. Julia was all-in but soon found some doctrines were a bit much, especially the teachings about Hell.
For years, Julia threw herself into American Church World. She read the entire Bible, went to university to become a missionary doctor, met her spouse at church, even read Joshua Harris’s books. But life has a way of forcing some to wonder–Is the God I believe in really is as kind as I’ve been told.
After one trying event after another, Julia could no longer see God’s “goodness, and she started to see through the “incredibly ridiculous explanations” people gave when God did not come through.
Julia is in a different place now. Her online presence provides an outlet for the anger that had been pent-up for so long, and it has also brought her community. She is far from alone; thousands are waking up to the empty promises of Christianity.
And that is what is what humans truly need—not a distant, pretend deity but real human connection and relationship.
“I’d prayed The Prayer…like, twenty times or so because I was never sure if it worked.”
“This Christian role that I was trying to press myself into was really causing me to be in a really bad place…”
“I think this is happening because I wasn’t faithful to god.”
“I felt like I couldn’t trust God anymore to do what he, supposedly, was suppose to do—namely protect his kids!”
“That’s what I am looking for, I am trying to find a god I can love, and I cannot love this one because he is abusive.”
“I came in touch with my longing for that god. I wanted it to be true … and I didn’t. “
“Everything works in that theological framework until it doesn’t.”
“It’s not just a belief system. It’s an abusive relationship with an abusive deity.”
“I tried to salvage my faith … but the slippery slope is really as slippery as they say.”
“It just all came apart in my hands until nothing was left”
Content Warning: graphic wound details, surgical processes, PTSD, emotional trauma, religious trauma and dark humor.
This week’s guest is Jack Robertson. Jack is a returning guest and an integral part of the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group. Earlier this year, Jack’s youngest daughter, Emily, was in an accident, suffering severe burns on her body.
Jack explains how his online community and IRL friends stepped in to support his family but also recounts the platitudes and clichés given by the Christians in their lives.
Emily’s clearheadedness, dark sense of humor and incredible resilience has brought her a long way in the healing process—mentally, physically and emotionally. Jack and the rest of their family are also healing in their own ways, supporting one another and seeking professional help.
We are Human. We are social beings whose needs are not met by “a guy in the sky.” Our needs are met through our relationships with one another, especially those who are closest to us.
“It is heart wrenching to see someone you love go through that much pain…[and] there’s not anything else that you can do, other than hold their hand.”
“Do NOT, while people are still in ICU or a burn unit…message them and say, ‘You know? God only gives you what you can handle.’”
“If I have to be caught on fire, so you can look super to heal me, I want nothing to do with you.” —Emily
“You’re going to have to talk to a professional…You can get through it, no matter how difficult it seems in that moment…”
“You don’t need the clutching of a Bible or a rosary. You don’t need that. You and your family are what are going to get you through it. Not some guy in the sky…Talk to a professional.”
Content Warning: This week’s story includes references to physical and emotional abuse, mental illness and suicidal ideation. Listener discretion is advised.
This week’s guest is Jan. Jan grew up in a strict fundamentalist household but attended a loving church. That disconnect planted the first seeds of doubt.
She went off to a Christian university where she was told to expect “signs and wonders”, but they didn’t happen. Becoming a missionary wife was supposed to satisfy her “need to serve God” but it didn’t happen. Again and again, as she pursued God, she was let down.
Trauma, depression and unfulfilled promises slowly broke her, and even then, God didn’t show up. She had been doing it all on her own, and it would take a divorce and leaving the Church completely, for her to see that.
After finding care and support in therapy and “spiritual but not religious” communities, Jan now supports others struggling with mental illness. She is living a life filled with grace both for herself and others.
“I just kept believing it, because that’s the subtly of brainwashing…even though it has positive aspects, the problem is you’re not getting any other influences, not developing any critical thinking skills.”
“I kept putting doubts on the shelf…but the shelf kept getting heavier.”
“…[thinking] ‘Wow, something’s wrong with me. Nobody else is talking about [depression], so I must be the only one.’ That’s a hallmark for problems in mental health, when you think you’re the only one.”
“I got divorced and left the church. It was like jumping off a cliff with no parachute.”
“One of my quests is to just have adventure and have fun.”
“Find a compassionate person. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable…know that it is not hopeless, you have choices and there are people waiting to point you in the right direction…”
This week’s guest is artist Ursula Schneider. As a child, neither her charismatic church nor her unstable home were safe for her. There was a lot of mental illness at home and Ursula often felt abandoned by the church. Their family was simply “too much.”
“I look back and everything is so clear about why it went the way it went, but as a child you don’t understand…”
Ursula grew up, married young and began going to church again. As an adult, she needed something real to her. She saw that something in the women at church, so she dove right in—daily prayer, bible studies, women’s retreats, all of it.
“I guess what I believed was that, if I did enough of the things that I was being told to do, the feeling would follow…”
But Ursula kept bumping up against a certain church doctrine: women cannot teach men. She was a gifted leader and teacher but church after church kept her out of the pulpit.
“That is literally what you get told: ‘You’re listening to the doctrine of demons if you think it’s okay for you as a woman to be able to teach men.’”
At the last church she attended, Ursula faced the greatest challenge yet to her faith. Over the span of a few months, she and her husband went from being well-respected leaders to losing their entire community.
Ursula went through a depressive state and cried out to God, but no answer came. Over the next few years, Ursula would make beautiful art, write for herself and continue to question her religious beliefs.
“What happens when you start to question some of these closely held doctrines…is that things really do start to unravel.”
Since leaving, Ursula has dabbled in other faiths, wondering if any will fit her. Nothing has yet, but she is learning and growing as a whole person. She no longer has to squash part of herself or silence her own curiosity.
“…as I go through life, and I try on new ideas, each of them has something to offer me that’s valuable.”
Ursula’s art and writing empower others to exist as their whole selves in the world and to see beauty and inspiration in the world around them.
Ursula Schneider art exhibition through May 25th 2022, at D&R Art Gallery and Studio in Tucson, AZ.
My story is, I suppose, the story of a sincere seeker who, it turns out, is actually a huge threat to the organization of the church structure. Silly me, I thought the church was the place to be a seeker, but it turns out that they don’t want seekers, they want adherents. I was never a very good adherent in hindsight. But I gave my whole life to the church because I misunderstood that reality and in return, the church did its level best to silence me completely.
This week’s guest is Andrew Pledger. Andrew has spent nearly his entire life in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church—where the KJV rules and women do not.
Andrew was homeschooled K-12 with a mildly white Christian nationalist curriculum, no sex education and no diverse friendships.
“If you’re not subjected to different worldviews and ideas, how can you even think critically about your own?”
For years, Andrew’s mental health suffered, but there were no resources for him. He was told that he wasn’t “reading the Bible enough” and “needed to get closer to God.”
“I was very emotionally dependent on those religious rituals…bible reading, praying, confessing…it has that emotional release because you believe that it’s really doing something.”
In college, Andrew knew he needed professional help but at a fundamentalist Christian college, there was only “biblical counseling”. The first two years were excruciating. Eventually, however, with a little community and a lot of research, Andrew took his mental health into his own hands.
“It was really the first time I started listening to…and trusting myself.”
He started asking difficult questions about the Bible, and it was not long before the foundations began to crumble.
“Is the Bible actually inerrant? Is it perfect? Are the stories original? Is this really inspired by God?”
Since leaving Christianity, Andrew has lived out secular grace. He is spreading awareness about toxic religion and working toward becoming a religious trauma therapist. His personal experience of freedom compels him to help others find the same freedom.
“Trauma is a horrible cycle that needs to be stopped. We really need to do what we can…”
My guest this week is Phil Quagliariello who blogs at Phil Q Musings. Phil grew up moving around often as PK in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches and attending Christian schools even into college. Unfortunately, he saw the dark side of ministry when his father was removed from a church by its board for being too “new fangled.”
Phil eventually found himself in Calvary Chapel churches. They were were more exegetical, more focused on the Bible. He married and they both were worship leaders. Phil led worship for the service in which he was introduced to the idea of the “Emergent Church.” His marriage did not last, and Phil found himself seeking a church experience that was more authentic and “did not suck.” He found a faith community that met in the basement of a bar, and at first, it was satisfying.
Phil remarried a woman with two children. These children and the children they have together became the light of his life. When he became a father, he began to recognize the trauma of his upbringing: the fear of punishment and the fear of Hell. He focused on being parent who does not use fear as a weapon.
Phil began to seriously doubt Evangelicalism during the 2016 election. But he still hung on to the church experience until the Jan 6th insurrection when he could no longer call himself an Evangelical, a Christian or even a believer.
Phil has a particularly thoughtful answer to how he finds meaning in his life now.
My guest this week is Jack Robertson, host of the Musings of an ADD Mind podcast. He grew up with a deeply evangelical Southern Baptist mother, always going to church. As a teenager, he became decidedly religious himself until a confidant revealed a secret. They let the entire youth group know that he was having sex with his girlfriend. He then stopped attending church for a while.
Late in his 30’s, Jack became heavily involved in an Oklahoma City based megachurch. He read through the bible three times, but Jack always had questions.
“In the Exodus story god is the bad guy, not Pharaoh. If man was created in god’s image, then wicked pre-flood people that were so evil [that] he needed to destroy the world, would be a reflection of him.”
Jack asks himself now: Did I really believe or was it my ADD hyper-focus on Christianity that kept me in for so long?
After a friend asked him to pray about a job interview, it hit him, “How would god decide? Go with whoever had the most friends pray? The person whose friends prayed the most? Use a prayer version of a ‘comment winner generator’?”
Later, during a deep dive into Mesopotamian history, Jack realized it was all just stories.
“It is weird that history cemented my deconversion, but I guess that’s just me.”
Lastly, the results of the 2016 US election and his son coming out as bi-sexual finalized his decision. He could no longer believe.