This Shift in Thinking Made My Deconversion Possible
I had no shortage of questions when I was a struggling Christian.
Where is God when I pray? Why is the Bible so problematic? How can Christians disagree so widely when the Holy Spirit unites us?
Many of my peers who were raised Christian have had these kinds of doubts. And yet, most of them have not left the religion — and likely never will.
Why is it that they stayed faithful while my doubts led me to disbelief? What’s the difference between us?
Some people think I lost faith because I never had a “true encounter” with Jesus. But there are many lifelong Christians who never experience Jesus as a personal entity they can dialogue with, no matter how much they try, and they maintain their beliefs just fine. I don’t think that’s the only reason.
There was an underlying shift in my thought process that was more significant than any of the nagging theological questions. I suspect this new way of thinking is what allowed me to change at a fundamental level.
If I were to describe this thought process as a question, it would go something like this:
Setting aside your attachment to Christianity, can you look at the world through another perspective and see whether it makes as much sense as what you believe now?
In other words:
As a thought experiment, can you separate yourself from the perspective you’ve always had, and try on another one? If it made more sense and was more useful, would you admit it?
What are some simple alternative solutions to the major problems of Christianity?
What if there’s no God, and the Earth and everything in it is actually natural in origin? Would that explain objective reality worse than the Bible does, or better?
Christianity has answers to just about every question you can ask it. If you only seek out answers from inside your own religion, and you’re motivated to be satisfied by those answers, maybe you can silence your doubt and keep believing.
I tried that, but I never found the answers satisfying. Limiting my answer-seeking to my own religious bubble became suffocating after a time, like I was trapped in a mental cage, knowing there could be so much more out there.
While it felt heretical at first to open myself up to other perspectives — I’d been conditioned my whole life to dismiss those thoughts — at some point I allowed my mind to go there. Surely, if my faith was true, it could withstand these questions… and if God gave me a brain, he couldn’t blame me for thinking.
I hoped and expected to be reassured that my religion was wonderfully true, that its answers would always resonate as the most profound. Instead, the questions I asked led me to many more questions, and by the time I found answers that satisfied me I had effectively lost my belief in God.
Maybe it was taking a step back and recognizing my place in the world that started it.
I was born to Christian parents, and I grew up being taught Christianity from as young as I can remember, all through my school years. Is it any surprise that I grew up to believe in Christianity?
This same chain of events would have turned me into a devotee of just about any religion, had I been born to parents in that religious community. That much was obvious.
So, if I wanted to be objective in my quest for truth, I had to momentarily set aside the fact that I had always believed in Jesus. It couldn’t be given special consideration. My life history explained why I believed as I did, but it didn’t imply that anything I believed was true.
Is it possible the reason I struggle so hard to make sense of this religion is that it simply isn’t true? Is it possible the Bible is yet another holy book, nothing special?
Could this world of pain and chaos be better explained by an indifferent universe, rather than a benevolent and all-powerful creator?
People have prayed to many thousands of gods. I accept that all of those (except one) are false. If I can’t perceive Jesus at all, is it possible he’s not real either? Would it be so surprising, really? Wouldn’t it explain everything I’ve seen in my life?
I was appalled and fascinated to discover that my honest answer to many of these questions deep down was yes.
It is possible for something else to be true.
Even after seeking answers inside Christianity my whole life, I couldn’t see any good reasons why that story had to be the one true explanation.
It would have been nice if the thought experiment had failed. If I’d been convinced God was real, it would have justified the path I’d walked so far. But I uncovered trails of questions that didn’t fade away quickly, and they kept leading to interesting vistas, so I had to keep walking to see where they took me.
A non-Christian perspective eventually went a very long way in explaining the world I saw. The beliefs I’d clung to my whole life, well, they introduced a whole lot of problems that I had to go miles out of my way to justify. For what? What if I just let them go?
If humans invented religion tens of millennia ago, and these beliefs evolved into countless branches, of which my religion is only one — isn’t it likely that these are all human inventions, and mine is no more divinely inspired than the rest?
If the Bible is just another old human document, doesn’t that mean I’m the same as those “foolish” followers of the religions I have always denounced?
If heaven isn’t real, isn’t it terrifying to think death is the end? And yet if hell isn’t real either, isn’t it a massive relief that most people won’t suffer forever after all?
I allowed myself to accept that this alternative was possible — even likely — and my lifelong investment in Jesus cried out in protest, begging me to turn around.
At that point, though, it was already too late.
There was no specific day when I said “I’m going to stop believing in God.” It was never a deliberate choice. It was a process of realizations, shifts in perspective, and new pieces of learning that could not be unlearned. What happened instead was that one day I looked inside myself and realized, “wow, there’s really no belief in God left in here. What do I do now?”
Admitting it to myself, to my family, and then to the world were all additional steps that took time and adjustment. Growing comfortable enough to write about it openly took years.
It wasn’t any slam-dunk atheist argument that shattered my worldview and forced me to change my mind. It was a combination of numerous life factors that brought me to a place where I was open to the possibility of questioning, trying new thought experiments, and stepping outside the perspectives I’d always viewed life from.
This process can’t be forced on people, but it can be encouraged with gentle, thought-provoking questions.
I’d like to see more people devoted to truth. Not a zealous advancement of “The Truth” they’ve committed themselves to, whatever that may be; but rather an objective, unbiased seeking of what reality really is, even if it means changing their mind.
My search brought me to agnostic atheism. Others will come to different conclusions. In any case, I think if more people learned to consider outside perspectives with a flexible mind, we would all become more understanding of others’ truth-seeking processes, and more well-rounded ourselves.
If that happened, maybe we wouldn’t see so many marriages, families, and nations torn apart by religious disagreements.