My de-conversion letter to friends and family

Sent in by Andrew

It's been about a year since I've stopped considering myself a Christian. I want to put together a 'coming out' letter to give friends and family some idea as to why I have given it up. Please let me know if you think I should add something, or leave something else out. Is it even a good idea to do something like this? I sent this letter to a close friend who is pretty devout, and she seemed to appreciate it.

Here goes:

Dear Christian Friend,

Because you mean so much to me, I wanted to give you at least some sort of idea as to the ‘why’ of my deconversion. I want to let you know, at least at a surface level, why I’ve chosen to ‘leave the fold’, to share a bit of my story.

To begin, I want to let you know that this is not something that has just come up or that I’ve decided on a whim. I’m sure you didn’t think as much, but I just understand that it can be difficult to comprehend why someone would ever leave Christianity, especially when it is so ingrained for so long. It has been a very long journey for me. One that started about 3-4 years ago, when I started thinking critically, step by step, not just about things relating to faith, but everything in life. I began to question everything I had ever taken for granted, such as whether western culture was the best, whether eating kraft dinner and hot dogs would ensure a long, healthy life, and whether this ‘relationship’ I had with God was something I could confidently espouse.

I began to understand the importance of objectivity, and that when the owner of a company tells me the product he sells is really great, that there is possibly cause for questioning and investigation, and not just acceptance. I gave up the notion of the earth being 6000 years old quite some time ago, and that in no way changed what I thought about Christ, or his sacrifice. I did an investigation, not caring particularly which way it ended up, and decided that the evidence pointed to the earth being old and to common ancestry among biological organisms. God did it of course, it wasn’t a big deal. It was the people whose worldview would come crashing down if they had to admit an old earth that I had to worry about. Their ‘evidences’ and ‘scientific studies’ were greatly dependent on the conclusion they had already decided on, which of course is not the correct way science is done.

Next I began to greatly question my charismatic [pentecostal] roots and after a good year of reading, studying, experimenting and writing, I decided that much of what I had grown up with thinking was the work of the Holy Spirit was really just socially learned group-think. It took quite a bit to convince me of this, but the evidence was really overwhelming. There was, at least to me, no good reason to think that I had experienced anything more than mob mentality; a peer pressured, psychologically explainable experience. If the exact same things happen in polemically different worldviews (such as new age, opposing religions, etc), and they were contrived experiences (since God wouldn’t bless mutually exclusive worldviews), what made me think my identical experience was the one real thing, given by God almighty? I definitely still believed wholeheartedly in the central tenets of Christianity, but my faith was changing, morphing into something new, and I had no problem with that.

Then, I began to question the things I was reading in the Bible, especially the darker notions of God himself, like him committing genocide, or ordering ethnic cleansing, and the concept of hell. Whenever I would bring them up to have a meaningful conversation it would just come down to: “You can’t question what God does, because he knows better than us.” So basically, I came to conclude that as an everyday Christian, I had to be able to say that genocide is good sometimes. God cannot be questioned on these matters, so he gets a free ticket to commit [or at least if they happened today, what would look exactly like] atrocities. I had a real problem with that and started looking deeper into the character called God in the Bible. He does all sorts of terrible things. Things I’m not comfortable typing out in this letter, things that the Sunday School teacher skipped, things that Pastors brush away far too easily.

Hell was a big one for me. How could an all-loving, all-good God conceive of this place of eternal torture? The way the Bible describes it, not even the worst monsters of history could come up with worse ways to treat people, and this is punishment for not being born in the right country, or for not thinking thoughts correctly about a guy who lived two millennia ago? All this for simply not believing in something for which there is no empirical evidence?

Anyway, when I finally (about a year ago) came to the place where I was willing to put some of my misgivings about not believing at bay, I was able to come at the question of the tenability of Christianity with even an ounce of objectivity. It wasn’t until I had a good talk with my wife about the remote possibility of me coming out the other side of this investigation as a non-believer that I really dove in.

You see, two years ago I was unable to think objectively about it for many reasons: fear of hell, fear that I would be tricked by Satan, fear that my relationship with my wife wouldn’t be as strong (more on that later), fear that I would lose my purpose in life, fear that all my friends and family would hate me, disappointment in never being able to see dead loved ones again…etc. As more and more of those things were put to rest, the final one being my conversation with my wife, I began to see the arguments in a new light.

Before, I had already decided the conclusion to the question: “Of course God exists! Is this even a remotely valid question in my life!?” Whereas, I had begun to think about things as if the possibility of the truth of Christianity were up in the air. I still wanted it to be true, I really wanted it to be true, but I was open to the possibility that it wasn’t, and wanted to follow the evidence where it led, even if it was down a road I wasn’t comfortable traveling.

As I was beginning my research on this about a year ago, I had a very important conversation with my wife. I was sitting outside our apartment, having a drink and generally enjoying the weather getting warmer while reading my first book about all this. I was into the second or third chapter when she walked up, home from work. We chatted a bit and I mentioned that this book was really interesting. She looked at me and asked me if I was going to become and Atheist, I asked her whether or not she would be mad or stop loving me if I did. She laughed, looked me straight in the eye and said that it wouldn’t change her opinion of me whatsoever, she loved me no matter what. We laughed and possibly my greatest fear of taking a look down this road was assuaged.

As for my relationship with my wife, it is one of the things that led me to this point in the first place. Over the course of our marriage, our relationship has grown and gotten sweeter. I had grown up through Church with the understanding that my relationship with God had to be number one, and accepted that wholeheartedly. When we got married, we were told several times that our relationship would only grow closer if we both put God first, then, like a triangular celestial threesome, the closer we both grew to God at the top of the triangle, the closer we would grow to each other.

The opposite became the case. As my faith became more and more cerebral and less and less of an emotional reaction to my life, I spent all my emotional energy, love, care and attention on my wife, and our relationship flourished more than I ever could have imagined. I remember several times wondering how it was possible that I was becoming more and more happy, more and more fulfilled in life, more and more content, the further I got from God. I only read the Bible in scholastic and intellectual pursuits, and only prayed when asked to the dinner table or every so often in class (I went to Bible College) or church groups. I had very little of the personal relationship with God, and felt absolutely no need, emotionally, intellectually, personally, to pursue one, since nothing was lacking in my life. I began questioning how my experience could so contradict what I believed ought to the be the case. It made me question this ‘relationship’ further.

With my wife I experience a beautiful, deeply satisfying relationship. I talk with her and she responds. She relies on me during hard times and I can trust her with anything. Neither of us is ‘above’ the other. No one has more power than the other. Neither of us rely on the other exclusively, but are balanced in our love and appreciation for each other, understanding that together we make each other better. How is it that the closer I feel to her, the further I feel to God. Moreover, how is it that our healthy relationship with one another makes this other ‘relationship’ in my life seem so useless, so made up. I finally came to admit that my wife was far more important to me than God. I didn’t particularly like the notion, and thought I should probably take steps to change it, but it was what I was feeling at the time.

As I researched, it was becoming more and more clear that perhaps there aren’t any great reasons to believe. I haven’t had traumatic experiences with the church or Christians. There are nice and mean Christians, just like there are nice and mean non-Christians. I’m not sure how the numbers work out, but it seems to be about the same nice to mean ratio inside and outside the Christian camp. This is not a factor for me in deciding the truth of the claims of Christianity. For me it’s about evidence.

I spent the last year of my studies at Bible College focusing on apologetic classes. I did extremely well at them and they kept me off this path for a little while. But the arguments ultimately fell short.

This is how I honestly think about this stuff: that there isn’t a reasonable basis to believe, and I understand that is very difficult to read and may sound arrogant or condescending, but one thing that I’ve really come to understand in talking with Christians is that there is no getting around this, and having a mutual understanding of our worldviews is key to having conversations about it without driving each other crazy.

At the core of our worldviews, we think each other are deeply mistaken, which when articulated, sounds arrogant and offensive. I was surprised at how arrogant and offensive I found our Pastor during much of his series on apologetics, but he was just speaking from his worldview, which just happened to put non-believers on par with ignorant toddlers, unwilling to see the obvious truth. Many non-believers, on the other hand, think believers are committed to a delusion. One of these is a truth (at least to some extent). So when people who hold the opposite points get together to talk about it, it is a must that they understand that those on the opposite side have a basic idea of what they stand for, and be willing to give up a few potential offenses, otherwise they’ll just offend each other to high heaven (so to speak).

When I talk to a Christian I expect them to say something that has the potential to offend or be mean, but I understand they are speaking out of the way that they understand the world, and that they themselves are trying to deal with the idea of myself not only giving up my faith, but theirs also, thus creating the need to be defensive. I understand that can be painful. I continually remind myself of this and strive to understand people’s responses. So far it has been surprisingly fantastic. Perhaps people are afraid to share their true feelings about it, although I wish they weren’t, but so far every Christian I’ve talked with about it has been supportive. I’m sort of expecting that trend to change.

One last reason I wanted to respond, was that I wanted to make sure you know that I’m alright, and our (my wife and I’s) relationship continues to grow. While at times it has been a bit of a scary journey, it has also been exciting, and in so many ways, freeing. I remember at Pentecostal summer camp and youth retreats we would often sing songs of freedom and yell about being ‘free indeed’. I can honestly tell you I’ve never seen the world in such vivid colour, never felt so unchained, finally realizing that my every thought, action and decision is not part of some grander plan that may or may not end in my favour. The universe is such a grand and phenomenal place, and I’m just glad to be here, to have the great fortune of living my life, of loving my wife, family and friends, of experiencing life to the fullest. I realize now that for me, religion (defined as belief in the tenets of Christianity) was a set of chains: guilt, remorse, continually second guessing God’s will, fear, trying to decipher to fluid labyrinthine text of the bible, and being in a relationship with a being that never really related.

I would welcome your thoughts and ideas regarding this stuff. I’ve had plenty of great conversations, through email and in person about this and I feel we’re all intelligent, thoughtful people capable of having meaningful talk about it. I think we can learn from each other. If I am mistaken, I want to know, since this is obviously a very important issue. It seems the world is becoming increasingly non-religious (again, defined as belief in a religion, like Christianity), so I think talk on these topics will become more and more relevant for both believer and non-believer alike. I will do my absolute best not to push anything on you, or anyone. I understand this is a deeply personal issue, and I don’t want to strain our relationship because of an idea. I agree with Bono: “Ideas should never come before people.”

I think our friendship will continue to flourish. While this strand has withered, the original way we met and became friends is a historical fact and cannot be changed. I grew up in Christian culture, understand the language and continue to have meaningful conversation with Christians about their faith, not necessarily bringing up any of my own misgivings about it (unless they ask of course), and hope we can continue that. I look forward to many great memories together as we continue friendship into the many years ahead.

Love, your friend...

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Anonymous said...

My first thought is -- why is it anybody's business what you believe or don't believe? I feel as thought you are giving them power to approve or disapprove by sending out a statement letter. I would discuss this with friends and family only as aspects of religion come up in conversation. If anyone pushes you to conform, just say that your beliefs are your own and please respect my right to hold my own views.

eejay said...

That's a good letter. I do think in time however your relationship with your x-tian friends will become strained if they are so deeply into their faith. Right now, they probably just think you've backslid, and you'll come running back. I just can't believe that they won't try to get you back into the fold. I think they haven't really takenyou too seriously yet, and I'm afraid that in due time, once they do take in what you say, you will be considered demon possessed and the like. I don't know you or your friend personally so I can't say there couldn't be exceptions, but they can't help but believe satan has taken you over. It is could that you were able to find the real freeing of yourself that many of us have experienced. It is a great feeling. Something I have bever experienced as a x-tian. Good luck in your jounrney.

webmdave said...

I didn't send out a letter when I de-converted. I did, however, post my story on the Internet.

Eventually all my friends and relatives read what I had to say. I never told a single one that my de-conversion testimonial was out there, but within a year everyone had read it.

I did it that way so no one would be obligated to respond or say anything. A letter is personal and suggests the necessity of a response. It really depends on what you want to accomplish with the letter, IMO.

speck said...

As a believer, I was expected to give my testimony to anyone who would listen...and I did. This didn't win me any popularity awards BUT, I did hook a few saps into coming to church. Sometimes telling your personal story can be effective.

If you feel the need or desire to take a stand among your family and friends, that's your choice.

You sure sound smart enough to know what the possible results might be.

Good luck and let us know how it shakes out.

Stephen C said...

Hi Andrew,

Thank's for your measured and considerate letter. You appear to be succeeding in your quest to accept the clear, clean air of reality. You are thinking.

You said in your post:
" I think talk on these topics will become more and more relevant for both believer and non-believer alike."

It occurs to me that the generally used terms, "believer" and "non-believer" convey superior/ inferior, winner/ loser, right/ wrong biases.

Surely, more balanced, truthful and logical terms are "fabulist" and "realist".

All the best,

Anonymous said...

The letter is good, but I am not sure ANY letter will accomplish what you want.

And I wonder, in the best case scenario, what do think their reaction would be?

The danger I see is that, maybe, deep down inside you are looking for approval. I hope I am wrong, but, could it be that you think they will understand you?

Send the letter if you want, but rest assure that it will make no difference. They will still think you are out of your mind, and that you are a sinner condemned to hell.

I really doubt that they will bother even reading it.

Now, if you can honestly tell yourself that you expect nothing, then go ahead and send the letter. Because if you are expecting anything positive to come out of it, I fear you'll be greatly disappointed.

All the best to you!

Curt said...

Wow, I'm going through the same stuff right now and could have written that letter myself. My progression of questions was very similar. Good letter. Let us know how it goes over. I agree with the others that it probably will not change anyones mind unless they are willing to look objectively at their ideas, it probably will not save your relationships longterm. But, it may help others understand your thought process and it could help someone who has similar questions.

Grape Ape said...

Good letter..and friendly too. I think that makes all the difference. You should send the letter. Even if they don't HEAR what you are saying to them, it will still have a dissonance effect on them emotionaly that might linger with them. Emotional conflict does wonders sometimes at getting people to change their ways.

Weemaryanne said...

It's a beautiful letter -- especially the parts about your wife and your marriage -- but I'm afraid I have to agree with Lorena: Your theist friends just won't understand, no matter what you say. It might work better as a blog post. Whatever you decide, I wish the very best of luck to you and your family.

AtheistToothFairy said...

Andrew wrote:
"I think our friendship will continue to flourish"

Your letter impressed me!!

Alas, I doubt it will help you maintain those old xtian friendships.
I can already envision several possibilities after the letter is sent out.

Many who fear losing their faith, will stop reading part way through, as soon as they realize where the letter is headed, while assuming it's upcoming content. It will be the ole protective fundie reaction of "sticking the fingers in the ears", to protect their god-faith quotient.

Others will finish reading it out of irresistible curiosity, and will either try and win your soul back to god or will decide to wait things out for your return to their god.
While some of these two groups might at first believe they will continue their friendship with you, life has a funny way of putting people into common-groupings, while shunning the rest.

Chuckycheese has a good point in that I agree that it's none of their business... unless they outright ask you about it. At the very least, they will feel sorry for you, assuming you've chosen to side with the devil and are headed for hell.

Lorena also has a point in that you do seem to me also, to be trying to win their approval, aside of just offering an explanation to them.

Life has taught me a few things about the friends we have and the friends we gradually lose.
Think about how many friends you had while going through your school years and how many of them you are still friends with today. Most likely, not very many of them stayed with you, as they found their own course in life to follow.

When you were single, you probably hung around single friends mostly.
When you got married, the friends who remained single probably faded from your life, being replaced by (new) married friends instead?
Married folks tend to hang with other married folks, at least from MY perceptive in life.

If you later had children, then a change once again happens, in that you now hang with married folks who also have children to, and the one's who don't have children will take a back burner in your life. If they later have kids of their own, they might return, but more times than not, I find they just move-on.

To offer another perspective here.

How many coworkers from the jobs you have had in your lifetime, kept in contact with you after they left your place of employment and ventured somewhere else for work?
Sure, at first they keep in frequent contact, but as time goes on, your lives diverge down different paths and most of them you will lose contact with.
You no longer have that same job in common to hold you together.

My point here is that we all look for some basic commonality amongst our group of friends.
When you were a xtian, you had the god-bond in common with all of them.
That bond probably superceded even the single/married/kids groupings we normally find ourselves within.

Now that you no longer believe in THEIR GOD, you no longer have that bond in common with them.
Unless you made inroads with them in other area's, such as hobbies or sports, then I doubt they will be in your life much longer, especially after you send out this letter to them.

I wouldn't worry about it so much though, as you'll find new friends who are more in tune with your present way of thinking.
That is what most people do when seeking friends, is it not.
We seek folks who have something significant in common with ourselves

Your religious friends who are more than lukewarm in their god beliefs, will not be able to share what they consider very important in their lives, with you any longer.
A wall will slowly, but surely, be erected between you and your present god-fearing-friends.

So the way I see things from here, you can either try and keep their friendship by avoiding any talk of god, and hence your disbelief in that god, or you can inform these friends and if you're lucky you'll hang onto a couple of them who feel they have some other significant bond with you.

I know for myself, that I could no longer pretend to believe in god, just to hold onto those same friends. Those are my own personal feelings however, and they might not be your own. I don't think a friendship should be based on a lie is all.

So in the end I see it this way.
You'll have to choose between hiding your loss of faith and maintaining those friends (until they figure it out in time that is), or you can be up front with them and realize that most of those friends will most likely fade from your life.

ATF (Who thinks the majority of one's friends are in one's life for a reason, for a season, but only a handful stay for the long haul)

Andrew said...

I just wanted to say thanks for the input. I've definitely taken the advice to heart and will be posting this on a blog so that people who are interested can read it.
I guess this past couple of weeks has been a bit difficult as I've finally come to realize that this will seriously fray relationships with some friends, I think I was living under the delusion that all would be ok.
My desire is to be understood. I get the feeling that your experiences suggest that is likely not possible. This comes from my desire to be in a mutually beneficial relationship with friends. I understand where Christians are coming from, being one for so long myself. I think that if they cannot at least understand where I'm coming from, then it will cause a rift, so that's where this letter comes out of.
Again, thanks for the response. I agree that my personal, philosophical views on life are my business only. Although if this helps, even in the slightest, it will have done its purpose.

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