During graduate school I conducted a qualitative research study on the deconversion experience for those in college. I optimistically thought that the research would impact the lives of other questioning or deconverted students by educating administrators and raising awareness. My own deconversion experience was a profound part of my college experience, although it was so deeply personal it appeared separate from college life.
When I was younger, I had a strong desire to understand God and to be with God. I prayed often and fixated on what would put me in God’s favor. I worried often about the state of my loved one’s souls because they were not nearly as dedicated to religion as I was. This was the main crux of my identity when I was growing up, even past the first year of college and into the third year of college. I could not imagine anything else. My visions of heaven and hell, not to mention the change that God could have over my life, were both too powerful for me to walk away from.
I was also scared about death. What happens after we die and what happens to our loved ones if there is just nothing? I was obsessed with what heaven would look like and what it would be like if certain people did not make it into heaven with me. I thought it would be unfair punishment to me if I just had to live on without the people, like my mother, who were not “good Christians.” During the process of my deconversion I wrestled with the idea of no afterlife, and after a short while, I let it go and have never been uncomfortable about it again.
I started questioning the existence of God while I was in my second year of college. The more I questioned, the more religious I became. The more I questioned, the more I did not want to fall out of God’s grace. The more I questioned, the more I prayed and tried to return to Christianity; I felt very much like I was being tested. When I first began to have these thoughts, I tried to push them down. Tried to make them go away. I did not want to suffer through hell or to anger God. I thought that it would be a lot easier on myself just to pretend that they were not happening at all.
I stopped trying to push away the doubt and began finding people with whom to discuss my thoughts. Some people entertained my questions and some people pushed them away. I never discussed my thoughts with anyone I knew to be religious. By this time, I was looking more for a reason not to believe and to have something else to cling to, than for a reason to return to Christianity.
I am now an Atheist. I have no belief in anything supernatural and firmly believe that if there is something supernatural out there, I do not need to know about it. Without the threat of hell or the promise of heaven I do not feel any great pressure to figure this out. Now my non-belief is central to who I am, and I am affected when people do not consider or respect this dimension of my identity. I respect the role that religion plays for many people and expect that my non-belief should be considered equally, a perspective that has become important in my work with students. My experience and my research has been key in motivating me to create a safe place for different perspectives, a safe place that redefines inclusiveness to include the non-theistic.