The Christian’s Guide to Ex-Christians: The Things We Did Wrong.

English: The notion that all Mennonites would ...

English: The notion that all Mennonites would undergo a “rebaptism” completely naked is wrong. A sprinkling of water on the head was usually enough for the Believer’s baptism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve mentioned before the Pentecostal-yardstick act that erupted whenever I or someone from my church met another Christian, haven’t I? When meeting someone new, I couldn’t just be happy to know someone new and get to know that person. I had to figure out if that person needed saving–or correction on incorrect doctrinal points. Was this person Christian or not? If Christian, what sort? Did he or she believe in water baptism or sprinkling? Oneness or trinitarianism (sorry, Neil, but you were going to Hell long before you deconverted, at least according to the folks at my old church)? Holiness or worldly dress? Rapture before the Tribulation or after it or during it? This examination and comparison could get really detailed, as you can imagine. People often get way more hung up on their differences than on their similarities.

Once I deconverted, people had to figure out what I did wrong, and that effort continues to this very day. Something about coming face-to-face with an ex-Christian brings out the yardsticks in some Christians. And I know why they do it and why they must do it. I don’t hold it against them, either. They’ve been taught their entire Christian lives that anybody who rejects Christianity obviously did something wrong or weren’t really “real” Christians. So today I want to briefly talk about some of those things.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of Bible verses that Christians use to give themselves permission to mistreat others. Surely one of the worst offenders of the lot is 1 John 2:19:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Context is everything here, though. If you go read the actual chapter this verse comes from, you’ll quickly see that it is presented as part of an apocalyptic warning about that time being “the last hour,” cautioning believers about all the “antichrists” that were circulating around during those last frenetic days before Jesus’ triumphant return. It isn’t talking about people who deconvert from Christianity. It’s talking about false prophets who were pretending to be on the level and who were deceiving innocent and gullible believers by feeding them the wrong information. You’d never know this fact, though, from the Christians who use this verse to negate the life experiences of ex-Christians by claiming that clearly we had simply never “really” been Christians at all, because if we had been, we’d still be Christians. I’m pretty well-educated about flavors of this religion, and I don’t know of any Christian denominations that take that verse any other way or use it in any other way except as a way to negate ex-Christians’ experience.

The problem is that to the Christians doing this negation, Christianity is seen as a perfect system. When a system itself is regarded as perfect, then anybody who doesn’t do well with it is going to be seen as the problem. It doesn’t matter if the system is a multi-level marketing scam, an uncommon diet, or a religion, the philosophy is that “the system works, if you work the system.” Anybody who tries the system and rejects it for whatever reason simply did something wrong. And the true believers in that system feel compelled to figure out what that thing must have been. It’s a challenge to them and their ideas about this system being infallible and perfect.

It doesn’t matter if that error is really what happened; once it is arrived at and decided upon, then all the people remaining in the system can breathe easy. Hooray! Now they know what that person did wrong. Now they can all relax. They’re not doing that thing wrong, so obviously they will never leave or reject the system. Best of all, they can still believe that their system is perfect. Whew! And needless to say, whatever that error is, they are in no danger whatsoever of committing it. They would never do X. They would never fail. Ever. This works until they realize what’s going on and reject the system as well (as touching religion, I don’t know a single ex-Christian who would ever have thought before deconversion that such a thing could ever happen to him or her).

Even weirder are the ones who give these declarations to me as if once informed of what I’ve so obviously done wrong, I will immediately gasp and cry out “Oh wow! I never thought of that!” and reconvert, this time dedicated to doing everything right so I don’t stray ever again. These sorts of scenes are famous in romance novels–“What?!? You really did that bizarre thing because you totally were in love with me and I just misconstrued everything?!? I had no idea!” the heroine cries, and swoons into her misunderstood sheik’s/playboy’s/Highlander’s/pirate’s arms, now that the confusion has been cleared up with a denouement scene that explains everything. Such dramatic denouements are a little less common–and plausible–in real life.

So yes, total strangers have taken it upon themselves to inform me of what I obviously must have done wrong to make me reject Christianity. They all present their theories to me as if they were the very first people to ever do so, and yes, it is hard not to roll my eyes or reply sarcastically to their earnest declarations of psychic ability and prescience. It’s nothing more than an attempt of Christian cold reading, after all; they’re making guesses and hoping that something sticks. That’s all I can fathom after surveying the list of mistakes they are convinced I made as a Christian:

* I wasn’t liberal enough. I was too literalist.

* I didn’t attend church enough so my discipling suffered. I attended too much and missed the “relationship” part of Christianity.

* I got sideswiped by the misogynistic elements in Christianity and became too complementarian. I got seduced by feminism and became too egalitarian.

* I had too many friends who were in the wrong denominations and they got me all confused. I had too many friends exactly like me so I lived in an echo chamber.

* I didn’t speak in tongues often enough. I spoke in tongues at all.

* I didn’t pray enough. I prayed too much and didn’t read the Bible enough.

* I didn’t study the Bible enough. I got too caught up in studying the Bible.

* I didn’t have enough mentors so I gave myself too much authority to work out Christian concepts. I had too many authority figures around me so I never figured out things for myself.

It gets downright insulting when they go into “you never really really really loved Jesus” territory, when I know that I did. I was 100% totally in love with this nonexistent, mythical character, obsessed with finding him, obsessed with reaching him and communicating with him and touching him and knowing him. Any One Direction fangirl understands exactly what sort of “relationship” I built up with this character. That’s why I kept plunging into ever-more-perilous waters–that’s why I stayed in the religion as long as I did. I wish Christians knew how destructive and counterproductive such accusations are, and how genuinely unloving it is to accuse someone of such a thing. It’s so easy to find out if I did or didn’t love Jesus just like they do now: they could just ask. But they never do. They always just assume. I guess that the nice thing about assumptions is that the people most guilty of making them don’t often feel the need to challenge them. And nobody likes to think that it’s more than possible to love someone or something that turns out to be a mistake later. In that kind of Christianity, nobody is allowed to change their minds.

Such Christians will also ignore entirely my insistence that no, actually it wasn’t “bad Christians” that made me deconvert. It wasn’t any bad treatment I ever got from any Christian, though it’s telling that this becomes the go-to excuse I get from them; even they know that a lot of Christians mistreat people. Nor was the problem inadequate parking, too many sports activities on Sunday, or any of the other insultingly superficial excuses I hear from Christians trying to explain these deconversions. But even after I say so, these Christians remain utterly convinced of whatever easy, glib explanation they think they’ve come up with–excuses that they themselves would never find satisfactory, but which they think they can pin onto me like I’m some kind of idiot or fool.

You see what I mean? When Christians are presented with the exact same ex-timony (that’s a word some of us ex-Christians use to describe the story of how we deconverted), this is the sort of bullshit I get back from the ones who desperately need to find something, ANYthing, that they can use to negate what I have to say. And not a single Christian has come up with the real reason: because I discovered that Christianity wasn’t true, and I couldn’t be part of a group that treated people the way so many Christians treat people if its claims weren’t true.

I find these assertions to be insulting to my intelligence and integrity as a human being. The people saying this stuff don’t care about what I have to say; they just want to dismiss me. They don’t care about really communicating and conversing with me; they just need to negate me so they can continue to feel correct and smug in their bubbles, and that’s all they’re in the whole discussion to do.

(Saddest of all are the people who failed to live according to a system but who still believe wholeheartedly in its value and truth; they beat themselves up for failing to live up to those ideals, never even realizing how flawed those ideals truly are. Or those people who don’t realize that if a system was genuinely perfect, that it would never produce so many perceived failures.)

Like the fact of evolution confounds a literalist view of the Bible’s creation myths, the fact of ex-Christians’ existence confounds a literalist view of 1 John 2:19. If evolution really happened, then the creation myths simply could not. If I am an ex-Christian and did everything right, then the standard interpretation of 1 John 2:19 can’t be true. Christians’ negation of my story says more about them than they do about any ex-Christian. It took me a long time to figure that out. It wasn’t about me, it was about them and their need to believe in something they think is true even at the expense of treating another person with disrespect. I consider these constant attempts to negate ex-Christians’ life experiences to be one of the black marks against the religion as a whole; way too many Christians simply can’t accept that the system won’t work for everybody. This phenomenon–which just about all ex-Christians have experienced, by the way–is a symptom of the sickness of the religion.

I wish Christians would quit trying to psychoanalyze me or ferret out some secret reason why I deconverted and just trust that I read all the right books. I did all the right things. I prayed enough. I read the Bible. I attended church. I was sufficiently gung-ho about Jesus. I lived the way they think Christians should live. I knew about a number of Christian faith systems and if I’d thought there were any redeeming features to the religion, I could have made it work somehow. But I didn’t see any.

What I have to say now matters more than figuring that stuff out anyway. When someone’s that focused on finding out what I did wrong, I know that person is desperate to find some easy way to negate me. That person isn’t wanting a real conversation, but rather to find something to use against me.

And I don’t think that’s very loving. Considering the stakes for Christians if they don’t behave lovingly toward their neighbors, I’d say there’s a cause for concern here.

I’m leading into this topic because next time I want to talk about this idea of “loving” Jesus, especially with regard to having left Christianity. That guy who did the popular “it’s a relationship” video a while ago has been rearing his head again on the tubes, and I think it’s time to take a look at the topic. See you next time!

About Captain Cassidy

I blog over at Roll to Disbelieve about religion, culture, cats, and tabletop RPGs.
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19 Responses to The Christian’s Guide to Ex-Christians: The Things We Did Wrong.

  1. As an Evangelical-Christian-turned-atheist-turned-Buddhist-turned-Gnostic-turned-Liturgical-Christian-but-still-Gnostic, I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve seen that “yardstick” mentality my whole life, and it was a very large part of why I declared myself an atheist so many years ago.

    Best wishes on your journey, wherever it takes you.

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  2. About a month ago I answered a Christian blogger’s question on how I knew I was a Christian. The conversation that followed is pretty much exactly how you described it here. First I was too focused on ritual and not on the Bible. When I explained that it wasn’t about ritual and that I fit the provided definition of a “real” Christian, the blogger basically assumed that something bad must have happened to me to make me reject God. I kind of knew going into the conversation that this was going to happen, so I was emotionally prepared for it.

    It still stung when I was told that I didn’t really believe, like everything involved in losing my faith was something bad that was my fault. Everything relates to how the invisible thing can’t be wrong; it has to be the people. Now that I’ve gone through this experience, I think going forward I should focus more on getting them to realize that they need to denounce me more than they need to find out I didn’t do anything wrong faith-wise. Oh, and I should probably avoid giving them answers to their questions until after they realize this.

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    • I’m sorry someone treated you this way. Yeah, I didn’t like it much either; in large part this blog arose from a similar incident. They’re not arguing in good faith at all–it does no good to engage with people who are not at least willing to accept that they are wrong.

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      • Well, I’m kind of torn between engaging and not engaging. On the one hand, I don’t want to help a person get deeper into beliefs that I think are wrong by letting them express their rationalization of my “true Christian status.” On the other, I do want to help them realize that their cognitive dissonance is present and not helping them. It’s like there’s no way to do the right thing here.

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        • A friend of mine on FB posted a funny meme that really spoke to me: “nobody says you have to be the Jackass Whisperer.” I try to just plant a seed and move on. YMMV of course and every situation can be a little unique, right?

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          • I’m familiar with the meme. And you’re right, every situation is unique. I think there’s a lot to be said about just planting the seed. The tree will grow or it won’t.

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  3. Thought2Much says:

    Just this week I was having a discussion with someone about why I left Christianity. One of the things I mentioned was that God never answered my prayers, or the prayers of people that I thought of as more godly than I was.

    I was basically told that I had a bad attitude, and that God isn’t just going to do what I want just because I asked for it.

    Their response is in direct contradiction to their own Bible:

    Matthew 18:19
    “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

    I’ve looked for the small print in the Bible to explain why that verse doesn’t mean what it clearly says. I haven’t been able to find it.

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    • That’s such an insulting thing to say to someone. (You’re the last person I’d ever accuse of having a bad attitude, for the record. I am routinely astonished at how easygoing and good-natured you are about stuff that would get me hopping on one foot.) Apparently the diacritical marks we’re missing are all in that Ultimate Awesome Perfect Translation of the Bible that so many Christians are convinced exists but we just haven’t made it/found it yet.

      Miracles happen and are promised repeatedly in the Bible as proof of this god’s existence and love… unless you don’t see any, in which case you’re just demanding proof and nobody should ever do that.

      Prayer totally works and gives you whatever you ask for, especially if you ask with another person…. unless you never get what you ask for, in which case you’re treating that god like an ATM and that’s why you never got anything you asked for. Or you were secretly sinning, or you didn’t totally believe you’d get what you were asking for, or it was out of that god’s will, or or or or or.

      Being Christian is thooper thimple and easy…. unless you find it really hard, in which case you’re a softie and the Bible promises that life for Christians will be extra-dextra hard.

      Christians are better people than non-Christians are… unless you get repeatedly abused by Christians, in which case they’re just people like anybody else with sin natures and all.

      Any wonder why this religion makes so many of its adherents so turned-around? There is literally no way to win here. They want it both ways and it’s about damn time we told them they can’t have it both ways.

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      • Thought2Much says:

        You’re the last person I’d ever accuse of having a bad attitude, for the record. I am routinely astonished at how easygoing and good-natured you are about stuff that would get me hopping on one foot.

        Why thank you, Cap’n’. It’s funny that as easygoing as you think I am, I still just get called bitter and angry by Christians when I point out the major flaws in their religion, such as the lack of answers to prayer, and the nasty things that are attributed to their god in their Bible.

        Me: “Your god commanded the killing of all of the Midianites, including women and children, except for the young virgin girls, whom they could take home to have sex with.” (The Bible says this plain as day. I’ll leave looking up the verse as an exercise for the reader, because I’m feeling lazy at the moment and can’t memorize verses like I used to.)

        Them: “You’re so angry! Why are you so bitter against God?”

        Yup. Pointing out the bits of the Bible that they don’t like makes me “angry.” Somehow.

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        • It’s a way to negate and erase your words. If they can decide you’re angry, then obviously nothing you say has value and can be safely ignored. I’ve gotten the same song and dance myself. Got it even as a Christian, when getting told I sounded angry or bitter was a quick way to cow me into compliance again. Doesn’t matter how rational or how straightforward you try to present material… they’ll still accuse you of it. It’s all they know. They don’t know how to sift information and how to look critically at anything. Ugh!

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  4. Matt says:

    I think maybe I’m the exception to the rule in that I was a christian that could imagine becoming an atheist. My older brother became an atheist when I was a kid and he was a young adult. When that first happened I as shocked and couldn’t imagine not believing, but as I grew up I became more and more “liberal” about christianity until I’m not even sure I actually believed anything literally. I was a christian in name only for many years. I hated church. I found religion to be stupid. I didn’t pray. I didn’t read the bible. I didn’t believe in angels or supernatural events. All I “believed” at that point was that maybe some creator existed, and if I had to choose a religion, might as well go with the one my loved ones were doing.

    The funny thing, is that what finally pushed me too far WAS something stupid. The church signed me up to come in every saturday and set up everything for sunday without even asking me. I never went another day after that. That was my excuse to say “I’m done with this” and then I started researching the bible and realized how stupid it all really was.

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  5. sjl1701 says:

    This reminds of the arguments I’ve had with some Christians about “believing in the ‘right’ version” of “God”. In which they try to tell me no one believes in the “Old White Guy with a beard version”. It’s the “young, bearded version” or the “middle aged shaved version” or something. They try and say that no one believes in the “nasty vengeful version” that you “athiests” like to talk about. (Sorry about the quotes, but in some of these discussions one would prefer to be herding cats because the definition of “God” keeps moving!). It’s the same with the “religion vs. relationship” thing, it becomes a pointless semantic battle, which are too annoying to be involved with.

    Scott

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    • No, you’re totally fine with the quotes…. I try to keep an eye on it myself but you just can’t avoid it sometimes, right? And I know exactly what you mean.

      I think atheists are well aware of the kind of god most Christians worship. We talk up the vengeful one for that exact reason: it’s the god depicted in the Bible and not much like the god Christians actually worship.

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  6. Wolvie41 says:

    Great post and frankly I would welcome a sincere conversation with a Christian about why I deconverted but it will never become sincere; there is far too much belief in fairy tales and nonsense to circumvent before an equal discussion can take place.

    However banal this analogy may be this blog post reminded me of my de-converting from eating mammals. I watched a show once in which a pig some guy owned as a pet demonstrably showed its intelligence, like shooting fucking balls into a hoop and being able to do all of these activities that require advanced mental capacity. Mind you that this wasn’t some teeny adowable potbelly pig but a massive one the dude kept in his house.

    From that day I renounced voluntarily eating pork in any fashion because my logic was: if we humans value dogs and cats so highly for their intelligence and companionship then what distinguishes a pig from that? The only reason it’s the norm is social acceptance and eventually I abstained from eating all mammals altogether (however, I do make exceptions when going to a foreign country but that is extremely – pardon the pun – rare) but then I started to learn the socioeconomic, ecological, etc. impacts that farms have and that further deterred me from being a mammalvore.

    The way this relates to your deconversion story is when I specify my eating habits to others. I always get the askance glance from them as if I were some freak (to be fair to them, I am) yet they never have a qualm if I had specified religious reasons. They kinda perk up at that logical offering (that they always provide), which to me is far more baffling of a reason to renounce anything: “yeah, some crazy old geezers from 4000 years ago in a goddamn desert said I couldn’t wear socks in the winter time, so now I don’t.” Either way it’s like engaging in a battle with all the weapons feasible yet rules barring weapons. Then they slag me off of course for my lifestyle choices as they order a plate of ribs or whatever.

    Much like we agnostics/atheists with the religulous types I have little to no problem whatsoever with a carnivore eating a steak. I understand how delectable it is and believe one is free to have whatever one wishes (with obvious moderation of course) yet I get the constant “mmmmmmm”s and “that was good!” from them during their meals. It appears that you are getting a lot of that because you (according to them) did not appreciate how tasty their version of Christianity was and if you had that you would never have left.

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    • I think that’s a perfectly acceptable analogy to use, and fits pretty well. I bet you get a lot of folks trying to “sneak” meat into you in various ways, in the same way that Christians “sneak” religion into various places/venues/situations in hopes that we’ll try it and maybe like it this time. “AHA! You let us pray! And see, it wasn’t that bad!” It’s just insulting.

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      • Wolvie41 says:

        Yeah, in the beginning some of the more carnivorous members of my family would insist on trying or make a big production over how delicious their meal was. After a while they began to understand that this is a lifestyle and I was not going to change (so long as the options are available; if I’m in a scenario in which meat is the only real option then I have little qualms eating it).

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        • That’s a practical sort of position to take on the matter, IMO. I’m glad your family is getting used to the idea so you don’t have to deal with that kind of song-and-dance. I think that’d get old very quickly for me!

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