I struggle a lot with anxiety. I didn’t used to as a kid, but as I got older it really started to manifest. It doesn’t result in panic attacks or anything of that nature or intensity, so it took a while for me to realize what it actually was. Instead, it is a nagging feeling, always in shadowy recesses of my consciousness, always picking at the corners of my mind, stirring up fear and breaking down my confidence. I also constantly fight loneliness, a pretty easy target for the anxiety beast as it also resides in those same recesses. What might start as a simple fear of breaching an unpleasant topic, quickly escalates into a full-blown multilevel attack on my abilities and adequacy as a social being.
I bring up these struggles not because I enjoy airing my own dirty laundry to the world, or even because I think they are integral to understanding me as a person (which arguably doesn’t in itself hold much bearing on your understanding of or enjoying this blog). Rather I bring them up because I suspect that, like myself, many people who are themselves in the position of deconversion find this issue to be one of the first, and often one of the most intense, struggles of the process. Christianity, for all of its blemishes and faults, has certainly perfected the feeling of community and belonging. Granted, not everyone has experienced this, but many of us who spent our entire lives engrossed in the culture found a supportive and loving family (albeit too often conditionally). A like minded group of individuals who inherently understand where you are coming from. Losing that community is devastating.
I must first be clear: the atheist community at large is incredibly supportive and welcoming. I want to make that VERY clear. The thing I felt the most profound loss in was others who simply understood. People who came from similar life experiences. To me, the atheist/skeptic community appeared to consist of people who had been atheists/skeptics for most if not all of their lives. Luckily, it didn’t take long to figure out just how wrong that idea was. Sure, for many people that is definitely the case, but not for everyone.
It was quite early on in my journey that I discovered just how many ex-christians there were out there. There is even an entire forum community based on the very idea (http://www.ex-christian.net/). Discovering this was like a burden being lifted from my chest. I found myself in a position where I was unsure of so much. I took solace in the fact that not only had others tread the path before me, but they were out there, willing to help me find my own way. To take my hand and guide me through the treacherous parts and celebrate with me on the mountain tops.
Of even deeper concern is the situation in which an ex-christian still finds him/herself still steeped in the christian culture after deconversion. This can be, at best extremely uncomfortable, and at worst dangerous. Personally, this is where I am at. I live in a small, conservative Alberta town (think Texas, but Canadian). My wife is still a believer and attends church, though she has largely let me do my own thing. Until recently I was a youth leader with the local youth group. My father-in-law has a Masters in Theology, used to be a pastor (in this town actually) and is currently a bible school professor. My sister-in-law teaches at seminary and has her Masters. Her husband leads worship at their church. Both my employers are staunch christians and family friends of my wife. Most of my friends were met at either my christian high school or my christian university. When my apostasy comes to light, there will be Hell to pay – literally. For me, I expect the worst fallout to be some heated arguments with the in-laws and some uncomfortable conversations with well-meaning friends. It could be A LOT worse. People in this situation generally have no one to go to with their journey. Those people who were a source of comfort and support all too often just don’t understand.
This brings me to the central theme I wish to impart in this post. You are NOT alone! I cannot emphasis this point enough. At times it will seem like you are. You will most likely feel completely lost, scared and without direction. But do not let anxiety, loneliness, fear or anything overcome you. There are people out there who are not only willing, but excited, to come beside you and lift you up. You needn’t go through this alone. Seek us out. The website I listed above is an amazing source of others who, almost without exclusion, have gone through similar trials. There are bloggers, Youtubers and Podcasters with a goldmine of useful articles, videos, podcasts, etc. documenting their journeys and offering advice. My Resources page has a list of general resources, but is largely comprised of ex-christians. The podcast “The Thinking Atheist” is run by a man named Seth Andrews who deconverted after about 30 years of being a fundamental christian. The blogs Life after Doubt, Pastor No Faith (currently mostly shut down due to personal reasons), Godless in Dixie, Question with Boldness, The Absence of Christ along with many, many more, are documenting their own journeys. Read them. Subscribe to them. Share them.
However amazing these online resources are, they cannot replace real, face-to-face interactions. Often you can find at least one sympathetic ear. Friends, family, coworkers, neighbors. For me it was in a surprising place. My wife and my brother-in-law (not the worship leader one) who lives one town over. They both, while not sharing my beliefs, have provided me a place of comfort in my transition. I know I can go to them with my struggles and they will offer their support. If someone like that REALLY doesn’t exist seek out a local atheist group or meetup. Like I said, more often than you would expect, these people at one point were religious.
Above all, I encourage you to share your journey. At the beginning, a wise man told me: “The more of us that share our story, the more people will realize they’re not alone. We’re not alone!” Take the leap and create a blog, or a youtube channel, or a podcast. Even if you don’t feel adequate, you have something meaningful to contribute! Don’t want to commit to something like that? That is ok, share it with someone who can. E-mail me your story. I’ll interview you, or give you a guest post.
I think this song by Mumford and Sons best sums up my feelings on this issue.
Just remember: “You are not alone in this / As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand”
Don’t be afraid to let the world know that you can in fact be Good and Godless!