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Old 6th October 2013, 06:52 PM
Atheoi Atheoi is offline
Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: Perth, WA
Posts: 74
Default My De-conversion Story

For the first ten years of my life, my mother took me and my three younger sisters to a Baptist church. My father didn't come with us. He was virtually housebound with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Diagnosed at the age of 37, just a few months before I was born, he became eligible for the invalid pension and quit his job. I remember him telling me he'd had to consult several doctors before getting diagnosed. His own description of his symptoms was very vague, but there were a lot of things we weren't allowed to do around him in case we triggered an "attack", which is what he called seizures. We weren't allowed to wear masks or raise our voices. One of my sisters once squealed in his ear, playing around, and he suddenly knelt down, put his hands over his ears and buried his face in the living room couch and screamed, "Get out! Get out!" And we all had to leave the room. He later explained to us that he was angry because he was on the verge of having an attack. I once accidentally head-butted him, when we were both leaning over looking for something in the bin, and I remember he glared at me and warned me that I could have given him an attack. Jehovah's Witnesses coming to the door used to give him attacks (I'm serious). During these attacks, he told me, he would experience intense fear or anger to the point of feeling confused and disoriented. He had several books on epilepsy, bits of which he made me read so that I would understand what he went through. He never had the kind of seizure in which he would lose consciousness and twitch on the ground. You may wonder where I am going with this, but it is integral to my conversion and deconversion. Please bear with me.

My father would probably have been diagnosed with Schizotypal Personality Disorder. He believed he could read people's minds. He believed in telepathy. He was into the paranormal and pseudosciences. He believed in creationism years before his conversion, so I was raised on creation science. He hated the liberal teachings of the Baptist church we attended. He was always anti-gay and anti-feminist. Eventually he reached some sort of "spiritual crisis". His attacks were coming more frequently. At one point he blamed one of my aunts for causing them. One night he walked four hours to her house, watched it for a while, then caught a bus back home. I don't know why he told me this. And it was a big deal that he would have gone out for so long and ridden a bus, things his epilepsy supposedly kept him from doing normally.

Then one Sunday my father told us he was taking us all to a different church. He had been following a pastor's column in the local newspaper for some time and was impressed by his uncompromising, conservative moral viewpoint and wanted to hear him preach. They were a friendly bunch of people at this charismatic church. One couple invited us all to lunch. We went back the next week and the next. I remember one Sunday after the service, the pastor anointed my father with oil and prayed for healing. My parents soon became involved in a Bible study group. My father was persuaded that his epilepsy was demonic, the result of his grandfather being a freemason. He needed a group to pray over him to break the curse.

Soon after, one hot, humid summer's night when I had trouble sleeping, I thought I heard something in the backyard. I looked out my bedroom window and saw my father digging a hole. When I asked him about it the following morning, he said he didn't need his epilepsy medication anymore. He'd dug a big hole and buried it. He'd been born again. He'd been healed.

The change in him was dramatic. He was more energetic. He gave up smoking instantly with no withdrawal symptoms. He wasn't afraid to leave the house. He had the confidence to do things I'd never seen him do before. He became heavily involved in the church. My ten-year-old mind was impressed, and I decided to get more serious about my faith.

But even from the beginning there was a negative side to my father's conversion. Four of my father's five brothers cut him off. My father said it was because they didn't believe he'd been healed and didn't want to hear the Gospel. Some of my maternal relatives also stopped visiting as frequently. My father's mind-reading abilities became a gift of the Holy Spirit, so if you denied thinking what he said you thought, you were calling the Holy Spirit a liar.

Soon after his healing, my father got a job as a gardener for two weeks, filling in for someone on holiday. He advertised in the local newspaper for a while and did odd jobs while still receiving the invalid pension. His interest in work wasn't long-lived, however. One day, when shopping in a Christian bookstore, he felt led to ask if they were associated with a Bible college. It turned out they were. My father enrolled. At the same time he also decided to pull me and my sisters out of state school and put us in a private Christian school where we would never be taught evolution. All while on the invalid pension.

Our new school was an hour's bus ride away, too far away for us to see our school friends outside of school, yet my father made us cut off all our secular school friends who still lived locally. We were no longer allowed to borrow books from our local public library. Our new school had a library filled with good Christian books. We were no longer allowed to watch television. Apart from the ride to and from school, we were never allowed to leave the house without our parents, but there was nothing new in this. My father had always been very strict. There were no kids at church my own age. My father ensured I became a social pariah by forcing me to attend youth group when I was too young.

The negatives of my father's conversion were starting to outweigh the positives. I read the Bible cover-to-cover and disliked many of the things I saw. I decided I didn't want to be a Christian anymore. This made me the object of my father's displeasure. But I still believed in God and angels and demons. After all, science had proven the Biblical account of creation and the Flood and I couldn't deny my father had been miraculously healed. I refused to follow God as a protest. I hated him. I knew I would burn in hell for eternity.

I had vivid nightmares about hell with increasing frequency. Although I wasn't sure if these were visions from God or whether I'd really been to hell (I used to believe NDE stories), I realised that if hell was even half as scary as these dreams, I didn't want to go there, not for a minute. It wasn't worth living in rebellion against God just to make a statement. So I very, very reluctantly repented and asked Jesus into my heart and committed to following him.

I think at some point my father became disillusioned with the church. He became an elder and I think he saw things he couldn't explain or understand from a Biblical point of view. He became increasingly prone to fits of rage. I had only seen glimpses of this side of him prior to his conversion.

Over a period of several months my father would do this thing where he would suddenly start trembling while driving and have to pull over. He would then turn and glare at me, quivering with rage but saying nothing, till he was able to get back on the road again. On one occasion, the only time my mother was in the car with me when it happened, my father said to me, "It's not your fault." And that's all he said about it while continuing to glare at me, gripping the steering wheel till his knuckles were white, huffing in disgust. Months later, after he'd stopped doing it, he finally told me it was my fault. He was angry because I wouldn't talk to him about my problems.

My father had always administered corporal punishment, which I still think didn't do us much harm. But he was intermittently physically violent. He pushed me down the stairs once, for example, and once forced me to fight him because I "needed to let off steam" -- even though I was scared and in tears and didn't want to hit him.

But even scarier than all these things, my father had a blood-curdling scream. I'd never heard it before his conversion. It was different from his normal yelling voice with which I was well acquainted. It was homicidal. When you heard that scream, you knew he was thinking about killing someone. I have never heard the like of it since. The closest thing to it would probably be the scream of the Germanic chief in the movie Gladiator, but even that doesn't do it justice.

With Bible college and private school, my father became increasingly obsessed with money. As soon as I was able, I had to get a part-time job to pay my way through school and eventually had to leave school to get a full-time job to support my family. 1 Tim 5:8 -- "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (See also Mk 7:10-13)

By the time I started full-time work, I had become asocial. I had been friendless so long, I no longer desired friendship. I realised it wasn't worth the hassle. In fact, I found socialising burdensome. I'd outgrown the need for it. I could do -- had to do -- everything on my own... with God's help, of course. I'm also an aromatic asexual. Although not a sin (Mat 19:12), my lack of interest in girls got the rumour mill going at church. I wasn't even close with my family. Obviously. As a teenager, I went seven months without talking to one of my sisters when we were still living at home.

After graduating from Bible college, my father became an assistant pastor at our church for six months. He never worked again for the rest of his life. He never explained why he wouldn't or couldn't work.

I read many of the books my father was required to read for Bible college. I had a disciplined devotional life. I would read at least five chapters of the Bible per day, starting at Genesis and finishing at Revelation, then going back to Genesis again. As I got older, I became increasingly underwhelmed with the Bible. I remember thinking once when I was 20, "Is this all God has to say to us?" There were still many parts I didn't like and thought were seemingly contradictory, but there was always an explanation in one of my father's commentaries. But this cut both ways. Different commentaries would have different interpretations of the same passage and sometimes offered contradictory explanations of contradictory passages. I became acquainted with different theological positions. I changed my own theological position on several issues, from Arminianism to Calvinism, pre-millennialism to a-millennialism. I began to see that it was possible to be convinced that the Bible taught one thing and then become convinced it meant something else entirely. I also realised there were many theological and ethical issues on which I couldn't decide. The Bible wasn't clear enough.

I was never taught evolution at school. I was never taught the scientific method. I was taught that science confirms the Bible. I was taught urban legends and anecdotes that supported the Bible. I was taught creation science. I was taught that scientific theories are just hunches, but scientific laws are facts. When I was 16, I began to see that many stories I was being told about angels and miracles were probably myths. I also began to see serious flaws in creation science. While still a young-earth creationist, I became sceptical of creation "science". I didn't know what logical fallacies were till after I deconverted, but I could see as I got older that many arguments Christians used were weak and unsound and could be used against them.

My father's healing seemed less miraculous as the years went by. When he was going through Bible college, he began vomiting frequently. His doctor suspected it might be a rare virus, though it gradually disappeared on its own. At one point he bought some books on ADD and became convinced he had the condition. He started mimicking the symptoms. He feigned a lack of concentration and poor memory. It was embarrassing. In fact he had always had superb concentration and a very good memory. He had to shop around a bit, but eventually he found a doctor who diagnosed him with ADD and he started taking Ritalin. He got diagnosed with depression. He also began telling people he probably still had epilepsy but now that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, it didn't control him anymore. He even had tests done. There was no sign he had (or ever had had) epilepsy. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe TLE is a permanent condition that leaves a permanent mark on the brain.

One day my father complained of sore feet. The doctors had the usual trouble diagnosing him. He started limping and having falls. This went on for months. By this stage, I assumed he was just putting it on, but it turned out he had brain cancer. He died within 24 hours of his diagnosis. It was very difficult to pretend to be sad, but it seemed like the polite thing to do. I remember trying not to laugh during the eulogies. There were several times I had to bite my lip and pretend I was fighting back tears. Everyone at church impressed upon me that as the eldest son, it was my job to provide for my mother and sisters, who were too lazy to get jobs.

I might have almost deconverted around this time, but I happened to have my first, and only, religious experience. Once day I felt intense euphoria while walking down the street silently praying. I wasn't expecting it. It was unsought for. At the time I could think of no other explanation for it other than that God was working in my life. The euphoria tapered away after several months, but the experience left me convinced of God's existence.

I found it increasingly difficult to get along with people at church. I have no idea what my father had told them about me, but after he died, people's attitude towards me began to change. I decided I needed to go to another church. The elders were most displeased. They began having meetings with me during which they would threaten me with church discipline and excommunication and try to convince me to come back. After all, I had made a covenant with them when I became a member at 15. I had taken vows before God and couldn't just walk away from them. One of the elders was a GP. He was convinced I only wanted to leave because I was depressed. I went to see him professionally and began taking anti-depressants. They had no effect on me. They didn't make me change my mind and want to go back. The elder-doctor told others in the church -- in front of me and without my permission -- that my leaving was due to mental illness. The elders relentlessly attacked my faith. I obviously wasn't a true Christian. Eventually they did make me question my faith, but after examining myself, I was sure I still genuinely believed, so I cut off all contact with the pastor, elders and everyone from my old church.

I became convinced they were doing Satan's work, who is the Accuser of the Brethren. Obviously they were the one's who weren't real Christians, attacking and undermining the faith of those who genuinely were. I came to see them as a cult. The whole situation was bizarre. The elders told everyone I wasn't going to church at all anymore.

I joined a Baptist church. It was evangelical but more liberal than the church I'd just left. For a long time I was fearful of my old church. For example, one lady who'd been excommunicated from there started attending another church, and when the elders found out they wrote to the pastor, who forbade her from partaking communion in his church. I feared a similar fate.

By this stage, I was just going through the motions. I still believed, but there was no joy, nothing I found beneficial in being a Christian. I went to church because I had to. Everything was a duty; everything was a chore. It was all drudgery. I read my Bible every morning. I prayed every morning. Because I had to.

I was forced to do some minimal socialising in the process of finding my own church, and I became convinced that a lot of the people in the church didn't really believe. Over the two years I was there, they became increasingly more liberal. Women won the right to be ordained to leadership roles. The pastor became influenced by the teachings of Bultman and began demythologising the Bible. I became disillusioned.

Then I started having niggling doubts, and within a matter of weeks I completely lost my faith. Just like that. My deconversion experience was unexpected and unsought for. It was undramatic. Just as I had believed in God because I thought he was real, so I had lost faith in him because I realised he probably wasn't real after all. The Bible just suddenly seemed implausible. As a Calvinist, I had thought it was impossible for someone to lose their faith, yet I had. I only wish I had lost my faith sooner, or better still, never been raised a Christian.

For those of you who might think I was never really a Christian to begin with, let me define what I mean when I say I was a Christian. I believed in Jesus Christ alone to save me from sin and hell and raise me up at the Last Day. I had confessed and repented of my sin and was endeavouring to lead a holy life even though works wouldn't save me. You can't tell me I didn't believe in Jesus. I really did. And I had sacrificed so much for God -- in vain!

For a while after deconversion, I was confused about what to believe. I didn't think evolution was possible and thought there was probably a deistic god who had created everything. Two years after deconversion, I saw Richard Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth on display in Kmart. I read the back and saw that it claimed to present the evidence for evolution, so I bought a copy. As I read it, I felt growing anger at the disinformation I'd been fed about evolution. And the theory of evolution as Dawkins explained it actually made sense, more sense than creationism. I began to read more about evolution, the big bang, science, logic and religion. In 2008 I joined the internet age and began reading articles and watching educational videos. Finally I reached the conclusion that god is probably just a human invention. He probably doesn't exist. And the God of the Bible certainly doesn't exist. I regret my lack of education, but have taught myself a lot in a few short years.

I'm atheist. I'm against religion. I've never come out to my family or to anyone. I was estranged from my family at the time of my deconversion anyway. People keep asking me if I'm religious. "You don't drink. Are you a Christian?" "You don't swear. Are you a Christian?" "You're very quiet. Are you a Christian?" "You're always happy. Are you a Christian?" I always tell them I'm not religious, but I've never told anyone in person that I'm atheist.

I know this is a long story, but I hope someone will read this, maybe even a lurker, and start asking questions or having doubts. I hope perhaps someone who is new to atheism might find this comforting. I thought it would be fitting to close with a quote from the Bible.

1 Cor 15:17-19
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
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