My Deconversion: Long Story Short

by | Deconstruction

If I had one sentence to explain my deconversion from Christianity, I would say:

I unexpectedly stopped fearing what it would mean for me to lose my faith – and this in turn dramatically changed how I thought about my Christian beliefs and my willingness to submit and change them through critical thought.

If I had two or three paragraphs to explain the first half of that story in detail, I would say:

After spending my college year’s researching how to live out my Christian faith, I caught a renewed enthusiasm for evangelism. In those years, I’d come to understand Christianity as an invitation to the life God made us for, restored in relationship to Him, our fellow humanity and all life was meant to offer us. It was the life for which we ultimately longed in the deepest and truest version of our desires (beneath our fallen sinfulness, of course): a way of life beginning in the here and now – but only to be perfected in the afterlife to come.


With a narrow focus on the non-religious in our modern culture, I tried to imagine life through their eyes to better know how to first reach them with the Gospel. I pondered how they might be trying to satisfy their God-given desires for life His way in lesser “fallen” ways currently. These same God-given desires, I believed I could appeal to and use to contrast the superiority of a faithful life with any such worldly attempts to satisfy them – like Jesus and the Scriptures did (ex. Ps. 37:4, Prov. 3:13-18, Isa. 55:1-2, Jn. 7:37-38, 10:10).


But then something strange happened: When during this exercise, I was profoundly surprised to find myself imagining a secular life of deep purpose, meaning and empathic virtue – a way of life that began in those moments to make rational sense to me for the first time ever. This had been literally unimaginable to me for years up to this point – for I’d always previously imagined something far more negative of a life without faith.

And that at least begins to explain the first half of my story as summarized above:

I unexpectedly stopped fearing what it would mean for me to lose my faith…

Now if I had just a few more paragraphs to explain the rest of the story, here’s what I would say happened next:

Up until I had the above experience, whenever I encountered reasons to question my faith, it usually felt like everything was on the line for me. Whatever the source of the doubt or “cognitive dissonance” might be, the idea that my faith might not be true was equivalent to the feeling of my whole world, sense of identity and sense of well-being in life being under attack. For without it, I feared falling into something dark and nihilistic. But once I found myself able to imagine a well-adjusted and ethical life of meaning and purpose from a non-religious perspective, my resulting newfound lack of exclusive dependence on my Christian worldview to feel “right” or “okay” about life dramatically changed how I experienced facing doubts about it forever after.

It seems, in this way, I had accidentally acquired a theoretical “plan B” worldview I could potentially fall back on. With that alternative in hand, I was immediately much more comfortable with faith challenging questions with so much less fundamentally at stake along with it for me. Suddenly, despite still being a professing Christian, I felt a new found emotional or psychological freedom to “go either way” – in terms of my beliefs – if that’s what it ultimately came to.

Then, like the next domino falling, this profound emotional or psychological shift swiftly lead to a related intellectual one regarding my approach to critically thinking and my beliefs in general. For like many Christians today, I’d always been taught that “God’s thoughts were higher than our thoughts” and that if there were things about our faith – such as raised by doubts or skeptical inquiries – that didn’t make sense to us, we should still abide in choosing to “have faith” it was true since “surely God knows” the answers to the difficult questions we presently lacked. But once I found myself free from a fundamental “need” for Christianity to be true (or at least, my current understanding of it to be) as above, the intrinsic experiential nature of why it had seemed rational and justified to suspend disbelief (or critical thought) completely vanished for me.

Looking back now, it was almost as if this critical thought-stopping rationalization of “choosing to believe” in spite of logical or moral issues was like an intellectual “ransom” I’d been willing to pay. Better that then to lose my psychological well-being which was depending on – or being figuratively held “hostage” by – my abiding belief that Christianity was true, I’d instinctively concluded. “Your mind or your heart.” the gun-pointing thug had insisted under threat. But now, suddenly he had no power over me. My old self – under his gun – was now ready to pass away without any felt risk to my soul, now having another body in which to dwell.

To clarify this shift, it wasn’t so much that I stopped thinking a God existed who knows the things we humans don’t or can’t know, but instead that this idea was completely overshadowed and superseded by another conviction of mine: that any good, loving and just God would surely not punish human beings for using their God-given minds to the best of their ability to decide what to believe is true or not in the first place. A conviction, I should confess, I only now began applying to “non-religious” persons and beliefs as a result of finding myself personally having unintentional come to start seeing things more from a “non-religious” perspective. In this way and given how I’d arrived at these thoughts with the best of Christian intentions (evangelism) motivating me, I forever lost the ability to simply assume a “willfully” resistant or rebellious stereotype about non-belief or non-believers “not wanting to believe” so they could live in sin. In that moment, by forever undermining this assumption experientially, I lost also any ability to rationalize eternal judgement against such persons categorically.

In this way, it was my abiding faith in such a good and just God that now combined with my unexpected direct experience would have me forever lose any fear of eternal damnation in any ultimate life to come for “thinking freely” in an honest fashion for myself also. The God I believed in was not only too morally just for that but also still transcended my imperfect understanding which I was now coming to admit might even include some of my long held religious views on things like the non-religious. I was confronted with a key distinction that there was a difference between having faith in God and having faith in your current understanding of God (and the things of God). One allowed room for growth where the other prevented it, but the later would prevent it for me no longer. 

And so, free of this fear and the rationalization it enticed, I would no longer make a special exception for my Christian beliefs by exempting them from critical thought in the name of “having faith” or cause “God knows” how what doesn’t make sense somehow still does make sense, halting critical thought from reaching its logical conclusions (ie. This belief doesn’t make sense!). Instead, like Thomas Jefferson affirmed by letter to his nephew lifetimes ago, I immediately came to see it as a necessary means of honoring and being faithful to God to continue forward in prayerful intellectual honesty by accepting or rejecting from my mind any beliefs – religious or otherwise – per their reasoned soundness and this without excuse. Anything less would be to bury the talent of our God-given minds and intellect in the ground – a surely damnable offense, I now concluded.

From the above shifts in thinking, further dominos would follow as I inevitably reconsidered and further amended many aspects of my religious views over time. First I’d become an increasingly theologically liberal Christian only to a few years later leave the faith entirely. I’d even spend the last 6 months of 5 years working at a Christian bookstore as a non-believer.

I’d ultimately become a secular humanist – a label or phrase, I would only learn well after adopting the views that defined it in advance. That worldview, I’ve now lived out for a good 15 years and counting. Its seen me through starting a career, the loss of a parent, seemingly life-threatening health challenges, marriage and more.

Or to summarize simply my whole deconversion journey as at the start:

I unexpectedly stopped fearing what it would mean for me to lose my faith – and this in turn dramatically changed how I thought about my Christian beliefs and my willingness to submit and change them through critical thought.

I believe any other details I could share played a minor supporting role at best to what I‘ve already described above. And so, to conclude: that’s my story in a nutshell.