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From Christian to Deist to Atheist (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 17, 2011

I think we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions – including atheism – depends on this. Hence every now and then I feature interviews or guest posts on Spritzophrenia. You can find other interviews here.

Today is part one of a guest post by Jared Cowan of To Hold Nothing. Enjoy…

While I’m probably much younger than other guest posters on this blog, I’ve had an interesting journey of beliefs through my almost quarter of a century of life. I was raised mainline Protestant, ranging from Baptist to Methodist to Presbyterian, my parents weren’t picky (except that you had to be mainstream, so no 7th Day Adventists, Mormons or Jehovah’s Witness churches). I was enrolled in a Catholic school for 1st and 2nd grade, going to mass once or twice a week from what I remember, even though I imagine my parents found the complexity of Catholic beliefs objectionable. Like lapsed Catholics and cultural, but not religious Jews, I imagine they regarded the good education itself as more important than minor religious disagreements that could be smoothed over. I crossed myself once after a prayer in my hometown church and the congregation was a bit stunned, though not so much that they couldn’t chalk it up to me imitating what I had been exposed to for about two years.

I grew up usually following along with church as a weekly thing until I was about 12 or 13 years old, the common rebellious and curious phase of any child’s life who isn’t smothered with religion. I went to services, even attending youth group and going on the occasional trip for a weekend retreat in West Tennessee. I think those trips might’ve actually sped up my progress to apostasy, since it exposed me to a greater diversity of approaches to Protestant Christianity. My minimal association with Catholic services as a child didn’t stick with me, so I can’t say that I saw any of the sophistication that exists in the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox/Episcopalian areas of Christianity more than any Protestant denomination you could show me.


Click to see larger image.

I started on the path to become a more secular and philosophically minded person when I stumbled across Deism through a French class report on Voltaire. After discovering the nature of it, I endeavored to learn more, considering myself a Deist for a few years before looking into other religions, such as Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism in my junior year of high school through a teacher in a sociology class. She inspired me to think as an individual more than I had ever done in my years of feeling like an outsider even as I was accepted (partly) by the church community my father was raised in. We moved to that church for reasons I’m not quite sure of besides my mother wanting a more down- to-earth spiritual community.

That community has recently changed for the worse as myself and other children grew up and either moved to new churches as they started their own families, or in my case, leaving the whole religion for lack of belief. Political squabbling and bickering within the congregation about choosing a new pastor among other superficial things has kept my mother from participating for the most part. My father still attends weekly, possibly in order to maintain the status quo, but also because he genuinely believes it and feels he should contribute to the group.

After a while, I began to go beyond Deism and affirm some form of atheism, though at the time I didn’t realize that I leaned more towards apatheism in that while I genuinely believed that the likelihood of there being a God of any sort was very low, I didn’t concern myself with it. My disbelief in God was not for lack of evidence, since I didn’t really seek it out, but practical considerations. God was not relevant or meaningful to my life, since I found more purpose and fulfillment through interactions with humans; especially with people I now consider some of my best friends. Just sharing time at an anime convention for 3 and a half days was an experience in and of itself that compares to a spiritual retreat in some sense. Or at least to the human companionship I’m usually exposed to sporadically, being more private and socially reserved.

I don’t doubt my parents’ sincerity in their beliefs, as they’ve had enough combined education and experience with varying belief systems to be relatively secure (though not necessarily sophisticated, but stable). I also have no intent of trying to “convert” them, since I think if they really wanted to investigate other religions, all they’d have to do is ask me, since I’m not in the closet about being a nonbeliever to them when it is pertinent and I have a background in, and significant library of, religious studies. We maintain peace on religious issues now. I used to be very inquisitive and argumentative, which stayed with me until at least my sophomore year in college, which might’ve had to do with getting a more openly atheist roommate who I still respect. I keep my head up during prayers, but I am by no means intrusive about such things, usually staying away from most funerals and weddings unless I’m especially close to the person.

My paternal grandmother was recently married (4 years after she was widowed) and my cousin, an especially religious and devout preacher, led the service, reminding me of a particularly bitter flavor of Christianity that was a partial factor in my leaving, since that sort of hyper-evangelical community is not remotely what I’d like to be part of. That same cousin said hurtful things at my paternal grandfather’s funeral, saying atheists have a sad life in not believing there’s anything after death (paraphrasing, of course). My family in West Tennessee is more religious than much of the family in Middle Tennessee; family reunions are almost dreaded by me, since I’m resigned to staying in the back of the chapel. I’m contemplating just slipping out as the service starts this year, since I’m unobtrusive enough that people wouldn’t even notice me leaving; I’d like to appreciate nature in that time, since the area we have our family reunions at recently is sylvan in nature.

I also don’t have any real issue with my younger brother reaffirming his Christian faith, having been baptized like me, not to mention exposed to Episcopalian Christianity through his education at a private school. He is still nominally Christian from what I understand, but my parents are happy he has found a spiritual community. I hate to think that they are only proud of his reaffirming Christianity in the context of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) because their elder son (me) has apostatized from the faith, but it may be me over-thinking.

That lingering thought that my parents think they have failed their child rarely crosses my mind though, since I get the feeling that they believe that Christian adage paraphrased from the Bible that they should “train up a child in the way they should go (Christianity) and when he is old he will not depart from it”. If they took that seriously though, I can only conclude they’d plead to God for intervention, since they failed to truly instruct me in the ways of Jesus.

Next time, I’ll discuss some of my beliefs, particularly Buddhist ones, in more detail.

Click for more interviews with different faiths here.


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12 Responses to “From Christian to Deist to Atheist (Part One)”

  1. […] From Christian to Deist to Atheist (Part One) […]

  2. Edit helped with clarification. Thanks

  3. shok said

    I identify with this journey. Thanks 4 posting. I look forward to more.

  4. That was a nice article and I look forward to reading the next instalment. I agree, that peaceful coexistence of religions depends on communication, both talking AND listening (the latter seeming to be the hardest part for many).

  5. Christi said

    I think my parents hold on to the “train up a child in the way they should go” bit.  You wld think in situations like this ppl wld get disappointed w/ their god… Feeling as if their god had failed them… And they wld start asking some questions. But ppl are so used to being disappointed by their god & making excuses for their god. Their god could really get away with anything…

    • Christian tendency isn’t to blame God, since God is perfect. It’s always preferable to blame yourself, even if it isn’t your fault. They take that personal responsibility thing a bit too far, I say.

  6. Good piece, and I look forward to the next installment.

    It’s interesting that certain theologies and organizational issues within the churches the author attended are characterized as “minor” and “superficial.” To the participants in these “disagreements” and “squabbles” these issues are certainly not considered minor or superficial at all. I wonder by what criteria do each us decide that another’s sense of what is important, isn’t? Should we characterize those issues as minor and superficial just because we think it is – or should be – so? Just a thought, no disrespect towards Jared’s experience intended.

    Again, good piece, and thanks to Jonathan and his guest for engaging in this dialog! Class act, people!

    • My mom noted it was stuff like managing the fellowship hall and other responsibilities and these are a lot of much older people who aren’t necessarily willing to take those responsibilities, it seems. It wasn’t theological, so much, except in relation to the possibility of hiring a female preacher, for instance, or a preacher of a different denomination, things like that.

  7. Growing up with the church experience for me was unpleasant. It was all hellfire and brimstone..fear based. Enjoyed the read, thank you!

    • I can’t say our preachers emphasized hell so much as good behavior in the present, but I’m not sure about Presbyterianism as a whole, since it’s as splintered as any other denomination. And we had usually older preachers, so I guess they were tired of emphasizing hell.

  8. Lisa Kerr said

    Thanks for sharing. Isn’t it weird how many of us who change beliefs find our family’s to be the places where most dread is associated when discussing religion? It is for me. My family knew me as a reverend and I influenced their Christianity. Now that I’m not a Christian, it’s a constant argument. They don’t understand why I don’t have the same beliefs and the same respect for god I used to.

    • I’m eventually going to blog about that in my series. WDAD About Religious Families? My family in West Tennessee is almost in your face about it, but I think it’s just that they assume I’m still Christian, which I think would just destroy their world to think someone has apostatized in their family, since they think my parents are “good Christians”, when that wasn’t what made me deconvert anyway…

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