Advice on deconverting

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Deconversion is the process of leaving a religion. This is also known as apostasy. Many people leave religions and, based on their experiences, may be able to offer advice for those considering deconversion.

"your life isn’t ending, your whole life is just beginning with positive, new beginnings that will take you places towards freedom and fulfillment. Be patient. It’s tough at first, but in time you WILL succeed in having a happy life free of guilt and fear [1]"

"The voice of the herd will still echo in thee. And when thou sayest, 'I have no longer a conscience in common with you,' then will it be a plaint and a pain."

Friedrich Nietzsche
"People often ask me if my life is better now that I’ve left my religion. My honest answer is that it’s a mixed bag. [2]"
"You have the RIGHT to leave. You don't need the Church's permission. They may act like you do, but it is absolutely your right to walk away. You are a free person, not the Church's property. [3]"
"many who leave religion in America become isolated from their former communities, which can make them anxious, depressed, or even suicidal. Others feel liberated. No deconversion story is the same, but many who leave behind strongly-held religious beliefs can see [a positive or negative] impact on their health. [4]"
"I can’t say it wasn’t painful – I had forged strong bonds with those people over the years. But I did it, and in the end I was glad of it. [5]"

Contents

General advice

  • Read, listen and discuss widely about other perspectives on your religion and other religions.
  • Make friends outside your religion [6]
  • Use tact with religious friends and family. [6] While having "out" atheists is helpful for that community, this needs to be balanced with personal circumstances and potential negative consequences, such as being shunned.[7]
  • Don't be too worried about lack of certainty without religion: false certainty is often worse than uncertainty
  • Understand the main apologetics and counter-arguments for religious dogmas. Only by hearing both sides of the argument can you reach an informed view.
  • Reality away from religion is more amazing than the dogma within religion (not to mention religious dogma is fictional)
  • Question if your values and morals are different, or even superior, to your professed religion
  • When explaining your change in belief, be honest, but be humble. [8]
  • Appreciate human psychology makes people prone to forming false beliefs in particular situations.
  • Deconverting can be a long gradual process, so give it time.

Doubt

  • Recognise that there are many people like you who have doubts and many of those go on to leave their religion.
  • If God exists and he is a good father figure, he probably feels sympathy for his creations having honest doubts. It makes little sense that would punish doubt.[7]
  • A God that would punish his creations for having doubts is unworthy of worship.[7]
  • Many religions encourage people not to doubt their religion. This is a self defence mechanism. Doubt is a perfectly normal experience.
  • You cannot freely choose to believe or doubt. You need to do the best you can.

Deconversion stories

Many ex-religious writers and vloggers have shared their experiences which may provide some insight, such as:

Why do people leave religion?

Main reasons for leaving a religion include:

  • Moral disagreements with the religion's teachings or behaviour
  • Intellectual doubts, sometimes triggered on encountering new ideas and belief system, and the inability of religion to justify itself [13]
  • Being raised in a bubble and then being confronted with how the world actually is. [14]
  • Lack of emotional fulfilment (arguable also known as spiritual fulfilment)
  • Theological differences (can lead believers to schism or change to a different religion or denomination)
  • You just want to sin (however, atheists generally do not believe in sin)
  • Hating God (this causes people to leave a religion but they remain theists)
  • Having a bad experience with a local religious organization, such as child abuse
  • Laziness
"I propose an overarching reason for why people abandon religion: they leave when the tension becomes too great between what they want and need, and what religion tells them they should want and need. [15]"

While this are reasons, belief or disbelief is not usually a choice but a subconscious process. If you don't believe something, you cannot usually force yourself to believe it. [16]

Process

Although everyone's journey is different, there are some broad patterns in leaving a religion. Ebaugh [17] proposed the stages of:

  • first doubts,
  • seeking and weighing role alternatives
  • a turning point and
  • establishing an "ex-role" or post-religious identity

Impact

Leaving a religion varies in impact from trivial to highly stressful. This is often largely down to the adverse reaction of the religious community or religious family members. Unfortunately, some religions have a policy of shunning, disassociation or "disconnecting" from former members. Another major source of stress and anxiety is cause by the former believer having to establish their own post-religious identity. This can lead to an existential crisis (questioning if your life has any meaning or significance) or nihilism (the idea that existence has no meaning), both of which are usually temporary. Some psychologists have speculated that the stress of deconversion can lead to a condition they refer to as religious trauma syndrome. [4] On the other hand, some people who deconvert experience great relief at not having to pretend to believe in a religion with implausible dogma and judgemental moral codes.

The longer term impact is generally neutral or positive. Without the burden of judgemental morality or erroneous dogmas, life can be quite wonderful!

Re-evangelism

People who deconvert may have to put up with members of their former religion trying to re-convert them. They will eventually give up but it may take time.

Getting support

Leaving a religion

Various support groups exist that aim to help people with the transition away from religion, such as Recovering from Religion, [18] and Journey Free. [19]

There are specific ex-religious groups such as Council of Ex-Muslims of Britian.

Faith to Faithless aims to collects de-conversion experiences for all faiths. As of May 2015, they have produced videos of ex-Muslim apostates describing their experience.

Leaving a cult

Some cults control many aspects of the lives of members making it harder to leave the group. There are organisations that can assist in leaving a cult, such as culthelp [20]. Some support groups focus on helping people leave a specific cult, such as Exit Support Network. [21]

Leaving ministry, clergy or priesthood

Leaving the priesthood or ministry career is even more difficult. Groups such as the Clergy Project aim specifically to support those who are thinking of leaving or continue despite not believing. [22]

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 [4]
  5. [5]
  6. 6.0 6.1 [6]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Tracie and Matt Help a Doubting Christian, Atheist Experience 2014-03-02
  8. [7]
  9. Evid3nc3/Chris Redford, Why I am no longer a Christian, Youtube video series
  10. [8]
  11. [9]
  12. [10]
  13. [11]
  14. [12]
  15. [13]
  16. [14]
  17. Ebaugh, Helen Rose Fuchs Leaving Catholic Convents: towards a Theory of Disengagement (1988), article in the book edited by David G. Bromley Falling from the Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy ISBN 0-8039-3188-3
  18. [15]
  19. [16]
  20. [17]
  21. [18]
  22. [19]

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