Last year, a fellow blogger posted a comment in which she shared a link to an article entitled Into the Clear Air. I have wanted to draw attention to it for awhile as it’s a truly poignant piece that deserves a large audience. The author, Adam Lee, wrote about the four common stages that many of us go through in regard to embracing and then later abandoning a deeply held religious faith.
If you are going through a deconversion of faith and/or have recently left the faith, you’ll find the 20 minutes or so needed to give it a read as time truly well spent. The many quotes from others who have been through the journey are very helpful. I’ll summarize a few key points below and add some personal reflections.
The author writes about the four stages of conversion/deconversion, which are: (1) Exaltation; (2) Doubt; (3) Darkness; and (4) Illumination. The time spent in each stage can very wildly for each of us, but nearly all of us experience those same 4 stages.
(Stage 1 – Exaltation): For me, becoming a Christian was a pretty joyous experience. I felt a weight of teenage guilt lifted and I began to view life through new rose-colored glasses. I enjoyed the comfort and security in the man-made message of the Bible. It was also great to join a community of like-minded believers who showed interest in my life and well-being. It was also an opportunity to develop some talents (music) and skills (public speaking).
(Stage 2 – Doubt): For me, this was a very long period or stage. Doubts about the validity of my Christian faith began in Bible college when I learned about the anonymous authors for many books of the Bible, combined with the dubious way it was assembled and voted on (canonized). As I grew older, my doubts grew when I started to face the many logical fallacies, scriptural contradictions and scientific disputes with my faith. I started my blog to share my journey so I won’t restate it all here. But for most of us, it’s a long, difficult and arduous process.
(Stage 3 – Darkness): When a person’s former faith collapses or vanishes, it can be a truly dark time. Typically and initially, we have nothing to replace it with. We can feel lost and adrift, with a lack of meaning or purpose in life. There can be fear or horror. Everything is different! I remember feeling that my safety net was gone. I no longer had a deity with a personal interest in my well being. The author states that this stage is the worst but usually the briefest. I’m grateful that was true for me — it was brief. I could measure it in days rather than weeks or months.
(Stage 4: Illumination): This was the awesome stage. The bondage was ended! It felt like the prison doors were opened and the world was no longer this grossly distorted thing because the myopic lens of faith was gone. The cognitive dissonance was ended. I remember feeling a far greater sense of awe and wonder for the universe than what I held in my Christian faith. There was a new sense of urgency and motivation to enjoy a full life. Humanism became the guiding principle for a meaningful existence. I had the exuberance of a new convert and I wanted to share my new found joy. I was fortunate to find fellow bloggers and local friends who shared in this illumination. If you haven’t checked out meetup.com for local groups, please do! Many locations will have groups of fellow skeptics, humanists and atheists to connect with and enjoy life with. Rebecca and I have made some great friends thanks to meetup, and it’s so refreshing to have friends who aren’t judging everything little thing you say or do through a religious book.
The author doesn’t list definite stages beyond #4, but it might be helpful to know that feelings of anger can be quite normal. Losing one’s religion has been compared to the anguish of divorce and/or the grief from the death of a loved one. I have experienced all of that, and anger toward religion is normal. I wrote a piece a year ago called Anger at Religion. I think it was a cathartic exercise and that’s an important tip. If you have strong feelings of anger, channel that energy into something constructive. Don’t let it rule you.
Lastly, know that there are plenty of us who are hear to listen and help. You don’t have to feel alone! Visit some online communities like Reddit’s exchristian group or the exchristian.net website. Consider writing your thoughts and feelings down or start a blog like I did. WordPress is a terrific platform and you can get started for free.
Have a thought or comment to share? Please do.