Leaving Christianity


Human beings are intelligent and psychologically rich animals. We have much potential which we can either use, misuse or squander. There can be far reaching ramifications both in our mental lives and in our interactions with others when we take on a huge belief system such as Christianity. Many of us who are bought up to believe that Christianity is what the universe is all about end up taking our religious beliefs most ardently, basing our personal, interpersonal and sometimes professional lives on this. It makes a big difference to our lives if Christianity is mistaken and we take it as very seriously true. It is therefore worth examining our beliefs. Some of us take up this challenge, or are forced into it by noticing difficulties with the claims of Christianity. We notice problems, think, read and often come to a startling conclusion.

There are many reasons why people leave Christianity, but the most common reason for a very serious Christian to leave is through research. Ironically this often happens when research is carried out in order be a better exponent of Christianity. This happens to apologists, theologians, missionaries, ministers, fundamentalists and liberals. The broad spectrum from professional to lay Christian of all Christian types.

The deconversion experience is one of the most dramatic transforming experiences that can happen to a religious person for which there is no "exit counselling" from the church. Where does one go with such a life changing discovery? Our Christian friends do not want to look that deeply into our lives, preferring only to coach us back to Christianity, believing we must be mistaken. Often they condemn us as hell-bound for "turning our backs on Christ," rather than facing the possibility that we have just found that the Christian belief system is untenable. The Internet is one of the few places where those who leave Christianity can turn easily for help and find people who have already been through this leaving process. Often new deconverts feel that they are in a very lonely situation as there is nobody around who will sympathetically listen to their thoughts. Therefore it can be a great thrill and relief to find others with similar stories to tell.

So what is it like to leave? Some quietly slip out of their religious beliefs without much fuss. There are many though, who were previously strongly convinced that their religion is utter reality. It is highly revealing to listen to those who have had experience into and out of Christianity and are in a position to know and authoritatively evaluate and relate their actual experiences. Deconversion for such people, although sometimes initially very emotional or traumatic, comes as a revelation far more spiritually enriching than conversions into religion. In the stories scattered over the Internet and in books ex-Christians have repeatedly said this enrichment of life is the case.

In our modern age with ease of access to information many of us are still bought up to believe the unexamined religion of our culture. It is not routine at church or school to research the historical claims of Christianity or to critically examine its dogmas. The fact that this examination has even occurred is rarely known, neither is the extent of the criticism appreciated. What percentage of Christians have done their "extra-Christian homework" and have well thumbed critical books on their bookshelves? Most study is devotional or inclined towards "what is God saying here?" Indeed, most Christians are surrounded by other Christians, seldom in an environment promoting critical examination of beliefs. It is usually left to the personal research of the curious amongst us, or the chance discovery of a student of religion to stumble across the historical, psychological, philosophical, anthropological and sociological problems of Christianity. This research, although often very long and arduous, can still come as a shock to the highly religious. As mentioned, some do find their discoveries hard to cope with initially, although this is rarer than might be thought.

Unfortunately, if ones closest friends and relatives are very religious then not being a Christian can cause problems in the family and amongst peers. We often hear how Christians claim high standards for "family values" and yet, especially amongst more fundamentalist Christians, ex-Christian family members who "come out" are not only shunned but are even told that they will go to hell. Belief in the justice of unrelenting torture for your family is not a way to bring family unity. Also Christians seldom do justice to the possibility of what we have read, thought and discovered, merely claiming we can't have been "true Christians" or asking "where did you go wrong?"

It is a common misapprehension to claim that those who leave Christianity never understood what Christianity was "really about." The full range of Christian types leave Christianity, from all denominations, doctrines, and persuasions. From the most liberal to the most fundamentalist. The philosophical liberal, the conservative orthodox, the born-again and the hyper-charismatic fundie.

Christianity was once the centre of the universe for the many former Christians who lived it, thought it, felt it, preached it, discussed it, prayed privately and publicly, led religious groups and been thanked for encouraging other Christians and helping them in their "walk with Christ." Certainly if we were not "true Christians" then our fellow Christians were not able to judge a tree by its fruit. Ex-Christians have felt moved by religious experience and lost in numinous feeling of connection with God, taken communion, partaken of all kinds of fellowship, retreats, Christian college courses, study groups and missionary crusades. They have written many words of Christian thought, coming from all theological and doctrinal positions.

Nobody I have heard of chooses whilst they are a believing Christian to leave Christianity, neither do they think that they (a "real Christian") would ever deconvert. But they do leave. Indeed, the idea of choice does not describe what happens. Rather than choosing "I will not believe this now" (psychologically impossible to not believe something you do believe!) instead researches lead to the inescapable conclusion that Christianity is false. Not only that but contrary to former beliefs ex-Christians are so often surprised to find a better inner life after deconversion.

I have found that ex-Christians frequently describe an enormous life affirming nature to the discovery that their beliefs were false. Reports from deconverts are of a life of honesty, free, and more loving, and often a passion for knowledge and interest in the world. No divine judging, spiritual separation from others or easy condemnation of different lifestyles. Instead the discovery of the poignancy and vulnerability of life. The desire to be moral because we can truly empathise with others in their messy humanity. Connection with the world rather than running against it.

Any major change of world view can bring a "conversion experience" or trauma - but there is more to it than this. All the feelings had when religious were human and natural feelings that were mistaken for divine and supernatural things. I think this stunts them, no matter how good they where thought to be at the time. Non-theistic Buddhists describe belief in a god as "unskilful" as it can actually harm the spiritual life of a person. The fact is that we were missing out as Christians on the real world. Not only was our view of reality mistaken, but we were also too often wrapped up in our own ego or "salvation." It makes a huge difference to intelligent complex animals like ourselves when we really believe something of such vast ramifications which is false. When we know the real source of our feelings they can be far more powerful. Such was the experience of many deconverts as the world comes more into focus out of the confusing mist of misinterpretation that is religion. The more seriously one took their religion then the greater this transformation experience may be.

It is always better to believe things that are true. If one wants to know what is true then how can it be wrong to do some research? However, if only one side of the argument is ever listened to then what kind of research is that? If Christianity is true then it should correspond to the facts of the world. Nobody should be afraid of finding out what those facts, thoughts and discoveries are. There is nothing to fear from knowing reality but instead everything to learn.

Over the years I have come to know and know of many ex-Christians most of whom were well-churched, their numbers including former ministers, apologists, missionaries, theologians etc. Why should such people leave Christianity? These people are the best versed in Christianity and yet they leave despite so much personal and professional investment in their religion, enjoyment of their time as believing Christians and social pressures to stay. How can this happen if the evidence for Christianity is so good? If supernatural Christianity is true, shouldn't they have known better?

But what if the history and philosophical and moral implications of the various branches of Christianity are very different from that which is traditionally taught? The painful fact for many Christians is that through research and thinking this is the conclusion to which they often come. Why else should all these people leave, contrary to their world-view, culture, professions, and heavy investment in Christianity? Why would God go to the trouble of incarnation and crucifixion only to allow genuine seekers to find Christianity untenable, or give "spurious" experiences and "incorrect" interpretation to those who spend so many years trying to be Christians? From our research and testimonies it is apparent that Christianity is not what we once thought it was.

I hope that these collected stories and resources will be of comfort to new deconverts. It can be a great thrill to find fellow travellers in what is usually a very lonely journey with often few or no sympathetic people to turn to. I thought I was the first to deconvert from a genuine heartfelt Christianity until I discovered a few hints in books, some friends with similar stories and then the voluminous accounts on the Internet!

I hope to keep these pages fresh as I am still in the process of collecting stories and links and discussing this subject with various interested parties. Discussing religion can of course be very contentious and although primarily a resource for ex-Christians it is inevitable that some believing Christians, or others with different opinions, will surf here and wish to criticise this site. I have tried to avoid too much scornful material, although sometimes emotions rise in some of the reported on-line discussions - I am not from Vulcan! But if you think I have not been fair or really have missed something then I'd like to know. All criticism is welcome as long as it is not a knee-jerk at just reading a little of what I have to offer as such criticism is less interesting and causes too much repetition.

This site started partly as a FAQ when on debating lists and also as a collection of my bookmarks, so there is some of my own material here. However I don't think I have got the most to say, although I have included my own story with as much detail as I think is necessary for those who are interested. I am occasionally worried that I will one day be put in a corner by religious friends or relatives, so this is also my considered FAQ for any of them, rather than an emotional confrontation. Luckily it has not yet been needed - I have coped with carefully placed comments, so far! The bulk of the material is contained in the links to the writings of other people which is exactly the sort of information I wish I had found back in the mid 1980's when I was asking all those questions....


My Journey and thoughts

  1. Why I left Christianity Includes notes for deeper investigation into what I read and thought.
  2. Influential books - many with links to free on-line versions.
  3. Asymmetry of Conversion My investigation into the asymmetry between the large number of well-churched Christians who leave Christianity versus the scarcity of those educated in the problems of Christianity who later become Christians. This also contains my essay on the resurrection and many further resources.
  4. Selections of postings I have made to various newsgroups and mailing lists.
  5. Crazy stuff from the bible.
  6. Conundrums.
  7. Feedback discussions I attempt to discuss with those who raise interesting points with me. If you are planning to evangelize, please check that I have not already had the conversation about your points here, or elsewhere in part 1 of this site.

A summary of my discoveries whilst researching and compiling this website, is now included in the preface above and originally only appeared as a guest essay I wrote for another website. To compliment this summary, I have compiled a quotes page of great snippets lifted from some of the deconversion stories contained within, or linked from, this site.

The journeys and thoughts of others

  1. Main Links Includes resources for study and links to hundreds of informative deconversion stories and all the discussion groups for ex-Christians that I am aware of, both on the Internet and in real life!
  2. Reciprocal Links Includes both those in accord with my site and those in disagreement.
  3. Study Resources - Some of the best places I have found for serious study. This includes:

Main Links (Also see notes).

And relatedly...

Other recommended sites in accord with my site. These include valuable resources on the theme of leaving Christianity but also related matters.

    • Atheism Central for Secondary Schools "Help with homework assignments and general support for atheist students attending religious studies courses in secondary schools in the United Kingdom (age range 11-18)." Alan Urdaibay's site addresses the imbalance in RE teaching in UK schools. I have a guest essay at Alan's site, in which I summarise my findings to date in compiling Leaving Christianity. Alan also describes how he became disillusioned with religion.
    • Freethought crossroads "If you're at a crossroads between faith and reason, feeling the pull of each, this site is for you."

(Note this site appears to be no longer active and this version is therefore taken from the Internet Archive)

    • Religious Humanism and Belief Systems "The main purpose of this website is to provide some reasonable justification and some confidence for you who are in the process of walking away from your traditional belief system. -- to possibly give you a little head start by using some of the "spade work" that I have done. -- this may save you some effort and time."
    • Reasonworks.com "Audio Tapes and Articles for Agnostics, Atheists, Skeptics ... and Even Curious Religious Folk!" By former Mormon Mike Earl et al.
    • The Skeptic's Annotated Bible. "This easily navigable site contains the entire text of the King James Version of the bible presented from a skeptic's point of view. It identifies the bible's absurdities, cruelties, sex and vulgarities, insults to women, injustices, foul language, false prophecies, and contradictions. Verses are classified using a four star rating system, with cross-referenced links and attached notes."
    • Steven Carr's home page "This page is designed to provided information about atheism and about specific religions. There are detailed examinations of Christianity and Islam and a set of links to the world's foremost source of secular information - The Secular Web" Steven also says, "It is my aim to provide space for anybody who disagrees with me or believes that they have a rebuttal of what I say." Steven also has engaged in some high quality debates. His sections on The Gospels - Eyewitness Records? (1) and (2) as well as his discussion of The Resurrection of Jesus are particularly interesting.
    • An intelligent and absorbing analysis: The Rejection of Pascal's Wager - A skeptic's guide to Christianity.
    • "The Central Thesis: The major claims of Christianity are demonstrably untrue and, on balance, it has brought more harm than good to the world."
    • Edward T. Babinski. A true romp of entertaining and intellectual deep thought. Good fun whilst also a wide range of perceptive and well-researched thinking on creation vs. evolution, leaving the fold, Christian history, biblical errancy etc. Incisive commentary on an extraordinary variety of other Christian beliefs and phenomena. Gentle yet serious deprogramming for the confused. Many people have written to Ed thanking him for helping then in their walk away from fundamentalism. Ed is the author of Leaving the Fold, which documented the testimonies of over 30 individuals who abandoned fundamentalism and religious fanaticism.
    • At From Young Earth Creationist to Evolutionist Edward T. Babinski describes how he was a YEC-evangelical Christian who turned evolutionist and agnostic. Read his account of the events and knowledge which changed his beliefs forever.
    • Also see ED B's story from the ex-Christian mailing list archives.
    • Ed also has a page on the secular web here.
    • The Hundredth Sheep by Curt van den Heuvel.
    • Kim Walker's Atheism and Philosophy Articles. ** Well recommended! ** (Note that this is the version from the Internet Archive as my original link to Kim's site died).
    • The Lowdown on Christianity - Why You Don't Want to Teach It To Your Kids
    • www.drinkme.net
    • Secular Spirituality. " Secular Spirituality strives to be a supportive and informative resource for people who are seeking to cultivate a nontheistic, world-centered spirituality."
  • Why Christianity is false

Reciprocal Links with Christian sites.

Interactive Area

Feel free to email me with any other collections of deconversion stories you know of, feedback or links to other sites I've missed that you think are particularly relevant. Also I would be glad to arrange reciprocal links to your site if it is relevant and especially if it disagrees with mine. I will also put up your own deconversion story if you wish, although now it is probably better to send it straight to the exchristian.org database to enable other readers to easily search for ex-Christians with similar backgrounds to themselves.

If you want to leave a message for everyone to see, then please sign my guestbook. Note that if you are writing to convince me that Christianity is true, please check that I have not already discussed your ideas to your satisfaction on my pages or in my feedback discussions.

Guestbook started 11th July 1999

How consistent are your beliefs? Check your Tension Quotient!

If you used to be active in an atheist organisation and considered yourself well-read in arguments against Christianity and yet subsequently became a Christian, I would be very interested if you could email me to explain, or put resources that convinced you in the guestbook if you would prefer to stay anonymous. See Asymmetry of Conversion for the background to this question.

If you are an ex-minister then you may wish to at the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. Dan is currently engaged in writing a book about former clergy who are now unbelievers. He is also an ex-minister and ex-missionary who has written a popular book about his deconversion (excerpts are available). I wrote to him in December 1999 to enquire about the progress of this and to maybe give him some more leads. He replied that he has over 20 stories so far, and is hoping to get a few more. The ones he has represent a wide cross section of belief: Baptist, Roman Catholic priest, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, Episcopal, Church of Christ, and so on. Dan may well be interested in your story of why you are an ex-Christian and ex-member of the clergy.

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