I have been blogging about the context out which deconversions often emerge. Last week I mentioned that many stories shared by deconverts contain aspects of fundamentalism. I shared Dani’s story as an example of a person who lost her faith and touched on the role that fundamentalism played in her loss of faith.Dani contacted me and felt that I had misrepresented her. She did not feel that fundamentalism played such a role in her experience. In response she put up a blog post inspired by what I had written. While I don’t quite agree with what she said about me, I think many of her criticism about how believers often engage former believers are valid. She is sincere and her perspective is a valuable one to ponder. She is passionate and articulate. I think it is important for you to check it out. She is presently blogging on the topic of how Christians and deconverts can better understand and engage one another. I applaud her for that.
A second context out of which deconversions occur may be a bit surprising. While no one should be surprised about the role fundamentalism plays in the loss of faith the same can’t be said for the fact that many former believers considered themselves serious, committed Christians before their deconversion.
Prior to their deconversions, former believers often exhibit behavior characteristic of serious, committed Christians. Twenty (20) of the 24 former believers I spoke with demonstrated high levels of commitment to their faith. Whether these folks were ever truly born again is an open question. And while I get the theological reasons for assuming they weren’t that is often an easy excuse for not seriously engaging with their stories. One thing is certain, it is clear from the data that many former believers considered themselves sincere, committed Christians who were quite serious about their faith. My experience with former believers revealed that many demonstrated a willingness to serve, worship, pray, study the Bible, engage in dialogue with others, give money, and deny certain pleasures. It is quite common to hear from the deconverted that in their mind they truly believed as best as they knew how and they were as sincere as they could be.
Ken Daniels was a believer for over 30 years and served as a missionary Bible translator before losing his faith. Ken’s autobiography is a fascinating read and quite moving. In it he includes prayers he recorded in his journal as he went through the deconversion process. They are heartfelt and desperate. He cried out to God to help him retain his faith. Yet in the end he lost his faith. Ken is not the only former believer to testify of a desire to believe in the midst of crippling doubt. Furthermore, it’s not primarily the people who were on the fringe of the church who lose their faith and become active atheists - although I am sure that does happen too - but people, who by their own descriptions identified as sincere, committed Christians.
So, what’s my point? Well, it’s not to make a judgment about who is saved and who isn’t, or wasn’t. Rather, I simply want to point out that it’s not always easy to account for, or understand, or explain away deconversions. Pointing out the role fundamentalism plays in deconversion is easy to do. One might expect it. But noting the fact that people, who apparently at one time meaningfully believed in Jesus, (even serving as a missionary ) also leave the faith is a bit harder to do since it is unexpected. But it happens. More than one might realize.