Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?

January 11, 2008 at 12:22 am 52 comments

despairOftentimes, those of us who have left religion behind are asked to define what keeps us going, what motivates us, what rescues us from the pit of existentialist despair now that we no longer believe in god. Some of us do not seem to have much of a positive belief system, others have adopted skepticism or humanism, others excavate their own philosophies of life.

A new member of an ex-fundy support group I help moderate addressed this topic recently and his answer was so interesting that I asked him if I could re-post it to this group and he graciously consented.

Bryan wrote:

I wanted to share an epiphany I’ve had after many years of wandering a post-fundamentalist wasteland. Maybe it will have meaning for some of you.

My Southern Baptist fundamentalist belief began disintegrating right around the time I went off to college. This was very painful for me (as I’m sure comes as no surprise to most of you). I fought it every step of the way as my faith slowly bled from me — my belief in Christ had formed the core of my self image, and my view of myself collapsed along with the elaborate theological construction that had undergirded it.

This was triggered not by liberal intellectual college professors, but by my inability to rationalize the failure of my earnest prayers to head off my parents’ divorce. First my belief in the effectiveness of prayer inexorably eroded, and eventually my dogmatic mind could no longer hold my rational mind at bay. For about 30 years I struggled in my search for meaning. I couldn’t escape the influence of that fundamental Christian tenet that without God, life has no meaning. I was agnostic, but I kept looking for some alternative way to believe in God so that I could recover the sense of meaning I’d felt as a fundamentalist.

I was caught up in the idea that I had to first decide whether I believed in God before I could build a new system of belief. I was never able to get beyond that first step. Yet after the painful experience of losing my faith, the last thing I wanted to do was to build my view of the world and sense of meaning on top of another rug that could be pulled out from under me. I’m happy to say that, in the end, I found a way of understanding that made that first step unnecessary.

A couple of years ago, as I was shaving one morning before going to work, I was thinking about a book I’d been reading on evolution. I have some educational background in biology, and I started thinking about some of what I remembered about the molecular basis for life — the fact that we (and the living things all around us) are mind-bogglingly elaborate constructions, assembled from raw materials drawn from the environment by the cells that comprise us. Beyond this, we each begin life in the form of a single cell that contains all the information needed to drive a developmental process over many years that eventually leads to conscious beings capable of experiencing love, and beauty, and wonder. In one revelatory instant I realized ! — whether or not God exists, our existence is a wonder. As I thought about this, it became clear to me that although many of us spend much of our lives in “the fog of the ordinary,” feeling that each day is pretty much like the last and wishing for something more, we are in fact swimming in, and even composed of, a sea of wonder. I developed a strong conviction that this is actually the more accurate way of viewing our circumstances.

As my conviction concerning this view grew, a sense of meaning began growing within me. I struggled for some time to find a way to concisely express what was, for me, a new way of viewing our place in the universe, and eventually boiled it down to the statement that my aim is to fully cherish the wonder of our existence. I’ve found this to be a powerful statement that can elicit a sense of conviction and meaning like what I once felt when meditating on Biblical declarations. Thinking about this naturally led me into thinking about how I should live in light of this conviction, and I eventually boiled this down to a simple dictum: promote well-being.

During the 30 years that led up to my epiphany, I was searching for something I could believe in without fearing that future experiences or discoveries would invalidate my belief. Believing in, and feeling, the wonder of our existence has accomplished that for me. It is valid whether or not there is a God. This view carries emotional import. In the two years since coming to this view, there have been many times in the midst of daily experience when I’ve repeated those simple phrases to myself (fully cherish the wonder of our existence, promote well-being) and found that they uplifted me and helped me re-orient my thinking (just as repeating scripture to myself once did). I don’t know whether this will be meaningful to any of you, but for me this view has come to have real emotional power, despite the fact that I have no certainty concerning our origin or the ultimate nature of the universe. I hope that some of you might find this helpful in your own search for meaning.

– Karen

Entry filed under: Karen. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Is there a transformative power in Christianity? The Myth of Judeo-Christian America

52 Comments Add your own

  • 1. someone  |  January 11, 2008 at 3:10 am

    Where I come from, awe for who I am and that I exist is the first step to believing in God–funny, eh…

  • 2. Tina  |  January 11, 2008 at 8:24 am

    It’s interesting to hear a de-conversion story. I never was religious to begin with, agnostic maybe. I’m trying to read as many de-conversion stories as I can to try to understand how a couple of my family members feel when I raise questions about their faith. Is it akin to feeling nervous or does it strike terror in them to think maybe they are surely going to hell if they start having doubts. I’m trying to figure out how not to distance myself from them, but still get them to thinking rationally.
    I really get tired of hearing, satan gave them a “bad” stomachache so they couldn’t attend church, or some crazy excuse for one thing or another.

  • 3. Renacier  |  January 11, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I can understand exactly what Bryan means. The more I learn about the universe the more I’m amazed at how wondrous it really is. And less and less I can understand how I was ever satisfied with the pale imitation of awe that was offered by my religion.

  • 4. karen  |  January 11, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Is it akin to feeling nervous or does it strike terror in them to think maybe they are surely going to hell if they start having doubts.

    Yes, and yes, depending on how intense the discussions get. Despite the “assurance of salvation” that all “real” Christians are supposed to have, I’ve found most are quite thin-skinned about having their faith challenged. It’s an us-vs-them thing that they get in sermons all the time, like being told not to associate with nonbelievers because Satan works through them to weaken their faith. They are predisposed to see evil and demons lurking in every corner if they come from certain fundamentalist denominations. So a nonbeliever even innocently engaging them in some discussion could be very threatening to certain Christians; though others thrive on it.

    And less and less I can understand how I was ever satisfied with the pale imitation of awe that was offered by my religion.

    Exactly how I feel, Renacier. It does take some specific understanding of exactly how awesome the universe is in terms of scientific knowledge, though, to produce that goosebumpy feeling for me. And maybe that’s why I never learned anything about science beyond what I needed to eke through school – I wanted to attribute it all to god and not understand the specifics that might make me question. I don’t know, but I’m sure glad I’ve discovered some of that awesomeness of the natural world now.

    The other thing I really liked about Bryan’s message is that he mentions how emotionally satisfying it is to him. It’s well and good for some nontheists to say they believe in reason and science, but many/most people need an emotional component to their philosophy of life. That Bryan has found something that’s rational and resonates with him as a motivator is really great.

    I’m going out of town this weekend, but I wanted to stop in at this thread just to make a brief comment. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

  • 5. ronbrown  |  January 11, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Wonderful post. I’m going to link this on my blog, The Frame Problem ( I think people here may also enjoy my blog. Its areas of focus group into three interrelated clusters: 1) religion, science, ethics, culture & politics; 2) cognitive science (e.g., popular and important cogsci; cogsci of religion, mindfulness and meditation); 3) philosophical, practical and cognitive science approaches to wisdom–its nature and development.

  • 6. confusedchristian  |  January 11, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I am right now in a state of “de-conversion” and I must say it is a very confusing time. I have a very difficult time accepting who I am at this point. Part of me really wants to be a Christian but only because it seems to be the EASY way. The other part of me wants to be completely honest with myself for the rest of my life and perhaps I think that’s where I find peace.

    The emotional satisfaction I’ve had recently is that my belief system is no longer bound or chained to anyone or anything and I can finally think for myself. I have no obligations to control my personal epistemology and I can finally seek truth without any ball and chain holding me back. That is a wonderful release for me and I want to continue this endeavor.

    It’s scary arguing with Christians though, as they are so convinced they are right, but it’s so easy for me to be at peace after aruging with them because I know that I am finally being honest with MYSELF.

    I always had a horrible time arguing with skeptics when I was a christian because everything they said made so much more sense to me but I would just quote bible verses and repeatidly tell myself (affirmation) that they werwe wrong and that the Bible is the only authority but who was I fooling?

    The deep innermost part of my soul cried out saying “This doesnt make sense stop brainwashing me” and I kept forcing dogmas down my own belief system despite the inner turmoil

    The most painful thing on earth is not being honest with yourself. I now realize that I was in a grave state of denial that was destroying my self-worth and by finally being honest with myself and challenging beliefs that aren’t realistic has empowered me with confidence and a higher self-worth.

    I do not know where this journey is taking me but I hope to always be honest with myself from here on out.

  • 7. WhoreChurch  |  January 11, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    This reminds me of this Einstein quote:

    “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religion than it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

  • […] read an interesting article today on a blog for those who are “de-converting” or in some sense trying to get over […]

  • 9. TheNorEaster  |  January 11, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    “The emotional satisfaction I’ve had recently is that my belief system is no longer bound or chained to anyone or anything and I can finally think for myself”


    I know how you feel. I am still a Christian, but it was such a breath of fresh air to get away from fundamentalism. As I had once told a Wiccan friend of mine, “It takes about five seconds to become a Christian, but after that you spend the rest of your life trying to sort through the nonsense taught by a lot of churches to discover what Christ taught.”

    (For those of you wondering, Yes, I am a Christian and Yes I do spend a signficant amount of time listening to and learning from people–even Wiccans–who do not share my particular faith. They ask me questions about what I believe; I ask them questions about what they believe. Nobody yells or screams because, quite frankly, nobody has to when you respect someone else’s point of view and they respect yours.)

  • 10. LeoPardus  |  January 11, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    As a scientist I definitely appreciate the marvel of this world. One of my life goals is to know everything. It’s all so fascinating. And I’ll always have a goal to work on. 🙂

    A quote that I like to call to mind from time to time, when I get down, is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I think about that, then put a smile on, and make up my mind to be happier. Works pretty well.

  • 11. artisticmisfit  |  January 11, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    What about those that are converting from existential despair to Christianity? Or those who are being courted by Southern Baptists? Or even those who have divorced? What if they find an answer in Christianity? Some of us have gone the opposite route and left secular humanism behind for religion…
    Also may I ask what a “positive belief system” is? That is the first time I have heard that term and it sounds intriguing.

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  January 11, 2008 at 3:12 pm


    You’ve got a bit of an idea how your family feels. Recently I watched “A Beautiful Mind”. There was a terrific perspective in that movie that I think applies here.

    The main character (Nash) had sever schizophrenia that caused him to see and converse with people who weren’t real. Nash believed them to be totally real though. He could not interacting with real people and interacting with the unreal people of his mind.

    Finally the point came where he was brought to understand the unreality of his illusory friends. (These were significant people to Nash. One was a college roomate, whom he took to be his best friend. One was that roomate’s niece, a little girl whom Nash loved as if she was his own niece. One was a government agent, whom Nash thought he was doing some work for.)

    While Nash was in hospital, his psychiatrist explained to Nash’s wife how much Nash was suffering. He said (paraphrasing here), “He has just come to realize that some of the fondest memories of his life never happened. That some of his dearest friends were illusions. That much of what he knew to be true is in fact a lie. Can you imagine how that must feel?”

    When Nash was finally able to fully acknowledge the truth, it was actually painful for him. Especially when he told the old roomate and the little girl, “I’m never going to talk to you again.”

    To a Christian believer, God/Jesus is one who loves them and whom they love. He is the one who will always be there. Who will sort out everything in the end. Who will welcome them into an eternity without pain, loss, tears, or death. And to the Christian believer that is all ultimate reality. To lose that is traumatic.

    Maybe that helps you understand why your family members are not keen to doubt. And why anything that makes them doubt gets vilified.

  • 13. LeoPardus  |  January 11, 2008 at 3:15 pm


    If Christianity helps someone out of difficulties, gives them hope when they couldn’t find it elsewhere, pulls them out of a life of harm, etc. I am all for it. In fact I have no “beef” with the faith. I just came to realize God was not real, so I had to leave the fantasy behind.

  • 14. artisticmisfit  |  January 11, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Well if you read the Philokalia, an ancient Christian text, you will find that fantasy is forbidden. So I can’t help but find your comment ironic, was it intended as irony?

  • 15. karen  |  January 11, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Terrific analogy, Leo. I’m going to remember that one — it is perfectly apt for our situation, and yet so many who’ve never been there absolutely cannot relate. If they have access to the movie, they can get a perfect sense of what it’s like. Thanks!

    Karen, really and truly getting out of town now … 😉

  • 16. LeoPardus  |  January 11, 2008 at 4:17 pm


    The Philokalia is a funny text. There are many things it says that are dang difficult to understand. The priests and bishops I’ve heard talk about it have all said that the Philokalia requires a lot of study and a knowledgeable guide for one to get through it without coming up with something whacko.

    So given that, I would have to wonder what the context of “forbidding fantasy” was. I know a fair bit of the Philokalia really applies best to monks. In that context I could see several understandings of “fantasy” that might be forbidden.

    And of course I’d wonder if any particular types of “fantasy” (e.g. sexual, violent) were being spoken of.

  • 17. BEn  |  January 11, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    wow..that was terrific. We all struggle with belief in some form, and all that really matters is what you’ve described here…finding a way to appreciate the world, humanity, and ourselves. I had much the same experience when grappeling with religion and belief, and eventually discovered what I was looking for in nature. Not all religion is spiritual, and not all “gods” can be found through organized religion.

  • 18. ronbrown  |  January 11, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    I just posted on this posting on my blog, The Frame Problem, linking it to common themes in discourse on wisdom (e.g., mindfulness, lack of commitment/identification to beliefs, not getting too caught up in oneself and one’s status, etc.).

  • 19. Artistic Misfit  |  January 11, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    All I know is my godfather, a priest, gave me a blessing to read it and yes, I believe that applies to sexual and violent fantasy, even religious fantasy. I am wondering what priests and bishops you have heard talking about it and what kind of Christians they are? We are all called to be monks, at least according to Paul Evdokimov. Have you heard of him, or interior monasticism? Perhaps you are not done with the Christian religion?

  • […] January 11, 2008 — ronbrown In what is one of the top WordPress stories today, Karen at de-Conversion presents the story of an ex-Christian fundamentalist (Southern Baptist), Bryan, who after leaving his faith eventually […]

  • 21. Mark A. Hershberger  |  January 12, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Re: Fantasy. It isn’t “just” the Philokalia that prohibits fantasy but Christian tradition as a whole. My archdiocese’s monthly publication just did an issue regarding the fantasy involved in putting too much stock in “online-only” relationships.

    Fantasy is an escape from the world we live in. Whether those delusions are religious or sexual makes no difference. We’re clearly cautioned to fight self-delusion.

  • 22. Thinking Ape  |  January 12, 2008 at 12:32 am

    Re: Fantasy – perhaps a definition of “fantasy” might be helpful, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the text in question – what does it mean by condemning “fantasy” when the Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

    “the faculty or activity of imagining things, esp. things that are impossible or improbable.”

    Does the text being spoke of in this dialogue agree with that definition, or does it have its own? Obviously self-delusion may be a by-product, but one might argue that some of the most beautiful aspects of art, culture and religion come from the activity of imagining things, especially that which is impossible or improbable (i.e. “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”).

  • 23. lori  |  January 12, 2008 at 1:31 am

    In one revelatory instant I realized ! — whether or not God exists, our existence is a wonder. As I thought about this, it became clear to me that although many of us spend much of our lives in “the fog of the ordinary,” feeling that each day is pretty much like the last and wishing for something more, we are in fact swimming in, and even composed of, a sea of wonder.

    Sounds like Bryan is a natural UU!

  • 24. artisticmisfit  |  January 12, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Mark, is that article available online?

  • 25. queuey  |  January 12, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Release from long-standing restrictions, a longing for something to fill what is missing, a decision to seek something different than what has disappointed them in the past.

    These are all reasons that people seek out religion. And, why you all are seeking a new one, whether you call it religion or not, the thing that guides your life, the way you interact with this world, your system of belief, it is your religion.

    I am a Christian. Don’t know about the fundamentalist part, but I believe the Word and all that is in it. So, if that’s the definition, then okay, I fit.

    All I know is that since I returned my life back to Christ approximately three years ago, life has been everything but boring.

    Anyone who says being a Christian is the easy choice, never had a relationship with Christ.

    It was painful, making the decision to part with what the rest of the world said was just. I am more at peace following what my soul and heart know to be true. But, it is not an easy walk.

    Because, believe me, I’d rather be quiet than speak out; sit than stand up; blend in, than stick out like a sore thumb in a world that’s more and more about making up the rules as you go along, and against anything that sets an unwavering, unyielding standard.

    Being in love with Christ has hurt my pride, lost my job, lost the roof over my head, risked my relationship with dear friends, exposed my judgemental nature, my issues with control and a plethora of other things I’d rather neglect; it has led me to a fulfilling career, a home that I adore, stronger familial relationships and friendships, given me patience and is (ever-so-slowly), redirecting my perfectionist tendencies. And, just when I think I’m just about the most perfectist Christian ever made, God leads me into another situation that shows me I need Him so, so much. I’ve risked my heart, now…and that hurts. But, I believe the Word. And, I know from experience that even that will not be in vain. Already, I see the maturity and confidence that is sculpting out this new woman.

    I don’t pretend to not have questions, or doubts. I think that pretense is what brought many of you to this point… But, I am willing to accept that I don’t know everything. I won’t know everything. But, I figure we put our lives in fickle, imperfect human hands everyday of our lives. And, yet we’re fine with not having our questions answered by people who don’t even know we exist.

    I choose to put mine in the One that’s proven over and over to me that He not only knows I exist, but knows me well enough to motivate me, quiet me, stop me, comfort me. He knows all about my past and the things I’d like to forget, and can’t see myself telling anyone else. He knows me and wants to be my partner in life.

    If you really want to know freedom, pursue life knowing you cannot fail. Knowing that no matter your shortcomings, your mistakes, your trials, hindrances, blockades…try living life knowing you were built for a wonderful purpose that only He can fulfill, and only you can decide not to.

    No. Life with Christ ain’t easy. But it’s fun. It’s amazing. And, it’s unique for each person who truly wants to know Who He Is, and not just what He can do for them.

    I’ve have no pride. I love you so much; there’s such hope and potential and worth in you. And, it distresses me to see people turn away from the prospect of something so good; when I don’t think you’ve even had a taste of the real thing.

    Three years ago, I finally got a sip of those waters we’ve always heard about. And, I’ve been riding high, ever since. I dare any of you to try the Word, not the rules. Seek God, not for what He will do for you, but for what plans He has for you. Talk to me about easy, then. And, I’m sure you’ll do so with a smile on you face backed by tales of “Whoa!” and triumph and revelation. I pray the absolute best for you.

  • 26. LeoPardus  |  January 12, 2008 at 2:04 am

    Artistic Misfit:

    Odd. Your sig changed for this post. Anyway….

    You are Orthodox. I’m even going to hazard a guess that you’re of the Russian jurisdiction. Not sure though. Let me know.

    If a priest felt you were OK to read the Philokalia, that’s good. Were you raised in the EOC (eastern orthodox church)? I’m kinda guessing yes. That would give you a good background for understanding the depths and oddities of things like the Philokalia.

    I am wondering what priests and bishops you have heard talking about it and what kind of Christians they are?

    Antiochian Orthodox priests and bishops. Who, besides the EOC even would know what the Philokalia is?

    Paul Evdokimov. Have you heard of him, or interior monasticism?

    I did not recognize the name right off. A search brought it up along with Mother Maria, whom I have heard of. Looks like she and Paul are both of the very mystical, transcendental sort. Very much proponents of interior, ceaseless prayer (a la ‘The Jesus Prayer’)

    Perhaps you are not done with the Christian religion?

    In a real sense I will never be utterly done. It has formed much of what I am. And the EOC was/is a great place. I still attend as my family all believe. And I don’t mind. The Divine Liturgy is very peace-inducing.

  • 27. artisticmisfit  |  January 12, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Leo, I would prefer to correspond in email, but I will see what I can tell you. I need to stay anonymous.
    I am not in a Russian jurisdiction, but the jurisdiction I am in originally came from the Russian tradition. I was not raised in the EO church. It is my own personal background that gives me that ability to understand the depths.
    Leo, you must know that Antiochian priests can be very different than Russian priests.
    Yes, Mother Maria is spiritually related to Paul Evdokimov. They are two streams I drink from often and have been given their writing by priests, to read.
    So, you left the EO church? That’s serious. Do you write anywhere else on the internet?
    I was at my dad’s house, which is why the signature was different earlier.

  • 28. LeoPardus  |  January 13, 2008 at 2:36 am


    The only other places I hang around on the net are quiet, little forums to discuss hobbies. E-mail I don’t use much accept for work. If you want a rather “quieter” exchange, drop into the de-con forum. On the left side of the screen below “Navigation” you’ll see the link. Just start a thread with your online name and I’ll respond.

    OCA would have been my other guess as it’s related to the Russian.

    Yep. Antiochian are different from Russians, who are different from Greeks, who are different from Romanians, etc…. Want something really different? Try an American born Protestant, turned Anglican, turned Antiochian Orthodox priest. Or a Catholic, turned Evangelical, turned Antiochian priest. Or try a Wester rite EOC priest. Anyway they are all interesting. And infinitely deeper than any Protestant, and 99.9% of Catholics.

    Haven’t properly left the EOC. Just don’t believe in the big sky daddy anymore. I still attend, like the service and the people. Don’t take communion of course. As for it being serious… Why? All religions are just man-made. Just fantasies and wishful thinking. People may take it seriously, but in reality, it’s no more serious that a video game.

  • 29. Dr. Ding  |  January 13, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    For a lighter take on this issue (which is definitely a pretty gloomy one at times, to say the least), check out my take on GirlJesus. Who knew she wore silver gogo boots?

    I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this recently, but I am rapidly becoming a huge fan of this site.

  • 30. bipolar2  |  January 13, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    ** You’re still too xian, silly rabbits. ‘Meaning’ is for kids. **

    “The whole of history is the refutation by experiment of the so-called ‘moral world order.’”
    Nietzsche. Ecce Homo (Kaufmann trans.)

    Get away from xian mythology which like the other big-4 monotheisms (zoroastrianism, post-exilic juadaism, and islam) posits a moralized universal order which never did exist. All the “meaning” to be found was put there by our ancestors! Nature is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Neither a source of comfort (natural theology) nor a source of despair (atheistic existentialism).

    You heirs of a dead god still believe in “his” moralized universe, one gone empty! What nonsense!Limited in history. Ignorant of the past. And of a future which can recapture what was best in our Western religious tradition — joy in life itself, just as it is, despite its pain and brevity.

    Any god, male or female, worth a damn operates “beyond good and evil” (to use Nietzsche’s sparkling phrase). That is, moral categories do not apply to them.

    To appeal to a truly Western sensibility, prior to the dolorous near eastern imports, consider Sophocles. A few lines from his play “Ajax” exchanged between Odysseus and his great protector Athena illustrate the ancient Western opinion about gods:

    [Seeing Ajax, driven insane by Athena, mutilating sheep as though they were his intended victims, the kings of Sparta and Mycenae]

    A: Do you note, Odysseus, the power of the gods?
    . . . .

    O: . . . yet I pity him against me though he is.
    For he is shackled to a dreadful end.
    His fate makes me think of my own.
    I see that our lives are nothing but illusion: fugitive shades.

    Viewed against the immortality, power, and will of gods, each of us flickers by and disappears. Out of this somber insight Sophocles makes poetic art to praise Dionysus, who brings sexual potency, liberation from sorrow, and overflowing joy.

    Now, traditional Greeks (before Socrates) did not hate life on account of its brevity, nor did they put off honoring the gods, nor did they fool themselves into obvious self-delusions explicit in theologically correct xian creeds.

    They faced down death by loving life and rejoicing in it.

    © 2007

  • […] is inspiring this, my newest of rants, is a post on another […]

  • 32. artisticmisfit  |  January 13, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Yes, I am OCA.

  • 33. Bryan  |  January 13, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    [Sorry if the below formatting turns out to be horrendous. This is my first attempt to comment here.]

    First, by way of full disclosure, the fact that my name matches the guy who Karen quoted above is not a coincidence, if you get my drift :-). I wasn’t aware of this forum until Karen told me about it recently, and have enjoyed reading the discussions under several topics here over the last few days.

    bipolar2, I’d like to follow up on several of your points above.

    You’re still too xian, silly rabbits. ‘Meaning’ is for kids.

    When I’ve heard this view expressed before, I’m generally unsure (as I am now) of the sense in which the word “meaning” is being used. Your statement “They faced down death by loving life and rejoicing in it” strikes me as at least a close cousin of the view I expressed (“fully cherish the wonder of our existence”). Yet, if I’m understanding you, you wouldn’t agree. Do you see these two views as qualitatively different, and if so, could you elaborate on that a bit?

    You heirs of a dead god still believe in “his” moralized universe, one gone empty! What nonsense!Limited in history. Ignorant of the past. And of a future which can recapture what was best in our Western religious tradition — joy in life itself, just as it is, despite its pain and brevity.

    What would you say to someone who does not feel the “joy in life itself”, for example, someone who lives each day in a fog of emotional pain that has accumulated over many years as a consequence of their own mistakes? Would you be inclined to find a way to offer hope to such a person, or do you view that as

    Viewed against the immortality, power, and will of gods, each of us flickers by and disappears. Out of this somber insight Sophocles makes poetic art to praise Dionysus, who brings sexual potency, liberation from sorrow, and overflowing joy.

    What do you see as the origin of “overflowing joy”? Do you see it simply as an emotional state that results from the fortunate interplay of genetics, environment, and history within certain individuals; or is it rather a state that we all (or at least some number of us) can somehow strive to experience?

    It’s interesting that you mention Sophocles above, because that brings to my mind Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, which so exquisitely expresses the despair I felt after losing my fundamentalist Christian faith. In case you aren’t familiar with it (picking up in the middle, speaking of the “eternal note of sadness” brought in by the sound of the night sea):

    Sophocles long ago
    Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
    Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
    Of human misery

    Arnold’s poem follows this thought to a different conclusion:

    …the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.

    I understand Arnold’s line of reasoning, because mine was essentially the same. Given that like Arnold you also take Sophocles as a starting point, but wind up with a starkly different point (“overflowing joy”), and without appealing to “meaning”, can you explain a few key points of the pre-Socratic Greek thought process that leads to that conclusion?


  • 34. Bryan  |  January 13, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Oops… here’s the full version of the sentence I truncated above:

    Would you be inclined to find a way to offer hope to such a person, or do you view that as unnecessary for one who is “beyond good and evil” (I’m not trying to be argumentative here, but rather following my limited understanding of this line of philosophical thought).

  • 35. MICHAEL GREEN  |  January 13, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    In short, I was raised as a Roman Catholic (12 years of Catholic education). In my late twenties I converted to Greek Orthodox then onward to the Assembly of God, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Russian Orthodox (I have an “addiction” for incense.) Then back to Roman Catholicism. For the last ten years I periodically attend a Buddhist Temple and have been reading the Dharmma. I say to people who ask, that I am an atheist. I much prefer the company of atheists and have no problem in standing up for their rights in this country. However, there still appears to be a part of me that hopes that there is an afterlife or reincarnation. I guess I am probably a”pseudo-atheist, pseudo-agnostic. Anyway, I am finally glad that I “dumped” christianity!!! This website and the “Why Doesn’t God Heal Amputees?” website, pushed me over the edge to freedom. For this I am grateful!

    Thank you all for helping in my de-conversion.

    Michael Green
    Stockton, California, USA

  • 36. LeoPardus  |  January 13, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    Michael Green:

    Ah. Another ex-orthodox convert. We seem to be rare as hen’s teeth.

  • 37. artisticmisfit  |  January 14, 2008 at 2:58 am

    That’s an interesting story. It sounds to me like you have a problem with commitment. Eastern Orthodoxy is the religion I committed myself to when I chose to get baptized in my early 20s. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches we have to renew our baptismal commitment every 3 hours. Its also true that outside of church I tend to hang out with seekers/atheists/agnostics. I am actually kind of shocked that people would “move on” from Eastern Orthodoxy. I guess because that is what I finally chose to commit myself to and religion is very important to me. I would like to lead a religious life, but present circumstances prevent me from doing so.

    I started a thread on the Forum for you in the hello section.

  • 38. Marge  |  January 14, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Wondering at our existence and promoting our well-being is the beginning of undestanding ourselves in relation to creation, evolution, theology – everything God has wanted us to believe in from the beginning. I’ll never understand why someone would rather spend their Sunday with strange songs, robes, candles, and bloody crosses when there is a beautiful world out there to discover.

    I am disturbed that throughout this forum I keep seeing the implication that to believe in God is to be religious. God and religion are two very different things. I am far from a religious person and I will quickly tell you I am a de-convert but I stop at calling my self agnostic. Separating my belief in God from the religion of my upbringing (Baptist) was a crutial juncture in my decision to embrace a religion-free life. I see the teachings of the bible and the various interpretations of them as some mens’s efforts tofind something to believe in. They have become so tangled up in religious ritual, doctrine and theology that they miss the point of believing in God first. I think God must sit and shake his head at the sad state that religion has brought men to because the essence of his gentleness and compassion and joy in his creation have been lost in those churches.

  • 39. karen  |  January 15, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Marge, it sounds to me like you’re a deist – someone who believes there’s a god out there but that he doesn’t mess with mankind and no religion adequately identifies him?

    A theist believes god is actively involved with humanity – answering prayers, smiting, rewarding, etc.

    I am an agnostic (don’t know) atheist (thus do not believe) but if I saw any real value to believing in god without good evidence I would probably be a deist. I just don’t know what value that belief would bring to my life, frankly.

  • 40. Discovering meaning after de-conversion « de-conversion  |  January 16, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    […] 16, 2008 I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments on Karen’s recent post “Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?” I do appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this […]

  • 41. exapologist  |  January 17, 2008 at 3:56 am

    The recent book, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, is worth a read. It’s probably the most helpful book on this issue, in my humble opinion.

  • 42. HeIsSailing  |  January 17, 2008 at 7:12 am

    exapologist | January 17, 2008 at 3:56 am

    Also, Paul Kurtz has tons of articles on the internet and magazines that deal with this topic. They have been real helpful to me in this area too.

  • 43. Jersey  |  January 24, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Angelique Kidjo wrote this on the CD booklet of her latest album Djinn Djinn:

    …but I still believe in human kindness.

  • 44. Phil E. Drifter  |  January 26, 2008 at 8:14 am

    belief in god is silly and niave and superstitious, and anyone who chooses to believe in such nonsense does not get any respect from me.

    I went to 12 years of catholic school, paid for by my mother, and I thank her for it considering I got a far better education than I would have had I gone to one of Philadelphia’s public schools, but, jesus christ, religion is horse shit.

    To paraphrase the great George Carlin, “God is an almighty, all-powerful being who can do anything…but he needs your money! If you go against god’s wishes you will burn in hell for all eternity! (But he LOVES you!)

    Utter nonsense, I don’t understand how these people can look at themselves in the mirror every morning with a straight face.

  • 45. Phil E. Drifter  |  January 26, 2008 at 8:25 am

    ps: just to extrapolate a bit more on my position, since the chances are slim to none that i’ll ever come back to this page, ‘doomed to live in the pit of existential dispair’? Excuse me? I don’t even worry about crap like that, and I certainly don’t base my actions on the assumption that when I die I’ll be judged by some all-powerful being who ‘made us in his own image’ and then judges us based on the mistakes we’ve made…being based on his own image.

    Religion is a tool used bring guilt and fear into the masses, nothing more.

  • 46. slaveofone  |  February 9, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    “Believing in, and feeling, the wonder of our existence has accomplished that for me. It is valid whether or not there is a God.”

    I find it incredibly interesting that the main problem that Karen had was one in which she couldn’t make her beliefs align reasonably with reality and so her solution was to purposely hold a belief that couldn’t at all be aligned with or be affected by a non-alignment with reality. In other words, the problem has not gone away—it has only increased. The change isn’t one of finding a reasonable way to believe, but one of abandoning reason completely so that all she is left with is non-rational feeling or emotion. To make an analogy of it: it is like a prisoner who could not make herself believe she would ever be free of her prison, so she decided to pretend she was living in a fairyland instead. I know what that’s like because I started out life in the fairyland. But since I was smarter than I gave myself credit for, I was constantly plagued by the knowledge that my non-rational beliefs didn’t allow me to function and survive in the world. They actually drove me further from the world. I wasn’t crazy enough to actually have no knowledge that I was acting insane so the inconsistencies between my emotional-feeling-beliefs and nature almost destroyed me with existential despair.

    I am also quite fascinated by the fact that she chose “wonder” to mean “well-being” and not chaos or barbarism or cruelty or non-well-being. Of course, her choice is entirely non-rational since it is not tied to anything but an emotional feeling that she arbitrarily decided to have instead of these others… But I’d be willing to bet that she will end up being just as disappointed as she was before when the rug was pulled out from under her…unless she actually allows herself to go insane… In either case, her prison hasn’t released her and she offers no escape to anyone else either. Some of my greatest idols who went down this path either went insane, killed themselves, or changed how they thought.

    Good luck there, young dreamwalker. A path out of existential despair that is not.

  • 47. Bryan  |  February 10, 2008 at 12:06 am


    First, to clarify, the words you responded to above were mine, not Karen’s — she relayed my post from another forum.

    “I find it incredibly interesting that the main problem that [Bryan] had was one in which [he] couldn’t make [his] beliefs align reasonably with reality and so [his] solution was to purposely hold a belief that couldn’t at all be aligned with or be affected by a non-alignment with reality.”

    My sense of wonder is based precisely on knowledge we have gained about the nature of our universe and ourselves as human beings. This sense is based on my understanding of reality. I don’t understand why you say it is independent of it.

    “The change isn’t one of finding a reasonable way to believe, but one of abandoning reason completely so that all [he] is left with is non-rational feeling or emotion.”

    I see this quite differently. I think my view conforms to reason by accepting the things we are most certain are true, and remaining uncommitted concerning what we don’t know. I believe this is more rational than an approach that stakes out a priori claims in metaphysical territory (for example, based on ancient writings) and then defends those positions against all comers.

    “I am also quite fascinated by the fact that [he] chose “wonder” to mean “well-being” and not chaos or barbarism or cruelty or non-well-being. Of course, [his] choice is entirely non-rational since it is not tied to anything but an emotional feeling that [he] arbitrarily decided to have instead of these others

    I agree that my experience of a sense of wonder at thinking about the nature of our existence is not rational (though I’d describe it as extra-rational rather than irrational, since I don’t believe it is opposed to reason). Experiencing a sense of wonder involves emotional engagement, which I think involves extra-rational mechanisms within our brains. Do you see that differently? You seem to be saying that in developing one’s sense of meaning no extra-rational step should be admitted, and I don’t see how that is possible.

    You say that my sense of wonder could have led me to choose chaos or barbarism rather than well-being. First, I’d say that I didn’t experience this as a conscious choice in which I came to a logical crossroad and decided to go one way rather than the other. I just followed a chain of thought (at least quasi-rational) from the point of an awareness of wonder to the conclusion that the sense of wonder is well-expressed by promoting well-being. I understand that this involves a value judgment, and there exists an infinite series of deconstructions and tortuous philosophical analyses that can drain all color from any statement of value. That, I believe, is a path directly to the heart of existentialist despair (and I say that as one who formerly walked that path).

    “Good luck there, young dreamwalker. A path out of existential despair that is not.”

    Well, this path has led me out of existentialist despair, your claim to the contrary notwithstanding. From what I remember of my mathematical background, I believe that’s called an existence proof. 🙂

  • 48. poison-baby  |  May 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    someone at the top of this list said they were trying to read as many de-conversion stories as they can to try and understand how family members feel. I grew up on religious compounds, completely isolated from society until I was sixteen years old, and the truth of the matter is, I was the last member of my family to break away from the faith I’d grown up in. In an effort to understand how they feel, I would recommend trying to understand what drives their strive to strengthen their faith in God. If you figure out what the promised rewards/benefits are for them personally, then you will understand what it is you’re proposing to annihilate for them.
    In a time where we are involved in a war that garners its support from religious bravado and an age where scientific advancements are held back due to moral objection, I do understand the frustration and the utter contempt that’s shared among non-believers. That contempt still leaves me feeling wounded though. For some of us, who’ve lost our religion, its been a painful ride. If reality and rationale was so appealing there’d be a hell of a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world. Before its even said, I’m well aware of the pain and suffering religion adds to that reality … all too well aware! I have a fifth grade education, worked in sweat-shop conditions since childhood, and suffered every form of abuse known to man in the name of God. Don’t start with me! lol
    Its a case of what comes first? The chicken or the egg? Is it pain and injustice that make man invent a God, or is it the invention of God that induces pain and suffering? Either way, “we didn’t start the fire”. People seek God for comfort, for peace, for hope and a way to understand the incomprehensible in a world that dictates beyond their conscious awareness what their emotional reactions to life will be to all the given situations they’ll encounter. They seek each other for a sense of belonging in an age where people are more isolated than they have ever been. They seek purpose and perimeter in an impossibly boundless world.
    You’re offering to take away their sense of hope, purpose, belonging, love, importance and understanding of the world. How easily would you surrender?
    I don’t know the answer, but I do know that our entire history, in every remote corner of the world, man has created a God or Gods for all of the above reasons. I love the main article, but I know hardcore atheists who would blow it up as approaching spiritual values and lacking in pure reason and logic. I say we need to address what makes a person turn to religion and I’m not referring to political leaders and such, I’m referring to the common every-day person and the things they feel the lack of in their life that they look for God to fill. I honestly believe atheists need to become a bit more compassionate.

  • 49. Psydan  |  May 22, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Wow Bryan, it’s so weird to hear the introduction, your background, being exactly what I’ve just come out of. The fundy-baptist upbringing, divorce in early college, realization of the uselessness of prayer in our world, the collapse of faith and search for meaning. I had to rationalize it out though, and fast.
    I hold that all value and meaning with or without God is eventually given by humans, each of us individually. We decide what kind of good we expect from God, we give the value of family and heroism and love its power. Hollywood can capitalize on that, religion can manipulate it, but it’s within ourselves to assign value. Gold is useless, just shiny, yet it has extreme value to those who have it or want it, because they give it that value.
    My life is the most important thing because it’s all I truly have, and I give myself value because my struggles and stories are meaningful to me as a person, without any God-given purpose or natural sense of wonder. I can say I am the one who most certainly fulfills what I value, I am the one acting out my desires every day, and if others like my values and think my life is meaningful, all the more value.
    That being said, I feel even more value in being reminded that I’m a part of this massively complex and amazing cycle and I’m the product of wonderful biology, thousands of years of social change and improvement, and many millions of years of evolution.
    Each of our lives are meaningful and intrinsically wonderful, and it’s great to just meditate on that, especially if it’s from ourselves, and not meaning coming from a being (god) infinitely more complex than us, much better than us, which always (intentionally by the church) made me feel like scum. In Nature I’m a sufficiently evolved being doing what I’ve evolved to do best–adapt and live.

  • 50. anna  |  March 19, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Bryan and Karen, I really appreciate your thoughts here. Thanks for sharing.

    As I’ve thought about life without God over the last year or so, I’m often scared by the fact that now, outside the faith, there are no second chances. I’m curious, because I’ve been reading some Sartre- how do you (any of you) deal with the responsibility that falls on humanity in a God-less universe? Without God, there’s no cosmic forgiveness, but even worse, there are no cosmic rules in the first place. Sartre says in choosing for ourselves, we choose what it means to be human. This is a responsibility that I don’t want to deny, but neither do I want to shoulder it.

    I’m attracted to existentialism because it seems to be honest atheism. It’s up in arms over God’s non-involvement. I can’t stand smug atheism that wants to rub it in everyone’s face, like it’s all good news- “We can do whatever we want, no one’s going to yell at us!” It’s not good news – It’s terrifying. It transfers all responsibility to us- for who we are, what we do, and what becomes of us. And it means there really are no second chances. If you were born with no legs, too bad – you’ll never know what it feels like to run. If you made a bad decision and got pregnant at 16, tough luck – you’ll never get to relive your 20s. I guess I am still adjusting to the idea that God won’t somehow trump all bad circumstances with the “deeper purpose” card. It sucks.

    Sartre says we are “condemned to be free.” I can’t bear it, but I think it is the most honest and brave response to life without God I have heard yet.

  • 51. livefreeordie  |  May 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    This all sounds like whistling in the dark to me. 100 years from now, a few of us will be an encylopedia entry, the rest of us will be lucky if someone takes a rubbing off of our crumbling tombstones for an art project.

    Yes, the only atheists I respect are the existentialists because they realize that if there is no god then suicide is the only legitimate question.

    The efforts on this page to try to patch over the absolute dispair and meaningless of life is ludicrous. You have only replaced what you laugh at with a faith that is even less legitimate.

  • 52. livefreeordie  |  May 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    dispair (sic)

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



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