Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Thoughts about my journey out of Christadelphia

I often think back over my life growing up as a Christadelphian and I try to make sense of it all, and put the pieces together in a way that will hopefully provide a little bit more closure. I remind myself that leaving one's religion behind is not an easy task, and certainly not something you do in ten minutes before moving on to other things. It's a bit different for everyone, but for me the process is ongoing and probably will be for quite some time.

Moving on...

I don't choose to dwell on it so much. It's just that, well, that was my life for over 30 years and it shaped pretty much everything about me. It's all well and good to think I should be able to just "move on" and enjoy my life doing other things. But what other things? And how do I go about "moving on"? Moving on to what? How do I know what I enjoy? More to the point, my whole identity was tied up in the Christadelphian world. Now that that's gone, who am I? What's left of "me"?

The hardest thing

For me, the hardest thing about leaving the Christadelphians is that I feel like I've been trained for the wrong job. The pieces don't fit. I don't belong anywhere. I had to rethink my own understanding of who I am and what my life is about. I'm still not there yet.

That might sound strange to some of you. You might be thinking, "well then why did you leave? Isn't this what you wanted?" Well, no, it isn't. What I wanted was to find out what was true, or what I could be reasonably sure was true. I didn't choose what that "truth" was. When I set out on my quest to learn more about whether or not the Bible was really true, I wanted to renew my faith and remove my doubts, but above all I just wanted to know. Or at least to know whatever there was to know. But time after time the evidence I discovered pointed away from the Bible. At each step I managed to reconcile my beliefs and continue on, but eventually the evidence in favour of the Bible had virtually disappeared, and I became agnostic. I didn't set out to become agnostic. I was just being honest with what I found.

Letting it all go

One of the main reasons I write this blog is to process things, and to put everything that's in my head down "on paper" so that I no longer need to carry it around with me. Most of the content on this blog is based on my research while I was still a Christadelphian, before I eventually deconverted. All I've done is flesh it out a bit and link to external references etc. Putting all of this online has been extremely liberating for me, but it's only part of the battle.

But...what if I missed something?

Since becoming agnostic I've spent so much time thinking about how I might be wrong, what might change my mind, what evidence I might have missed, things I might have overlooked, and much more. I do this partly because I'm very analytical like that (who knew?), but also because I'm thorough and wanted to leave no stone unturned. I no longer believed in a future kingdom or future judgement, but sometimes I imagined being wrong and standing before Jesus and him telling me, "Aha, you missed this verse", or "but you missed this piece of evidence here". Those "what if" moments still bother me sometimes. But at the end of the day I feel that I really did give it my best shot. Even now I still read some Christian material and occasionally watch debates online. If the evidence for the Bible's alleged truth is out there somewhere, I haven't found it yet, despite having searched harder in the last five years than many believers do over a lifetime.

Values

So much has changed for me in the last five years. Some of the biggest changes have been in the way I view the universe, and other people. I have developed a much greater appreciation for the size and complexity of the universe, and for how much (and simultaneously how little) scientists know about it. Likewise, the planet we live on has become so much more fascinating to me in every detail. I feel deeply connected to it, as well as to all of the other people upon it. After leaving the Christadelphians I felt a much stronger bond with humanity as a whole. I felt more "human", and even though my Christadelphian past still makes me feel alien sometimes, I started to see other people more like "family" and less like "the world". I started to care a lot more too.

These are huge changes from the way I lived and felt before, as a Christadelphian. Back then, my life was simply a mission to solve the biblical riddle and do whatever it took to be saved, and to do my best to meet expectations surrounding that. Part of that meant helping others to be saved too, but my worldview was narrow and rigid. Personal growth wasn't a big deal - God would solve that "in the kingdom" (along with every other ill in the world, thus absolving me of any personal responsibility). Likewise there was no reason to strive for a better job, or pursue a more attractive career beyond what was necessary. Those were all just selfish pursuits that might distract me, so as long as I had "enough" then there was no reason to try harder. The worst part was that instead of feeling good about my achievements and feeling excited about life, I lived with constant guilt and fear that I wasn't good enough for God, or wasn't doing enough to be saved. I was constantly criticised by Christadelphians, whether it was ABs, the older generation, my generation, peers, so-called "friends", or even my own parents. Knowing how the Christadelphian culture works, they probably only criticised me in order to feel better about themselves (and quieten their own critical inner voice). It pains me to think that I might have treated others the same way, and for the same reasons :(

Healing

I have battled depression and anxiety a lot throughout my life, and I think a lot of it is at least in part due to the amount of criticism I have encountered over the years. For reasons I still cannot figure out, Christadelphians often expected things of me that I felt unable to deliver. I could never live up to their ideals, and so I beat myself up over it. I thought I was broken. I constantly put myself down, having internalised the criticism.

Probably one of the best things to come from that (if there were any positives), was that I eventually sought counselling for depression and started reading books on how to deal with it. I learned useful techniques for managing my moods, and I have made a lot of progress over the last few years. I took medication for a while, which helped as well. Leaving a religion like the Christadelphians feels like sink or swim sometimes. And I've done my fair share of sinking and swimming along the way.

Something my psychologist told me has stuck with me ever since. She said, "Be kind to yourself". It's something I definitely don't do enough. It's helpful to imagine someone else going though the same thing, and think about what I'd tell them and how I'd help them - and then use that as a model for how to look after myself.

Alien

As I mentioned earlier, the one thing I have struggled with the most is the feeling of being a stranger in a strange world. Leaving the Christadelphians made the familiar become unfamiliar. I felt like I was starting life over again, but as an adult. I lost friends. It just feels like the radio is damaged and there's not enough signal strength to communicate any more. We're also operating on different frequencies and there's very little overlap. Making new friends in one's 30's is hard.

Despite all of the difficulties, there are many positives. Being an alien on a foreign planet is great if you like exploring and learning new things (and I do). Everything in life has a new significance, and new meaning. It is difficult adjusting to the fact that life is finite, but it does make it more valuable. I am far more curious about the world, and I'm also more open to doubt and uncertainty. I'm ok with saying, "I don't know". A good day is one where I learned a little more about the world. A great day is one where I became lost in something I enjoy. Life may be short, and full of sickness and tragedy, but there is also beauty and wonder, and for all the bad and the good I'm thankful to have the experience. I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity to experience reality more closely, outside the Christadelphian bubble. I feel so much more authentic now, and so much more free.

Perspective

Well, hopefully this helps to shine more light on what it's like for one person to leave the Christadelphians after growing up in the religion. It may be very different for others. I don't know. As bad as it may seem, I have no regrets about deconverting and only wish I had discovered the evidence sooner. The world is an amazing place, and the cosmos just captivates me. To live more authentically, and to be truly me, is the best thing in the world.

Always be kind to yourself and others. Thank you for reading.

5 comments:

  1. Steve, thank you.
    I identify with what you have written, though I think I`ve been out of Christadelphia longer than you, so the "what ifs" have faded away. Over the years the evidence I have garnered all points away from the content of what went into my indoctrination at the hands of the Cd`s. Your articles and your blog contribution continue to strengthen my conviction that I was right to leave.
    In those early days of being in the bubble I too saw no reason to strive for betterment job-wise - Jesus was at the door.
    One of the hardest facets to come to terms with on leaving the Cd`s is the loss of the social side of Christadelphia, as most of one`s social life was within the orbit of what was happening within the community, and with those fellow Cd`s. If you are lucky you still retain as good friends a handful of Cd`s who, if not actually understanding your decision to leave, still accept you as a friend and maintain friendly contact.
    Going back to the "what ifs", just suppose for a moment that you found yourself at the Judgment seat. How many thousands of other Cd`s, and one assumes many others, would be gathered there? half a million? two million? More? When my turn came I would want a fair hearing. How long would be a fair hearing? Fifteen minutes? After all you would be faced with questions, and you would in your turn want to question. As a vicar friend of mine said about Alzheimers, "It`s one of the topics on my list to question the Almighty about". Assuming fifteen minutes per person, that`s four per hour. ninety-six in the first twenty-four hours. The queue is getting shorter. Six hundred and seventy-two in the first week. Still rather a lot to go yet. Thirty-three thousand, nine hundred and forty-four after one year. Time would still pass at the same rate, surely? After all, the kingdom is billed as being initially one thousand years long, and one assumes those years are each of fifty-two weeks?
    just how long is this judgment going to last?

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    1. A fair hearing? What would be the point? If I found myself before a god, there'd be nothing to say that it didn't already know. There's no use in pretending. I know I've lived a pretty honest life. If I was judged "unworthy" for that, then I'd probably not want anything to do with said deity anyway.

      For me, I just don't see the point of attempting to live a fake life trying to be someone I'm not just to impress some imagined deity. Do I want to live that way forever? No. I'd rather live now trying to be the best human being I can be. I'll shoot for my own ideals, and if some deity decides that's not good enough, then why would I want to spend eternity with them? There's so little detail about this alleged Kingdom in the Bible, I don't even know if I'd want it. But even that is irrelevant, since why would I give up my life now hoping for something for which there is no evidence? People can wish all they like for a kingdom, eternal life, salvation, or a magic castle, but there's no good reason to believe that any of it is true. It's just a big game of make-believe. What if the Christadelphians were wrong and the Muslims were right? I don't see too many Christadelphians worried about spending eternity in hell. Likewise I don't spend much time worrying about any religion's empty threats. I'd rather live in reality, and if reality suggests life is finite, then I'll try to enjoy the time I have. Wishing (or fearing) without evidence just doesn't do it for me.

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    2. I also agree with Matt Dillahunty when he says that if there is a god, it knows exactly what would convince me of its existence (or of the bible etc) and yet it hasn't done so. So either it doesn't exist or doesn't want me to know it exists. Either way, not my problem. Of course I'll remain open to evidence and assess it case by case, but so far it's not looking very likely.

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    3. FWIW, my assumption was always that an all powerful God who is able to listen to everyone's prayers simultaneously would also be able to judge everyone simultaneously.

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    4. JJ,
      Yes, I agree. And as "he" knows everything before it happens, has already done so?

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