Those who depart from the Christian faith they have grown up with typically respond in one of three ways. Some redefine and revise their faith so drastically that it barely resembles the faith they began with, and yet they continue to make these revisions within the Christian community. They still purposely identify as ‘Christian’, or they use a creative adaptation of this label to avoid being stereotyped by outsiders. More conservative Christians are alarmed by their revisions and distance themselves.
Others quietly drift away. They maintain the title in respect of their family tradition or for appearances. Their absence from their church community is occasionally remarked on and eventually they are identified as a ‘drifter’ in need of prayer.
Finally others run. They deliberate reject everything they were taught growing up and rebel against Christianity by doing everything they were told not to do.
I didn’t want to be a drifter or a runner, but I had no interest in maintaining the Christian title. I didn’t believe it anymore so to hold on to it would be a lie. I now refer to my de-conversion as “when I stepped out ofthe Christian faith”. Because I can still talk ‘Christianese’ quite fluently, because my lifestyle has not changed drastically since my deconversion, and because I am still obviously a spiritual seeker, many Christians try to convince me that I am still actually ‘a Christian’ – just a struggling/seeking one. Nope. I’m most definitely not. I have been very deliberate about defining myself as not-a-christian. I must say, I really enjoy using sentences that begin with “Well, when I was a Christian…”, as if I was saying “Well, back when I was 14…”. It is part of my past now. However, although I do experience moments of frustration and occasionally moments of anger toward some of what I consider damaging and harmful elements of Christian ideology, generally I do not harbour bitterness toward the faith I grew up in.
After I had begun writing this post, I came across a blog entry on de-conversion.com entitled: “Drifter, Rebel, Modernist…?”. The author critiques an interview with Drew Dyck who wrote Generation EX: Christian: Why young adults are leaving the faith… and how to bring them back. Dyck has identified 6 categories of church leavers:
Dyck elaborates on these categories as follows:
No two “leavers” are exactly the same, but some patterns did emerge. “Postmodern” leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes. For them, Christian faith is just too narrow. “Recoilers” leave because they were hurt in the church. They suffered some form of abuse at the hands of someone they saw as a spiritual authority. God was guilty by association. “Modernists” completely reject supernatural claims. God is a delusion. Any truth beyond science is dismissed as superstition. “Neo-pagans” are those who left for earth-based religions such as Wicca. Not all of these actually cast spells or perform pagan rituals, but they deny a transcendent God, and see earth as the locus of true spirituality. Spiritual “Rebels” flee the faith to indulge in behavior that was incompatible with their faith. They also value autonomy and don’t want anyone—especially a superintending deity—telling them what to do. “Drifters” do not suffer intellectual crises or consciously leave the faith; they simply drift away. Over time God becomes less and less important until one day he’s no longer part of their lives. (source)
I thought this was pretty interesting. Dyck uses two of my categories – the ‘rebel’ and the ‘drifter’. The ‘revisionist’ doesn’t qualify as a ‘leaver’ per se according to his categorization. I have met plenty of revisionists and after hearing how far their theories and lifestyles have traveled from traditional Christian views and values, I consider them ‘leavers’ despite their persistence in maintaining many of their ties to Christianity and the Christian community.
Dyck has added 4 more categories that I didn’t include mention. Certainly the ‘recoiler’ is a familiar character. At the time of my leaving, I was not a recoiler, a rebel, a drifter, or a modernist. I suppose I was what Dyck calls a ‘Postmodern leaver’. Christianity became too narrow for me. When I left, I relished how big the world had suddenly become. The expansive space I entered into – a space where anything was possible – was intoxicating. After the dust settled that is.
I might have left as a postmodernist, but now I think I identify more as a ‘Neo-pagan leaver’. I’m playing with the idea of associating with the term ‘neopaganism’. I feel like it is currently utilized as a ’catch-all’ phrase for most new-age religions. I am not sure if it really means much, but still, I feel it somewhat represents the direction I am headed, particularly with its focus on the sacredness of the Earth and Earth-based spirituality.
“So… do you identify with any religion?”
“Well, I’m a neopagan”.
Hm… I don’t know. Why do I want to identify with something? Because I want the tools and resources that become available when one focuses on a particular spiritual path… also, being SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious – Yes it has become so common it now has its own acronym and website) is awfully boring.
Photo credit: Abe K.