Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Metaphors for Deconversion

Back when I was working on the Friendly Evangelism posts, I spent some time talking about the process of deconversion, and compared the experience to a romantic breakup.

This is, I think, a pretty apt comparison; but it's not the only one I've seen. So, for the benefit of anyone who's interested in how former believers describe the process of losing their faith, here are a couple of parables that I found interesting.

Rechelle (of Rechelle Unplugged) offers The Parable of the Hole in the Curtain. "One day, the woman noticed a small tear in one of the curtains. Afraid of accidentally seeing what was on the other side of the window and condemning herself to hell, she decided to completely ignore the tear so that her eyes might not stray and she would not be condemned. But the tear got bigger. Soon it was a hole. She tried to stitch the hole together without looking at it, but she was so afraid that she might glance at what was on the other side of the window, that she did a terrible job of patching the curtain and only made the situation worse. The hole grew larger and soon other holes appeared."

Bruce Gerencser has written quite a bit about his deconversion (across several blogs, most recently Fallen From Grace); it's fair to say that the process has been the focus of most of his writing for the last several years. The parable that caught my eye (and the catalyst for this post) was The Danger of Being In a Box and Why It All Makes Sense When You Are in a Box and its follow-up What I Found When I Left The Box: "Every time I left the box I found new and wondrous things. Things I had never heard about before. Things I had never experienced. The box I was in for 5 decades was a box where the dimensions of the box were clearly defined. There was no guessing about the length, width, or depth of the box."

I've said before that I don't really think of myself as having "deconverted". I was an odd kid, and Christianity was just another item in the long list of things that didn't make much sense to me but seemed very important to everyone else. (Other items on that list included fashion, sports, and cars.) It wasn't a (sudden or gradual)realization that something that I used to believe was wrong; it was... how to say this? was a matter of concluding that that feeling {that Christianity didn't make sense} wasn't just a failure to understand on my part, but a legitimate reaction to the belief itself.

As a result, I tend to think of my journey away from Christianity in Fairy Tale terms: I was the kid who wandered off the path to see what was in the woods, and found that I was more comfortable out exploring than I was just following a path that someone else had set. Turns out that the wolves and boggans and other forest-dwellers are actually pretty friendly hereabouts.

Anybody have any other good parables or metaphors to throw in here?


  1. I don't think of myself deconverting either. For me personally, I think of my relationship with Christianity as being very similar to raising something wild as a pet. In the beginning, it's not such a big deal to take care of the bear cub. It's fun and cute, and you feel sort of special. And if the bear is sometimes gross or distasteful or weird, well - what young animal doesn't occasionally mess the carpet or eat your grandmother's suede handbag? And you have this image of what this animal is, and what your relationship is. But the more you spend time with the animal, the more you realize that it's not what you thought. The bear is bigger, and more aggressive, and your relationship isn't really one of owner and pet, or friends. And you try really hard to make it work; you read training books and practice positive reinforcement. You build the bear a shelter in the backyard, and reluctantly put up a fence (after it tried to attack the neighbor's horse). You read books about other people with wild animals, and how successful they were, and wonder why you're not like the lion tamer guy. But eventually, it becomes clear that this isn't what you thought it was, and never was. The bear was always something else, and it's not healthy for either you or the bear (or the neighbor's horse) for you to continue to pretend. And if you don't let the animal go and stop pretending, someone is going to get hurt.

    I tried really, really hard to be a Christian, and sometimes I was, but underneath that was a well of agnosticism. And both Christianity and me are better now that I'm not pretending we belong together. Or maybe the bear is faith. Or Jesus.

    (Dav - not sure what name it's going to sign me in as)

  2. Raising a bear cub?

    Oh, I like that - not least because it also works as a metaphor for romantic relationships that don't work out. That's particularly funny to me because I think that Rechelle's metaphor of the hole in the curtain works pretty well for any major change in the way you view the world - that's one of the reasons I like it.

    Thanks, Dav.

  3. Michael, I realize these metaphors are real, and are very true for the people sharing them.

    But,they presuppose that people are Christians based on fear, ignorance, or an inability to think critically.

    But, to me, they fall so short. In truth, people can just as easily be caught up into a naturalistic box, or a fundamentalist view of faith rejected which is a caricature of how many Christian people even think.

    There are people reared in secular homes for whom thinking "outside the box," and seeing past "the tear in the curtain," leads ultimately to Christian faith.

    From my perspective, when I think of metaphors for deconversion, vivid scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia, and C.S. Lewis's the Great Divorce spring straight to my mind.

    When I look at at conversation such as sharing that leaving the Christian faith was the best thing to happen short of meeting someone's beloved spouse,what a metaphor... the first thought to come to mind is that this person could never have deeply known the love and grace of God in Christ, ever..Deeply sad.

    Sounds judgemental, in one sense, I know, but I'm being honest, speaking from my heart. There you have it.

  4. "There are people reared in secular homes for whom thinking 'outside the box,' and seeing past 'the tear in the curtain,' leads ultimately to Christian faith."

    Absolutely. As I said, that particular metaphor works well for any major shift in worldview. Change a few details, and it can easily go in the other direction.

    And Dav's parable about raising a wild animal could be read as a reversal of the Beauty and the Beast story - if Beauty and the Beast is the story of how a growing relationship changes how one person views another, then Dav's story reflects how changes in person's view alter (and eventually end) the relationship.

    (Now, of course, I'm right back where I started: leaving religion compared to the end of a love affair.)

    "When I look at at conversation such as sharing that leaving the Christian faith was the best thing to happen short of meeting someone's beloved spouse,what a metaphor... the first thought to come to mind is that this person could never have deeply known the love and grace of God in Christ, ever..Deeply sad."

    I don't know, that really doesn't sound too judgemental to me. A little redundant, maybe - if people (or even Christians) routinely went around feeling the Emanant Presence of God, they wouldn't deconvert, and I think a fair number of former believers would say that that's precisely their point.

    But I don't think that there's anything terribly judgemental in saying, "This is something completely wonderful that happened to me, and I wish it had happened that wonderfully for everybody."


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