Case Studies in Christian Reactions to my De-Conversion

Below are some “case studies” in the reactions of the students at the Christian college I attend after my “coming out” as an atheist. Some of the reactions have been amusing, some have been frustrating. Some have encouraged me to hope that while I think Christians have a flawed metaphysic, they are genuine. Others have caused me to doubt the sincerity of faith.

Allow me to set the stage: It was only a couple of weeks before move-in day that I decided that I didn’t want to take the route of “faking faith” for an entire year. As a tech-generation college student, the quickest, easiest, and least personal way of disseminating the information about my de-conversion was naturally Facebook. And so in the true form of a impulsive youth, I published my conclusions about Christianity in the form of a series of Facebook notes.

The response was, shall we say, overwhelming. Literally nearly two hundred “comments” on the posts themselves, but that was the tip of the ice berg. The weeks before school were filled with e-mails and phone calls from concerned friends. I even received a few “praying for you” cards. For the most part, the messages were well intentioned. When I arrived at school, e-mails and phone calls gave way to personal conversations. Dozens of people approached me, making awkward conversation, only to finally ask the question: “So why

are you mad at Jesus?” And dozens of times I patiently explained my philosophical convictions that led me away from theism.For the most part, life at my evangelical college remained quite normal. Classes and work dominated most of my time. By nature I tend to know a lot of people, but am close to very few. So my relationships predominantly stayed the same.

There were; however, some notable, and often surprisingly humorous, reactions from my fellow students.

Case Study 1: The Jokesters

There are the two girls who just seem unable to avoiding making friendly jokes about my atheism. They claim they take great pleasure in the fact that my life operates much like an awkward teen movie. Now, few college students can claim they have not seen the “Charlie the Unicorn” youtube video. At one point in the video, two unicorns declare, “Shun the non-believer!” to their skeptical friend, Charlie. The three of us watched it one day, after which every time the girls saw me, they would shout, “Shun the non-believer!” Naturally, I assumed they were just recalling a funny video we had all watched. We were just three students sharing in a common cultural icon. Wrong. Indeed, it was funny because I am a non-believer. It’s nice to see there are Christians with a sense of humor.

Case Study 2: The Psychologists

The wonderful and infuriating thing about living in a small campus is that (a) everyone knows everybody and (b) everyone knows everything. No matter who says what, it doesn’t take long for gossip to pass down the grapevine (often in the form of a ‘prayer request,’ example: “Please pray for Cindy, she’s struggling with her diet, did you see that she put on ten pounds over Christmas break?”). So when some ambitious young psych majors deemed themselves educated enough to psychoanalyze me, it took no time for me to hear. Apparently I’m an atheist because (a) my parents are divorced, (b) because I’m a Democrat or (c) because I’m too ‘head space’ and not enough ‘heart space.’

Case Study 3: The School Teacher

Of course, I would be remiss to leave out the time that a girl told me she was “disappointed” in me. Absurd? Yes. But the context of the story makes it all the more absurd. Since she lives a half hour away from me, I offered to give her a ride home for break. In the midst of the car ride, she blurted out, “I just want you to know, I’m disappointed in you. I don’t like that you’re making excuses for being mad at God.”

Case Study 4: The Disciple Andrew

When I was a Christian, my favorite disciple was Andrew. Why? He was humble, he is only mentioned upwards of six times in the whole New Testament. But every time, he was bringing someone to Jesus. I found that to be profound. There would have been no Peter had there not been an Andrew. Anyway, a young man at school who we shall quaintly name “Andy” has taken it upon himself to see to it that I’m brought back to Jesus. Or at least I am convinced of this. Why? I have never spoken to him before this year. Now, he greets me with a giant goofy grin every time he sees me. In fact, it would appear at times that he goes out of his way to see me. He pats me on the back and asks how my day is going. It’s reminiscent of the “how to get your friends saved” classes I took at youth group.

Case Study 5: The Prayer Warrior

The many people in this category typically meet two criteria: (a) they are close friends of mine and (b) they are at least a bit more thoughtful than average. Typically, I had “the conversation” with the people in this category, followed by a discussion-turned-debate about which side is right. Ultimately, such discussions end in stalemate (you see, I’m right and they refuse to concede defeat). Without fail, this type of discussion ends with the phrase, “I want you to know, I’m praying for you every day.” Now, while I doubt that that these individuals continue to pray for me every day, the sentiment is… appreciated… kind of.

Case Study 6: The Great Debater

Allow me to set the stage for you. I am sitting in the common area of one of the residence halls on campus, assisting a group of friends who are preparing for a debate in their Intro to Philosophy class. Ironically enough, I am explicating the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. Along the corner of the room lies in wait a former fellow religion major. As the impromtu study session ends, two of the four students leave.

The wallflower sees his opportunity and pounces, “I hear a rumor that I just don’t believe.”

“It’s true,” I respond.

“Can I ask why?”

Long story short, “The evidence seems to go that way.”

“Aha!” he pronounces victoriously, “But what about Pascal’s Wager!”

Seriously? Seriously! I try to explain how infinitely flawed that cursed argument is. He becomes befundled and rushes away. Victory!

But not really. Day two. He catches me on my way to lunch, “I have a proposition for you. Jesus was either Liar, Lord or Lunatic!”

Oh. He got me. After shredding our good friend Clive Staples, he desists. For another day. Only to attack again the next day, and the next, and the next. Each time with an argument more frighteningly wrong than the one before.

Case Study 7: The Castaway

This is perhaps my favorite category of people at school. These are the ones who (a) don’t have facebook, (b) don’t talk to anyone on campus and (c) are completely oblivious to the world around them. Priceless quotes from people in this category:

“Hey, do you want to go to the David Crowder concert with me?”

“The assistant student chaplain resigned. I think you should apply. You would be great at it.” <– direct quote

Case Study 8: The Strategist

If any of the trends I have suggested here were to enlist a majority of students, it would be this one. Most of the friends, acquaintances and strangers at my school who have approached my about my decision have been cautiously non-confrontational. Mostly they ask questions and allow me to answer, though I am not naive enough to believe they are actually listening to what I have to say. Out of fear or devotion, they refuse to entertain the thought that I may be right. Rather they listen politely and explain that they disagree. Fair enough. Typically we part, agreeing to disagree. But then they form strategies amongst themselves. As I previously noted, it doesn’t take long for news to travel around a small, enclosed community. And it takes only one dissenter in a group conversation for me to find out. Whether they target me with concerted prayer or just decide to “kill me with kindness” I have accepted it is inevitable that no matter how articulately or eloquently I present the case of atheism as a positive force, they will hear but not listen.

3 Responses to “Case Studies in Christian Reactions to my De-Conversion”

  1. just ask would they rather you faked belief? would they like you to ‘say’ you believe even if you don’t? Ask if they consider it a fault of yours that you don’t believe? has god not granted you faith like he has them? are you not smart enough to understand why there is enough evidence? does god not ‘save’ dumb people?

  2. I enjoyed your analysis. You experience echoed mine to sum extent, but you analysed it so eloquently.

  3. That was a great analysis indeed. But this is so different to living in Europe. Here people wouldn’t react like that at all since religion isn’t that important here …

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