I recently had my first extensive conversation with a current Christian about the fact that I am no longer a Christian, and it went...well? Yes, I think it went well.
I have made mention of my slow departure from Christianity to a number of people in my life over the last year or two, but I either knew that the individual with whom I was speaking shared my sentiments about the church, or I purposefully refrained from going into a long talk about it, not wanting to deal with hurt feelings or the kinds of patronizing/evangelizing responses I knew would come, having been the evangelist myself for so long.
This was different. We arrived at the topic of Christianity (via an exchange of questions about the subjects of our respective blogs) and I didn’t hold back. I was very open about everything I believe--or no longer believe, as the case may be--and did not attempt to explain myself in the same way I might have explained my faith to a nonbeliever back when I was a Christian in the somewhat desperate interest of getting them to see my side. I answered this person’s questions honestly, but I left it up to them to do with the information what they saw fit.
What was particularly interesting to me was that, actually, this person did not seem to know what to do with me and my rather confident non-Christian stance. Granted, we are barely acquaintances, and this did happen at a social event sponsored by a church, so perhaps it’s no surprise that they were somewhat flustered. Still, I couldn’t help (1) revel in the freedom I recognized I had in that moment to let there be disagreement because it simply didn’t matter to me and (2) sympathize with the hint of unpleasantness this other person was surely feeling given that it probably did matter to them that I had personally rejected their God.
Now, I made it clear in our conversation that I think every person should be free to believe (or not) and practice (or not) whatever religion (or lack thereof) she or he would like, within reason. The person with whom I was speaking even asked (actually, they assumed and I had to clarify) if my blog was about “trying to get people to leave church”. I said, No, it’s about letting people who are already feeling like they’re not into Christianity know that they are allowed to leave if they want to. If people want to be Christians, they certainly should, I said; but, if they don’t, they should likewise act according to their own desires. The person with whom I was speaking said, ‘That’s the opposite of what I’m doing. I’m trying to get people into the church.’
Clearly. I used to do that, too, and I said so. This person wants to bring people into the church because this person believes it is the most loving thing they can do for others, for the “lost”. And there is something of love there, or at least an intention toward love--I myself always “meant well”. But I’ll tell you what, I never had a sensation that I knew so deeply, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was actually love until I felt what I felt in that moment, talking to that person, as a no-longer-believer. I knew this person would not agree with me, and I definitely knew I no longer agreed with them, but it simply. did not. matter. I was happy for them that they had found what they were looking for in the church, and I was simultaneously happy for me that I had found what I was looking for outside of it. Win-win.
It seems to me that many Christians--at least the Evangelical ones--have a hard time connecting with non-Christians. They may play it differently on the outside, and give lip-service to loving everybody the same, but it’s true. I assume it’s because their faith is at the center of everything they do, including relationships, and without that shared belief system they feel there is something missing. I myself have been told that certain relationships I’ve had with loved ones just don’t feel the same to those people since I left behind my faith. Honestly, it’s kind of heartbreaking, because my change of mind regarding religion did not have that effect on me and my view of those bonds. Me walking away from Christianity was not me walking away from love, or generosity, or the hope for some kind of redemption and personal growth. Those things exist everywhere, even outside of the Christian church, and I believe in them still.
In fact, I will have all the awkward conversations in the world about God if it means I can get to know someone better and learn something new. And, though I will not cover up or belie my own thoughts about how the world works when asked, as a non-believer I am delighted to find myself more able than ever to sincerely respect each person’s capacity to follow the road that’s right for them. I always wondered why people said that it was impolite to talk about religion. When you’re an Evangelical, there’s no more pressing business. Now I see: it just isn’t essential to treating someone well. On the contrary, sometimes it’s all you need to make someone feel like you’re not listening. So drop the not-so-subtle proselytizing, my ex-fellow Jesus Freaks, and don’t take it personally when someone politely declines your offer of eternal life. I promise, they’ll be much more inclined to believe that you actually care.