Questions about apostasy

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As an apostate (someone who denounces their former religion), I am often asked questions about my deconversion, and, i In this page, I record how I tend to answer them.

Were you ever a true Christian?

It's typical for people in any group to question the devotion of people who leave the group. For example, if a person says they were once a booster for their local liberal party, but have since moved to their conservative party, other liberals may doubt they were ever a "true" liberal. As a Christian apostate, most Christians who learn about my de-conversion are quick to quiz me on my understanding of Christianity. These questions are generally based on their own denomination, for example, a Catholic may ask if I was baptized by a priest, an Evangelical may ask if I invited Jesus into my heart, and so forth.

I find that the reason people ask this question is not so much because they're interested in what the apostate believed, but because they want to exclude the apostate from their religion. I think the motive here is one of fear. If true Christians can deconvert, then there is a chance that they too might deconvert. However, if they are able to disqualify the apostate, then the apostate didn't deconvert since they were never a true Christian to begin with, so the believer doesn't have to address the issue that even devout people sometimes leave their religion.

I try to be as honest about my religious life as I can, and, if I think the person is asking this question simply to discount my former beliefs, I try to get ahead of them by talking about The Clergy Project, which is full of apostate clergy from all religions and denominations.

It depends on the person's level of ecumenism (inclusivity), but they often conclude that I was never a true Christian to begin with, so I can't be an apostate. If this occurs, I begin the conversation of who is a true Christian?.

Where do you think you'll go when you die?

The more-polite or less-naive religious believers start with this question before moving onto the question of hell. My typical answer to this question is to say I think it will be the same as before I was born. I won't exist, but the universe will keep on going without me. A more detailed explanation can be seen in the article, death from a secular humanist's perspective.

Aren't you afraid of hell?

See Aren't you afraid of hell?

If you felt God's presence, how can you not believe in him?

This question was raised after my Christian credentials were being measured. I had explained how, when I was religious, I physically felt the presence God in the form of tingles down the spine, chills, and feelings of serenity. I was asked, if I felt God, how could I possibly stop believing? It would be like eating a delicious lasagna, and then later concluding that lasagna doesn't exist. My response was to continue the lasagna metaphor:

Al grows up eating at a restaurant which serves delicious lasagna. He asks the cook what the secret ingredient is, and the cook says it's griffon meat. Later in life, Al's meets a man who claims to make the best lasagna. Curious, Al tastes it and is shocked to find it tastes just like the griffon lasagna! He asks where the man got griffon meat, and the man says griffons aren't real, he uses unicorn meat. Al is confused because he just assumed griffons were real and unicorns fake. Later still, Al meets a woman who claims to make the best lasagna. Al tastes it, and it's like the others, so he asks what meat she uses, and she assures him it's hydra! Very confused, Al goes to an expert chef with a sample of each lasagna and asks the chef to identify which magical animal the meat is. The chef says they're all beef, just with a rare spice. Al is skeptical, but the chef prepares the spiced beef in front of him and, sure enough, it tastes exactly like the griffon, unicorn, and hydra! Later, Al also discovers that none of the lasagna cooks ever hunt the animals themselves, they get the meat prepared from a supplier. Al then concludes, since the supposed meat can be made from spiced beef, and nobody has ever seen a griffon, unicorn, or hydra, he's going to stop believing in them until he's presented with better evidence. When Al tells his friends he no longer believes in the magical animals, they all ask him how he can not believe in the animals when he's eaten their meat. Al says he doesn't think the meat comes from magical animals, he thinks they're all beef with a rare spice.

To apply this God's presence in my life. When I was a Christian, I felt the physical tingles and assumed they all came from God. However, after speaking to Muslims, Hindus, and people of different religions, I found they all describe their feelings of being deep in prayer in a similar manner. Other Christians dismissed their claims as lies, or said it was Satan at work. Then, I read about neurologists who have been using fMRIs and PET scans to measure the brain activity of people praying, and how they're discovering that they all have similar altered brain states, regardless of religion, and the altered states aren't that unlike those which can be induced with certain chemicals ([1]). Again, the Christians I talked to dismissed this as evil. After I stopped believing in the Christian god, I noticed that I still felt the same feelings when I contemplated profound ideas, like deep time and the scale of the universe. This is echoed in the testimony of former ministers. So, this made me wonder, which is more likely? A combination of gods and devils that are changing the brain state of everyone (Jews, Sikhs, Christians, atheists, etc.) in a similar manner, and those changes are all similar to specific chemicals, or that the feelings I once attributed to God are actually entirely natural and self-induced.