Reflecting on deconversion

Add deconversion to your socio-cultural vocabulary if you haven’t done so already. The signified phenomena is just what it sounds like: the loss of a previously held faith/religion. Deconversion may mean moving from one religion to another but it seems that the move is more frequently from faith to atheism.

So what explains the phenomena of deconversion? While no one answer would suffice consider the progression of this anecdotal evidence:

  • A friend tells of a dialogue he once had with an atheist that stretched over a period of time. During one of their discussions the atheist was asked a hypothetical: “What if, after your death, you discovered that God did exist–what would you say to Him?” The atheist replied, “F*** you!”
  • In a recent podcast from Unbelievable? a young, deconverted Brit acknowledged that the realization that he was gay was one of the first things that led to his break with the church. His thought process moved from “I need to either be happy or celibate” to “I need to be happy and that made me want to leave the church.”
  • In Basic Christianity John Stott recounts a conversation he had with a young man who had left the faith:

I remember a young man coming to see me when he had just left school and begun work in London. He had given up going to church, he said, because he could not say the Creed without being a hypocrite. He no longer believed it. When he had finished his explanations, I said to him, ‘If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to alter your manner of life?’ He smiled slightly and blushed. His real problem was not intellectual but moral.

Stott nails it. The real problem is moral.

In each anecdote, the individual reveals a moral objection to God and/or the Christian faith that must be weighted equal to (if not greater than) his intellectual objection.

Three brief reflections are in order.

First, whatever we might say about intellectual stumbling blocks, Scripture identifies our moral objection(s) as the root cause of unbelief (Psa 14:1-3; Jn 3:19-20; Rom 1:18-21).

Second, Christians shouldn’t ignore intellectual objections (Acts 17:2; 18:4). Christian truth will often penetrate intellectual strongholds in order to reach the moral resistance.   Who can tell where the mind ends and the heart begins?

Third, acknowledging moral objections to faith will lead us to question many methods & strategies that are promoted for the sake of “effective witness.” At a certain point none of our compromising, harmonizing, or contextualizing will ever be enough to win someone (back) to the faith.

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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