Deconversion isn’t easy. There’s backlash from family—confusion, anger, shame. It’s something I think about during the holiday season, especially. Christmastime can feel like an inundation of traditions left behind. In the world I grew up in, there were Advent Sundays and Christmas Eve services (five, actually) and cantatas and caroling. It was beautiful, and I still cherish many of those traditions. Deconversion is different for everyone. It’s a slow coming-of-age, or an existential crisis, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or none of those things. Today, I want to honor the stories of women who left religion (the Christian faith, in particular), and these are four thoughtful, poetic meditations.
1. “Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian.” (Jessica Misener, BuzzFeed, May 2014)
“Even though I staked my life on an arbitrary historical document for six years, I liked who I was when I was born-again. I woke up each day determined to conquer my “sinful nature,” i.e., my id that was prone to thinking only about myself, and determined to put others first. I was more selfless. I was a more caring and giving friend back then; I listened deeply, instead of waiting for my turn to talk. I prayed for people and made care packages and wrote nice letters and volunteered. With a divine outlet compelling me to focus on something besides self-preservation, I felt free from the prison of ego.
Which isn’t to say that I can’t do any of these things now. Today I can go to beautiful and inspiring concerts instead of worship service. I can join a weekly book club instead of Bible study to find community. I can still volunteer at the same homeless shelters and make the same damn care packages. I want, desperately and intellectually, to believe that you can feel those selfless feelings and be this others-focused person in secular minds and realms.”
2. “Cheerleaders for Christ.” (Jia Tolentino, Adult Magazine, November 2014)
Jia Tolentino, one of my new favorite writers, explores sexuality, the seduction of faith and teenage rebellion in her Texas parochial school.
3. “How I Lost the Religion of My Childhood.” (Megan Hustad, Salon, February 2014)
On the island of Bonaire lived Megan Hustad, her sister, Amy, and her parents, who were Christian missionaries. Hustad collected her experiences in More Than Conquerors, which I read last year. Now, Megan and Amy no longer share the same religious and political views as their parents—in fact, Megan is careful not to mention Amy’s name while her parents visit her in NYC. Details of her parents’ visit are interwoven with memories of her missionary childhood in this excerpt from her memoir.
4. “What Will Happen to All of That Beauty?” (Ayana Mathis, Guernica, December 2014)
As a religion-reporter-turned-Longreads-contributor, I was thrilled to learn Guernica’s December issue focused on religion in America. Here, read Ayana Mathis’ gorgeous prose on leaving the Christian tradition for something else— something she can’t put into words. Can poetry and art replace her childhood community and her family’s faith? Are God and the church ultimately inextricable?