When I was in my early 30’s, I picked up a book written by one of my musical heroes, Seeds of Change – the Spiritual Quest of Kerry Livgren. Livgren’s autobiography chronicles his religious and spiritual thinking from his early years as a nominal Christian, to exploring various philosophies while in college, experimenting with Hinduism and Urantia as one of the 1970’s most successful rock musicians, then ultimately to ‘give his life to Jesus’ and leading his own Christian rock band in the 1980’s and beyond. Unlike many popular rock musicians of the 1970’s, Livgren used his music as a vehicle for exploring and questioning his beliefs rather than just grinding out party tunes. I have always enjoyed Livgren’s book, written by a musician and songwriter who helped influence my own adolescent and formative thoughts, but also from an obviously sincere and intelligent person, whose songwriting reflected his own changing and turbulent religious beliefs.
I always remember this book when I hear what Christians call ‘testimonies’ and atheists call ‘de-conversion stories’. Most Christian testimonies that I have heard, usually from those brave enough to answer the pastor’s call for a willing testimony from the congregation, are very similar. “I led a life of rebellion and sin against God. I did drugs. I drank. I cheated on my wife. But then I found a Man, who would take me as I am - a dirty and wretched sinner, and he washed me white as snow!” Most de-conversion stories are also strikingly similar. “I was as devout a Christian as any. I witnessed. I prayed. I read my Bible. But then I found a book by a man that told me I am the measure of all things, convinced me that evolution is true, and that God is a Delusion!” I loved testimonies when I was a Christian, and I love de-conversion stories as an apostate, but in both cases, the stories always seem both too similar and too simple. I guess that is why I have always enjoyed Livgren’s book, even as one who does not agree with his ultimate conclusion. He demonstrates that his conversion did not simply occur, as he relates, in a lonely hotel room while on tour with his band. Rather, his conversion started decades earlier, when he was a child in Kansas staring at a bookshelf and letting his mind wander. Similarly, when I was a more active blogger in the wake of my own de-conversion 4 years ago, people would ask me for my own de-conversion story. I could have simply repeated the pattern that is so often followed in de-conversion stories, and it would have been accurate, but only as a skeleton. I have always felt that, to be honest with myself, I could not repeat the simple ‘de-conversion pattern’. To this day, I have been hesitant to tell my de-conversion story, because I simply cannot pinpoint when my de-conversion actually began. I firmly left the Christian Faith at about the age of 43, yet I can see ‘Seeds of Change’ in my own life beginning before I even professed to be a Christian. Unlike Livgren, who has sadly not updated his autobiography in 20 years, I recognize that my spiritual quest, if I must call it that, has not ended upon my de-conversion. Conversion, De-conversion, call it what you will, has for me been a life-long process, that will likely, I hope, continue for the rest of my life. As I have said before, the story of my de-conversion is necessarily the story of my life. You want my de-conversion story? I have to start at the beginning.
But I think it is time. It is time for that story to be told.
I have been mulling it over for some time. True, nobody has asked me to share my story since I quit writing at de-conversion.com. But RoseMary has lately been asking probing questions about my past. These are questions that I welcome, but I find I sometimes have trouble piecing together vague and disjointed memories. I have been asking a lot of questions of my unsuspecting mother in the last few months – questions that fill in empty gaps from my youth. I had to ask her about certain things that I had either forgotten, or those strange mysteries that I had always wondered about but never dared ask. As I get older, and events fade further into the past, I feel them begin to slip out of my memory. Names, places, details – many of those are long gone. Most of my memories come from associations with photos taken years earlier – unfortunately my parents never owned a camera when I was young, and the only photos taken during my pre-high school years were taken by my grandparents when they occasionally came to visit. The record of my youth is scant. The other night, RoseMary and I struggled to remember the names of fellow church members who would visit the weekly Bible Studies that we hosted in our home. My fleeting memory, and the mere wisp of thread that holds it in my mind scares me. I feel the need to create a record of some kind to my past. Livgren has a record to his past, left in the legacy of the music and songs he wrote. When asked if he repudiated those old songs that dabble in Hinduism and Urantia, Livgren said absolutely not. They were an honest record of what he was thinking and experiencing at the time they were written. I am almost 48 years old now. I increasingly feel the need to leave that honest record of where I came from, mistakes, simple-mindedness, blunders and all.
It is time for me to write my de-conversion story.
Where to start? I am a physicist by trade, and I am trained as a technical writer. When I write, I usually start with paragraph or section headers and fill in the gaps. I usually start somewhere in the middle, and simultaneously work my way to the beginning and end. I flesh things out as I go, and I nearly always have an end in sight. The abstract and titles are the absolute last things to be set to paper. Blogging, in contrast, has always been somewhat difficult for me. It is a style of writing that I am still not yet comfortable with. And writing my de-conversion story? I tried starting it as I do with my research papers – first outline it with subject headers – or in this case, separate blog titles, then work my out and flesh in the details. Bah! I quickly realized that would never do. I will have to do the terrifying – start at the beginning with no middle or end in sight, and type my way through unknown and uncharted waters. I have nothing pre-written. No outline. No nothing. When I click ‘Publish’, I will have nothing but this intimidating reminder that I am now on record to finish this de-conversion story. Be patient with me, Dear Reader.
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