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My book…

As I’ve mentioned a few times here over the past year, I’m working on a book about my journey from born-again Christian to atheist. My book is different than the other recent atheist books that have been published primarily because of my positive experiences as an evangelical Christian insider. If my experiences were positive, why did I leave it all behind? That’s the story I want to tell.

When I was watching a video of a Galapagos tour with Richard Dawkins, this question from a reader of the paperback edition of The God Delusion resounded with me:

I agree with you that preaching to the choir is a good thing, even if you don’t necessarily preach to everyone else. Sometimes it makes sense to talk to people in a certain cognitive framework that they understand. And while I don’t think that it’s good to dumb down things, do you think that it woud be a good idea for someone such as [Richard Dawkins] to write a book about religion that is in a cognitive framework that is accessible to [religious] people? And what would that book look like?

I’m not Richard Dawkins, but that’s exactly what I want to do. I want to write a book that simultaneously helps unbelievers understand what it is like to be a Christian — the allure, the enticements, the rewards of both the mindset and the community that comprise the born-again experience — and helps Christians understand why one of their own — a born-again and spirit-filled believer — would ultimately reject the teachings of the Bible and leave faith behind. This is something that Richard Dawkins cannot write, because he hasn’t lived it.

I want born-again Christians to see that I have not backslidden; that is, I have not gone backwards or fallen away from a higher plane where I once lived, but I continued to develop spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually so that I outgrew the faith of my youth. I did not fall into sin; I did not get mad at God; I did not become jaded because I witnessed hypocrisy. Nothing bad happened to me to instigate this journey. Yet I now have more peace and joy than I ever had as a Christian, and I give more of my time and money to charitable causes. The day I realized I no longer believed that God exists, a huge weight fell off my shoulders and I felt like I was set free from a lifetime of bondage.

I want skeptics and unbelievers to see that most Christians are not the evil, bigoted fools portrayed by the media. Although these people do exist, primarily as hypocritical leaders who care more about power or money than they care about spirituality or charity, the layperson sitting in the pew is much more likely to be sincere and compassionate, with a burning desire to please God and to help humanity. I want skeptics to feel what I felt as a Bible school student when I listed to Norvel Hayes preach at New Life Bible School in Cleveland, Tennesse, or what I felt sitting in the congregation when Bill and Renee Morris sang at Love Church on Long Island, New York — the hush and awe and power that comes into the congregation, the experience of mystery and desire and ecstacy that is most often attributed to “God’s presence in our midst,” but that I now believe is a natural uprising of human consciousness that arises out of physical interactions of neurons and chemicals and hormones in our brains and bodies.

My book will be my testimony — the story of my personal journey. Interjected between scenes from my life will be passages that explain my past and current thinking about the things that happened to me and my immediate and delayed reactions to these experiences. I will explain spiritual experiences in both Biblical language and in psychological language, to provide a window into my soul for both the believer and the unbeliever.

Jonathan Swift said, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” Because I was not converted by apologetics, nor was I deconverted by anti-apologetics, I will not attempt to debunk the Bible or to give a scientific explanation for or against the existence of God. Neither will I attempt to critique religions, sects, or doctrines other than the ones I followed. Instead, I will take the reader with me on my quest from young skeptic and nominal Christian, to fervent believer, to questioning agnostic and finally, atheist.

I started working on this book last year, and to date I have about 300 pages written. In the coming months, I will be putting this raw material together into the draft of a book, and will share some of my experiences with you all here.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

So, what do you think? Any chance for a skepchick to become the “fifth horseman”? Does this sound like something you’d be interested in reading?


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I must say I'm looking forward to this one. I remember fighting for three or four years to maintain my own faith before giving up. I'm very curious to know what the turning point was for you, to give up community and friends and a tidy and safe world view.

  2. I would definitely be interested in reading this – and I know my mother would be as well. She's been prompted to investigate matters of faith from an interest in The Da Vinci Code and discussions with christian friends of hers. She recently finished reading The God Delusion, and I think this book of yours would be an original and valuable viewpoint to add to the literature on faith.

  3. I will absolutely read your book! This passage sold me:

    "I have not gone backwards or fallen away from a higher plane where I once lived, but I continued to develop spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually so that I outgrew the faith of my youth. […] The day I realized I no longer believed that God exists, a huge weight fell off my shoulders and I felt like I was set free from a lifetime of bondage."

    As someone who is also writing a book–although I'm not as far along as you are–I'd love to hear about your experiences with the whole process (writing a proposal, editing, revising, marketing, etc.).

    Break a leg!

  4. I would definitely buy and read your book. I identify strongly with your background and I thin it would help me convey my own thoughts and feelings on my deconversion.

  5. Your book sounds like a fascinating project, and I look forward to the end result. This idea also got me thinking about the "new" atheism and its supposed rise in popularity. It seems to me that those of us who wandered away from religion and god have always been here, but now that we have a community and a voice, we find that we're not nearly as alone or strange as we once thought. Our stories are not simple one-note refrains of anger and rebellion, but a varied polyphony of experiences.

    Best of luck.

  6. I too am really looking forward to your book. I think personalizing the entire issue, aside from all the high emotions on both sides, is an extremely valuable thing. I also think women are terribly underrepresented in the more more mainstream voices representing the so-called "New Atheists," and any new perspective can only contribute to letting people know they are not alone, demonstrating the spiritual depth that can be achieved without organized religion, and showing that we're people, not just politics, you know?

  7. This does sound fascinating and I will definitely be picking up a copy.

    I'm sure you are concentrating on getting the writing and content right now but I'd be interested if you could get your book picked up by Christian bookstores.

    If you do I would probably buy my copy through a Christian bookstore instead of Amazon/B&N/Borders. My thought is that the more a book moves of the shelf the more that bookstore will stock and the more people will be exposed to your message.

    I also think you are really on to something when you express your change of heart as progress in your spiritual development and not "backsliding". Man do I ever remember the backsliding sermons as I sat looking guilty further and further towards the back of the church.

  8. Count me in! I'm surrounded by thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate religious people who challenge their own religious preconceptions and find them solid. The arguments that we hear from some atheists that religion is the result of brain-rot don't ring true with me.

    Keep me updated!

  9. Thanks for the comments everyone. A few notes:

    Skeptigator, I've actually thought about pitching this to Christian publishers, like Hemant did for "I Sold My Soul on eBay." I think that it would be really cool to have my book sold in Christian markets as well. I actually used to have some contacts at Christian publishers… :-)

    Everyone, in the future, I'd like to do an anthology and collect stories from other skepchicks and maybe dudes. I think that would be a great book, too. I'm not very good at pacing myself, but I'm going to try to keep the anthology idea at bay until I get this book written and sold. I do have a title though: "How I Became a Skepchick" (we'll have to see if that works if skepdudes are included too).

    cognitive dissident, great that you're writing a book too! The more of our stories get out there, the more we become human as flygrrl said. It's hard to hate people you know, and easy to hate generic strangers. (Also, send me an email if you want to talk more about writing and publishing. If you use the skepchick email link, Rebecca will get your message to me.)

    TTYL. The accountant is waiting for me to drop off a bunch of files so I am trying to work today. I'm not very good at ignoring my internet addiction but sometimes I must try!

  10. Count me in for a copy. Actually, I'd love to be involved in any way possible. I mean, I'm just a guy, not an editor or anything, but I'd love to help out.

  11. I never seem to have much time to read books anymore, but yours is definitely on my list! Your perspective sounds unique among those with which I am familiar.

    Your description of your spiritual growth going beyond fundamentalism to skepticism/atheism reminds me of some of the writings of M. Scott Peck (specifically "The Different Drum"). I suspect you would disagree with him about the existence of a stage beyond skepticism/atheism, but I would encourage you to read some of his stuff anyway. I have found a lot to like in his writings.

  12. SteveT, thanks, will check it out. I might not disagree with him. This is where I am now, who knows what the future will hold? I find Sam Harris's ideas about non-supernatural spirituality fascinating and I think he's onto something that merits a lot more discussion.

  13. writerdd, I'll have to warn you (he says with tongue in cheek) about Scott Peck's writings. They played a large part in "converting" me from a staunch agnostic to a heretical Christian. That may not seem like much of a leap to you, but it was indeed a transformative event in my life.

    As an aside to exarch, I know you mislike my calling of myself a Christian. For what it's worth, I understand your misgivings and sympathize with them to a degree. After all, I wouldn't want to be associated in ANYONE'S mind with the ironically self-described "simple moron" of the comment-thread-from-Hell.

  14. I'm really looking forward to reading your book. I have a feeling that your story will closely mirror my own, growing up in a conservative evangelic church in Kentucky.


  15. The only type of Christian I could ever be is like John Shelby Spong, and I consider him an atheist in christian's clothing. That is, I categorically deny the existence of, and the possibility of, the supernatural (or paranormal or metaphysical or whatever other uber-descriptor may come into use in the future). As a concept, it is logically impossible and patently absurd. If something exists, it is natural. Period. So that limits what type of Christian I could ever by. And I'm much too rebellious now to ever be a follower of any religion. This is something I need to figure out how to articulate better, but I hope you get the idea. I can see/feel what I am getting at in my head but I am still having trouble finding a way to put it into words. Some philosopher has probably done so already, but my philoshopy studies have been woefully inadedequate.

  16. This sounds like it's going to be a wonderful book. Just one thing: please don't try for the "horseman" tag. I thought it was dumb at the time. Better just to be you.

  17. Definitely put me on the list of future buyers! I'm looking forward to hearing your experience; it sounds like it might be similar to my own.

  18. I just want to add my voice to the mix to say that I, too, am definitely looking forward to your book. I can't wait :-)

  19. I would love to read your book – and I have really enjoyed the excepts and comments you have posted here on the blog.

    I think it is important to have as many different atheist voices out in the world as we can. For myself I don't identify with your experiences but that is actually why it would be interesting to read more about them. I have always been an atheist so I identify much more closely with Richard Dawkins for example. I think he would agree that he could not write a book like this (because he lacks the relevant life experience).

    Frankly I don't see myself as on a spiritual journey because I don't think spirituality exists. To me it is like the supernatural but I am really interested to hear more about how you define that term. To me it seems intensely religious but obviously you are not suggesting anything supernatural. I wonder how a term like spirituality has any meaning or relevance once you remove the supernatural? I guess I'll just have to read your book to find out!

  20. I don't have a working definition of spirituality yet, but I think it has to do with the desire to be a better person and to continue to experience personal growth. OK, so I just made that up off the top of my head….

    I like these dictionary definitions, with some edits:

    Of or pertaining to the intellectual and higher endowments of the mind; mental; intellectual.

    Of or pertaining to the moral feelings or states of the soul, as distinguished from the external actions; <s>reaching and affecting the spirits.</s>

    Both from 1913 Webster.

    I don't believe in a non-corporeal soul, but I think it's OK to use the word soul to describe what it feels like to have consciousness and self-awareness.

    I like this definition, too:

    The contemporary spiritual search may be a search for meaning of one's life or various transitions, a journey inward, a re-evaluation, or a search for self-discovery and awareness leading to enlightenment and change.

    That's from so of absolutely no authority as far as word definitions go.

  21. I guess it is just semantics but I don't like to use words like spirituality or soul because they are so loaded with supernatural meaning for most people. I like your definitions but I think I would use words or phrases like "intellectual", "consciousness", "self-awareness", "personal growth" instead.

    I have some of the same problems with the term feminist because it is so loaded but let's not get off topic.

    I guess I also have a knee-jerk reaction to being told I need to be searching for spirituality in my life. I don't like being told that! But of course I have the desire to be a better person and continue to grow. I think most people do. But to call that spirituality seems unnecessary to me. We have words for it already – although no neat one word that sums it up I guess.

    Sorry my thoughts are a bit jumbled on this. I think it comes down to not liking the religious or supernatural connection. To me it seems a little like saying "I believe in God if you define God as human potential for great achievements" or something like that. You can define words any way you like of course but I think you need to consider the common usage as well.

    I hope this doesn't sound hostile. I don't think I agree with you but it is interesting to talk about.

    At the end of the day a lot of people seem to feel the need for something spiritual so making the word something that could be secular and naturalistic could be very important. I'm just not sure it is possible.

  22. SteveT wrote:

    As an aside to exarch, I know you mislike my calling of myself a Christian. For what it’s worth, I understand your misgivings and sympathize with them to a degree. After all, I wouldn’t want to be associated in ANYONE’S mind with the ironically self-described “simple moron” of the comment-thread-from-Hell.

    Well, who would? :D

    I agree with Monika, that many of the words and concepts are heavil tainted by religious and supernatural ideas. I think any human that doesn't have anything going on to improve their life, their situation or their intelect in some way, is either mentally ill or stuck in a place where hurting themselves is the only goal they still cherish. I will leave the question of cause or effect regarding that last situation open.

    So essentially, it just feels rather snobbish to me to say you're working on your spiritual growth, since it's something everyone does. Like I'm somehow less enlightened because I don't say it out loud. I've personally found that a lot of things become a lot simpler/straightforward if you stop tacking supernaturally loaded words to them, like "god", "soul" or even "consciousness".

    As such, the step from being a deist who believes something called "god" originated the universe and then hasn't done anything since to being an atheist who thinks something originated the universe and hasn't done anything since was merely semantics.

  23. exarch, I don't think that everyone is working on spiritual growth, and I don't think those who are interested in these types of things are better or worse than those who are not.

    In fact, I'm not really working on spiritual growth at this time of my life. I am not really interested in that type of self-examination right now. Maybe it's something I've outgrown as I've become comfortable with myself and as I've matured as a human being. I don't really have any answers.

    For whatever reason, some people seem to be very interested in and even drawn to religion or spirituality or meditation or self-examination (whatever you want to call it, I don't really care), while others (the ones I consider the lucky ones like Mr. Writerdd), are content and happy and don't need to spend a lot of time thinking and agonizing over these things. That's not to say that these people don't have goals or work on improving themselves, they just seem to do it naturally and have a much easier time of it.

    Not all people who go to church or call themselves Christians (or Muslims or Buddhists or whatever) are really interested in these things. And not all of us who are unbelievers are disinterested.

    Anyway, just thinking out loud here.

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