Telling Someone Like Me

friendshipSo I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I actually know an atheist ex-pastor.  I’ve called him Mark.  Mark converted to Christianity after the tumultuous teen years.  It did him a lot of good and straightened him out quite a bit.  He went off to Bible college and found he had a knack for biblical scholarship and leadership.  He eventually became a pastor and served for about 10 years before giving up on faith and quitting.

The process of deconversion for him was about 1 million times harder than my own experience.  Him and his wife came a very conservative southern baptist background.  He lost his faith, got a new job 1,200 miles away from home, she became pregnant, their marriage fell apart, she moved back home, gave birth to their first child, and he still stuck out here around my neck of the woods.  That doesn’t even touch on all the pain this guy has been through.

Over the last year Mark I have gotten together periodically and talked things out.  I’m deeply distressed with how bad his depression can get, but being 1,200 miles away from your home and your brand new baby girl, I get it. Often I have just tried to be a friend and an encourager.

Mark on the other hand has been dead set on getting me to quit being a pastor and to work with him at his company.  He hasn’t tried to deconvert me, but he understand the fragile financial foundations of most churches and as a friend he wants to see me on more solid footing.

So I called him up today to see if I can take him to lunch.

Mark: So hey man, what’s been going lately.  Still like working at the church?

Me: No, I hate.  Every minute of it.

Mark: So you finally ready for new job?

Me: Yeah, but I’ve got insurance issues to work out.  The wife needs surgery for carpel tunnel, and usually when you start a new job insurance doesn’t kick in for like 3 months.  So I’ve got to decide do we get her the surgery now and I wait 3-6months for recovery and then get a new job? Or do I get a new job now and wait 3 months for the surgery?

We talk about his company’s policy on benefits.  Order our food and sit down.

Me: Remember that organization I was telling you about last time we went drinking?

Mark: Oh, yeah.  What was it called?

Me: The Clergy Project.

Mark: Oh, yeah that’s for pastors who don’t want to be pastors right?  Don’t they do something with like job retraining?

Me: Yeah, they got some grant or something.  But it’s mostly a support group for pastors and ex-pastors who are atheists.

Mark: right, yeah, I really want to look into that.

Me: So, I’m a member.

Mark: Wait, what?!

Me: Yeah, I don’t believe but I’m stuck at my job and…yeah….

You should’ve seen his face.  It said, “You son of a bitch”.  He looks almost annoyed with me, but still has a small smirk on his face.

Me: So I’ve actually been a member since February.  Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.  But it seemed weird to tell you before I told my own wife.

I actually still don’t know Mark that well.  We’ve talked very deeply about his life and his experience and I’ve often thought about telling him.  But when you are in my position, you have to fully trust someone before telling them.  Everyone I’ve told has known me for over 12 years.  A couple of the guys have known me almost 20 years.  I’ve known Mark for 1 year.  So the prospect of telling him was scary. But I figured after all, he probably knew what I was going through better than I did.

Mark: So how did it go talking to your wife about this?

Me: Actually she wasn’t the first person I told.  A month ago I was on camping trip, got drunk, and told some of my closest friends.

Mark: No way, that’s exactly what I did!  I was camping with some friends, got drunk, and just told them I didn’t believe anymore.  That did not go over well.  They were all real serious Christians and then they kept asking me,

“Well are you sure?” “Have you thought about this…”

And i was like “fuck you, of course I’ve thought about this.  What, do you think I just woke up one day and just decide not to believe anymore?”

So how did it go with your friends?

Me: Well one of the guys I told was a guy I went to seminary with.  It was good.  I got really super angry and pissed off at God.

Mark: Were you angry at God or angry at being duped into believing?

I can tell Mark was more pissed about being duped.

Me: No, actually angry at God.  It’s like reading a fiction book and hating the antagonist.  Because the villain isn’t real but you still hate them. You know?

Of course he knows.  He knows better than I do.

Me: So at the end of the conversation he told me, “John, I love you and your still my friend regardless of what you do or don’t believe.”

Mark: Wow, that’s like the best possible thing to hear isn’t it? I’ve only had one person tell me anything close to that.  Just one.  Everyone else I’ve talked to there is this little caveat they put on our friendship.  Like they can’t fully accept this is who I am.  They think this is just phase or whatever.

But man, I’ve been so disappointed.  In people I thought were friends, in God…in a lot.

We talk about how things with my wife went down.

Mark: I feel really good about you and your wife.  You guys aren’t like me and my ex.  You guys have passion and friendship.  Besides you were already not that conservative to begin with.

Coming from his Southern Baptist background he likes to twist the knife and tell me I was never a conservative christian.  It’s a joke, or a half joke.  We laugh.

Mark: But seriously, my wife was very one dimensional, all she was was her faith.  That’s it.  Her faith was the only thing she was about, and I thought that was attractive at the time.  Where as your wife, she’s way more open and interesting. You should have your wife call my ex.

Me: yeah I don’t know.  I thought about it but I don’t know how that would work.

Mark: Listen my ex has been processing this for 18 months, and obviously your wife could use a friend.  And honestly I think it will be good for my ex too.  She thinks that there’s something wrong with me.  She needs to know that people like us exist and it’s not just me, but this happens all the time to all sorts of people.

Me: Yeah, but I also don’t want your wife to think that my deconversion is your fault. Like, would that make more trouble for you?

He pauses, thinks about it.

Mark: Nah.  Have your wife call.

It was a good meeting.  We talked about the reasons why we don’t believe.  He told me what it was like for him to keep preaching after he lost faith.  We discussed the things that are important to us.  Oh and we had this chuckle.

Me: For the longest time I just kept going back to the Clergy Project page but not signing up.

Mark: Why?

Me: Well, they make you sign a document that completely rejects any supernatural explanation to reality.  Even though I rejected Christianity I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to say there is no spiritual existence.  So I didn’t sign up because I didn’t want to lie.

Which is weird.

I’ll lie every Sunday for a living but I don’t want to lie to get the free help I need?  Like I’ll lie to Christians but not to atheists?  WTF is that about?

We both start chuckling at the absurdity of it all.  But the truth is a little more stark.  I lie because I need a job.  My wife needs surgery, and my kids need clothes.  Tonight I’ll discuss with my wife if we can put off surgery till I get secured in a new job.

Just before I leave, we’re outside his office building and he sees someone from work.  He introduces me:

Mark: Hey this is my friend John, he ‘s pastor not far from here but I’m trying to get him to come work with us.


11 thoughts on “Telling Someone Like Me

  1. “And i was like ‘fuck you, of course I’ve thought about this. What, do you think I just woke up one day and just decide not to believe anymore?'”


    Liked by 4 people

  2. Trying to figure out what I think about the ‘Clergy Project’ and the requiredment of a signed profession of total supernatural disbelief. I’m sure its more nuanced than one or two sentences can explain. I can intuitively see the need for supporting documentation that you work in a faith based religion that you dont believe it. And of course many people leave the pulpit for many reasons other than dis-belief. I just figured FFR would still support someone who would easily and openly confess to being agnostic about ‘gods’, but would completely reject theism. Heck, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m anything more than agnostic about all possible deities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Cody!

      You’re absolutely right! Many atheists would also consider themselves agnostic since there terms are not incompatible. In a sense, atheism just means you haven’t seen enough evidence to convince you to believe in the existence of supernatural beings. There’s a “hard atheism” that says you’re convinced it’s impossible, but most seem to be more of a “soft atheism” that is also agnostic. That you can’t attest to what you haven’t seen. And since you haven’t seen evidence for gods, you don’t believe in them. Some define would also this as “positive” and “negative” atheism.

      At The Clergy Project, many of us do embrace that mix of both agnosticism and atheism. The key with the signed statement is to clarify that you allow your understanding of truth to be led by observable evidence rather than predetermined supernatural assumptions. And the statement is in place for a number of reasons. One is that we don’t want to admit those still on the fence and then find ourselves in the game of deconverting pastors. Our goal is not to convince anyone of anything. If you’re fine in your unbelief, we’re fine letting you stay that way. Our goal is simply to come alongside those already convinced in their position of unbelief, so that we can provide the support, community, and hope that is so desperately needed. Hope this helps in clarifying…. :))

      As another of our members, Jerry DeWitt likes to put it:
      “Skepticism is my Nature,
      “Freethought is my Methodology,
      “Agnosticism is my Conclusion,
      “Atheism is my Opinion,
      “and Humanism is my Motivation.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • ***Unfortunately, I’m seeing a couple typos and no edit button haha… But the typo that matters is “If you’re fine in your unbelief, we’re fine letting you stay that way.” Unbelief should read as *belief.


      • Wow, customer service is watching! Thanks for the clarification. The ‘deconverting pastor’ exclusion was the point I was really missing. It makes complete sense.

        As an aside, I wish there was some way to make your services more known. I have lived a life of friendship with pastors. My current best friend is the pastor from my (very) last church. He definitely struggles with his belief. The chances of a doubting pastor diving into the world of the atheism debate—–where he/she might just encounter the Clergy Project is pretty low. He/she may struggle for years but remain only exposed to that which is ”in the bubble ”’ world and would never know about the service.

        And personally I don’t know how I could just hand by best friend a pamphlet as it would come across as proselytizing and strain our already tenuous friendship. But I do think that while it may or may not have an effect for him anyway, if those that are struggling, but yet don’t engage in the ‘conversation’ could just know that they are not alone, and there is help, they might just take one or two more steps.

        But I’m sure you’ve never thought of these things before right? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cody, share my story with him. Send him a link and say “Hey, what do you make if this guy?” And leave it open ended. He might not acknowledge reading my story, but if he’s struggling he probably will read it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Also, if you’re Facebook friends with him share links openly on your profile. Links to The Clergy Project, Rational Doubt, the Friendly Atheist, Godless in Dixie, etc. Find out when he is most likely to be online and share links then.

        Liked by 1 person

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