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Today’s conversion story isn’t a conversion from one faith to another, but rather a “de-conversion” from confident teenage Christianity to atheism. It comes from Ryan Hadley, a tech ninja from Colorado.
I’m Ryan. I live in Longmont, Colorado, just outside of Boulder. I work in Boulder at a small, fantastic company. I’m a Linux System Administrator, but my business cards say “SysAdmin Ninja.” I’m a husband and father. Four fantastic kids, between the ages of 18 months and 8 years old.
Please describe the conversion experience or process:
I converted to Christianity my freshman year of high school. Before then, I had been…agnostic, I guess? I grew up with my parents telling me: “There is a god. If you’re good, you’ll go to Heaven. If you’re bad you’ll go to Hell.” Nothing more. We never went to church. In fact, the first time I ever heard the story of Jesus was my freshman year of high school.
I later converted briefly back to an agnostic and then to my current stance of atheism. This was after two-and-a-half years of college at Great Lakes Christian College in late 1999.
What events led to your conversion?
The biggest factor in me losing faith in the Christian God was a specific incident with a very good friend of mine. I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong — that it is a sin and so should be avoided. I never approved of all the anti-homosexuality hate speech coming from my friends/other Christians… but I did view [homosexuality] the same as lying. It’s clearly something the Bible doesn’t want you to do.
Because of this, my faith in an ancient holy book caused me to do the one thing in my life that I regret.
My good friend, who was also a Christian, was in a horrible state. He was torn. He came to me for advice. He liked guys more than girls. But he’d always say he was bisexual. So one day, he asked me my opinion, as a good friend. I basically told him that if he thinks he can make it work with a woman, then that is the direction he should go, according to the Bible.
Against all that was in me, I said those words. If what I was suggesting was so “right” then why did it feel so wrong? And the rejected look I got in return from him felt so sad. It shocked me to the core… that my own morality conflicted so much with the biblical morality.
This made me start reading the Bible in a different way. Not as “this is right” but as “is this right?” God’s actions shocked and saddened me, time after time. It completely changed the way I thought… I became a very skeptical person, looking at everything in my life so much closer than I ever had before.
I went through several stages:
1. A Christian
2. A Christian who thought God was an ass
3. Agnostic — Realizing that, most likely, the Christian God just doesn’t exist
4. Atheist — Realizing that, most likely, gods do not exist.
What kind of impact did your conversion have on your friends and family?
I didn’t “come out of the closet” as an atheist until I moved halfway across the country in 2007 (Michigan to Colorado). With the extra distance there, it was a lot easier to let my friends/family know. I was mostly hit with “I’m praying for you” type reactions. I had a friend from college actually cut me out of his life, though. Can’t even begin to tell you how much that hurt.
My wife went through similar things as well. We both kind of “de-converted” together.
My employers have always been great about it. I’ve had the luck of working for very progressive and liberal companies. Probably because of my industry and the cities I like: hippie college towns (Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Boulder, Colorado, so far).
Personally…Steps 2 and 3 above were difficult for me. It was a very transitional period where I was very lost and confused about life. Most of my life, while I was building up my supporting philosophical structure, I was very Christian. Dropping all these beliefs was like knocking out all the supports on the scaffolding I built my life on. As I worked through rebuilding, life got a lot easier and happier. When I finally got to Step 4 up there, I never felt more like I knew who I was and liked who I was than any other time in my life.
What advice would you give someone going through the same experience or contemplating a similar conversion?
Find someone and talk through it. It was a lonely and sad process as I lost my faith. The internet is so great though… there are so many communities that would love to help you and support you through such changes. I ended up stumbling onto the digg community towards the end and it was so refreshing. Reddit has a specific atheism subreddit. There are various groups on Facebook, too. Just look around and find somewhere to post. People will talk to you.
What are three things you have learned in the process?
1. Question everything. There’s no harm in it.
2. Be true to yourself. You’ll be so much happier that way.
3. The world isn’t black and white. Evil and good. Most everything is a shade of gray between the two.
Thank you, Ryan. If you’d like to get in touch with Ryan, you can find him on Twitter.
Previous conversion interviews:
• David Johndrow: Congregational Church to Charismatic Episcopalian
• Jeremy Myers: From Senior Pastor to Church Dropout
• Mike Wise: Christian to Agnostic to Christian
• Jessica Gavin: Universalist to Seventh-Day Adventist
• Torie Brown Hunt: From Southern Baptist to Mormon