O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Conversions: Christian to Atheist

posted by Jason Boyett

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.

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Bio:

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.

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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



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Comments read comments(17)
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Chris Donato

posted March 11, 2011 at 9:39 am


I think most times the only difference between Ryan and me is Pascal’s Wager.



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KatR

posted March 11, 2011 at 9:42 am


I think I’m at #3 right now. Once I had the courage to really investigate the Bible, it wasn’t that hard to discover that its not “inerrant”.
Ryan is correct; when you start to read the Bible with the “is this right?” perspective, much of God’s behavior (especially the unstable OT God) becomes impossible to gloss over.



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Jay

posted March 11, 2011 at 10:02 am


Because of this, my faith in an ancient holy book caused me to do the one thing in my life that I regret. … Against all that was in me, I said those words.
I went through a very similar experience, choosing not to attend my aunt’s wedding to another woman, and it made me think through things in much the same way. The intellectual doubts I already had about my faith did not change at that moment, but the emotional trauma I experienced forced me to face up to them in a way I never had before.
Glad to read your story.



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David N.

posted March 11, 2011 at 10:09 am


Thanks for sharing, Ryan.
Two Questions:
1. Have you stayed friends with any of the Christians you knew back then, and which responses and attitudes from them have you appreciated the most?
2. What is your perspective now toward religion in general, expecially Christianity? Do you think it’s a good thing if handled lovingly, or do you think it is at best silly and at worst harmful?
I appreciate your honesty and willingness to discuss this.



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David N.

posted March 11, 2011 at 10:11 am


Chris Donato – I totally get you on that. I feel the same way sometimes.



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Ryan

posted March 11, 2011 at 11:47 am


@Chris Donato: I never liked Pascal’s Wager because it only looks at 2 specific circumstances out of many. It’s assuming that either the Abrahamic God exists or not. There’s a lot more out there than just the Judaeo-Christian God and His Heaven/Hell.
@Jay: Exactly! It was a rare moment where you get to experience the emotional repercussions of doing something you greatly disagree with. Really makes you reflect on pretty much your entire life.
@David:
1: Yes, I am friends with Christians from High School/College still. The best reactions: “I’m happy that you’re happier with your life now.” The worst reactions (besides outright cutting me out of their life): “I’m praying for you.” The weirdest reaction: “You’re still going to Heaven, you were baptized and accepted Jesus. Even if you say you disbelieve now, you’re still going to Heaven.”
2: Religion is a funny thing. Bad things can be done in it’s name. Such as my older Brother… who is largely on the “homosexuality is a threat to our nation and we have to fight hard against it!” bandwagon. I really honestly believe the only reason he acts in this horrible way is because of his religion.
I don’t think most of the people who are Christian and do good things would stop doing those good things if they weren’t Christian…
So overall, I guess I view religion as not needed?
Granted, I’ve done no actual research on this and it’s just my guess… I don’t think the majority of good things done by the religious would stop if they weren’t religious. And I don’t think the majority of bad things done by the religious would stop if they weren’t religious. But, I believe that some good and some bad things would stop without religion.
Overall, without religion, I think we’d probably end up just about where we are now.
Thanks for the responses!



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Amanda

posted March 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm


These days I’ve been cycling between stage 1 and 2, though at the moment I’m in #1 (well, 1.5+ would probably be more accurate). Ryan, thank you for sharing your story.



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Sylvia

posted March 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm


Thank you for sharing Ryan. You are an inspiration. I am still on the journey. At this point in my life I don’t know what I believe. I do know I no longer believe what I was taught all my life. It’s a hard place to be.



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nnmns

posted March 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm


Welcome aboard Ryan. It sounds like you get it with your steps 3 and 4. I think and hope you’ll have a happier, more content life now than you would have had. And its great you and your wife both saw the light together.



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Page

posted March 13, 2011 at 12:57 am


I am grateful many religions still support traditional marriage and families.



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Ryan

posted March 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm


@Amanda: It’s a rough position to be in spiritually. It’s hard to worship and follow a God who does so many things against your own sense of right/wrong. I hope you find a resolution soon. I’m sure there are many people on the religious side to talk to in your life (and you probably already do) but if you need another perspective I’d love to chat with you too. Don’t know how helpful I could be, but I’d definitely be willing.
@Sylvia: Thanks. It is a hard place to be and I hope you find your way to being at peace with your beliefs soon.
@Page: :-P



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Susie

posted March 14, 2011 at 10:24 pm


Hey, Ryan! I’m really glad to read your story here. I’ve heard it before…but it struck me a little differently this time. I really “get” a lot of what you said. But one thing made me wonder…
Why is the worst response that someone will pray for you? I believe that I wrote that to you at one point. I had no idea that would be a wrong thing to say. I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable.
I’ve always treasured our friendship. I do want the best for all 6 of you!



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Ryan

posted March 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm


Perhaps “worst” was a poor choice of word. It’s very subjective. If someone offered you $2000, $1000 or $100… the “worst” option is $100. ;)
In other words, I didn’t take offense to it, but I much prefer the “I’m happy you’re happy” kind of responses.



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Susie

posted March 14, 2011 at 11:01 pm


Okay! I understand that. I am, however, glad that you are happy. :)



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Mike Gantt

posted March 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm


So often when someone moves from atheism to Christianity, or from Christianity to atheism (as is the case with Ryan), it is largely a move from one social group or orientation to another. It’s surprising the degree to which God Himself is absent from the migration.
Faith has to do with God, and not with anyone else. This is what Jesus taught us.



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Ryan

posted March 18, 2011 at 2:33 am


Mike, are you suggesting that my de-conversion story suggests that it was largely a move from one social group to another?
If so, then I’m very confused how you came to that conclusion. Could you explain?



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