Beyond An Absence Of Faith - deconversion accounts

With John posting about Bruce Gerencser's deconversion account the other day, I thought it would be opportune to mention that his full story is published in a great book I edited called Beyond An Absence Of Faith: Stories About the Loss of Faith and the Discovery of Self which documents some sixteen deconversion accounts from different religions and denominations. Let me tell you about a few of them.

This book (which I co-edited with Tristan Vick) tackles the social, emotional and psychological challenges of deconverting from a faith, something which people in this day and age still find a massive battle to overcome. In collecting this anthology (with a foreword by Jeremy Beahan of Reasonable Doubts), we were met with many commonalities of experience, and yet some marked individual differences. Family is always an important factor, as well as social conformity and expectation. However, there are added complexities when dealing with deconversion from Islam, especially from within a foreign, Islamic country context.

Indeed, my favourite deconversion account was written by a US high school student who has grappled with moving away from arranged marriage as a Muslim. Her account is both moving and beautifully written. She hopes to be a creative writer, and on the merits of her chapter, she should be well on course. The fact that the Muslim writers have to write under pseudonyms is itself sad. Here is an excerpt from her account:

A taste of freedom

We’re in New York, where my cousin lives. Somehow, she and I have found our way outside for some fresh air. Our mothers are not far behind, their voices loud and staccato in the silence of the night. We’re going in circles around the neighborhood, and the serenity is so tangible I want to reach out and grab it, douse myself with it.

Yet, maybe I’m doomed to unhappiness. For the umpteenth time, I adjust my hijab, pushing hair out of sight, loosening it from around my neck. Finally, I’ve had enough, and this time when hair escapes I don’t bother to fix anything. Another step, and the pink material slips further down. A few more heavy footfalls and now it’s completely off, hanging around my neck. I spread out my arms, and I’m flying. I imagine this is what freedom feels like—not living a life in eternal darkness, hiding behind a silly curtain. I imagine going to school like this, not getting scrutinized by those who don’t even know me. I think of the questions they ask. Why do I wear it? What does it prove? To me, “because God said so,” isn’t enough. My heart swells with the pain that always comes with longing.

I want this freedom to be real.

Coffee break

The school literary art magazine is nearly complete. We’re in the final editing process now, and after the endless sweeping through all work, after fixing the tiniest of typos for over an hour, I tug at the part of the scarf that loops around my neck, like a noose.

I step outside. A few of my friends, those who didn’t hold out as long as me, are just down the hall. They’re playing ninja. It looks like a fun game. I’ve never actually played, so I don’t know the rules. I want to join them. But pink fabric frames my face—and it’s more than that. It’s a curtain that stands between them and me. A wall that stands between their laughter and my tears. Some say, “it doesn’t bother me.” Some say, “it’s my choice.”

Well, what if it isn’t mine?

What if the mere thought of quitting sets my mother’s teeth on edge, makes my father question the goodness in me?

And if you truly believe you will be sent to the fiery abyss that is hell if you refuse to cover, if you truly think that men are savage beasts that cannot control themselves and it is up to women to protect their delicate, jewel-like beauty…

Is it really a choice at all?
Speaking of sad, the trials and tribulations of Vyckie Garrison make for powerful reading. Vyckie was a member of the Quiverfull movement whereby, as a Christian wife, her raison d'etre was to produce as many children as possible to help populate the world with Christians in order to out-perform others. But my, what a story. Here is an excerpt from her account:

The Relationship

In one simple word: patriarchy. When you have this total imbalance of power, this form of relationship submission, the person who is the head can easily suck you in with promises steeped in biblical authority. Ephesians 5:25 was a favorite: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (NKJV). I call this the peanut butter and the patriarchy trap. This is what draws the women into this whole Quiverfull ‘women’s movement’.

What I have learnt since leaving this particular world behind, since starting the No Longer Qivering website, is that it seems the case that it is often the women who are pushing these biblical teachings on the men. Why? It’s the whole “husbands love your wives” thing where you think you are going to get to be the wife of this servant leader, like Jesus. You believe that you are going to get someone who loves you like Christ loves his church. When you have this ideal embedded in your mind of what kind of husband you are going to get, and you are willing to pay the price, and the price you are going to have to pay is submission and obedience… Well, it’s twisted. Unfortunately, as you may guess, I didn’t realize this until much later and I got out. Too late, some might say.

When I finally recognised the insidious nature of the headship and submission scheme, here’s how I described it:

The very first thing that I had to learn as a Christian wife was submission. I needed to honor and obey my husband. And I had to be such a devout, godly woman that my husband couldn’t find any fault in me—and in that way, I could “win him without a word.” Of course, the Bible study ladies who were teaching me about this submission, in one meeting, reminded me that it was God’s job to get my husband saved, but they also assured me that I could do my part by following their advice and being a loving, respectful wife. What I took away from that meeting was this: all I had to do was be the perfect wife and the perfect Christian; and God would honor that and save my marriage.

Now, I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking that obviously it’s impossible to be perfect—but that wasn’t so apparent to me at the time; it seemed doable. I had little doubt that I could carry out all that those women told me I must do—I was young and I had a lot of confidence in my abilities—and when I did it, when I became this submissive helpmeet, God would have no choice but to come through for me. He would make a really great husband out of Warren.

This, as I have said, is twisted. Morally twisted and logically twisted.

When you counsel couples who are in co-dependent relationships, it is clear that you cannot change each other; all that you can do is focus on yourself. The equation here, though, is complicated when you throw God into the mix. Of course, I felt like I didn’t have to control my husband because God is the one who would be controlling him in honoring my obedience. The web of manipulation, or illusory manipulation, was quite intricate. And this has been the same for every patriarchal relationship which I have witnessed since breaking free. The more the man is submitted and catered to, and given this special place of authority and responsibility within the home, the more and more he begins to resemble the God of the Old Testament—that crazy and capricious man-God. And the wife? She looks more and more like Jesus, the sacrificial lamb. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job13:15 KJV). What you have is the husband becoming ever more narcissistic, ever more feeling that he is superior, whilst the wife is becoming progressively more of a martyr, self-abdicating. The website which I set up to help people out of this mindset, out of this world, is called No Longer Qivering, and it drives people mad because they don’t get why there is no ‘u’ in the word “quivering”. It’s simple: there is no you in Quiverfull. As such, that is the subtitle of the website. One often talked about JOY: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. This was the mindset which guided me; or to put it in biblical context, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 KJV). In the patriarchy paradigm, within Quiverfull, this is your expression of love. The wife completely subsumes herself for the good of her family and for her husband. For God. It’s all for God.

Again, the themes here are manipulation and, equally sadly, dysfunction.

And if it isn’t working, then whose fault is it? Surely we are not doing it right, not trying hard enough, not praying enough, not being submissive enough, we haven’t found just the right scripture… So you buy another book from Vision Forum. But the take away idea from it is always the fact that it is never his fault. I see this all the time, these days, in dealing with the aftermath of such relationships; that it ruins the men and it ruins the women. You would think that a set up which caters to the man would suit them just fine, but on reflection it infantilises the man. Christianity is apparently always dealing with love and respect—the women need love, the men respect—but as soon as you adopt that patriarchal model of relating where you are completely submitting to another person, there is no respect in that. In reality, people need to take enough responsibility to foster respect for themselves. To earn it.
These sixteen accounts are testament to the fact that leaving the fold is difficult. More difficult than it should be in making a rational decision about what you believe is true. As anyone who knows me and my work (such as my book about free will being an illusion - Free Will? An investigation into whether we have free will or whether I was always going to write this book) you will know I do not believe in libertarian free will. So this idea that so many people are emotionally and psychologically blackmailed into remaining adherent to their faith compounds this problem of an illusory free will. It is important to give a voice the brave people who decide to leave their faith and it is just as important that that voice reaches those doubting, those wishing, those taking their first tentative steps.

Bruce's story is one amongst many, male and female, Christian and Muslim (and one Eastern).I hope it rings true with those deconverts who read it. The book is published by Onus Books, a small skeptical publishers which I own, so please support our work in presenting a rational and skeptical voice to a crazy world!