a woman without a country

I recently had a revelation about why it is sooooo hard for me to consider leaving my religion. Like many revelations in my life, it came from an humorously unexpected source:

Monty Python.

While listening to public radio, I caught the tail end of an interview with Terry Gilliam. I knew Gilliam was a writer, an animator, the director of many innovative films (Brazil, Fisher King, Baron Munchausen, etc), and a member of the British comedy team Monty Python.

What I didn’t know was that he had been born in Minnesota, making him the only US-born member of the troupe.

What I also didn’t know was that in 2006 he renounced his United States citizenship.

He talked about his reasons for giving up his US citizenship. He lived and worked in England. He hated George W. Bush. He didn’t agree with the direction the US was moving. And he was tired of paying taxes to a country where he didn’t live: “I wasn’t getting any of the benefits of my tax paying in America… wasn’t driving on the roads or flying any of the bombers.”

So he gave up US citizenship.

That seemed crazy to me! I actually started to have a bit of a panic attack just thinking about it. And the questions started racking up in my head:

What about his family in the US? Did they feel betrayed? Was he saying England was better than the US? How could Terry think of giving up citizenship in the most powerful nation in the world? What would he do if calamity struck? Where would he run if England was suddenly attacked by a powerful enemy? Where would Europe be without the United States? Wasn’t it worth paying taxes to know that he would be protected by the US Embassy anywhere in the world?  How did he KNOW he wasn’t getting any “benefits” from his tax paying? Wasn’t the tax money he paid going to fund the military that kept the world stable and protected him, even if he didn’t acknowledge it? What if he was wrong or changed his mind? If something terrible happened, there was no coming back and saying “Oh, sorry, I think I’ve made a terrible mistake and would like to be let in, pretty please?”

Besides, MILLIONS of people are clamoring to COME to this country, to become citizens of the United States. If you were lucky enough to be BORN a citizen of the MIGHTIEST and MOST PRIVILEGED country in the world, why would you CHOOSE to LEAVE?

And suddenly I realized that I was no longer panicking about citizenship in the US. I was panicking about another citizenship that I was born into, in the MIGHTIEST and MOST PRIVILEGED religion in my world:

Christianity.

For me, losing my faith is not just about a change in my personal life. It is not just about my own beliefs or opinions, about my personal theology and life focus and afterlife theories and scholarship. It is about all of the relationships in my life, about my identity and my place in the society where I have grown and belonged my whole life.

Leaving (losing) my faith is tantamount to renouncing my citizenship in the country of my birth – by choice – and therefore losing all of my alliances, all of my protections, all of my security, and all of my privileges.

And that is the part of deconversion you can’t possibly understand if you grew up without a religious alliance.

Deconverting means leaving EVERYTHING meaningful and secure behind – on purpose – and setting out for…. well, you can’t even say “God knows what” anymore. You can’t stay where you were, but you don’t know where you’re going. And no one does.

If you’ve read or listened or talked to anyone from the non-believing side, then you have most likely encountered your share of jerks along the deconversion road. Which means you have a deep-seated fear that 1) maybe everyone where you are going is a jerk and 2) you are now going to become a jerk as well.

You risk losing everything and everyone precious to you by making the choice to leave faith (although losing faith is rarely a “choice”, it is more something that happens to you). You fear that you will no longer be permitted access to them, at least not in the way you’re accustomed. And you know it is very possible that even the most loving and accepting people in your life who still believe will feel that your leaving is a rejection of them, an accusation against their intelligence, a betrayal of their love, and a very frightening descent into the clutches of the devil and the pit of hell.

In addition to all of that, you are leaving a community – faulty and flawed perhaps, but familiar – and you fear that you will never have a true community again, that all you’re going to get in return is an individualistic conglomeration of angry attacking anti-theists.

People change citizenships all the time. People live without faith in a god or religious community every day. Somehow they manage to live, work, breathe, procreate, love, survive, despite the losses and the fear and the uncertainty.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

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11 thoughts on “a woman without a country

  1. I totally agree. It’s not easy. It is incredibly hard! I have many friends who no longer want to be my friend. I have family who are worried for me, and/or who don’t want to be as close anymore. And the worst part, I have two daughters who fear that their father is now “one with the devil”. (sign)
    One positive thing I’ll say, the new friends I’ve made who are also secular — they are SO MUCH more fun to be around. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Clay, it’s nice to know we aren’t alone. I’ve made some pretty awesome humanist friends. I guess I’m lucky in that all of the Christians I associate with, even my own family, are also pretty fun to be with. If they were all miserable Calvinists, it wouldn’t be so hard haha. Deep down I know the people who love me now will love me no matter what. But it’s knowing the hurt they will feel that keeps me from being open about my deconversion

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post, and so spot on. I can remember one time, shortly after my deconversion, having a little meltdown when it hit me with full force that I had been betrayed by both my culture and my country, but I had no one to share my grief with. This was before I realized there was a community of deconverts and other nonbelievers online. There certainly wasn’t any in my offline life, so I truly felt alone. I still do in my offline life. I am always having to be consciousness with my family and people in my community, but it would never occur to them to be the same with me. I, too, am a woman without a country, but I’m so grateful to have found this supportive online community. You wrote:

    “And you know it is very possible that even the most loving and accepting people in your life who still believe will feel that your leaving is a rejection of them, an accusation against their intelligence, a betrayal of their love, and a very frightening descent into the clutches of the devil and the pit of hell.”

    Can I ever relate. You wrote:

    “People change citizenships all the time. People live without faith in a god or religious community every day. Somehow they manage to live, work, breathe, procreate, love, survive, despite the losses and the fear and the uncertainty.”

    Absolutely. In fact, there are studies showing that it’s not because of religion that people have well being, it’s because of community, which religion provides. My best friend from Denmark was never raised religious, and grew up in a secular community, yet his nonreligious country and community thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Victoria. Whenever I write about my experience and it resonates with you, I know I’ve done at least a half decent job at expressing myself… and that I’m not having some freakishly solitary experience! Having the online community and culture gives us a unique opportunity to make our own “country” of sorts. Without the interwebz, I probably never would have had the courage (and supporting information) to admit (to myself at least) that I had serious doubts about everything I’d been taught. I still struggle with the idea of the supernatural and of mysteries based on the experiences I’ve had, but from reading your posts and others, I am learning there can be neurological explanations for many of them that we are just beginning to understand. Thank you SO MUCH for everything you share and for your encouragement.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Something that struck me as I was reading your blog was related to a podcast I listened to recently. The series is called Invisibilia on NPR and the episode was about categories. Our brains must categorize. We categorize everything, and without doing that we wouldn’t survive. In fact as the episode discusses some people who have had specific brain damage to the part of the brain that does this function live in constant fear. We also want to put ourselves in some category. When a person feels alone it is a terrible feeling because they are not in a group or category. Tell them that there are a lot of people who feel the exact same way and this has been shown to improve their mood. In addition to Victoria’s excellent point about community, the transition you are making is one that separates you not only from your community but also from the categories you once placed yourself in. What I found though is that the more secular I become the more my compassion grew and I simply became a better person. It became less fearful for me to admit that I was an atheist, because I knew that I was still fundamentally not only a good person but a better person than I was. Furthermore I started seeking out connections with a lot more people who thought like me and realized that I am not alone. I can’t say that I was ever part of such an evangelical community, but I’m simply saying this is a period of transition. In which you are moving from one category to another and it is going to be fearful. Enrich yourself with relationships that are intellectually and emotionally meaningful to you, and remember that you aren’t alone. It sounds like your family would still love you, and if there is love, there is always a chance for compromise and understanding. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent point! I too feel that I am more compassionate and understanding now that I no longer have to measure people with a spiritual slide-rule. Instead of excusing idiots just because they are believers (and therefore redeemed members of my celestial sorority) and condemning otherwise kind people because they did not agree with my theology, I can just accept people as and where they are, and call a spade a spade. I have never been particularly evangelistic, to the dismay of my current and former church culture; I never felt like knocking on doors and handing out tracts to tell people “Turn or fry” was very pleasant, very motivating, or very productive. So in a way I have long lived in a culture without being fully engaged in it. I liked the music, loved the people, felt the presence, and – hey – it was all I knew, so why make waves when i could ride along smiling and unchallenged! Now… that is not enough for me. Maybe one day I’ll come clean with my family. I have a feeling I may out myself without meaning to, simply because my attitudes and perspective and even language have changed so drastically it may make the transformation obvious. For now, my transition is strictly between me and my husband and you guys. Gradually I am feeling stronger about my stance, am seeing more clearly and thinking more logically. I know the time will come, and when it does I will be ready.

      I immediately googled Invisibilia, which amazing I have not heard on NPR (probably during a time when I am not in the car). I love the blurb: “Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.” As an artist – singer, musician, actor, writer – “story” is incredibly important to me, essential really. Anything that marries story and science intriques and speaks to me – I will definitely be streaming some audio while I’m at work!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am certain you will enjoy the series. It has completely changed or enhanced the way I think about certain things now, and the stories they tell are absolutely amazing. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

        And yes I hope that everything goes well when you tell your family, but definitely you have to feel the time is right. My mom is pretty religious and it took some courage to tell her I was an atheist, although I suspect she already kind of knew it, but the way I started out my letter to her was that I love her for who she is, and that it was important for her to love me for who I am, not what she may think that I am. To me love loses too much value when it’s based on a lie and so I wanted to be honest. You seem like someone who places similar value on love so I have no doubt that when you reach the point of wanting to express yourself to them you’ll reach the same point I did. 🙂

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  4. The comparison between leaving a country and leaving a religion seems spot on to me. One point I’d add is that you’re not just leaving a community behind, you’re leaving the culture you’ve grown up with. There’s a whole culture around Christianity, and it’s difficult to change cultures. It’s a big adjustment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So true, Nancy. When it comes right down to it, I think that is the HARDEST part of deconversion. Within Christianity, the culture varies from denomination to denomination, and I have experienced that shift. Eveything is fine as long as you mouth the words and go along with the dance. Even people who are religious in title only still have a place to go for the cultural mile markers in life and death – baptism, marriage, burial, Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. When someone is sick, you pray. When someone dies, you have a funeral service and provide dinner at the church. When someone has a baby, you celebrate with some kind of service. First Communion, Thanksgiving, Ramadan, Bar Mitzvah, Passover – holy days are how you mark the seasons and the passing of time and the gathering with family and friends. When you lose your religion, you stand to lose your religious framework and all of the people who choose to stay within that framework see you differently. Suddenly, you are outside the only culture you’ve ever known. A huge – and very scary – adjustment!

      Liked by 1 person

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