This is a work in progress. There are still many people who don't know of my departure from conservative to progressive Christianity, let alone my movement toward Secular Humanism. There will be some tough conversations yet to come.
This is the most important and sensitive topic I've encountered on this expedition. I place a high value on relationships. Although I have many friends, few are in the inner circle of trust; But those who are in my closest circle have earned my respect and my love, all in ways as unique as the relationships themselves. I'd like to say I can grant all of that unconditionally, but I'd be lying; I don't know anyone who can live up to that ideal. Suffice it to say for my purposes here, there are very few things those closest to me could do for me to abandon the relationship.
Transition #1: Conservative Evangelical Christianity --> Progressive / Liberal Christianity
The first edition of this post began during my unwinding from Conservative Evangelical Christianity and adoption of Progressive / Liberal Christianity. To a nonbeliever, this might not seem like a substantial enough different to impact relationships, but you would be wrong. I would assert that the more conservative, orthodox one's circle of family and friends, the more scrutiny one might encounter to ensure that you believe the right things. Any deviation from orthodoxy, leads to the slippery slope, then, BAM!...You're in hell.
I got some of this when I began to question literal reading of scripture, but not much. People that I had gone to church or Bible study with became a bit more distant, looked at me strangely, and sometimes politely responded with "Interesting..." before cutting the conversation short.
Some of those closer to me took me to task with more vigor. I suggested some books to read that had helped me with questions and helped shape my view, not so much as to turn them to my way of thinking, but to answer their questions of me. If you want to know how someone got where they are - if you're genuinely interested - you might want to read what they've read, experience what they've experienced, read what they write, and try to see their view from their lens. Relatively short conversations about enormous topics without access to reference materials is difficult. It is, of course, impossible to really experience someone else's life, but taking more information in that they've relied upon to shape their view will certainly help bridge the gap. Some read one of the books (but no more than that), others politely took the list and never entertained them. These books are, after all, pure heresy in their eyes.
There are many reasons why some won't go there; Read a previous post as many of the same reasons apply. I think that some don't want to open themselves up to a different perspective because that whole eating from the tree of knowledge thing in Genesis scares them. Others default to the proverb Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but that's just an opinion; No one has admitted this yet.
What is not just an opinion - what cannot be overstated - is this: Challenging core beliefs you've had your whole life, especially when you're told that asking questions and believing anything different has such dire consequences, scares the ever-living hell out of many people. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to challenge dogma and look into these things. If you weren't born into it, you may not quite understand, but it's true.
The good news is that those closest to me, whether they attempted to read any of the material I found helpful or not, have remained my friends because both of us put the relationship ahead of our differences.
Transition #2: Progressive / Liberal Christianity --> Secular Humanism
I need to start this section with admitting that the Conservatives at my former church were right about one thing: Studying church history, the historical vs. mythical Jesus, and metaphorical views of scripture can lead someone to question their faith. Yep, I'm living proof. Looking further into many of the problems with scripture and dealing with them honestly will raise even more questions.
Once I really started digging into scholarship and thinking through things, questions got deeper, more numerous, and more difficult to reconcile. I didn't set out to disprove god, but the one I had always believed in, as described in the bible, no longer made sense to me. Yet another full reading of the bible, cover to cover, even less so. Columns and rows kept getting added to the Rubix Cube of dogma required to hold it together until my mind went into the Microsoft "blue screen of death". I couldn't get there anymore.
Back to relationships. When I finally admitted to myself that I can no longer claim to believe these things, I had to decide if I would ever "come out out of the closet" with my new views (see my Coming Out post). This is not a trivial decision. How would people react? I had to attempt to honestly assess what the impact would be on each relationship that I cared about. I had to weigh whether the benefits outweighed the potential costs of coming out. In another culture, say northern Europe, this would not be a big deal and I'd actually be in the majority. But in the USA - especially the South - it's a very big deal to many.
Reactions have been varied and different than I anticipated. I've received an amazing amount of support from some whom I thought would neither comment nor care. I've received silence from some whom I thought would be upset and engage me. I've received combative engagement from some whom I thought would support me. Mostly, people have been silent and distant.
The silence can feel lonely. When I went to church, I would at least engage people in conversation about shared beliefs, and enjoy their presence in my life. When you're in the minority, there are few options for honest discussion and community. Some friends from your previous life may run like you're the devil when they see you coming.
To the would-be "comer-outer"
Some will say they "just want to understand" but refuse to read any of the scholarship that's gone into your thought process. How will you react in this scenario? I've found this to be the most infuriating situation of all. It seems disingenuous to say you want to understand but refuse to take in an information that would facilitate your understanding. This tells me your mind is made-up and you don't want to be confused by the facts (or you will refute the facts without considering them). I'm not necessarily trying to de-convert these people; I'm trying to answer their questions about why I'm espousing the notions that I do. If it's someone you love deeply, how will the relationship move forward?
It's difficult to forecast how people will react, but I think you need to be prepared for any reaction and decide how you'll react to each of the possible outcomes. This can mean being prepared for some awful worst-case scenarios. If you were a Christian when you got married, will your spouse still want to be married to a non-believer? What about your kids? You took them to church for years and indoctrinated them with your former belief system. Now you've changed, or at least admitted questions you've had all along; How will they react? If your spouse still wants to take them to church, how will you deal with that? What if that church tells them things like "if your parents don't believe XYZ, they'll burn in hell for all eternity."; How will you deal with that? Will you force a conversation on anyone or just let them discover this about you happenstance somewhere down the road? What about your job? Is your boss a "believer"? Many people have lost their jobs or had their work life become a living hell because the boss prefers to surround themselves will fellow church-goers and those who validate his worldview.
I want to encourage people to come out so that we can have community and a voice, together. We'll all benefit. I've got many reasons for coming out but I know not everyone will want to do the same. It can be dangerous to relationships depending on how it's handled and the nature of the other party; Relationships are a two-way street. In some communities, there's a real threat of violence against non-believers. Do so with your eyes wide open.
I've decided that all of my closest relationships are top priority for me and must - to the extent I can control - survive different religious and political beliefs. I've also decided that I won't live a lie. So far, all of my closest relationships remain intact, but not without some strane. There are also many conversations yet to be had. I'm confident we'll survive the differences.
I'd like to hear from you about your experiences. I've got a long way to go.
Peace to you my friends,