Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Fourth place (tie) — BIPOC essay contest: Philip Haynie

Vol. 38 No. 09 November 2021
Philip Haynie                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Lessons from a deconversion

FFRF awarded Philip $2,000.

By Philip Haynie  

Dear Uncle, 

It may console you that not once during my deconversion from Christianity did I ever think that my time spent in the church was a complete waste. Despite years of theological indoctrination, some emotional manipulation from members and stifled intellectual freethought whenever it veered close to church doctrine, I can separate the good times from the bad. More importantly, I would have never grasped the dangers of religion as well as I do without witnessing them at church firsthand.

I will undoubtedly continue criticizing the church as an institution (so maybe think twice before bringing religion up at Thanksgiving), but if my nonbelief has upset you more than you’ve let on, I hope this letter will alleviate some of your worries. 

Firstly, you may be thinking: But Philip, there are reasonable Christians that point out the errors of the church and condemn ‘bad’ Christians while still retaining their faith! So why are you an atheist? Simple. Because there’s no good reason to believe that the supernatural claims — past, present and future — of Christianity, Scientology or any other religions humans have adhered to are remotely true, and many of the “natural” elements of the bible you hold up as “God’s word” are self-contradictory or blatantly inaccurate. While, yes, I’d concede that a chaotic deistic God could exist, it would be indistinguishable from the forces of nature (and a pretty uninteresting character). Since all the evidence indicates that the biblical God is fictitious and I don’t believe in any other gods, I’m an atheist. 

I “chose to be an atheist” the same way people “choose to get into car accidents.” As a driver who unexpectedly crashes en route, I was struck by a harsh realization after I investigated the veracity of my religious beliefs: They had next to nothing to stand on. I concluded that if the things our family’s religion teaches are founded on mistruths, then the mysterious divine wisdom justifying its more inexplicably horrible commands has no moral sovereignty. Rather, it has centuries’ worth of needless suffering to be held accountable for. 

I’m writing to you specifically because I appreciate your sincere reaction to my “coming out” as an atheist last year. You came from a place of concern, and you weren’t utterly disappointed, angry, in denial or making condescending remarks about how I’m “too young to know my own beliefs.” No. You simply asked me what I would turn to without my faith when life gets difficult or overwhelming. I hope my answer suffices: 

In all the times I remember falling down in my life, I’ve either gotten back up by myself (in which case I should be proud) or thanks to the helping hands of others (in which case I should be grateful). No god was required to pull me up, and neither was a church. I’ve found the community, friendships and sense of fellowship you value in your congregation in secular groups without any part of religion you imply is necessary. When you think about it, isn’t that wonderful news for humans regardless of their religions or their lack thereof? Psalms 133:1 was right about something; it is good and pleasant for people to dwell together in unity. 

Philip, 18, is from Burgess, Va., and attends Hampton University. “As a climate change legislation advocate, I’ve volunteered for several state and federal political campaigns since 2020 and phone banked with Sunrise Movement,” Philip writes. “I recently pushed my local board of supervisors to introduce solar farm zoning to the county, and I promote energy-efficient irrigation tech for farmers to minimize overwatering.”