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Do people ever go from born-again to, uh, not born-again?
February 9, 2004 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Born again, fundies, whatever you call them, we've all encountered them. Has anyone out there come across any of them that have gone the other way? From fundie to, um, not fundie? More inside.

In my experience, the most hard core evangelical types (3 that I know of so far) all had a wild youth in common. Apparently religion set them on the straight and narrow. Emphasis on narrow, IMHO.

My question is, does anyone know of people who have abandoned the bible-thumping for, shall we say, a less religiously grounded lifestyle/attitude? I'm wondering if I'll ever be able to talk to my sister again.
posted by yoga to Religion & Philosophy (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Happens all the time in every fundi strain. The harsh rigour seems to be a way out and an answer to the questions and emptiness they've been feeling so they flip over to it. Sometimes they flop back to moderation, sometimes to excess liberalism and positive hatred. In Islamic society we have an interesting phenomenon dubbed "psuedo-salafi burnout", where, after a few years of zeal, beards and denouncements of all and sundry, young 20 somethings sheepishly go back to moderation. Some don't of course, but eh..
posted by Mossy at 11:47 AM on February 9, 2004


Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists
posted by staggernation at 11:51 AM on February 9, 2004


who have abandoned the bible-thumping for, shall we say, a less religiously grounded lifestyle/attitude?
all had a wild youth in common. Apparently religion set them on the straight and narrow

There is a term for this stage: "on fire for the Lord". Have had the same problem with friends and I enjoy talking about the Lord. Why this happens? can only say they're new too it all. Notice it more among adults you described, than children or teens. Weather they will calm down, it depends on the doctrines they follow. Have seem some go from this to totally burning out a few years later then hating God. With me, believing God created us with a volition, you don't force your beliefs upon people. Imho, better etiquette from your sister may be in order when discussing God among those whom are not interested. She is trying to wittiness to you the only way she seems to know how.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:55 AM on February 9, 2004


(Sorry, my link above was to the out-of-print hardcover... the paperback seems to be in print.)
posted by staggernation at 11:55 AM on February 9, 2004


you know, some of us have a different mental image when we see (or hear) the word "fundie"
posted by crush-onastick at 12:00 PM on February 9, 2004


sorry, i realize that's "not helping" but i have very little experience with prosthelytizing types. have you tried telling her that she's coming on too strong?
posted by crush-onastick at 12:02 PM on February 9, 2004


My suggestion would be to find a moderate of whatever denomination is similar with a deep knowledge of its workings - one of those guys who just seems so serene, as if they have made peace with themselves. What you have in fundamentalism is the exposure of the authoritarian rather than the authoritative - when one's belly is filled with the fire of belief, one often believes that one's (that's three now, trinity, hehe..) convictions and assumptions are correct and immutable - you have God Almighty on your side after all. Plus additionals. Talking to those of great knowledge - the authoratitive - can often bring down those that follow a more "funadmental" approach back down to earth and acknowledge their own ignorance. The basics of belief are nothing without the associated contemplation of these beliefs.
posted by Mossy at 12:10 PM on February 9, 2004


Hey! That's me!

I was raised as a Mormon, but my family left for a conservative Mennonite congregation (in which my father had been raised) when I was in high school. I took to the theology quickly. I was devout, and happy to share my faith. When I graduated from high school, my goals were:
  1. Obtain a degree in religion.
  2. Spend a few years in missionary work, converting the heathens around the world.
  3. Return to my home town to work as a youth minister.
I was earnest about all of this, and my college decision was agonizing: should I attend a church school or should I take a scholarship to a local, highly-regarded private (secular) school? I chose the latter. And it changed me.

With time, I was transformed completely.

I'm now an atheist, and proud of it, though I retain many of my Christian sympathies. Much of my family remains conservative Christian. A few of them are not above lecturing me about my inevitable path to hell since I've abandoned the One True Way for a life of blasphemy.

The most important thing in opening my mind was education: arguing with people who thought differently, reading books written from opposing viewpoints, and, most of all, a course in comparative religion.
posted by jdroth at 12:13 PM on February 9, 2004


opening my mind was education:arguing with people who thought differently
The above sounds like a good description of a "fundie".
posted by thomcatspike at 12:30 PM on February 9, 2004


If you have a good relationship with the Lord you generally keep it. If you have been stuck on the legalistic/ check-off-all-these-deeds-on-the-list side it makes sense that it would get very tiring very quickly and one would want to put it aside. I know the feeling.

Part of the problem, I think is that people have too small a box to put their Christianity in. Once you understand that everyone isn't called to be a pastor or missionary or youth worker-that indeed God calls people to be lawyers and gardeners and filmmakers and artists, etc-and that the minister/layperson divide is a false dichotomy-things get easier.

Christianity IS rigid when it comes to sin, and it should be, because God is. But there are lots of things that aren't sin, and lots of things that some fundies are rigid about that have nothing to do with real Christianity.

Having said that, lots of people who really love the Lord are rigid about some stuff just because they really want to please Him. Eventually a lot of us learn we don't have to strive, just live, and enjoy walking with Him. It's a process.
posted by konolia at 12:34 PM on February 9, 2004


Christianity IS rigid when it comes to sin, and it should be, because God is.

Link please.
posted by anathema at 12:40 PM on February 9, 2004


Yoga, my sister also is a charismatic Christian, though she certainly didn't have a wild youth. She just went to a small college in the South and got the fire. As an agnostic lesbian, I was completely UN-okay with this turn of events, and did everything I could to show her how bizarro and illogical her beliefs were. Finally, I realized two major things - a) I love my sister, and she's doing okay - paying her bills, minding her own business for the most part, living a life she enjoys. b) *I* was the one sticking my nose where it didn't belong, and trying to persuade her to my point of view, simply for the good of my own comfort.

So I got off her back. And she's fine, and I'm fine, and we enjoy each other's company, and we have a lot more in common than I ever would have imagined when I was so focused on her Jesusthing. So I guess my backhanded advice is, if she ain't bugging you, you might want to leave her alone, too. Is she IS buggin you, you can just tell her you're uncomfortable with the subject, and go back to something you both enjoy talking about. "Judge not lest ye be judged" is actually a pretty good working philosophy, no matter what religion it comes from.
posted by pomegranate at 12:42 PM on February 9, 2004


I knew a guy raised fundie, and he had a conversion sometime in the midst of attending Bible college into the world of lefty freethinking (possibly inspired by the works of Billy Bragg; my memory is dim on the actual catalyst) -- but with what seemed to me a few inexplicable hiccups along the way. Nanely, he left the church, became a radical union organizer, became a crusading defender of abortion rights, gay marriage, etc.... but could! not! accept! the notion that evolution was scientifically legitimate.
posted by scody at 12:43 PM on February 9, 2004


er, nanely = namely
posted by scody at 12:44 PM on February 9, 2004


If you have a good relationship with the Lord you generally keep it. If you have been stuck on the legalistic/ check-off-all-these-deeds-on-the-list side it makes sense that it would get very tiring very quickly and one would want to put it aside. I know the feeling.

Nobody has a "relationship with the lord"; they only have a relationship with the idea of the lord, unless you speak to him and he answers you regularly. As has been pointed out by someone in this thread, it's possible to come to a different conclusion without having a bad "relationship" with the lord and I don't think simply reducing these people to those that are overly concerned with sin is helpful, even if it is convenient.
posted by The God Complex at 12:48 PM on February 9, 2004


Nice responses. Boo on konolia for using this as a forum for proselytizing. The question is about how people "get out" not about how to stay in.

An intelligent cousin of mine came back from deep fundy-ism. The key was that we (well, mostly his other siblings) respected him and his views and never talked down to him but instead talked to him about larger things: comparative religion, how this is a diverse world and how he could have easily been born a muslim or a buddhist etc. The tone was always conciliatory and over the years (it takes time) he began to soften.
posted by vacapinta at 12:56 PM on February 9, 2004


know of people who have abandoned the bible-thumping for, shall we say, a less religiously grounded lifestyle/attitude?

The question is about how people "get out" not about how to stay in.
Did you read the more inside?
posted by thomcatspike at 12:58 PM on February 9, 2004


I used to know an evangelic type, well into the whole god thing and quite sneery/preachy, (in fact she did do actual preaching in church on a regular basis) then she discovered she a liking for cock, and plenty of it, which acted to challenge her belief system somewhat.
posted by biffa at 1:22 PM on February 9, 2004


Dear, Lord!
posted by anathema at 1:25 PM on February 9, 2004


I was a Fundie. Born and raised Calvinist. Now I am not. As well as having a strong dislike for all things fundie, I am working towards a better understanding of how I "got out" and why. But, I still consider myself a believer, just not a right-winger. etc... Anyhow, many people I know will never leave it. I suggest being nice to your sisters and getting on terms that accept both you and her and your respective beliefs.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 1:36 PM on February 9, 2004


I used to know an evangelic type, well into the whole god thing and quite sneery/preachy, (in fact she did do actual preaching in church on a regular basis) then she discovered she a liking for cock, and plenty of it, which acted to challenge her belief system somewhat.

Link please.
posted by The God Complex at 1:37 PM on February 9, 2004


pomegranate speaks the Gospel. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
posted by ColdChef at 1:48 PM on February 9, 2004


Nobody has a "relationship with the lord"; they only have a relationship with the idea of the lord, unless you speak to him and he answers you regularly.

I do and He does. And lots of people I know experience Him exactly the same way.

Link please.
Link.
posted by konolia at 1:50 PM on February 9, 2004


And where is the byline on this book?
posted by anathema at 2:02 PM on February 9, 2004


Step away from that argument, anathema.

AskMetaFilter is not MetaFilter -- you're here to provide useful answers, not start theological arguments.
posted by me3dia at 2:11 PM on February 9, 2004


I do and He does. And lots of people I know experience Him exactly the same way.

Ok, this is obviously not going anywhere productive. The better part of valour it is.
posted by The God Complex at 2:14 PM on February 9, 2004


Absolutely correct, me3dia. It was out of character and I regretted it as soon as I clicked.
posted by anathema at 2:22 PM on February 9, 2004


Thanks for the responses, especially Vacapinta's, and the link from staggernation to the Leaving the Fold book. The question was indeed about getting out as opposed to staying in.

A clarification on my sister: she's been in the fold/fire since 1985. It gave her some boundaries she needed to get her life together at the time. Neither myself nor my other 2 sisters (all older) are into the born again thing. Actually, we're all Jewish (maternal bloodline thing), though not raised in any organized form of worship. While we don't fight, we have had words about her forcing her views on me; I patiently hoped she would tone it down, but finally had to tell her that,

a) I was happy she had something she cared so deeply for in her life and that I understood it was very important to her, and

b) I respected her choices even though I don't choose them for myself, and would appreciate the same respect in return simply for our difference.

She has been very good since then - about 4 years or so ago - but we very rarely talk now. She's very involved with her family and her life is completely centered around religion. I realize the phone and roads go both ways, and there are other ingredients in this mix.

The religious thing is by far the main barrier, and it saddens me that someone I was so close to growing up is so foreign now. And since I have no plans to join that fold, I was inquiring about the possibility that she might choose to return from it at some point. I would not try to force such a change on her; rather, I was looking for a sliver of hope that if others had come back, maybe she could as well. At least maybe in part, as some of you have described.
posted by yoga at 2:25 PM on February 9, 2004


Actually, we're all Jewish (maternal bloodline thing), though not raised in any organized form of worship...

That might actually be a bit of a factor in her conversion. Some of the only fundamentalists I know (or varieties thereof: a strict Catholic, a semi-strict Lutheran) were raised in mostly-non-religious Jewish households.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:05 PM on February 9, 2004


Yoga,

Sorry to hear about the loss of connection between you and your sibling. Bear in mind though, that changes in relationships can occur outside of the reason you are referencing. /aside

In my family, I've had three older sisters (I am the oldest boy in the family) all find their way into fundamentalist doctrine. Two have since dropped the racket and the third is much less dogmatic than she had been. I'm stunned how many people I know who have gone from religion being a important yet discrete part of their life to its center. I just spent the weekend with an Aunt and Uncle -- Aunt is Catholic (from northern Maine) and her husband found the Lord (where He was hiding I am not certain) a few years back. I think all my cousins went that way as well. It's strange -- my Aunt is very patient with her husband's ways now but I can not help but wonder what is behind her smiling eyes (she is always smiling) when he feels the need to thank the Lord for his breakfast cereal. Or should that be His cereal. Dear Lord, bless this day and these Froot Loops...

You're on the right track -- sounds like things will work out.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:43 PM on February 9, 2004


Here is a link to a thread on the Internet Infidels' Discussion Board (the largest "gathering" of nonbelievers anywhere) containing several hundred peoples' "testimonies" about how they became atheists. Many of them were previously "fundies" of various stripes. On that same board are a lot of posts about dealing with religious family members as well as a wealth of wisdom on just about any other subject mildly pertaining to atheism. Although you will find some intolerant atheists, there are a number of liberal theists who find the board useful as well.

To answer your actual question, I'm a former Orthodox Jew, and I know a bunch of other just like me. (Well not *just* like me, but you get the idea.)
posted by callmejay at 9:34 PM on February 9, 2004


To answer your question, yoga: It happens all the time. One thing to watch out for, though, is that even if your sister manages to deprogram herself from the noxious fundamentalism, she might find herself gravitating towards an equally noxious secular enthusiasm - I think this is how some of the more grating advocates for atheism got their start.

The trouble is that fundamentalism is something that seals a void in the heart of its victims. You get rid of the fundamentalism, fine, but the void is still there, still hungry, and as likely to be filled with Gonzalo Thought, or Aesthetic Realism, or Scientology, or any other total system of thought. (It's the "total" part that's important, not the content of the belief system.)

The harder part, the far greater challenge, is learning to live without answers, without pat solutions and just-so stories, come what may. I fervently hope that your sister comes back, that you're able to simply enjoy each other's company...but it ain't gonna be easy. You have my hope and my best wishes.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:48 PM on February 9, 2004


I was raised in a Christian sect so fundamentalist, we believed you were going to hell if you had an organ in your church building (nothing but unaccompanied voice is authorized in scripture, you see). In 1987 I got my first modem, encountered a bunch of people discussing religion online, and realized that I couldn't actually refute the things the atheists were saying about Christianity.

I was 19 at the time. Over the next year or so, my religion kind of faded away. Unfortunately, I was still living with my parents while going to college, and I knew better than to let on that I wasn't still a believer around my dad. So I endured a couple more years of going to church and faking it, and then at last I escaped to Detroit. Such was my relief at escaping the orbit of religion that I failed to notice for over a decade what a seething pit Detroit was.

When I was in a college I used to have religious debates with a friend who went to the same church. I never did succeed in deprogramming him -- or did I? A few years after I moved away, my father told me with great sadness that John had become an atheist, and that he was glad I was "smarter than that." If only he knew who was, at least, partially responsible for John's change of mind.
posted by kindall at 12:12 AM on February 10, 2004


It might be worth trying to understand how her beliefs are connected to her way of life. If she were to change her beliefs, she might lose her place in the community that she feels a part of. Fundamentalist communities can give people an incredibly strong sense of belonging that's hard to find in secular society.

In the Orthodox Jewish wing of my family, everyone who has lost their belief has suddenly woken up alone, without the things that brought support, structure, and certainty to their lives. A few of them were so scared by that prospect that after a period of soul-searching, they wound up deciding to return to the Orthodox community. They may have softened their practice and beliefs a bit (I suspect some of them might not believe at all), but they can't stop being fundamentalists without destroying everything else they have.
posted by fuzz at 4:08 AM on February 10, 2004


yoga - if she's been in the fold/fire for 19 years, and it's been 4 since your conversation with her, I'd say she's unlikely to break out any time soon.

In my experience, there are 2 kinds of people who "fall away" from their fundy tenets. The first is kids who were raised in a very strict religion and rebell against it. Clichéd examples include the Baptist preacher's daughter who's got a lock on the "Best Drunken Slut" title in the local high school, and "Jack Mormons" (the only heroin dealer I ever knew was the youngest daughter of the Mormon bishop in the town I graduated high scool).

The second type are those who come to fundamentalism as adults. They get very devout, very fast and it's difficult to be around them. In some of these people, the fire burns so hot and bright that it later burns completely out and they leave the faith in varying emotional states. However, others avoid this faith. They find fulfillment in what it provides them (faith, certainty, community, etc) and reach some sort of equilibrium with it. In the absence of some horrible tragedy that shakes their faith (death of a child, violent crime, etc), they don't abandon it.

For some though, even these kinds of tragedy simply reinforce their faith.
posted by Irontom at 4:52 AM on February 10, 2004


Thanks for the link, callmejay. I ordered the book recommended earlier in the thread yesterday, and will look into this group online also.

It comes to light as a result of this discussion how disruptive a change would be for her; possibly more so, as fuzz pointed out, because the 'belonging' portion of the program (which *is* very strong for her) would vanish. Additionally, she homeschools her kids and has brought them up in her focused religious arena. They are just reaching college age, so it will be interesting where they go from here.

I guess compassion would include leaving her be if it doesn't happen (which I'm ok with, though still missing her), as well as knowledge of an 'exit group' that may help her regain belonging if she opted out. And it's nice to know there's possibly a group out there for me to cope with it as well. :)

This has been very helpful to me, you guys - thanks again.
posted by yoga at 5:37 AM on February 10, 2004


I was raised Southern Baptist....my father has two degrees from seminary and is a hospital and National Guard chaplain; my mother was a secretary at the church for 11 years before moving on to a position with the state convention; my uncle recently retired as a chaplain from the same hospital system as my dad; my maternal grandfather was a lifelong pastor; and my paternal grandparents serve as a deacon and as the church librarian.

I wouldn't say that I'm one of those kids who rebelled...I guess it just faded away starting when I was about 17 or so. I think the best description is that I outgrew it.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 6:02 AM on February 10, 2004


Some fundies eventually discover that God is more awesome than their fellows ever imagine, and Jesus is not dogmatic. This helps sort them out.
posted by Goofyy at 7:19 AM on February 10, 2004 [1 favorite]


It comes to light as a result of this discussion how disruptive a change would be for her; possibly more so, as fuzz pointed out, because the 'belonging' portion of the program (which *is* very strong for her) would vanish.

It was hard for me, as fuzz talked about, because I did lose my entire community. It's not that my parents or close friends wrote me off, it's just that there wasn't any place in the Orthodox community for me any more. I guess I did it at a pretty good time, though (transition from college to "real world") and have mostly adjusted by now (several years later.) I still find myself craving the community and connectedness from time to time, but have been ecstatic to find out how wide and diverse the "outside" world is. There is something of a mini-pseudo-community of other ex-Orthodoxers, but mostly I just hang out with secular or very liberal theist folks.
posted by callmejay at 8:22 AM on February 10, 2004


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