Thursday, October 27, 2016

Joe Omundson

My deconversion letter


I sent this email on May 6, 2009. I never looked at it again until last night and I wasn't sure what I would find. It was really interesting to revisit my thoughts from 7 years ago, and I realized that I can't really explain my loss of faith any better than I already did here -- so here's my letter, now that I'm out to the whole world. [Sometimes I'll add notes and they'll be formatted like this. Also I edited the formatting to break up some walls of text. Otherwise it's completely unedited.]


Hello beloved Mom, Dad, and Wife.

I'm not really sure how to write this, because I'm not sure how much of it you expect/know already, or how much it will shock you.
But I guess I can say that if you want to keep your image of me being a committed and contented Christian, you should probably close this right away.

I've spent quite a bit of time on this so please read carefully.

Please, don't talk to anyone about this email. You can share it with your spouses if you wish but please impress upon them that it shouldn't be talked about with other people, especially people like Grammy who would probably excommunicate me and/or discuss it with every living relative I have. [I'm surprised I cared so much who they told, or what my family would think. But that's probably because I've now had the experience of 7 years out of the faith with nobody in the family mentioning it, which wasn't what I expected.]

What it comes down to is this: I'm not sure if I believe in God anymore. This isn't some stupid thing like I went to college and none of my friends were doing it so I lost interest. This is something that has been happening since the first months at Bible school [a 9 month program I did after high school]. You know me, and you know that if I have a conviction about the truth and merit of something, I don't lose that conviction because of peer pressure or because I'm tired of a church or whatever. No, this is something that has been on my mind probably every day for the last two or three years, and I need to finally tell someone about it or I'll go crazy.

I guess it started like this: I was so excited to go to Bible school, and finally learn some amazing things about the Bible, and learn all about its origins and all the fascinating facts that prove absolutely that it is the real deal, and how incredibly the OT prophets revealed the NT truths about Christ, and all kinds of things about words in the ancient languages and their meanings.

Instead of learning all the fascinating information about the Bible, most of the lecturers just did life-application stuff. They went through books of the Bible and applied the stories to our lives. That's nice, but you can do that with any book. Instead of learning convincingly about how perfect the prophecies were and how it MUST be the case that Christ fulfilled them, I was given a this suspicious philosophy: any given section of prophecy in the OT was either talking about: 1. the present day of the author, 2. Jesus, or 3. the end times. Isn't that convenient? So, if the prophet said something that seems like what was happening to Israel at that time, that's the first category of prophecy! If the prophet said something that looks like it relates to Jesus, it was prophecy about Jesus! If the prophecy was none of the above, in other words if the words are complete nonsense, it was just prophecy about what's yet to come! So there's no way for a prophet to be proven wrong....

Anyway, even if that was frustrating, obviously somebody else's failure to meet my expectations didn't really cause me to doubt. Basically this is what happened. Often throughout high school I would have the horrifying thought, what if there really is no God? What if this is all just playing out in my head? Why don't I ever feel God? How can I follow God when I never hear him? How can I know that just because I feel “convicted” about a passage in the Bible (this book that must be perfect), it's a living God communicating with me? [I totally forgot I felt that way so much in high school!] And maybe for a while I would pray about it, and it would concern me, and I would question. After a while, I would give up on the questioning, succumb to my desire to have a straightforward definition of my purpose in life, tell myself “who are you to ask these questions?”, and “you just have to have faith”, and with such self-brainwashing I would go back to what I had always known. Well, that's just some background, read the next [2] paragraph[s] and then I'll get back to this train of thought.

Christianity is either 100% real or it is another religion humans invented. What Christianity says is that there is a powerful, involved, loving God. If you believe it is the real deal, you believe it 100%, which means that God becomes your very breath, your reality that is more real than this world, your greatest desire and pleasure. The Holy Spirit makes all sin unpalatable to you, and rather than watch trashy TV shows and movies and youtube videos, you want to spend time praying and reading the Bible. You take Christ literally when he says that we shouldn't be like the Pharisees, whitewashed tombs who care about money and appearance, but rather be like the woman who pours perfume on Jesus' feet, despising her public image for a moment of intimacy with God. You despise the worldliness of the world. You despise sin. Compared to the the greatness of the love you have for your God, your feelings for your parents, children, spouse, are like hatred. God guides you. God loves you. You listen for God's direction, and then you let God's smallest whisper that you hear completely turn around the biggest parts of your life and plans, like the Lockes do, who we all love to laugh about [my "extreme" youth pastors who actually took faith literally]. You would kneel down in the street or sing to God in the square if he led you to it. You would take joy in being tortured for God's name in every way, and you'd bless your tormentors.

If your life as a Christian isn't like that, or at least becoming more that way every day via the movement and working of the Holy Spirit, why the hell would you want to be a Christian? I have absolutely no desire for a halfway lived Christian life. I don't believe in superstition or rituals or mysticism or tradition, which is all you're doing if you don't do it all the way, if you don't really believe it. And you don't really believe it unless you take what the Bible says about loving God seriously. Some people are afraid of hell, so they become “Christians” just in case hell is real, like it's some kind of an insurance policy; not sure if you'll need it, but you'll sure be glad if it turns out that you do. Some people become Christians so they can have a nice weekly concert and a nice group of friends and nice programs to attend. Some people grow up Christians and never question it. These people are simply seeking comfort and assurance and steadiness. I think that's bullshit. All I want is the absolute truth. If that truth is Christianity, really, that's awesome. If the truth is that there is no God, and Christianity is another invented religion, I have no desire to waste my time in it.

Anyway, at some point in Bible school I came to the questioning again. I so badly wanted to reinvest my life in Christ and his promises, but I just had to know if it was all real. How can you dedicate your life to something if you're not sure that it's real? We learned there that Christianity isn't about what we do, but what God does through us. It isn't something we can try to do, of our own effort, but something God leads us into. We don't get close to him because we tried so hard, but because he takes charge and draws us to him and fights for us. We don't follow his will and please him because we're good at it, but because we can't help it, because it feels so good to love him.

Well, where was that? If that's all true, where is it? Where? “Your love is a mountain, firm beneath my feet”, uhh, where? “Your love makes me sing,” well, not really? How do you experience God's love? You can't hug him. Yeah, sometimes when I'd pray on my bed I'd get a warm and fuzzy and loving feeling, when I tried to feel it. Kind of the same feeling as when I was in middle school and I would hug a pillow and imagine it was a girl I liked. So, I just started waiting for God to show up in my life and make me move. Earnestly, I did. I prayed a lot of nights, to the point of tears, “God, please show me your love, am I yours? Do you love me? I can't just make myself feel you and believe you anymore, I need you to drive my faith, not me. Please come in and do it. I need you”. Stuff like that. I went for a walk at night and knelt down weeping and begging and crying out in a ditch by the side of the road. All I wanted was a taste of his presence, a tangible knowledge that he was with me. Nothing! Not a sound, not a whisper. Did I do something wrong? Does God fulfill his promises, but not to me? So I kept waiting. And nothing happened.

Once again I tried to swallow my questions. This was about the time when I went to Austria [for the last 2 months of my 9 month bible program]. I thought, well, maybe it's just not my place to demand that from God. Maybe I can't expect that. Maybe I just have to be the type of Christian that does it all in his head, knows a lot about the Bible, puts the emphasis on the Greatness of God rather than his love. Maybe it's just my place to be subservient to him because I'm just a little speck and he's as big as the universe. And I tried it for a while, but in the end my brain still kept telling me that it was nonsense. I came to Antioch [a Christian guys' co-op where I lived for my freshman year of college] and tried again, but it wouldn't work.

And basically since then it's just been a kind of decay. I kept waiting to hear something from God but nothing ever came, and I became less certain of what I had believed my whole life, and I became more and more able to see Christianity as another religion, to explain a lot of the phenomenons [phenomena!] I had attributed to faith before. And I guess that's where I still am today, waiting to hear something... I refuse to ignore my questions and push onward again, because I know that a Christianity initiated and led by me goes nowhere satisfying.

“But Joe, you can't just sit there and wait to hear from God... you should read your Bible, and pray, and draw near to him and he will draw near to you.” Well, isn't that kind of true in any religion? If you want to maintain your Buddhism, maybe you should meditate more, and read the holy texts. Maybe if you want to feel better about Islam, you should pray 5 times per day and recite that Allah is God and Mohammad is his prophet and rid yourself of any non-Muslim influences. I mean, of course if you meditate on the “truths” in the Bible, and pray for hours to God, you might start to believe it's really true, and you might “feel” the things you're supposed to feel. If you think it doesn't happen that way, how do you suggest that the billions of non-Christians stick to their faiths all around the world?

Think about this one: imagine you were born in Saudi Arabia to a typical Muslim family, and you were raised reciting over and over that Allah is God and Mohammad is his prophet, and your parents believed it with all their hearts, and your friends did, and it was all you ever knew. Can you honestly say that you'd reject Islam when you heard the Christian gospel? Every faith has its experts, its scholars, its amazing pastors, the people who will convince you that your faith is THE faith, and disprove all other faiths, and give you utmost confidence in the accuracy of your holy text. Even the Mormons have that [LOL, "even the Mormons"! like they're so different]. Every religion has people willing to die for their beliefs. Every religion has people who are convinced beyond ANY shadow of a doubt that they're right. Therefore, I can't say “I KNOW that my Christian faith was the right thing, so I'll force myself to believe it again.”

Let me get one thing straight. It isn't my desire to lose my faith. I don't like it. It's not fun. I would rather it had gone differently; I wish I had been convinced by what I heard at Bible school, and by what I read in the Bible, and I wish I had heard God's voice assuring me that I'm his and that he's real, and I wish that right now I was on track with what I always wanted to do, living passionately for God and completely giving my life to him. I still honestly hope that this happens. I hope that God shows up in my life and moves me. I've been waiting for it for a long time. But I am not moving until he does. Way too many times in my life have I come up against my doubts, and swallowed them, and been unsatisfied, and there is no way I'm doing it again. If God really wants me, he'll draw me to him.

So, I guess if you want a positive look on it, you can see it this way: God is just putting me through an extended desert time, trying to mold me to be usable for him, stretching my faith to the breaking point so that he can use it, or something. Maybe that's really the case. I hope so.

To be honest, I'm scared. What if nothing ever happens, and I have to become an Agnostic or something? [Oh the horror.] What if I'm wrong, or stupid, and I die and go to hell? What are you guys going to think when you read this? I've bared my soul in this letter, and I'm not done yet.

Ginny, I love you. I'm so scared for you to read this. I don't know what to expect. My worst fear is that you
will find this unacceptable, and divorce me. I so, so don't want that. Maybe you think that the only reason I wanted to marry you was because you love God so much, and now that's all gone or something, and I don't like you anymore. That's not true. Even if I lose my faith completely, and you keep going strong with yours, I want to be with you if you will have me. I might not know how to experience God's love, but I know your love, and it means everything to me. I love you for who you are, for your sharp mind, your sweetness, because you understand me, and because you want to do something with your life. I'm really sorry for this. I know the deal was that we would get married and serve God forever. But I can't hide this from you any longer, and I don't think I've hidden it very well anyway.

Mom, I'm mostly afraid that I'm going to hurt you with this. I know what God means to you. I know how proud you were of me. I'm afraid that you'll cry for me, that you'll worry about me, maybe even be ashamed of me. I'm afraid that you're going to try to talk me back into it with arguments that I've heard dozens of times already. I want you to know that this isn't something I take lightly. But I have to be honest with myself about what I've experienced.

Dad, I'm scared to disappoint you. I don't want you to think I'm bad. I don't want to upset the Omundson Christian tradition, especially if Grammy has to know about it. Honestly I think you will understand it the most, and be the least upset with me. But I'm afraid of what you'll think about me. I'm scared of what everyone will think about me. I also want you to know that this isn't something I take lightly, and I don't want to be insensitive to the damage I can cause.

You guys can write back whatever you want, or if you want, we can talk in person. Please be as blunt as I have been. I'll take your anger and your hurt or whatever else you want to tell me. Feel free to pray for me, not that I could have stopped it. Again, I am sorry to be different from what you expected and hoped from me. I hope at least now you will understand why I haven't wanted to pray at meals, or go to church, or talk about God.

I love you and I hope you will always accept me.
-Joe



I'm kind of stunned by how much fear I felt going through this process. It took years for a strong-minded person like me, with loved ones who accepted me fully after deconverting, to muster up the strength to come out like this. No wonder so many people feel trapped for life.

I hope that if you're going through something similar, this will be an encouragement that you are not alone, and maybe give you an idea how you could communicate your reality. And I hope that if you never were religious and have a hard time understanding why people don't leave, this will give you some insight into the mind of someone who is leaving a faith which corrals its followers within fences made of fear and shame.


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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Joe Omundson

A note to my Christian friends and relativevs

I created a Facebook page to promote this blog (actually selfobservinguniverse.com) recently. I sent invites to as many friends as I could.

Most of my Facebook friends are people I've met in the last 8 years, after graduating college. But I also have a fair number of friends who I met before that, including many of my relatives.

The biggest difference in my mind between these two groups of people is that the ones who have met me in the last 7 years know that I'm not religious. They are all people who know what I believe and what my lifestyle is like, and who accept my choices. I can say whatever I want in their presence and I know they will not attack me for saying it. They may not agree, but they at least accept that disagreement is OK.

It's kind of strange interacting with the other group sometimes. Most of them know that I was a devout Christian in my youth, and unless I've had a conversation with them about it specifically they might not know that I left that ideology 7 years ago, and am working toward very different goals than what they might assume. Many of them have invested a lot in Christianity, in making sure I believed in it, and undoubtedly see my rejection of the faith as a very wrong choice.

When I came out as an unbeliever in 2009, I only told my parents, wife, and close friends. Eventually I started sharing my thoughts more openly on social media but I never sat down with my relatives individually and explicitly told them, "I don't believe the same way as you anymore". I can only assume that some of my relatives have noticed changes in me, heard rumors from other family members, or have taken some time to read my thoughts online.

Yet I have not had any uncomfortable conversations pressuring me to believe again. I've been bracing myself for 7 years. It's always been confusing to me; do they know I'm not a Christian anymore? If they know, aren't they concerned? Is it just too hard to bring up? What do they think about me? Could they ever accept me if they knew I was never coming back? Do they avoid questioning me because they have doubts themselves? Because of this I have not always felt fully free to express myself publicly.

As I saw my friends responding to my invitation to like my new Facebook page, some of my conservative Christian family members were in the mix. Now they are my audience for all of the personal thoughts that I share on this blog. There is a conflict between my desire to be completely transparent, and my desire to write a blog that everyone can read. I think some of the most interesting topics to write about are very un-Christian; I want to explore ideas relating to atheism and spirituality, gender and sexuality, drugs and the psychedelic experience, etc.

I'm also realizing that ex-Christian topics are an area I want to keep exploring. It's been an interesting journey: when I first left my faith, I felt more resentful, scared, angry, and sad. I craved getting into debates about it so I could express my outrage. Eventually, as my life strengthened and I became more confident in myself, I lost interest in those kinds of debates. I realized I wasn't going to change anyone's mind and I wanted to focus more on my newfound happiness rather than my old pain.

More recently, though, I have been reaching out to communities of ex-Christians again to offer my support. Now that a lot of the trauma has fallen away, I feel I'm left with a greater capacity to wade back into the sea of Christianity and help people who are struggling to find the shore. Because of my own past I have an acute understanding for the impact of growing up in an authoritarian religious system and a lot of compassion for those who are having difficulty making sense of things. I feel that this is an area where I can combine my personal experience, empathy, and ability to explain complex ideas clearly, in an effort to help people accept themselves and make healthy choices to grow into strong, happy people.

As I spend more time writing, learning, and traveling, I'm going to be figuring out my specialties as a writer. I don't know if there's any one topic I want to write about full time, but I know Christianity is a big one for my life, so it's going to remain a focus at times. In the process of this, I'm going to be speaking out about the problems I experienced within Christianity, and I'm not going to sugar coat it. I believe many people are traumatized by a Christian upbringing and there is much healing to be done.

So, to my dear family members who are believers: I am sorry if this feels scary to you, or like an attack. I am doing my best to oppose the system of beliefs itself, and the mechanisms of social control, rather than confront individuals who adhere to the religion. It's not you I'm angry at. Yet my writing may very well offend you, and if you don't like it, I won't blame you for un-liking my page or ignoring my blog. I remember how uncomfortable it made me as a Christian when people expressed critical views, so I know how it feels. You are welcome to email me or reply in the comments with any questions or thoughts you have and we can talk about things.
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Friday, October 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

2 hits of LSD

On Tuesday morning I woke up, had breakfast, went to the donation-based 10AM gentle yoga class, and then drove straight to my favorite camping area in the desert. Along for the ride in my glove compartment were 2 hits of LSD. The forecast was sunny and clear.



This was my 4th LSD trip, and my first time taking more than 1 hit. I ingested them just before noon, and I smoked a bit of cannabis as I was waiting for the effects to come on.

Having a solar panel on my car to power my stereo was brilliant. There was nobody around for a considerable distance, so I turned up the volume and my car became my reference point for the rest of my trip; no matter where I went I would hear the music and know where to return, not that it was difficult to find my car but it was an extra bit of insurance.




I started to feel the acid after maybe 45 minutes or an hour. I was lying in my car when the altered state of consciousness brought about by LSD distinguished itself from the THC I was already feeling. I am not sure how to describe this sensation for anyone who has not tried psychedelics; I think it would be like trying to describe the experience of dreaming or dying. The best way I can describe it is that it overrides a lot of the habitual neural networks your brain likes to use. When something comes to mind, you don't think about it in the typical way... you see more options, your filters are removed, you make connections with other ideas that didn't seem related before. Things you never noticed jump out at you. And your normal logical pathways for navigating the world don't make sense anymore. For me, music triggers certain emotions more directly, details become fascinating, and thoughts that I normally repress float to the surface.

I spent the next 5 hours within the general vicinity of my car. I had my music library on shuffle and noticed my emotions being highly affected by the kind of song that was being played. A metal song would play and I would connect with my grief and more intense feelings; a house song would come on and I'd want to dance. I would go in cycles where I would want to be walking around looking at things and vibing with the music, and then I would want to withdraw into my car and turn the volume down and relax and comfort myself.


I had stronger visual alterations than on any trip I've previously taken. I would look out over the rocks and trees, and all of them would be shifting, moving around like ocean swells. At the peak of it, my vision had a time delay. If I moved my arm in front of my face, I would see trails behind it. This was pretty entertaining. My vision was constantly blurring and unblurring, especially when I tried to do things like change the song on my phone. I didn't really see enhanced colors or geometric shapes or anything like that though.

I saw my life from more of a zoomed out perspective. There were cycles of many different timescales circling around; life and death, birth and rebirth, cause and effect and cause again. I thought about people, love, feelings, possibilities.



At one point I was on my mattress and was feeling very withdrawn, almost guilty for having music playing. I realized I was feeling something like shame simply for taking up space with my life in general. It was helpful to notice this because I recognized how absurd it was. I got up to move around and I felt more motivated to find my niche and fill it well, to become more responsible with my duties, to learn how to meet my needs abundantly and pour over into other people. I thought a lot about a certain woman and realized the depth of my desire to form a new relationship.


An interesting thing happened where I felt like there were other personalities inside my mind. I was interacting with them, or becoming them. One of them was like a young girl, quiet gentle and playful, whispering secrets and laughing. Another was like a young woman warrior who has been through some painful trauma but is learning to be strong and proud again. I thought this was interesting but didn't think much of it, until the next day I happened upon this page about tulpas.  I'm going to explore this idea more fully before I write any more about it, but I am very intrigued by it and might start working on creating a tulpa!


At my mom's house, she has one of those picture frames where there's a photo from each of my school pictures from kindergarten through high school. Between 4th and 5th grade, there is a shift that happens in my smile where it goes from being a warm natural thing to something I clearly had to force myself to do. I think that was the end of my "childhood", when my parents separated, and somehow feeling free to be happy stopped being a part of my character. I couldn't produce a natural smile because I didn't feel that way on a base level. It was further compounded when my parents were frustrated with me for not taking good smiling pictures anymore; I felt like, really, I'm hurting like this and you're upset that my photos don't look as happy as you want? Is the appearance all that matters? And I think after that, hiding my full smile became a matter of determination. I felt like to reveal my full smile was pandering to their unfair wishes. Like if I learned to take that kind of photo I would be in danger of forgetting my true feelings just to make them happy.

As the sun got lower in the sky, the lighting was perfect, I had a nice camera, and I figured I would try some self portraits. I felt anxiety as I held the camera in front of my face and the familiar urge to panic or make a forced smile. But I took a series of shots, focused on feeling my full warmth and letting it show. I'm 29... why should I have this irrational fear of appearing happy in photos? Do I still need to get back at my parents by limiting my joy in this way? Isn't it time I accepted my own happiness and allowed others to enjoy it too?


The weather was beautiful. There was no haze in the sky at all. I was looking at the La Sal mountain range on the horizon and it was totally clear. As the sun lowered and the light became golden, I grabbed my camera and ran around for an hour snapping photos.






Soon, it was 8PM. It was dark and growing colder. I knew I still had a few more hours before I'd be able to fall asleep, so I pulled my mattress out onto the slickrock, put on a favorite album, got under my down quilt and watched the stars. I also brought out my computer and started looking through some of the photos I'd taken. Sometimes I got up to take more photos.




Eventually, probably around midnight, I fell asleep. In the morning I woke up at first light and started driving the 25-30 miles back home. I stopped a couple times to take photos of the morning golden hour. I reflected on my experience and felt grateful. I returned to town with a greater sense of self-acceptance and a renewed desire to work on my life to build it in the direction I want to go.


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