Breaking up with Jesus: a phenomenological exploration of the experience of deconversion from an Evangelical Christan faith to Atheism by Karen Adriana Lee and Peter Madsen Gubi (2019)
The link to this article is posted below.
This article really caught my eye since it highlights some areas of concern that led to the deconstruction process from Evangelicalism.
First, I thought it would be good to help break down some of the terms in the article.
Phenomenological analysis: This is a qualitative research study seeking to understand someone's experience of a phenomenon. In this case, it aims to understand those who have deconverted from Evangelicalism.
Semi-structured interviews: This is a way for the researcher to have some identified questions to ask the participant while also giving some space for open-ended follow-up questions.
Deconversion: The process of moving away from a particular religion to a different or no religion.
Background for the study: This study was conducted with 6 participants located in the United Kingdom. The research question was: What is the lived experience of deconversion from Evangelical Christianity to Atheism in the UK? The researchers aimed to learn the social and psychological consequences of deconversion for the individual. The participant's experiences of seeking help and support through the deconversion process were not perceived as helpful.
Theme 1: The process of deconversion
The process of deconversion is gradual and outside of conscious awareness, which lasts for an extended time period. Some reported attempting to resist the deconversion process due to wanting to hold onto what was believed and gives a sense of purpose/meaning. There was a noted experience of dissonance between the individual and the religion; more specifically, a conflict between their reality and the Christian beliefs. Most were able to identify one event or moment that initiated the doubts and questioning. "The Chrisitan explanations made no sense or were hurtful and turned others away from Christianity."
Theme 2: Post-deconversion issues
Damaging doctrines led to personal beliefs that you are never good enough for God, and we're always striving to improve to be acceptable; however, one cannot have a sense of pride for their own achievements; thus, Christianity led to excessive guile and feelings of failure. A noted area of increased struggle with religion was sexuality and how the Christian teachings were unhelpful, leading to self-hatred for natural longings and desires. One individual identified feelings of manipulation during the church service. Elevated feelings of regret, embarrassment, shame, anger, and guilt were seen within the interviews. Additionally, there was a feeling of being a fraud due to having to play the "part" of being a good Christian while not living authentically with those around them. The deconversion process led to a loss of identity and worldview, which elevated levels of hopelessness and helplessness. Yet, after deconversion, there were noted positives, such as developing a personal identity, freedom from guilt and striving, and having a more inclusive mindset.
Theme 3: What helped and did not help
Being able to connect with others who have gone through the deconversion process was helpful by talking freely without having to explain and free from the fear of judgment. There was elevated fear in talking with those still within the Christian faith due to concerns of being judged or proselytized. Within therapy, participants noted it was helpful to connect with someone who had some "understanding of how all-consuming a religious belief is and then the repercussions of that when it all starts falling apart."
There is a disconnect between the religious doctrines (shaped by culture and social locations) and the experiences of others. These religious doctrines were damaging (i.e., sexuality, gender roles, patriarchy, death, sin/striving to be good) and prompted leaving Christianity. As noted by the researchers, "When the catalyst is located after the period of cognitive dissonance, it seems to be something which triggers off a critical investigation into Christianity, and deconversion happens relatively quickly after that, as they are already open to alternative ideas due to the frustration of the cognitive dissonance period.
Moreover, the Christian culture tried to limit others' experiences by suppressing or dismissing emotional experiences. This dismissal/suppression did not cause the emotions to go away; rather, it elevated the disconnect and catalyzed the deconversion process.
The most helpful component for those struggling with their faith or going through the deconversion process is to convey a non-judgmental attitude, understanding, sympathetic, supportive, and kind.
What parts of the findings matched or didn't match your experience?
Is there anything else you would add?
Lee, K. A., & Gubi, P. M. (2019). Breaking up with Jesus: a phenomenological exploration of the experience of deconversion from an Evangelical Christian faith to Atheism. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 22(2), 171–184. https://doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2019.1623767
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