Hi and welcome back! In a few days, Roll to Disbelieve will be 8 years old. What a rush, to realize that! To celebrate, I want to show you why I began blogging — and why I began blogging about deconversion in particular. Today, Lord Snow Presides over a very welcome birthday indeed.
(Here’s the very first post on the blog, from May 8, 2013. SO LONG AGO!)
When I Deconverted.
For most of my next couple of years, just about everybody I knew was a Christian of some kind, mostly Southern Baptist or Catholic, with almost no exceptions at all. Christianity dominated my entire culture and society. Everywhere my family moved — and we moved a lot, what with my dad being military — we were surrounded by this religion. People just took for granted that its ideas were true and that its mythology was actually real. If anyone disagreed, they kept that information carefully hidden away under their hats.
Boy, oh boy did that comfortable sense of Christianity’s dominance disintegrate in college!
When I deconverted a year or so after graduating from college, I literally thought I was the only person who had ever deconverted from a once-fervent state of belief. For a long time, I thought that.
I mean, sure, I’d heard of people leaving church (like dropping out, not losing faith) for what were always painted as frivolous or short-sighted reasons. But I’d never heard of someone losing faith when they’d 100% believed. As far as I knew, I was the very first person who ever had.
The internet didn’t exist in the way it does now, not back then, and actual ex-Christians — wherever they were, whoever they were — weren’t talking in-person about their experiences.
They knew better, I’m sure, even back then. Remember, Christians’ behavior now toward apostates, as disgraceful as it is, has been grudgingly tempered by many years of decline — and their focus is necessarily dilute.
Unpacking the Damage.
But Christianity had done a real number on my head and heart. I had sustained a lot of damage from the practices of this religion. From Catholicism to evangelicalism to fundamentalism, I had absorbed a vast number of teachings and ideas that not only weren’t true, but also were hurting me and destroying my life.
Among other things, I had to learn to deal constructively with anger and anxiety. Not one flavor of Christianity I’d joined had ever properly addressed those scary emotions.
In addition, I’d come out of Christianity with an extremely bad case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It wasn’t even diagnosed for years, much less treated. I even had to learn about how to conduct a proper romantic relationship, since all I knew were the unfair, one-sided set of rules that govern TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
Most of all, I struggled for years to figure out what my opinions were about various topics. Like marriage equality, feminism, addiction issues, the social safety net, capital punishment, and all that other culture-war stuff. Authoritarian Christianity has a lot of opinions about a lot of topics, but most of those opinions aren’t based in reality. They just flow from that general authoritarian mindset, and since they mesh with these Christians’ supernatural beliefs, they’re assumed to be just as correct and divinely-blessed.
Seriously, I was a wreck emotionally. It took many years to unpack all of that damage — and the further damage I sustained while figuring things out.
The Google Search of Fate.
We’re now at 2011. By now, I’ve had my PTSD treated. I’ve figured myself out, for the most part.
It took me long enough, but I reckon I got there in the end.
At some point along this path, I seriously injured my back (trying to pick up a tiny little kitten, no less). After struggling to maintain employment, I had to leave a good job. But just cooling my heels at home turned out to be difficult for me. I wanted to do something. To be doing something.
I began reading a lot online.
I don’t even remember anymore exactly what prompted me to type one fateful phrase into my search engine late one fateful night. Nor do I remember exactly what the phrase even was. I’d just heard there were more and more people leaving Christianity, and that some of them were starting to come together online to talk about their experiences. I just wondered if any of them had been true believers like I’d been.
That search led me to a site called ex-christian.net. Immediately, I was absolutely fascinated. They understood. They had a word for what had happened to me, even: deconversion.
The word rang through all my body like a giant bell’s peal.
Yes. I had deconverted. That was what it was. That’s what had happened.
The Lurking Era.
I lurked at that forum for about six months — reading post after post, ex-timony after ex-timony.
Soon, I realized that I had a lot of stuff on my mind about my years in Christianity. This forum I’d found seemed like the perfect place to begin exploring that stuff — around people who supported each other and understood what had happened.
In fact, a lot of the people there had had to reinvent the deconversion wheel just like I had — for the same reason I had, too. This forum, to me, represented a place where people struggling with faith could find answers — and real answers at that, not the hand-waving that religious leaders offer instead. Nothing like this place had existed back in the 1990s — at least, that I’d ever seen!
In 2012, after a long period of lurking, I finally made a profile and dove in. I began to post.
With my newfound free time, I was spending more and more time online hanging out in religion-related spaces, and noticed I was encountering the same sorts of religious people and religious arguments over and over again.
More than that, I was noticing that Christians were starting to get really polarized politically — and starting to commit quite a lot of overreach as they tried hard to seize back their dwindling power. Online, they were becoming absolutely reprehensible — especially toward active dissenters and vocal apostates, all of whom they now regarded as tribal enemies.
(F’real. My old pastor would have been furious if he’d caught anyone from his church acting the way TRUE CHRISTIANS™ do nowadays. It is absolutely atrocious, how they act, even if we know why they do it.)
This newfangled evangelicalism — this fundagelicalism, more to the point, was all new to me. I had been out of touch with religion for years as I went about repairing my life. And I really wanted to learn more — and to address these changes, and then to push back against them as best I could.
The Ideas Behind Roll to Disbelieve.
When I realized how much time I was spending writing comments on forums and various blog commboxes, I began to think about writing as a potential way to spend my time in a more formal sense. Blogging was a popular pastime around then, and a lot of folks were talking about starting blogs about everything under the sun.
Briefly, I considered starting a cooking blog recreating recipes from the Renaissance — while continuing to be active in commenting in religion-related spaces. Mr. Captain gently suggested it be a religion blog, since I never seemed to run out of things to say about that. He could see a time when I might get tired of talking about Renaissance cooking, but he didn’t think I’d ever get bored of exploring the many facets of religion.
I quickly understood the wisdom in his suggestion. With a blog, I could organize my ideas and spend time exploring them the way I liked. I could maintain an archive of my past posts instead of risking their eventual deletion, like if a blog went down or decided to go comment-free.
Atheism blogs existed already, of course — plenty of them. But I didn’t know of very many blogs run by ex-Christians, nor any that approached topics from the point of view I brought to the table. In the skept-o-sphere blogging community, I was probably one of the oldest people there and likely had been out of Christianity the longest — some 20 years, at that point. So I could see myself bringing something to readers that they might not be able to find in many other places.
So yes. An ex-Christian blog it would be.
Now I just needed a name for the blog.
What It Means to Roll to Disbelieve.
Roll to disbelieve is a gaming term from the tabletop roleplaying world. As I’ve been a tabletop gamer since my early teens, the metaphor worked very well for the kind of blog I wanted to run.
In gaming, sometimes players encounter something that they suspect is an illusion — that what they perceive isn’t actually real. For example, imagine players’ characters are in a dark, dank dungeon in a long-abandoned castle. After fighting all kinds of awful undead monsters, they emerge into a large, luxurious bedroom that’s warm, softly-lit, and inviting. It’s got good food on trays on a side table, wine and goblets ready for drinking, and soft places to sit and lounge.
A player may ask the Game Master (GM) to make a roll to disbelieve. That means the player wants to try to see through any illusions that may be present in the area. If the GM allows it, the player rolls their lucky dice. And if the number on the dice is good news, the GM then explains privately to that player what their character really sees: a horrific torture chamber with monsters lurking at the edges of the room, waiting to attack! It’s not a comfortable, inviting bedroom at all! ZOMG!
But if the player rolls poorly (or if the situation is actually really what it seems to be), the GM smiles blandly and says it totally looks like a comfortable bedroom. Don’t the players want to relax and have something to eat and drink? Sit down, take off their armor, stay a while?
Some illusion spells can be really potent. But any gamer knows one truth: sooner or later, the dice are kind. Roll often enough, and you’ll eventually succeed.
Ex-Christians and That Roll to Disbelieve.
Deconversion feels like finally making that roll to disbelieve.
During my time as a Christian, I’d had many, many opportunities to roll those dice. But I’d failed the check every time. One night, I finally succeeded! I made my roll!
And like in the game described above, once I’d successfully made the roll, those casting the illusion couldn’t trick me again. It’s like being unable to forget what has been realized.
Things look a lot different in 2021 than they did in 2013 — or even 2011. Or 1993. Ex-Christians are now a known quantity in society. We’re even being formally studied in scholarly circles now! It’s as easy to find other deconverted people as it is to find any other group — ex-Christians are now as close as a mobile device or computer. Famous people have been steadily deconverting in recent years, as well — even people who made their living as “professional Christians,” as my ex-husband Biff used to call ministers of any paid stripe.
But some things remain the same.
Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’… to Disbelieve.
For eight years now, Roll to Disbelieve has stood at that crossroads of realization: that searing moment when a once-fervent believer realizes that their religion consists of just people being people and making things happen — or making up/exaggerating things – to make it look like magic works for realsies.
More than that, we’ve examined countless topics that have taught us that religion’s not particularly the enemy: toxic people just use religion as a window-dressing and permission slip to hurt and control others. We peer into the shop behind that window, and use what we find to improve our lives in all ways.
Whether you made your roll 25 years ago or 25 minutes ago, whether you’re an atheist or a None or a believer in some religion who’s just trying to do your best, you’re very much part of this journey. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. This blog wouldn’t exist, at least not in this form.
We made our roll — together. And we shall continue to do so. Thank you, thank you for being part of this community.
Today, friends, Lord Snow Presides over what we’ve forged together already, and what we’ll discover together in the years to come.
NEXT UP: Playing by ear. I expect we’ll know more about some of the developing stories we checked out last week, but if not I’ve got plenty of things planned. It’s always busy around here! Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you tomorrow!
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Also please check out our Graceful Atheist podcast interview!
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About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)
Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind: there’s no official topic on these days. We especially welcome pet pictures!