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This review has just come in from Dr DJ Nicholls, who recently provided his own deconversion account to my growing series. The book he reviewed, in line with that account, is an anthology of deconversion accounts (Beyond an Absence of Faith [UK]) that I think you should all rush out and purchase…Review of  Beyond an Absence of Faith,  edited by Jonathan M. S. Pearce and Tristan Vick.
5/5 I purchased this book as I have read a number of books by Jonathan M S Pearce and found them to be excellent reading.

Beyond an Absence of Faith contains sixteen accounts by people from different religious backgrounds who abandoned their faith. They all made very interesting reading, and I was particularly interested in those accounts dealing with fundamentalist Christianity as I left this particular faith system some years ago.
In the account by Sarah, she comments on how her faith created a “fundie bubble” and she was “raised to be completely unaware of how the real world worked” (p1): she provides a number of examples that demonstrate the validity of this statement. She says that she was “stuck living a life of ultimatums, manipulations, and a total lack of privacy”, and how, even after abandoning her faith, “struggles still linger,” (p10), partly through the oppressive environment in which she was forced to live as a fundamentalist Christian.

Bud, another ex-Christian, relates how as a child, he was “plagued with recurring nightmares” (p13). He took comfort from attending church and being “one of those ‘Born Again’ types” (p17). He began to have doubts about his faith so he read Christian apologetics and admits this made him closed-minded, explaining that he had “few significant intellectual encounters with people outside of Christian culture” (p21). Once again, the “bubble” is evident as the believer is constantly warned of the danger of losing one’s faith in a satanic world and  actively discouraged from analytical thinking. Bud admits that much of his faith “was based on fear” (p23) and he admits that “I found myself disagreeing with the theology taught, the covert tactics encouraged, and the manipulative attitude nurtured.” (p26)

One comment that many people (myself included) will recognize is how, after abandoning his faith, another Christian told him he had “put ‘head knowledge’ above ‘heart knowledge'” (p31): in other words, he had used his brain to analyse what he was taught and told to believe, and this led to him discovering that his beliefs could not be sustained by rational thinking. Bud concludes with the blunt observation that when he looked at Christianity, “I saw no good reason to continue to believe in it” (p33).In the account by Mike, we are told that after becoming a zealous Christian, “unanswered questions accumulated and, over time, began to cause me great distress” (p221). He relates how some believe that a true Christian cannot abandon their faith (“once saved, always saved”) and so, if a Christian does abandon their faith, it simply means their faith wasn’t genuine in the first place. This demonstrates the desperate lengths to which people will go to explain away events that conflict with their theologies.

Mike explains that he began “a long enquiry into theology, philosophy, history and comparative religion,” saying that he “had been warned not to read books by non-Christians; ‘they were of the devil'” (p224).  Here is another instance of a Christian being subjected to the “bubble”, created to isolate believers from the real world.

Mike continued to study the Bible and discussed various matters with a Baptist minister, but acknowledges “this study did little to ease my concerns” (p225). I found one of his remarks to be very apt: “why a God who loves all his creation equally would choose to reveal his one true religion only to a small culture in the Bronze Age Middle East” (p225).

He explains that in view of the lack of evidence for his faith, he experienced “a gradual, heartbreaking process of disillusionment,” and with all his doubts, he abandoned much of his faith although he “still believed in some kind of vague conception of God.” However, on further exploration of the world, his “vaguely defined theism fell apart” and he became an atheist (pp226ff).The above are a summary of some of the sixteen accounts which detail how people were imprisoned psychologically and socially by their religious beliefs (which in some cases were imposed on them when they were children). The accounts describe how the writers came to recognize flaws in their beliefs, and despite attempts, sometimes strenuous, to defend their faith, they came to realize that it was based on falsehoods. When this realization occurred, they were liberated and able to recognize and experience life, as it really is.
In the Afterword, one of the editors makes the following important statement: “I felt a book like this would give those who might be experiencing their own personal struggles with religion, who might be having doubts, or who have questions but don’t know who to talk to about them, a place to hear others who have experienced the exact same thing…Knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle to regain yourself is half the battle…The atheist and non-believing, non-religious community grows larger every single day, and I thought it was necessary to get her voices out there” (p260)

I would certainly recommend this highly informative book.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...