Real Deconversion Story #3 – Bryant Cody
My deconversion was radical. The ultimate antithesis to my previous life and to people’s preconceptions of how I would live and impact the world in the future. I was raised in a charismatic Pentecostal Holiness church. Prophets would come and work the congregation into a frenzy of tears and jerking; of laughing and a mixture of hushed and explosive verbal babbling. At this point we had all been herded to the altar and, while I could never conjure tears and I hadn’t yet “accepted” the gift of tongues, every prophet managed to find their way to me. The heavy breathing and sweaty brow with the open palm landing right on my forehead. I was to be a pastor, leader, discerner, even a prophet myself.
These delusions followed me as I continued to grow in the Pentecostal environment: and even as I began to grow dissident of the church. Influenced by mega-church organizational and ecclesiastical strategies, our church began to implement a so-called “seeker-friendly” service. The in-service outbursts slowly ceased along with all signs of the Spirit’s moving—the work of God was being stifled.
As grades were declining with each consecutive year at my private Christian school I was diagnosed with ADHD and forced to take medication in order to keep from being expelled for my extremely impulsive actions in the classroom. I went through a spell of being angry with God, and turning my back on Him. No one really noticed except one teacher who was rather detached from the school system. It makes sense that I went unnoticed because the meds were effective; too effective, really. That period is rather depressingly hazy, but I must have made some morbid insinuation to my child psychologist or maybe a teacher or my parents which caused me to come off the pills rather quickly.
Sophomore year comes around and I decide to drop out. I’ve come back to Christ with a rekindled spirit and for the first time in my life, without the pressures of school, I take up reading and studying unlike ever before: systematic theologies, biblical languages, philosophy of religion, exegetical monographs and peer-reviewed articles. I went from serious class ass to a prototypical bookworm. A study group I met with, on the side, filled with young, charismatic, Jesus-lovers got me sucked into the Emergent Movement. The hierarchical structure of church should be turned upside down! Ecclesiology shouldn’t be like a triangle but like an upside down triangle!—and all the other little bullshit aphorisms I picked up along the way. It was short-lived but at the time it added to my ripe disdain of the church. My serious theological studies led me to Reformed theology and I left the church of my youth.
After church-hopping for a while, I landed at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and nearly became a member but it was too far a drive and, while soteriologically I agreed with them, I struggled with their ecclesiology and biblical hermeneutic. I ended up at a Baptist church under the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). During that time I made some pathetic attempts to lead a youth group study and give a sermon at a small Salvation Army evening service. Eventually, I improved in delivering speeches and led the Salvation Army youth group, but that ended after a few theological disputes with the wife of the church’s pastor (or Captain as they call them). I can clearly remember her overhearing me teach the kids concerning the doctrine of God and how He does not understand contradictions. Her response was lively and I jumped down her throat in front of everyone. I didn’t typically lose my cool in front of people like she would make me. Whatever apprehension I originally had toward the church structure, I began to have now towards the church body. I cringed at these Charismatics and their disavowal of dogma and love for the mystical and experiential; always interpreting the former by means of the latter.
I moved 8 hours away from home—from sandy beaches to snowcapped mountains. Leaving all of the churches and people behind was what I needed. I practically lived at the Barnes & Noble, reading everything. I was homeless, churchless; absolutely ecstatically happy. Since my inception into the Christian faith I took great care to notice the need to protect the Bible. If the faith were to fall it would be because the Bible couldn’t stand up to scrutiny. Now was as good a time as any to study the Bible per se. That’s all that it took to begin chipping away at the foundation of my belief. Within due time, the mounting critical evidence would force an intellectual move on my part. I chose to accept my doubt and lift the burden of my cognitive dissonance by taking a step back from my proclamation of faith until I could further sort things out in my head and in my life. What would my parents and friends think if I left the faith? How could I possibly ever tell them? Well I did: I left the faith and I told them that I had.
I remember the incremental decline in my faith. What hit me the hardest, from a critical and emotional perspective, was how my trust in the Bible had been misplaced. It wasn’t just non-Christian scholars who were presenting evidence that the biblical authors may not have been who they (or we) have been saying they were and that some events may not have been “strictly” historical. This kind of scholarship was coming from evangelical Christians. The people I’ve associated with these texts for so long probably didn’t actually write them. Internally, the content of the texts—of the Gospels!—were inconsistent. Some of the events narrated didn’t now make sense historically. I could no longer trust the Bible as an accurate representation of the words you would expect a deity to want to preserve.
The philosophical assaults came next. Arguments for the existence of god are highly wanting and the bridge needed to connect the deity of the syllogism to Yahweh has yet to be built. From another direction, science is shedding light on the tight relationship between demographics and one’s religious preference. Taking a step back from my religious worldview and evaluating it with the same rigorous theological, philosophical, and scientific tact as I did my own was the sounding death knell of my faith.
It wasn’t easy, but it was like being born again into a faithless freedom I had never known before. The hardest part in my journey since then has been standing back up on my feet after having the rug pulled from beneath me. Trying to reestablish a framework of beliefs isn’t easy. I spent all of this time building my metaphysical framework to house my systematic beliefs and now I had to start over from scratch. The governing rules weren’t handed to me in a collection of books; I’ve had to find them on my own. I’m still on that journey and it is by far the most fulfilling, freeing, and meaningful journey I have ever embarked on.