On this day last year, I wrote a formal resignation letter, bringing an end to 14.5 years as an officially baptised Christadelphian member, and even longer as part of the Christadelphian community. Tonight I’ve been trying once again to get a feel for what the whole process meant to me.
I have much to say, but it’s late and I can’t get control of it now. So for now just a brief response (well, brief for me). Past history suggests I may come back to this at great length, or I may never get to it.
For me, being a Christadelphian was an important part of my identity. It’s not just about a set of beliefs: it’s a way of life. It extended to the friends I had, the time I spent, and to so many other parts of my life. And yet I found myself compelled to walk away from it all. One paragraph from my resignation letter makes this abundantly clear:
For many years I have struggled with doubts, some visible to others, some only visible to me. It has now reached the point where I can no longer continue the concealment. I have finally had to confront these doubts and recognise that I no longer belong, as I can no longer even be certain that there is a God, let alone honestly uphold and preach our many distinctive beliefs.
I don’t think firm believers realise the pain and even the revulsion caused by realising that you don’t belong. The last few weeks before resigning I felt terrible sitting there on a Sunday. I could probably have vomited with no trouble. The feeling that “I shouldn’t be here” was much stronger than I ever expected or wanted. I was good at compartmentalising my life, so I don’t think anyone saw it, but still, I was tearing myself apart in pursuit of an ideal: keeping as many of the commitments I had made as possible.
I was also very afraid of the consequences from both friends and family: There were certainly horror stories around about families and friends who had shunned apostate members. As I said to my ecclesia, fear can be a strong motivator, whether or not what you fear is correct. And whether or not there were specific reprisals I knew it had to affect relationships.
If I have any regrets, right at the top is consciously deceiving friends and family for a long time. As I said to several people afterwards, I don’t have any doubt that I came to the right conclusion, but I’m not sure the process I followed was the best. And yet, were I to do it over again I don’t know that I would do anything differently. Loss of belief is not a conscious choice, and it is not a planned, orderly process. In fact, I could easily be accused of being too clinical and systematic working through it.
Still, it got to the point where making unbelief an official reality was necessary to keep my sanity. Despite my habitual secretiveness, getting it out in the open and quitting was the right thing to do. Perhaps I seemed cold and emotionless to some, but that was a deliberate choice. The knowledge that I was doing the right thing for the right reason was my only defence against breaking down. Any argument had to be about facts, not emotions, though I knew my emotions were running over-time.
Tonight, I have read through most of the messages I was sent by so many people in that period, and have once again been struck by how positive and nice most of them were. Maybe I am just painfully aware that I could not respond so positively to someone else leaving the group. At one point I wrote that I was being mostly drowned with love. It was an overwhelming and confusing time, and I was struggling to keep my head above water. While I tried to answer all the questions I was asked, many messages had to be answered with a generic “I appreciate that you are thinking about me” message.
In looking through these messages tonight, I’ve found messages that made me smile, and messages that made me laugh out loud. I’ve found messages with a sadness that still make me want to cry. And I’ve found messages with snap judgements or throw-away lines that hurt at the time and still do (though they were the minority and I’m pretty certain they weren’t intended to hurt).
I’m painfully aware reading these that some of these are people that I haven’t seen in person since then. And that isn’t a complaint. With some of them there were invitations to keep in touch, to visit their houses, or to share a meal, but the reality is just that life can be busy and it’s much harder to maintain links when not seeing people at regular religious services. Looking at it after a year I conclude that this is not likely to change in subsequent years. Some I have been able to keep up with, but many I haven’t, and that’s OK. I’m no longer part of the community, it was my choice, and it was the right choice.
There was a funny moment shortly after resigning when I realised I had spent all this time agonising over what I should believe, and now I had made the decision to quit and didn’t have a clue what I was doing next. Though in reality I did know what came next: more of the same. I’m sure I have changed in many ways, and am no longer the same person. And I’m sure that my views on a number of topics are different from what they were. But I still work the same job, and all the anecdotal evidence suggests that no-one there noticed major changes in me. I still spend a lot of time with family. I still seek for truth, and to understand the world around me. It’s just that that search points me in a different direction to what it did before. I haven’t gone out to radically change the world, but I’m sure my different understanding of the world is sometimes reflected in my behaviour.
Many who trod the same path before me told me that they were happier afterwards, and I can say the same for myself. I am much happier with understanding my place in the world. I don’t claim to know everything, but at least I don’t face the crippling doubts of a year or two ago. I appreciate the freedom to be able to determine what is right to do without having to defer to an ancient collection of religious literature, and I appreciate being able to learn about the world without having to filter out any conclusions that might challenge my understandings of that religious literature. I have settled into a new normal, and some parts of my old life seem like a distant dream. Maybe things will change in the years ahead, but right now I cannot see anything that would be likely to bring me back to organised religion.