Life is a Deconversion to Conversion Experience

The first half of our lives (after the end of childhood, that is) is a deconversion experience, of retreat from the culture one was raised in (or at least a major revision or revitalization of them). One then hits rock bottom – because separation is misery, and is marked by doubt – doubt of oneself, doubt of everything.

This is particularly true if one was raised in a highly religious family or community. As the author (1)  notes:

Experiences of personal suffering can throw an individual’s fundamental system of religious beliefs into question, producing religious/spiritual struggles marked by feelings of abandonment and punishment by God as well as questions about whether God really exists and is truly loving and almighty.

Research shows that experiences such as severe illness, the loss of a loved person, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and other traumata can provoke spiritual struggle which can transform former beliefs and lead to spiritual disengagement, apostasy, atheism/agnosticism, but potentially, spiritual growth, too. Many scholars argue that the experience of a desecration, the perception that things which have been perceived as sacred (e.g. my body, my integrity, my beliefs, my relationships etc.) have been violated, is particularly likely to shake the individual to the core. In a similar way, Novotni and Peterson (2001) describe “emotional atheism” as the result of a process of repression and emotional distancing from God.

Then one converts to something new – after destruction (or alteration) of the traditions one was given, one creates.

However, so many people get lost in this destruction.

For what do you create? On what basis do you embrace a new value system, or a new goal in life apart from the goal handed down to you by your ancestors? I would argue you don’t really create – you act from. You act from the depths of your subjectivity. Your moment by moment experience of yourself.

What matters most of all is how deeply you go into it. As the authors note:

Some studies in which atheists and agnostics have been explicitly identified have detected a U-shaped relationship in which the most and least religious groups report fewer symptoms of mental illness or better well-being scores than the moderately religious group (Donahue, 1985; Riley, Best, & Charlton, 2005; Shaver, Lenauer, & Sadd, 1980). These findings are in line with the classical assumption of William James (1902) that the certitude of an individual’s beliefs might be of more importance for his or her well-being than specific belief contents….nonreligious patients in hospitals and psychotherapy express as much need as religious people to talk about existential issues, such as the meaning of life.

You need to find a new ground of being, to make up for what was lost or thrown away. Otherwise, my friend, misery shall be thy company.


(1) Streib, H., & Klein, C. (2013). Atheists, agnostics, and apostates. APA handbooks in psychology: APA Handbook of psychology, religion and spirituality: Vol 1, at 


Read more at:

Why not believing in God is good for you:

The Perils of Doubt: (good summary of the exact reason for the benefit of religion – certainty)

Role of Religion and Spirituality in Mental Health:

Leaving the family as an apostasy experience:

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