Is it deconversion or just another conversion?

Since the great admission to my wife, almost two years ago, that I had rejected my Christianity and considered myself an atheist, we’ve had a number of discussions on the subject of faith and our opposing attitudes to it. On the whole these have been positive discussions, in the sense that we’ve mostly been able to have them without unhelpful emotional extras. This is how I had always hoped we’d be able to converse about faith, it’s a source of sadness that I spent several years alone in my journey afraid that we’d discuss my loss of faith in a negative or hurtful way, only for that fear to turn out to be unfounded.

It has not always been a smooth ride, we have had difficult discussions and there have been moments when one or other of us has got angry or upset. Those times have been the minority though and it is to my shame that I must admit I did not give her enough credit, having known her for all those years, I should have been able to predict her reaction better.

We’ve discussed many aspects of faith, getting braver with the depth of subject as time has moved on. We’ve probably discussed faith in greater detail in the past eighteen months than we had in the previous ten years of marriage, maybe even our whole marriage, though I’m less certain to place a bet on the latter. We’ve challenged each other and answered deep questions. We clearly disagree on the value of faith but we’ve been able to display to each other that it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker and that disagreeing with dignity is possible.

One of the lighter discussions we’ve had is over the semantics of how to describe my loss of faith. I refer to it as a deconversion, and all across the internet, where people of former faith hang out, the same word comes up. It makes sense to use conversion with the ‘de’ prefix because it signifies a step away from and in the opposite direction to the original conversion.

My wife does not like the deconversion word and prefers to describe it as another conversion, because it is a second conversion from one form of faith position or worldview to another. I have a bit of a problem with her logic, which is that I associate conversion directly with religion. I had a conversion to religion and now I have deconverted away from it. Her definition is not as narrow as mine, she takes the broader definition that conversion does not have to mean a religious conversion, it could mean a significant change in world view. In this case, my world view was one of a religious bent and now I have converted to an atheistic world view. Using that logic deconverted doesn’t make any sense and my experience is in fact, just another conversion. That makes sense semantically, to change world view is to convert from one to another, you don’t deconvert or unconvert, it’s a nonsense word to use.

Further complication arises when I see Microsoft Word underlining deconversion with a squiggly red line, clearly my computer thinks that no such words exists. If the word does not exist in Her Majesty’s beautiful language, then clearly it is not a word I can use to describe my position. So what is the best word to use? Does it matter?

Like many former Christians on the internet, I embrace deconverted as a description of my current faith state. The word has a great benefit because it immediately gets across the fact that the person to whom the word is being applied has not just moved away from religion but moved towards atheism. No further explanation is required. Try to get across the same meaning using ‘conversion’ instead and suddenly a whole sentence of supporting explanation is required. ‘Deconversion’ gets the meaning across far more efficiently; that it may not be a real word is irrelevant. However, I do accept that there is a negative connotation associated with the ‘de’ prefix and I do not consider my atheism as being negative at all.

Does that mean I should call myself an atheist convert?

I need to think about that one. I don’t like that description because saying convert tends to imply a position of faith and I absolutely reject any notion that that is where I am. I want it to be clear that I do not subscribe to a faith position. For now I’ll settle for no I would not call myself an atheist convert, maybe this is just a side effect of my rejection of faith and I’ll soften in my attitude to this word we’ll see. It is an interesting thought and I am sure we’ll return to it again at some point in the future, after all it does help to unpackage the thought processes of the past few years.

I’m now wondering what other semantic discussion are possible within this situation.

Answers on a postcard ….


9 thoughts on “Is it deconversion or just another conversion?

    • I guess it depends on how narrowly you define the conversion process. Does it apply only when moving to a religious belief?

      If you widen you definition to include worldviews (such as humanism or atheism) or even the active belief that there is no god (which I would say is my position) can you make it apply?

      In the grand scheme of things though, I find the pondering an amusing exercise rather than a discussion of great importance.

  1. I never felt comfortable with the term “deconversion” or “ex-christian.” Always preferred “former Christian.” Online though, while mixing with other former Christians it is easier and well, we all know what we are talking about when we use the term “deconversion.”

    When I think of the word “conversion” and what it means, for me it implies that someone (outside myself) is leading you or pulling you or forcing you or teaching you towards a truth. I don’t get the sense that anyone outside myself converted/led/taught/forced me that non-belief was true. If someone calls me an atheist convert I’d be inclined to ask them who the converter is/was? It seems that they are saying I have atheist faith . . . but where &/or how does an atheist put faith in atheism?

    • I like the suggestion that conversion implies converter. For me I’d say the converter would be the long list of people who put scientific knowledge of evolution down for me to learn about. Then there are the critiques of Christianity that helped me along. So no single individual helped me.

      I’ve tended to use the phrase ‘lost my faith’ its less harsh than saying ‘I am an atheist’.

      I don’t like atheist convert, not because of the conversion process but because, as M. Rodriguez points out, there is a strong religious connotation associated with the word convert and atheism is not a religion.

  2. I need to know something . . . what are your stories on unanswered prayers? Ive been researching this and it would be interesting to hear more stories in this regard.

    • Hi pencil,

      Interesting question.

      I made a lot of request prayers in my years as a Christian. Some of those prayers were as part of a prayer for healing team in my church at the time. I can honestly say that I don’t think there was a miraculous answer to any of those prayers.

      Most of those prayers were generalist prayers for people to have assistance to cope with situation X. Its impossible to say that a good result for that person was an answer to prayer or just them getting through with greater confidence. Did the prayer psychologically help them or was there divine assistance? I no none where the answer is definitively divine answer to prayer. There were some prayers for physical healing and I never saw any result that I could say was a divine answer to prayer there.

      Questioning the effectiveness of prayer was something that had me doubting my Christian faith long before I started the journey to leave.

  3. I may be late to the party here, but I just came across this blog.

    As a former committed evangelical Christian who regarded my own “Conversion” to Christ as a highly significant event, the label “Deconversion” seems apt enough. It almost helps to consider “Deconversion” as an antidote to that falsely spiritualized event when as a youngster I yielded to the powerful group-think and indoctrination which is Christianity and was “Converted to Christ”.

    On the other hand, the term “Deconversion” has implied elements of an event; some sort of arcane metaphysical process. This only reinforces the Christians’ view that the loss of faith has a magical sort of significance to it that carries with it, eternal consequences of the nasty sort.

    I think it may be more helpful to use a term that is less loaded. I do not have a single word to describe how I came to realize that I could no longer believe the unsupportable falsehoods underlying the Christian faith. It simply made sense to give up loyalty to a falsified faith system and its community to embrace the truth – regardless of the consequences. Call that process “Deconversion” if you like but it really represents a process of enlightenment and willingness to be honestly loyal to reality in a way that is simply incompatible with any sort of “Faith”.

    We need a term for that process does not tacitly endorse the “Conversion”.

    I look forward to hearing some viable alternatives.


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