Meet the De-Cons, A Support Group for Atheists and Those Losing Their Religion ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meet the De-Cons, A Support Group for Atheists and Those Losing Their Religion

This week, I shared part of a story on one woman's de-conversion. Today, I'm sharing with you a website that provides support for "de-cons" and solicits de-conversion stories to put on their site. Who are these de-converts?

At, you'll find a community for skeptics and former Christians.

Its a place for "de-cons" to gather together.

We know very little about de-conversion, so sites like this give us an opportunity to form questions and create some guesses. Who are "de-converts" and what is the process of losing one's religion? This site invites a bit of speculation.

De-Cons Describe Themselves

The de-cons on this site self-describe themselves as formerly committed, "active" Christians. On one list, they write, "We were the 20% that did 80% of what needed to be done." While commenting on various aspects of atheism and non-belief, they comment on their own experiences in posts like

A link on the homepage provides lets you "Submit your De-conversion story."

An Alternative Identity to Atheist

The website provides resources, comments, and "sermons" to help recovering fundamentalists live out their non-faith. In my mind, the most important resources is that of providing an alternative identity -- away from religion while negotiating the meaning of atheism.

By changing the label "atheist" to "de-con" and talking about what this label means through comments and conversation, the site provides a means for expressing an anti-religious identity.

On first glance, the label de-con invites dialogue. Atheist seems to create antagonism, and those who have lived as Christians seem to bristle at becoming an atheist. Also, while atheism is generally defined as a lack of belief in a God, the word de-conversion is more nuanced, more specific. More than not believing in God, these are people who once believed in God fervently and have gone through a process -- often painful -- of shedding that belief.

De-Conversion is an Emotional Process

Its the expression of their emotions I find compelling. Rather than philosophical arguments, many long paragraphs describe the "fear and anguish" felt when walking away from religion. A tone of sadness mixes into the bitterness and frustration throughout their stories.

Just as the process of conversion is reinforced through relationships that affirm religious choice, so is the process of de-conversion. The site provides a form of relational connection.

Now that they've moved on, they help others make the transition. Can they alleviate the pain?

Also, part of bridging belief to non-belief is by proving alternative schemas. The site is full of them. For example, playing on Pascal's famous "wager" of belief in God, the site features the "de-conversion wager" on the bottom-right homepage with its own theistic slant of a God who rewards morality rather than blind belief.

The site began in March 2007, and it seems likely that the passion and network feeding the site will keep it a source of a very particular form of anti-religious vitality in the coming years.


The time seems right for new research on deconverts and the deconversion experience.

The only book I found reinforces that the process of de-conversion involves a form of grieving. Although you can find plenty of books of people describing their own de-conversion, perhaps the best study of deconversion was published in 1994 and titled Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the Loss of Faith (Studies in Religion and Culture) by John D. Barbour. It offers an insight into how people who have walked away from their religion intepret their loss.

Two journal articles from sociologist Janet Jacobs are still interesting and useful:

"Deconversion from Religious Movements: An Analysis of Charismatic Bonding and Spiritual Commitment" by Janet Jacobs
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Sep., 1987), pp. 294-308
"The Economy of Love in Religious Commitment: The Deconversion of Women from Nontraditional Religious Movements" by Janet Jacobs
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 1984), pp. 155-171
What do you think?


Mark said...

Very interesting!! I have to say that personally I've struggled with what I would call a "de-constructing" of some of my beliefs in general. I often wonder if it is kosher to be an evangelical skeptic? Someone who loves my just bought be the book "Seeing Through Cynicism" by Keyes. It looks good but honestly I've yet to read it. I keep telling myself my dissertation comes first but perhaps it's a defence mechanism! Regardless, very interesting post.

J Steele said...

I'm only 3 months behind :)To Mark I would say go ahead and deconstruct. Here's the challenge-what philosophical framework will you use to deconstruct? How will you know to discard this and keep that? This, ideally, is a necessary step that we who have grown up in some form of religion need to go through BUT there is a danger of going about it in a way that leads away from truth not toward it. Truth is the framework of my choice. Don't be afraid to question anything and everything. When you find truth, hold on to it and "reconstruct" from there. p.s. it's not kosher (Jew) to be evangelical anything :)