Thursday, October 6, 2016

Joe Omundson

A note for my Christian friends and relatives

I created a Facebook page to promote this blog recently. I sent invites to as many friends as I could.

Most of my Facebook friends are people I've met in the last 8 years, after graduating college. But I also have a fair number of friends who I met before that, including many of my relatives.

The biggest difference in my mind between these two groups of people is that the ones who have met me in the last 7 years know that I'm not religious. They are all people who know what I believe and what my lifestyle is like, and who accept my choices. I can say whatever I want in their presence and I know they will not attack me for saying it. They may not agree, but they at least accept that disagreement is OK.

It's kind of strange interacting with the other group sometimes. Most of them know that I was a devout Christian in my youth, and unless I've had a conversation with them about it specifically they might not know that I left that ideology 7 years ago, and am working toward very different goals than what they might assume. Many of them have invested a lot in Christianity, in making sure I believed in it, and undoubtedly see my rejection of the faith as a very wrong choice.

When I came out as an unbeliever in 2009, I only told my parents, wife, and close friends. Eventually I started sharing my thoughts more openly on social media but I never sat down with my relatives individually and explicitly told them, "I don't believe the same way as you anymore". I can only assume that some of my relatives have noticed changes in me, heard rumors from other family members, or have taken some time to read my thoughts online.

Yet I have not had any uncomfortable conversations pressuring me to believe again. I've been bracing myself for 7 years. It's always been confusing to me; do they know I'm not a Christian anymore? If they know, aren't they concerned? Is it just too hard to bring up? What do they think about me? Could they ever accept me if they knew I was never coming back? Do they avoid questioning me because they have doubts themselves? Because of this I have not always felt fully free to express myself publicly.

As I saw my friends responding to my invitation to like my new Facebook page, some of my conservative Christian family members were in the mix. Now they are my audience for all of the personal thoughts that I share on this blog. There is a conflict between my desire to be completely transparent, and my desire to write a blog that everyone can read. I think some of the most interesting topics to write about are very un-Christian; I want to explore ideas relating to atheism and spirituality, gender and sexuality, drugs and the psychedelic experience, etc.

I'm also realizing that ex-Christian topics are an area I want to keep exploring. It's been an interesting journey: when I first left my faith, I felt more resentful, scared, angry, and sad. I craved getting into debates about it so I could express my outrage. Eventually, as my life strengthened and I became more confident in myself, I lost interest in those kinds of debates. I realized I wasn't going to change anyone's mind and I wanted to focus more on my newfound happiness rather than my old pain.

More recently, though, I have been reaching out to communities of ex-Christians again to offer my support. Now that a lot of the trauma has fallen away, I feel I'm left with a greater capacity to wade back into the sea of Christianity and help people who are struggling to find the shore. Because of my own past I have an acute understanding for the impact of growing up in an authoritarian religious system and a lot of compassion for those who are having difficulty making sense of things. I feel that this is an area where I can combine my personal experience, empathy, and ability to explain complex ideas clearly, in an effort to help people accept themselves and make healthy choices to grow into strong, happy people.

As I spend more time writing, learning, and traveling, I'm going to be figuring out my specialties as a writer. I don't know if there's any one topic I want to write about full time, but I know Christianity is a big one for my life, so it's going to remain a focus at times. In the process of this, I'm going to be speaking out about the problems I experienced within Christianity, and I'm not going to sugar coat it. I believe many people are traumatized by a Christian upbringing and there is much healing to be done.

So, to my dear family members who are believers: I am sorry if this feels scary to you, or like an attack. I am doing my best to oppose the system of beliefs itself, and the mechanisms of social control, rather than confront individuals who adhere to the religion. It's not you I'm angry at. Yet my writing may very well offend you, and if you don't like it, I won't blame you for un-liking my page or ignoring my blog. I remember how uncomfortable it made me as a Christian when people expressed critical views, so I know how it feels. You are welcome to email me or reply in the comments with any questions or thoughts you have and we can talk about things.

Subscribe to this Blog via Email :


Write comments
Alex Wall
October 6, 2016 at 2:17 PM delete

I like this a lot. I can only say that I have found your honesty, your respect for other people, your incredible fairness and well-balanced temperament, and your gift (if you don't mind that word) for communicating to be so refreshing as to imply that there is some kind of spiritual (for me, this simply means non-physical/material) force behind it. It would be unbelievable to me that someone else in your life who considers themselves to be "religious" would ignore these incredible traits that you possess, in favor of trying push you toward a human-maintained ideology like Christianity.

Why would any person seek to have you live in a way that makes you uncomfortable? You've been there and done that. It doesn't work for you. Personally, I have gained a great deal of inspiration from you *because* you have freed yourself.

As for family members or friends who've known you since you were a child...

Something I have dealt with and struggled with, as a man who is beginning to have a public voice, is a family and some hometown friends, who - in general - have a hard time taking me seriously. This may not be your issue at all, yet similar attitudes have been a very old problem for people who communicate publicly.

As you may remember, this happened to Jesus himself when his hometown turned against him. He said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.” Why? Because he left their faith. He was a "radical," a "heretic." He threatened their world views. I realize the irony of bringing this up. But, my point is this...

Sometimes, it doesn't matter whether the people who know you better than we who have just recently met you are not necessarily expressing religious frustration when or if they oppose the (in my view) important things you will be exploring and discussing in this blog--even though that is what they may use as an excuse (religious self-righteous indignation). Instead, it could be a mixture of over-familiarity and jealousy. This has happened to me.

I hope your relatives and hometown friends are not as petty as some of mine have been. It may turn out that you offer peace of mind and compassion in a way that Christians have always aspired to, yet they fall short of.

Christianity is hemorrhaging members (, because of its rigidity, hierarchy, male-centrism, and inability to allow for a self-designed spirituality.

I think it would be wise for religious people to take note: moral fortitude can be found among the atheist just as readily as the religionist. Whatever your beliefs, they are YOURS.

If the religionist honestly believes his/her own creed: "You shall know him by his fruits," then surely they will see the value that you represent as a loving person in the world. After all, Jesus did give a new commandment, "You should love your neighbor as yourself." The value of loving (giving without the expectation of receiving) holds true, no matter who is doing the loving. I look forward to watching all of this evolve and I thank you for having the courage to do what you are doing.

Joe Omundson
October 7, 2016 at 10:52 PM delete

Thanks so much for the generosity of your thoughts, Alex.

"Why would any person seek to have you live in a way that makes you uncomfortable?" If I were to answer that question thinking back to the time I was a Christian, I'd say, ultimately your eternal fate matters more than what feels comfortable in this life; if being a Christian feels uncomfortable then you're wrong because that is the only truth. As absurd as this seems to me now, I clearly remember how real it felt.

Yeah, I wish Christians would focus more on the fruit of the spirit. Who has the most love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Isn't that the person who's doing it right? I've found it ironic too that my life (and yours) mirrors the life of Jesus more than most of the Christians I know... Wandering in the wilderness for weeks at a time, relying on the goodwill of others for sustenance, being houseless, promoting a radical but loving message. Ha!

Somehow my relatives actually have never criticized me but they aren't exactly enthusiastic either. The silence is deafening to the point that I'd rather have some kind of confrontation just to get it over with rather than always wondering what they really think.

Thank you for the encouragement brother, good luck to you as well. I am still waiting for part 2 of the heart attack story (did I miss it?).