photo by Rachel Ford James

The Free-for-All Bookshelf here at work is a little bit tighter now, stuffed with my newest donations. I just emptied a big white crate filled with some of my most precious possessions as a Christian: books. I’ve had this collection sitting in my car trunk for over a year. It went with me on vacations, to-and-from work, and I just tried to ignore it when I packed my groceries or stuffed my suitcases into my little Mazda.

What was I waiting for? I’d already purged a large percentage of my Christian books in 2008 when I discovered (or, more accurately, admitted) my atheism. Everything from Bible studies and self-help to fiction and humor was either tossed in the recycling for good or donated to Goodwill for people to pick through if they gave a damn.

But this crate–this generic white crate that always pinched my fingers when I carried it–was the spiritual and emotional luggage from my religious past all in one place. Some of my most beloved titles were in there:

  • The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was always able to touch the part of my dreams that desired depth, thoughtfulness, community, and courage.
  • A Simple Path by Mother Teresa. I always loved her writings and even considered converting to Catholicism after reading what she and Therese of Lisieux had to say about love and its purity of devotion. I was attracted to the sweetness and passion I saw in their words.
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I’m almost embarrassed to leave this book in the hands of a stranger. I scrawled notes and highlighted so many passages of this book that it’s practically a public confessional of my most formative years as a Christian (which happened to be some of my last years, so it turns out). I dove into this book with such emotional transparency that it makes me blush just to read it again.
  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. I challenge all believers to get this book and take it to heart.
  • Restoration and King of the Jews by D. Thomas Lancaster. I went through a long, passionate phase as a Messianic believer in what might be called the torah-observant movement when these books about the unity between “old” and “new” portions of the Christian Bible meant a great deal to me. It truly changed the kind of Christian I was.

And these are just a sampling of the types of books that influenced me in my multi-faceted religious life. I admit, I still have an emotional connection to them. Like many people who seek comfort and guidance during rough times, these types of books were a help for me when I was grieving, curious, and alone. But like many former Christians I know, I’m now able to look back on those tools and texts and see them for another perspective, with the “veil” of faith and myth pulled away from my eyes.

It was difficult placing them on the shelf today, but I am glad and relieved to have already left those old beliefs and delusions behind. Not everything that makes us feel good or helps us through a tough time is true or correct. I’m sure if I had been non-religious during those years that I would have come out just fine all the same. I’m glad I had a searching and curious mind that was fascinated by those volumes but also able to see more to life than belief in a non-existent god.

What items have been hard for you to part with over the years? Items from past relationships? Books? Habits?

Related Posts with Thumbnails

13 thoughts on “Goodbye, Books”

Garden Pheenix · May 20, 2010 at 4:27 am

I recently did this with about 20 books and it felt sooooo damn good to see them go. But it took me forever to actually take the first step and box them all up. I donated them to my old church and had a good chuckle because among them where books I read while clinging to my faith which they would have huge issues with as they would be considered “post modern” and part of the emergent church. Lulz. Enjoy your theological wars people. Ah freedom. I filled their space with science books and various other spirituality books. Symbolism rocks ^_^
.-= Garden Pheenix’s last blog ..In other news… Monsanto really IS Satan Incarnate. =-.

Andrew Hall · May 20, 2010 at 5:40 am

Me? I’m a book person too but found my atheism a while back so a vast majority of Christian books are long gone. I keep my NIV Bible around for the sake of research. Other stuff I have falls into the general category of, “Wow, I should really clean up so-and-so… maybe later” .
.-= Andrew Hall’s last blog ..Where Is Mohammed? – Part 6 =-.

    Godless Girl · May 20, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Oddly enough,one of the first things I purged of all Christian sentiment was my clothing. I had dozens of t-shirts and sweatshirts from old camp trips, retreats, clubs, churches, and so forth. I now own about 4 t-shirts total and it feels great!

Laura · May 20, 2010 at 6:26 am

I got rid of all of my Christian books a few years ago. I threw mine in the dumpster. Not very eco friendly of me, but very cathartic. 🙂

    Godless Girl · May 20, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Sometimes we need a bit of catharsis to move on to a new stage of life, right? It reminds me of my brother who burned his old “sinful, worldly” music and comic book collection when he converted to Christianity. Yikes!

Lindsay · May 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

I went on a series of faith retreats in my teens and early twenties and it took me a really long time to finally get rid of all the bric-a-brac that I collected from those events. I had all kinds of handmade garbage from people I didn’t know and it all hung on my bulletin board for years. Then it got stuffed into a box with the letters I received during the retreats and it was forgotten.

When I finally stopped calling myself agnostic and started calling myself an atheist, I purged it all, and I felt a sense of completeness. Which is funny because the theme of the faith retreats was that of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly- spiritual transformation. Hehe.

    Godless Girl · May 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Irony never fails to amuse me!

Randall "Doc" Fleck · May 20, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I wonder why you decided to recycle those old books as opposed to just tossing them in a bin? Did you think they would help others decide the same path you have – that they might leave false beliefs behind and opt to accept reality? I wonder… Would you have recycled a math book that included incorrect algebra or a cookbook of recipes that failed to turn out tasty dishes?
.-= Randall “Doc” Fleck’s last blog ..Check out your local hospital… =-.

okfine · May 21, 2010 at 4:17 am

You were right to be sad for the loss. I would even say that you should have kept them. Not for the same reasons that the previous commentor implied but because there is some genuine wisdom to be found in the myth and there are some admirable people who have advocated it and we would be wise to accept and acknowledge that. Some smart people have been taken with mysticism; that does not mean that their good ideas should be devalued.

To answer your question: I have almost every book I’ve ever bought or been given! Past relationships? My apartment is decorated with the momentos 🙂 It shocks me sometimes. When I have company and I’m explaining a painting or a knick-knack, there is almost always a connection behind it.

anyway, your new theme is nice; clean and orderly. But have you tried typing in the comment box? the font is blue and tiny, like 8pt!

Kerri · May 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I’m right there with you. I just donated the last of my Christian books on thursday. It took me over a year to finally let it all go. The last struggle I had was deciding if I wanted to contribute to the religious delusions of some poor soul who comes across one of my books in the local Salvation Army thirift store!

Anyway…I’m just thankful I never got that Christian tattoo I had wanted, that would be an expensive and painful purging!!

jbear · June 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

hey. I just want you to know that I fasted for you today. You weren’t dumb when you were attracted to Mother Teresa and St. Theres of Liseux. Books and feelings won’t teach you a thing, but love and charity do. So I will pray a rosary for you everyday for the rest of my life. If you take this offensively, that’s alright, I’ll never write again. However, I will always pray and fast for you. Even though I don’t know you, I will do anything for your eternal happiness.


Sadako · June 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

Books are always the hardest. I sometimes have to–just for space but it’s always a struggle.

Comments are closed.

Related Posts


Relationship Funerals & The Way We Say Goodbye

One year ago today I wrote the following in response to this piece about Relationship Funerals I share it now with you. A breakup ritual could be incredibly beautiful… and painful… and healing. It’s one way Read more…

my past

Be the One to Turn On the Light

I remember reluctantly stepping out of faith into atheism feeling as if everything I cared about had been erased against my will. My community support structure was gone; my family now felt like strangers; and I had Read more…


A Little “Thank You” to Atheism

Thank you, Atheism, for: Causing me to realize my ethics need to come from my own truth, and not from someone’s interpretation of a book or prophetic message. Challenging me when I was comfortable and Read more…