Seth emails me the other day (hey seth!) and says, “You’ll come back full circle. You’ll be a Christian again.”
It wasn’t an asshole thing to say. Seth is a nice guy. Since then, we’ve talked and caught up and it’s great to hear how well he’s doing with life.
It’s something I thought about before, actually–this whole, “Will I always be atheist?” I mean, I swung all the way toward fundamentalist Christian extremes (living in a fringe group for years, on a compound with dozens of other “church members” and “disciples”) and now I’m on the non-believer extremity. Who’s to say I won’t swing back again?
Sometimes I questioned my ability to swing all the way over the “other side” so easily–except that it wasn’t easy and it took many years. And I think being atheist is closer to who I always was. I always questioned the bible and what I was taught in church (and everywhere else). It’s just that when you move to an isolated location and aren’t allowed outside media, friends, family, etc. it’s easier for you to get brainwashed into thinking that this fringe belief system is the right and correct path to an elite version of Christianity.
In all honesty, it’s destructive and fills you with guilt and all things unpleasant. As Christopher Hitchens would say, “Religion is evil.” He might even say a group like this is maniacal.
So my question to you is, Will you always be a Christian? Or will you finally start thinking for yourself and not let some multi-millionaire pastor tell you what the bible says and what you should do with your life? When are you going to live for yourself and not this modern conception of “giving it all to god”?
Cult leaders, and manipulative pastors, have a way of making up excuses for their behavior. If Christians aren’t careful, they’ll find themselves (and we’ll find our friends) making up excuses for their behavior, too.
You’ve heard it before. Church members and Christians essentially start excusing abuse and torment that their pastor (or another “man of God”) has done to others by saying, “Well, they’re just God’s mouthpiece,” or “Whoever got offended just wasn’t devoted enough to God,” or even, “It was all part of God’s plan. They must not be close enough to God.”
Some I’ve heard about myself and my situation:
“Lisa was just overly sensitive.”
“Lisa was just an immature Christian.”
“No one else was hurt.”
“It must have just been your Master’s Commission. We didn’t go through that. We had a great Director.”
“God told me to do it. I was just following His orders.”
“We fired that person. They’re not here anymore. Things have changed.”
What they really mean is a) we don’t give a shit b) we’re going to try to intimidate everyone in our church to believe us and not you c) we’re doing everything in our power to discredit you so you shut up and go away.
They don’t give a damn.
Pastor Daniel’s son has told me this about his father time and time again. “He could care less about you. In fact, he looks down on people like you.”
The bottom line is, (most) everything you hear from a controlling pastor or a cult leader after someone leaves and decides to speak up is an excuse.
An excuse for their behavior–their abusive behavior.
I remember being in Master’s Commission, when a student’s parents would complain about something we did. Nathan would shut them up and the other students by saying, “Things have changed. We don’t do that anymore.”
It was a lie. We never changed. We attempted to, but the truth is, Nathan ‘s ways were set in stone and wouldn’t budge. He taught all of us to disciple those under us with an iron fist, just as he did. Nothing was going to change. But, we had to live up to “expectations” and so we tried to tell people what they wanted to save our reputation.
Have you ever heard any of these excuses? In what context?
Have you ever met a pastor who was humble enough to admit his wrongdoing? If so, how did he present it? Did he apologize to the person he wronged?
Someone I just met on Thursday passed away early this week. We’d met through a friend of mine who actually was his best friend. He performed spoken word and I actually cried. His words were emotional and piercing. Later we had pizza and beer together. We all spent the night laughing at each other. I was amazed how talented he was.
I just can’t believe this happened. It happened so suddenly–he was riding his motorcycle and was killed instantly.
They say only the good die young and that must be true.
As sad as his death is, and it’s awful and shitty, I feel like death makes us face really difficult questions about tragedy and love and loss. All last night I was tossing and turning, almost wishing I was somehow still religious, so it’d be an easier pill to swallow. How can we cope with something so awful, so unjust? It was so terrible to hear about his death that I realized this must be one of the reasons we reach out to religion for answers. Religion can give us answers that soothe us, even if they’re cliche. You can tell someone who’s grieving that “He’s in a better place now,” or “He’s celebrating with Jesus,” or “He’s at peace” and usually it helps a religious person cope with such a huge hole.
But when it comes down to it, our cliche answers don’t bring back the dead. They don’t replace the love we lost or the best friend. Death is a complicated tragedy to deal with.
For religious people, it might help to hear something that’s meant to comfort. But for those of us who are not religious, there’s emotional pain but few answers. There aren’t any real answers as to why someone so talented and so loving would die suddenly. There’s no reason for it. It’s painful to face.
I think that could be the answer why a lot of people don’t always question their beliefs or walk away from a faulty faith. When left alone with our pain, our fears, our loss, how will we cope? Will we be okay? Will we be hopeless without a God to believe in or a pat answer to “solve all our problems?”
The truth is, there’s a lot of hope without belief but there’s also a lot of difficulty in navigating through tough questions. Life isn’t always about answers, it’s about the questions and the path we take to understand them. Sometimes it’s the tough questions and painful events in life that cause us to find strength within ourselves, our families and our communities.
Rest In Peace George James. Your courage, your words and your talent were a gift to all of us. We will all miss you. <3
Lately, I’ve been connecting to some interesting people on Twitter. Many atheists and skeptics love me on Twitter! I don’t know quite why, but I love them back. They’re smart, funny, and they respond back to me a lot. They’re not like some of my Christian “stalker” readers (by stalkers I mean people from the cult who read this and just judge–I’m not referring to quiet readers who aren’t ready to dialogue yet. You guys are my favorites, too! And trust me, good things are coming our way soon.). They love talking, debating and linking stuff–so I’m a fan of atheists. They blog about EVERYTHING!
They’re also smarter than me. They can out-debate me on anything, they know history, cultural facts, and…SCIENCE. Uh-oh. (To quote Nacho Libre, “We didn’t win because you believe in science!”) I always have loved science. Particularly epidemiology.
I hope you enjoy my referrals and if you find any other sites or links that have helped you, please let me know! Or, if you’d like me to blog about any specific subject, or would like more info on anything on this site, please drop me an email at mycultlife At gmail Dot com.
Every reader is welcome here regardless of religious preferences or beliefs. As you know, we represent a group (primarily) made up of former Christian ministers, but many of us have walked away from some of our former beliefs. Some of us are not Christians. Some of us are still Christians, but disillusioned. Some are not religious at all. Through some of my friends on Twitter, I found @RevOxley through a blogroll (perhaps on http://www.godlessgirl.com ?). I found his bio intriguing: Atheist Ex-Christian blogging about my life: http://ragingrev.com and checked it out.
There, I found the post I’m about to share with you. It hit home for me. Most of what he writes about is similar to what I’ve gone through. He tells about a pastor using him in a sermon (been there, done that) and his response to that pastor (which is incredibly well-written and thoughtful). The post I’m going to share with you (with his permission) can be found in full at Did I Give Up on My Faith and has been slightly edited for this audience.
Now, for a proper introduction to @RevOxley:
I am a 24 year old ex-christian that once had a major vision for a life in the ministry. I am a former fundamentalist, charismatic, Christian apologist and minister that is fortunate to have escaped the world of faith before I was too much older. I enjoy religious, philosophical, and scientific discussion with people from all backgrounds and applying critical thinking to areas devoid of it.
Did I Give Up on My Faith? by RevOxley
I found out yesterday that a local pastor used me in an illustration recently in one of his sermons. This was brought about because the pastor had seen a conversation or two that I had been in with a friend of mine that attends his church – now, the pastor did keep me personally anonymous but I wanted to hear this for myself.
When I listened to this I expected to become angry and to write a letter or blog calling this guy out, this didn’t actually happen though. What I felt, as I heard my story story simplified and the death of my god minimized into a decision to “Just give up” a flood of memories hit me as I remembered the great pain I felt for those years as my faith slowly died. All day I sat there reliving much of that pain – as if this wound from over 4 years ago now had been reopened. Just as one might still feel the sting of losing a parent or loved one years after the fact, there are times that are increasingly rare that I remember this long struggle.
Please understand that I don’t share this in order to cause havoc in this man’s life. He meant no harm and we have emailed each other now a few times and I found him to be both gracious and very apologetic….I think he understands my point of view at this time. I would like to share with you both his sermon and my response to him because I feel that it illustrates quite well that for an ex-christian this is rarely something taken lightly and one should never assume that this is the case.
The portion of his sermon where he talks about me starts at around the 20 minute mark – the full MP3 audio can be downloaded Here.
Below is my response.
“Johnny” (name changed by MCL) provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End – in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of Johnny’s atheist friend – that friend being me.
I don’t know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did…but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.
Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away – when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I’m going to do my best to explain it though. I’m going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.
Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they “quit” is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these – the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith – I don’t know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty – weeping for his guidance.
No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him…I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. – I’d bet that you can’t name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.
It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.
For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew. For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god. I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.
Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.
I did not endure those years because I quit.
I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted. That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one.This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.
You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.
Any comments are appreciated.
Edit: After posting this the pastor asked that I post his response as well, so here it is:
Thank you for your note. I had no idea that “Johnny” had provided you with the message. And I apologize for any offense that this may have caused.
I assure you that I have studied this experience from many hours of my own personal pain…I was fired from my church in 2000. I had discovered that one of my leaders was having an affair. I went thru the biblical procedure of dealing with this but in the end, the church asked me to leave and they kept him. I had done the right thing and had used the right procedure. But I had gotten the shaft.
I thought that I would just put out the resumes and a church would pick me up. It did not happen…No church called…In one week, I sent out 256 resumes and not one responded…I went 8 years with no income…I even went to Kroger and took a sign off of the window that was advertising for workers. I took the sign to the manager and asked for a job…he said that I had too much education. I did get some parttime work at Lowe’s making minimum wage.
Matt, I have no desire to have a running battle with you. I apologize for using an illustration that I should have gotten your permission. Please accept my apology and I hope that some of my people have not been a problem to you. That will not happen again…and no one knows your name…at least not from me.
I don’t share these kind of sermons out of a heart that has never experienced pain. This was an awful period in our life. My guts were hanging out most of the time. Everything I believed in and preached was challenged and shakened. I considered suicide. I considered walking away. I even told God the same thing that Jeremiah the prophet said, “I am not going to say one more thing about You.” But in the end, I made a decision to hang with God and He brought me through.
I am not sure where your journey will take you. It is certainly not my intention to create any more pain or discomfort for you. I would love to one day sit and share war stories. But I assure you there will be no more references to you even in an unnamed version.
If there’s one thing churches/religion universally control it’s sex and sexuality.
Sexual identity is formulated based upon a patriarchal (and religious) world view. Or is all patriarchy formed from religion? Mary Daly is right to say that our idea of God “the Father” creates an idea of fathers and males as God. She also says that the categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality are classifications based on patriarchy.
If this is true and if we live in world of patriarchal religion, then women who are comfortable expressing their sexuality in a way that isn’t necessary reliant on men’s power or satisfaction are easily demonized. Doesn’t this date back to the witch hunting days? It’s easy to demonize anyone who varies the “norm.”
One thing being in a cult taught me is that men are not all powerful. The minute you decide to possess your own mind, you can be an enlightened woman. Or if you are a man who lives outside the gender norms (maybe you’re kind and gentle instead of tough and aggressive), you don’t have to be suppressed by an idea of the “manly man” being the only version of what a man is. In a non-patriarchal belief structure, people who vary from the “norms” have an important place.
I’ve found sex and sexuality are an important place to liberate ourselves and our identities, post-cult. A lot of us spend very important time discovering what sex is, and how we can enjoy it. Most people who remain closely tied to church, post-cult don’t seem to have the same liberties in regards to sex. A lot of women I’ve heard from or read about (who are still religious, or who were deeply entrenched in a patriarchal marriage) have varying degrees of associations with rape and sex (even in marriage). It’s easy to feel that way, if you still embrace the idea that men are the head of the household and women who are sexually liberated are witches. Regardless of where that belief stems from, it’s an imprisoning system of belief. It’s not a fact. It can be destroyed and deconstructed with time and upon a deeper examination of the root of that belief.
Instead of acting modest and covering myself up, I’m now able to be comfortable with sex, the idea of sex, and wanting sex. I embrace the irony of the religious label of “witch” and act freely. I also am fully conscious of the fact that the church and the religious want to CONTROL SEX and what is deemed appropriate when it comes to sex. If in fact they control it, then they have power over our lives. The church has exerted its power over sex for hundreds of years because we have let it. We haven’t enlightened ourselves and we haven’t taken responsibility for our minds and bodies. Take back your mind and your body from the church and celebrate it with sex.
Or you can choose guilt, the one thing the church implants in your mind.
I’ve been struggling with finding a definitive answer to this question for the past year. I assumed that saying I wasn’t a Christian anymore would simply suffice and people would understand, but I must remember that no one has walked this journey except me.
I have no desire to be ones guru or priest so I shy away from this question for fear people will try to emulate me.
A deeper-seated fear though is the fear that all my former “disciples” feel I’ve betrayed them and turned my back on them. Maybe they feel I’ve lied to them.
I suppose what the real problem is is that I’m ridden with anxiety about what others will do with the information. What getting out of religion taught me was that people can be so cruel and harmful with things that are dear to you. It’s best to be very protective of valuable things, trust few and love deeply only when someone has earned it.
I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I’d like to be able to articulate one at least for myself. As much as I admire and like some very prominent atheists and skepticts, theirs answers don’t show the complexities I feel. They don’t express the great dilemmas I still experience. If an answer is too easy, its not right for me, I’ve learned. Journeys of faith or anti-faith are complex and arduous; winding around personal feelings and musings. The questions, my religious studies professor used to say, are more important than the answers. This is enough for me. May it be enough for you also.
Today I’m thinking deeply about why people make excuses for predatory pastors, violent books of faith, and church institutions that have a very dirty past (and present). I’ve done the same thing, so this question is more curious than accusatory.
Past the “why” is that they ARE making these excuses and maybe (or maybe not) it points to a much larger thing. What compels us to do this? As with all things, there no one universal answer. If church provides a need for community, then is that what they are protecting-their sense of community and the provision against loneliness? If church has become a person’s “family”, are they protecting the dark secrets of their own “family” as much as their own reputation?