THIS IS WHY PEOPLE ASK IF THERE’S STILL A GOD!
The other day an old friend of mine posted a scripture on his Facebook wall about not being lukewarm or God will spit you out. It got me thinking quite a bit.
For starters, I was always a very “passionate” Christian. I’d hear a verse like that and do whatever I could in my power to be “hot” for Jesus (sounds kinky, right?). I didn’t like the idea of being cold for anything. That’s one of the reasons I decided to attend a year of Master’s Commission (which turned into 7). I thought it would make me a better Christian.
But, now that I’m not a Christian, what am I? Am I “hot” (read: passionate) about something else? Am I “cold”? Will God spit me out of his mouth?
How I always looked at that verse was a way to claim my superiority over another Christian. I was judgmental. Very. I was pious and perfect and looked down on anyone who failed to get it right. When I decided to follow the rules of Christianity, I excelled in following them and attending Master’s Commission only made me more cocky.
Some people call that legalistic. Some people call it fundamentalism. What’s interesting though, is that was preached to me, so I wasn’t just becoming legalistic on my own terms. I was being taught to have moral superiority over those who weren’t as passionate about God as I was.
That moral superiority carries over into other religions. Osama Bin Laden wrote a letter to the Jihadists saying that the Western world (and those who were not passionate enough as Muslims) were infidels. An infidel means one without faith. Bin Laden encouraged attacks on people who were without faith, or who didn’t have strong enough faith.
Christianity and Islam are very similar. Their holy texts call for extremism in cases like this. Yes, you can interpret the Bible or the Koran more liberally, but it’s no surprise why people interpret verses in either to claim a moral superiority over those who aren’t religious enough.
As for me, I’m not hot or cold, or lukewarm. I just no longer believe in Christianity as a powerful, righteous force.
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.
There are some people you’ll meet in life that just KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God, gods. They’ll convince you that they have hard evidence and proof and “experiences” to show you that there is a god.
But, really, it can’t be proved and we all know it. If there is a heaven or hell (I don’t believe there is one. I think it’s a fear tactic), wouldn’t we likely not have proof of that until we die?
Oh, yeah, except that the “bible” is the word of god breathed from his mouth?
Not likely. Most documents are drafted, edited, and rewritten; sometimes using many contributors.
Anyway, I’m getting off track.
The point of this blog post is this: it’s OKAY to not know everything about what you believe in or don’t believe in.
Say you just left a cult, like I did about five years ago. You’re probably going through a wide variety of emotions and probably rethinking virtually everything that happened there and how those people you were in the cult with treat you now.
If you’re rethinking things, that’s a good sign. It’s healthy. It means, you’re learning from your past experiences and turning it into wisdom, in my opinion.
It may take years for you to come to terms with what you do and don’t believe in. You might be more lenient and understanding toward others. You might miss the community of church, but abhor the judgmentalism that exists there.
So what if you end up an atheist at the end of your “I-don’t-know” phase? So what?! Atheists aren’t bad and they’re not baby killers. They’re “god less” but not godless.
So what if you end up Buddhist? Hmm…you may just end up to be far more moral and caring than some of us are. Not to mention more zen.
So what if you still end up going to charismatic churches? No big deal. I’m sure some of your views have changed and you’re not going to be duped or suckered anymore. Smile! That’s good news.
What if you just don’t know and don’t care? I personally think that’s a great place to be.
Belief and spirituality (or the lack of) aren’t about labels, in my opinion. Just be who you are and surround yourself with positive people. From there…enjoy life free from worry and oppressive dogma.
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?
After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.
To this day I have not.
The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.
Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?
So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.
The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.
What do I believe? That is a scary question.
I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.
I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!
However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.
Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.
My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: email@example.com.
Check out my blog.
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 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 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 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.
B.D. (name edited by MCL)
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.
On a serious note, there are a great deal of awesome people out there to get to know (of all religions and backgrounds). Some of the blogs I like best are Godless Girl: www.godlessgirl.com; Thinking Mom: http://searchingtraveler.wordpress.com/ ; and The Friendly Atheist: www.friendlyatheist.com. Have you discovered www.ex-christian.net yet? You don’t have to be an Ex-Christian to go to the forum and discuss. In fact, you don’t have to be a skeptic, atheist or ex-christian to visit and learn from any of these blogs.
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.