Should I Have Said “Fuck You” To The Woman Who Told Me I Lost My Faith Because I Didn’t Love Jesus Enough?

Over the last couple years, I have argued to my fellow atheists that we should do a better job with respect to being civil, empathetic, and rationalistic in debating. Specifically I have written extensively against abusively name calling, hastily personalizing abstract disputes, and exacerbating acrimonious interpersonal feuds.

All of this has regularly been mistaken for an attack on “dirty words” as though they have some magical power (which it is not), or a denunciation of all emotional appeals in discourse (which it is not), or an insistence that we never ever have a hostile tone when making arguments (which it is not), or a dismissal of the value of safe spaces (which it is not). I have also made explicitly clear that I will not automatically ban, or invalidate the feelings of, marginalized people who lash out intemperately when unfairly goaded. To highlight this part of my moderation enforcement policy for those who missed it amidst so much verbiage:

If you lose your cool and just tell the person off, then I will look to see if you have been provoked (if I had not noticed already). If I see clearly that you have been goaded, I will make a point to acknowledge the justification for your anger and request that you try to express it civilly and that you please return your focus to debating the points under contention. If your interlocutor’s provocation was egregious, your interlocutor will either be moderated for an indefinite period of time or banned for everyone’s sake, depending on how severe what they said or did was.

Notice there, so it is clear: I was saying that if a member of a marginalized group was goaded and they responded excessively harshly, the rebuke would go to the one goading them and the one goading them would be placed in moderation. The rightly offended party’s feelings would be validated and the offended party would just be asked to keep the whole thread from melting down further with continued hostility.

I have also argued that we atheists should as much as possible not demonize religious people or call them (or anyone for that matter) stupid, but rather try to love them as best we can and try to have constructive dialogue with them wherever possible. I refuse as false the idea that debating believers is inevitably futile and think that, even were that true, that that would be no justification for Othering and abusing believers.

Now, today a Christian classmate from my college days wrote me to say that she gleaned from my latest installment in my series on my deconversion that the reason I “lost my faith” was that I had legalistically tried to save myself and had put faith in other people rather than simply “relying on [my] relationship with Jesus and [my] love for Him”. My response was severe:

“[Name redacted], with all due respect, fuck you for telling me I didn’t love jesus enough.”

And then I blocked her.

Then without identifying her, I posted the opening portion of her e-mail to me and a slight variation of my response to her on Facebook, and I wrote a blog post fleshing out the reasons for my indignation at her response. I have received both a lot of support and some criticism for the way I handled the situation.

Now, I am the first to admit that I have a temper problem. If I fail to live up to my own ideals for ethical discussion, then that’s my problem, not the problem with my ethical standards. Ethical standards are sometimes hard to live by, but that does not, of itself, invalidate them. I am not sure if in this case I actually have violated them. I do not think I am obligated to debate every single person who wants to engage in discussion with me. I have kept my interlocutor’s name out of this and I have avoided calling her abusive names and am not going to go harass her. In my post replying to her comment, I softened my remark from the potentially offensive “fuck you”. My blog post itself, while sarcastic and angry was within the bounds of angry expression I have all along said was approvable. But was the “fuck you” which I sent directly to her and reposted in my status update morally acceptable? That’s what I am not sure about and would appreciate your feedback on.

People have written saying that she reached out “in love” and meant to care for a friend and so she didn’t deserve such harsh treatment and she wasn’t going to learn anything from me shutting down discourse with her like that.

Let me explain what was so wrong with what she did and why I responded as I did and why I reposted it on Facebook.

First of all, I want to make clear, my response was as an ex-Christian more specifically than as atheist. As at least one Christian and former classmate at my deeply Evangelical alma mater who wrote on my Facebook wall noted, her comment was symptomatic of how Christians treat each other abusively, not just a problem between Christians and atheists. Christians routinely trivialize each other’s problems by answering their excruciating struggles with banal clichés.

Now, this happens among non-believers too. I have learned to be careful about expressing personal frustrations on Facebook (particularly about my love life) because I know that there are a lot of people who think that unsolicited advice in the form of clichés is exactly what hurting people need to solve their complicated problems. Like, “my romantic confidence with women was in shambles until one day someone informed me that all I had to do was be myself and then, wow, were my eyes opened! Thanks, Drive-by Facebook Psychiatrist, where would I be without you!”

Personal advice is a good thing, but it should only be given upon request, humbly, tentatively, and with extraordinary attention and sensitivity to the other person’s specific situation–their needs, temperament, experiences, resources, limits, pressures, etc. Responsibly advising people on personal matters requires actively and empathetically listening to them. It means carefully asking them questions designed to help them clarify things for themselves. It means phrasing your perceptions of a situation as suggestions, rather than pronouncements, and respecting their moral rights to think and value and feel for themselves about their situation. You can make a moral or intellectual or emotional argument to someone who needs such advice, but you need to show some genuine humility and ability to understand and empathize first.

We all botch this sometimes of course. Some of us more egregiously than others. And unfortunately some Christians (and likely other religious believers) tend towards a specific, harmful form of presumptuous, trivializing unsolicited advice giving. They use it towards each other and towards apostates from the faith both. These Christians not only treat all problems, no matter how difficult, as simplistically solvable if only one applies a banal truism, but they regularly reduce all problems to one’s apparent failure to love or trust Jesus enough. 

What’s that? You’re grieving your lost child? Well, you don’t love Jesus enough to just let her go and trust that you will be reuinited happier than ever in heaven.

What’s that? You lost your job and are afraid of losing your house? You know what you need to do now? Get on your knees and start trusting God! He always provides.

What’s that? You are struggling with clinical depression? You know you need to start letting go and letting God and start appreciating His gracious blessings to you instead of dwelling on the downside and trying to make yourself happy.

What’s that? You have doubts about the truth of Christianity? That’s because sin has become between you and God!—-Oh wait. What’s that? You just poured out your heart and revealed intimate personal and psychosexual details, all in an effort to make clear that you did everything you could to remove barriers of “sin” from between you and God so that he would reveal himself to you, and yet you intellectually and morally still couldn’t believe? That’s because you’re a legalist who tried to earn your way into heaven rather than love Jesus enough!

I didn’t ask for my friend’s advice about how to become a Christian again. I know many Christians find this unfathomable, but I’m a whole lot happier and healthier without Christianity arresting my emotional, intellectual, psychological, social, and sexual development than I was with it doing all of that.

But even if I had wanted her advice she could have actually read and treated seriously the 20+ posts where I discussed in detail the numerous intellectual and personal stages of my deconversion. She could have shown some respect for the fact that I cope with the reality that I came close to accidentally pushing my best friend to suicide out of the same anti-homosexuality Christian attitudes and beliefs that I know her church denomination specifically still holds to this day. She could have acknowledged that I have a PhD in philosophy and studied up on the copious explanations of my philosophical views that have come from 16 years of intensely personal and rigorously academic engagement with the reasons for belief or non-belief.

But, you see, she brushed all of that aside. Because there was an easy solution that fit her preconceived narrative about how people fall away for not trying hard enough not loving Jesus enough.

And that was not loving on her part. Let’s not abuse the word “love” by granting it to her for her lazy know-it-all self-righteous attempt to give advice to someone she took a whopping ten minutes to try to understand. It was arrogant, self-absorbed, and emotionally reckless. Because like many Christians, she is callous about how much it hurts many Christians and ex-Christians alike to tell them that their problem was that they didn’t either try hard enough, commit sincerely enough, look for God carefully enough, or love Jesus enough. When you are dealing with people as emotionally and spiritually scrupulous as the devout and those apostates who left after a soul-wrenching process of desperately trying to salvage their faith, you must take seriously that the present or former sincerity of their religious commitments is often a core part of their personal integrity.

Many of us who conscientiously reject our religious faiths do so out of an intense and personally costly ethical commitment to honesty. It takes incredible amounts of emotional and spiritual resolve to counter the enormous emotional manipulation that we suffer from other believers. When you personally invalidate our feelings, or doubt the sincerity of our former beliefs, the strength of our former love for Jesus or our ethical sense of integrity on account of our leaving the faith, you not only misrepresent and malign one of the psychologically bravest and most ethical parts of us, but, worse, you try to manipulate that very part of us, our conscientiousness, in order to blame us and try to control our future beliefs and behavior.

My “fuck you” today didn’t come out of nowhere. It happens when someone tries to manipulate me in this specific way right after I have just scrupulously made clear the depths of my philosophical, religious, and ethical commitments to investigate the truth of Christianity and to give it every reasonable benefit of the faith before rejecting it. These blow ups are rare. I do not condone blowing up over abstractly phrased challenges to my atheism (even if I might, by accident do so on occasion). Christians may defend their views civilly and I will do the same.

But where I get personal and unapologetically defensive is at those times at which I have just made every possible effort to make clear the logic of my disbelief and the excruciatingly difficult personal processes that were involved in abandoning it, only to have a smarmy, contemptuous, un-self-aware Christian, who likely has never dared a whit of legitimate doubt in her entire life, thoughtlessly disparage my ethical integrity and intellectual seriousness with a bunch of manipulative boiler plate clichés.

Every idea and every identity is open to as vigorous criticism as you can bring, even if it is unpleasant. As long as your criticism is basically civil, rational, honest, sincere, and/or funny it’s fair game. But when Christians try to manipulate me personally by carelessly calling into question my personal integrity and ignoring all the complexities of my personal journey to doubt, we are no longer in the realm of ideas, but in the personal realm. And you are not calling into question my ideas, but my character. And you are not trying to reason with me but rather to manipulate me. And at that point, I am not going to call you names or declare a personal vendetta or harass you, but I am going to warn you that you’d better knock it the fuck off or we will not be able to be friends. I am going to assert my own boundaries against being personally attacked and manipulated by someone of insipidly shallow psychological understanding and respect for me. Whatever words need to be said to get that assertion across, manipulative people need to be confronted with them. I chose the phrase “fuck you” to convey that message.

But maybe I should have gone with a less personally malicious phrase for retaliation. If any more temperate phrase would have done the trick, it probably would have been preferable.

Okay. I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better while conveying the same points next time.

Your Thoughts?

A further explanation of what was wrong with choosing this mode of expressing my just indignation is in my post on The Abuser’s Dialectic.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://myhumorousagenda.blogspot.com Bret Alan

    Between what you said and what she said, I find your comments to be less dehumanizing.

  • Braavos

    I don’t think your response was out of line at all. I think it was perfectly proportional to the condescension of your “friend’s” comment. I also know plenty of Christians who would disagree with what your friend said to you (even if most would agree, some wouldn’t).

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ blotzphoto

    I would have…

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    I went back and forth on whether your response was appropriate or not. My conclusion (for all that’s worth) is that your frustration/anger/disgust was totally justified, but your method of dealing with it was probably not optimal, for two reasons.

    First, I’m not sure who your response helped. If it just made you feel better at the expense of someone else, that strikes me as a moral red flag. I suppose you could hope that your harsh response would shock your friend into rethinking her world view, but it seems like a well written response (like the above blog post) about why what she said was so offensive has a much better chance of doing that then responding with vitriol. After all, her world view probably predicts that someone like you (who didn’t love Jesus enough and is blinded by his own sin and/or rejects Jesus because of a desire to continue sinning without consequences) would respond in anger when “confronted with the truth”.

    Second, as a fellow deconvert, I still have lots of friends who honestly care about me, and honestly think about the world this way. I think this way of thinking is a form of intellectual laziness (and should be challenged), but if your friend was the kind of person who rejected broad platitudes in favor of specificity, she probably wouldn’t still be a Christian (yeah… I don’t have a lot of respect for the intellectual attitude of Protestants). It seems to me like she’s some combination of not-doing-thinking-right and confused about reality. I guess I’m saying, she’d definitely wrong, but she’s probably honestly just wrong, not malicious (or at least that’s the impression I get from your last few posts). The best way of dealing with that is to do whatever you can to correct her, rather than giving her an excuse to disengage and write-off atheists as hateful, angry, bitter, etc. etc.

    But on the other hand, halfway through your post, I found myself getting extremely angry at all my Christian friends who have talked to me this way, so I’m not sure I wouldn’t have reacted the same…

    • Tess

      Yes I can relate Jake. My opinion though is that your “fuck you” statement was totally justified in my view. Why? You are allowed to express yourself however you want to express yourself. I have found that as an ex-Christian, guilt and shame can still very much affect me with ‘that language’. In fact since ‘coming out’ I have never said so many swear words in my life as I have done these last two and a half years, to attempt to un-do this. I have felt to do so! Why? Vilification for me.
      Christianity gave so freely, guilt and shame and I find that those that have left their religion still suffer with such taunts. Do you still have those feelings? I don’t know and I am not saying you have but let me explain myself. The Hell fire that believers feel that you and I are facing is torturous for them, and with this ill thinking they have, I find this helps me tolerate their behaviour’s. I treat their behaviours as having a mental disorder and I find this helps me with my tolerance levels. I adjust my ‘creatard meter’ accordingly!! :) Otherwise I think I would sink into an all-out war of fuck you screaming matches!! I kid you not!! And I really don’t want to be like that.

      The indoctrination of those people that I love, hurts me more than they will ever know but I live my life not ‘feeling’ those comments or attitudes towards me. The condemnation and judgements is the indoctrination from the ‘victim’ and not about you or me. Their behaviours come from their beliefs from their religion. Does that justify how they treat others? Absolutely not! But by turning it around, I have found this to be a better ‘place’ for all concerned. There will be the ‘fuck you’ statements but they will be far less than needed when you see ‘the victim’.
      I am with friends now that when a ‘fuck you’ statement is made, it only means I love you and it is so refreshing!! (If you know what I mean) :)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Tess, the issue is not swear words, it’s treating someone cruelly.

  • trucreep

    Lazy thinking. I think that’s what religious people suffer from.

  • John Moriarty

    Well Dan if you hadn’t effed her from a height we would never gotten the benefit of your most excellent ruminations. Keep on making such gaffes so we get to pay attention to your remarkable saves afterwards

  • RobMcCune

    My only complaint about just replying “fuck you” is that it did nothing to communicate why responsed the way you did. Your two posts on the subject have more than clarified why you gave that response. This sort of backhanded comment, however “nice” the intent, trivializes your deconversion experience as well as your growth since then. The fact good christian intentions can be so harmful is one of the problems with chrisitianity in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily warrant a kind and patient explanation, or to be treated as the friendly advice the person perceived it to be.

  • InvincibleIronyMan

    I would certainly have brought the hammer down verbally as you did. I’m not sure I would have blocked her though. I am pretty sure she wasn’t intentionally being high-handed and infuriating out of any ill-will towards you. She’s a Christian, it kind of goes with the territory! She probably could use someone like you in her life to point out when she says incredibly stupid things, like what she said to you.

  • Gaylene

    Hi Dan,
    I agree with those who said the response probably did not help anyone, but then, if she really had wanted to help you, she would have paid more attention to the complexity of your point. It probably would have been more temperate to have said something like, ‘Really. Umpteen years of serious effort wasn’t enough?’ I have recently had a similar conversation with my sister. She ended up by saying I’d have to take it up with God. I said I’d given it 28 years, and that was enough. She tried hard, and as best she could, honestly to deal with the issue I raised (deaths of children from starvation). She too brought in platitudes, like ‘free will’. The fact remains, you cannot MAKE them think beyond that unless they are ready to. I wonder if asking your friend if she wanted a real answer rather than a ‘pat’ reply would rattle her a little. I hope you aren’t too hard on yourself over this.
    I hope you come thru Sandy in good shape.

  • doomedd

    You should start a page that answer common platitude and refer offending message to it. Here an example : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2012/01/so-you%E2%80%99re-a-theist-who-wants-to-comment-on-an-atheist-blog-read-this-first/

  • Paul Susac

    Hi Dan, I’m enjoying the blog – I’ve been lurking a bit, but I’ve been feeling the writer’s bug so here I am posting.

    I don’t see any huge issue with you saying FU to someone. You are entitled to your feelings of offense, and yeah, she was definitely offensive.

    There is a process called the regret curve. The way this works is that when a person becomes extremely emotionally aroused, he or she will often (almost always actually) go through a refractory period where they feel sheepish, and ashamed of their behavior. This phenomenon is called “ego depletion.” During this period one becomes extremely open to suggestion, as one tries to “make up” for their “bad behavior.” This process is largely unconscious, irrational, and outside of our control.

    Evil lawyers will often make use of this refractory period to get people to agree to things that are not in their own best interest. I, myself have been a victim of this practice (but I digress).

    Right now you are processing these emotional consequences on this forum (a very healthy practice btw), but remember to be gentle with yourself. Get a good night sleep tonight and trust that things will be clearer in the morning when you feel rested.

    What I’m more curious about is the trigger in the first place. It sounds like you have a residual wound from your theist days. Can you tell us more about that?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I can only remember the first couple times I blew up like this (and it’s always over this same trigger) but I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint a cause any more than a deep sense of outrage that my conscience would be questioned in these matters. I think it’s from having worked so hard to justify myself as a Christian for so many years and then to justify my reasons for disbelief to Christians afterwards. I could tolerate having to justify my thinking but when people, especially those themselves intellectually and/or morally lazy, would dismiss the conscientiousness with which I deconverted, it was a matter of fundamental pride, dignity, and integrity to say no, THAT you may not question, that’s the line, that’s where I refuse to be judged by you any longer.. So, in some ways, maybe this is a backlash to having had a kind of Lutheresque overactive conscience and need to justify myself during my Christian days. If Christianity was going to make me feel guilty about everything down to my basic need to masturbate and to scrupulously live my life according to Christian self-loathing and self-othering to the “world”, etc. then I damn well was not going to be denied my credit for having been so scrupulously religious and obedient and having left the faith out of that scrupulousness and not in abandonment of it.

      Here’s an account of a first blow up: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2012/06/when-i-deconverted-some-anger-built-up/

      Here’s an account of an appalling Christian shaming I was subjected to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2012/06/when-i-deconverted-some-felt-betrayed/

  • sharon

    Dan – I’d like to be a Christian friend that sticks around and continues to engage in this type of thought provoking dialogue. If i ever get the rules of engagement wrong give me a soft warning first before the harsh rebuke and blocking ok? Thanks for considering the justification for your response and also for thoroughly considering an alternative reply.

    I have a greater understanding of your reaction and have concluded that the above response would serve her well to hear. Not to late for that. Would you consider opening the conversation with her again and sharing this exploration of your response? I do believe it does much greater good for her to hear this than the original reply and might it be good for you too? If it’s simply a relationship you no longer want to invest in i understand but do believe her response was lazy and misguided rather than intentionally manipulative based on everything you have shared.

    Oh, i almost forgot, the fb relationship advice section of this post had me cracking up. Very funny! Good stuff!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Hi Sharon, when I apologized I unblocked her and sent her this post. She’s been reading more of the deconversion series. And, yes, I won’t rebuke and block so quickly with anything you say. It was a rare reaction. She pushed the wrong button. She also made the regrettable mistake of only writing me after many years to directly start “not judgingly” criticize how I personally left the faith. I know you’re trying to be conscientious, Sharon, and I genuinely appreciate that. If you would like to deliberately have a dialogue about our differences in beliefs/values/experiences, etc., we could do that too, if you don’t mind me publishing it on the blog (as I’m short on writing time and can’t commit to writing a lot that isn’t on the blog).

      Thanks again.

      Let me know.

  • Chris Hallquist

    I rarely tell people “fuck you” online, but I’ve done it and don’t regret it.

    My view is that “fuck you” tends to close off any possibility of productive discussion… but can that be OK if someone’s behavior is so awful as to indicate they don’t want a productive discussion.

    But if you’re thinking maybe what you said was okay, then I have a question: would it have been any different to say:

    “I just opened up about how I almost pushed my best friend to suicide, and your response is to tell me I didn’t love Jesus enough? Wow, you’re an asshole.”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I rarely tell people “fuck you” online, but I’ve done it and don’t regret it.

      My view is that “fuck you” tends to close off any possibility of productive discussion… but can that be OK if someone’s behavior is so awful as to indicate they don’t want a productive discussion.

      But if you’re thinking maybe what you said was okay, then I have a question: would it have been any different to say:

      “I just opened up about how I almost pushed my best friend to suicide, and your response is to tell me I didn’t love Jesus enough? Wow, you’re an asshole.”

      No, that’s even worse to me. It’s always better to focus on the wrongness of the action rather than try to disparage their whole character if possible and especially to refrain from using abusive epithets like “asshole”, as far as I’m concerned. I’d even prefer the “Fuck you” to that personally.

  • Baal

    I think “FU” has a specific and special meaning. You used it in accordance with that meaning and it was justified. It would have help probably to and a short why but, again, you were not under an obligation to do so. Further, xtians need to hear that they are trite or obnoxious sometimes in strong ways – certainly not all the time but now and again is reasonable.

    “Now, I am the first to admit that I have a temper problem.” <–you may feel like you have to work with your anger or emotional responses but (at least from your blogging) you do not have an temper problem. Many bloggers are much more upset more often over smaller matters.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      you may feel like you have to work with your anger or emotional responses but (at least from your blogging) you do not have an temper problem. Many bloggers are much more upset more often over smaller matters.

      I’m not just a blogger. I am disciplining myself more and more the longer I blog (and engage in social media generally) to control my temper because I understand the destructive power of the medium to irrationally and disproportionally escalate conflicts and create toxic, counter-productive acrimony that paralyzes all genuine dialogue and debate and learning. And in everyday life, similarly I have a pretty good rein on it most of the time. But when I do blow up, and it happens a few times a year, I can be verbally vicious and loud. I don’t have a physically violent bone in my body though, so I’ve never struck anyone or even been tempted to.

  • Paul Susac

    Thanks for the reply Daniel

    I read your post-mortum but not your de-conversion series yet, so please forgive my ignorance if you have already covered what I’m about to say.

    Have you considered that some of what this is about is bereavement & grief?

    In you post-mortum, you described yourself as devoting a huge amount of time and energy to loving Jesus. Now, because you have the integrity and strength of character to recognize a fantasy when you see one, you are unable to sustain that relationship.

    Evolution has equipped us with a “grief switch.” This is an emotional and psychological system of cognitive dissonance and suffering that dis-incentivizes us from abandoning our social attachments (especially our mates). This serves several evolutionary functions, but primarily it probably emerged to prevent us (and other social animals) from abandoning our young. In effect it creates an emotional cost for the loss of relationship.

    The problem with this grief response is that it didn’t evolve the ability to discriminate. So even when we end a relationship (or notice that your relationship was imaginary), we still experience bereavement. Heck, we feel bereavement when we sell our cars. It’s a natural consequence of attachment.

    So I wonder if there is some grief at work for you. I don’t know if this is helpful, but you had a huge attachment to Jesus in your life, and this attachment came loaded with a whole in-group, identity and support system. You start thinking outside the box, and lose that attachment, but then a member of your old support system starts trying to feed you the same old cool-aid, and BAM! Your defenses shoot up around the wound, in order to protect you from both the loss you have suffered and the lies that it was built on.

    You have accepted the fact that you are paying this cost, but these kinds of losses don’t heal over night.

    Does this sound familiar?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      That’s very interesting. I have dealt with those emotions with real people a lot. But I don’t think I ever grieved losing Jesus or God as “people”. I do a pretty good job of shutting down attachments to unreal things. I once was in a relationship with someone who lied about huge details about who she was, so much that it was fair to say she quite literally was not who I thought she was and the relationship we had was not what I thought it was. This was, for obvious reasons, devastating to my long term psychological health, but it was never felt or manifested as grief. When I learned the truth about her, I just shut off all attachment to her and memories of her. In my mind, it literally felt like the lights in the theater had come up and all the faux emotions of a film were just deleted and forgotten. Go on with your life like none of what happened in the film happened, because it actually didn’t. And as far as my mind went, so many experiences just weren’t real. They were play acting. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I learned it, that was it. They were deleted as real in my mind. Just a movie. I was angry a couple months of course and there are long term trust issues and bitternesses that that experience exacerbated. It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel or process or was in denial or numb or repressing. Not that I think. It’s just that once I grasped that experiences weren’t real in some decisive way, I had no emotional attachment to them. Such would simply be irrational.

      My anger at Christians comes much more from indignance that they would dare question my sincerity or integrity given what I take to be, personally, the unimpeachable commitment that I had to the faith and, in the end, to the truth. This is a matter of pride. I won’t have my conscientiousness called into question. I’m a fallible thinker. I’m a fallible person in any number of areas. But my deconversion is the one thing I know was an act of pure honesty and personal integrity and I will not give any Christian the latitude to belittle that. My dignity is very well wrapped up in this. Given the decades of control that the distortive, lying, manipulative Christian church had over my mind, my body, my family, my social life, my values, my beliefs, my goals, my sexuality, my very identity itself, I cannot bear to tolerate its attempt to judge my honesty, sincerity, or integrity of former faith or of my decision to abandon it as unjustified. They have no right to judge me. I refuse to be judged by them. Even as for years I felt a need to still justify my reasoning and explain it to them and to explain how I could have morality without them, etc. I would never subject my personal integrity to the tribunal of the Christian church or its particular members for their approval. Never. That’s the line.

  • kagekiri

    “What’s that? You are struggling with clinical depression? You know you need to start letting go and letting God and start appreciating His gracious blessings to you instead of dwelling on the downside and trying to make yourself happy.”

    Oh lordy, that’s another one I’ve personally experienced from family. I think I managed to respond relatively calmly at the time, but it was possibly even more enraging than the “you weren’t a good enough Christian” bit about deconversion, though not nearly as hurtful due to who was making the accusation.

    Bitterly sarcastic versions of my actual (less bitter, still pretty sarcastic) responses to her prodding were running through my head as I tried not to scream at her, though..

    Yeah, I TOTALLY didn’t try just being happy, or praying, or trying to be thankful! Yeah, dwelling on all my blessings was TOTALLY helpful and didn’t make me despise myself even more for being so ungrateful, I really should’ve just kept doing that!

    Oh yeah, I really am being selfish and not thinking of others enough, that’s just the kind of advice I would’ve needed to get over my life-crushing despair and self-hatred: more reasons to hate myself!

    Yeah, I agree, my finally going to doctors for professional help WAS a sign of my lack of sufficient faith and not God failing to answer my years of desperately crying out for help and/or death, thanks for the accusation! I should’ve waited for his healing years longer instead of being so weak.

    Oh, my explanations of my depressed thinking sound distorted and unfailingly negative; REALLY? It’s almost like horribly skewed thinking was part of why I was depressed! It’s almost like thinking myself out of that hole wouldn’t have worked! It’s almost as if you have no freaking idea why people become clinically depressed, nor actual solutions, nor have tried to research it at all in spite of your supposed personal experience with it!

    Seriously, it was like talking with someone who was trying to think up the most insensitive things possible to say to someone regarding their depression, yet she obviously honestly believed it was great advice. Frigging self-justification knows no bounds.

  • Mogg

    Hi Dan,

    this is one that I struggle with myself, as I am very non-confrontational. But sometimes, a big FU is completely justified in order to put a stop to a dialogue which is so far removed from both reality and common decency as to be insulting. Having read the majority of your deconversion series, I think that definitely applies here – anyone who had read even part of that should have known that you have put an enormous amount of physical, psychological and intellectual energy into understanding your own beliefs and journey from Christian to Atheist, and such a trite comment implies either that she hadn’t read it or didn’t care what you had said, implying that in her eyes your thoughts on the matter are either unimportant or untrue. Stopping the insult tends to be better for everyone. Perhaps saying FU and stating, in short form, *why* you were so angry in your reply to your acquaintance would have been better, but you seem to have recovered pretty well – just watch out, as other have said, on over-doing the apology. I hope she is still reading and can learn something from a closer look at what you have written, and that further dialogue is possible.

    I’d just like to add that I’ve really enjoyed your deconversion series, and am impressed at your personal honesty in writing about some really intimate things.

  • Paul Susac

    I get what you are saying about your transformation of identity. I bring the grief idea up because I have experienced my own transformation of identity as a process that has included grief, and this grief has lead me to get triggered into some extreme emotions. Poetically speaking I have experienced the transformation of identity as a sort of death. I just wondered if you had the same experience.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Jerry DeWitt called his deconversion “identity suicide”.

  • Rebecca Newman

    Oh, my word (still my instinctive exclamation from my years of growing up a good little homeschooled Christian girl ) – how did I never recognize the smug, egotistical qualities in Christians before? If I hear another one tell me how much they pity me, how sad it makes them that I am so angry and bitter against Christ, I will go insane! I’m not angry and bitter at Christ, I’m angry and bitter at the complete close-mindedness and judgment from his followers that have rained upon me since I left Christianity…

  • Chuck Doswell
  • tracsar

    I was moved to reply to this, because as a Jew I’ve had Jesus shoved down my throat for years, and as someone pulling themselves out of a destructive religious organization, it is so hurtful to hear how much you ‘didn’t care enough’, ‘try hard enough’, etc. What you have experienced is that all time favorite of the self-righteous religious folks- people trying to tell YOU what YOU feel.

    Nobody has that right. NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL YOU WHAT YOU FEEL. By trying to do this, they negate your experiences, your struggles, and your results. It cuts off real learning and dialogue at the knees, erases empathy before it begins, and seeks to establish an imbalance of power as a way to control the outcome in their favor (ie reconversion). Those who are truly your friends will cry with you, laugh with you, share your struggles, and delight in your successes, even when it takes you in a different direction theologically from them. To lose family/friends/community over a sincere struggle to understand and deepen a faith that unexpectedly falls away is to throw a huge amount of salt into an already gaping wound, and is the sign of a VERY weak faith in said family/friends/community.

    as far as I’m concerned, your ‘FU’ was the most basic thing you could have said, and needs no apology nor explanation from you.

    • Tess

      That was well said tracsar. Spot on!

  • Rev PJ

    I’ve always felt that “Fuck You” is an acceptable response to callous insults.

  • mandrellian

    Well, Dan, considering this person more or less said “fuck you” when she trivialised your deconversion, ignored everything you’d previously said about your long struggle and presented her best piece of advice as an admonishment that you didn’t try hard enough to be a Christian, I found your “fuck you” perfectly appropriate.

    Honestly, Christians (not all, obviously, just the ones who take it upon themselves to save “lost sheep”) need to wise the fuck up and listen to former Christians before dispensing their platitudes – that shit just makes us angry and more pleased that we left them behind!

    • Liberated Liberal

      I had exactly the same thought.

      My family is Catholic, and the banal platitude-fests that pass for conversation and concern in that world could put any religion to shame. The one that became a trigger for me at a very early age (even while still a Catholic) was “I’ll pray for you.” (Now it happens to be the “nation-wide holocaust that is abortion”). It was clear to me, even as a young teenager, that it was a shallow and scripted way to avoid any emotional and intellectual involvement on their part, knowing full well they would forget to pray for anybody they offered the service to.

      I whole-heartedly believe that when a Christian pulls out a line in the way your college friend did in response to something so deeply personal, so charged with intellectual honesty and raw emotionality, she was saying “fuck you” to you. Self-righteous indeed. In my opinion, you responded in a way that was exactly appropriate.

  • DJJ

    Sometimes, the only honest way to express a thought is angrily and bluntly. If what you are asking for is good arguments, and what you get is brick-stupid attempts at a guilt trip, then give ‘em a full broadside and if they don’t learn to think before they speak, perhaps they will at least leave you alone.

  • Hitchslapper

    Often, F U, is the only thing those people understand…. so, yes, you should have answered her that way, with a clear conscience… And, you might add…. MYOFB……….Those people also have a very annoying quality, that makes them believe that they’re allowed the right to judge everyone else…. WRONG!!!!!!

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    I think your response communicated your feelings clearly. Not just that you thought that she was being insulting, but that she had hurt you and made you very angry.

    Unless you have a special reason to conceal that her lack of disrespect made you angry, your response was perfect. Of course it must have upset her to receive, but that’s not the worst thing in the world.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I appreciate your support. Here though is why I think it was right to swear off telling people “fuck you”.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    It’s easy to for you to treat theists poorly than atheists for a really simple reason: they’re not part of your group. In fact, they are in direct opposition to your group, so it’s easier still.

    Look at your recent call for civility. Why did you even care that much? Because it wasn’t atheists bagging on theists in a mean fashion. Given this post, it’s clear you’ve no problem with that. It’s that now, some atheists are the target for the same kind of behavior you previously cheered. When PZ was all Internet balls at fundies, “WOOHOO! GO GET’EM”. But when the exact same behavior is now directed in a less convenient direction, oh noes, TRAJEDIII MUST BE STOP-ED!!

    How you treat your enemies is usually a sign of you you treat everyone, eventually. You don’t have to agree with theists to not go out of your way to crap on them, and to forestall the inevitable, no, the way they have behaved towards atheists is not in fact an excuse or justification. Revenge is not a way to run things.

    You did that because in the end, you think less of non-atheists, and so it was easier to justify your response.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      My criticisms of atheist treatments of religious people date back to at least January 2011, only a year and a half into my blogging run. Read this post and the links in it to see me criticizing PZ’s incivility long before I perceived him to be engaged in internecine warfare.

      Just one of many 2011 posts critical of atheists over their treatment of the religious, with no reference to internecine conflicts, is here.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Look at your recent call for civility. Why did you even care that much?

      I have all along criticized atheists by the same ethical standards I criticize theists. If anything I’m more inclined to focus on the flaws of atheists when I find them because I expect more of the people who I am associated with. Again, if you followed the last 26 months on this blog this would be apparent.


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